The Mayoral Candidates On Parks by Gotham Gazette Staff, Aug 29, 2005 Twitter What would you do? Play Gotham Gazette's Parks Game Four candidates for mayor discussed issues facing city parks, including staffing, maintenance and safety, at a forum on July 26 sponsored by Parks1, a campaign to have the city spend at least 1 percent of its budget on park maintenance. The discussion included Democratic candidates Fernando Ferrer, C. Virginia Fields and Gifford Miller and Conservative Party candidate Thomas Ognibene. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was invited, but did not attend. Representative Anthony Weiner could not attend because of a vote in Washington. Dave Evans of WABC TV, Erik Engquist from Crain's and Daily News columnist Errol Louis questioned the candidates. The following is an edited transcript. MAJOR ISSUE? PROTESTS ON THE GREAT LAWN ABANDONED PARKS 1 PERCENT PLEDGE PAYING FOR PARKS WITH CONDOS FIRE THE COMMISSIONER? CAR-FREE PARKS SUPERVISED PLAY LITTERING AND VANDALISM OPEN AIR WI-FI GIVING UP PARKLAND AFTER THE OLYMPICS BID COMMUNITY GARDENS IF I WERE MAYOR... THE MAJOR ISSUE FACING PARKS Dave Evans: What do you see as the single greatest challenge facing our parks today? Thomas Ognibene: As a City Councilman, one of the things I committed myself to was rehabilitating the parks in our community. I worked with the community leaders of the civic associations and the community board and I think the total we spent, my district alone, was about $25 million. On every park I found a civic association in the community that was wiling to police that park, go in there and clean it up and make sure in the morning that all the debris was removed. The people who drove in the community, one of the first things they saw when they came in was a real beautiful park. Gifford Miller: The biggest challenge we face for our parks is in fighting the notion that parks are an amenity -- that parks are a luxury. Parks are something much, much more. Parks are important. Parks are a necessity. Parks are at the heart of what makes our city strong, our city safe, our city prosperous and our city livable. We see this struggle right now with the parks department and with this administration. This administration looks at the parks and says, "It's not bad," and not bad is fine for something that isn't truly important. But if you look at parks as being every bit as much a part of the fabric of life in our city as education, as transportation and safety and security and in fact as inseparable from those things, because when you have strong parks you're going to have a stronger and safer and more prosperous city, you look at where we are today and recognize that it is not acceptable. In too many communities in this city, particularly low-income communities, our parks are neglected or abandoned. There was a piece in the New York Times the other day in which the parks commissioner said that he thought it was OK to allow parks to be abandoned and to go "back to nature" as it were. This was a park that was overrun with drug use and prostitutes, which don't seem like "nature" in its basic form. There is a problem of vision, a problem of commitment and I have a plan to change it. It starts by reclaiming the bottom 50 percent of our neighborhood parks. I have made a commitment to add $10 million to our operating budget and $25 million dollars to our capital budget to reclaim those parks. We have to enforce park cleaning in every park. You know, they're supposed to clean every park everyday. They don't. We have to actually enforce that. We should improve the under-funded facilities in every borough. We should ensure that the crime statistics are available, regarding every park, so parents can know whether the parks that they're sending their kids to are safe, and we should encourage more public and private investment in every borough and not just Manhattan. We have to change our vision of what's acceptable in our city for our parks and we have to raise our standards. C. Virginia Fields: Perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing our parks is that of funding because that funding has been systematically reduced and cut over year. Being able to bring the funding level up to the point where it is going to allow us to provide for safe, accessible and well maintained parks is going to require political will, commitment and a desire to do all that we can to ensure that our parks are safe, accessible and well maintained. As borough president, I have heavily invested in the parks throughout Manhattan. I have invested in the parks because I know the value of parks. I see parks as perhaps the great equalizer -- equalizer in the sense that every community, every neighborhood should have safe, respectable and well maintained parks, because in this city we have people who cannot afford to leave and go away to summer homes. They too have a right to be able to go to a park and enjoy it. In order to do that, we have to invest in every neighborhood and in every community. I know how to get things done with respect to making parks safe, accessible and well maintained, and as mayor, as far as our economic development overall initiatives, I see parks as a part of that Fernando Ferrer: I believe the largest problem with our parks today is the unevenness of investment in parks and the maintenance of our parks across this city. That's the problem I saw as the borough president of the Bronx for nearly 15 years and a member of the council for about five. The efforts to reclaim Orchard Beach, Joyce Kilmer Park, reinvest in Crotona Park, St. Mary's Park and everything in between with a multi-million dollar effort. The effort to acquire new parkland, the effort to get the New York Botanical Garden to create an unprecedented