Five candidates seeking to represent Coney Island in the City Council gathered virtually on Thursday night to talk about the neighborhood’s challenges and opportunities.
Last month, Coney Island celebrated the long-awaited reopening of its amusement parks after a long, pandemic-induced closure. But the tourism-reliant neighborhood still faces major challenges as it finds its footing in the post-pandemic economy.
Alliance for Coney Island, the candidates seeking to replace term-limited Council Member Mark Treyger in the District 47 seat—community organizer Steven Patzer; Democratic District Leader Ari Kagan; former Assembly Member Alec Brook-Krasny; housing manager and former Wall Street staffer Joseph Packer; and Republican Mark Szuszkiewicz—threw out suggestions for how to address local issues ranging from traffic to small business support.
You can watch the full two-hour forum here. For some highlights from the event, read on.
Candidates emphasized different ideas for what Coney Island needs most
In response to a question about Coney Island’s most pressing needs, Brook-Krasny emphasized public safety, saying that “good ties” between the police and community is “the key.” He said he would push to abolish the rule that prohibits officers from serving in the precinct in which they live, which he called “very illogical.”
Kagan said his number one priority is a “post-pandemic recovery,” and said he would direct more funding and support to Coney Island Hospital. His second biggest priority, he said, is supporting small businesses, which he says “need direct financial assistance, not another loan.”
Szuszkiewicz discussed removing pandemic-related restrictions on businesses, and defended the rights of those who choose not to get vaccinated, saying they should not be restricted from public life. “You talk about safety, some of the other candidates, both with crime and otherwise,” he said. “But I mean people need to feel safe, and some people don’t feel safe with vaccines that have possible side effects and things of that nature.”
Patzer said he wants “independence” from “big brand stores.” He said failed ventures like Applebee’s and Wahlburgers “took up space that small businesses could’ve had.” He suggested helping Coney Island residents launch their own businesses by offering “workshops, education on money management, loans, information on city programs.”
“We don’t need an anchor business to attract people to Coney Island,” Patzer said. “They’ll still come down.”
But Brook-Krasny criticized Patzer’s approach, and said the area was zoned to support “big businesses” that “will support small businesses right next to them.”
“This is the shopping mall concept,” he said, arguing that “an anchor business” could attract year-round visitors and better sustain the area’s economy.
Candidates are mostly sour on the idea of creating a business improvement district in Coney Island
In recent years, the Alliance has explored the idea of creating a business improvement district—a property-tax funded nonprofit that offers sanitation, marketing and economic development services for businesses—as a way of giving Coney Island an economic boost.
But most candidates aren’t sold. Patzer said that the small business owners he’s spoken with “didn’t reject the idea entirely” but said “at this time, during the pandemic, they do not want anymore expenses going their way. They just need to keep their heads above water.”
Szuszkiewicz responded similarly, while Packer said he “personally would be in favor of a BID” but also deferred to local business owners. Kagan said “a merchant association that amplifies the voice of business is good” but said it’s “not a priority” and prefers to focus on direct financial support to businesses.
Brook-Krasny said he “wouldn’t answer this question yes or no.” He said he understood the value of supplemental sanitation, holiday lighting and additional security, but wants to discuss the proposal directly with business owners to ensure they justify the cost.
Candidates support more transit, not more parking
Like other parts of the city, Coney Island has been plagued by brutal traffic congestion, particularly on summer weekends, when New Yorkers from around the city descend on the beach and boardwalk.
But most candidates say the solution is not to build more parking.
Kagan said he is “totally against” adding new garages, because “the last thing Coney Island needs is thousands of more cars.” Instead, he wants “multiple modes of public transportation,” including offering full-time F train express service and restoring the X29 express bus. He also wants to offer a free shuttle bus service across Coney Island, and to bring ferry service to the area.
Likewise, Patzer believes “more parking actually makes more problems,” and would push for residential parking permits,” increase bus service, and “encourage car sharing and bike sharing services.”
Brook-Krasny also voiced support for express subway service on weekends and “maybe even” a dedicated bus lane on Ocean Parkway on the weekends, though he called the idea “controversial.”
Szuszkiewicz, meanwhile, said he wants to develop existing parking lots into mixed-use buildings with underground parking, ground-floor retail and affordable housing on the upper floors. He said he supports “the idea of express buses” and trains.
Candidates are split on where a new ferry service should dock
NYC Ferry is planning a new route that would connect Coney Island with Bay Ridge and lower Manhattan. But residents—and candidates—are split over where the ferry should dock.
The city wants to install a landing in Coney Island Creek near Kaiser Park, and say a landing on the ocean side is infeasible, because of reasons like stronger current and cost. But some locals fear the creek location poses environmental and traffic risks, and are skeptical of the city’s feasibility claims.
Those concerns were echoed by Patzer, Szuszkiewicz and Brook-Krasny, who all want the ferry closer to the beach.
“Yes to the ferry, no to the creek,” said Patzer, who said an ocean-side dock was necessary “so we don’t have to compromise people’s health and safety and well-being.”
Kagan said that if the city’s safety analysis is correct, “the only solution is the creek side, or we don’t have a ferry at all.” Still, he said the city needs to ensure parkland bordering the proposed landing site is cleaned and protected.
Packer said he “never envisioned” the ferry going to Kaiser Park, but said “if that’s the least that we have to do” to get ferry service on the northern part of Coney Island, he would support it.