Downtownexpress.com A busy night in the life of Gale Brewer by Heather Dubin
There are seven events on deck tonight, and Manhattan’s 27th borough president, Gale Brewer, wants to hit them all.
This should come as no surprise. Brewer, a Democrat, formerly was the city councilmember for the Upper West Side’s District 6 for 12 years, during which she was on 10 different committees. From passing legislation to restrict large storefronts on the Upper West Side and sponsoring paid sick leave for workers, to preventing tenant evictions and leading technology initiatives, Brewer is determined.
At the borough president’s office on Centre St., before the mad scramble begins on this February night, press secretary Stephanie Hoo goes over the schedule, skeptical they’ll be able to complete it — especially since the first stop is a Community Board 1 meeting with real estate on the agenda. And then there are logistics — traveling from Tribeca to the Upper East Side, with stops along the way in Harlem, Midtown, the Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen.
Hoo offers a quick tour of the office. Aldrin Bonilla, deputy borough president for community and borough operations, is making his own Xerox copies. The tour is followed by an in-depth discussion of the vending machine down the hall.
Much to the delight of staffers, the vending machine — previously stocked with healthy treats under Mayor Bloomberg — now sports junk food.
“It literally happened last week — unannounced,” Hoo said. “There are Twizzlers and actual potato chips.”
Brewer emerges from her office slightly after 6 p.m., coat on, holding a stack of manila file folders crammed with papers, and leads us out at a rapid clip.
Her day started around 6:30 a.m., with letters, followed by an 8:30 a.m. meeting on business improvement districts and a press conference at 10:30 a.m.
“And from there, on and on,” she said. Usually, after a busy day, she has an additional five to six meetings per night.
After work, Brewer catches Errol Lewis’s “Inside City Hall” on NY 1 on TV.
“FiOS won’t make a dent in New York because of Errol Lewis,” she said. “I try to get home by 10 p.m. to watch him, and then I read two newspapers. Read, read, read — watch the news, and have dinner.”
Then she views MSNBC news programs, with a 12:30 a.m. bedtime.
It’s now 6:30 p.m. as Andre Davis, the borough president’s driver, drops us at Hudson and Canal Sts., where Hunter College’s new master’s of fine arts program is based. A Community Board 1 meeting is being held here tonight.
Brewer joins leaders to announce the formation of the Seaport Working Group to find consensus with Howard Hughes Corp. on neighborhood development plans.
“I’m new to this job, but not to bringing people together,” Brewer told the audience of roughly 100. She acknowledged the community’s role, touting the working group’s diversity and balanced perspective.
Back in the car at 7 p.m., we deconstruct the meeting. Brewer thinks the working group concept is a good one.
“You don’t need it for everyone,” she said, “just the big projects.”
The conversation turns to affordable housing, one of the issues Brewer campaigned on. She recalled the J-51 tax abatements under former Mayor Ed Koch, which allowed landlords to renovate apartments, and then bring them to market rate, which started the neighborhood’s gentrification.
“That was happening on the West Side,” Brewer said. “They weren’t renovated. No way. They might’ve been if it was monitored correctly. What you need is a balance. It’s tipped over.”
It’s 7:22 p.m. and next up is a town hall meeting hosted by State Senator Brad Hoylman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, on W. 59th St. One hundred and forty people have turned out to learn about and voice their views on the mayor’s “Vision Zero” traffic and pedestrian safety plan.
“Vision Zero” aims to eliminate traffic-related fatalities within a decade. On the same subject, Brewer shared how deeply affected she was at a recent press conference on pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents.
“I’m glad I was wearing glasses,” she said, clarifying with emphasis, “sunglasses. There were about 30 families with pictures of family members killed.”
The Beep did not mince words concerning bicycle delivery workers.
“Merchants have to talk to delivery people in other languages, and explain rules and regulations,” she said. “It’s important.”
It’s 7:43 p.m. On to Harlem, but running a bit behind schedule.
“There are so many events, and tonight, I have people at every one of them — from precinct meetings to community boards,” she said. “I like to cover small meetings, as well — ears to the ground, then I can see what needs to be done.”
An Uptown “storefront office” for Brewer on 125th St. is in the works. Unlike her Downtown one, it will be open daily, with no identification required to enter and get assistance.
“It’s going to be awhile,” she said of her Harlem H.Q. “City agencies are so slow.”
We reach P.S. 133, at 130th St. and Fifth Ave. slightly after 8 p.m. for a meeting, but everyone has already left. The next two events are nixed for time.
At 8:15 p.m., Davis next ferries us to the Four Freedoms Democratic Club Kick-Off Party at Off the Rails, a bar on the Upper East Side.
Davis began as a driver for the Borough President’s Office in 1987 for David Dinkins, when the former mayor was B.P. “Gale is affectionately known as ‘Number Five,’ ” he said, referencing the number of Beeps he’s driven
“Andre is very much adored in New York,” Brewer said. “You go places and that’s who people know. When I say he’s outside, people come running out.”
At the steering wheel, Davis keeps the car easily flowing with traffic.
“I try to keep it low key,” he said. “It’s a little less stressful with Gale.”
At 8:30 p.m., the political club’s party is in full swing. Brewer speaks briefly on affordable housing and healthcare.
“This is what seems to be the most pre-eminent group in the district,” City Council member Ben Kallos said of the mixed-age crowd.
We edge toward the door at 8:45 p.m., waiting for various people vying to talk to Brewer.
Our final destination, at 9 p.m., is a shelter, which can’t be named. Brewer spoke candidly with staff workers about preventing homelessness in preparation for testimony at a Council hearing on shelters that week.
Forty minutes later, we get into the car one last time, exhausted. It was a long day, which will be repeated — by Brewer — again and again. Most people she encounters probably don’t realize how busy her days are.
“People have no idea,” she said. “They see you and they want you to solve their problems.”