Helen Rosenthal Won’t Say Why She Reappointed Street Safety Foe to CB 7

Members of Families For Safe Streets asked Council Member Helen Rosenthal at a town hall meeting last night why she reappointed street safety foe and longtime Community Board 7 transportation committee co-chair Dan Zweig. But Rosenthal refused to answer questions from Upper West Siders who have lost loved ones to traffic violence.

Joan Dean, left, lost her grandson Sammy Cohen Eckstein in a traffic crash. Mary Beth Kelly, right, lost her partner Dr. Carl Henry Nacht. Both live on the Upper West Side and asked Council Member Helen Rosenthal about why she reappointed a street safety foe to Community Board 7. Photo: Emily Frost/DNAinfo
Joan Dean, left, lost her grandson Sammy Cohen Eckstein in a traffic crash. Mary Beth Kelly, right, lost her partner Dr. Carl Henry Nacht. Both live on the Upper West Side and had questions for Council Member Helen Rosenthal at a town hall last night. Photo: Emily Frost/DNAinfo

Zweig has spent years stonewalling street safety plans, particularly community requests to remake the Upper West Side’s most heavily-traveled streets with pedestrian islands and protected bike lanes. Zweig was appointed to the board multiple times by Council Member Inez Dickens. After a City Council redistricting moved his home into the district of Council Member Mark Levine, advocates saw an opportunity for change at CB 7.

Levine opposed Zweig’s nomination to the board and did not reappoint him. Borough President Gale Brewer also told advocates that she would not reappoint Zweig, according to Mary Beth Kelly of Families For Safe Streets. A list of community board appointments released earlier this month indicated Amsterdam Avenue bike lane supporter Helen Rosenthal reached outside her district to recommend Zweig, and Brewer approved the nomination.

“She says she supports safe streets, but then she makes appointments like this,” said street safety advocate Lisa Sladkus. “She went out of her way to reappoint him.”

“It really felt like somewhere along the line, some deal was made,” Kelly said. “I don’t know for sure what went on behind closed doors.”

With Zweig keeping his seat at CB 7, board chair Elizabeth Caputo must decide whether to reappoint Zweig and Andrew Albert as co-chairs of the transportation committee, a post they have occupied for years.

Under their tenure, the board spent years in hours-long meetings over protected bike lanes on southbound Columbus Avenue. While CB 7 ultimately supported the bike lanes, much of the delay and division came from Albert and Zweig, who employ stalling tactics on many bicycle-related projects.

Zweig has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe DOT crash and traffic flow data. He once attempted to scuttle protected bike lanes on Amsterdam Avenue by amending a resolution supporting them, requesting concrete curb extensions that would preclude protected bike lanes in the future. The amendment was defeated, and the board went on to vote unanimously in favor of asking DOT to study protected bike lanes.

Rosenthal’s reappointment of Zweig is at odds with her record as a supporter of safer streets. Less than two weeks before community board appointments were released, Rosenthal announced that she had sent a letter to DOT asking for a redesign of Amsterdam Avenue that includes a northbound protected bike lane and pedestrian islands. This is the kind of project that Zweig and Albert have opposed for the Upper West Side, but Rosenthal seemed confident it would get the board’s support. “I’m sure this will sail through,” she told Streetsblog.

According to people at last night’s meeting, Rosenthal reiterated her support for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam and said she would not sign on to an effort to weaken the Right of Way Law. But she dodged questions on why she reappointed Zweig, saying that she won’t discuss individual appointments, that the board needs a diversity of viewpoints, and that DOT has ultimate authority over street design. Eventually, Rosenthal responded with “passive-aggressive sarcasm,” according to Steve Vaccaro, who was at the meeting.

“She was visibly angered and flustered,” Sladkus said.

“We all feel like we’ve been told to shut up and go away,” Kelly said. “When you’ve lost somebody, you’re not just going to go away. It means too much.”

Rosenthal has not responded to a request for comment for this story.

  • Voter

    This is not democracy, nor does the re-appointment of someone outside the community board district represent “the community.” It represents Helen Rosenthal’s desire to be re-elected and it will cost lives.

  • DRDV

    One way to find out if there’s been a deal, Streetsblog should file a FOIL request:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/contact/foil_request.shtml

    Despite her lip service, it’s pretty clear she’s anti-safe streets. And her sarcasm and antipathy towards family members of those who have been killed is bizarre — as I recall, this isn’t the first time. It’s too bad this instance wasn’t recorded.

