Saturday, November 1, 2008

Helen Sears

Grief for Council pols over car perks

It's tough to get a parking spot in Jackson Heights, Queens - unless you are City Councilwoman Helen Sears.

Sears (D-Queens) has a reserved parking spot directly in front of her district office. There's even a Department of Transportation sign warning drivers the spot is for "Council Vehicles" only during peak hours.

While all Council members receive parking placards from the DOT that allow them to park in many restricted areas and even avoid paying the meter, four have their own private parking spots on city streets.

Sears, Councilmen Al Vann and David Yassky (both D-Brooklyn) and Councilwoman Helen Foster (D-Bronx) have spots outside their district offices reserved for their own use from 7a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays.

"The way to solve the problem of scarce parking isn't by doling out perks that just benefit the privileged few," said Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that has issued numerous studies on parking in the city. "We need smart policies that benefit everyone.You don't solve the problem by giving three people free parking and exacerbating the problem for everybody else."

Foster and Yassky's parking spots were requested by their predecessors,but both Vann and Sears asked the DOT for their specially designated spots, city officials said.

"It's very useful for doing the job," said Yassky. "Our district stretches from Williamsburg to Park Slope. We are out in the field a lot."

Sears, Vann and Foster did not return calls from the Daily News.

Parking is at a premium in many city neighborhoods. Last month The News reported that more parking tickets were given out in the 115th Precinct - which includes Jackson Heights - than any other precinct in the city.

"We should be setting an example and not getting special privileges," said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Queens). "Other New Yorkers, including those with special needs, are routinely denied special consideration to get such a parking spot."

Avella is pushing for a bill that would create a registry of all parking placards issued to elected officials and city workers. And he pledged to cut up his own placard at a press conference Wednesday.

"I should have to endure what everybody else does in the city in terms of parking," said Avella. "I'd rather have the permit go to a police officer than me."

DOT officials wouldn't comment on individual Council members but said they review and award requests for specially designated parking spots on a case-by-case basis.

Bloomberg's Member Items

Daily News Blog, by Elizabeth Benjamin, May 13, 2008

On the heels of Mayor Bloomberg's little-publicized announcement last week that he had requested a review of discretionary fund allocation on his end of City Hall comes a memo from Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler outlining a host of reforms.

The memo reveals that the mayor himself controls a pot of cash - the amount of which fluctuates from year to year, I'm told - for which Council members and borough presidents can apply during budget negotiations to direct to the nonprofit of their choice.

This creates the "mistaken impression that the Mayor's Office is funding its own 'Member Items,'" Skyler writes, adding: "This should be rectified."

The non-member items awarded by Bloomberg last year totaled $4.52 million. This is on top of what the members got through their own Council discretionary funds and also on top of capital funding.

The list of who got what reveals the top beneficiary was Councilman Simcha Felder - long known to be a close ally of the mayor - with $1.925 million.

No. 2 on the list was another Bloomberg favorite: Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who got $900,000 for two concert series (recall that he's a big concert promoter).

Bloomberg also went out of his way to assist two of the Council's Republican members, providing $250,000 each to Minority Leader James Oddo and Councilman Vincent Ignizio. (Note: Nothing for ex-Councilman Dennis Gallagher).

The rest are as follows:

- Councilman Domenic Recchia, $625,000.

- Councilwoman Helen Sears, $50,000.

- Councilman James Vacca, $20,000.

- Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., $400,000. (One of first Democrats to endorse Bloomberg in 2005).

- Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, $100,000

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