July 17, 1997

Messinger Reaches Out to the Police and Teachers


NEW YORK -- Ruth Messinger said Wednesday that New York City police officers should be paid the same as their suburban counterparts, the latest in a series of costly initiatives she has proposed during an intensified week of campaigning for City Hall.

Ms. Messinger also proposed Wednesday that all 1,100 of the city's public schools be kept open until 6 p.m. daily. She has also called for the city schools to match the teachers' salaries of suburban school districts.

But she declined to say for now how she would pay for any of this, other than to pledge she would not raise any taxes to do it.

"You will find over the next months, from now until Election Day, that I will give you lots of proposals for how this city can save money," said Ms. Messinger, who is leading in the polls for the Democratic mayoral nomination. She went on to suggest it would not be that difficult, arguing that her after-school programs, which she described as a way of combating juvenile crime, would cost $45 million a year.

"The issue is not, is there $45 million in a $33 billion budget?" she said. "Of course there is. The question is, do we have a mayor with the will to find that money? I'll be that mayor."

Ms. Messinger made the proposals during a day of public appearances and interviews, after a week of beginning to fill in the holes of a campaign that many Democratic colleagues had described as drifting. She visited an after-school program in a park in southern Queens Wednesday to demonstrate what she contended was the need to restore youth programs the mayor had cut.

But Ms. Messinger's proposals about schools and the police again suggested the difficulty she faces in trying to capture attention and fashion a message when many voters view the state of the city as good, and when its chronically precarious budget complicates any attempt to propose new programs. Giuliani's aides immediately made that point, saying that raising police salaries could devastate the budget.

"Add it to the laundry list of the mayor of Fantasyland," said Fran Reiter, the mayor's campaign manager. "Every day Ruth comes out and tells us how she wants to spend billions of dollars that the city doesn't have. I have not heard Ruth tell us once -- once -- what taxes she will raise and what services she will cut."

Ms. Messinger said she would soon detail how to finance her plans. "I will make it clear where in this city budget there is waste," she said.

In addressing police and teacher salaries, Ms. Messinger is appealing to two unions that have shown little interest in her candidacy until now. She said it was hard to recruit and retain qualified police officers and teachers because of the higher salaries in the suburbs. She said they were not necessarily the only city workers who were entitled to parity.

Paying New York police officers the same as their suburban counterparts -- Ms. Messinger did not clarify which suburbs she meant -- could be expensive. Ms. Messinger, the borough president of Manhattan, declined to say whether she intended equal benefits as well as salaries. New York police officers with five years' experience are paid $45,593, said a spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. In Suffolk County, police officers with five years' experience are paid a maximum of $65,328. But medical, sick leave and other benefits tend to be more generous in New York City.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company