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Mayor De Blasio Was Behind Disappearance of Park Slope Willow Oak Tree

By Leslie Albrecht | September 15, 2015 4:34pm
 The mayor noticed that a Seventh Avenue tree was creating a trip hazard and took action.
Mayor Bill de Blasio Behind Puzzling Disappearance of Park Slope Tree
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PARK SLOPE — Mayor Bill de Blasio is so committed to maintaining his Park Slope roots that he recently played a role in the fate of a prominent neighborhood tree.

Locals were mystified when a city crew chopped down the towering willow oak shading the east side of Seventh Avenue between 10th and 11th streets in early August.

Who was behind the arborcide? Park Slope's most powerful ex-resident.

Locals spotted de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray inspecting the tree's roots on a Saturday in late July. The mammoth oak sits around the corner from the family's 11th Street house, which is currently being rented out.

When neighborhood resident Michael Hearst walked by, he said he asked them if they were branching out into tree maintenance. Hearst said McCray joked back: "We're full service around here."

That wasn't too far from the truth.

The mayor, a frequent visitor to his old neighborhood for exercise sessions and coffee at Colson Patisserie, noticed the tree needed attention and alerted the city's Parks Department, which maintains the tree, a spokeswoman for the mayor said.

"The Mayor has often highlighted issues he sees around the city for his commissioners,” mayoral spokeswoman Monica Klein told DNAinfo New York.

The Mayor's Office contacted the Parks Department to request an investigation of the tree around July 28, a Parks Dept. spokeswoman said.

Though the tree appeared to be healthy to neighbors, inspectors found it was riddled with an aggressive fungus that would likely worsen in coming years and result in "tree failure," a Parks Dept. spokeswoman said.

On Aug. 6, a crew went to work sawing down the tree, which was between 50 and 65 years old, according to the Parks Department.

Though it was a bit of a neighborhood landmark — it was the spot where locals put up a homemade 9/11 memorial in 2001 — it was also a nuisance. The willow oak's roots had buckled the sidewalk so much that nearby property owners had installed orange cones and a "watch your step" sign.

"I don't like to cut down anything but sometimes you have to look at the whole picture and the safety of the people," said Dennis DeSimone, a co-owner of Ansonia Chemist, the closest business to the tree. He said he worried about the tree toppling over, especially after a 2010 storm that felled several trees.

The Parks Department plans to replace the tree, but the agency's tree planting division has not yet confirmed whether that's a viable option, the spokeswoman said.