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Gale Brewer Reflects on 12 Years in the City Council

By Emily Frost | September 27, 2013 7:17am
 The veteran politician looks back on what she learned while in office. 
Gale Brewer
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UPPER WEST SIDE — For many neighborhood residentsGale Brewer has become synonymous with the Upper West Side in her 12 years as city councilwoman.

Operating from a storefront on Columbus Avenue and West 87th Street, the 62-year-old is known for being everywhere — stopping in at almost every community meeting and gathering, she said.

DNAinfo New York spoke with Brewer about her reflections on her legacy and plans for her new role if she wins the Manhattan Borough presidency. Brewer won the Democratic primary for the seat in September, and will face Republican David Casavis in the general election on Nov. 5. 

What do you hope to accomplish between now and the end of your term?

You want to make a smooth transition for the next councilmember.

There are also capital projects: working with the DOE, making sure that the 59th Street Rec Center gets done completely. There are other playgrounds, a library... three or four parks issues and four or five NYCHA issues. Capital projects are so slow — it’s really frustrating. All of that is actually quite time consuming.

We have had a great success with the seniors who want and love the Green Market where they get fresh produce [delivered.] We want to make sure that’s stable, and I would love to make that borough-wide.

We help thousands of constituents, and we want to make sure that their evictions [are prevented] and housing is satisfied.

[Working on] the West End Avenue historic district is a big one.

What is your legacy as councilmember for the past 12 years?

I think the legacy item for me that's a big one is accessibility and transparency. And the storefront office, which no one else has. We made it right away. I will always have a storefront office. 

We have the paid sick days, we have local [food] sourcing, we have the open data bill.

The housing clinics, which we sponsor with Urban Justice Community Center, have a huge impact on saving people’s homes. We've done that for eight or 10 years. 

We did really well with capital allocations. We came in first in funding many times, [because] we have good projects. We have museums, Lincoln Center, and we have 35 schools. I put a lot of money into Riverside Park. We also have more traffic and pedestrian tourism than other neighborhoods.

What did you leave undone?

We all have to focus more on the support of the residents of NYCHA. We’re known for the work we do at NYCHA, but that’s always a concern, to make sure there’s more support in terms of maintenance and jobs. I think we did a lot.

What’s your main piece of advice for the next councilmember?

I think the West Side expects high quality and responsive [representatives]. We are very responsive. The West Side demands that and we’ll expect that.

And the second responsibility is it’s a new administration, so you can talk about affordable housing and good schools, but you have to work collaboratively with the agencies and you have to understand that they have challenges, too.

What did your time as a leader here teach you?

I have great respect — as I always did — but even more for the people in neighborhoods. That could be somebody working on housing, or on how to improve parks — the people who are in the trenches, as well as the community leaders... The people who stood on the steps of City Hall to get a budget passed. 

They add so much to the city... These people are phenomenal and you have to make sure they get recognized. 

What will you do differently if you're borough president?

I have to be careful of — and I don’t know how to handle this — is to make sure you stay in touch with the neighborhoods. The district office is where I love to be. How do you do that and at the same time accomplish [larger goals]?

What I will do, because it’s part of the mandate, is to think even harder about how to have smart growth. 

You can do that with working with the community board, as we did with the Riverside Center development. 

The community boards are feeling overwhelmed. They have so many smart growth issues: cultural centers, need for affordable housing, transportation — and all those challenges have to be addressed.

The whole of Manhattan has to figure out how to address their concerns and how to address smart growth. It’s not so easy ot pull off.

The difference [in my time] will be there will be lots more stakeholder meetings. You need a lot more advisory stakeholder meetings and discussions.

In Manhattan, we will rely on people we ask to come together. I don’t want to lose touch with constituents.

What are your key goals if you're elected borough president?

How do you use some of our public buildings better? How do we make sure the libraries are used more often? And the schools could be open more often.

I want to have more transparency in government... through webcasting. 

And I’m a big supporter of my open data. How do you use it for local planning? You have to have a lot more support looking at that data. 

I'm big on social media. 

I believe in bringing stakeholders together. There's a lot of disenfranchised, uninterested Manhattanites. You could do pop-up situations, sitting on the stoop, town halls. The neighborhoods have to be promoted.

What will your priorities for the Upper West Side be as borough president?

We really do know how to solve people’s problems. People getting evicted has to stop. We have to preserve people’s homes.

We have to work on jobs — by working with CUNY and the DOE and the GED programs — getting people ready for jobs. 

I always care about my seniors.

Also, I’m a big believer in culturally appropriate mental health support in the schools. That doesn’t exist in many schools.