Marc Crawford Leavitt, Democrat for Queens Borough President

Leavitt for Our Communities

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Marc on the Issues:

Introduction:

The communities of Queens are the multi-cultural heart of the greatest city in the world, but we don’t get enough credit for it because we don’t have the strong, active leadership we need to promote our wonderful borough.  In Queens, your mailing address is your community, not like Brooklyn or the Bronx.  We need to protect and build on the strengths of our communities with innovative ideas that create jobs and make Queens an even better place to work and live and raise children.

Below are several key issues important to the Borough President race, including:

The Borough President's Job

Supporting Small Business

Education

Development and Zoning

Affordable Housing

Healthcare

Transportation

Civics

Issue #1: The Borough President's Job

The Borough President should be an activist leader and spokesperson for Queens who is a promoter, an innovator and catalyst for improving economic opportunities, education and the overall quality of life. Our diverse communities are our unique strength, representing a virtual United Nations of ethnic groups and religions.

More than just a ribbon cutter, the Borough President should coordinate among all the communities and elected officials in Queens, giving voice to the aspirations of various groups as we seek collectively to fulfill the American Dream and truly represent what the Statue of Liberty stands for.

Issue #2: Supporting Small Business

We hear about the Wall Street/Main Street dichotomy. Queens has perhaps 50 “Main Streets” from Bell Boulevard to Merrick Boulevard to Steinway Street, and we must take bold steps to support our small businesses, our “Mom & Pop” stores and restaurants, which are the backbone of our diverse communities.

We need to develop the special character and theme of every “Main Street” to make them more pleasant places to shop, easier to get to and the source of more jobs. We can stimulate local economic activity with improvements like plazas, street lighting and signage, and with cultural linkages, such as artwork in restaurants and coordinated publicity of dance and theatre events.

I support the Small Business Survival Act (Intro 847) to protect small businesses from unscrupulous landlords when renegotiating an expiring lease so as to avoid empty storefronts and encourage “win-win” results.

Issue #3: Education

As a former Community School Board Member – 30Q (the only member who was a parent of a child attending public school), I am aware of the strong involvement by a small number of activist parents as well as the limited involvement of the majority. In addition to exercising leadership borough-wide to emphasize the importance of parental involvement, strong efforts should be made to encourage parent participation including:

• Use of technology to promote parent-teacher communication and awareness of homework and events;

• Flexible times for parent-teacher conferences to make sure working parents have the ability to fit school visits into their work schedule;

• Opening up the schools for educational and cultural events, including English classes, literacy, and courses in parenting skills for parents and community members as well.

In general, our children need schools that educate them to think and grow without teachers being forced to teach to the test. Mayoral control is important for accountability, but there must be a structure that requires a mayor and chancellor to hear other points of view, including that of parents.

Issue #4: Development and Zoning

Too often zoning decisions are made without the people in affected communities having sufficient input.  This does not mean that Community Boards should have absolute veto power or that the NIMBY syndrome should be allowed to carry the day, but rather that the decision-making process needs to be thorough and transparent.

I will work with all stakeholders to ensure that recommendations of the Borough President’s office on zoning issues are appropriate.  Development and expansion should be contextual with and respect and maintain the special character of our neighborhoods. Larger projects must include public spaces and amenities, classrooms for youngsters, provision for transportation and parking, and a permanent percentage of moderate and low income housing units.  Proper zoning changes, including occasional downzoning combined with responsible upzoning, can promote appropriate growth in Queens.

I will also work with the City Council to revise zoning procedures so that local concerns are more strongly addressed in the decision-making process regarding zoning changes. Further restructuring of the process, taking some of the responsibility away from the mayor’s office, would be advisable, and worth investigating.

Issue #5: Affordable Housing

For nearly twenty years I have been working on an initiative called “Home Response-Ability.”  This initiative, with the scope of the GI Bill combined with VA Mortgage programs post WWII, would provide an incentive for individuals from moderate and low-income families to participate in a wide array of approved educational programs.  The reward would be financial assistance for one purpose only: part of the down payment for the purchase of a home (house or co-op), probably in the form of a zero-interest loan payable only when the home is sold at a profit.

Eligible educational programs would include community college courses, English classes, trade school and job (re)training, parenting skills, credit skills/financial planning, home maintenance, and even include credit to encourage high school students to stay in school and graduate.

The beauty of this “empowerment” program is that it not only encourages all sorts of education, thus creating self-sufficiency and reducing social dysfunction (and avoiding irresponsible mortgages that have resulted in the foreclosure crisis), but also results in government spending only after the program has already succeeded – when the family is ready to buy a house and has qualified for a mortgage but needs assistance with the down-payment.  Obviously, the concept is a national one, but Queens would be a great place for a model program funded by foundations.

Issue #6: Healthcare

The Borough President’s office must work with the mayor’s office, HHC, and other city, state and federal officials and agencies to find ways to have more hospital beds and other medical services restored to Queens.  Emphasis on smaller more accessible health facilities and clinics is an effective way to serve people and respect the neighborhoods of Queens.

A recent State Dept. of Health report states that one-third of Queens residents who went to a hospital in 2007 went to a hospital outside Queens. That was before two more hospitals, St. John's and Mary Immaculate, closed earlier this year. We are facing a serious shortage of hospital beds; this must be addressed and solved quickly so that Queens residents, particularly older residents, don't have to travel to Manhattan or Nassau County to get the medical care we need.

Queens also needs a medical/dental school in conjunction with a teaching hospital to generate both jobs and improved health care quality.  Also, with our aging population, we must develop facilities and/or means of providing health services that are accessible to and effectively address the health care needs of seniors.  These issues, of course, are intricately connected with the current national debate on health reform.

Issue #7: Transportation

Mass transit must be improved, especially in underserved areas (perhaps via bus rapid transit where buses operate as substitutes for subways at far lower capital cost), and reduced use of cars must be encouraged, especially in midtown during peak hours.  The so-called congestion pricing proposal that was defeated last year had many aspects that were inequitable, especially to the residents of Queens and Brooklyn.  True congestion pricing, such as proposed in the Kheel-Komanoff Plan, needs to incorporated into a financial structure that effectively allocates costs among all stakeholders, including suburban residents and owners of real estate who benefit from good mass transit.

Other transportation issues include the push to reopen several LIRR stops in Queens and expanded use of the CityTicket so that commuters can get to work. This plan should be seriously considered.  We should also consider how to foster business centers in Queens, perhaps in Flushing, Jamaica, or Long Island City, where transportation infrastructure already exists.

Issue #8: Civics

The Borough President should bring local elected officials and community leaders together with people, via town hall meetings throughout the borough, to educate and inform them about their government and available services, and allow the people of Queens to discuss their local concerns with their elected officials. Local civic associations could sponsor the town hall meetings, giving these groups an opportunity for better outreach.

As Borough President I will work with local officials and community leaders to make sure town hall meetings are not only held, but also publicized so that people from all over the borough have a real opportunity to learn about local government.