When the Board of Estimate was eliminated by court order in 1989, the office of borough president was essentially relegated to the outskirts of New York City politics.
Without any real power, the job morphed from that of an inside back-room dealmaker to outer-borough, hometown cheerleader.
And no one has embraced that role more than our own beep, Marty Markowitz.
But some argue that Markowitz is wasting taxpayer money with his staff of 74 — including a full-time proclamation writer and three drivers for his seven cars.
It’s no wonder that the New York Post has gone on a crusade to eliminate the borough presidents entirely.
But that’s where we part company with our colleagues in Manhattan.
People who live and work in the “inner borough” may not appreciate it, but we in the outer boroughs need our borough presidents, if only to be a counterweight to the misnamed “City Hall,” with its Manhattan-centric mayor’s office focused on big business.
Of course, you don’t need to be an award-winning editorial board to know that times are tough.
Just this week, the ripple effect from the meltdown on Wall Street has led our elected officials to rescind a property tax rebate for homeowners, propose tolls on the East River bridges, discuss fare hikes on the subways, close a popular state park in Williamsburg, and even suggest a six-cent surcharge for every plastic bag we take home from the supermarket.
In addition, the Bloomberg Administration has asked for modest cuts to the five borough presidents’ offices — a second round of cuts that followed a five-percent trim in June.
To his credit, Markowitz swiftly followed the mayor’s request to trim the fat. The fact that he did so without complaint shows that he appreciates the gravity of the economic times we’re in.
But, frankly, it also suggests that he doesn’t require such a big office, with such a big budget.
Say what you will about Markowitz, he has certainly been a loud voice for Brooklyn.
And that’s exactly what a borough president should be, a public advocate if you will, for his or her borough, using his office as a bully pulpit.
But one thing is clear: Markowitz does not need a staff of 74 to do what he does.
He could do it with himself, a couple of staffers and a bullhorn — and save the public millions every year.
©2008 Community News Group
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