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An Office Worth Saving

Recently, the borough presidents' role has been attacked by editorial writers who believe it is an anachronism that wastes millions of city taxpayer dollars and accomplishes little.

We disagree.

Borough presidents are not as powerful as they were before the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the Estimate Board. We might concede the office is ceremonial. But borough presidents speak for their borough's needs and interests.

The City Charter was revised in 1990 following the court decision. Many borough president powers were given to the City Council. But no Council member can speak for a borough. Council members speak for district needs. Only the borough president can see the big picture.

In Queens, residents have been fortunate to be represented by two outstanding borough presidents since the charter revision. Claire Shulman and her successor, Helen Marshall, have done exceptional jobs representing Queens' needs in City Hall and Albany. They are more than ceremonial figureheads.

Shulman and Marshall have carried the banner for Queens just as Marty Markowitz has done an excellent job representing Brooklyn. It is ironic that critics are targeting one of the things in city government that has been working well.

The presidents can sometimes serve as borough "cheerleaders." What's wrong with that, especially if that cheerleading is respected? In addition to advising the mayor, borough presidents advocate for their boroughs in the annual budget process, appoint community board members and comment on all land-use items.

Critics of the office should remember that Queens is 10-times larger than any other city or town in the state. If Buffalo and Albany deserve a mayor, Queens deserves a borough president.

The Queens borough president's leadership was evident this past year in the debate over the redevelopment of Willets Point. By contrast, borough Council members have been reduced to fighting for the smaller interests of their own districts, even if it meant delaying or derailing the project.

Similarly, Shulman played an important role in promoting the AirTrain.

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