Thursday, October 22, 2009

Liberty Avenue Cleanup Funding Turns Political

Gulluscio, Ulrich Trade Barbs as Council Election Nears

By Conor Greene

City Council candidate Frank Gulluscio is ripping incumbent Eric Ulrich for not pro- viding money for the Doe Fund, which pays for cleanup along Liberty Avenue in South Richmond Hill. The program started under former councilman and current State Senator Joseph Addabbo but ended in July when the fiscal year expired.

Ulrich responded by calling the attack politically motivated and said he had to make decisions regarding community funding after taking office in February. He added that it isn’t his responsibility to ensure that all of Addabbo’s projects continue and faulted the senator for allowing the funding to dry up.

At a press conference Tuesday in front of Moblegott Hardware, Gulluscio and Addabbo criticized Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) for chopping the local Doe Fund from $74,000 to $38,000. That means there is only enough money to continue the program in the Rockaways, and local business owners and civic leaders say South Richmond Hill’s main shopping district has been hurt by the lack of cleanup crews over the past few months.

“This is a serious situation,” said Gulluscio (D- Howard Beach), surrounding by merchants and residents. “This community needs more respect, not less.” He said he is “very disappointed that Ulrich didn’t continue fundingthe program, which provided a valuable service along the avenue from 104th Street to Lefferts Boulevard - a “tax base” Gulluscio said the community “cannot afford to lose.”

In response, Ulrich later said he has his “own agenda and own priorities” and had to make decisions regarding discretionary funding after taking office following his victory over Gulluscio and several other candidates in last year’s special election to replace Addabbo. “This was Joe Addabbo’s project, and if he dropped the ball on it, I’m not going to assume responsibility,” he said.

Addabbo (D-Ozone Park) announced that he is providing a $47,000 state Senate grant to continue the program starting next month. While he had always intended to continue funding the program after winning election to the Senate last year, he said he discussed his council funding with Ulrich after moving on to the Senate and was under the impression that his predecessor would also provide funds, allowing the program to be expanded.

“We’ve seen the success of this program year after year,” said Addabbo. “The community asked for it, and it’s the job of elected officials to respond to the needs of the community - not to cut funding.”He called elimination othe program “absolutely wrong” and said “there is no reason it should have been cut... Unfortunately I don’t believe the current councilman hears the people,” he added.

Ulrich criticized Addabbo for allowing the program’s funding to run out and said he decided in some cases to use his share of the council discretionary funding - which totaled just less than $100,000 as a new council member - for other initiatives. “I assumed Joe Addabbo was going to continue funding something that’s still in his district that he started... I’m not responsible to fund Joe Addabbo’s pet projects. If Frank Gulluscio gets on the City Council, he can do that.”

Gulluscio promised during the press conference that, if he is elected, restoring Doe Funds in the City Council budget would be a top priority.

According to Ulrich, he and Addabbo never had discussions regarding the funding. “Joe Addabbo never picked up the phone to discuss with me Doe Funds. I wish that he had because if I had known he was going to drop the ball on this I could have made other arrangements.” He noted that Addabbo redirected funding from a number of community groups throughout his senate district after defeating longtime Republican incumbent Serf Maltese (R-Middle Village).

Gulluscio claimed during the press conference that his criticism isn’t politically motivated. “There are no politics here. This is about keeping the economic climate strong along Liberty Avenue,” he said. However, Ulrich said the timing shows it clearly is political, considering the cleanups ended months ago. “If this came out on July 1, I wouldn’t complain. They hold this until two weeks before the election and now they want to make an issue out of it. To me this demonstrates a dereliction of duty on the part of Joe Addabbo for not funding something he had previously funded and dumped on my lap.”

Ulrich said that, if he were to move up to higher office, he wouldn’t assume the newcomer would continue funding all his projects. “If I moved up the ladder and he stopped my graffiti removal program, nobody could point a finger at Frank. But somehow this applies to me. It’s an unfortunate circumstance and I was just as disappointed as everyone else, but Joe Addabbo dropped the ball on this and I’m not going to take the flak. The fact that he’s trying to use it for political gain is disgraceful.”

Local groups and programs being funded include the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp., a number of local volunteer fire and EMT organizations and an aggressive graffiti removal program along Rockaway Boulevard, Woodhaven/Cross Bay Boulevard and 101st Avenue. He said the majority of groups funded during Addabbo’s Council tenure are still receiving money from Ulrich.

Politics aside, business owners and residents including members of the Richmond Hill South Civic Association say the program went a long way towards keeping the area inviting for shoppers. “This is not about politics. I fight for what I believe in,” said the group’s president, Margaret Finnerty.“I cannot stand by and listen to, ‘Somebody else is going to fund it.’”

Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, said that talk of fixing the economy must be met with real action. “It’s one thing to talk about economic development, but it’s another to fund the programs that help the local shopping strips,” she said.

Along with helping keep the area trash free, the program provides snow removal and helps business owners avoid Sanitation Department fines for litter in front of their stores - as has been happening lately. It also helps keep the storm drains from filling with trash, which is a major cause of flooding, noted Addabbo. In addition, it provides employment opportunities for ex-convicts and other having difficulty finding permanent work.

Romeo Hitlall, owner of Avenue Lounge, said the Doe Fund has been “very helpful” for businesses like his that typically open later in the day, often times to a ticket for litter. “For the Councilman to cut the funds and take it somewhere else, I don’t think he has respect for this community.” He agreed there has been a huge difference since July.

“The complaints have been out of control,” added Finnerty.

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