Saturday, August 21, 2010

Senator Says Small Biz Key to Recovery by Michael Cusenza - Queens Chronicle

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Between bites of a house salad and sips of soda, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) took on the economy, jobs, senior issues and terrorism, among other topics, inside Georgia Diner in Elmhurst last Thursday.

New York’s junior senator said employment remains the No. 1 issue, with the Empire State’s jobless rate at around 8 percent, slightly below the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There is enormous anxiety and disillusionment,” Gillibrand related to a small group of reporters gathered at a table in the Queens Boulevard eatery’s rear dining room. “People are very worried. It’s palpable.”

The former congresswoman said that recovery from the recession will be extremely slow and take several years. Small businesses are the key to growth, Gillibrand asserted.

“We need to create jobs in growing industries like energy and biotechnology,” she said. “We need to stay competitive.”

She said she supports again extending unemployment insurance benefits and is working on legislation to get more money flowing into community banks to boost lending.

With Queens being a hotbed of foreclosure, Gillibrand also talked about abandoned houses and what they mean to communities.

“People walk away because the house is worth less than what they bought it for,” she explained. “We want to keep families in homes, because if a house is foreclosed upon, it can affect the neighborhood; it can affect the crime rate.”

Gillibrand sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As the city remains “the number one target of terrorism” she said she is in frequent contact with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, working on securing more money for dirty bomb protection and is at the forefront of the debate on cyberterrorism.

“Cybercrime is the precursor to cyberterrorism,” Gillibrand stressed. “It could be an enormous economic disruption.”

Another assignment for Gillibrand is the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Hours after detailing at the Rego Park Senior Center legislation aimed at financially protecting and empowering seniors, she said that through her statewide forums and workshops, older New Yorkers and their families cabetter equip themselves against mortgage fraud, insurance fraud and phone and Internet scams.

Gillibrand is especially proud of her work with veterans. Last month, she announced plans for legislation that would aid service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury in obtaining quality medical care, and helped a Middle Village Army veteran eliminate debt levied by the Department of Veterans Affairs due to an accounting error. On Thursday, she hailed tax credits for companies that hire recently returned service members.

“A lot of men and women coming home are struggling with a lot of things,” Gillibrand said. “I’m working hard to create a better landscape for veterans when they come back.”

A married mother of two young boys, Gillibrand said programs aimed at combating childhood obesity anchor her work on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. She applauded Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s work on this front as well.

Gillibrand’s praise of Bloomberg may come as a muffled shock to some as several published reports outline an icy relationship between the two, possibly dating back to shortly after her appointment to the seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year. On Thursday, Gillibrand seemed to dash any notion of an ongoing tiff.

“We share a lot of our agendas,” she said. “We work well together every day. We’ve gotten to know each other over time, and he’s come to respect me.”

Bloomberg’s girlfriend, Diana Taylor, was briefly touted as a possible opponent to Gillibrand in the fall election. The former state superintendent of banks recently told WNBC that she probably could have defeated Gillibrand if she pursued a campaign.

Three other Republicans — former Rep. Joe DioGuardi, economist David Malpass and ex-Port Authority Commissioner Bruce Blakeman — are expected to compete in the GOP primary, according to the Rasmussen polling firm.

Gillibrand said she welcomes all comers.

“I’ve said it all along — anyone who wants to run, should run,” she said.