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This year could mark the beginning of the end for the city’s five borough presidents. A commission that will be created to review the City Charter may conclude the time has come to eliminate this office. In addition, the commission will probably look at the public advocate office, term limits and the powers of the City Council. In the end, voters will get the final say.
Those who want to do away with the borough president’s office say it costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year and has become largely ceremonial.
Borough presidents lost much of their power 20 years ago, when the state Supreme Court ruled the voting structure of the former city Board of Estimate — which included the five borough presidents, mayor, city comptroller and Council president — violated the Constitution’s “one man, one vote” principle.
Although they have less power than they once had, we do not agree the borough presidents have outlived their usefulness. They retain a major role in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
The borough presidents continue to exert influence on the future of their boroughs. They appoint members of the city planning commission and community boards and are expected to understand issues facing each neighborhood.
One publication called the borough presidents “cheerleaders-in-chief” for their respective boroughs. They seemed to think that is a bad thing; we do not. No one, besides Borough President Helen Marshall, speaks for Queens. Council members and members of the state Senate and state Assembly may care about the entire borough, but they vote for the districts they represent.
The city’s mayor, usually a Manhattanite, looks to the borough presidents to speak for their boroughs. Who else can do that? For the past 24 years, the people of Queens have been fortunate to be represented by Claire Shulman and now by Helen Marshall. Both have done an excellent job and have become the voice of the borough in city politics.
This office is expensive. The five presidents controlled $466 million in fiscal years 2007 and 2008. But the office continues to serve a legitimate and vital purpose.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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