A $20 million investment to improve crumbling medians on Kings Highway. A blitz to paint over graffiti along Sheepshead Bay Road, Coney Island Avenue, and Avenue Z. A plan to find new locations for noisy party boats. These were just some of the promises Mayor Bill de Blasio made to Sheepshead Bay residents during a town hall meeting he held last week with City Council member Chaim Deutsch, a Democrat who represents the area.
But constituents took the opportunity to press them on much more.
In a packed hall of more than 200 people at P.S. K811, residents questioned and made requests of de Blasio and Deutsch for nearly three hours on topics including the need for an escalator at the Sheepshead Bay subway station, domestic violence in the Muslim community, the necessity of Russian interpreters at polling stations, the demand for bus shelters at certain stops—and even why New Yorkers are allowed to bring only six tennis balls per public court. (Answer: To try to limit trainers from using public courts for private lessons.)
The meeting was part of a series of town hall meetings the mayor has hosted across the city recently, during which he discusses local issues with residents. In this section of southern Brooklyn, there are ongoing conversations about hurricane preparedness and post-Hurricane Sandy recovery, topics that repeatedly came up during the meeting. The area was one of the hardest-hit in 2012 when Sandy struck the coasts of New York and New Jersey, flooding thousands of homes and destroying numerous businesses.
Councilman Deutsch, who overwhelmingly beat challenger Marat Filler in last week’s primary elections, said that he is focused on addressing even small problems. “Whether it’s a blocked driveway, your neighbor smoking marijuana, or anything else, we’re going to continue focusing and meeting with residents and making sure that we continue to improve the quality of life for all.”
De Blasio at times promised direct and specific actions and encouraged residents to speak up. “What do you need? Tell me what you need,” he asked one resident. His deputies attended the meeting, too, so they could clarify details. One constituent asked what the city is doing to help communities prepare for future storms. “With the exception of Build It Back, not a thing has been done to protect or to prevent our community from the next storm,” she said, referring to the city’s post-Sandy rebuilding program.
“I will have the OEM [Office of Emergency Management] commissioner meet with you personally to make sure we do have an evacuation plan,” de Blasio said.
When asked about President Trump’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era executive action that helped 800,000 undocumented immigrants live and work without fear of deportation, the mayor said the city will defend them by providing free legal services to those who request it.
Trudy Codrington said this was the first town hall meeting she attended. “The questions were pretty extensive,” she said. “I was impressed by the responses, actually. Basically, if you asked a question, there was someone here whom you could speak to directly about it.”
During the meeting, de Blasio and Deutsch walked the room and spoke with constituents one-on-one. They also joked with each other. Following the meeting, Councilman Deutsch said he was satisfied with the problems that were discussed that night. “We covered a lot of issues.”
Many of his constituents agreed. “I like the concept, I like the idea, I like the rapport,” said Sandy Carbin, who arrived late and spent part of the evening in the overflow room. Carbin said the mayor was “very forthcoming and he was very relaxed. He didn’t try to duck or dodge.”
But others were not as satisfied. Chris Donlan emphasized that neither the mayor nor the councilman detailed how the money for the new initiatives will be spent. “Every time they mentioned money, like the $20 million, no one mentioned transparency, how that money is actually being spent,” he said. “And $20 million seems like a lot.”