Upper Manhattan Council Candidates Take a Pass on Livable Streets Survey

alg_subway_181.jpgDecrepit subway stations, like the shuttered 1 train stop at 181st St., is just one of the issues Upper Manhattan City Council candidates don’t care to talk about. Photo: Daily News

When I set out to summarize responses to the Transportation Alternatives Candidate Survey from City Council contenders in Washington Heights and Inwood, I expected it to take some time. It’s a crowded field, after all, with challengers looking to knock off incumbent Robert Jackson in District 7 and a full slate of District 10 hopefuls vying to fill the spot vacated by the disgraced Miguel Martinez.

But of the 16 candidates running in both races, not one responded to TA’s survey. A single candidate, Victor Bernace in District 7, submitted a bio. But no one deigned to answer TA’s questions on the specific transportation needs of their respective districts, or street safety, congestion reduction, parking reform, public space reclamation, bus rapid transit, bike-share, or improving the health of city residents by making it easier to walk and bike.

"You would think that between crushing GWB congestion, sky-high asthma rates and mass transit that is literally crumbling before our eyes, transportation would be a top-tier issue in races uptown," said TA’s Wiley Norvell. "It’s regrettable none of the candidates took this opportunity to weigh in on some of the most pressing quality of life issues facing the constituents they aspire to represent."

Indeed. So how should Upper Manhattan voters who care about livable streets proceed? Robert Jackson voted for congestion pricing, though he was never a vocal supporter, and he isn’t really known for being outspoken on transportation issues one way or the other. Three candidates — two in District 7 and one in District 10 — didn’t make it on the ballot.

Of the remaining 12, those in District 10 are profiled in a recent Gotham Gazette piece, which reads:

If you want to get elected in Washington Heights, start by getting a car.

Paste posters of your face all over it. Blasting merengue from a
large roof-mounted megaphone can’t hurt either. Then hit the streets.

Welcome to Upper Manhattan.

I recognized candidate Francisco Spies’ name from a van that passed me on an Inwood street a few weeks back, blasting his custom campaign theme song from the aforementioned roof-mounted megaphone. I was able to track down responses to a 504 Democratic Club survey, which touches on transportation options for the disabled, from Cleofis Sarete. Luis Facundo‘s platform doesn’t mention transportation, though he is interested in making "the community energy efficient and green."

NYPD employee Ruben Dario Vargas, who according to Gotham Gazette doesn’t live in the district but plans to move there by Election Day, says he’s for "street safety" and, again from the Gazette: "wants to make sure two of the district’s subway stations, one on Broadway the other on Dyckman, get elevators." Richard Realmuto is also for safer streets, but it seems both he and Vargas are referring to overall street crime.

Ydanis Rodriguez, considered a front-runner in District 10 — mostly because he has raised the most money — boasts of both "derailing a proposed toll on Northern Manhattan bridges with Assemblyman Espaillat" and "opposing fare increases with the Straphangers Campaign." So it looks like we can expect Council Member Rodriguez to uphold the Upper Manhattan tradition of protecting the status quo while pandering to all sides.

Another District 10 favorite, Manny Velazquez, is chair of Community Board 12. Here’s his transportation plank: "Provide funding for roadway and street reconstruction projects in
Northern Manhattan and for the modernization of train stations
throughout the district."

To the west, in District 7, Victor Bernace — again, the only candidate in Inwood or Washington Heights to respond to TA at all — is an attorney who defends cab drivers in traffic court. According to his bio, however, he at least takes the subway to work, and in this video Bernace says he wants to rid Upper Manhattan of "all vehicle traffic" and make public transportation free. In 2005, Bernace made headlines by holding a fund-raiser featuring erotic dancers.

Julius Tajiddin is a member of CB 10, whose comments on residential parking from a 2007 meeting represent all the relevant info I could dig up among the remaining District 7 candidates.

Tajiddin (Freedom, Justice & Equal) and Fima Shlimel (Libertarian) are the only District 7 candidates who are not Democrats. While that race won’t technically be decided until November, voters in District 10 will choose their next council rep in the September 15 Democratic primary. As Norvell said, it’s too bad, for them and for Upper Manhattan, that the candidates chose not to distinguish themselves to a committed voter bloc on an issue that affects each and every one of their potential constituents.

