Brian Lehrer: Brian Lehrer on WNYC. Here on our last live show before Christmas, we conclude our year-long series 51 Council Members in 52 Weeks. Now, the idea was to make sure that this show touched every neighborhood of New York City this year through their elected representatives in this year of historic change when the mayor and most of City Council were new because of term limits, and the council was majority female for the first time ever. Of course, it's been this intense year when the city was beginning to emerge from the worst of the pandemic and everything that has come with that.
We'll talk to one final City Council member in a minute, Farah Louis from Brooklyn, but first, let's look for just a minute at where we've been. The series started right after New Year's on January 4th with a new council member from District 1, Christopher Marte, who described the whole city in a nutshell when he talked about his district in Lower Manhattan.
Christopher Marte: We have some of the wealthiest zip code in Battery Park City, Tribeca, but we have people who live beneath and close to the poverty line, whether it's in the Smith Houses or people who live in rent-stabilized apartments, and they come from all over the world. There are Fujianese community on East Broadway, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans so it's a really diverse, beautiful community.
Brian: Council member Christopher Marte from District 1 back in January. Districts 1 through 10 are in Manhattan, districts 11 through 18 are in the Bronx, and back in April, we had District 16 member, Althea Stevens, who represents the Southwest Bronx, Morrisania, Morris Heights, neighborhoods around there, and went right to the struggle that underlies almost every other issue the city deals with right now.
Althea Stevens: I'm happy to be a part of this process now where we are seeing more residential and affordable units being built in my district and me fighting to ensure that it's for people who are already in this community, and that people who are here can afford it, and live here, and have beautiful homes like everyone else throughout the city.
Brian: Council member Althea Stevens from the Bronx. Districts 19 through 32 are in Queens, the second most populous borough, so the second most districts. In May, we spoke to Council member Tiffany Cabán from District 22 in Astoria, and elsewhere in Western Queens. She's been known to say defund the police, and she accused the Adams' administration of trying to defund almost everything else instead.
Tiffany Cabán: Really quickly, the proposed executive budget, it defunds housing, it defunds the Department of Homeless Services, it defunds our public schools, it defunds sanitation, it defunds our public hospitals, parks, small business services, so I want to see those cuts restored at bare minimum and then making added investments to that is really important. The mayor had put out the blueprint of public safety and talked about strategies outside of just policing, but they have not been reflected in any line item budgets. Without hard numbers, that's just rhetoric.
Brian: Council member Tiffany Cabán from Queens in May. What a contrast with the council's Minority Leader, Republican leader, Joe Borelli of Staten Island, who we'll play a clip of next. Staten Island has only three of the 51 City Council members reflecting its relatively small population. The council has only six Republicans of the 51 reflecting New Yorkers politics, of course. Now, Borelli's district is the southern part of Staten Island, the final stop on the tour numerically District 51. What he saw as the biggest controversy council face this year was at least a Verrazano Bridge lanes away from what Tiffany Cabán was just describing.
Joe Borelli: As far as this year, the most controversial piece of legislation coming down the pike is this ban on landlord background checks, which is something that my conference and a lot of Democrats frankly are fighting very strongly against. It really comes down to the issue of who owns your building or who has the rights to your property. Do landlords have the right to discriminate against people with some serious criminal convictions? I would argue that they do.
Brian: From Christopher Marte in District 1 to Joe Borelli in District 51, it's been 51 council members in 52 weeks on The Brian Lehrer Show. Now to be completely transparent, our final count is actually 49 because one member didn't want to do it, and another said they did want to, but the scheduling never seemed to work out, but 49 out of 51 ain't a bad percentage. Our final guest, a little out of order because of our own incompatible schedules, is Council member Farah Louis from District 45, which includes Flatbush, Flatlands, Marine Park, Kensington and Midwood. Those neighborhoods are in Brooklyn, of course, which has the city's most populous borough, has 16 of the 51 districts, just ahead of Queens, which has 15.
Farah Louis' bio page says she grew up in an immigrant and union household and had six years as a City Council staffer before being elected herself in 2019 to succeed Jumaane Williams in that district when Jumaane became the New York City Public Advocate. With that much experience, I think she's also a really good guest to conclude the series with. Council member Louis, thanks for coming on WNYC today, and I'm so glad you could join 51 Council Members in 52 Weeks.
