By LINCOLN ANDERSON
May 11, 2017
Corey Johnson announced the winners of his district’s participatory-budgeting voting at a “West Side Summit” at the Whitney Museum on Tuesday night. But it was the councilmember’s fiery comments about fighting Donald Trump that won the evening’s strongest applause.
After giving a lengthy recap of his accomplishments in District 3 over the past year, Johnson turned his focus to Trump, urging people to keep up “the resistance.”
As he did at a rally in Washington Square Park in January, Johnson once again slammed Trump as a “pathological liar” — but this time his litany of accusations went even further.
“In the not-too-distant future, Americans of all stripes and people around the world are going to ask each other, what did you do in 2017?” Johnson said. “What did you do when an authoritarian, autocrat, demagogue, pathological liar rose to power, pitting Americans against Americans, debased fundamental social institutions, pushed societal norms to the side, fired the F.B.I. director and U.S. attorneys, colluded with a foreign government, demonized and vilified racial minorities? What did you do in 2017?”
Johnson noted that the leaders of the African-American civil-rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War and women’s suffrage struggles and the farm workers’ movement were all from the grassroots.
“None of these movements were led by politicians and elected officials,” he stressed. “They were started by people, citizens, American people who said, ‘Enough is enough.’ They were movements that made our country and our world a better place.
“When our children and grandchildren look back, I hope they will be able to say we were part of the resistance,” Johnson declared, “that we stood up, fought back against a man and a Congress who wanted to bring us back 100 years.”
The young councilmember said his district, which includes the Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, is where the fight is currently being waged most intensely.
“New York is the epicenter of that resistance,” he stated. “The West Side is the epicenter in New York of that resistance. That is what these neighborhoods have been about for years, long before my time in the Council, even as a community member here — to march, to protest and to organize.
“We did it with the Women’s Marches across the country and we must continue to do it,” he said of the ongoing opposition to the president and his policies.
Finishing his pummeling of Trump, Johnson concluded, “We cannot normalize what is happening in America right now.” As the audience broke out into thunderous applause, nearly drowning him out, he declared, “We must be the face of resistance in America!”
Former state Senator Tom Duane, earlier in the program, praised Johnson for his activism against Trump.
“Whenever there’s a rally of resistance to the regime in Washington,” Johnson is there, Duane said, adding, “He’s a leader in that battle.”
But Duane — who began his career representing the Council seat Johnson now holds — also highly praised Johnson as the consummate local politician delivering for his constituents.
“Has Corey Johnson not knocked on anyone’s door?” he asked. “He holds so many events in the district. He has a wonderful staff. Not since Ruth Messinger was a councilmember on the Upper West Side, do I think anyone there’s anyone about who deserves to be said, ‘Are there two of them?’ Down at City Hall, he’s very effective from land use to getting funding for programs that really help people who are really need help. You are well represented,” he assured the crowd.
The event’s keynote speaker was Comptroller Scott Stringer, who also spoke to how Trump has galvanized New Yorkers into united opposition.
“It is amazing what is happening,” Stringer said. “We have Jews fighting side by side with Muslims, blacks and Hispanics, young and old… . We are organizing in a way I haven’t seen since the ’60s and ’70s, and I believe we will benefit from it when this resistance is over.”
In addition, Stringer said, Trump’s tax-cut plan would callously benefit the wealthy.
“This is not West Side rhetoric,” he stressed. “The millionaires would get a tax cut of $100,000. With corporate loopholes, they could walk away with $200,000. Single-parent households would see a tax increase of hundreds of dollars. This was literally written by the ‘Mar-a-Lago elite,’ ” Stringer scoffed, “millionaires writing a tax cut for millionaires to make them billionaires.”
The federal budget backed by Trump and the Republicans would cut $400 million from the Big Apple, slicing out critical funding for things like special education and Section 8 housing, the comptroller explained.
“It is a terrible attack on the city of New York,” he said.
Meanwhile, Stringer stressed that immigrants — much maligned by Trump and Co. — are the backbone of New York City’s economy.
