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Mayor voices state of city at Kew Gardens Hills visit

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Bloomberg talked about the state of the city but did not specifically tailor his speech to Queens. He said he had seen the public's outlook change for the better.

"Today there is a very different attitude," Bloomberg said. "People want to come to this city."

For example, he said the city has 44,000 applicants for only 6,000 to 7,000 teaching position and here is a five- to six-year wait to become a firefighter.

After pointing out that police have the highest academic standards for induction right now in the history of the department, Bloomberg turned his attention to crime. He highlighted the city's fewer than 600 murders last year and said New York City is No. 197 on a list of cities in terms of per capita crime.

"Come to New York and you'll be safer," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg's appearance at the civic was not unique. Every mayor since 1940 has visited the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association, said Pat Dolan, president of the organization.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly briefly spoke to the crowd, touting the arrests of the Cogwise gang - a group of Colombian immigrants from the Jackson Heights area who allegedly committed 300 burglaries this winter in northeast Queens. "The arrests will have an impact," Kelly said.

The mayor next turned to the hot button issue of education, saying it is "arguably the part of government that works the least well."

He quickly shifted focus to a controversial topic of late, social promotion of children from grade to grade regardless of their academic performance. The third-grade tests administered this spring will determine which students are to progress to the fourth grade.

"We have to stop this business of moving them along," Bloomberg said. "Ending social promotion is exactly the right thing to do." Some third-graders will go to summer school this year, he added,

Besides education, Bloomberg also discussed property tax reform, an item that remains high on the mayor's agenda. He talked of tax relief of $114 million for Queens and $7 million for Kew Gardens in particular.

"We can reduce the burden individual homeowners have," he said. But he added that everyone has to do his or her part. "The problem in this city is everybody wants services and somebody's got to pay for it," Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg then addressed traffic. He said red-light cameras that take a picture of a car's license plate if it runs a red light were the solution to traffic deaths in the area. "We need Albany legislation to let us put up red-light cameras," he said. "We could use a thousand of them."

In terms of protecting the city from terrorist attacks, Bloomberg said he told Kelly: "You keep this city safe, and I'll figure out how to pay for it." The city now employs 1,000 intelligence and counter-terrorism officers.

In response to a question about the closing of St. Joseph's Hospital in Fresh Meadows, the mayor said there was little he could do since it is a private hospital. But he promised to call the facility's president. "They tend to take a call when the mayor makes it," he said.

Bloomberg also admitted the city's zoning laws are flawed.

"We have a diverse city and not everything fits the law," he said. "We have to find an intelligent way for the law to fit all types of needs."

The mayor even spoke about the current influx of McMansions into Queens and across the other boroughs.

"Overdevelopment is an issue in all parts of the city," Bloomberg said. "That's because people want to live here." He added that he wants to preserve the character of each neighborhood.

Reach Reporter Tommy Hallissey by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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