Brooklyn Councilman Decries ‘Tale of Two Boroughs’ in Bridge Tolling Plan

First, there was the “tale of two cities.” Now, according to one Brooklyn councilman, there’s a “tale of two boroughs.”

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, seen from Brooklyn. (Photo: Wikipedia)
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, seen from Brooklyn. (Photo: Wikimedia)

First, there was the “tale of two cities.” Now, according to one Brooklyn councilman, there’s a “tale of two boroughs.”

Councilman Vincent Gentile raged yesterday against a new tolling plan for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that will slash prices for Staten Island residents and truck drivers but leaves everyone else, including his Brooklyn constituents on the other side of the bridge, without the discount. 

“I’m all for lowering tolls for hardworking Staten Islanders but the fact is this deal doesn’t go far enough. Not including toll relief for Brooklyn is ridiculous,” Mr. Gentile, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Perhaps someone forgot that a bridge has two sides. Let’s not make this a tale of two boroughs!”

Under the new pricing scheme announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday, Staten Island residents will pay slightly less when using E-ZPasses and depending on how often they use the cross-borough bridge. Truck drivers from any borough who cross the bridge more than 10 times a month will see their tolls slashed 20 percent. Non-Staten Island residents crossing the bridge won’t see any reductions in the toll, which will remain $15 without an E-ZPass and $10.66 with one. (Staten Islanders have long received a discount on the bridge toll). 

The toll discounts come not long after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hiked tolls and fares across the state. Some watchdogs are questioning whether the MTA, already grappling with a delicate fiscal situation, can afford even this small discount. 

A source close to Mr. Gentile emphasized the councilman doesn’t have any anti-Staten Island bias–he once represented a portion of the borough in the State Senate–but is hoping the council’s Brooklyn delegation will unite around the issue of lowering tolls for Brooklyn residents.

“Behind the scenes, Vinnie is trying to work with Cuomo to make this happen so he wants to convey his outrage but also he wants to make sure the door is still open to negotiate,”  the source said. “Vinnie is trying to rally the Brooklyn delegation to stand united and come to the table for this.”

Mr. Gentile was also disappointed, the source explained, that Staten Island lawmakers who represent chunks of Brooklyn, including Congressman Michael Grimm, State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, weren’t able to secure a toll reduction for their Brooklyn constituents as part of the governor’s deal.

“It’s shitty that Malliotakis, Savino and Grimm–who all represent Staten Island as well as Brooklyn–totally ignored Brooklyn in this deal,” the source railed. “Now we have to pick up the torch and fight for equity.”

But Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis told Politicker that she had broached the subject of lowering tolls for Brooklyn residents with staffers of the governor, but that the unity of the Staten Island delegation, along with the higher cost of a more ambitious toll-cutting plan, meant that little could be done for Brooklyn at this time. 

“We need more toll equity within the City of New York,” Ms. Malliotakis, a Republican, said. “Staten Island is unique in two ways–one, we’re an island, so we have stronger argument with decision makers, and number two, we are united. We only have six state legislators and we were united on this issue and spoke with one voice and that went a long way.”

“In Brooklyn, you only have me, [State Senator] Marty Golden, and Vinnie on south end of Brooklyn and Congressman Grimm who are vocal on the toll issue,” she added. “You have over 50 elected officials in the borough–many other elected officials aren’t as concerned about bridge toll, they have other priorities.” 

Update (11:52 p.m.): Ms. Savino called Politicker to slam Mr. Gentile for criticizing the Staten Island delegation’s efforts to help Brooklyn. Mr. Grimm added his own statement shortly after. 

“I’m not saying transportation costs aren’t high for everyone. But Staten Island has a unique circumstance. It’s the only borough without a subway,” Ms. Savino said. “We have the highest commute on nation, on average 90 minutes and we have the least amount of transit options.”

“I would suggest the way for my Brooklyn colleagues is to band together, Democrats and Republicans, put aside petty partisan crap and come up with a solution,” she continued.

Mr. Gentile’s remarks also irked Mr. Grimm, whose congressional district overlaps with much of Mr. Gentile’s council district. 

“It’s bizarre that Councilman Gentile would make such baseless remarks, as I have been proud to be a consistent voice for my Brooklyn constituents in this all-too-important endeavor, and introduced legislation at the federal level to facilitate toll relief,” Mr. Grimm, a Republican, said in a statement. “I have been working closely with Brooklyn’s state representatives like Senator Marty Golden in our joint effort, and I know that he is firmly committed to continuing this fight for the hard-working people we represent on both sides of the Verrazano.”

Update (12:18 p.m.): A spokesman for Mr. Gentile said that the Staten Island lawmakers knocking Mr. Gentile were not actually reacting to anything Mr. Gentile himself said. 

“Congressman Grimm and Senator Savino are mistaken. As far as our office is concerned, the deal announced yesterday came as a total surprise on this side of the bridge. Councilman Gentile had no knowledge this deal was being hatched behind the scenes with the Governor,” said the spokesman, Justin Brannan. “It wasn’t until after the deal was announced that Councilman Gentile reached out to a representative from the Governor’s office. Congressman Grimm and Senator Savino are reacting to an anonymous source and not to Councilman Gentile’s official statement.”

Correction (2:35 p.m.): An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed comments about Mr. Gentile to Ms. Savino. We apologize for this error. 

Brooklyn Councilman Decries ‘Tale of Two Boroughs’ in Bridge Tolling Plan