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The Civic Scene: Vote for term limits, but not to give mayor more power

On Election Day Nov. 2, in addition to the congressional and state legislative candidates we will vote for two City Charter proposals. For the past six months, a Charter Revision Commission has held hearings all over the city. Different issues were discussed in different boroughs. Different civic association leaders from the Queens Civic Congress attended the hearings. President Patricia Dolan coordinated the effort and held a civic meeting on the proposals at the Queens Colonial Farmhouse with speakers from all sides.

The QCC wanted term limits to be one of the proposals, but the commission decided that limits of eight years would not start until after the 2013 elections, thus giving newly elected City Council members three terms. At no time during the hearings did anyone mention or ask for a delay before the term limits became effective.

Although the proposal prohibits the Council from making changes to benefit itself, it does not prohibit a Council to make changes for a future Council. This will be the first question on the ballot. You have to decide if you will accept this, but voting it down means the term limits will be 12 years and not eight. The QCC barely voted that people should vote yes for the first question.

Leading up to the charter proposal changes, there were feelers about limiting the power of the borough presidents, non-partisan elections, taking authority away from community boards and comments by civic leaders that it is easy for builders to get zoning changes from the city Bureau of Standards and Appeals and other agencies. None of this was put on the ballot, but City Hall restored the operating money it had wanted to take away from community boards.

Question No. 2 is a series of seven unrelated proposals the QCC believes do not need to be part of the charter but could be made into law by the Council or city agencies. The QCC believes they would centralize the power of the mayor and move closer to independents running for office. For information, visit nyc.gov/html/charter/html/home.shtml, nyc.gov/charter or nyccivic.org. The QCC is against question No. 2.

For decades, Queens and other borough civic associations have pressured the city Department of Buildings to stop owners from renting illegal and dangerous apartments to people. The city is starting to look bad because too many illegal renters are being trapped in basements and upper floors when fires block the only exits from these premises. Firemen have also died and been injured in mazes of illegal rooms. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri have figured out a way to do an undercover investigation into illegally converted apartments.

Starting last May, investigators from the DOB searched the online advertising site Craigslist for illegal apartments and found them. By using Craigslist, inspectors pretend they want to rent and can gain access — otherwise, it may be hard to gain entrance to private property. But if someone wants to certify before a judge that there are illegal conversions, then a judge will issue a court order for the DOB inspectors to enter the property. The DOB now gives out illegal conversion educational fliers at major transportation hubs.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Jorge Munoz, known as the “Angel of Queens,” is a bus driver who, with some family and friends, gives out free food to needy people in his neighborhood of Jackson Heights. He used to buy the food, but now several restaurants give him food for the homeless and day laborers. He was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal at the White House. This is the second-highest honor a citizen can receive for extraordinary acts of service to others.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: The city is changing its 250,000 street signs from a font with all capital letters to those with lowercase letters. It was decided by the federal government that people can read the lowercase letters more easily. The federal government is providing the $27.5 million the replace the signs — so they are not spending city money, just our federal tax money.

One excuse is that the signs have to be replaced every 10 years anyway. I may even start to believe those people who say big government wastes money. And to think that every once in a while when I see those big street signs I praise the city government for putting up signs I can easily read while driving ....

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