  • J

    Ugh. I rode my bike to work yesterday and had to swerve around a campaign van parked in the bike lane in front of the subway station. It’s not surprising that no one bothered to even fill out the survey. When people think of themselves as drivers who happen to be taking the subway until they can afford a car, it becomes very difficult to make streets more livable.

    It’s all about perception; if you grew up with no choice but transit and walking, a car represents freedom, and politicians play on that idea. That is why opposition to tolls is so intense up here, even though few people own cars. For those of us who choose to take transit, walk and bike, a car is often seen as an inconvenience, and tolls seem like an obvious answer to reduce traffic. How do you change perceptions? More convenient transit, walking, and biking.

  • AverageJoe

    “But of the 16 candidates running in both races, not one responded to TA’s survey”

    Why am i not surprised? You think anyone but Greenwich Village elitists like JSK care about your little agenda.

    These folks don’t pay attention to a bunch who sit behind a computer all day, the same little coterie, and call that campaigning.

    You have nothing worthwhile to provide. You are ignored. When Bloomie is gone, so will his agenda and the People will have their say again, not limousine liberals like Sadik-Khan.

    She does ride a limo you know?

  • Red

    Stop trolling, Joe. Bloomberg, Thompson, and Avella all responded to the survey. So did all three Manhattan DA candidates. I guess all six are Greenwich Village elitists.

  • Nobody is more average than you Joe!

  • Peter from Stuy Town

    “It’s all about perception; if you grew up with no choice but transit and walking, a car represents freedom, and politicians play on that idea.”

    Congratulations, J – you hit it right on the head! I love TA and admire what DOT is attempting, but they seem unwilling or unable to understand that mind-set. It’s where the unfair “elitist” label came from, and it’s what killed congestion pricing.

  • Car ownership doesn’t represent freedom for Upper Manhattan Dominicans. It represents success, which is quite a different thing. If you grow up seeing all the ministers, merchants and politicians driving, and all the manual laborers and nurses taking the subway, it’s understandable that you’d want to be one of the drivers.

    If J and Peter are right, “elitist” means someone who blocks people from entering the ranks of the drivers, or from exercising their hard-earned driving privileges.

    You might expect that the fact that most of us don’t drive might lead these strivers to question the idea that driving=success, but instead it seems to simply not compute and gets ignored.

  • Cap’n: “You might expect that the fact that most of us don’t drive might lead these strivers to question the idea that driving=success, but instead it seems to simply not compute and gets ignored.”

    The belief is that driving = social promotion. This is a much harder idea to dislodge than driving = success. There’s a hard kernel of self-entitlement inside it.

  • “a car represents freedom, and politicians play on that idea.”

    I don’t think we need to go all Baudrillard to explain why there’s so little traction for antimotorist policies. The politicians need the unions’ help to organize the petition drives and the phone banks, and the unions get parking privileges in return. And once you have parking privileges, you might as well ask for (and get) driving privileges too.

  • Yes, Jonathan, but why do “the unions” (really, the union brass, not so much the rank and file) value parking privileges so much while we don’t?

  • Dear Streetsblog:

    Thanks for the positive mention. I wanted to clarify that I attempted to answer the transportation alternative survey but got error messages on their automated website and finally gave up though I believe my bio did get captured on their website. I have been an avid cyclist for many years. When I was a high school teacher I would ride to work everyday. I’ve done the 5 boro tours and various other races. On the voter video guide I’m proposing a complete ban on vehicles in NYC not just upper Manhattan. We should stop wasting billions on maintaining roads and instead spend the money on our mass transit adding heavy and light rail lines that should be FREE. We need a “CAR FREE/FREE TRANSIT” NYC!!!!

  • J. Mork

    Easy peasy: we just need to reset the definition of success to “able to pay the congestion charge.”

  • To Brad:

    I never received a transportation alternatives candidate survey. I’m good at responding to those type of things. Why don’t you email me back at peopleforjuliustajiddin@yahoo.com and I will send you a bio and timeline. I am currently building my site. If you send me the TACS I will respond to.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t find more information on me considering what I have achieved for my community and my activism.


    Julius Tajiddin

  • glenn

    The way to frame this correctly is to make traffic congestion a family issue – it’s about the safety of children and older folks. It’s also about slow bus times/bus bunching.

    It’s also about rich folks from CT and Westchester invading their neighborhoods without paying their fair share.

  • Apologies for the mix-up, Julius. I have forwarded your comment to TA. In the meantime, feel free to post your thoughts on transit, street safety and other livable streets issues here. Thanks.


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