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Mike says subway panhandlers scarce, but NYers beg to differ


panhandling Credit: A panhandler at Grand Central Monday. His face has been obscured to protect his identity. (amNY)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that “there aren’t very many panhandlers left” in the subways, a remark that flabbergasted many straphangers who beg to differ.

“What train is [Bloomberg] riding?” asked Gerard Madriaga, 32, of Queens. “It’s everywhere you go, always a panhandler.”

Political observers and some New Yorkers said Bloomberg’s comments are the latest example of a mayor out of touch with the lives of regular New Yorkers.

While officials couldn’t say definitively whether begging for change on the trains is on the decline, Ronald Stewart, 48, of Brooklyn, insists he’s seeing more subway panhandling.

“It’s many more. It’s sad,” said Stewart, who said his morning commute on the A train Monday included two panhandlers.

Ken Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College, said when Bloomberg rides the subway, he may be accompanied by a security detail that shields him from such annoyances.

At an unrelated news conference Monday, Bloomberg shared his view on panhandling when a reporter asked about the subways and mentioned the “occasional panhandler.”

Bloomberg responded by saying there weren‘t many left, adding that the reporter’s question was a “cheap shot at an agency that’s worked very hard to fix that.”

The MTA declined to comment Monday.

The mayor has been a regular straphanger for 45 years, his spokesman said.

Still, a city survey conducted Jan. 31 found 1,275 homeless people in the subway, an 18 percent increase in “unsheltered” people there compared to 2010.

Suggesting that there aren’t many panhandlers in the subways probably wouldn’t jibe with what riders regularly see, said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign.

But the problem has improved since the 1980s, Russianoff added, when the trains were akin to a "hotel.”

Mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser wrote in an e-mail that much has been accomplished by the city, “even if there is always more to do.”

Bloomberg’s political opponents have tried to portray the three-term mayor, an independent, as an out-of-touch billionaire.

After the monster snowstorm in December, he caught flack for telling people to shop or take in a Broadway show.

But the detached label probably doesn’t mean much to Bloomberg, who isn’t seeking higher office, Sherrill said.

“He’s never going to be a candidate again, so it doesn’t matter,” Sherrill said. “But it is important for the mayor to have a nose for reality.”

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