After two terms of serving the 33rd district, Councilmember David Yassky is rounding out his time in the city council. For the last year or so, Yassky has run a competitive, albeit unsuccessful, campaign for New York City Comprtoller against Councilmember John Liu, who will take office in January. Now, Yassky will break from elective politics and pursue a new avenue. Though his plans for the immediate future are uncertain, he caught up with The Greenpoint Gazette to reflect on his last eight years in the neighborhood.
Greenpoint Gazette: Now that your term is up, what are your future plans? Are you intent on staying in politics?
David Yassky: I’m intent contributing to the civic dialogue in one way or another, though I certainly won’t be in elective politics anytime in the near future—or possibly at all. But I feel very strongly about the issues that I’ve worked on in city council and will continue to try and play a role in shaping policy one way or another. Greenpoint and Williamsburg have had an unbelievably eventful eight years—a lot of change to the physical, social and economic landscape—and on the whole more good than bad, but a lot of change that has created new challenges. I’m figuring everything out—I don’t know yet whether I will be in the private or non-profit sector, that’s the most likely. I’m looking at opportunities in both.
GG: Reflecting on your time as Councilman in the 33rd district, what do you think were your greatest accomplishments? What are you most proud of?
DY: On policy, the innovation of using zoning code to force affordable housing and new developments, it’s something I’m very proud of. The effort to get the city’s taxis to be electric hybrid, and nearly a quarter of them are now. The film tax credits that have brought a lot of new jobs to the city, and the changes in bicycle access will make it easier for people to bike around NY. On the neighborhood front, I’m proud that we have made real progress on opening up the waterfront in both parts of my district. In the northern part, WNYC park, East River State Park, the first real steps now towards the Bushwick Inlet Park. That, along with the schools—they are now materially better, and I think I’ve had only a very small part to play in that, but I’d like to think I’ve been helpful.
GG: What issues do you think will be most important to focus on in the next eight years?
DY: I think the biggest challenge will be keeping city services at a high quality with the economy as dramatically changed as it has been. Keeping safety, garbage pickup, schools, the basics—keeping those services high-quality at a time when city government has less tax revenue coming in as it did a couple years ago and skyrocketing costs for things like health care. How do you avoid laying off 10,000 teachers and 3,000 cops? That’s the biggest challenge in city government, because the quality of life is pretty high—Williamsburg, Park Slope are good places to live. The concern would be if safety starts to go down, the streets start to get dirtier, etc. Schools too; In Greenpoint certainly, there’s a very diverse population looking for different things from schools, and even those that score very high on math and English, they don’t always have the art and music offerings that parents would like to see, or that progressive approach to education that especially the newer parents would like. Figuring out how the schools adapt to neighborhood change is very important. I also think that the impact of all the development on services, on parking and traffic as well, that’s going to continue to be an issue.
GG: What advice would you give the next Councilman of the 33rd district?
DY: I think he’s going to do a terrific job—there’s every reason to expect that. My advice is straightforward: listen to everybody, because government ultimately has to make decisions and chose between competing values. It’s a district with a lot of different points of view and it’s important that everyone has their say. Part two, would be to focus on the result. Government is the most successful when it acts to get a result in the world, not just to do things that sound good. But I think Levin knows that in his bones already.
GG: If you could go back to the beginning of your term, what would you do differently?
DY: I’m sure that I would find lots of small and probably big things I’d do differently. When I started, I didn’t realize how big a coalition you need to get something done in city government. I would have started building networks of support for affordable housing and environmental initiatives much earlier —its’ not enough to have a good idea, you need lots of support from a lot of different places. It took me a good two, three years for that lesson to sink in. I think I would have taken a tougher stance on zonings and service improvements, that they be done up front and not later, because the promises end up disappearing.
GG: Do you have any regrets about your time in office, or particular decisions you’ve made?
DY: I think the baseball stadium votes turned out to be bad deal for the city, and I regret voting in favor of that.
GG: Any thoughts on the rezoning?
DY: Rezoning: Slowly and not quite surely. I am cautiously optimistic, yes.
GG: Any last words for the residents of Greenpoint?
DY: I don’t regret choosing to run for Comptoller, and thereby foreclosing another four years in the council, but I will miss working for Greenpoint. It is as wonderful a neighborhood as there is in the entire city. It is a wonderful, wonderful community. So, thank you to the residents of Greenpoint, who gave me the privilege of representing them.