number of community gardens throughout the borough. It was also important to create livable open spaces, but that requires that anyone serious about parks do three things: One, support Intro 327 that will re-circulate approximately $50 million of concession funding back into the maintenance of parks. Second, to have minimum staffing levels and maintenance levels for every park in every community district in every borough or city. And third, to have a completely transparent and ongoing review of our parks, so that everyone in every neighborhood can not only see the condition of their parks, but be part of the constituency for better parks in every community. PROTESTS ON THE GREAT LAWN Should it be a right to mass gather at the Great Lawn Errol Louis: This question is about the free speech issues that were raised about the use of the Great Lawn in Central Park and in particular, the city policy that limits large events to six in the course of the summer, four of which are by the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera. Do you agree with the current limitation on the use of the Great Lawn or do you think it runs contrary to sentiments expressed by the Supreme Court when it said, in a case in the 1930s, "Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and â€¦ have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions"? Gifford Miller: I'm with the Supreme Court on this one. This is clearly a wrong policy. We've introduced legislation in the City Council to repeal it. As important as the Dave Matthews Band is to a lot of people, I don't see how it's more important than the right of the people who wanted to protest the views that were being espoused in Madison Square Garden during the Republican convention. The grass is important as well and there could be I think reasonable accommodations made for bonding for damage that is done as associated with rallies and free speech at the Great Lawn, but to reserve it for just a couple of Philharmonic events and maybe one or two others is wrong and if I were mayor, I would revoke it. Fernando Ferrer: Like any New Yorker, I treasure the Great Lawn in Central Park. But blades of grass are replaceable. The first amendment is not. It seems to me that that's what bonds are put up for. In fact, the group that wanted to use the Great Lawn offered not only to do that but presented a sensible plan for their assembly and their demonstration that in fact would've been better for this city than the plan that the police commissioner and the mayor ended up approving. I agree also with the Supreme Court on this issue. ABANDONED PARKS Erik Engquist: The parks department admits that it no longer maintains a certain number of parks, because "investing in them would be throwing good money after bad." Do you reject that out of hand, or is there some logic to ignoring parks that the surrounding community does not seem to take care of? Virginia Fields: I do reject that out of hand. It is absolutely irresponsible for the city to assume that it does not have the responsibility to keep parks well maintained and to provide the resources to make it happen, because this is public land and if the city does not invest, then no one will assume that responsibility. That is why I propose that, as a part of development plans for parks, we also factor in how [the park] will be maintained. Part of my commitment to parks is to invest in maintenance workers. Thomas Ognibene: There's no such thing as a community that doesn't care about the parks that are in it. Just think what would happen if we adopted the same attitude toward policing or to our schools. If you work with the police, the Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies and you renew the park and you make that investment, the people of that community will cooperate with you to keep their park beautiful for their senior citizens, for the people and their children. That attitude by the city of New York is unfortunately reflective of the attitude of many people in that administration about many of the aspects of life in the city of New York, and it's totally wrong. THE 1 PERCENT PLEDGE Errol Louis: Mr. Miller and Mr. Ferrer, you know many of the people here favor setting aside 1 percent of the overall city budget for parks. I'm wondering, why haven't you done that in the past and if you might take a pledge to handle it differently? Gifford Miller: I think that the 1 percent pledge, what it actually says, is to work toward 1 percent. I take that pledge. We should work toward 1 percent. But it is an enormous increase in our city's maintenance and operating budget, and I don't think we'll be able to get all the way there. I do think we need to work toward it. If you look at my record as speaker of the City Council over the last four years, I have fought against the cuts that the mayor has proposed every single year to our parks, restoring millions and millions of dollars of cuts even during the toughest budget that the city ever saw. This mayor proposed drastic cuts, I stopped them. In this past year's budget, just for example, I restored more than $9 million in cuts that the mayor proposed and then actually added $2.4 million for additional parks personnel, for parks enforcement to make sure that we are doing more to make our city's parks safer. Do I think we're going to get all the way to 1 percent? That would be an enormous increase, up to $500 million from around, a little less than $200 million. It would be great, but I don't think we're going to get there in four or eight years. Fernando Ferrer: Bringing the budget up by more than $270 million is a promise that is difficult to make given the current budget and the budget deficits that we all predict. There are things, however, that we can and must do