Mayor Bill de Blasio may not be willing to hold any town hall meetings, but he got an earful on a Staten Island sidewalk today from one New Yorker who griped about property taxes and speed cameras.
Staten Islander Chris Altieri didn’t wait for Mr. de Blasio to deign to hold a community forum or a radio call-in show to approach the mayor with a question—instead cornering him after a press conference on street resurfacing funding in the borough’s New Dorp neighborhood.
“That speed camera on that corner is illegal,” Mr. Altieri said, referring to a camera at the intersection of Hylan Boulevard and Tysens Lane, after leading off with a complaint about property taxes.
The at-times heated exchange comes after Newsday pointed out that a lack of town halls or radio shows has kept the mayor a bit more sheltered from the everyday New Yorker than some of his predecessors. Mr. de Blasio has argued—and argued today, just moments before his exchange with Mr. Altieri—that he interacts with New Yorkers all the time. And his press conference in Staten Island comes after the local newspaper, the Staten Island Advance, has hammered the mayor for visiting the borough less frequently than he has traveled out-of-state this year.
“I look forward to spending time all over the borough, including the South Shore, and look forward to any number of different forums where I’ll get a chance to hear peoples’ concerns,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Mr. Altieri certainly aired his concerns, insisting the camera—which the law says must be within a quarter-mile of a school abutting the same road—is illegal. There had been a school within that distance on Hylan Boulevard, Richmondtown Prep, but it was recently closed.
“Why is it illegal?” Mr. de Blasio asked.
Mr. Altieri pointed to another camera that had been located nearby on Hylan Boulevard, at Burbank Avenue, which was removed after the Advance reported there was no school building within a quarter-mile. The tickets issued there were refunded.
“It’s legally placed, but a lot of people don’t like it,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg insisted to Mr. Altieri today.
Mr. Altieri said he didn’t appreciate the DOT’s attitude “that we’re gonna do what we want to do until you sue us.”
Mr. de Blasio insisted he was not a lawyer, but said the cameras were intended to save lives.
“You want the revenue,” Mr. Altieri insisted.
“Trust me, we wanna save people’s lives,” the mayor said. “Can you really look me in the eye and say we don’t want to save people’s lives?”
“I think you want the revenue,” Mr. Altieri insisted.
“You think we don’t want to save people’s lives?” the mayor, growing frustrated, asked again.
“If you wanted to save people’s lives, there’d be sidewalks on the South Shore of Staten Island,” Mr. Altieri said.
The two continued to go back and forth, with Mr. de Blasio saying he knew Mr. Altieri, too, wanted to save lives.
“I did save people’s lives,” he said. “Police officers save people’s lives. Traffic stops save people’s lives. Revenue cameras do not save people’s lives.”
“I believe this is also saving people’s lives,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Then Mr. Altieri offered up a rebuttal referring to Mr. de Blasio’s reluctance to hire 1,000 new police officers: “You adequately staff our precincts and you’ll see people’s lives being saved.”
The rest of Mr. de Blasio’s visit to the Forgotten Borough, dominated by Republican lawmakers, was more friendly—despite his low approval rating on the island. He shared a double espresso with Republican State Senator Andrew Lanza, and adopted Borough President James Oddo’s new motto of “Pave, baby, pave.”