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Bloomberg Visits the Bronx. Dinowitz Anti-Pricing Rally Fizzles.

Mayor Bloomberg and city agency commissioners answered questions in Riverdale last night.

Megan Chuchmach reports:

The auditorium at PS 24 in Riverdale was packed Tuesday night, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his commissioners entertained an estimated couple hundred Bronx residents at a town hall-esque style meeting organized by the Northwest Bronx Democratic Alliance and the Riverdale Community Association.

There was no dancing or singing, but the Mayor did crack a couple jokes and laughed off the possibility of a run for President. All jokes aside, Bloomberg did what he came to do: answer questions and discuss issues ranging from community to city levels.

The night seemed to get off to a good start, beginning with a first question addressing Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal, which has received a cool reception in the northwest Bronx neighborhood.

Bloomberg said the plan intended "to raise money to give people the mass transit that is the alternative to them driving their cars." When another audience member raised the issue of limited Riverdale parking, the pro-mass transit Bloomberg responded that fewer parking spaces mean less people buying and driving cars. Period.

Bloomberg admitted the issue of tolls was highly contentious in the plan, but said he didn't want to leave office without at least attempting to fix the City's gridlocked transportation systems.

"I don't know better than anybody else how much people will change their driving habits," Bloomberg said. "But I do know how much money it will bring in." The proposal, he said, brings in $354.5 million alone from the federal government, which chose the City as a pilot city to test the plan.

And, besides, he added, "If we're going to do something about the air that we breathe, then we've go to do something."

Other audience members raised the issue of ever-increasing Croton Filtration Plant problems, which Emily Lloyd, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, said was a result of a soft dollar and intensive New York market.

Lloyd blamed the cost hike -- which, she admitted, has increased by about 130 percent -- on the rising prices of labor, copper and equipment.

"No, I'm not happy about the rising costs," Bloomberg said, before suggesting that a substantial part of the problem is people who neglect to pay their water bills.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a vocal anti-congestion pricing advocate who had been rumored to be hosting an anti-congestion pricing rally before the meeting but did not, characterized the excuses as baseless.

"Prices have gone up, but they haven't gone up that much," Dinowitz said after the meeting. "Labor has not doubled. Materials have not doubled. Nothing has doubled." He said Commissioner Lloyd failed to tell audience members the truth: Her Department is "incompetent to deal with the investigation." In September, Dinowitz similarly accused Bloomberg of lying about the federal government's deadline for congestion pricing funding.
Other residents voiced concerns about small businesses being driven out of the area by big box and chain stores and a lack of gifted and talented programs in the school district. They were part of the lucky. Six audience members' questions were randomly drawn. Bloomberg assured everyone that their other questions would be returned via phone or email very soon.

"Everyone will get a response," Bloomberg repeated.

Dinowitz said that wasn't enough.

"I don't like when you screen the questions," Dinowitz added. "It's not as open."

That didn't bother Marilyn Turner and Matilda Cascio, two longtime Riverdale residents who came after seeing a flyer in their buildings announcing Bloomberg's visit.

While Cascio voiced concern over Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal, she admitted the Mayor made it sound "very plausible." Her friend agrees.

"He's the only honest politician in the country today," Turner added.
"He's socially conscious and he seems to want to leave the world a better place than he found it."

While Bloomberg's well-rehearsed responses to the issues raised were to be expected, Turner, who had never seen the Mayor live before, voiced surprised at something else.

"He's much warmer than he comes across on television," she said smiling.

-- Reporting and photo by Megan Chuchmach

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