Energy' Brings Council
Out with the old and in with the new – that appears to be the motto of Queens’ representatives in the New York City Council.
14 councilmembers, who were elected last November after term limits forced
out the old guard, have been working extremely hard to get in touch with
their districts, according to Queens Councilman Eric Gioia.
said, “What you’ll find across the Council in general, because it’s a
new Council, and because it’s a Council with a new vigor, we’re a lot
more visible than our predecessors were, than anybody [else] in the past.
It’s really just a new energy that’s been infused…by this whole
Part of that “new energy” is being felt through efforts like those of Councilman Joe Addabbo who recently announced in a press release the establishment of a 24/7 call line, which allows residents of District 32 (Southern Queens) to call Addabbo’s regular office numbers any time of the week and be connected to an operator with an answering service. If a problem requires immediate attention, Addabbo said, the service will get in touch with members of Addabbo’s staff and Addabbo himself, if necessary. Addabbo said the move stemmed back to a campaign promise he made to be “accessible and accountable” for the concerns of his constituents.
there be a concern or an emergency at three in the morning, four in the
morning, five in the morning…they should be able to know that they can
reach out to their elected officials to at least get something started,”
Addabbo told the Tribune.
move mirrored an action taken by Councilman James Gennaro, who developed a
similar system earlier this year.
In a bit of friendly rivalry, Chris Boyd, the former spokesman for
Gennaro said, “We’ve had it from day one; it was initiated as soon as we
had office days…the first week in office Jim put out a press release with
the phone number.”
council member, who asked not to be named, criticized Addabbo’s call-in
line, saying that while it looked nice to constituents, there was no real
need for such a service. “If there’s a real emergency that needs to be
addressed in the middle of the night, a resident should call 911, not their
councilman,” the councilmember said.
others disagreed. Councilman James Sanders issued an informal request to the
different councilmembers to work together to keep in touch with their
constituents. “Let’s try [the 24/7 call-in line]…I don’t take
anything away from everybody.
Let’s all figure how we can make sure to get the information about
what we’re doing in government and what people want us to do.
Let’s try a million different things.
Some won’t work, and some will, but all will show that this is a
new, hungry City Council, and not that old group,” he said.
David Weprin found Addabbo’s idea useful, and mentioned a similar project
of his own. “We have an answering machine that answers the phone [during
non-business hours]… we check our messages regularly… both our city
office and district office have machines that” can take recordings 24
hours a day.
Tony Avella, a former civic leader, used his expertise in neighborhood
problems to create an “action checklist,” that was mailed to about 600
constituents in March. The form includes a list of neighborhood problems,
and asks residents to check-off the ones they find in their community.
Residents then describe the details and send them back to Avella’s Bayside
office, where he and his staff call City agencies and try to solve the
said he has received, “hundreds” of forms back so far, and his Chief of
Staff Kathy Moran said that most of the problems have been “typical
neighborhood things, like potholes and stop signs.” Avella said, “We try
to pool together similar problems and pay attention to recurring problems.
That way we can see which problems are bothering community members the
added, “The Action Forms help the people have direct access to government.
My job includes filling the potholes and doing the community work. If my
constituents have a problem, it will get fixed quicker if I step in and work
with the agencies directly. That’s what we’ve been seeing.”
far, the forms have led to the clean-up of several parks in Northeast
Queens, the removal of graffiti in several areas, and the July 30 arrest of
a drug dealer conducting sales inside of an Auburndale playground.
councilmembers have been creating ‘mobile offices’ by holding office
hours at different, popular locations around their districts. Avella said he
has a table set up at local “supermarkets and LIRR stations most
John Liu holds ‘office’ hours four days a week at library branches
outside of the downtown Flushing area where he has his district office.
He says this allows him to get in touch with constituents who cannot
or do not frequent the downtown area. Councilwoman Melinda Katz has
established a Maspeth satellite office to better serve the constituents of
her widespread district.
members prefer to get right to the vibrant pulse of their district.
Dennis Gallagher says he frequently goes door-to-door to visit constituents
in his district. He
also attends to community events and block parties.
“You’d be surprised how much you learn about problems in the
community when you go to a block party and have a casual conversation with
people,” he said.
Hiram Monserrate agreed.
Many afternoons, he said, he’ll walk the streets of his district
with a staff member, to see what’s “going on” with residents and in
his district. “We’ll
speak to the merchants and the people walking, and sometimes there’s
people in the stoops and we’ll strike up a conversation,” he said.
Councilwoman Helen Sears says she has visited 15 schools and every senior center in her district. “I have one of the most overcrowded districts in the city of NY, and I have managed to reach every board, every street, every area,” she asserted.
addition to attending community board and civic group meetings, most of the
Queens Councilmembers that were interviewed said they regularly hold town
hall meetings within their districts. Sanders appeared to take the idea of
town meetings very seriously; he’s held six since coming into office eight
months ago, a number that he believed “leads the city.”
Sanders may have held the most meetings, Monserrate made the most history
with his, holding the first bilingual town hall meeting in the borough’s
history this year. All announcements and speeches were made in both Spanish
Leroy Comrie held a job fair for the community at York College last May, and
is working on another one for October; he’s also held Tax Lien events at
York College to help home or business owners in tax trouble.
“I’m [also] working on Saturday hours starting in September, and
evening hours starting in September,” he said, ideas that have begun to
get popular with many of the councilmembers.
Allan Jennings seemed to be on the same track with Comrie – he’s also
held job fairs at York, including one coming up on Sept. 5, and has Saturday
office hours. Jennings
noted that his office is open every weekday until 7 p.m., a feature that he
believed was unique.
Liu and Gioia, however, may be ahead of all of most – their offices are
any and every effort is important, according to Gioia, who succinctly summed
up the Councilmembers work ethic. “There’s no magic formula…it isn’t
any magic thing, it’s a matter of working hard at it, and working seven
days a week.”
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