Upper Manhattan Council Candidates Take a Pass on Livable Streets Survey

alg_subway_181.jpgDecrepit subway stations, like the shuttered 1 train stop at 181st St., is just one of the issues Upper Manhattan City Council candidates don't care to talk about. Photo: Daily News

When I set out to summarize responses to the Transportation Alternatives Candidate Survey from City Council contenders in Washington Heights and Inwood, I expected it to take some time. It's a crowded field, after all, with challengers looking to knock off incumbent Robert Jackson in District 7 and a full slate of District 10 hopefuls vying to fill the spot vacated by the disgraced Miguel Martinez.

But of the 16 candidates running in both races, not one responded to TA's survey. A single candidate, Victor Bernace in District 7, submitted a bio. But no one deigned to answer TA's questions on the specific transportation needs of their respective districts, or street safety, congestion reduction, parking reform, public space reclamation, bus rapid transit, bike-share, or improving the health of city residents by making it easier to walk and bike.

"You would think that between crushing GWB congestion, sky-high asthma rates and mass transit that is literally crumbling before our eyes, transportation would be a top-tier issue in races uptown," said TA's Wiley Norvell. "It's regrettable none of the candidates took this opportunity to weigh in on some of the most pressing quality of life issues facing the constituents they aspire to represent."

Indeed. So how should Upper Manhattan voters who care about livable streets proceed? Robert Jackson voted for congestion pricing, though he was never a vocal supporter, and he isn't really known for being outspoken on transportation issues one way or the other. Three candidates -- two in District 7 and one in District 10 -- didn't make it on the ballot.

Of the remaining 12, those in District 10 are profiled in a recent Gotham Gazette piece, which reads:

If you want to get elected in Washington Heights, start by getting a car.

Paste posters of your face all over it. Blasting merengue from a large roof-mounted megaphone can't hurt either. Then hit the streets.

Welcome to Upper Manhattan.

I recognized candidate Francisco Spies' name from a van that passed me on an Inwood street a few weeks back, blasting his custom campaign theme song from the aforementioned roof-mounted megaphone. I was able to track down responses to a 504 Democratic Club survey, which touches on transportation options for the disabled, from Cleofis Sarete. Luis Facundo's platform doesn't mention transportation, though he is interested in making "the community energy efficient and green."

NYPD employee Ruben Dario Vargas, who according to Gotham Gazette doesn't live in the district but plans to move there by Election Day, says he's for "street safety" and, again from the Gazette: "wants to make sure two of the district's subway stations, one on Broadway the other on Dyckman, get elevators." Richard Realmuto is also for safer streets, but it seems both he and Vargas are referring to overall street crime.

Ydanis Rodriguez, considered a front-runner in District 10 -- mostly because he has raised the most money -- boasts of both "derailing a proposed toll on Northern Manhattan bridges with Assemblyman Espaillat" and "opposing fare increases with the Straphangers Campaign." So it looks like we can expect Council Member Rodriguez to uphold the Upper Manhattan tradition of protecting the status quo while pandering to all sides.

Another District 10 favorite, Manny Velazquez, is chair of Community Board 12. Here's his transportation plank: "Provide funding for roadway and street reconstruction projects in Northern Manhattan and for the modernization of train stations throughout the district."

To the west, in District 7, Victor Bernace -- again, the only candidate in Inwood or Washington Heights to respond to TA at all -- is an attorney who defends cab drivers in traffic court. According to his bio, however, he at least takes the subway to work, and in this video Bernace says he wants to rid Upper Manhattan of "all vehicle traffic" and make public transportation free. In 2005, Bernace made headlines by holding a fund-raiser featuring erotic dancers.

Julius Tajiddin is a member of CB 10, whose comments on residential parking from a 2007 meeting represent all the relevant info I could dig up among the remaining District 7 candidates.

Tajiddin (Freedom, Justice & Equal) and Fima Shlimel (Libertarian) are the only District 7 candidates who are not Democrats. While that race won't technically be decided until November, voters in District 10 will choose their next council rep in the September 15 Democratic primary. As Norvell said, it's too bad, for them and for Upper Manhattan, that the candidates chose not to distinguish themselves to a committed voter bloc on an issue that affects each and every one of their potential constituents.