Just over the past few years alone, there have been some great victories at the local level, and there have been some disappointments.
Most recently, the community stopped the city’s environmental protection department from leaving half the Jerome Park Reservoir empty. The community also stopped a multiple-day music festival from ransacking Van Cortlandt Park. And let’s not forget earlier this year when the city planning department finally surrendered in trying to revamp the Special Natural Area District.
What did all of those successes have in common? Grassroots organizations, of course. Our neighbors, even ourselves, who care so deeply about the community, we’ll fight hard to keep it. People like Anne Marie Garti, Rob and Laura Spalter, and Stephanie Coggins — along with so many more they worked side-by-side to accomplish great things.
But there’s another common denominator that more often than not gets overlooked. And that’s probably by design. Yes, we’re talking about someone who has the most power in our community, even if he doesn’t always wield it: Councilman Andrew Cohen.
This space has been used more than once to poke Cohen, not because we think he’s doing a bad job. Only that we think he can do better.
His modesty will tell you that his influence over the other 50 members of city council is minimal, but that is not actually the case. For the most part, this city council listens closely to any colleague on any measure that specifically affects their district. Essentially, the council gets its marching orders on such specific issues from these representatives.
Most of the time, this all happens behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s far more public, like when Cohen finally took a position on the SNAD overhaul that immediately killed it, or when he noted support for the bicycle lanes and re-striping of Broadway in North Riverdale, which ultimately happened despite grassroots outcry.
Effective grassroots efforts are knowing where to put pressure. And our grassroots groups here in our community definitely get it. They know they not only have to lean hard on city agencies involved in creating these situations in the first place, but they also have to lobby our city councilman as hard as they can. Because no matter what they do, if Cohen isn’t advocating for them, their efforts are more or less in vain.
That’s a lot of power to put on one person, yet that’s simply the way it is with our city council.
And it’s the kind of power that must be stewarded by someone who takes his marching orders from the people who cast their ballots for him (or her) in every election. Not from anyone else. Not from special interests with deep pocketbooks. Not from other elected officials, no matter what role they played in getting elected in the first place.
Congratulations on these recent grassroots victories — efforts where a strong council member is a must.