Mayor Cranky: DeBlasio cuts questioners off, chides aides at town hall meeting - Brooklyn Paper

Mayor Cranky: DeBlasio cuts questioners off, chides aides at town hall meeting

Crabby: Mayor DeBlasio had little time for tomfoolery and questions that took longer than 30 seconds to ask at his town hall in Brooklyn Heights on Wednesday.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Mayor DeBlasio had little patience for residents at his town hall in Brooklyn Heights on Wednesday night, repeatedly cutting off people taking more than 30 seconds to ask their questions, and then chastising city officials near the end of the night for not doing enough to move the session along.

Hizzoner hosted the event — his 40th since taking office — to give residents an opportunity to ask questions and air their complaints. But he appeared to be weary of the affair from the outset, taking a crack a the first questioner after he spent a half-minute prefacing his inquiry about the city’s plans for the newly acquired Bushwick Inlet Park.

“This is the first time I get to say it,” he said. “What’s your question?”

Before the questioning began, Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill) laid out the rules for the evening: attendees could ask just one question, should not go into a long preamble, and be conscientious of their neighbor’s and the mayor’s time.

In roughly 2.5 hours, he fielded questions about local issues such as women-only swim time at Williamsburg’s Metropolitan Recreation Center, the streetcar that will run from Sunset Park to Queens, and weekend construction on the new Brooklyn Heights Library.

But not all issues were treated equal — the fourth person of the night to take the mic, a public housing resident named Jackie, launched into a query about her apartment complex before DeBlasio stopped her when she dared to blitz him with several questions.

“Be careful, it’s one question per person,” he said. “We have a lot of people, just clarify your question.”

He then shifted his tone completely and became almost giddy when the next person, a student, asked him about how New York is going to fight climate change now that President Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord, an agreement by countries around the world to battle the warming earth.

“Thank you very much, excellent question,” he said approvingly, followed by a lengthy explanation that included him calling it “an existential issue.”

He also didn’t hesitate to admonish a resident who disagreed with him about a proposal for rezoning the former Pfizer site in Williamsburg, which activists say favors the Hasidic Jewish population over Latinos and blacks.

“You’re shaking your head, I would advise you to listen to the answer before you judge,” Hizzoner said to her as she disapprovingly nodded.

DeBlasio appeared in good spirits at the beginning of the evening when announcing several improvements for District 33, which covers Downtown, Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, Boerum Hill, WIlliamsburg, Greenpoint, and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Gowanus, at one point declaring that it is “very, very difficult to dislike” Levin.

But as the town hall progressed and the crowd dwindled, he became increasingly irritated, at one point uncomfortably reprimanding Gary Belkin, a deputy executive commissioner at the Department of Health, for not promptly reporting to the microphone to respond to a question about lead.

“Why are you all the way in the back Gary?” he said. “When you hear your topic called please come and stand next to me.”

He even seemed to lose his patience with Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg while she tried to explain to a cyclist the city’s difficulties separating riders and pedestrians on the Brooklyn Bridge, interrupting after just 15 seconds.

“Punchline?!” he said, before she completed her answer that the city can’t just paint the bike lanes green because it needs to get approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission first.

DeBlasio promised to hold a town hall in each of the 51 council districts during his first term, and has been packing them in the months before the general election in November, most recently holding the get-togethers in Williamsburg and Sheepshead Bay.

He will need to endure another night of questions from Brooklynites when he hosts a town hall for residents living in Gowanus, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, and Park Slope on Oct. 26.

He’ll also call Brooklyn home next week when “City Hall in your Borough” moves into town, with five-days of photo opps and events around Kings County.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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