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

Hilda Cohen was not reappointed, ostensibly to ensure turnover, but several CB 2 members who've served much longer than her were still given seats by Council Member Laurie Cumbo and Borough President Eric Adams.

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

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Is it possible to FOIL a City Council member’s official emails with regards to CB appointments?

  • BrandonWC

    I was just thinking about that myself. My guess is that you couldn’t get anything from within her office but any external communication (with, say, members of the public, CB members, Adam’s office, etc.) should be fair game. You could also probably FOIL CB2’s records to see how long various members have served.

  • Reader

    Cumbo equates safe streets with gentrification and thinks she’s doing her district a favor by blocking things like bus lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrian plazas. Meanwhile, most of her constituents don’t drive and those that do tend to be wealthier on average. She would rather people suffer long, expensive commutes and be exposed to danger than tackle the complex problems of neighborhood affordability. Much easier to blame same streets advocates and kick them off of community boards, I suppose.

  • J

    More evidence that NYC needs elected community boards like DC’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission system. If you don’t like what your ANC rep is doing, run against them. The current NYC system is opaque, unresponsive, and highly undemocratic.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Actually, NYC needs an elected City Council.

    Maybe back when the Council was a permanent sinecure for like as long as they kept doing things to benefit special interests at the expense of everyone else, like the state legislature, maybe there had to be an appointed body to actually “represent the community.”

    Now, thanks to term limits, that isn’t the case anymore.

  • NYCBK123

    Were the reappointed/new members supporters of safe streets?

  • Brad Aaron

    Yes, but expect them to be redacted to the point of uselessness.

    https://www.muckrock.com/foi/new-york-city-17/manhattan-cm-ydanis-rodriguez-emails-17728/

  • Larry Littlefield

    Really, of the three legislative bodies — Congress, state legislature, city council — the council is the only one I have any respect — or at least limited enmity for — at all. So we don’t need “community boards” anymore. Maybe just community meetings chaired by the member of the City Council.

  • mfs

    that’s hilarious.
    nothing would change, and in fact, representation might be worse.

  • PO’d@LaurieDumbo35

    Raw deal. Laurie Dumbo is a mindless cipher, doing whatever the bad guys say.

  • PO’d@LaurieDumbo35

    Hilda Cohen is a great and necessary voice in this community. CB 2 doesn’t deserve her.

    I understand how politically an Eric Adams cannot just go around a Council Member’s recommendations. Still, everyone who is angry and who cares about this should write him and Community Affiars Director Nan Blackshear (nblackshear@brooklynbp.nyc.gov) to say:

    1) Hilda got a raw deal.

    2) What Hilda practices about safe streets is exactly what you preach.

    3) Keep to that promise going forward. We’d like to see you not play ball with the mid-20th Century mindset of the bought-and-paid-for 35th District CM.

    4) There is an opportunity to make lasting, positive change here by not listening to self-dealing hacks.

  • Scroller

    Cumbo continues to be a disappointment. I’m routinely torn between moving out of embarrassment that she’s my representative or staying to fight against her. Luckily she’ll be term-limited out this cycle and I doubt she’ll be able to successfully pursue a higher office.

  • Scroller

    Literally. The first thing she did when getting elected was secure several millions of dollars in funding to the struggling non-profit she founded and only left as CEO to run for city council. If that’s not a conflict on interest…

  • KeNYC2030

    It’s outrageous that neither CB 2 nor the borough president’s office would provide information on the length of board members’ tenures. This should be readily available public information, and the Council should immediately pass a law requiring that it be available. If Brooklyn CBs are anything like those in Manhattan, they’ve got members dating from the Coolidge administration.

    But we all know that getting fresh faces onto CB2 had nothing to do with this. It was payback time for a small-minded Council member.

  • PO’d@LaurieDumbo35

    A big let-down to get this hack after Tish James. She wasn’t perfect but she cared.

  • PO’d@LaurieDumbo35

    I could handle some of the self-dealing if she didn’t exploit that kid at every photo op. There is something off about her, like AI programming.

  • Brian Howald

    Shit, even the responses to “In your own words, describe what a Community Board is and what its functions are:” were redacted on privacy grounds.

  • lostarchitect .

    Cumbo spammed my mailbox (paper mail, not email) with dirty campaign ads smearing her opponents. It was disgusting. I would never vote for her because of that. Not surprised to hear now that she’s pulling this kind of crap.

  • Menachem Goldshteyn

    So the whole point of bringing on new board members is to make it look ostensibly that they are open to new ideas. But the real power remains in the hands of a few loyal old timers while the new blood gets booted off before they can establish themselves.

    Hmmm sounds like good old fashioned cronyism.

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