to work toward that. I would like to see the parks budget in my lifetime go back to about half a billion dollars in pre-1990 budget terms, about 1 percent of the budget. I think we have to work toward that. A good first step is allowing parks to keep the $50 million of concession funds and to spread them across the parks that have been neglected the most. And let me react to something that was said before. When it was pointed out that an official of this city said that "in some parks to improve those parks would be throwing good money after bad," that individual, as a spokesman for this city, should have been summarily fired. If that's the attitude, if that's the belief of this city, Mike Bloomberg should've acted on it quickly and made a real affirmative statement about fairness and equity in parks and excellence in every one of our parks, no matter where they are. Dave Evan: Do you feel it's impossible to take this 1 percent pledge because of current and future budget issues? Fernando Ferrer: I think knowing that this pledge in four years would bring us to nearly half a billion dollars, as much as I would like to do it, there's no way I can tell you forthrightly that I have the means to do that if I were mayor. And by the way, the proof of that is this mayor, who says he loves parks, hasn't even begun to do it and won't even commit himself to keeping $50 million of concession funds in our parks PAYING FOR PARKS WITH CONDOS Erik Engquist: Brooklyn Bridge Park addresses the oversight that, for many years, Brooklyn Heights and the surrounding communities did not have a real park. The government stepped in and said, "We'll build you a spectacular park. We'll allocate the money, but we will not allocate one penny to pay for the maintenance of this park. Therefore, we need to build commercial, revenue generating facilities in this park, which has turned out to be condominium towers." Is this a good model? Thomas Ognibene: No I don't think extortion is ever a good model. To say that you're willing to commit to build a park, automatically when you utter those words, there is a commitment to maintain it. If you're trying to put pressure on people to build a development that has nothing to do with parks, and using that as leverage, then in a sense, you're breaching your pecuniary duty to the people. So, I would never allow it. The people deserve the park, and I think they should get the park. Virginia Fields: Clearly that should not be a part of the decision in terms of building a park in any neighborhood. So, I certainly do not accept that. One of the things that I would advocate to make sure that parks are part of the planning process is to establish a unit within the department of parks that works directly with the planning agencies so that, as projects are being built in neighborhoods, we are also planning for open space. Part of that planning is to identify how it would be maintained. And that would help us in moving forwards to make sure that we have adequate open space and parks in areas as we developed new communities. FIRE THE COMMISSIONER? Errol Louis: Mr. Ferrer said that he might have fired the parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, for the statement he made about parks that are deteriorating. I was wondering if the other candidates agree. Virginia Fields: No, not on the basis of what I heard about the statement, but there will certainly be an expectation that all the parks would be well maintained in this city and that budgets will be reflected so that we can do the necessary maintenance. Gifford Miller: Occasionally, I've had my remarks taken out of context, and I wouldn't want to get fired on the basis of one comment I made to a paper. I certainly don't think that any parks commissioner in my administration would make such a comment under any context. But the commissioner is a well-meaning person who's worked hard on behalf of the city of New York, and I wouldn't fire him for one comment. Thomas Ognibene: I would have had him clarify that type of an answer because it's the kind of insensitive remark that hurts a lot of people and a lot of communities. I don't know if it justifies firing him, but I certainly would have brought him to the office immediately and asked him what he meant by it and, if he had a good explanation, I'd make sure to get a hold of the press and explain what he meant by it. Dave Evans: Mr. Ferrer, is there any way you would want to respond or clarify. Fernando Ferrer: There is no way I would want to clarify what I said. If you are committing to equity and performance in all our parks, not just some of them, all of them, then you have to hold the highest-ranking members of your administration to those standards. CAR-FREE PARKS Erik Engquist: Some advocates say that cars should never be allowed in the parks. I hear from motorists that driving through parks is a way to enjoy them. Some also say it reduces crime if they can drive through parks. Would you be in favor of a flat prohibition on cars and vans in the parks? Virginia Fields: What I have supported and continue to support is a balance between transportation and use of parks. And I think it can be done, as we look at what we've been able to do in Central Park. I would prefer looking to see how we can do that as opposed to outright prohibition. Gifford Miller: We need to strike a balance, but I would come down further on the side of car-free parks. As somebody who drives around the city sometimes, it feels great when you get that shortcut through one of the parks and get there quicker than anticipated. But I would like to see us do serious traffic studies and I like to see us do experiments eliminating traffic completely from the parks because my gut is that we would be a better city if we really