Farah Louis: I am so appreciative to be here with you, Brian. Thank you for having me.
Brian: Can I start with a big picture question after all we just went through, all we just heard and those clips? What kind of year has it been in your district and what kind of year has it been for this historic new City Council?
Farah Louis: I would say for the district, it's been a bit of a whirlwind, and the same as last year, we've been dealing with a global pandemic, so everyone trying to rebuild, renew, and reinvent themselves after being put in a position of recovery. We're still trying to hold it together as a district, but very grateful for the resources that we get from the administration and the City of New York. In totality for the city, I think we have a lot more work to get done.
Brian: A lot more work to be done, for sure. I want to play to that point one more clip of Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli from District 51 on Staten Island. This is not a partisan Republican comment really. It's his analysis of how the politics of both parties in City Council right now kind of reflects what's happening in both parties nationwide. Joe Borelli.
Joe Borelli: I think it's fair to say that the spectrum has been pushed in both directions. I think we have some new members who are young and eager, and who are progressive and are trying to push the envelope to the left. I think we have some conservative members who are more vocal than perhaps Republicans and conservatives in the past who are trying to counterbalance that on the right. I think breaking a few eggs sometimes makes a delicious omelet, so I'm not too concerned about that.
Brian: Council member Louis, how much would you agree with that analysis of Democrats on City Council being more progressive than before and Republicans being more conservative?
Farah Louis: I agree with my colleague Joe Borelli. We have a large number of progressives that are now members in the council. I think it strikes a good balance in my personal opinion. You get to hear from both sides. What I see now with this new council is we're able to actually get more work done partnering on different initiatives, working on different legislative packages. While there are different sides and different political ideologies, we're actually able to get more done for the folks in the City of New York.
Brian: Of course, when the ratio is 45 Democratic City Council members to six Republicans, we know which way eggs are going to be broken, to use his turn of phrase. Do you think council has made any historically progressive strides this year?
Farah Louis: I will definitely say that we have. This is the first majority women council led by the first Black speaker. What we were able to get done is secure maternal health support through the maternal health packages, support survivors packages that our speaker and some of our colleagues were able to spearhead. These are things that have never been done before in the City of New York. I think we have a whole lot more that we could be doing together.
Brian: We can make a few phone calls. Listeners, first priority to anybody in Farah Louis' district in Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, and elsewhere around there, 212-433-WNYC, but also, maybe one or two on the big picture questions that were kicking around here at the end of the 51 Council Members in 52 Weeks series. 212-433-9692 or tweet @BrianLehrer. Tell us about your district in Flatbush, Kensington, and Midwood, and elsewhere around there. Since you follow Jumaane Williams in that seat, I imagine the politics are pretty progressive there, but you tell me and who lives there, demographically speaking, who you represent?
Farah Louis: I would say District 45 is a mini version of what encompasses the melting pot of New York City. We have one of the largest Caribbean communities in the City of New York. We have a large orthodox population, an emerging AAPI community, and we do have a portion of little Pakistan in District 45. I would say our community is very diverse. We have different folks from different walks of life and everyone supports one another in different ways.
Brian: Let's take a phone call from the district, I believe. Barbara, in Brooklyn, you're on WNYC with Council member Farah Louis. Hi, Barbara.
Barbara: Hi. Seasonal greetings. I'm happy to have you on, Farah, because I've been waiting for you to get there. Anyway, this is difficult. My issue, because I live at the end of Flatlands, close to Flatbush. What's happening in our community right now is that developers are coming in and they're knocking down individual single-family homes. Now, mind you, I live in a condo, so I don't live in one of those homes but the community right now is so saturated with these tall buildings. You'll have on one block, they'll have single-family homes, and these are fully separated homes.
Then right next to the home is a building. When you cross over Flatbush Avenue or even Nostrand Avenue onto the Midwood side of our community, same type of setup, but you don't see the same type of construction. I take the subway and I take the bus in my neighborhood, and we don't have the infrastructure for all of that. Our neighborhood looks horrible because we have, like in the middle of a block, they'll just pop up, these homes. Can we stop that?
