The importance of the office of the borough president has often been debated, especially among those who are politically right of center.
Some have argued that directing discretionary funding and cheerleading for the borough can be done by City Council members, but we look over at Brooklyn and see that Marty Markowitz has been an important part of Brooklyn’s renaissance.
The job is important if done right.
Last week, State Senator Tony Avella took himself out of the race for the Democratic nomination for the post. Avella only recently won his senate seat, so it was interesting to see him jump into the race for borough president.
It is my guess that a lot of our Queens elected officials in Albany are somewhat tired of making that schlep. I would not assume that Avella got into the borough president's race for that alone, but from what I have heard from other reps, city government is far more enticing than state government, especially when it comes to making regular trips to Albany.
Avella and Peter Vallone, Jr. may have gone head-to-head in debates up to this point, but they share similar types of votes among Queens Democrats. They are both centrist Democrats in a city where that is not as common as it once was.
Vallone is a good choice for borough president for one reason in particular: Queens residents tend to like a bold voice. For the last 20 years, they had that voice in City Hall, so they could afford to lean a little more progressive when it came to Queens Boulevard.
That may change following this year's election, leaving Queens residents without a Giuliani or a Bloomberg-type of advocate. Vallone could be a smart vote for the crime-conscious middle-class, blue-collar voters in Queens.
Melinda Katz comes with a lot of bonafides for the job. She also has the support of the Queens Democratic Party, and both Vallone and Katz are popular in their respective districts.
Vallone is uniquely unafraid to take unpopular stances, and he has made crime reduction a big part of his career. There are a few, especially on the Democratic side, who feel that Vallone wants to be district attorney, but after spending the better part of this summer following Vallone’s campaign and talking to people, I do not think that is true. He does want to be the borough president more than he wants anything else.
Queens residents are often homeowners, and they want their neighborhoods to be family-friendly. Vallone has spent a lot of time fighting against graffiti and crime. He has also been bold on issues that are not necessarily vote getters, such as animal rights, preserving landmarks, and naming (or not re-naming) bridges.
There is a line in an episode of The West Wing where the chief of staff, played by the late John Spencer, says of the president, “all I can promise you is that on any given day, there's no predicting what he is going to choose to care about.”
It was a reference to the curious mind of the fictional president. That is what went through my mind when Vallone went through some trash to find the name of a person who incorrectly used a public trash receptacle.
I don’t know what I expect from a borough president, but I am not tired of seeing what Vallone is going to care about from day to day. In a city that is likely to lean a little more to the left as Michael Bloomberg raises a glass of sugar-free champagne on his way out the door, it might be good to keep some of that toughness in Queens.
It is for this reason that I feel Peter Vallone, Jr. would be a good borough president and strong public servant in Queens for the next four years.