Looking for Mayor Goodbar

November 10, 2008 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment

Some Islanders hoping for Bloomberg to deliver the goods during a 3rd term.John Luisi would like to ride his bicycle along Hylan Boulevard without fearing for his life.

Joyce Goldstein wants a public gallery so members of the burgeoning arts community can exhibit their talents.

Dr. Ralph Messo wants Staten Islanders to have the same access to health care that residents of the other boroughs do.

From adding bike paths to building a public hospital, advocates believe Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the person who can help. After nearly seven years in office, advocates say Bloomberg is familiar with the unique needs of Staten Island. However, some advocates wonder if the mayor has focused too much on quick fixes rather than the larger issues dealing with health care, transportation and education.

“I think he understands the problems but he’s been shunning it for some reason,” said Dr. Messo, past president of the Richmond County Medical Society. “He’s slowly coming up to bat at a snail’s pace. But there’s not a question in my mind that the mayor is the one who needs to fix the problems.”

This week, the City Council is expected to vote on a bill that would allow Bloomberg to run for a third term. If it passes, Staten Islanders already have a wish list for items they want him to address.

“We picked some of the low-lying fruit,” said Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island), who sent some requests to the mayor in April. “Now there are the midrange and long-term issues that are more complex.”

WATERFRONT

For an island, people don’t have much access to the water, Oddo said. A pet project of his is to beautify the waterfront and reclaim public access to those areas through various developments.

“The maritime industry is like a hidden treasure on Staten Island,” he said. “You can grow jobs on the waterfront. Good-paying jobs, real jobs.” Oddo said there are also opportunities for recreation and transportation there but that projects have been stalled because of a lack of support from city agencies. Two of those projects are the proposed International Speedway Corp. racetrack (NASCAR) for Bloomfield and the Stapleton home port.
We’ve lamented time and again that if this particular piece of property was situated in any other of the boroughs, there’d be more interest in it,” Oddo said.

TRANSPORTATION

Bloomberg created the Mayor’s Transportation Task Force, which improved the flow of traffic along Hylan Boulevard and Richmond Road. The group also created a bus route that travels over the Bayonne Bridge and drops riders off at the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.

Islanders also credit the mayor for improving Staten Island Ferry service on weekend mornings, although the return trip from Manhattan late on a Saturday night is frustrating, with hour-long waits for the next boat, said Luisi, a St. George resident who served on the Ferry Riders Committee.

“Frankly, I think if they increase the ferry service, there would be a parallel increase in interest in the North Shore,” he said. “Younger crowds would move to the area and it would revitalize the economic engine.”

Another opportunity that’s been stalled is a ferry route from Woodvale Avenue to Lower Manhattan, with possible stops in Perth Amboy and Midtown.

Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore) said he has helped secure about $8 million for the project and that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has set aside around $6 million for dredging and construction.

But for months, he has been waiting on a signature from the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

Projects — like building a new bus depot and adding more express bus service — could get done quicker with better communication between city officials, said Joseph Carroll, the district manager for Community Board 1. “They need someone, someone whose name is Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to say, ‘Hey, agencies — cooperate’.”

HEALTH CARE

uring his last election year, Bloomberg mulled the idea of a public hospital on Staten Island. But that plan has yet to be realized.

Instead, the Island’s two private hospitals bear the burden of patients who don’t have insurance, Dr. Messo said. That’s money the hospitals could have otherwise used to upgrade technology and equipment, he added.

The borough is also faced with a significant shortage in primary care services, an issue Islanders have been decrying for years. But rather than address the large-scale issue, city officials have built one clinic in Port Richmond and are designating $850,000 toward a mobile medical van, Dr. Messo said.

He said Staten Island health care providers want a fair share of the Health and Hospitals Corporation’s budget. “All I’m saying is the money that’s spent in other boroughs should be equally spent on our borough,” Dr. Messo said.

THE ARTS

Another underserved population on Staten Island is the artists, said Ms. Goldstein, president of the Staten Island Creative Community.

She said Bloomberg is different from other mayors in that he has a personal interest in the arts. Still, Staten Island is the only borough without a community gallery.”

“We’re not supporting our local arts,” Ms. Goldstein said. “It’s an absurdity to have all these creative people who have no place to show off their work.”

She said the borough is ripe for economic growth and that tourists would get off the ferry and stay on Staten Island if there were more places to go. But existing opportunities have been languishing, such as the National Lighthouse Museum, a historic waterfront property that could have been turned into a multimillion-dollar harbor enclave with a museum, housing, shops and restaurants. The project is dying in the planning stages because of a lack of support.

EDUCATION

Education reform is sure to be part of Bloomberg’s legacy.

While the mayor generally gets the credit for lowering crime in schools, raising graduation rates and closing the achievement gap, others lament the lack of parental involvement.

“I know this is a big ship to turn around,” said Joan McKeever-Thomas, a longtime education advocate on the Island. “Children come to the door everyday with every problem of society and I think he has a good handle on that. But he needs to involve more parents and teachers so we can look out for what’s best for our children.”

Education advocates tend to grade Bloomberg tougher than most city agencies. His critics contend he runs schools like businesses with too much of a focus on test scores and not enough on providing a well-rounded learning experience in the classroom.

“These kids just aren’t getting all they need,” Ms. McKeever-Thomas said.

Amisha Padnani
Staten Island Advance

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Entry filed under: Dive In, Staten Island.

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