With a little more than 100 days under his belt, Mayor de Blasio has yet to win over the Upper East Side
The neighborhood — which, ironically, de Blasio soon will call home — nevertheless has presented the biggest challenge for the new mayor, who often has been seen as divisive, even confrontational, in a part of Manhattan that heartily embraced his predecessor.
We asked Upper East Side residents of all stripes how they think de Blasio is measuring up so far, and most responses acknowledged that three months is a very short time in which to accomplish anything in politics, especially following the 12-year-reign of Michael Bloomberg, a longtime East Sider. But they said his message often grates in a neighborhood that has long been among the city’s ritziest.
“Stop with the ‘Tale of Two Cities,’” said Nancy Aeschbach, an account executive at Univision Communications, the Spanish-language media company. “That is negative and divisive. Become the mayor of all five boroughs for a change.”
She encouraged de Blasio to “curb [his] arrogance” and also “realize business people are allies, not enemies.”
The mayor’s problems with the neighborhood started in his few weeks on the job, when many residents felt ignored during a heavy snowstorm that came shortly after he was sworn in.
“Upper East Side residents were disappointed with the snow plowing this winter,” said East Sider Jennifer Peterson. “It created enormous traffic jams and unsafe road conditions. As the winter progressed the plowing did get better so I would grade him an F at first on that, but improved to a B+.”
De Blasio gets better marks for his efforts to improve traffic safety, a constant concern for the neighborhood. Last week, another person was killed by cars while attempting to cross York Avenue. Nick Viest, chair of the Upper East Side’s Community Board 8, said that the board is in agreement with the need for a plan of action on traffic safety. “We do support Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiatives as pedestrian, cyclist and driver safety are major issues in our district,” he said.
Viest also noted the biggest issue of contention for most East Siders: de Blasio’s support of the E. 91st trash station, an issue almost uniformly opposed by activists and elected officials in the neighborhood. “We are in strong disagreement with the city’s current plan to build the Marine Transfer Station and would ask that Mayor de Blasio take a second look at this plan, as it will be much more costly to the city than originally proposed,” he said.
Another common concern among responses was a desire for de Blasio to repair the divisive charter school issue; even those with opposing views of charter schools in general hope that the mayor can bring some solutions and peace to a debate that has grown increasingly strident.
Newly appointed Council Member Mark Levine, who represents Manhattan’s district 7, said de Blasio’s communication could use some finessing, citing the administration’s stance on charter schools as an example.
“It was at least implied [in some earlier remarks] that he valued charter school kids less,” Levine said. “The mayor is aware of this and has made an attempt to correct it,” specifically in an impassioned speech given to parents of charter school students at Riverside Church on the West Side, he added.
Levine said that the mayor should be lauded for his strong and swift work to get universal pre-K for the city, a sentiment which many others echoed.
The biggest common denominator in assessments from Manhattan residents, though, was that there is still much to be done before anyone can hand the mayor a definitive grade, good or bad. There are still important agency appointments to be made, and some areas to which the mayor has yet to focus his attention.
Geoffrey Croft, president of independent watchdog organization NYC Park Advocates, said that he couldn’t possibly evaluate the de Blasio administration on its policies and work in parks, because very little has been done in that arena.
“Unfortunately there has been virtually nothing to report,” Croft said. “There wasn’t a single word in the mayor’s inaugural speech about parks or open spaces. What comments he has made came out of the press conference [announcing the impending appointment of Mitchell Silver as incoming parks commissioner] two-and-half months into his administration.”
Croft said that he has high hopes for the new commissioner and hopes that de Blasio will fulfill his recent promise to make parks more accessible and enjoyable to all in the city.
“We are very concerned, as we were when he was a candidate, what his solutions are to this,” Croft said. “The budget that [de Blasio] just proposed is the exact same issues we’ve had for decades – he’s proposing to allocate a fraction of the funds needed to properly maintain our parks.”
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