Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled up a bar stool in a school gymnasium to listen to the concerns of Staten Islanders—homelessness, traffic, development of open space—in a mostly polite back-and-forth with the borough that least approves of his mayoralty and never fails to remind any politician that it doesn’t get enough attention.
“How do we get on your radar?” Chamber of Commerce President Linda Baran asked, bemoaning projects like the Brooklyn Queens Connector in other boroughs.
Staten Island is not exactly friendly territory for Mr. de Blasio, whose approval rating here has hovered between 20 and 30 percent in most polls and did not win the borough in his 2013 election. The borough is more conservative than the rest of the city, and last night more than 80 percent of Republicans who voted in the primary here selected Donald Trump—a favorite target of Mr. de Blasio.
But Mr. de Blasio was met with warm applause and questions about hyper-local issues—maybe a relief after days of fielding media questions about several reported federal probes into his administration and campaign.
In response to Ms. Baran’s plea for more city investment, he insisted Staten Island was on his radar. “The transportation piece is tough, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong to raise it,” Mr. de Blasio said. “I’m glad you’re raising it. I’m saying it’s tough.”
Still, this being Staten Island, there was a little bit of yelling.
After one man pleaded for a moratorium on rising water rates, a woman jumped in to tell the mayor about problems she’s had with her water pipes producing dirty water. She angrily insisted she’d had to run her hose for hours to get clean water, and blamed local elected officials for not helping her.
Mr. de Blasio hastened to call over Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Emily Lloyd.
“Oh yeah, I called that,” the woman said sarcastically, “lots of luck with that.” She then urged Ms. Lloyd not to stand so close to her.
The crowd wasn’t crazy about his answer to the borough’s hospital bed shortage, either. After someone noted the borough is the only one without a public hospital, Mr. de Blasio noted a public clinic set to open soon.
“Waste of time!” a woman shouted.
When Health + Hospitals CEO Dr. Ram Raju took the microphone, he noted he’s lived on Staten Island more than 30 years. A woman promptly shouted out she’d lived here longer, completing a common Staten Island conversation—all that was missing was a reference to pre-dating the Verrazano Bridge.
But Mr. de Blasio handled the frustrated residents nimbly, calling over commissioners and other staff to help people with specific concerns, including someone looking for a “no through traffic” sign, a woman in a neighborhood wrecked by Hurricane Sandy who asked for better coordination between city agencies, and a mother seeking help for her dyslexic daughter.
Mr. de Blasio had some backup from two Republicans who helped emcee the event: City Councilman Steven Matteo and Borough President James Oddo, for whom the gymnasium where they sat was named. Mr. Oddo and Mr. de Blasio served in the Council together and have enjoyed a mostly warm relationship—but Mr. Oddo broke with his typical habit of avoiding criticism of City Hall recently after the mayor’s office failed to take action on a proposed Kroc Center on Staten Island. The borough has been in want of a large recreation center after a prior one, the Cromwell Center, was damaged by storms and eventually crumbled into the harbor.
“We missed the ball on this one, and the buck stops here,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Even if I think someone on my team missed the ball, I’m responsible.”
While the opportunity for the particular Kroc Center has slipped away, Mr. de Blasio said he would continue talking to the Salvation Army about new options.
But Mr. de Blasio did have one big promise for the borough, though it’s unclear if it is one its residents have been demanding.
“It became clear to me that the City of New York needs to right another wrong,” Mr. de Blasio said, “which is that this borough deserves an indoor swimming pool.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.