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A Trashy Political Idea

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Some of the worst policy ideas in history have been borne out of political payback by elected leaders.

We now are experiencing one of these on New York City's East Side, where a long-forgotten political feud is now rearing its ugly head and endangering the health and well-being of a ticked off community.

Trash disposal and transfer is one of those municipal problems that makes most voters eyes glaze over -- unless it affects them and their children.

Then it arouses much more ire and citizen involvement than almost any other issue.

Let me explain how this is playing out in one normally tranquil residential neighborhood which has many schools and one of the largest youth athletic facilities in New York City.

(Full disclosure disclaimer: One of my children occasionally plays at this athletic facility.)

About eight years ago, New York City was debating how to equally share the burden of siting waste plants and transfer stations for garbage.

In the past, the good citizens of Staten Island, New York's least populous and most neglected borough, had done more than their fair share with the Fresh Kills landfill becoming the main dumping ground for New York City's garbage.

But when it was closed down, our elected leaders were forced to look for alternatives in New York's five boroughs. At the time, the first-term mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, was facing withering criticism and a likely election challenge from then speaker of the City Council, Gifford Miller, whose district encompassed the Yorkville neighborhood on Manhattan's East Side, which included a closed down marine transfer station.

Bloomberg and his administration, which has been overwhelmingly successful in avoiding political feuds and generally does the right thing in policy decisions, decided that re-opening this marine transfer station in its adversary's district was a good idea (and, perhaps, a way to stick it to the feckless critic, Mr. Miller).

Well, Miller's candidacy failed in 2005, Bloomberg won easy re-election but this misguided decision to site the waste transfer station in a heavily residential district did not go away, because to do so would be to admit that it was a political maneuver in the first place.

And now, seven years later, Miller's successor as council speaker, Christine Quinn, is such a rubber stamp to the mayor that there is no one in power in New York City who has been able to stop this bad idea.

But the community is fighting back and it may be able to affect change. Residents for Sane Trash Solutions has mobilized more than 10,000 area residents to fight City Hall. It is registering voters and it will be a force in the 2013 mayoral election.

(Disclaimer number two: I will be a candidate challenging Ms. Quinn in 2013 to succeed Mayor Mike Bloomberg.)

Spreading the trash problem around the five boroughs is a wise goal. Siting marine transfer stations in residential neighborhoods where many children congregate is awful public policy.

The mayor and Council Speaker Quinn should recognize this, admit this plan is folly and let the good citizens of Yorkville focus on their jobs and families rather than spend all their time fighting a politically-motivated and bad policy.

Trash talking is bad in sports and politics.

Speaker Quinn, Mayor Bloomberg: please clean up your act on this one.

Tom Allon is a 2013 liberal and Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City.

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