Bloomberg and term limits
Whether we like him or not (and about half the city doesn’t, it turns out), Mayor Michael Bloomberg is back for four more years.
In many ways his successful bid to extend term limits and extravagant reelection campaign was the biggest story of the year. And it almost didn’t work, remember.
To overturn two 1990’s-era voter referendums establishing term limits, Bloomberg had to convince the City Council to approve a special term limits extension. A large and vocal group of council members opposed the measure. In the end, it passed in late 2008 by a narrow margin of 29-22.
That set the stage for this year’s gritty, outsized mayoral election, itself a referendum of sorts on mayoral control, development policy and other hallmarks of the Bloomberg years. To make sure he could beat Comptroller William Thompson, the mayor started spending. And then spending some more.
By the time he was through mailboxes and street corners from Ridgewood to Red Hook were flooded with glossy campaign advertisements and the Hizzoner set a new national record for spending in a municipal election.
Yet for all his money, Bloomberg only won reelection by five-points, upending election-day polls predicting a lopsided, double-digit victory. The results pointed to voter unease over a range of issues from education to overdevelopment to the city’s struggling economy- the very thing Bloomberg argued he would fix if reelected.
Now that’s looking like a pretty tall order. The city is facing a budget deficit in the billions, an unemployment rate of 10 percent (and higher in lower-income communities), not to mention an under-funded mass transit system, stalled construction projects galore- the list goes on and on.
In short, Bloomberg has his work cut out for him. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Mayor. This last term could be the hardest of all.
A rookie no longer
This was a pretty busy year for Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.
There was the fight to save a fire engine company from closing and battles over St. Saviour’s, a new waste management facility and plans for a new school in Maspeth, to name just a few prominent issues the councilwoman contended with in her first year in office. There was also Tom Ognibene.
Ognibene, a Republican and former councilman who represented the 30th District in the 1990’s, squared off against Crowley, a Democrat, in a tense, closely watched race for a full term. (Crowley won the seat in a special election last year).
The race featured splashy billboards, questionable campaign literature and more forums than anyone probably cares to remember. In the end Crowley- the first woman and Democrat to hold the seat- beat Ognibene by a surprisingly large, 20-point margin that few would have predicted.
Besides some breathing room, the blowout win gives Crowley four full years at City Hall, where she has already made a name for herself as a strong voice in the Queens delegation.
Local seats for local kids
The fight over a new Maspeth high school
Nothing gets people going like a good debate over education.
In Queens, home of the overcrowded high school, a particularly heated one played out in Maspeth, where the city is building the neighborhood’s first high school on the site of an empty restaurant depot store on 74th Street and 58th Avenue.
Department of Education (DOE)’s original plans called for a 1,600-seat school. Community Board 5 and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley argued for a smaller, locally zoned school. That way, they said, students in Maspeth and after them other neighborhoods would be guaranteed enrollment priority over students from elsewhere in Queens.
The DOE refused, spurring a long round of negotiations. Finally, the education department revived this year, and gave priority zoning to students in School District 24, followed by students in School District 28 and beyond.
On its surface a sensible compromise, the solution left many involved in the planning process worried that local students will lose too many seats to students outside of Maspeth and other Western Queens neighborhoods like Glendale and Middle Village.
To make matters more complex, the same month that the council voted to approve the project (over objections from Crowley, who voted against the school along with nine other council members), an environmental impact statement revealed the site is contaminated.
That hasn't stopped the DOE from moving forward with the project, though the School Construction Authority's design for the school includes measures to trap the contaminants below ground.
After an acrimonious, year-long debate, the SCA is currently preparing to demolish the restaurant depot to make way for the new school.
Dog Run Drama
Front and center at Juniper Valley Park
Yes, Middle Village's dog run crisis makes this list.
And why not? For better or for worse, discussions on a possible dog run in or around Juniper Valley Park have dominated the public forums portion of Community Board 5 meetings for months on end.
The hoopla started years ago, when a group of dog owners first pushed for a dog run at the park, where dogs are prohibited from frolicking off-leash for most of the day.
That effort failed, but was revived this year by another, equally committed and vociferous band of dog lovers calling themselves the Juniper Valley Park Dog Association.
Showing up for nearly every monthly CB5 meeting this year, JVPDA members made their case for a dog run at the park where their dogs could run free at all hours of the day.
If CB5 seemed unenthusiastic at first, the board is slowly warming to the plan. Recently Kathy Masi, CB5's parks committee co-chair, led a tour of the park and several possible dog run sites. Until one is chosen, and ground is broken on the project, expect the issue to remain front and center in Middle Village.
Maspeth United Methodist burns
In June, tragedy struck Maspeth when a two-alarm fire engulfed Maspeth United Methodist Church on 58th Avenue.
As the church's then-pastor watched, the fire department fought to save the church, to no avail. The fire, deemed accidental, reduced the regal house of worship to a smoldering ruin.
Things have changed for the church since then.
A new pastor has taken over, and is holding mass in the basement of a nearby church. And a fundraising drive is underway to rebuild the church, whose loss has left a visible hole in the Maspeth community.