Thursday, October 16, 2008

Addabbo, Maltese Address Voters in Forest Hills

By Conor Greene

Candidates in two local state senate races discussed issues including the economy and education with residents at Tuesday’s meeting of the Forest Hills Community and Civic Association.

Attending the event at the American Legion hall on Metropolitan Avenue were Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale)and his challenger in the 15th district, Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). Also on hand were the candidates in the 16th district, Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) and challenger Peter Koo (R-Flushing).

The format for the event included questions posed by civic members that were answered by all four candidates in a rotating order. The questions mostly centered on the state of the economy, and education – particularly funding of city schools. Due to this newspaper’s readership area, only the comments by Addabbo and Maltese are reflected in this article.

Mayoral Control of Schools

The first question came from Kathryn Thome, a mother of two children and a member of the District 28 Community Education Council. She asked about the candidate’s views on mayoral control of schools, including whether it has helped schools within Forest Hills.

Maltese said that the decision several years ago to require this legislation to come back before the senate next year “was one of the best things we ever did” in Albany.

“The parents are unhappy, the teachers are unhappy, and the administrators are unhappy,” he said. “The problem is, some recommendations were made [regarding mayoral control] by people who were not familiar with the New York City school system.”

He added that while testing can place “an undue burden on the kids,” it is also “part of our lives” and “something we have to deal with.” He added that the system must allow for greater input from parents. “The parents have to have substantial input and the fact is, right now they don’t,” he said.

Addabbo said he visits the schools within his city council district on a regular basis, and would continue to do the same if elected to the senate. Each school receives a capital funding allocation every other year, he added.

“It is so important for the schools to get to know me and me to know them and their unique needs,” he said. “Education is that important… We need to keep families here so that kids can go to school close to their parents.”

He said that overall, the decision to bring control of city schools under the auspices of the Department of Education was a “major decision” that provides more “transparency and accountability” to the system. However, he argued, it is lacking “continuity” as the plan keeps on changing.

“If mayoral control is going to be done right, it needs continuity.” The major issue, said Addabbo, is lack of input from parents and teachers. “We need input…[and] to hear from the administrators, the parents,” he said.

State Funding for City School

The next question came from JR Nocerino, who asked what can be done about the imbalance in the amount sent to Albany in taxes and the amount received back for school funding.

Maltese boasted his record on school funding, which he said includes helping restore $646 million in the 2007 state budget for education after it was cut by former Governor Eliot Spitzer. Faced with the same situation this year, Maltese helped restore $616 million for schools.

“The fact is, over the last ten years, we have increased funding for city schools by ninety percent,” said Maltese. The city currently receives $8,530 per student, which is more than Nassau County. “We need to see that reflected in better schools,” he said. “I know they need smaller class sizes. If you don’t have a good school, you are going to move out.”

Addabbo recalled the days on city council following 9/11 when the city was facing a huge deficit. Even so, “our rally cry was education first,” he said, adding that the “primary reason” he decided to challenge Maltese was due to the funding formula, which he called “unconsciously unfair.”

He noted that it was a court ordered de-cision that led to changes in the way the state funds city schools. As a result of that decision, there is $300 million to be spent in city schools. “I can’t wait to get my hands on that $300 million, or at least part of it,” he said, adding that the formula has left schools in “jeopardy for too long.”

Maintaining Vital Services

Barbara Stuchinski, president of the FHCCA, asked the candidates how they would maintain programs that serve seniors, families and the unemployed during the current economic crisis.

Addabbo said that his experience on city council working on the 2002 budget has provided him the background needed to work through these tough times. “We cut government – that’s the first step,” he said. Once you get to the point when you are cutting essential services, you begin to look at the revenue side.

While the council was forced to raise property taxes, it has since reduced the city property tax rate. “There’s a lot of waste out there,” he said, citing $5 billion a year in

Medicaid fraud along with insurance fraud as two areas that need attention. He also said that the state should stop providing funding to large corporations, since as much as 75% have said they don’t need the money. “If they don’t need it, let’s save it,” he said.

Maltese expressed concern with “what is going on in senior centers,” including the plan to deliver frozen meals to homebound residents once a week instead of a daily hot meal. He said that the Ridgewood Multi-service Center just had $60,000 cut from its budget without warning, but due to his seniority on the senate, he was able to restore that funding.

He was also able to restore $75,000 out of $130,000 cut from the Forest Park Senior Center. In addition, he is able to fund 230 groups each year because of his position on the senate.“This isn’t just those centers,” said Maltese. “It is because I have been there as a full-time senator.”

Economy is Main Issue

The final prepared question of the evening came from Heidi Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council.

She asked the candidates what they think is the biggest issue facing the community, and what they can do to help. Not surprisingly, all four agreed that the economy is the most important issue right now.

“It affects us as property owners, tenants, seniors and our children,” said Addabbo. “We have to be very careful in the path we go right now.” He cited foreclosures as one specific consequence of the situation and called for the senate to pass a bill placing a moratorium on foreclosure proceedings. He said that foreclosures “generally affect the entire community,” leading to a decrease in property values and a rise in crime.

Addabbo added that in these times, agencies such as the MTA should not be raising bus and train fares. “You don’t balance you budget on the backs of your riders,” he said, adding that he has launched a campaign to prevent the MTA from again raising fares without first looking at ways to reduce spending.

“We’re already hit at home. We don’t need to be hit again at the train station,” he said. “I’m not confident right now that our state government has a plan for the budget.”

Maltese said his main issue is the economy “and the creation of jobs” in the community. He touted legislation he helped pass that provided tax credits and breaks, small business loans and technology grants.

He called layoffs “a failure of government” and said that legislators need to work across party lines to get the economy back on track. He also called for more taxing of cigarette and gasoline sales by Native Americans as a way to increase the revenue stream.

Closing Remarks

The candidates were given a chance to discuss specifically what they would do to help the Forest Hills area during their closing statements.

Addabbo noted that he had a law practice on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills for ten years before he was elected to office. As a result, he is aware of traffic issues in the area, and vowed to not turn his back on local issues if elected to the senate.

“Even if I’m a state senator, I can’t avoid the city issues,” he said. “I see all the small businesses, and I want to protect them. Forest Hills has a wonderful shopping district… Traffic, small businesses, local schools – that’s why people stay in the community.”

He said he would continue to run his 24-hour hotline, which allows residents to get in touch with a live operator to report any emergencies. “Problems don’t happen on Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” he said. “That’s how you serve the community... I do think we have a problem in the state senate.”

Maltese said he maintains offices in Glendale and Howard Beach to better serve his constituents, and has staff available on weekends by appointment.

He has been working recently with Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) on Department of Transportation issues, and has recently hosted several town hall meetings. He noted that he has been endorsed by the National Small Business Federation.

“A problem that may be small on the state level is big when it’s a quality of life issue,” he said. “The fact is I know what it’s like to be in the senate and deliver for my constituents.”

1 comment:

Vasos Panagiotopoulos said...

I met Serf Maltese when he ran for Congress. He joked that we both had difficult first names; I replied "Pain builds character". He always spoke to me from his heart. I met some of my closest friends then because it was an underdog race. Whenever I met someone who disliked Serf, they were obscure why, but eventually revealed the source of their displeasure were his commitment to principle, friendship or his word. Indeed, Serf's loyalty is both his greatest asset and his greatest liability. Liability in terms of the enemies it gains him. Those who trust Serf, even beyond party lines, are the greatest resource his constitutents can have. I don't believe they would be foolish enough to lose such representation.