    But given her actions, she should not be allowed to claim to be on the side of safe streets. If Upper West Siders care about safe streets, Rosenthal should be primaried in the next election.

  • BBnet3000

    But we just need to “get better people on the CBs”, right?

  • Joe R.

    The problem is the system, not the people. If community boards had zero influence over transportation issues it wouldn’t matter if people like Zweig served on them. Amend the NYC charter to limit community board power to things of a strictly local nature.

  • millerstephen

    To be clear, Zweig does not live in Rosenthal’s Council district but does live within the boundaries of CB 7. Either way, residence in a community board district is not a requirement for appointment to a community board.

  • qrt145

    Is there overlap between Rosenthal’s district and CB7? Or can council members recommend CB members for whatever CB they please?

  • Brad Aaron

    Agree. Unfortunately, as was pointed out to me, there is little political upside for electeds in stripping CBs of their power, at least for now. Going after electeds for appointing boneheads makes the most sense, and is the only play, really, unless and until the system can be reformed. That’s a much heavier lift.

  • DRDV

    On the FOIL request, I mean specifically email. Rosenthal is too cowardly and contemptuous of the public to explain any of her decision-making — she seems to think she works for a private company — but every one of her emails and those of her staff from city accounts are public property. She’ll no doubt fight the request, but she’ll eventually lose.

  • Maggie

    This leaves me very grateful for StreetsPAC. Safe streets is the single top issue to me in voting.

  • Tyson White

    I know very little about how CBs work, so many someone can help me. Do board members have to disclose their financial information? These guys have been serving for so many years and making decisions on matters in which local businesses have interests. Wouldn’t it be a problem there?

  • QueensWatcher

    No disclosure is required. There are conflict of interest rules that have to be followed.

  • jooltman

    When blocking street design improvements that have been repeatedly proven to save lives is considered a valid “diversity of opinion,” it sounds an awful lot like the folks who give equal airtime to climate change deniers and Tea Party folks who don’t believe in Science. How is this in keeping with Helen Rosenthal’s otherwise progressive views?

  • DRDV

    Me too, Maggie, on both counts. And Rosenthal should not be allowed to dishonestly pose as a supporter of safe streets. If you re-appoint Dan Zweig to a CB, you’re an opponent of safe streets, and she should have the integrity to own up to her action. It’s like saying you’re in favor of gun control and then appointing Wayne LaPierre to a policy-making role (which CB spots unfortunately are). So, now we know — Rosenthal is not a supporter of safe streets and has made decisions that will likely lead to more death, misery and grief for at least some of her constituents (after which, they’ll be met with sneering sarcasm by Rosenthal). That should be a factor in her next election.

  • DRDV

    She has clearly shown herself to not be a progressive on urban policy, public space and transportation issues, and should not be regarded as such. She’s an enemy of safe streets — and, given her arrogrance when called on it, of transparent and accountable government in general — and that’s how Upper West Siders should regard her when she asks to be reelected, no doubt while hiding behind empty safe streets bromides.

  • Mark Walker

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but CB input is advisory, not binding. In practice, DOT defers to the CBs, but in theory, it need not do so. If Polly Trottenberg feels strongly enough about street safety improvements to override the CB, and if the mayor supports her, they have the power to move forward. So there’s no point in amending the charter to remove powers that the CBs don’t actually have. It’s all custom and taboo.

  • Tyson White

    Are you allowed to accept an envelope of cash from a business renewing their liquor license?

  • Mark Walker

    Rosenthal had two credible challengers in the last primary. I hope they run again, I really do.

  • Joe R.

    I think you’re right but unfortunately there’s such a precedent of bowing to the wishes of community boards on street design that it might as well be binding. Even when JSK had the support of Bloomberg NYC DOT didn’t get a blank slate to do what it wanted. Yes, there were a lot of bike lanes installed over the objections of community boards under JSK’s tenure, but there was also a lot of traffic light proliferation thanks to community boards insisting on traffic signals even if DOT had other solutions which might have worked better. Arguably, much of the reason speeding and aggressive driving in this city is epidemic is due to about 20 years of traffic light proliferation, mostly thanks to ignorant community boards who never met a traffic signal they didn’t like. NYC has more traffic signals than the rest of NYS and the three neighboring states combined.

