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Lander attack on speaker may have backfired

Councilman Brad Lander’s bid for city comptroller is looking increasingly more like a long shot.
His chances took a big hit when City Council Speaker Corey Johnson decided to exit the mayor’s race and instead run for comptroller. But is was Lander decision to attack Johnson for “stalling” and “playing politics” on several pieces of legislation that may have sunk his campaign.
Lander didn’t just mention this criticism to a reporter or even bring it up in a press conference, he decided to launch an entire website dedicated to Johnson’s “shortcomings” as speaker.
“What’s the Story,” Corey?” lists nearly 20 pieces of legislation Lander claims Johnson failed to advance to the detriment of the residents of a city looking to recover from a pandemic.
A lot of those pieces of legislation were sponsored by Lander’s colleagues, who he apparently didn’t check with before he put all of this information out on the Internet for the whole world to Google.
Many of them actually endorsed Lander for the position before Johnson announced he would enter the race, but now many of them, miffed that he included their legislation on his website, are pulling their support.
Council members Margaret Chin and Debi Rose are two of his fellow council members who said Lander’s repeated attacks on the speaker and the work of the City Council caused them to reconsider their endorsements.
They specifically pointed to what they called Lander’s misrepresentation of the progress being made to support paid sick leave for gig workers, citing that the council had already passed two paid leave bills.

“As City Council members, we all know that getting legislation passed requires a lot of time and effort,” they wrote in a joint statement. “Getting support from other council members and the chairs of the committees is important to getting any bill passed. To insinuate that the speaker is currently holding back the bill is not true.
“We recognize that Brad has the right to run his campaign as he sees fit,” they added. “However, we disagree with his campaign’s continuing to misrepresent the work of the council and its speaker. Therefore, we are withdrawing our support for his campaign for Comptroller.”

Councilman Francisco Moya of Queens also criticized Lander for his characterization of the work of the City Council and Johnson after one of the bills he is sponsoring was also listed on the website. He tweeted that he would like to be left out of “this hit job.”

Lander argues the council members are distancing themselves from his critique of Johnson because they fear retribution from the speaker, who controls discretionary funding.
However, with the new budget process already in the works and Johnson term-limited out of office at the end of the year, it’s not clear how much Johnson could actually retaliate against council members who support Lander even if he was inclined to do so.
Even if Johnson loses the comptroller’s race, he presumably has further political ambitions, so alienating potential future political allies by withholding discretionary funds from their districts when he won’t be able to reap the benefits of that carrot-and-stick approach in the future because he will no longer be the speaker of the City Council doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Lander’s colleagues are more than likely calling him out because they aren’t running for comptroller, and therefore have no reason to get embroiled in a heated campaign for an office they won’t hold.

Public sounds off on updated W’burg park redesign

The controversial renovation of Marsha P. Johnson State Park in Williamsburg continued its long and winding journey towards reopening during three design review sessions this past week.
In early 2020, the park officially changed its name from East River State Park to Marsha P. Johnson State Park to honor the legacy of the notable LGBTQ+ activist and 1969 Stonewall Uprising leader.
The site was closed soon thereafter due to the pandemic, and remains closed to renovate and redesign the park in honor of its new namesake.
However, the proposed redesign, which would include the installation of a large, plastic mural on one of the park’s two concrete slabs, drew the ire of community organizers and Williamsburg residents.
In a series of public hearings last months, community members and the family of Johnson criticized the redesign for failing to properly honor the activist’s legacy. They demanded the state Parks Department abandon its redesign in exchange for one that would reflect Johnson’s well-documented love of flowers.
The department complied, and for the past three weeks landscape architecture firm Starr Whitehouse has been working on a new design.
This past week, the department and firm held three public review sessions to gather community feedback for the proposal. Two of the design reviews were held in person at the park at 90 Kent Avenue and one was held virtually.
“This has been the most iterative process I’ve even been involved in,” explained Laura Starr, a founding partner of Starr Whitehouse, at the virtual design review. “I think we have included almost every suggestion in some way. I love all of the feedback we’ve received at the in-person meetings.”
While some elements of the park’s original design have been kept, including the playgrounds, many other aspects have been completely redeveloped. Most notably, the plastic mural was scrapped in favor of more green space and flowers.
Starr Whitehouse is also still in the process of implementing additional community suggestions into the design. These include an amphitheater space, an entrance gate, narrative plaques to tell Johnson’s life story, and several safe spaces and resources for the LGBTQ+ and Trans communities.
“We are still massaging the design drawing,” Starr explained. “We are taking in all our input now, even if we won’t be able to implement it until later.”
However, Monday’s design review still garnered a fair amount of criticism.
“In my opinion, the park looks a little commercial like,” said Anika Dorsey Good, Johnson’s great-niece. “It has green space, but it isn’t very vibrant. As a family member, we don’t want the only thing commemorating Marsha when this park opens to be a metal plaque. We want the park to really embody who Marsha was.”
New York City regional director for State Parks Leslie Wright pushed back against the critics.
“We are not in a position to parse it tree by tree,” Wright said. “We are here to figure out what the greatest consensus is on the biggest points, so we can get the park open as soon as possible.”
While not discussed at Monday’s event, the redesign has also drawn criticism for its relationship to the Smorgasburg Food Festival traditionally held every Saturday at the site.
In past design reviews, proponents of Smorgasburg have lobbied for more concrete space in the park to house food trucks and tents. Critics of the food festival have pushed back against such suggestions.
After two final public review sessions this coming week, the Parks Department and Starr Whitehouse will finalize their plans and move forward with a new design. The park is then expected to fully reopen at some point in 2021.

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