What’s What: The New York City Council

 What’s What: The New York City Council

NYC Councilmember Selvena Brooks-Powers

By Dan Guarino

What’s what? Rockaway has any number of community groups, elected officials, civic associations, city, state and federal departments and agencies, charitable/service organizations and more. Many may have heard of them. But how many know exactly what they do, what issues/areas they deal with and which they don’t, and where/how they can directly help Rockaway/Broad Channel residents?

What’s What, an occasional feature, aims to focus on our many organizations and offices, what they do and how they can help you. First up, the New York City Council.

The New York City Council is the lawmaking body of New York City government, something like Congress is for the federal government. As the name implies, they deal with issues directly connected to the city. Got an issue with say your garbage pickup? That’s a city issue. As opposed to a concern about State Trooper activity, which would go to your NY State Senator or Assemblymember. Or a federal National Parks usage question, which would fall under your congressman or U.S. Senator. Although they do overlap and can offer help in some areas, it helps to break down if the issue you’re dealing with is a federal, state or city issue.

NYC Councilmember Joann Ariola

According to NYC.gov, “Besides enacting legislation, the Council approves the City’s budget and has oversight powers for the activities of City agencies. The Council monitors the operation and performance of city agencies, makes land use decisions, and has sole responsibility for approving the city’s budget.” They also act as a check and balance to the Mayor and can override any legislation he or she vetoes.

The City Council also has 38 standing committees, plus additional subcommittees, that focus on specific areas of city government. These include committees on public safety, transportation and infrastructure, zoning and franchises, sanitation, aging, technology, housing, civil service and labor.

The Council has 51 members representing 51 districts spread over the five boroughs. Due to redistricting and changes to the NYC Charter in 2020, members elected during 2021-2023 will serve two-year terms, with full four-year terms resuming after the 2025 elections.

The Rockaways are ably represented by two NYC Councilmembers.

Councilmember Selvena Brooks-­Powers represents City Council District 31, which includes Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, and Far Rockaway. She is Chairperson of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and serves as majority whip of the City Council. She’s working on issues like the MTA’s proposed congestion pricing plan to ensure vulnerable residents, like those in heavily car-dependent Rockaways, “are not unduly burdened.”

Councilmember Joann Ariola covers District 32, which stretches from Glendale to Breezy Point and covers Forest Park, Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Howard Beach, Broad Channel, and all of Rockaway’s western peninsula.

Ariola says, she was inspired to serve by her parents “who were always very involved in their community and especially in their church community. From a young age, I watched how they were able to make a big difference in their community and I decided I wanted to have a similar impact on those around me. This led me into politics, where I am able to use my voice to really advocate for my communities and my city.”

She is currently Chair of the Fire and Emergency Services Committee. So in that capacity, for instance, she can “advocate for the men and women of the FDNY, ensuring that they receive the resources that they need to keep our city safe.”

She notes she has “a good working relationship with the FDNY brass.  Additionally, some of the city agencies she and her office regularly deal with include “the NYPD, DOT, and Department of Sanitation, to help make sure we maintain a good quality of life throughout our district. That means safe, clean streets for all of our residents.”

What are the some of the things they most often help residents with? “The most common issue we deal with is dirty streets,” Ariola saiys. “People call into our office every single day to report litter conditions in their neighborhoods. Fortunately, we have an excellent relationship with our local DSNY garages, and they are great when it comes to dispatching a crew and rectifying the situation. My office also sponsors a group called the Center for Employment Opportunities, which deploys clean-up teams on a regular basis to sweep trouble spots and pick up litter.”

She has also worked to get city firefighters who were suspended for declining Covid vaccinations back on the job after mandates were lifted.

What types of issues do they not handle, such as those which would be out of their jurisdiction and/or referred to other levels of government, agencies, or organizations?

Ariola explains, “One of the things I like to stress to my staff is that we are not a referral office – we are a solutions office. We make it a practice to handle anything we can in-house, rather than handing constituents off to some other official or agency. If there is one thing nobody likes, it is getting bounced around from place to place without any real answers. In my office, we are all about answers. If there is a problem – no matter how big or how small – we will do our best to get it solved.”

That includes unusual problems like “a constituent who accidentally dropped his wallet through a sewer grate in Manhattan. The wallet wasn’t even in the basin – it went into the pipe. I was able to get in touch with a contact at the DEP, and they sent someone out to actually go into the sewer tunnel and recover the wallet!”

Whatever your situation, it is worth reaching out.

If you live in the District 32 area, you can reach out to Councilmember Ariola at 718-318-6411, or email to District32@council.nyc.gov. Locally she maintains a Rockaway Park office and staff at 114-12 Beach Channel Drive in Suite 1.

In District 31 you can contact Councilmember Brooks-Powers at 718-471-7014 or District31@council.nyc.gov. Her Far Rockaway office is located at 1931 Mott Avenue in Suite 410.

Got a city-related problem? Call your councilmember!

Photos by NYC Council Media Unit.

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