By Maurice Pinzon
Yesterday Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was in Jamaica, Queens to announce that property tax rebate checks of $400 were in the mail. In a news conference, after receiving an overwhelmingly positive reception from a predominately African-American, Democratic audience, Mayor Bloomberg had a few words for any challenger in next year’s mayoral election. “As John Kerry said, Bring ’em on,” the mayor said.
Mayor Bloomberg visited the Robert Couche Senior Center purportedly to remind people that all homeowners would be receiving a tax rebate check of $400 from the City, but that they needed to make sure to register with the New York State School Tax Relief Program (STAR) if they had not done so, to get the municipal rebate.
For more about the City’s property tax rebate go to NYC Department of Finance
Mayor Bloomberg spoke before a packed lunchtime crowd with Council member James Sanders Jr. (D-Queens), who represents the community in the City Council and Eleanor Gibson Kelly, the director of the senior center, by the mayor’s side.
Then Mayor Bloomberg shook hands, chatted and had his picture taken with the seniors. Mayor Bloomberg shook hands with the people directly in front of him but also made an extra effort to reach those who remained seated.
With news photographers in tow, the mayor circled the dinning hall as people followed and surrounded him, while others eagerly waited for his attention.
Mayor Bloomberg then walked into the kitchen. The mayor said he wanted to sample the food to see if it was up to par for the seniors. One cook said to the mayor, “If it isn’t, it’s her fault”, laughing as he pointed to a fellow worker.
Then out of the kitchen, with more greetings and picture taking, until the mayor was finally able to reach the room where reporters were waiting for him.
But even with this demonstration of skillful campaign like movement through the dinning hall, one reporter still asked Mayor Bloomberg if voters might not see him as an aloof billionaire.
Mayor Bloomberg replied: “I think the answer to your question is go into that dinning room and ask people whether they think I’m out of touch. The reception that I just got in there it seems to me says the reverse.”
Indeed, James Jennuttu, sitting just outside the room where the news conference was held did have a good thing to say about the mayor. “I just liked him,” he said. Mr. Jennuttu said he had always voted for Democrats. Then he paused and asked this reporter the mayor’s party affiliation. He was told the mayor was a Republican. Asked if he would still vote for Mayor Bloomberg even though he was a Republican, Mr. Jennuttu said, “This time I might.”
Samuel Williams another member of the senior center said he was usually there for the lunchtime meal. Asked what he thought of the mayor, Mr. Williams said: “He’s doing a very good job.” Then Mr. Williams added, “I never thought I’d say that about a Republican.”
Asked if his fellow seniors might agree, Mr. Williams said, “I’m not sure anybody but Dinkins would have gotten this reception,” referring to former Mayor David N. Dinkins.
Mr. Williams indicated the mayor had a bad start to his tenure when he raised fees and taxes. But Mr. Williams attributed this to tough times. Then he added, “It’s worked out pretty well.”
Indeed Mayor Bloomberg had just admitted as much to reporters.
“I went to the city council and to the state legislature and asked them to raise taxes. It was the right thing to do at the time,” the mayor said. The mayor indicated that at that time, taxes had to be increased if New York City was not to fall into the disarray of the 70’s.
But now, Mayor Bloomberg explained, the City had just enough of a budgetary comfort level to give people a much needed real estate tax rebate.
“This is not a gift from the city, this is people getting back their own money,” Mayor Bloomberg said. The phrase similar to one President Bush uses. “It’s the people’s money, not the government’s, ” the president has said.
At the door to the senior center minutes after Mayor Bloomberg left, Council member Sanders was asked if he was surprised by the positive reception the mayor had just received.
“The mayor has done many smart things,” Council member Sanders said. The council member explained that people in the community were sophisticated, open and active. “This race is not a foregone conclusion,” Council member Sanders said about expectations that Democratic mayoral candidates could take the community’s vote for granted.