Southern Brooklyn’s civic associations feel our communities are neglected by the city, but at last night’s Town Hall meeting, a subtle, but persistent, fact became clear: the mechanism to change that is emerging.
The hour-and-a-half long meeting was brought together by the Manhattan Beach Community Group in collaboration with a slew of other associations, including the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic and Bay Improvement Group. It was attended by State Senator Carl Kruger and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, while representatives from the offices of Congressman Anthony Weiner, Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz and City Councilmember Michael Nelson took notes. Nearly 100 residents turned out for the event.
No one from the Bloomberg Administration, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio’s office or the Department of Sanitation came to hear complaints, and three empty chairs with their names on them graced the stage of P.S. 195 in Manhattan Beach.
The evening kicked off with Hynes explaining his investigation into a possible Sanitation slowdown. The DA blasted the city for its slow response, calling the mayor “totally disengaged” from outerborough residents, and noted that his office has not limited the scope of its investigation. If evidence illustrates negligence in the face of a foreseeable snowstorm, the investigation is free to go as far up as the mayor’s office, he said.
“There are very serious allegations here as to whether or not there was an intentional action here which led to injury and death,” Hynes said. “And so no one should make any mistake about it: if we uncover something at whatever level, they’re going to be” facing “serious” charges.
Most of the meeting, though, was given over to a form of griping that has become common since the blizzard hit: residents testifying to the conditions on their block, friends and family who could not seek medical or other emergency care, talk of plows with their blades raised, the long-reaching effects of the city’s failure to declare a snow emergency despite severe weather warnings made well in advance.
But to what end did this complaining serve? The leaders, for their part, are well-versed in their constituents concerns, as Kruger and the representatives of the elected parroted the problems encountered by those in their district.
With no one from the city to record complaints or address concerns, many in the audience wondered aloud what purpose the meeting served, and what to do next.
Was this to be just an illustration of civic impotence? A coalition of advocates unable to get anything accomplished?
Of all the complaints and gripes that gushed forth in the public catharsis after the blizzard, and all the inaction we still expect from our officials, last night’s meeting was a keystone moment in organizing and uniting Southern Brooklyn’s advocates. As Madison-Marine Civic President Ed Jaworksi pointed out:
“Usually these hearings and these town halls are put together by politicians. So it’s quite unusual for something like this to be put together by citizens,” Jaworski said. “These hearings should’ve been taking place on a regular basis … on buildings, on the Board of Standards and Appeals, on police problems. You need hearings like this on a regular basis,” hosted by residents demanding answers.
These groups proved that they can, for once, organize, and that their issues – zoning, traffic, and, more generally, lack of consideration from the Mayor’s vaulted throne – are common themes.
Southern Brooklyn has been abandoned by the city government, and it’s partially because of our inability to organize. But in the days ahead of last night’s meeting, politicians and other authorities did indeed sweat a few beads over the idea of empty chairs in front of a coalition of Southern Brooklyn civics, and rightfully so. Many called ahead to explain that they must do this, that or the other, and pleaded to not have an empty seat (the organizers obliged).
But, still, the lingering question remains, “What next?”
Fallout from the snowstorm is beyond the reach of these groups, and the issue plods forward with investigations, government hearings, and the eventual heads rolling. For the civics, they must act on the wishes many expressed last night to hold joint meetings more often, to trade ideas and author a broader Southern Brooklyn agenda.
Southern Brooklyn showed last night that it can organize. It’s up to the civics, and the steps they take next, to determine whether this snowball will roll to an avalanche, or melt to a puddle.