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Marshall upbeat on state of Queens

Dismal economic indicators did not sour the spirits of Borough President Helen Marshall during her State of the Borough address Tuesday.

Marshall struck a hopeful tone, saying little regarding concrete cost−cutting measures and focusing instead on the jobs that would be created through existing redevelopment projects like Willets Point.

“Did you know Willets Point will generate $1.3 billion in direct tax revenue and at least $25 billion in economic activity over 30 years?” she said, praising Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber for their efforts to push the project along.

But Marshall also had sobering news about two Queens hospitals. St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica are considering declaring bankruptcy, she said, eliciting a gasp from the assembled crowd at Queens College’s Colden Auditorium. She said she was dedicated to “working with the state to sustain health care in these communities.”

Marshall also reiterated her intention to run for a third term, touting her track record and pledging to fight certain citywide initiatives.

She opposed any efforts to minimize the role of community boards in the city’s land use review process as suggested by Bloomberg, who announced last year he would seek numerous revisions to the City Charter.

“They are perfecting democracy in local government by bringing government to the people. We must never stop that,” she said.

Marshall also called for the new commissioner of the Department for the Aging to hold off on implementing new Meals on Wheels contracts in the borough until February to work out problems, like a lack of consideration for cultural dietary choices.

She decried the 65 percent increase in homicides in south Queens and the 26 percent increase in gunshot victims boroughwide during 2008.

“Because crime traditionally increases in times of economic pressures, it is clear to me that the police department cannot sustain any additional cuts,” she said.

Marshall also pledged to continue opposing any plan to place tolls on the East River bridges.

“Too many of us here in Queens are victims of government’s failure to provide viable mass transit options,” she said, noting she testified against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s recent “doomsday” budget that included fare hikes.

She was joined during the ceremony by legendary Queens crooner Tony Bennett, founder of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Long Island City, who introduced a choir from the school.

“I was born and raised in Astoria,” he said, praising the neighborhood for its diversity. “I travel all over the world and I still come back to it.”

Among the Queens residents Marshall praised this year was Vivian Squires, the 86−year−old Springfield Gardens resident who fought off an attacker in her home after he stabbed her in the chest. Just a few days out of the hospital, Squires stood and smiled as the auditorium erupted with applause.

“She’s looking good and she sends a message,” Marshall said. “Don’t mess with senior citizens.”

Marshall also honored Fresh Meadows Times columnist Bob Harris and southeast Queens activist Juliette Hansen for their contributions to the borough.

Hansen helped establish the Bridge to Medicine program, which helps young people enter the medical field; organized the first Queens chapter of Links, an association of women of color who support the arts, youth and community health care; and serves on the board of directors for the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.

Harris, an active member of the West Cunningham Civic Association and Community Board 8, as well as former president of the precursor to the Queens Civic Congress, was stranded briefly on stage when Hansen accidentally walked away with both plaques.

“Mail it to me,” Harris told Marshall jokingly.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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