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Carl Heastie

Heastie Retreat: Assembly Speaker Blows Off Reporter Seeking Comment on ‘Sammy’s Law’ — Then Blames DOT

Carl Heastie continued his reticence about not letting NYC set its own speed limits. Later, he blamed the city DOT.

12:00 AM EDT on June 23, 2023

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie dodges our reporter at his home in the Bronx on Thursday. Photo: Jonah Schwarz

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who infamously prevented the legislature from taking up a life-saving measure to allow New York City to set its own speed limits, declined to discuss the matter in a face-to-face interview with Streetsblog at his Bronx home on Thursday. But his neighbors were happy to talk.

After weeks of silence amid questions of why he refused to let the popular "Sammy's Law" be voted on in the Assembly, Heastie continued his reticence.

"Can you reach out to the press office," he told a Streetsblog reporter who asked about Sammy's Law, which passed the state Senate by a 55-7 margin and has the support of Gov. Hochul, Mayor Adams, the City Council and a bipartisan majority of Assembly members.

Heastie's press office has not returned calls or responded to emails about the Speaker's opposition to letting New York City set lower speed limits than the state's 25-mile-per-hour minimum. A lower speed limit would pay dividends immediately in Heastie's own district, where E. Gun Hill Road is one of the most dangerous 25-mile-per-hour streets in the city, Streetsblog reported earlier this month.

But late on Thursday, Heastie's office finally issued a statement that indirectly blamed the city Department of Transportation for his decision to block Sammy's Law.

"Every community is different, and some members [of the Assembly] have significant concerns with moving forward with Sammy’s Law at this time," said the statement, which was attributed to Mike Whyland. "They would like a more collaborative discussion with the NYC DOT on how to deal with traffic mitigation and safety issues in their communities."

DOT spokesman Vin Barone responded to Heastie's office with his own statement:

“Sammy’s Law would give the city more flexibility to set speed limits in thoughtful, targeted ways to keep New Yorkers safe on our streets," he said. "We are committed to working with communities and local elected officials on any speed limit changes and comprehensive projects to make our streets safer. We will continue to advocate for important street safety measures to honor the life of Sammy Cohen Eckstein.”

The Bronx is disproportionately affected by road violence. The borough has but 16.8 percent of the city's population, but 21 percent of all serious injuries and 22 percent of all fatalities in 2022.

Even as Heastie's office threw DOT under the bus, some of Heastie's neighbors on Hill Avenue in the Bronx disagreed with the important lawmaker whose house is on a rise and behind two fences and large trees.

"Lowering the speed limit would be especially good during the school year. It would make it safer for kids to play,” said Fitzroy Bedward, 73. "No one stops” at the stop signs on the Speaker' block, he added.

Fitzroy Bedward, a neighbor of Speaker Carl Heastie. Photo: Jonah Schwarz

A 12-year-old boy who gave the name Mohammad said he didn't know one of the most important people in state government lives on his block, but he also wasn't impressed.

“He should of given a reason” for not voting on it, Mohammad said. "A lot of the roads around here are not really safe."

Another neighbor, Gia Alvarez, admitted that she doesn't let her kids play outside because of all the speeding.

"I might let them play on the street if there was a lower speed limit," she said.

Meanwhile, activists continued to slam Heastie for his inaction on Sammy's Law, with one saying that blood will be on the Speaker's hands.

"New Yorkers will die because the State Assembly refused to act," said Transportation Alternatives' Executive Director Danny Harris. Speeding, the organization said, is a leading factor in four of five crashes that kill people in cars. 

The bill is named for Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was killed by a reckless driver in 2013. Since that death more than 2,230 people, including more than 100 children, have been killed by car drivers in the city.

Heastie's inaction came design activists lining up the support of a majority of the Assembly, including 20 Republican members of the Democrat-majority body. Several members of the Assembly said it was Heastie alone who refused to bring the matter to a vote due to some opposition from Assembly members representing car-dependent areas of the city.

Heastie was unmoved by a 99-hour hunger strike earlier this month outside his Albany office by Amy Cohen, Sammy's mother and co-founder of Families for Safe Streets, and Fabiola Mendieta-Cuapio, whose son was also killed by a driver. Cohen issued a statement begging for action at long last.

“Ever since my son Sammy was killed 10 years ago, I’ve traveled to Albany countless times to beg legislators to care about children like mine before they’re killed," she said. "I’ve shown them photos of my son, recounted some of my family’s worst, darkest days, and asked them to take simple steps to protect our most vulnerable New Yorkers from preventable deaths. ... No one else should die. Unfortunately – thanks to the State Assembly – they will.”

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