One of the curious things about the ongoing fight over the Prospect Park West bike lane is how one of its biggest opponents is a former city transportation commissioner whose husband is one of the most visible, even conspicuous, cyclists in the city. Yes, we are talking about Iris Weinshall and Chuck Schumer. New York’s senior senator has remained publicly mum on the issue in his backyard, even while he purportedly lobbied behind the scenes to have something done about the bike lane.
Now Streetsblog has email proof of Senator Schumer’s opposition to the lane—or at least that’s what his neighbor claims.
For months now, Streetsblog has been fighting fire with fire, subjecting anti-bike lane group Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes (yeah, we know) to the same scrutiny they have leveled at DOT. To create the impression the department was hiding something, attorney Jim Walden and others charged the press with FOILing the department to get to the truth about the bike lane data. Perhaps there is something there, but the numbers the department provided The Observer, sans FOIL, seem to add up. The claims are like pointing to someone and saying, “prove to me you’re not a murder.” Whatever happened to presumption of innocence.
Anyway, Streetsblog has pulled the maneuver on the NBBL folks, many of whom work for the city, the borough president or CUNY, and are therefore themselves FOILable. All week, Streetsblog has been filing their findings, including a report Monday that alleges Ms. Weinshall used her influence (and possibly that of her husband) to get free legal representation from powerful white shoe law firm Gibson Dunn, followed on Tuesday by news that the bike lane opponents pursued their lawsuit even while they questioned its success, thinking that between the media mudslinging and (again) political connections, they might have a shot.
Now comes the bombshell—O.K., maybe it’s just a smoke grenade—about our fair senator.
Schumer apparently revealed his opposition to the bike lane to NBBL leader Louise Hainline, who lives in the penthouse of the same Prospect Park West apartment building the senator calls home. “Schumer can’t help much with this issue, but I have seen him and he doesn’t like the lane,” wrote Hainline to two bike lane opponents on June 29, 2010. Though Hainline said Schumer “can’t help much,” NBBL repeatedly attempted to use his connections and clout to aid their efforts.
No written evidence of Schumer’s direct lobbying on the bike lane has surfaced, but one email is quite suggestive. On December 3, 2010, bike lane opponent and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel wrote to Weinshall: “Also heard abt a purported conversation betwn the mayor and our sr. senator you might find of interest.” In all the documents obtained by Streetsblog, the extent of Steisel and Weinshall’s communications was limited to the Prospect Park West bike lane, suggesting that the conversation “of interest” between Schumer and Bloomberg was likely about the same topic.
Weinshall, Hainline, and Jessica Schumer also tried to enlist a veteran of Chuck Schumer’s press shop. On July 12, 2010, Jessica Schumer reported on the latest ally her family had recruited in their fight against the bike lane: one of the state’s top media consultants. “My mom talked with Risa Heller on Saturday night – she used to do my dad’s press and then went on to work for the governor and now does PR work,” she wrote. “She said she would be willing to help us out a little – so I can get in touch with her if you would like.” Hainline said that she’d be interested, and Schumer agreed to contact Heller.
By no means is this conclusive evidence the senator opposes the lane, but it is interesting. Then again, blogger Brooklyn Spoke caught Senator Schumer marveling at a bike share station over the weekend, as he traversed, but did not use, the nearby bike lane. Maybe he’s just in bed with the wrong bunch.