By Ann Cooper
Perhaps it was a sign that Omicron has peaked in New York City and no longer dominates our every conversation. Or maybe it was just proof of the adage: “all politics is local.”
Whatever the reason, the three local politicians who joined an online discussion with representatives of the Upper West Side Coalition of Block Associations and Community Groups Tuesday night were peppered with questions and opinions on a list of quintessentially city issues with little connection to COVID:
- Why aren’t police ticketing riders who terrify pedestrians as they careen down Upper West Side sidewalks on ebikes and escooters?
- Who’s responsible for removing dead tree limbs that could fall and injure visitors to Riverside Park?
- What can be done to get seemingly permanent scaffolding installations taken down? (Stories of years-old scaffolding structures prompted one coalition member to joke: “I’m worried that Landmarks might start landmarking the scaffolding.”)
The officials invited to outline their agendas and field questions were: veteran Upper West Side politician Gale Brewer, now representing the 6th District on the Council, a post she’s held in the past; Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine; and Shaun Abreu, newly elected to the 7th District City Council seat that Levine vacated to run for borough president last November. (The 7th District runs from Manhattan Valley north to Washington Heights.)
Brewer and Levine both joined the meeting late, after attending a vigil for Michelle Go, the Upper West Side woman pushed to her death in a subway station on Saturday. The new borough president, who called in while riding in a car after the vigil, spoke briefly about the pandemic, noting that once it is under control the city can more fully focus on other major issues such as climate change, wealth inequality, crime, and mental health.
Asked about her priorities for the year, Brewer brought the discussion back to local issues, including the so-called “dark stores” that she denounced earlier this month as unfair competition for Upper West Side bodegas and mom-and-pop stores. These new businesses promise speedy delivery (in just a few minutes) of groceries ordered on an app. “I hope nobody is patronizing them,” Brewer told the Coalition.
Brewer said she is on a campaign to go door-to-door to tell Upper West Side businesses they are responsible for sanitation around their storefronts. And she noted, but did not suggest specific solutions for a couple of current school issues: high teacher absences due to COVID, and a worrying drop in school attendance rates, which traditionally are above 90 percent. According to Brewer, attendance rates at city schools have fallen to 40-80 percent.
“Alas, there is no shortage of issues,” noted Upper West Side Coalition Board Chair Steve Anderson, who thanked the officials for speaking with the group.
The UWS Coalition, formed last year, unites block associations and community groups throughout the Upper West Side. The group has held a series of forums on traffic safety, land use, congestion pricing and other issues, all archived here. Next month, assembly members and state senators who represent the Upper West Side will be hosted by the Coalition at another virtual discussion.
You can watch the entire forum here.