Just over 3 1⁄2 months into her freshman year in the state Assembly, Grace Meng (D−Flushing) said she has had to hit the ground running while cutting her teeth at the state capital.
The economic situation has thrust the state Legislature into the spotlight and Meng said this has forced her to be creative and continuously active in order to best serve her community.
Meng said getting funds from the federal stimulus package for affordable senior housing in Flushing last week was particularly important. Last week, Meng and Gov. David Paterson announced more than $21 million had been secured to preserve 425 units of senior housing through the Mitchell−Lama program for the next 40 years.
“We were one of only three areas downstate to get funding for this,” Meng said. “We have more seniors in this zip code, 11355, than any other area in the city. Just in the five−block area where these units are located there’s six or seven homes for seniors, so this is critical.”
Meng, whose father held the same seat and was the first Asian American elected to state office in 2004, said her brief stay in Albany has provided her with experiences both expected and surprising.
Although she did not think the longtime convention of “three men in a room” running the government would evaporate the moment the Democrats took over the Legislature, she has been surprised by the openness of state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D−Manhattan).
“I can’t say I was surprised by what I found in Albany,” Meng said. “But we have daily conferences with the speaker where he will sit there for hours and listen to the needs of our constituents. I felt that I was able to have more of an impact on the budget process than I thought I would when I went up there in January.”
The term “three men in a room” was coined to describe the impression that three people — the governor, the senate majority leader and the assembly speaker — make the majority of policy decisions in New York state.
Meng said she believes much of the perception of “three men in a room” comes from a lack of communication between state legislators and their constituents, which she is trying to remedy through e−mail and social networking sites like Facebook.
“What I’ve found is that if you keep constituents updated about the process, they’re less likely to react so negatively when something doesn’t go right. At least then they can say, ‘Oh, that’s what she’s doing up there,’ and I think that’s helpful,” she said.
Meng said she is planning to place a focus on labor issues and health care prior to the Legislature’s summer break. She said children’s health care has become particularly important to her and with good reason: Meng is five months pregnant with her second child, due in September.
Meng also downplayed rumors that she was considering a run for City Councilman John Liu’s (D−Flushing) seat this November.
“So many people have been asking me that going back to before I knew I was pregnant,” Meng said.
©2009 Community News Group
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