January 28, By Christian Murray
It’s 6:30 a.m. and the notoriously bad 7 train is down again. The MTA says it’s signal problems.
“My phone blows up, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, it’s all going crazy,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer remembered.
“People are waiting for the train, they’re cold and justifiably upset and they Tweet me,” he said. “They are outraged.”
Van Bramer said that when there are problems with the 7 train, or any other issues in the district, he gets an avalanche of Tweets and Facebook messages.
“My constituents reach out to me through social media,” he said, often by Tweeting a photo of a crowded subway platform or a pot hole that needs to be filled.
Van Bramer said that social media has helped him respond to more constituent concerns than ever before and it has helped transform his operation. He has 8,000 Twitter followers, a number that is up 2,000 in the past year.
Every January, Van Bramer releases his annual report card—a self assessment, of sorts—providing details as to what he did in the prior year. It is a rare concept, since few– if any– other council members do it.
“I like people to know what I’m doing,” Van Bramer often says, who believes that his constituents have the right to know. “I don’t ever want anyone asking, ‘What does he do?””
Page three of his 15-page report states in large font: “20,821 and counting,” referring to the number of constituent cases Van Bramer and his staff have handled during the six years he has been in office.
Furthermore, it says that in 2015 he served on six committees—including as chair of Cultural Affairs and Libraries–and had a “96 percent attendance record.”
Last year, according to his report, Van Bramer’s office assisted 4,267 constituents, the highest total since he came into office in January 2010.
Van Bramer said that residents feel comfortable reaching out to his office, often at the suggestion of one of their friends.
Van Bramer at Sunnyside 1 mile run
“I think we have a highly visible office… and I go to a lot of events and stop to talk to people all the time, whether it’s in a supermarket, drycleaner or in one of the local pubs,” he said.
Van Bramer also credits these high numbers to his staff, many of whom are in their 20s and are eager to please.
“My office is aggressive when it comes to social media,” Van Bramer said, adding that he and his staffers use it like few other elected officials. “We take and respond to constituents’ complaints on Twitter and Facebook all the time [just like we do over the phone].“
The Councilman also uses social media to address city or state agencies. Van Bramer once got into a Twitter war with MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz
over 7 train service.
Van Bramer said that 2015 was the year many projects he has became a reality.
“It was my best and most productive year in the city council,” he said. “We saw things that we have been fighting for years come to fruition.”
The $2 million revamp of Thomas P. Noonan Park—located at the intersection of Greenpoint Avenue and 43rd
Street– was completed in April; design plans for a $1.8 million revamp of Big Bush Park, located near the Big Six towers in Woodside, were unveiled in October; an additional $320,000 was allocated toward Hart Playground (Broadway and 37th
Avenue); and $500,000 was allocated toward upgrades at Windmuller Park.
The councilman plans to hold a public meeting about the Windmuller Park upgrades in March.
Van Bramer said one of his biggest achievements has been bringing schools to the district.
A Woodside elementary school, P.S. 361, opened at 39-07 57th
St. in September, the first new school to be built in Woodside in 60 years. The school has the capacity to seat 470 students.
Meanwhile, a 600-seat annex is being built at IS 125, located at 46-02 47th
Ave., which will lead to the removal of several dilapidated trailers. It is scheduled to be completed by 2017.
PS 11, located at 54-25 Skillman Ave., is currently undergoing a $90 million expansion that is scheduled to be completed next year. The expansion will add 350 seats.
“I will continue to build schools… and invest in our parks,” Van Bramer said.
Just last week, Mayor de Blasio announced that there would be funding for an additional school in Sunnyside/Woodside, which Van Bramer said he would like to see used for the construction of a middle school.
Van Bramer said many of his constituents reach out to his office about traffic safety and driving conditions. According to his report, 16 percent of constituent cases deal with transportation issues.
He said that he has been a big advocate for the Queens Boulevard redesign and noted that in 2015 there were no deaths on the boulevard for the first time in more than 20 years.
“I support bike lanes but the redesign of Queens Boulevard was never just about bike lanes—it’s just part of keeping everyone safe,” he said. “We should do whatever we can to prevent a death, particularly that of a child.”
He said the Queens Boulevard redesign is a work in progress and wherever adjustments can be made to improve it—for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists-- they should be taken.
Van Bramer’s office also allocated $1 million in capital funds to the Department of Transportation, which will be studying and improving the traffic conditions surrounding IS 125 in Woodside. This comes a year after he brought slow zones to Sunnyside and Woodside.
This past year, Van Bramer also came out in support of the MoveNY program, which would bring tolls to all East River bridges including the Queensboro Bridge. While the program is controversial, it is Van Bramer’s view that it would ease congestion in the district and provide the MTA with additional funding.
Given the controversial natural of the issue, many politicians have refused to disclose their opinion on the matter.
Van Bramer said even some seemingly small victories mattered in 2015. He cited a traffic light was installed at the corner of 51st
Street and Skillman Avenue.
“We fought for years to get that light,” he said, adding that the DOT had gone to the intersection in the past and claimed that a light was not needed.
Furthermore, he received citywide attention for strengthening his “Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act,” which now imposes additional penalties on drivers who repeatedly flee the scene of an accident.
The new law also requires the NYPD to make data dealing with hit and run crashes available to the public, such as when and where each incident occurred.
Van Bramer said that the law also requires more stringent reporting from the NYPD about hit-and-run crashes, which injured about 4,000 people during the first 11 months of 2015.
Van Bramer, who is chairman of the cultural affairs and libraries committee, said that bringing back six day library service throughout New York City was a big victory.
He said it was especially important for the residents of Woodside, whose library had been closed on Saturdays for five years. It reopened Saturdays in December.
Van Bramer is entering his seventh year in office and plans to run one last time for council in 2017, before term-limits kick in.
“I will run again…this is the most meaningful job you could have,” he said.
Van Bramer is ambitious and does not hide it. He has expressed interested in the speakership position.
For a copy of his report card, click here