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Laurie Cumbo Removes Safe Streets Advocate From Brooklyn CB 2 After Just Three Years

Hilda Cohen, far right, at a press conference for Albany legislation to encourage safer driving. Photo: David Meyer

If you stand up for traffic safety projects on a community board where the local council member doesn't share your views, watch out. You might lose your seat like Hilda Cohen.

Compared to many of her colleagues on Brooklyn Community Board 2, Cohen was a fresh voice. She was first appointed in 2015, more recently than several current board members -- maybe most -- who've had their seats for at least the better part of a decade.

But Cohen was not reappointed by Council Member Laurie Cumbo this year, ostensibly to ensure turnover at CB 2.

After three years on the transportation committee, during which she spoke out for traffic safety projects in this northwest Brooklyn district, Cohen was informed by a letter from the office of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams last month that she would lose her seat on CB 2 so that "other devoted community residents be given an opportunity to make their contributions as well."

The explanation doesn't wash, since so many CB 2 members have tenures much longer than Cohen's and still retain their seats.

If the decision not to reappoint Cohen was about making room for new people at the board, you would expect people who've served on CB 2 longer than her to also lose their seats. But that's not what happened. Cumbo reappointed at least three people to CB 2 this year who have served longer than Cohen.

Streetsblog contacted Adams and Cumbo for an explanation as to why Cohen was not reappointed. Adams's office directed us to Cumbo, who did not respond to the inquiry.

Neither CB 2 nor the borough president's office would provide information on the length of board members' tenures. But evidence online gives some indication of how much time other CB 2 members have been in office.

Samantha Johnson has been on the board since 2014, according to her LinkedIn profile. Dorothea Thompson-Manning was elected co-chair of CB 2 in 2014, indicating she had already established herself on the board. And former CB 2 chair John Dew has been on the board since at least 2006, according to New York Post coverage of his reappointed to the chairmanship in 2009. Cumbo reappointed all three to the board this year.

Adams also reappointed longstanding members of the board. Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project Executive Director Meredith Philips Almeida has serve since at least 2014. Betty Feibusch has served since at least 2009. And Barbara Zahler-Gringer has served since 2008, according to her LinkedIn.

Cohen served as the vice chair for land use at CB 2, as well as on the transportation committee. The last two years, she received a certificate from the board for attending every meeting.

During the 2016 debate over DOT's proposal for a two-way protected bike lane on Clinton Avenue, Cohen was repeatedly maligned by bike lane opponents for her outspoken support for safe bike infrastructure.

Cohen hopes that wasn't the reason Cumbo didn't reappoint her. "It’s a little difficult to believe that that’s what it was, but maybe -- maybe someone made the complaint that I’m too one-sided, even though I park my car on the street just the same as everyone else," she said. "There are a lot of people on the board, and there are a lot of people on the board who are outspoken. That shouldn’t be what stops us from giving back to the community in the way that we can."

Cohen also serves on the board of StreetsPAC, which twice endorsed Cumbo's opponent in primary elections for City Council District 35.

Term limits are often discussed as a potential avenue to refresh community board membership. But the impetus for term limits comes from members who've served for dozens of years, like Ann Pfoser Darby, the longtime Queens Community Board 4 member who spewed anti-immigrant bile at a transportation committee meeting last year.

Selectively booting an outspoken community board member after just three years isn't a step toward reform. It's a purge.

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