Gale Brewer Reappoints Safe Streets Foes to Manhattan Community Boards

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has reappointed a slate of community board members with a long history of opposing safer streets and better transit.

Brewer announced her 2015 board appointments on Monday. Among those granted another two-year term was Community Board 7’s Dan Zweig. Zweig was recommended by Council Member Helen Rosenthal and reappointed by Brewer despite protests by neighborhood residents and traffic violence victims all-too-familiar with his hostility toward projects that would save lives and reduce injuries on Upper West Side streets. Zweig’s reappointment will complicate efforts to install a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, which Rosenthal has said she supports.

Gale Brewer tells traffic violence victims how nasty they are for urging her to remove street safety obstructionists from community boards. Photo: Stephen Miller
Gale Brewer told street safety advocates they were “nasty” for urging her to remove obstructionists from Manhattan community boards. Photo: Stephen Miller

Community board votes are supposed to be advisory, but in practice, if a board opposes a street redesign, nine times out of ten DOT will water it down to the board’s satisfaction or withdraw the project altogether. Board member objections usually center on perceived impediments to driving and parking.

Hostile community boards are a huge obstacle to Vision Zero. Yet Brewer said last year she would not remove board members who oppose transit and street safety improvements. Through two rounds of appointments she has stayed true to her word.

Led by chair Henrietta Lyle, Harlem’s CB 10 has held up bus lanes on 125th Street and delayed safety fixes on streets including Morningside Avenue and Lenox Avenue. Lyle has dismissed census data showing that most Harlem households are car-free, and complained to Streetsblog that “empty” bus lanes on 125h Street slow her cab rides to the subway. Lyle was nominated this year by Council Member Inez Dickens and reappointed by Brewer. Brewer also reappointed CB 10’s Barbara Nelson, who opposes road diets and almost single-handedly stalled a plaza proposed by Harlem neighborhood groups.

Ted Kovaleff marshaled a CB 9 transportation committee vote against a road diet for Riverside Drive and pedestrian islands for W. 120th Street. The decision was based in part on Kovaleff’s belief that Riverside should remain conducive to speeding because traffic congestion used to interfere with his weekend car trips to Vermont. Brewer reappointed Kovaleff to CB 9.

The case could be made that CB 12 has come a long way from the days when Jim Berlin led board opposition to Greenmarkets, but Berlin hasn’t given up on impeding progress in Washington Heights and Inwood. Last month Berlin persuaded the CB 12 transportation committee to pass a resolution calling for DOT to factor the preservation of free curbside parking into a bikeway design. At that meeting Berlin was openly dismissive of the majority of public speakers, who testified in favor of the project as proposed by DOT, and addressed a staffer for Council Member Mark Levine as “honey child.” Regardless of Berlin’s antics, City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez nominated him for another term, and Brewer approved.

CB 7 has a long history of stalling safer street designs on the Upper West Side. Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, who co-chair the board’s transportation committee, have for years opposed street safety projects despite supportive DOT data and favorable public testimony. When people who lost loved ones to traffic violence urged Brewer not to reappoint Zweig this year, Brewer told them, “People are complaining about how nasty you are.” Ignoring pleas from safety advocates, Brewer and Rosenthal gave Zweig another two years. Brewer reappointed Albert in 2014.

Streetsblog has a message in with Brewer’s office concerning her community board picks. We’ll have rundowns of 2015 rosters in other boroughs in future posts.

  • I’ve taken heat for criticizing Brewer before but she is just another spineless pandering NYC politician.

  • Thorin Messer

    Is Brewer an elected official?

  • JudenChino

    Yes, and she “talks” a good game on livable streets. But apparently she does not walk the walk.

  • Why the hell are CBs appointed and not elected? Until that changes, they don’t at all represent the community, just those who nominate and appoint them. FAIL.

  • BBnet3000

    Of course she did. They’re connected, not elected.

  • Voter

    Community members who want to stop children from dying = nasty. Community board members who want to preserve a traffic-free trip to Vermont and free parking on their block = dedicated civil servants.

    Very disappointing move by Gale Brewer.

  • AlexWithAK

    At the very least they should at least be limited to 1 or 2 terms. Rotating community member though would make a huge difference. These long-term, ensconced members have far too much power over a range of issues across the city.

  • Disgusting.

  • J

    More evidence that the CB system is horribly horribly broken.

    DC’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) system provides a nice alternative, where ANC representatives are elected, so if people are unsatisfied with how they are being represented, they can run for office or vote for someone else. Simple democracy. Not so in NYC, and results are getting ugly.

  • J

    It’s complicated b/c she does good things as Borough President & at the council, but she is not a hyper-local representative, and is in a weird position of nominating reps. She has to somehow deduce what the people in each little area want, which is really really tough. Seems like putting it to a vote would be much easier and fairer system.

  • armyvet00

    Vote her out next election!

  • Triple-Prime Voter

    The problem with Zweig is that as Transportation
    committee co-chair he literally sets the committee’s agenda, controls the terms
    of discussion and always gets the last word.
    Worse, he frequently comports himself in a manner unbecoming a committee
    chair – bullying, raising his voice to members of the public, and sometimes
    even ridiculing fellow committee members.
    Another two years of his leadership is unthinkable. CB7 chair Elizabeth Caputo could remove him
    from his post tomorrow if she wanted to.

