I was bringing it all back home. After a road trip that took me and Kittens Ablaze through nine southern cities in nine days, the goal was to dive back into the local political scene. The recession has had a pointed impact on the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area, halting the ooze of gentrification dead in its tracks, leaving unfilled condos floating empty in the sky. The rapid integration of weird-looking young people into an old Catholic community has often felt unnatural, but at least with the flow of the people slowing down, those already here will all get to know each other a little better. After all, we share the same concerns- affordable housing, reliable transportation services, and the survival of small businesses. I decided to check out the Community Board 1 meeting this past Tuesday night to see what was going down these days. I had heard that there was some dispute over the bike lanes on
Community Boards are a
The meeting took place in a cafeteria on
My friends, it is hard to give a short version of the facts here, but it starts with a bike line.
Look, parking in
Soon after the Markowitz/Yassky letter, CB 1’s Chairman of 30 years, Vinnie Abate, and his top deputy, Gerald Esposito, sent a letter, on CB 1 letterhead, seemingly in their official capacity, concurring that the bike lines had to be amended, in contravention of CB 1 vote that had been taken in November. When that letter and an accompanying article ran in the Brooklyn Eagle, CB 1 Transportation Committee Chair, Teresa Toro wrote to the paper to clarify that Abate had spoken for himself, and not for the Community Board. As her punishment for going to the press without coming to him first, Abate fired Toro, within his legal right, though on ethically questionable grounds, given that he was firing her for committing essentially the same infraction he had- going to the press without Board authorization. Additionally, Abate's transgression seemed worse, as it publicly altered CB 1's stance on the bike lanes without a proper Board vote.
Person after person testified to what a great leader and visionary Transportation Chair Toro had been. I have to confess I was a little taken aback. There was more testimony about how great she was than you are likely to come across at most weddings. Her accolades include serving as a liaison between the community and the MTA during the subway strike, working for the expansion of parking spaces in Greenpoint, and leading the proliferation of bike lanes throughout
For those of you who do not live in Williamsburg/Greenpoint, this story might have been about as interesting as one of my Student Assembly war stories. Indeed, the similarities were tremendous, and having been both the berated Chair and the angry dissident, it was not only fascinating to be the objective observer at this meeting, but also amusing to sit through an argument fueled entirely over the organizational consequences of airing disputes and grievances to the press, when in fact multiple members of the press sat there for THREE HOURS while CB 1 members essentially aired their disputes and grievances. I guess the nice thing about being a blogger ( a word still not recognized by this edition of Microsoft Word) is that while you aren’t given the status of being press, that lack of status can get you closer to the action than you might be otherwise allowed.
Anyway, this dispute is bigger than just the personalities involved for two reasons. First, the argument for more bike paths will continue to gain momentum, especially if service cuts make public transportation less attractive. Second, the meeting was an eye-opening introduction to the inner-workings of Community Boards, the
The decision to fire Toro will not fade gently into the night. At its worst, it could fissure CB 1, perhaps reopening the wounds between the old guard and the new wave (though it should be noted that Toro and many of her allies are longtime residents). And, after all that, the Kent Avenue bike lines remain an unresolved issue in the fast-moving politics of Brooklyn, in the crippled New York City transportation infrastructure, another dagger threatening the quest for unity in the Age of Obama.