“Immigrants make up half of the city’s workforce and earn $100 billion a year,” he said. “Our economy is built with the power of immigration.”
On the local front, taking some apparent shots at Mayor Bill de Blasio, Stringer stressed that, while it’s great that affordable housing is being included in new construction projects, the rents must be set at a level people can actually afford. And he slammed the practice of putting homeless families in what he derided as “roach hotels,” saying the only alternative is to create more affordable housing.
The announcement of the “P.B.,” or participatory-budgeting winners, came at the end of the two-hour “summit.”
Johnson reported that 3,518 people had voted this year — with around 1,600 of them voting online — in late March and early April. About a dozen projects competed for chunks of more than $1 million in capital funding.
The top vote-getter was $200,000 for a park in Hell’s Kitchen, on a vacant site at 10th Ave. between W. 48th and W. 49th Sts. that was used for construction of the Third City Water Tunnel. The city also plans to build affordable housing on part of the site. The community will be involved in planning and designing the park, Johnson said.
Coming in second was $125,000 for real-time rider-information signs at five key bus stops in the district. This will add to the 10 electronic signs already funded in last year’s P.B. process.
In third place was $150,000 for air conditioning for the library at P.S. 111, at 440 W. 53rd St., which is used for summer school and also as a cooling center.
Rounding out the winners at No. 4 was $500,000 for grounds renovations at the Elliot-Chelsea Houses, to install new playground fencing, renovate walkways and revitalize garden areas, designed with the complex’s residents.
During his recap of his accomplishments over the past year, Johnson cited the deal involving Pier 40 — which he helped broker — as the most significant.
“Pier 40 is arguably the most important community asset” in the district, he said. “Thousands of children use its playing fields and its parking garage generates one-third of the entire Hudson River Park’s revenue.
“A robust and transparent public process” resulted in “an outstanding deal,” Johnson said, in which more than $100 million was secured to shore up the W. Houston St.’s 4,000 corroded steel support piles. The deal will also bring 500 affordable apartments, including for seniors, to the new St. John’s Partners project at 550 Washington St., he noted, and also resulted in the city finally designating for landmark status the final one-third of the South Village Historic District. In addition, no further air-rights transfers from Pier 40 will be allowed into Community Board 2 after the St. John’s deal, in which the developers have agreed to buy 200,000 square feet of development rights from the massive park pier.
The 550 Washington St. project will also include a 15,000-square-foot publicly accessible indoor recreation space and an affordable supermarket. Plus, the city Department of Transportation will do a $1.5 million study of traffic along Varick St. and around the Holland Tunnel.
Johnson touched on many other initiatives he had a hand in over the past year, such as funding four formerly homeless workers from ACE to help keep the district clean and helping fund a green roof for the new Morton St. middle school.
On that last subject, Johnson revealed to applause, “I have it on good authority that the school will be named for Jane Jacobs.”
He called the “affordability crisis” the city’s most pressing issue.
“Rents are soaring as many people who have lived here their whole lives are being forced out of the city,” he noted. “Our neighborhoods are being transformed and are struggling to retain their character and spirit. We need affordable housing like our lives depended upon it.”
Johnson also said he is a strong support of the long-stalled Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which for years has never been allowed to come up for a vote in the City Council.
“Our neighborhood affordable businesses and small businesses are closing at an alarming rate,” he said.
At the end, Johnson thanked the crowd, saying it’s an honor to serve his constituents every day, and that he feels like the “luckiest” guy to have his job.
“I pinch myself each time that I walk into City Hall,” he said. “I can only serve two terms, then I’m out — so I can only savor every moment.”
Johnson has served three-and-a-half years of his first term and is running unopposed for re-election.
Finally, the councilmember added he has budgeted $200,000 to fill every empty tree pit in the district, so people should call his office if they see an empty one, and the city will plant a tree in it.
“Trees,” Johnson reflected with a sigh, “We need something to feel good about these days. “Let’s keep up the resistance!” he exhorted. “You guys rock!”