  • Citizen

    Unacceptable. Citizens need to show up and disrupt these Community Board meetings. Simply do not let CB7 do business until change is made. Go to jail over it if you have to. Perhaps that’ll get Helen and Gale’s attention.

  • Jesse

    Let’s also place blame on DOT which has elevated the role of CBs from advisory to authoritative through their unique brand of cowardice and laziness.

  • Mark Walker

    It’s official: Brewer is part of the problem. I will not vote tor her again. I will also turn out to support anyone who credibly challenges her in the primary.

  • Nasty?

    I’m sure the Dutch Kindermort protestors were called “nasty” too.

  • DanCon

    Good for Brewer.

    Btw, who elected Trottenberg or Sadik-Khan? They were appointed – and got a salary to boot. At least CB members volunteer their time, because they love their community, not because they are being paid.

    Instead of whining, how come none of the armchair activists here join the CBs?
    Perhaps because your creds are lacking? LOL

  • HamTech87

    “Armchair activists,” really? These are the leaders of Families for Safer Streets, and people whose loved ones were killed by motorists.

  • Maggie

    There are hundreds of applications for the community boards. The time commitment is admirable but there are a LOT of people willing and ready to serve. It’s not like no one else stepped up.

    As a voter in Rosenthal’s district, it really disturbs me that I can’t find an online bio for these guys (Zweig and Albert) who are appointed to represent me. How is the neighborhood to understand this process and their qualifications?

    The most disturbing reappointment of all though, in my view, is Jim Berlin, who called a woman in his district ‘honey child’ at a public meeting. That’s so thoroughly disrespectful. I’m shocked he would get re-upped after that.

  • Outrageous. “Nasty,” even.

  • SheRidesABike

    Wow. Beginning to think that CB reps like Zweig and Berlin could literally hit and run and still get re-appointed.

  • Tyson White

    You mean these volunteers don’t get anything from local businesses? Are you delusional or something?

  • Wanderer

    Be careful what you ask for–you might get it. Los Angeles has elected neighborhood councils, and some have gotten hijacked by weird little well-organized factions that don’t really represent the neighborhood. Very very few people vote in those elections.
    There are a lot of other ways to exert pressure around this–term limits, requirements that a transportation chair have some kind of job related to the field, pressure on the Community Board about who they appoint to transportation positions.

  • Kevin Love

    Then have the election as part of the municipal election.

  • Kevin Love

    Many here have applied.

    Also, neither Trottemberg or Sadik-Khan got a job for life.

  • AlexWithAK

    I agree. I think having them appointed by the city council rep but with term limits makes sense.

  • AlexWithAK

    It’s amazingly dimwitted to tell the people who are angry that the same reps keep getting reappointed to community boards to themselves join a community board. If those people keep getting reappointed, how can anyone else logically join?

  • Joe R.

    I actually worked did some work for a company which made, among other things, LED traffic signals. The person I worked with mentioned the frequent “donations” his boss made to local community boards to as an inducement for them to encourage installation of traffic signals. My response was no wonder new signalized intersections have been popping up like mushrooms.

    So yes, not only are community boards often corrupt, but they often end up encouraging solutions which may not be the best ones. The real answer is to limit their power solely to matters which directly affect their neighborhoods. That doesn’t include micromanaging street design since streets are public thoroughfares which by definition must be managed in such a way as to benefit the city as a whole, even if in some cases the end result might be detrimental to one or more communities. Also, the fact that few community board members have any expertise in traffic engineering should preclude them from having any influence over street design. We don’t put forth new building blueprints before them for the same reason. Their “suggestions” would be uneducated at best, dangerous at worst.

  • Joe R.

    One term. In fact, ALL elected representative should be limited to one term only in the same position, and maybe two or three terms in total regardless of position. That would end career politicians. The founding fathers had the idea of citizen legislators who serve a term or two, then go back to private life. That’s what we need to return to. When you have career politicians, you generally have people with no skill set other than being able to make nice speeches. My idea would open up government to more average citizens from all walks of life. Since they would eventually have to return to life as a private citizen, they might actually do things in office which benefit average people, not just the elite.

  • neroden

    Sounds like running a candidate against Brewer is helpful.

  • neroden

    Term limits have proven to be a terrible idea because when you get a good person… they just get thrown out before they have a chance to make a difference.

    On the other hand, I agree with your second idea. It was used in ancient Athens and called “Sortation” — you picked government officials like picking people for jury duty.

    My ideal system would be to pick government officials at random, and let them stay in office until they resigned, were impeached, or were recalled (you’d need recall elections). Once they left, you picked someone else at random…

    It would keep the power-hungry away.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, keeping the power hungry away is really the goal. I’ve found the best people for positions of power are the ones who have to dragged into them kicking and screaming. Once they settle in and make peace with the idea of leading, they usually tend to be great leaders. Those who want power for its own sake, not really.

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Will Gale Brewer reappoint noted street safety obstructionist Dan Zweig to Community Board 7? Families of traffic violence victims came to her State of the Borough address yesterday seeking an answer. Protesters stood outside Columbia University’s Alfred Lerner Hall with signs — “Gale, You Have the Power to Fix CB 7” and “Lives Matter More Than Parking […]