made our parks car-free places. Thomas Ognibene: In my community, in the 30th council district, we don't even allow parking near the parks after nine o'clock at night. Parks are for people. There are children in parks, there are elderly in parks and they're doing things there without the expectation that they're going to get struck by a motor vehicle. So it doesn't make any sense to me, under any circumstances, to permit cars in parks. Most New Yorkers who drive cars, should be very well acquainted with taking a little more time when they're driving. It's a very little inconvenience to protect those who are our most vulnerable and use the park. Fernando Ferrer: I lean very heavily in favor of car-free parks. Dave Evans: In Central Park, there all those cars during rush hour and I see numerous accidents involving cars hitting bicyclists. Where do you propose putting those cars? Gifford Miller: I would put them everywhere else but in the parks. I'm not suggesting, of course the cross-town transverses in Central Park -- those should be retained for the cars. But in the part that's actually in Central Park, Prospect Park, and other parks, we should be trying to eliminate cars. And they're going to have to find other ways to get around. I don't know exactly what's going to happen in terms of traffic studies, but my guess is that New Yorkers will find another way and that life will go on and our parks will be safer and people will be able to better enjoy our parks. Fernando Ferrer: There's really one choice that becomes evident in this entire conversation. Who do you remove? Cyclists and runners and pedestrians, or vehicles? It seems to me that removing vehicles is the most sensible thing to do, and there are alternate means to getting around the city, as we all know. The sky won't fall if you say you can't use Park Drive. SUPERVISED PLAY Errol Louis: The highest rate of juvenile crime occurs between 3 and 6 p.m. and the shift for parks department staff ends at 2 p.m., which leaves parks as possibly the largest unsupervised after-school program in New York. As mayor, how would you ensure that kids play and learn in supervised parks? Fernando Ferrer: One of the reasons I've talked a lot about after school programs is because of the Police Athletic League on Kelly Street, P.S. 52 playground, with a real human being in the park that was called a Parkie. [These] were the things that kept me off the tough streets. We've got to move back to utilizing our parks, especially in the warm months, as havens for kids in places like where I grew up, who really want that alternative, whose parents want that alternative. That's what I want to begin to use that $50 million concession investment for: a real human being that will be able to supervise play and make parks a welcoming place again. Not in some of our parks, all of our parks. Thomas Ognibene: With all the stakes in this problem, it isn't necessarily just the parks department's problem. Obviously, the highest instance of juvenile crime in the city of New York is that period after school and before six o'clock. There has to be a police presence because there are many people that enjoy the park and it's unfair that their enjoyment be disrupted. No matter what the statistics say, generally most of the kids that are in the parks are having a good time, playing sports, interacting, not disturbing anybody, but there will always be a few kids who feel that they have some God-given right to vandalize the park and disturb everybody's peace and enjoyment of it. We thought it was a general policing problem and our precincts always cooperated and I would look to have the precincts cooperate in that aspect of it too. LITTERING AND VANDALISM Erik Engquist: How do you get people to stop destroying and littering in our parks? Gifford Miller: One of the important lessons that we've learned in this city is the broken window lesson. If you allow the window to be broken and you allow it to remain broken, someone is going to break the next window. But if you try to stop it and you replace that window quickly, then you don't have greater crimes down the road. The same thing is true with graffiti. If people put graffiti up, and you show up the next day and paint over it, eventually people will give up. If somebody vandalized a park bench, of course that person is responsible for vandalism. But the parks department's job is to fix the broken bench. In the end, the problem is not just that bench, the problem is that way too many parks across this city get that kind of treatment, they deteriorate. After 10 years, the borough president's office comes in and puts a bunch of capital money into renovating the park. Then there's no maintenance, there's no commitment to keeping that park in nice condition. Then you come back in [after 10 years] and put the capital budget in to completely overhaul the park again. So at the end of the day, we're wasting a lot of money by spending a huge amount of money on the capital infrastructure of our parks instead of spending our money wisely on maintaining the parks. If we treat our parks with respect and we put a quality park in play, the community will keep it that way. But if you allow a park to deteriorate and you treat it like it's not worth anything, the community will start to treat it that way. We have to respect all of our parks. We have to provide a decent quality park everywhere and then people will respect what's being done in our parks. Virginia Fields: That goes to the heart of what we've been talking about all evening. When we invest, we're able to have staff in the park that is able to monitor the different areas. I have to believe that with the appropriate staff, seeing broken benches, cracked sidewalks and other repairs that must be