Boro’s Gateway Should Remain Named for Queens
By Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.
For every driver stuck in its rush hour traffic, for every runner dreading its steep uphill climb, and for every child gazing at its intricate structure while riding an elevated N or Q train traveling alongside it, it’s a bridge like no other, uniting two distinct worlds in a global city with one true name – the Queensboro Bridge.
By now many of you have heard about the proposal to change its name to the Koch-Queensboro Bridge in honor of former Mayor Edward I. Koch – a living legend. He absolutely deserves a tremendous honor, equal in symbolism and size to the Queensboro Bridge, for guiding our city through one of its darkest periods and for his endless service to residents in all five boroughs. But not at the expense of a landmark so closely tied to Queens’ culture, history and present-day life. No one would ever rename the Brooklyn Bridge or even the Manhattan Bridge, and Queens deserves the same respect.
So let’s get out of the business of renaming bridges all together. We already learned our lesson the hard way with the renaming of the Triborough Bridge. I opposed that renaming also, but again it was not personal to Robert F. Kennedy. It simply went against the community’s wishes and cost taxpayers millions in much-needed revenue that could have been used for maintenance and upgrades rather than new signs – not to mention the endless aggravation and confusion that comes with giving directions to a bridge that no longer exists on maps or road signs.
The proposal, which was put forward with the best intentions – albeit too quickly and without ever consulting Queens County – will likely be voted on by the City Council in the very near future.
I am not at all surprised to see 70 percent of people surveyed by the Queens Chamber of Commerce against the renaming. The survey also featured a question on congestion pricing, which indicated that more people would rather pay to cross the bridge than have it renamed.
Keep the Queensboro Bridge for Queens.
I’m happy to see that many Queens organizations and editorial boards have joined me. Queens residents have written my office, posted on my Facebook wall and come up to me in the street – all pleading for the Queensboro Bridge to keep its rightful name. I’ve also attended numerous civic association meetings throughout Queens where members unanimously are against the renaming, to put it mildly. Often the mere mention will elicit booing and hissing – again, not because of what the name is being changed to, but because of pride in our borough and pride in our bridge.
I’ve suggested an alternative – another turn-of-the century landmark located in the heart of the city’s civic center – the Municipal Building. This 40-floor structure, one of New York’s most beautiful buildings, with vaulted ceilings featuring the same unique tile as the Bridge’s vaulted ceilings, truly keeps this city running. It not only faces City Hall but it is where the business of the city is conducted.
Let’s hope our drivers will keep their chance to curse its name during rush hour traffic, let our runners feel proud of completing the Queens portion of the marathon on its grueling terrain and let our kids continue to marvel at the hulking presence of…the Queensboro Bridge!
Tweed Undercuts Principals By Grabbing Half Their Nuts
By HENRY STERN
We tend to write about what we view as major injustices, which means that minor injustices receive short shrift.
The Dept. of Education can briefly and appropriately be referred to as Tweed, referencing its abode at 52 Chambers St., a building whose construction enriched the Democratic county leader at the time to an extent unmatched until the advent of CityTime 140 years later. The schools had been run since 1940 out of 110 Livingston Street, in Brooklyn, an address that in time became a metaphor for waste and bureaucracy. Rejecting figurative suggestions that it be blown up, the city sold the building and it is now a convenient if uninspired condo.
Those educrats not pensioned off reconstituted themselves in Tweed, a 19th century relic at the northern end of City Hall Park. Seized by idealism, the Tweedlings set up a City Hall Academy, a charter school to share their building and remind its occupants who they were supposed to serve. The children shortly afterward disappeared and the Academy was relocated. One doesn’t use an executive suite for manufacturing, even in education.
The move to Manhattan does not appear to have drastically affected the thought practices of the Tweedlings, who reorganized the school system several times in a few short years. Their claims of educational achievement were debunked by state officials last July, and the longest-serving chancellor departed in December.
Although this is not a cosmic issue, it deserves more public scrutiny than it has yet received. What the Tweedlings have done this year is to renege on an agreement which allowed school principals to defer a small percentage of the annual appropriation for their school until the next year, to enable them to retain teachers or offer new programs. These are expenditures they would be unable to afford unless they were allowed to keep some unspent funds.
One of the key goals of education reform under mayoral control was to increase the authority of principals, while at the same time holding them responsible for the success or failure of their students. The principal was to be treated as the CEO of a school, not as a bureaucrat at the bottom of the Tweed totem pole.
This year, Tweed has notified the principals that one-half of the money they have saved and set aside will revert to headquarters if the money is not spent this year. The deadline for “use it or lose it” is now March 18.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley of Queens held a press conference with several other elected officials at P.S. 128 in Middle Village protesting the Tweed directive. “Taking 50% of our schools’ reserves will do little to close a budget gap but will have a big impact on the programs schools can provide for our students,” said the councilmember. “We are telling the Mayor and the DOE to not cut our schools reserves - it’s bad education policy, it’s bad management policy and it’s bad budget policy.” Four elected officials joined in her statement.
It is hard for us to believe that Cathie Black ordered this policy shift on her own, breaking faith with the principals who are considered the cornerstones on which Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s program to reform the schools is built. Across the five boroughs, the total amount saved by the principals was around $80 million. Why should Black impair her own credibility by taking less than $40 million (the 50%) away from the schools to return to headquarters, when the Department’s total budget exceeds $20,000,000,000? (That is twenty billion dollars.) Also, the fact that the principals have until March 18 to spend the money means there may not be any financial savings at all, just a lot more school supplies and toilet paper purchased.
The closer one looks at this episode, the odder it appears. One would think that this administration in particular would want to encourage initiative by principals through giving them a small percentage of their school budget to save for a rainy year, 2011-12.
It is an extraordinarily difficult task to teach children, many from deprived backgrounds, to read, write and cipher. It is fair to suppose that the best ways to teach may not yet have been discovered. The point of today’s article is not to take DOE to task for the performance of its million students; we may not know any better than they do on that subject. What we do know is that it makes sense to keep one’s word, and not to take away what has been given, not to alienate the people you rely on to lead, and not to conceal what is being done or who has done it.
If one conducts oneself properly and obeys the rules of civilized behavior, people will be more likely to believe that what one is doing on more important matters is credible and makes sense.
The appropriate words here are those that Bloomberg for years has addressed to every commissioner just after he has appointed them: “Don’t [mess] it up.”