Freshman City Council class looks ahead

city hall new york council
The City Council got some new blood in the last election. Credit: Getty Images

Freshman year isn’t supposed to be easy.

For 21 eager new council members, 2014 is an opportunity to set legislative agendas, fight for their districts and — of course — get potholes filled.

“Every day it’s gonna be a new issue,” Staten Island Councilman Steven Matteo said. “It’s about staying on top of it and making sure the agonies in my district are taken care of.”

Matteo and other freshman members said they will work to maintain basic constituent services while pursuing solutions to longterm community and citywide issues, such as income inequality and Superstorm Sandy recovery.

“It’s a balancing act,” Bronx Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson said.

A former transportation union head, Councilman Daneek Miller would like to advocate for workers, but says his district also has more immediate concerns.

“The commute from southeast Queens is one of the city’s longest,” Miller said. Also on the councilman’s plate: severe flooding.

“Forget about basements, you have portions of the district where they get 2 feet of water in the first floor of their home,” he said. 

Members also hope to mend the council itself in their first year. Several have advocated for rules reform, including changes to how discretionary funds are distributed to groups in the city’s 51 districts.

“One of the things I’m concerned about is equalizing this process and putting everyone at the same level, so that districts like mine aren’t short-changed,” Gibson said. 

Matteo, the only incoming Staten Island member and freshman in the council’s Republican minority, has similar concerns.

“It’s about making sure my borough, my district, gets what it needs,” Matteo said.

Brooklyn Councilman Carlos Menchaca said he’s confident that reforms will be fair under new City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. He said he hopes the new council will work to include more input from community organizations.

“We’re hoping everybody’s going to be a partner in this,” Menchaca said.

Members admit there are other difficulties ahead, particularly addressing income inequality in the “Tale of Two Cities” condemned by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Our biggest challenge is going to be helping the economy grow within the confines of the city’s budget,” Upper West Side Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said.

Ultimately, like any freshman class, members are enthusiastic about the year ahead.

“The excitement is very external,” Menchaca said. When Mark-Viverito was elected speaker last week, council members cheered each other, enthusiastically applauding after the vote.

“I feel like a kid in a toy store,” Rosenthal gushed. “It really is wonderfully overwhelming.”

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


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