Farah Louis: Not necessarily though. Thank you, Barbara, for the question. Not necessarily. There's no way to actually stop it. The reason being, it's private property. Folks could come in and purchase private property, but there is a cap on how high they can go up, and it depends on what that particular neighborhood is zoned for. I'll give you an example. Community Board 17 never got rezoned in the tenure of my predecessor being there. They never rezoned Community Board 17. That doesn't encompass the Flatbush and Flatlands area that you're discussing but I'm using it as an example because East Flatbush was never rezoned.
What we have is something called as of right, which developers could come in, they could purchase a home, and they could build as high as they would like. I don't know if you know 123 Linden Boulevard, which was one of the biggest development projects, I would say, in East Flatbush in the last couple of years, where they built this massive building. There was really nothing anyone could do. No one really had their eyes and ears on the project. We're left now with this huge humongous project in the Community Board 17 area.
I say all that to say that anyone could purchase property in the City of New York. Anyone could purchase property in the Flatlands, Flatbush area, but it really depends on what the zoning is for that area. One thing I am, as the chair of the subcommittee on landmarks, is trying to preserve more of the architectural, historical, and cultural significance of our buildings, making sure that we could landmark more areas. Last year, I was able to create a historic district landmarking, a particular block in East Flatbush. I'm seeking to do more of that.
Barbara, I would love if you could partner with our office to identify areas that you think that we could landmark. Community Board 18, which encompasses Flatlands, Flatbush area that you're addressing with us this morning, is actually zoned. They do have a zoned area. I would love to talk to you more about that. I would love if you could get involved in our task force and we could work together.
Brian: Barbara, why don't you contact Council member Louis' office, remind them that you spoke to her here on the show, and that should pave the way if there would have been any difficulty anyway. Thank you for raising that. That's one of the biggest conundrums facing the city right now. Everybody talks about how we need a lot more building, a lot more density, a lot more apartment buildings in order to make supply come close to demand and bring down the price of rents in the city. Nobody wants more density in their neighborhoods, I guess especially neighborhoods that have a lot of private homes where there's a certain feel that they don't want to lose.
Farah Louis: Right, and I agree with those homeowners. I think that we should do all we can to preserve neighborhoods and the tariff of the neighborhood that's been there for centuries and generations. I don't believe that we should be creating projects in single-family home areas, two-family home areas. I watch developers come into my district all the time and build these massive projects, and even encroaching on people's properties, offering them money, bribing them.
This is definitely something I think falls in line with the speaker's housing agenda and ways we could get the community more involved in being vocal and making sure that we're informing them on what rights they do have.
Brian: Now, we've been asking every Council member in this series, what's the number one reason that constituents contact your office since you took office? I don't know if you want to make a prediction as to what the number one would have been across all your colleagues, but here's a montage of Council members in the series on one of the top that just keeps coming up.
Ayala: Without a doubt, the number one issue that we hear about from neighbors is garbage.
Riley: They reach out about definitely trash. Trash is the number one [unintelligible 00:16:17].
Wrestler: Sanitation, man, it's the bundles of garbage that's plaguing our community.
Joseph: I think sanitation would probably come in second. The streets are filthy. We have rats everywhere.
Brian: Council members, Ayala, Riley, Wrestler, and Joseph and Savannah in Flatbush calling in. You're on WNYC. Hi, Savannah.
Savannah: Hi. Thank you so much for taking my call. I love this series. I've been listening every week. I think it's fantastic. I just have a question. My husband and I just moved from Flatlands to Flatbush and we absolutely love this neighborhood. Our club is a very affluent white neighborhood. In terms of sanitation and trash cans, they're everywhere, very well-maintained. We're finding this really big disparity in our new neighborhood where there just are not trash cans on corners. People are left with the option of dumping or tossing trash.
I've seen people literally toss trash outside of their windows as they're driving by. I'm just wondering if you think, Council member, if you think that is because this neighborhood is predominantly Black. I don't want to jump to conclusions about that, but it just seems like that's a very clear possibility and I will take my answer offline. Thank you.