    Anyway, you’re right but at this stage in order to move forward we’ll not only need to stop deferring to local community boards but we’ll also need to start undoing a lot of the mistakes of the past, starting with removing a good deal of parking and about 90% of the traffic signals and stop signs in the city. Traffic engineering from what little I know of it is a very complex process. It’s often a balancing act, meaning you only get to use a certain tool a limited number of times before it starts to lose its effectiveness. We long passed that point with stop signs and traffic signals. The traffic engineers certainly know this but they’re powerless to try alternate solutions in the face of community boards who see things only in very rudimentary ways.

  • DRDV

    According to this:

    http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/284217-helen-rosenthal-wins-manhattans-city-council-district-6-democratic-primary/

    she won the primary with only 27 percent, and Mel Wymore came in 2nd with 22 percent. Given how few people vote in city council primaries, I’m guessing that’s a difference of very few raw votes.

    I don’t live in the district, but would eager to volunteer and donate to any credible challenger. It’s hard to beat incumbents, but she should be made to own her opposition to safe streets and Upper West Siders should know who she really is and be able to vote for a true supporter of safe streets.

  • millerstephen

    “The Borough President appoints Board members. City Council members nominate at least half of the appointees (divided proportionally based on the share of the district’s population represented by each Council member).” Keep in mind that most of the time, Council members send a list of names that the BP simply approves. http://www.nyc.gov/html/bkncb1/html/explained/explained.shtml

  • Maggie

    Yes, absolutely. They say all politics is local, so I’m still wrapping my head around a local city CM weighing in on the US negotiations for an international foreign trade treaty, then yelling at bereaved families and concerned constituents from her district like they were bugging her.

  • DRDV

    Changing the CB appointment process is a heavy lift. Easier (difficult but easier) would be defeating Rosenthal by finding a credible challenger, surrounding that challenger with the same grieving family members Rosenthal just sneered at in her town hall and making voters understand what re-appointing someone like Dan Zweig means for the safety of their family members. It would be great for safe-streets advocates to start making examples of safe-streets foes like Rosenthal. There are now enough people who care about safety to do it, if they coalesce behind one candidate. Rosenthal would be a great place to start. What kind of person tells people who have lost loved ones to traffic accidents to F-off, as she did, in essence and in spirit. Maybe Joan Dean or Mary Beth Kelly should run. I’m ready to donate.

  • DRDV

    Indeed. Aside from cravenly and dishonestly cloaking herself in the rhetoric of safe streets and then acting otherwise, she sarcastically sneers at a woman who lost her grandson and another who lost her husband. She’s not just horrible on transportation, from her conduct in this meeting, one can only conclude she’s simply a horrible person. For more on how she treated people trying to make Upper West Siders safe, read the twitter feed account (https://twitter.com/BicyclesOnly) of the evening from Steve Vaccaro (whom everybody concerned with safe streets should be following). This is not a person who should be in city governnment.

  • DRDV

    Let’s hope Mel Wymore will run against her again — I see he’s still maintaining his website: https://www.melwymore.com/

    I see he was also endorsed by StreetsPac, so maybe this explains her hatred of safe streets.

    In another primary, given that she’s now revealed her opposition to street safety, perhaps she could be beaten if Wymore decides to run again. He should certainly be encouraged.

  • Maggie

    from last year in the Village Voice.

    Cooper Stock’s uncle, Barron Lerner, spoke at the [January 2014 CB7] meeting. “The fact that plans drawn up by citizen activists in 2008 and 2010 to fix the traffic problems in this area were not acted on makes us sick,” Lerner said. “We beg you: Please do not let politics, bureaucracy and interest group squabbling prevent meaningful reform in the name of Cooper and the other innocent victims of reckless, careless, and distracted drivers.”

  • They have to fill out a Conflict of Interest statement annually, just as NYC employees must.

  • Tyson White

    And if they violate that, the penalty is…?

  • Joe Enoch

    I voted for Wymore and donated to his campaign. I really, really hope he runs again. I don’t plan on ever letting up on this when I see her at community events. It’s inexcusable and I can’t wait for the opportunity to try and vote her out.

  • $250 for 1st violation, more of it isn’t resolved, then “job action” though I can’t imagine a CC Member getting dinged over that.

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