Last week, we attended a get-acquainted session with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in her office at 1 Centre St., along with a few other reporters from community oriented online publications. She detailed some of her major priorities and answered questions on a wide range of topics. Here’s a recap.
- Of special interest to people on the Lower East Side, Brewer said she’s well aware of the pressures faced by “mom and pop” businesses in the neighborhood. In the past, the new borough president has made it clear she’s not a fan of chain stores. When she was representing the Upper West Side on the City Council, Brewer pushed through new zoning restricting the size of storefronts on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues; it was a move meant to discourage the proliferation of more bank branches. While she was not specific about the right approach on the LES, Brewer said she would like to help come up with strategies to support independent shop owners.
- She touted the work of a new community task force working on a master plan for the Seaport area, and credited a similar process surrounding the former Seward Park Urban Renewal Area as a model for future neighborhood planning projects. Brewer said it’s obviously not possible to set up a community engagement panel for every city land use issue, but said she’d like to see local residents involved in large-scale projects going forward. “More communication and early planning” are the keys, she said. Creating more affordable housing, Brewer asserted, is without question the city’s biggest issue and her top priority.
- Brewer has introduced 22 bills so far in the City Council, in collaboration with some of her former Council colleagues. She’s particularly proud of the paid sick leave legislation, which she first proposed four years ago. Margaret Chin, who represents the LES at City Hall, became sponsor of the bill after Brewer transitioned to the borough president’s office. The legislation went into effect April 1.
- As we reported yesterday, Brewer’s office has appointed new members of Manhattan’s 12 community boards. Going forward, her office will be emphasizing training of board members. Two areas of concentration will be on land use issues and conflict of interest practices. In response to our question about potential conflicts that arise when members have a stake in a particular issue (liquor applications, for example), Brewer said board members simply need to know when they’re obligated to recuse themselves from specific votes. “We need to be more clear about the rules,” she said.
- Brewer said she believes bike lanes help make the city safer, but she has no intention of removing community board members who oppose new bike lanes. Brad Aaron of Streetsblog, who also attended the informal gathering, has more on this topic.
- She expressed concerns about the implementation of New York City’s new Pre-K program, saying conflicts are sure to arise over limited space in school buildings. Brewer wrote to the mayor about these concerns just this week.