By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Assembly Member Harvey Epstein hosted a town hall at the New York University Dental School on East 24th Street last Thursday, attended by more than 100 people braving last week’s arctic deep freeze.
Instead of a single-room free-for-all, the event was broken up into two separate hour-long panels with three different topics that residents could learn more about during each panel. Epstein said that the approach intended to give attendees one-on-one time with experts on a number of different topics, which included voting rights, education and legalization of marijuana during the first panel and transportation, housing and disability rights during the second.
Alex Camarda from Reinvent Albany and Rachel Bloom from Citizens Union Foundation discussed voting rights and good government during the first panel, answering questions about legislative issues such as closing the LLC Loophole, in addition to addressing difficulties that residents had while voting in the last election.
“I’ve lived in Stuyvesant Town for many years and I had so much trouble voting in the last election,” Adrienne Cosner said. “There’s been a lot of irregularity.”
Camarda assured attendees that most of the time when a voter’s name isn’t on the rolls, it’s usually a bureaucratic mistake, which, while not ideal, doesn’t prevent a voter from voting.
“You can always cast an affidavit ballot,” he said, while adding, “If it is intentional, it’s a felony offense and you should definitely report it.”
Kips Bay resident Karen Lee said that she had concerns about New York’s lack of open primaries, which would allow voters registered to any party to vote in any primary election.
“I lived in California for a long time and what disturbs me here is that no one runs against anyone,” she said. “You’re stuck with whoever your person is.”
Bloom said that elections have been structured to keep the people elected to hold onto their seats.
“We’re starting to change some of that,” she added. “Especially in New York where most of the decisions are made in the primaries, everyone should be able to vote for whoever they want.”
Camarda explained that the argument against open primaries is primarily one of party cohesion and unity.
“(The parties) believe that as people who believe in the values of the party, voters should be able to pick a candidate to represent the party,” he said.
Regarding legislative fixes to increase voter turnout, which is notoriously low in New York, Camarda noted that there has been some progress recently since the State Senate passed a series of bills earlier this year to limit LLC contributions, in addition to establishing early voting and expanding voter registration.
Questions during the panel on transportation later in the evening focused on plans related to the work on the L train in addition to a number of concerns about the increase in bicyclists in the neighborhood, which in some ways is also indirectly related to the plans for the L train.
Cosner also attended the transportation panel and said that she found the increase of Citi Bike docks in the neighborhood troubling.
“I’m a pedestrian and I feel more afraid of the bikes than of the cars,” she said. “The city has become unruly. Enough with the bikes.”
Stuy Town resident Karen Reynolds said that cycling is a safety issue to her as a pedestrian as well.
“I also live in Stuyvesant Town and I don’t feel safe with bikes at all,” Reynold said. “Delivery people on bikes endanger our safety. Bikes should be regulated. The city has been remiss in not training people.”
Department of Transportation Manhattan Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar said at the meeting that DOT works with police to educate cyclists.
“Commercial cyclists are partially regulated but it’s a matter of enforcement,” he said. “The onus is on the business that the cyclists have the proper equipment and have watched the safety video.”
Epstein agreed that education is an important component to safety for both pedestrians and bicyclists.
“We need to figure out how to have a better balance between cyclists and pedestrians,” he said, “and we’re not doing a good enough job so far of moving forward. We want people to ride, walk and ride in cars and feel safe.”