“We’ve had nine pedestrians killed in a little over two years,” the sleepy baritone of New York City Councilman Robert Holden gravely intoned on a recent rainy afternoon. The genial politician, a grey-haired Democrat who came to office almost a decade ago on a platform condemning the local homeless shelter, was speaking to a small crowd he had gathered on a street corner in Queens. To feel the full impact of the councilman’s stunt, they had taken shelter in the parking lot outside of a Speedway that overlooked a busy traffic intersection.
Children had been gathered and they waved cardboard signs aimed at the recently-inaugurated Mayor Eric Adams: “Swagger won’t keep us safe on Cypress Ave,” read one; “Mayor Adams, try biking here; tldr – IT SUCKS!,” read another. In recent years, Holden has searched for the latest issue to rally concerned voters over, gracelessly navigating from concern over abused animals to concern that prison inmates are not being punished enough.
He assured the crowd of local TV cameras and minor online journalists that the interest in pedestrian casualties was a longstanding concern, as well. Like an old man yelling at the clouds, Holden had brought a pile of papers to wave in front of the stone-faced Ydanis Rodriguez, appointed last month by Adams to run the city’s Department of Transportation. These were requests for additional funding, getting damp in the rain, so long ignored by “the previous administration.”
(Not for nothing, did Holden win election in 2017 running with the support of both the Republican line and an invented political organization called “Dump de Blasio.” Since getting elected, Holden caucused with the Democrats and was graciously rewarded with a position chairing the council’s Committee on Veterans, but as recently as this December, Holden labeled the erstwhile mayor “the worst mayor ever.”)
Holden had brought Rodriguez here for the bit of political theater, in order to indicate that the new mayor would have a chance to win over the councilman’s elusive support. Behind him, standing stoically and staying mum behind a mask, was Holden’s recent rival for the spot, Juan Ardila, now a candidate for a job sitting in the New York State Assembly.
The charged intersection of Cypress and Cooper Avenue would be Eric Adams’ chance to secure the elderly politician’s hand. According to Holden’s office, “a graphic video” of a “horrific accident has gone viral on the internet,” showing someone getting running over twice by two different cars at the very corner. The video had been a production of a mysterious social media account called @NY_Scoop, which has attracted some 20,000 followers on Instagram with gripping images of pedestrians struck by trains, manholes lighting on fire, and police arresting some guy for allegedly stabbing some other guy at a supermarket.
“Slow down,” Holden instructed the fast-moving cars surrounding him on the busy intersection.
It appeared Rodriguez had brought some comforting news for both Holden and Jenifer Rajkumar, a Queens politician who now sits on the State Assembly herself in Albany and who arrived in one of her signature red coats to speak after him. She had used the moment to list a variety of laws she supported passing over there, which included something called the “Complete Streets Bill” (presumably not the same “Complete Streets Bill,” that former Governor Cuomo already signed in 2011) and the “Crash Victims Bill of Rights,” which secured some minor applause from the gathered crowd. The latter would force local police to equate traffic violations with more violent crimes and is fashioned after another law called the Crime Victims Bill of Rights. It’s the creation of a group that’s called Families for Safe Streets.
“You will see changes here in the next couple of days. This will happen very soon,” Rodriguez told them in a brief speech that went over some of the details of the viral accident, which had left one man injured. Repeatedly, he likened the issue of pedestrians getting hit by cars to the ongoing pandemic.
Money, he promised, would be on the way.
All photos taken by Andrew Karpan for Bushwick Daily.
For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.
Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.