Farah Louis: Savannah, I didn't hear what neighborhood you said you moved to.
Savannah: I'm in Flatbush from your district.
Farah Louis: First, thank you for your concern. Welcome to Flatbush. [chuckles] Happy you moved here. Regarding the trash cans. Under the previous administration, they actually removed trash cans. I think this is a little bit before the pandemic because they felt that the trash cans actually created more trash and more dumping. We did see reports and data on that. They actually removed the trash cans. I agree with you. Now, we see even more dumping in our neighborhoods. Brian, I'm listening to my colleagues talk about the number one issues that they hear about.
Sanitation is definitely one of the top issues we hear about all the time on a daily basis. What I appreciate about Council member Nurse is how intentional she's being about making sure we address sanitation in the City of New York. I don't know if you know about the rat pack of members that have come together to find ways to address sanitation through legislation.
What I'm seeking to do, and I actually have a walk-through with the department of sanitation in a couple of minutes, is looking forward to ways for us to remove trash, not just with the department of sanitation, but also with some of our nonprofits. We have wildcat in our district that comes to provide supplemental services that government cannot provide. We have ACE. It's another organization that comes to do power washing, and they pick up trash as well.
I think most of the members in the City Council are doing their due diligence, but we do need more support from the Department of Sanitation.
Brian: What do you think about the listeners' suspicion that there aren't the trash cans on the corners and stuff as a matter of racial discrimination against the Black population?
Farah Louis: I don't agree with that. I think I've gone to other parts of the city and other neighborhoods that don't have trash can, and the population is not Black. I think what we need to do is just find a better way. I do see the new mayor implemented different ways of recycling and putting different cans in different areas. I think we just need more capital funding to get that done. I think that's something that's going to be at the top of his priority in the next fiscal cycle.
Brian: I want to ask you one question about something in the news of today and then one final concluding question. We played the clip earlier of Tiffany Cabán, Council member from Queens back in May saying never mind defund the police, Mayor Adams budget proposal at that time was seeking to defund everything but the police in her opinion. I see that issue is back again in a way right now with a statement by the council to the mayor just yesterday about threatening cuts to agencies and nonprofits that the many migrants coming to the city now need to depend on.
Can you tell us how that looks to you? Your bio page says you come from an immigrant background so I imagine you're very sensitive to this and tell us what City Council is asking the mayor to do.
Farah Louis: We would prefer for the funds not to be cut, for discretionary funds not to be cut from our nonprofits, we depend on that funding to provide the supplemental services that government can't provide. We're fully aware that we have new New Yorkers that are coming into the city regularly and that we don't have enough funds to support it. That's where we need to partner with the federal government to provide the resources that we need in order to support our new New Yorkers.
I'm hoping what can happen is that our speaker, our colleagues, and the mayor can strengthen the right balance and sit with one another and have a conversation about where the cuts can come from because we need to get it from somewhere. I don't agree with it being cut from particular services that we fought so hard for in the budget so the proposed cuts is definitely a concern for all of us. We look forward to further conversation with the mayor to see what we can sustain.
Brian: We'll wrap up with the last question we've been asking members all year what did you bring us for show and tell something from your district that you might like outsiders to know about.
Farah Louis: Brian, I'm so happy you asked, I actually have a very large check that I received last year, it says $141 million for the Shirley Chisholm Recreation Center for the New York City Park. This will be the first-ever recreation center in East Flatbush that we will receive that's going to be about three floors and have tons of services and resources, a cooking kitchen, a walking track, and support services for youth and seniors. I'm so excited about this and I'm really grateful that we were able to preserve this particular piece of property in East Flatbush.
Brian: That's great and Shirley Chisholm's legacy lives on, right?
Farah Louis: Always.
Brian: New York City Council member Farah Louis from District 45 in Flatbush, Flatlands, Marine Park, Kensington, and Midwood and that concludes our year-long series 51 Council Members in 52 Weeks. Listeners, we hope you've gotten something from it. Council member Louis, thanks a lot for being part of it and wrapping up the series with us. Happy holidays and good luck in council in 2023 which OMG is another council election year. Thanks a lot.
Farah Louis: Thank you for having me. Look forward to further conversation. Happy holidays.
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