New Yorkers Line Up to Advise Dinkins : Government: Hundreds respond to the mayor’s invitation and show up at City Hall with complaints and suggestions.
Mayor David N. Dinkins, battered by the budget crisis and seeking to project a message of personal accountability, invited ordinary citizens to his office Monday with suggestions on how to better life in the city.
Hundreds of people started lining up before dawn with complaints and ideas--including sending a squad of cowboys and cowgirls through poverty-stricken areas to preach AIDS-awareness and anti-drug messages, offering centralized computer access to municipal information, encouraging volunteerism and sacrificing a day’s pay a year to help the city.
After being pre-screened in front of City Hall, people in line were funneled through a metal detector to chat with the heads of appropriate agencies. A far smaller group met the mayor himself.
Was it a sincere search for innovation or a folksy public relations exercise? “I’d say it was 50-50,” said Michael Attisano, who emerged from the mayor’s office after suggesting a consolidation of the city’s separate housing and transit police forces. “I think he is going to get a lot of good ideas today.”
“Even now, there are those who see this as some sort of a gimmick,” Dinkins said. “It really is a desire to convey to the people of our city that this government really cares about them.”
The mayor’s invitation for ordinary citizens to meet with him came during a major televised address on July 30 that was designed to reassure both the city and the New York State Emergency Financial Control Board, created during the great fiscal crisis of the 1970s. The review board has the power under certain circumstances to seize financial control of the city.
In his speech, the mayor laid out a mixture of money-saving ideas, including ordering the heads of all city agencies, except for the police and fire departments, to give up their chauffeurs.
The mayor announced that he would not accept a pay raise for at least a year and set aside Monday as the day when New Yorkers with concerns and innovative ideas could come to see him.
And come they did. Coreen Brown of Brooklyn, arrived before dawn with a complaint about a sewer problem. When she emerged from the mayor’s office after waiting in line for hours, she admitted that she had broken into tears and Dinkins had given her a tissue.
“I forgot everything I wanted to say. I was going to invite him to my house,” Brown said.
Others remembered to deliver their messages.
Irving Scharf, a store owner from Brooklyn, suggested among other things that the mayor set up a lending-library system of math videotapes so children who miss classes because of illness or those who need extra credit can increase their learning skills.
“I am not here to berate the mayor. I am here to encourage him,” said Thelma Williams of the Bronx, who pushed for increased volunteerism and the sacrifice of a day’s pay by New Yorkers to help the city.
Carlos Foster, a rodeo producer who also lives in the Bronx, arrived wearing cowboy garb and proposed riding into poorer areas of the city with 10 cowboys and four cowgirls to preach against substance abuse and for safe sex.
Hulan Jack Jr., the son of a former Manhattan borough president in the 1960s, suggested putting all city data in central computer depositories for quick access.
Jack said that Dinkins listened and then had a municipal computer expert deliver a 30-second capsule of what already was being done. “Then we talked another minute and a half, and that was it,” he explained after leaving the mayor’s inner office.
The Dinkins invitation to New Yorkers brought out a summer Santa Claus, complete with red suit, and a woman dressed as the Easter Bunny. Police looked on bemusedly, except when Tasia Figueroa arrived with her 11-foot python, Shorty, draped around her neck.
The mayor’s staff, after quick consultation with police, asked that the snake be parked with Figueroa’s fiance while she went into City Hall to voice her municipal license complaint.