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Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Focus on Tolls and Sandy at Staten Island Forum

By Nicholas Rizzi | April 16, 2013 9:21am

WILLOWBROOK — Democratic mayoral hopefuls sounded off on the New York Wheel, Hurricane Sandy and tolls during a Staten Island forum Monday night.

Much of the talk focused on the increasing price to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which went up to $15 this year, and what the potential next mayor could do to lower it.

“We've got to find other ways to fund mass transit in the city, and particularly in Staten Island, to keep those tolls down,” said former Comptroller Bill Thompson.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said that before he would oppose the tolls, a study would have to be done to figure out the economic impact to small businesses on the island.

“That would cause me to oppose the current tolls,” de Blasio said, “but I need that study to confirm to me that that economic impact is the case.”

Candidate Sal Albanese quipped after that a study wasn’t needed to know the tolls are unsustainable.

“You don't need a study, it's common sense,” he said. “This is the most onerous toll in America. It's a major obstacle for job creation on Staten Island.”

Councilman James Oddo, who called on every candidate last week to announce concrete plans to address the rising tolls, said last night was a step in the right direction.

“I think it's a good start,” he said.

“I think we have established that this is top priority for Staten Islanders in this mayoral campaign and this has got to be an issue."

Council Speaker Christine Quinn agreed that something needed to be done and said the mayor should appoint the majority of the MTA board and give riders a vote on the board.

“We’re the economic engine of the MTA, and we have the voice of a piston,” she said.

Thompson called for reinstating the commuter tax. He said the money could be given to the MTA to potentially make up the money lost by lowering tolls.

Comptroller John Liu said that he didn’t think the tolls would be lowered anytime soon, but the extra money generated from the Verrazano, which he said goes into maintaining the buses and subways, should go to make public transportation in the borough better.

Another topic during the forum was continuing the recovery after Hurricane Sandy. Quinn said that the buyouts should be expanded from just Oakwood Beach to any neighborhood hit by the storm where residents want it.

She said that expanding the blue belt and wetlands would be a vital part to protect the borough from future storms.

“I believe we need to expand that buyout potential for other parts of Staten Island where the residents are interested in that,” she said.

“It has to be a neighborhood by neighborhood decision, but expanding the blue belt is a critical way of protecting Staten Island and protecting the rest of our city.”

Liu slammed the city for being too Manhattan centric after the storm, focusing on getting power back to lower Manhattan in the immediate days after the storm while ignoring Staten Island.

“The focus was on getting lower Manhattan restored in regard to electricity and cellphone service, and meanwhile places like Staten Island were completely ignored by City Hall,” he said. “That certainly has to change going into the future.”

“Staten Island, under a Thompson administration, will no longer be the forgotten borough,” Thompson said.

De Blasio said that he would look to end the “borough bias” he said Mayor Michael Bloomberg had by focusing on Manhattan, and give equal attention to the outer boroughs.

Liu even said that if he’s elected, the people of Staten Island might see him so much they’ll confuse him for a resident.

“I’ve already been here on Staten Island so much that, when I’m mayor, I’ll be here so much more that you’ll think I’m living here,” he said.