I’m grateful to the West Side Spirit for giving me an opportunity to write about my work as the Council Member for the Upper West Side. It’s my first term as a council member, so I want to share a few first impressions of the council: the office, legislation, and the people.
Most days start at the legislative office, across the street from City Hall. Walking the halls, I pass a row of offices filled with colleagues who represent Brooklyn, Queens, and lower Manhattan. I often hear snippets of conversation: a crisis in Brooklyn and staff scrambling; advocates talking about the need for childcare; and office gossip. The “best” offices are the ones facing City Hall—their view overlooks the Brooklyn Bridge. That hallway is called “leadership row,” because the offices belong to the Deputy Leaders of the council. My office is next door to Councilman Robert Cornegy’s (Bed Stuy and Crown Heights)—he has a particularly deep voice which permeates the walls with soothing authority and a gentle laugh. It’s incredibly helpful to have easy access to my colleagues to ask them to sign onto a bill or find common ground on issues. For example, I’ve spoken with Council member Menchaca (Red Hook), Treyger (Chair of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency), and Torres (Chair of the Public Housing Committee) about the PCB Legislation spearheaded by our U.W.S. schools, and they are investigating use of that model for mold remediation.
Meetings of the 51 members of the City Council take place in the chambers of City Hall. They are stately and historic and include a portrait of George Washington standing next to the rump side of his horse (that’s a story in and of itself). The bi-monthly meetings follow strict procedures. They begin with ceremony: the pledge to the American flag and an invocation. Today’s invocation was given by a Buddhist monk who asked us to meditate and breathe deeply, and he encouraged wisdom—a helpful reminder. Afterwards, the public advocate, Tish James, calls us to order and we proceed with the business of the council: passing laws and determining land use.
By the time you read this, I will have submitted my first piece of legislation and a resolution—in response to the Beacon High School science lab fire in January—and it will begin the process of review in hearings before it comes back for a final vote. Several members have already signed onto both, because they, too, believe the “Rainbow” experiment is not worth the risk of students getting badly burned, and that parents should be notified when a school building gets code violations and when the violations are fixed. (Parents of Beacon students still have not been notified that there were eight fire code violations, including the lack of a hood in the science room which would have pulled the fire up instead of out).
By the end of the day, I’m in the District Office—on Columbus between 87th-88th streets. It’s always reassuring to walk into the buzz of dedicated staff and interns who are working with our neighbors, researching issues, and writing letters. The walls are still bare, but we are ready to welcome anyone who needs assistance. A group of students from the Manhattan Hunter high school (in the MLK complex) are suggesting plans for the downstairs area to make it suitable for meetings and an open house!
Each office serves its purpose. They provide the space to serve the people of New York– I’m grateful and honored to walk in the room.
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