The October installation of bike lanes on Kent Avenue – which necessitated the elimination of parking spaces and was accompanied by regulations prohibiting stopping – has exploded into a controversy in Williamsburg and Greenpoint in recent months. Last week, it led to the dismissal of one of Community Board 1’s most active committee chairs.
On Dec. 23, following a consultation with the Board’s seven-member Executive Committee, Board Chair Vincent Abate asked Teresa Toro to resign from her post as Transportation Committee Chair, though not from the Board as a whole. Toro, who has earned a citywide reputation as an energetic advocate for a host of transportation and livable streets issues, refused. In response, Abate deposed her as Chair.
Abate, who has chaired CB 1 for most of the past three decades, would not comment on his decision. But Executive Board members say Toro was deposed after writing a letter to a Brooklyn Eagle reporter accusing Abate and District Manager Gerald Esposito of acting unilaterally to assert the Board’s position on the lanes without a vote on the matter.
In a letter dated Dec. 5, Abate and Esposito wrote a letter to Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Joseph Palmieri stating the Board wanted the Department of Transportation (DOT) to remove the bike lane on the east side of Kent Avenue pending a solution that would appease opponents of the lanes. In addition, the letter recommended the lane on the west side of Kent be reconfigured to enable on-street parking.
In the Eagle article, this was put forth as the Board’s official position. In response to the article, Toro wrote to Eagle reporter Phoebe Neidl stating:
“The letter that you refer to in your article was on CB1 letterhead and signed by our Chair, Vincent Abate, and our District Manager, Gerald Esposito, who were not advancing the official position of the board. They were expressing their personal opinions on the matter and should have clarified that in the letter.”
Although Abate didn’t comment himself, Executive Committee member Dell Teague, who was privy to Abate’s thinking, said his decision “had to do with the way she handled the situation, with the letter that went out to the news media.”
Teague added: “It was very, very inappropriate for the chair of a committee to do something like that. She had an obligation to talk to Vinnie and Gerry before she went and did something like this.”
Rabbi Joseph Webber, another member of the Executive Committee, affirmed that Abate’s position was based on what he felt was an insubordinate act by Toro.
“You cannot jump in [Abate’s] face and do something like what she did. [Abate] was so disappointed – he was almost crying that she did this. But he just felt the Board could not function like that.”
Indeed, Abate has been one of Toro’s staunchest advocates, repeatedly praising her as one of the hardest working members of the Board. In her role as committee chair, Toro is widely credited with winning New York City’s first on-street bike parking at N. 7th Street and Bedford Avenue, and played a key role in this past summer’s Williamsburg Walks events.
She was also a supporter of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, which passed CB 1 by a vote of 39-2. The current lanes on Kent Avenue are a temporary prelude to this Greenway the Board approved.
For her part, Toro said, “I’m amazed that [the letter] is being seen as insubordination. I pointing out an unethical, misleading statement. I don’t think anybody, chair or otherwise, should be above being called out on statements that are misleading to the community and the public.”
She added, “If he feels insulted or slighted, I can appreciate that. But to use his position as Board Chair to act on a personal conflict is really inappropriate. It’s an abuse of power.”
In November, the board voted to recommend the DOT work to ameliorate the burdens of those inconvenienced by the lanes and the accompanying “No Stopping/No Standing” signs. The lanes — which go along Franklin Street and Kent Avenue from Quay to Clymer streets — have been the subject of complaints from area businesses, who say they make it impossible to do deliveries, and the largely Hasidic residents that inhabit the southern portion of Kent Avenue, who say the lanes make parking impossible and disrupt their lives.
The central assertion of Toro’s letter was that this November vote was fundamentally different than what Abate and Esposito purported as the Board’s position.
“That letter really hurts the Board. Why do we come out and vote every month, why do 50 people show up every month, if the Chair can just supersede the Board’s vote?” Toro said.