done, we will take care of it. But we lack those resources, so as a result, we see much neglect. That's why I, too, support using the $50 million generated from concessions to reinvest in the upkeep of those parks and giving the mayor the flexibility to be able to use those dollars in areas of greatest need. OPEN AIR WI-FI Erik Engquist: Cities across the country are starting to provide free wireless service in parks and other gathering places. Should the city provide wireless Internet access so people can surf the Internet while sitting in our parks? Thomas Ognibene: It sounds like a wonderful idea if we could do it, but there are a lot more problems in our parks that deserve the money. I don't know if we're ready yet to commit to putting wireless Internet in parks. I think the people go there, hopefully, to get away from wireless Internet. Gifford Miller: Well I think that expanding access to wi-fi is a good idea. I certainly would be happy to look at whatever proposal there is, but I think the focus on our park system ought to be the parks and not as a means to expand the Internet. Erik Engquist: I think the idea is, if you have more people in the parks, sitting on those benches, it's less likely that a vandal would come and destroy the bench. Gifford Miller: Vandalism is not the biggest problems in parks. The biggest problem in parks maintenance is that people use the grass, and it gets beat up, and nobody fixes it, ever. The biggest problem in the parks is that after years and years and years, the water fountain breaks and there's like three plumbers in the entire City of New York. The biggest problem in parks is that the bathrooms are not open. The problem is not vandalism; the problem is the lack of adequate maintenance in our parks. GIVING UP PARKLAND Dave Evans: As you know, they're building a water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park. The mayor promises that, in return, $200 million will go to the Bronx parks over the next decade. People are concerned that parkland can be bartered or traded in the future and that this sets a dangerous precedent. Do you agree? Virginia Fields: There are some issues that all of us must be concerned about as we look to how we have lost park land and how park land has been used for purposes other than recreation and parks. I would advocate a much more public process before any parkland is taken over for use other than its intended use. This is public land and the public should have an opportunity to discuss it, to review it, and the relevant elected body should have an opportunity to vote upon it. That would alleviate the fear that many people have about the possibility of more parkland being taken. Fernando Ferrer: I was for filtration avoidance. I thought that the city and the state should've taken aggressive steps for land acquisition and dealing with the Westchester town's raw sewage issue and sewage disposal issues. My position was not to be. There are a lot of other egregious uses of our parks: city employee parking in Borough Hall Park in the Bronx, use of parks for non-park issues like storage and vehicles, storage of equipment. That's got to come to an end. Parks are for people. Parks are for families and their children. Parks are for the enjoyment of this city. AFTER THE OLYMPICS BID Errol Louis: Although New York's bid for the 2012 Olympics failed, it focused attention on the role of parks as sports facilities. Excluding the West Side, what specific parks and sports facilities would you continue to pursue as the mayor? Gifford Miller: The Olympics bid was a great and important thing for our city. It's a shame that the mayor crippled the bid by tying it all to the West Side Stadium. There's a variety of overhauls of public facilities in our parks that would've been a positive aspect of getting the Olympics. We have to continue to try to find the funding to do those. In the end, the Olympics never were going to be the silver bullet to create a brand new future for our city. The Olympics were going to come and were going to leave. It was never a real economic development plan. It was never a substitute for a real plan for our parks. We now have to sit down and do the hard work of figuring out how we are going to afford to do what's necessary with our park's facilities without the Olympics. Fernando Ferrer: Apparently this mayor confused the Olympics with a real economic development plan and physical development plan for the city. He similarly confused park creation with landscaping for multi-million dollar condos. We know the parks that need, desperately need, infrastructure renewal that only the city, the state, and the federal government can come together to accomplish. COMMUNITY GARDENS Erik Engquist: Community gardens were placed in dilapidated, forgotten empty lots. Then, when property values went up, developers came back and said, "OK, your job is done here, now I'm going to build". Is that fair? Thomas Ognibene: I like community gardens. I think you can have a balance with community gardens, but you can't give up valuable real estate. There is a place for some community gardens but obviously there comes a time when we have to develop a certain amount of housing. Gifford Miller: Community gardens play an incredibly important role in communities. Community gardens can provide for better housing, stronger housing, stronger communities and we have to have a realistic plan that says, OK, these are the gardens that we're going to keep and we've made that commitment, but we also have to have enough support for insurance and all that for the long run. Virginia Fields: I'm a strong supporter of community gardens, and I'm very pleased at how many of them have served to beautify areas and to create open space in areas which otherwise