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  GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT 2002: Brooklyn Borough President

MEETING BASIC NEEDS

By Marty Markowitz

Even during the recent economic good times, many people in Brooklyn had to struggle to attain the basic things they and their families need. Because my view is that government's primary purpose is to help people, assisting my constituents will be a core focus of my office. Much of the work at Borough Hall will involve reaching out to connect Brooklyn residents to the public services they must have and to which they are entitled.

But with a new city government in place, we also have a real opportunity to work together to solve problems in productive new ways. I am just beginning to receive reports from my transition committee members looking at the state of housing, transportation, health care and constituent services in Brooklyn. Eighty dedicated experts and activists are spending long hours laying the groundwork that will help us give Brooklyn residents relevant and useful information that makes a difference in their daily lives, from how to get involved in their kids' schools and improve them, to how to influence land use decisions in their communities.

Housing is a major concern. Every person who wants to should be able to afford to live in Brooklyn, including long-time residents on a fixed income and immigrants just starting out. This spring I will convene a Brooklyn housing summit that will include residents, advocacy groups, public agencies, local development corporations, developers and financial institutions. We will brainstorm solutions to our housing crisis and create plans to implement those solutions.

As part of a comprehensive housing and community development program, we should re-examine plans for vacant city-owned land. I will work with the New Yor City Council and the mayor to increase support for successful existing programs that create construction and rehabilitation projects for low-, moderate- and middle-income housing in Brooklyn. These include the Third Party Transfer Program, through which the Department of Housing Preservation and Development sponsors the rehabilitation of city-owned buildings, which are then transferred to private ownership, and the New York City Housing Partnership's New Homes Program. The Nehemiah Plan, which helps groups of religious congregations construct new housing, has also been very successful in Brooklyn but needs more city support if it is to make a serious dent in the shortage of affordable housing. A number of other programs also work well but are not supported at anything near the level required to match the magnitude of Brooklyn's housing problem .

Access to health care also remains a serious concern in Brooklyn, accounting for high rates of preventable illness and mortality in many neighborhoods. Cost is one major barrier keeping people from getting the care they need. Many Brooklyn residents who are eligible for subsidized health insurance, such as Family Health Plus or Child Health Plus, are not enrolled in these programs. My office will reach out to uninsured Brooklynites with the goal of seeing every eligible family and individual covered by these programs.

I will also sponsor workshops and seminars throughout Brooklyn, especially in the most underserved areas, to promote healthy behaviors that can prevent illness. And I will work with the city administration and relevant city agencies to increase training for the borough's public health workers to better their skills in meeting the health care needs of Brooklyn's very diverse population.

Brooklyn must plan for its future development. For example, today Brooklyn has miles of waterfront that is ripe for redevelopment, but it must be done in ways that are equitable and environmentally sound. I plan to work with the community and advocacy groups from the affected neighborhoods, including those along the East River and Gowanus Canal, as well as in Sunset Park, Greenpoint, Downtown, Williamsburg and Coney Island to ensure that these areas are developed in ways that provide jobs, housing, recreational opportunities and public access. For example, I support the planned establishment of a waterfront park in Sunset Park, which, despite the neighborhood's name, lacks sufficient open space for its population.

And as we develop the waterfront and pursue our goals for the rest of the borough, I will fight to make sure that no Brooklyn neighborhood continues to be targeted for environmental hazards. I join the people of Williamsburg in opposing the trans-gas power plant in that community, which is poised for residential, recreational, and commercial redevelopment. A growing need for electricity in the region should not result in more power plants along the Brooklyn waterfront.

The proliferation of solid waste transfer stations, and the enormous truck traffic it has created, have particularly burdened Brooklyn, especially the neighborhoods of East New York, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The city needs to handle its garbage in a more equitable fashion. I will work with the new city government to create a fair and efficient long-term solid waste management plan.

Obviously, these are just a few of the key areas in which I believe that leadership and good planning, and an inclusive, open government can make a real and positive difference in the lives of Brooklyn's residents.

Marty Markowitz is the new Brooklyn borough president

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Want more info on the 2001 Campaign for Brooklyn Borough President? Click here to go to our Searchlight on Campaign 2001 page.