Borough President Helen Marshall struck an optimistic tone despite the harsh economy and the loss of two borough hospitals last year as she addressed the crowd assembled for her ceremonial swearing-in ceremony Tuesday at York College.
“The next four years will be challenging, yet I am filled with hope and confidence,” Marshall said. “I know together we can make a difference over the next four years.”
Marshall said Queens is “in a total crisis” when it comes tohealth care, referring to the closings last year of Mary Immaculate and St. John’s Queens hospitals.
The borough president said it was her goal to ensure everyone in the borough has access to comprehensive health care services.
Marshall said she would like to see a new hospital in both western Queens and the Rockaways.
She pointed to four redevelopment projects — Willets Point, Hunters Point South, Arverne East and Flushing Commons — that are part of her goal to provide more housing in the borough, but she said “we cannot allow development to occur in a vacuum.”
Marshall said overdevelopment is a “constant battle” in Queens, but pointed out that 60 borough neighborhoods have been rezoned and three others are in the pipeline.
The borough president also addressed the high rates of foreclosures in her address.
“We recognize that many abandoned houses have become eyesores,” she said, calling on Congress to pass legislation to force banks to maintain properties after they are foreclosed.
On education, Marshall said steps are being made to fulfill her goal to have one school seat for every student in Queens.
She said 10,000 new school seats will be added this year, including 3,000 new seats for high school students and the opening of Maspeth High School, which would add 1,000 new seats.
Marshall noted she organized a parent advisory board so parents have a say in the education process and called on borough colleges in her address to partner with high schools for mentoring and advanced courses.
On transportation, Marshall said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board should have appointees from each of the five boroughs. She said if a Queens member was on the board, he or she would not have voted to take away MetroCards from students.
Another goal of Marshall’s administration is to increase the number of residents counted in this year’s census. Marshall said 10 years ago the borough had a 54 percent participation rate in the census, below the national average.
“This should be upsetting to all of us,” she said, noting she mobilized groups to make sure the census reflects an accurate count for Queens.
Marshall said the borough “can’t afford” to lose a seat in Congress or federal funding for Queens projects.
She noted the importance of the borough’s two airports to Queens’ economy. Marshall said she would ask the federal Transportation Security Administration to expand its workforce and train and recruit personnel from Queens. She said the agency should open a training facility in the borough as well.
Marshall said she wants to strengthen the roles of borough presidents and community boards in the face of a charter review commission expected to be appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The borough president said she wants one of the commission’s seats to go to a Queens resident.
She said borough presidents are more attune to the needs of their boroughs and pointed to her $17 million allocation for a new children’s library in Jamaica and $19 million for a new library in Far Rockaway as examples she said might have been overlooked if there was not a borough president.
She called for a new funding formula that guarantees a certain percentage of the budget be appropriated for borough presidents and community boards.
“Through our community boards, we have brought democracy to the people,” she said.
Marshall also said senior centers should be exempt from budget cuts.
“Our seniors built this country and we owe it to them to have these small treasures,” she said.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz
©2010 Community News Group
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