VIDEO: New CB4 Leadership to Follow Johnson’s Exit
BY SAM SPOKONY | In the end, it was probably the respect he’d earned from local tenant leaders and neighborhood organizations — relationships grown strong through his time on Community Board 4 (CB4) — that propelled Corey Johnson to a huge win over Yetta Kurland in the September 10 Democratic primary election for the City Council’s District 3 seat.
Johnson, who has chaired CB4 for the past two-and-a-half years, and been a member since 2005, is now preparing to make his exit from the board, as he will run uncontested in the general election in November and officially take office in the Council on January 1.
But while he’s ready to take on this new and bigger role — his first as a legislator — Johnson is quick to remind constituents that, even once he becomes a City Councilmember, he won’t be too hard to find around town.
“I learned a lot from the community board, but I don’t feel sentimental about ending my time there, because the truth is that I’m not going anywhere,” said Johnson, in a September 18 interview with Chelsea Now. “I’m just going to be working with all of these folks in a different capacity, and I’m going to continue to be at community board meetings, tenant association meetings, block association meetings and PTA meetings. And I think this next chapter is really going to be an extension of the work I did with my colleagues in CB4.”
Johnson’s formative training and expertise on the local level will, as he states it, continue to benefit his Council district (which includes Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Greenwich Vill-age, the South Village and West SoHo) by keeping him zeroed in on the neighborhood issues that played a such a huge part in his campaign — namely, the oft-repeated, top three priorities of bringing in new affordable housing, improving public schools and restoring a full service hospital to the area.
“I think affordable housing is the number one issue that faces all of these neighborhoods on the West Side, and on top of that I think it’s an incredibly important issue throughout the city,” said Johnson. “For the far West Side, there’s going to be an even more dramatic change in new development over the next four years, as Hudson Yards construction takes place. We need to make sure that process, from start to finish, is conducted in a way that really works for the community.”
In terms of public education, Johnson acknowledged that the district enjoys an “embarrassment of riches” with regard to the number of quality schools, but stressed that issues of overcrowding and disputes over recent school rezonings still require hard work and vigilance. Specifically, he explained that, once on the City Council, he will advocate strongly for Community Education Councils (CEC) — all-volunteer groups that coordinate with the Department of Education (DOE) on neighborhood school issues — to gain more influence over the local decision making process (the City Council’s District 3 is largely covered by the CEC District 2).
“The big issue here is that CECs need to be given more power at the local level, because they probably know even more about how to tackle their community’s problems than do the folks at DOE, or elected officials,” said Johnson. “That’s not a bad judgment of DOE or the electeds, but the fact is that these volunteers on the CEC are parents, they live this every day, and that really makes them experts on local issues. And I want to make sure I work directly with them to make sure things are done the right way.”
TRANSITIONS AT CB4
As Johnson continues to plan his agenda for the Council, CB4 is getting ready for a transition to new leadership on the board.
At the December full board meeting, members will elect a replacement not only for Johnson, but potentially for all of the other officer positions as well. The elections will include votes on the positions of board chair, first vice chair (currently held by Christine Berthet), second vice chair (currently held by Burt Lazarin) and two secretaries (currently held by Larry Roberts and Delores Rubin).
A seven-member nominating committee, which Johnson appointed earlier this month, will begin to interview candidates in October, and will make recommendations on candidates at CB4’s November full board meeting.
Rumors abound that Berthet is likely to move up from second-in-command and win the chair position — but when asked to comment, she told Chelsea Now that it’s too “premature” to discuss.
For his part, Johnson lauded Berthet for her work so far on the board.
“I think Christine has been an exceptional first vice chair, and I’ve worked incredibly well with her,” he said. “She’s one of the foremost transportation policy experts in the city, and I think she’s been a great leader on the board for years.”
But in terms of his new leadership role in the Council’s District 3, Johnson pointed out that he won’t just be dealing with CB4. In addition, he’ll be working with CB2, CB5 and, to a lesser degree, CB7 (of which several blocks are included within the district’s boundaries). Johnson stated that he’s planning to further cement his relationships with the other boards even before he takes office.
“Within the next month or so, I’m going to be sitting down with the different community board chairs and district managers, to talk about what their needs are and how we can best work together so we hit the ground running in January,” said Johnson.
Talking about his additional goals as a councilmember within a broader, more citywide perspective, Johnson said he plans on immediately joining the Council’s Progressive Caucus. This might not seem like such big news for one of the three new openly gay councilmembers who will be taking office, but Johnson pointed specifically to the reformation of Council rules as an issue on which it will be important to make a markedly progressive stand.
In a September 16 op-ed, the Daily News called on Johnson and eleven other new councilmembers to make good on their past promises to ban “lulu” payments and reform the so-called member items, which have allowed Council Speakers — most recently, Christine Quinn — to effectively buy political support by providing extra funding to friendlier members. Johnson said he welcomed that early scrutiny, since the new Council will have to pick a new speaker upon taking office in January.
“This is the first order of business, so people really should be watching over the next few months, as we plan to make some significant reforms in the Council,” he said. “I’m looking forward to teaming up with all these good folks in the Progressive Caucus who want to reform the Council to make it more democratic, to empower individual members, to take favoritism out of the member item process and to make staff allocations and committee assignments more fair.”
BETTER DAYS TO FOLLOW CHAOTIC TRANSITION
There is also a certain sense of optimism felt by Johnson and many of his soon-to-be colleagues on the Council. It stems partly from the fact that this year will mark the end of the Bloomberg era, bringing in a new mayor — Johnson said that he “wholeheartedly” supports Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio — along with other new officials across city government, such as the public advocate and comptroller.
“This is going to be a true sea change in city government, and of course a lot of us are really excited about the prospect of having a Democratic mayor again, after not having one for the past 20 years,” said Johnson. “So part of this is going to be about working well with these new folks in positions of influence and power, and that doesn’t just mean elected officials. It also means communicating well with new commissioners of city agencies, and particularly whoever will be the new DOE chancellor.”
Johnson acknowledged that all those changes, especially involving new appointments at the city agencies, will likely create a somewhat chaotic transitional period at the beginning of the year. But, looking forward with his constituents in mind, he pledged to always keep the lower West Side’s top local issues — new affordable housing, improvements to public education and a new full service hospital — close to his heart, and close to the minds of his fellow council members.
“So much of delivering for this district will revolve around being persistent and relentless, and continuing to make the case for why these things should happen, and why our city budget should direct taxpayer monies to pay for them,” said Johnson. “I’m ready, willing and excited to make that case.”