January 14, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
Speaking at the Hammerstein Ballroom Jan. 12, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer reminded her audience that it was the anniversary of the Haitian earthquake of 2010, and that as New Yorkers, they were fortunate they’d be going back to a home that had heat and running water—“and if it doesn’t, let me know.”
Brewer had just been unofficially sworn in as borough president, in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 people that included numerous members of the City Council and New York’s Albany and Washington delegations. She said her priorities will include improving city residents’ access to the Internet and online city data, getting the city government to purchase more local goods and services, “smart development,” and restoring arts education in public schools.
In her speech, Brewer cited former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s famous quote that “you campaign in poetry, but govern in prose,” and said she preferred governing. The former Upper West Side Councilmember is not a spellbinding orator like the elder Cuomo, but got plaudits from other elected officials for her work ethic. Mayor Bill de Blasio noted her predilection for sending ten-page e-mails, while Comptroller Scott Stringer joked that the room was packed because it contained “every constituent Gale has ever helped.” Public Advocate Letitia James called her “the modern-day Eleanor Roosevelt,” praising her efforts on issues ranging from the city’s new paid-sick-leave law to bedbugs.
Stringer, Brewer’s predecessor as borough president, said he liked the job because it was big enough for you to think boldly and small enough to help individuals. Brewer will be dividing those aspects between two deputy borough presidents: She announced that City University of New York official Aldrin R. Bonilla will be overseeing community and constituent affairs, including community boards, and Joseph N. Garba, formerly legislative representative for the New York State United Teachers, will handle policy initiatives and budget analysis.
Brewer also recalled the 1960s student-movement slogan “participatory democracy,” saying that it is not deluded to be idealistic and that public decision-making needed to be expanded “beyond mere elected officials—no offense to my colleagues,” that neighborhood residents must be involved in decisions on zoning and development. Applications to serve on Manhattan’s 12 community boards are now on her Web site, she added.
“The women’s movement is where I began,” she concluded, saying she was inspired by Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, and Ruth Messinger, her mentor. Messinger, who also served as the Upper West Side’s Councilmember before becoming Manhattan borough president, hired Brewer as her chief of staff in 1979.