would just simply be concrete. I believe that the city should pay the premiums for the insurance for community gardens. New York City's first community garden was founded in 1973. Fernando Ferrer: You're looking at the guy who created the most of them in one place in this city with the help of the New York botanical garden and substantial capital funding from my office [as Bronx borough president]. Most still exist, and they are extraordinary places. We brought communities out to participate in them, to play in them, to enjoy them and to knit them into the fabric of their neighborhood. IF YOU WERE MAYOR... Dave Evans: Now, for the closing question. In the first 100 days of your term as mayor, what specific steps would you take to further parks in general Fernando Ferrer: Let me go back to the three specific points that I made in my opening statement. First, ensure that every dime from concession funds we make in our parks gets re-circulated into park maintenance and good repair. Second, minimum staffing and maintenance standards for every one of our parks. They have to be clean and in good repair. Third, a completely clear, transparent and publicly accessible way for the people in every community to judge the effectiveness of this city's administration with respect to the good repair and maintenance and safety of their parks. That means crime statistics, that means repair statistics and that also means pictures of their parks. For too many years, too many families have had to deal with dust bowls in the middle of what should be parks. It would be lovely to have wi-fi access. That means to be able to sit down on a bench. The benches and the slabs would have been replaced and painted from time to time. Working water fountains, working comfort stations, pavement that isn't cracked and destroyed beyond repair, swings, tennis courts, basketball courts, those are the things that people want in their parks and those are the things that this city has to provide. It doesn't take much more than a commitment to understand that parks really are an integral part of living in this city. Virginia Fields: First, it is absolutely essential for us to be able to do the things that we have talked about -- make sure that our parks are safe, make sure they are accessible, make sure that they are well maintained. In order to do that, we need the adequate resources. So funding would be a priority. I would make sure that dollars are there in order to ensure that we increase our money for expenses, as well as capital. I am proud to have signed the 1 percent pledge. Why did I sign that? I think it establishes something to work toward -- a goal, a commitment and with that in mind, I would work immediately on the funding. Secondly, I would work on promoting the parks. I think that the parks should be very much involved with overall planning and toward that end, I would establish a special unit, directing our parks to work directly with our planning agencies -- the City Planning Commission, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Economic Development -- so that as decisions are made for development, Parks is at the table That will allow us to better address a lot of the issues that we have talked about here today. Again, parks should be the great equalizer in every community and every neighborhood, so no matter what your social or economic level is, you too can enjoy our parks. Gifford Miller: I've laid out a very specific plan for what I would do with parks. First of all, we need to reclaim the bottom 50 percent of our neighborhood parks and in my first 100 days, I would make a commitment to expanding the maintenance budget by $10 million and $25 million dollars capital commitment to reclaim those parks which are falling apart. Second, I would enforce that current rule to clean the parks every day. Third, I would make sure that we make parks safer by enacting Parkstat legislation, which would, like Compstat with the police department, make available statistics about how many crimes are occurring in every park in the city, so that we make sure we are putting our resources to the parks that are having spikes in violent incidents and crimes. The only park that they do that right now in is Central Park. I would expand public/private partnerships beyond just Manhattan and into the outer boroughs. I think that you can have some insurance that I would do those important things, not just because I say that I'm going to do them, but if you look at my record as speaker of the City Council, I've already provided leadership in all of those areas. Thomas Ognibene: I enjoyed going to the parks for recreation and just to relax. And when I did become councilman, I went around to all the various community organizations. I didn't listen to what the parks department told me as a councilman, because it wasn't what the people wanted. The most important thing you can do is to meet with the people -- those people who are near the park, those people who have organized to protect the parks -- and find out what they want, what they think is necessary so that the park can come to be a real amenity, a real service to the people that live in that community. If you sit down with them, and give them the opportunity to interact with your parks commissioner, and let them plan and then you go out and fund it, and build it according to their desires and their hopes and their wishes, then you're really performing service to the community. I did that in my park in the 30th council district and there's no reason that it can't be done on a scale as big as the City of New York. Parks bring us close to our community, make us comfortable in our community and give us the quality of life that we deserve. 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