LOWER MANHATTAN (PIX11) - An event along the East River waterfront Thursday morning provided a glimpse of what the leadership of New York City could look like next year. That presentation was not in the best light, literally, and in some other ways as well.
City Council speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn joined Manhattan borough president and comptroller candidate Scott Stringer to announce how they had led an effort to secure $8 million dollars to begin transforming an inaccessible stretch of sand under the Brooklyn Bridge into a public beach and vibrant waterfront. The project also included a new kayak launch at 23rd Street that Quinn and Stringer hope will bookend eventual waterfront access from 34th Street to what they call Brooklyn Bridge Beach.
The announcement was, however, made under the Brooklyn Bridge, which is in the middle of a refurbishment project whose industrial equipment makes a constant noise that’s equivalent in volume to a subway train speeding through a tunnel right next to the listener’s ears. In short, it was not an ideal place, by any means, to hold a news conference.
Work crews at the site told PIX11 News that advance team members from Stringer’s and Quinn’s offices had vetted the site of their news conference well beforehand, at a time when the industrial compressors, high capacity vacuums and other heavy equipment had not been in operation. Workers added, however, that the heavy machinery operates most of the time.
After the news conference had begun, PIX11 asked the candidates for mayor and comptroller about the situation, but by that time the noise had stopped. The reason was that Quinn and Stringer’s offices had gotten the bridge refurbishment crew to stop working long enough for the candidates to make their announcement.
“It means you want a press conference where you’re announcing a new beach, and you want to keep work [on the bridge] going until the very last second,” Speaker Quinn said in response to PIX11’s question. “And as soon as we wrap up,” she said, “They’re going back [to work].”
But the temporary work stoppage of the dozens of men on the crew in order for the candidates to hold their 20 minute news conference was valuable time that has to be made up in some way, and paid for by someone. A work supervisor told PIX11 News that they were considering billing the city for the lost time and work. Nonetheless, it was impressive that Quinn and Stringer were able to bring the 13-storey project to a halt.
“This is about collaboration and negotiation,” Stringer told PIX11 News about their efforts to get the news conference location quiet.
For her part, Quinn tried to approach the presentation’s challenges with humor and photo-op diplomacy — after the news conference, she shook the hand of the work crew foreman, who’d ordered the equipment temporarily shut down. He was wearing a hardhat that mimicked a New York Giants helmet.
“[It's] Giants fans helping Jets fans,” she said about his giving his workers unexpected time off in order to allow her, a fan of the New York Jets, to make her announcement. Another supervisor on the scene was clearly perturbed by the work stoppage, although he did not say anything about it.
Another problem was that the two striving city leaders, as well as the half dozen or so other dignitaries and activists invited to the event, were set up to make their announcement with their backs to the bridge — where all of the daylight was.
Due to a steady rain, the news conference was held under the FDR overpass at the bridge, where it was extremely dark, despite it being held at 11AM. It was a significant challenge for video cameras to capture the leaders’ faces. The glimpse into the future of New York City leadership was not bright, literally.
The current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, love him or hate him, is a media mogul. As a result, his staff usually thinks of things like appropriate lighting and sound for big announcements.
Meanwhile, the woman who is the front runner for Bloomberg’s job jokingly described her work on the waterfront project this way, “Nothing says fun like Chris Quinn and Scott Stringer working together.”
Their efforts, which they described as a downpayment on a much larger, future project to open the southeastern waterfront of Manhattan to pedestrians, may very well be a groundbreaking accomplishment of hard work and cooperation. However, a key lesson in politics is that it’s important for leaders to effectively showcase their initiatives in order for constituents to fully realize how thoroughly their interests are being catered to.
Thursday’s event showed that Quinn’s and Stringer’s staffs may want to learn that lesson more fully if they want to win the offices they seek now, and to govern effectively in them.