September 30, 2003
In Latest Nod to S.I. Voters, Mayor Has Plan for a New Park
By MICHAEL COOPER
Memo to Staten Islanders: If you want to keep getting goodies from City Hall, keep telling pollsters you are unhappy with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It seems to be working.
The mayor, a Republican who cannot afford to lose Staten Island if he wants to win re-election, keeps showing up there bearing new projects. Yesterday he announced that the city is planning to develop a plan to build a park on the site of the recently closed Fresh Kills landfill, which for many decades was the final resting place of trash from the rest of the city.
The announcement offered Mr. Bloomberg the chance to utter what is fast becoming the city government equivalent of the old "Saturday Night Live" mock-newsflash about Francisco Franco's still being dead: "No, we are not going to reopen the landfill."
It also gave the mayor the opportunity to summon bucolic images of what is one of the most sensitive locales for Staten Islanders: a garbage dump site that is so large it can be seen from space.
With lean times for the city, the era of costly pork seems to have passed. But Mr. Bloomberg has found a number of projects for Staten Island that may help him there politically without busting the city budget.
This month alone he has flown to Wisconsin to christen a new Staten Island ferry that was named after the popular former borough president Guy V. Molinari. He inaugurated the new Ocean Breeze fishing pier — which was financed before he took office — by catching (and releasing) a fish. And he announced that the city would seek a developer to build new housing for the elderly.
As Staten Island's borough president, James P. Molinaro, said yesterday at the mayor's news conference, "I like when he comes over, because he makes these great announcements."
For the mayor, the electoral math is simple. Mr. Bloomberg, who carried Staten Island by nearly four to one in 2001, cannot afford to lose the good will of Staten Island voters if he wants to be re-elected in 2005.
But Staten Islanders have been vocally unhappy about his decision to raise property taxes to balance the budget. The mayor has been at loggerheads with James S. Oddo, a Staten Islander who leads the small Republican delegation in the City Council. And there have been murmurs that Representative Vito Fossella of Staten Island is considering challenging the mayor in a Republican primary.
So there was the mayor, with large color photo illustrations on easels at a news conference at the College of Staten Island, talking about the distant future of a garbage dump. One of the illustrations — imagine Monet using Photoshop — showed a creek running through a green belt dotted with red flowers. Another — an Andrew Wyeth-like depiction of "Fresh Kills" — had a cyclist riding through a windswept golden field.
Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that the garbage piled at Fresh Kills is still producing methane gas, so it is not yet safe to cycle over or canoe through. "It will be decades before all of this land is available for people to safely go on it," he said.
But he said that it would be irresponsible not to start planning for the future now, and that parts of the site that were not used as a dump could be reclaimed in a matter of years. To get a start, the city has hired Field Operations, an urban design and landscape architecture firm, to begin the "conceptual design" of a future park, he said.
The mayor said that the $3.38 million planning phase is set to be completed in June 2005.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company