The Democrat's council choice on housing, and the mallification of the neighborhood
Helen Rosenthal has her fingers in multiple pots on the Upper West Side. She has served on Community Board 7, and on the board of groups like the West Side Crime Prevention Program, and Parent Job Net. She is a public policy advocate. She has helped to shape city public health budgets. She is a wife and mother of two daughters. And she is the presumed new City Council Member for the Upper West Side.
One of Helen Rosenthal's first jobs was working at her aunt and uncle's bike shop on Long Island. There, she said, her aunt and uncle drilled into her the fact that the customer always comes first.
"That's the same way I feel about the people of the Upper West Side," said Rosenthal. "They come first."
The most important part of being able to represent District 6, said Rosenthal, is to be able to directly communicate with the public. She explained that her door will always be open, and more importantly, she will be hitting the pavement, talking to everyday people about their quality of life issues from schools, to rent and open spaces.
"I see the job of city council person as providing information, and making government transparent," said Rosenthal, who looks at policy from a budgetary perspective, with her public policy background. "Buried in the city's budget is all of the city's policy and priorities."
Transparency, in fact, is one of Rosenthal's biggest issues with city government right now. She rattled off some examples of what she called "disgraceful" examples of policies being slipped under the rug, like tax abatements for the wealthy upper crust of New York.
Disparity is a word that Rosenthal uses and often, and hopes to eliminate: economic disparity, disparity in the schools as well as within businesses. On the Upper West Side, as Rosenthal described it "so many lower income people live cheek by jowl with very wealthy people." One of the first issues she would tackle then, is affordable housing.
And affordable housing begins with an improved relationship with NYCHA - the New York City Housing Authority. NYCHA is in over $60 million of debt, and has a backlog of thousands of complaints and issues from housing complexes citywide.
"NYCHA has to work harder to search for internal problems; I'm convinced their issue is more mismanagement than overwhelming demand," said Rosenthal. "But whatever the solution, you should never sell public land for a private good."
But economic disparity is not just for the residents of the Upper West Side, said Rosenthal. Every Upper West Sider is familiar with the tug-of-war between big box stores and small businesses on the Upper West Side. Rosenthal's predecessor, Gale Brewer, estimated that there are 70 banks on the Upper West Side. Brewer created a landmark bill last year that set size limitations for storefronts on Columbus and Amsterdam.
"The mall-ification of the Upper West Side needs to end," said Rosenthal. "it's our small businesses that are a big piece of the economic engine that drives the city."
In addition, as a mother of two daughters, who are now almost past school-age, Rosenthal stressed the importance of fixing the disparity within the schools. Every school, said Rosenthal, should be able to afford its own school supplies, and parents should not have to provide toilet paper and paper towels for their kids' classrooms. She also stressed that parents should have more of a voice in their children's education - starting with parent input on the Panel on Education Policy.
"When I found out that I was elected, I was so happy because I could finally do what I've always wanted to do," said Rosenthal. "And please know that my door is always open. This will help me fight for legislation for my community."
Rosenthal, who received 27 percent of the votes against five other Democratic candidates in the primary, will face Green Party candidate Tom Siracuse in the general election in November. There are no Republican candidates in District 6.