CARROLL GARDENS/PARK SLOPE – Brooklyn Community Board 6 elected Park Slope resident Peter Fleming as its new Chair at the start of its December board meeting.
“One of the things that I think is really important about the community board is that we do have a diversity of people,” Fleming said during his address to the board prior to the vote. “We have people who have been here for a great deal of time and they know things about how this community runs, how we did things in the past, and that can help inform how we might do things in the future. We have people of medium term, like myself, who have been here between 15 and 25 years, and we have some views that can inform decisions as well. And we have those people who have been here a much shorter period of time.”
“While we need ultimately to speak with one voice, that one voice should be made up of many voices,” he continued. “That’s one of things that I’d like to see as Chair, that more people get heard and that more of their opinions become a part of what we ultimately say. Everyone needs to have an opportunity to have their voices heard. It’s not about what one person thinks, it’s about what we all think.” Fleming beat out Sayar Lonial who has served as CB6 Chair for more than two years.
Originally from northern New Jersey, Fleming moved to Brooklyn in 1980, first settling in Brooklyn Heights for five years, then moving to Park Slope where he’s been since. He and his husband, Brian King, currently live on the northern edge of the Slope.
Formerly a personal financial planner, “through a couple of twists and turns,” Fleming “went from doing personal financial planning to writing about personal financial planning. I decided I was happier writing,” he explained to Bklyner over the phone the week following his win. Fleming studied economics at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania and received his MBA from Rutgers. Semi-retired since June, Fleming takes on occasional freelance writing assignments to keep busy.
Though he could not give an exact date for when he joined, Fleming says he’s been a member of CB6 for approximately 25 years. “I was appointed some time in the 90s,” he said, noting that former NYC Council Member Member Joan Griffin McCabe appointed him to the board.
Fleming initially sought the CB6 appointment because a former board member and fellow member of LAMBDA Independent Democrats—an organization Fleming has been part of for 30 years—was moving, and the group “felt that it was important that there be another openly gay voice on the community board,” he said. While the need for “identity politics” has “sort of gone away,” Fleming remained interested in other issues in the district, “so there was no reason for me not to stay on there,” he added.
Fleming joined the CB6 Transportation Committee briefly before joining the Landmarks/Land Use Committee which he has been on for “virtually the entire time” he has served on the board. He has been a Chair for the committee for nearly twelve years.
“I think with the knowledge that I have of this neighborhood, having lived here since 1985, and being on the community board for much of that time, that I have a knowledge of what’s going on,” Fleming replied when asked what qualities he possesses for a good Chairperson. “I’m not afraid to admit what I don’t know,” he added. “When I’m not familiar with an issue, I like to think I know whom to call to get an opinion…to find out what position we should be taking, and then move forward from there.” Fleming added that he is also fair, organized, outgoing, and has the ability to “chair a good meeting.”
“I’ve chaired some contentious meetings as chair of the Land Use Committee,” he explained. He said during some heated meetings people have accused him of not recognizing them, “but those same people always come up to me afterwards and apologize” and acknowledge that he allowed everyone to be heard.
“It’s important that all of the voices be heard,” Fleming reiterated. “I think we had a period [on the board] when that hasn’t always been emphasized and that’s one of the things I want to emphasize. Whether you joined the community board 30 years ago or 30 weeks ago, we want to know what you think, the elected officials want to know what you think, the city wants to know what you think because your impressions, even if you’re…a more recent resident of Brooklyn, are as important as somebody’s who’s been here a long time. Needs change, expectations change…. We all bring a different perspective and it’s important that those perspectives be heard.”
As for what the Chair’s role entails, Fleming replied, “I think [the Chair is] there to facilitate the smooth running of the community board. They’re the glue that holds together the office staff, the committee chairs, the committee members, and the board itself to make sure that all of those parts are well-oiled and are moving together towards the same goals. The chair is there to facilitate they’re moving together in the same direction, that they don’t run contrary to each other so that nothing gets done.”
As much as he stresses the importance of hearing everybody else’s opinions on issues, Fleming noted, “It isn’t about what I think.” He added, “Traditionally, under Robert’s Rules [of Parliamentary Procedure], the chair only votes if there’s a tie. That’s changed within the last couple of years and that’s something that I plan to bring back because the chair is there not to have his or her own opinions heard but to be the facilitator to make sure that all the other opinions are heard.”
“That’s not to say that I won’t ask a question if I feel that something is not being considered…[or] a topic came up for debate where I felt that I needed to make my voice heard,” he insisted. “I would pass the gavel to one of the vice chairs…so that I can express my opinions.”
Regarding some of the priorities he’d like to address in the district, the Gowanus rezoning topped his list, specifically “not rezoning every piece of property for residential development,” as well as maintaining and creating jobs. For any residential development included in the rezoning, Fleming notes that the area’s schools and infrastructure (i.e., sewer system) should be considered to ensure that they can handle increased capacity.
On the topic of development and land use, Fleming said, “We have to make sure that when someone comes to us and asks for a zoning change that it fits in with the character of the neighborhood…so we’re not building 18 stories next to brownstones [and] that things are contextual so that the character of this neighborhood is preserved. We have several historic districts and we want to make sure that development is sensitive to those districts.”
“Traffic is still an issue,” he said, noting the need to make major intersections in the district safe and “make sure that what is essentially a walking neighborhood remains a walking neighborhood…that people don’t think that they can plow through here at high speeds.”
Having just heard about a potential new homeless shelter planned for Red Hook, Fleming added that homelessness is also a priority, but that he wants to ensure that the district’s neighborhoods “bear our fair share of the building [of shelters] but we don’t bear more than our fair share,” as part of Mayor de Blasio’s “Turning the Tide on Homeless in New York City” plan. “We want to make sure that it’s a fair process, that it’s properly handled, that people are properly notified and have as much input as possible,” he explained.
Fleming officially begins his new role as Chair on January 1, 2019. To the residents of Brooklyn Community District 6, he said, “The community board is here to help you. Please give us the opportunity to do that. Help us too by contacting us if there’s an issue that’s troubling you…. Let’s work together to solve the issues this community board has. In order to do that you have to communicate with us and we promise to communicate back to you.”