At most public events, he’s there, on stage with a big smile on his face often telling off-the-cuff one-liners.
He doesn’t send a representative to these outings but manages to be there in person—and buzzes from event to event throughout the course of a day or evening. The old ladies in the audience always love him, and young school children seem to be fascinated by him.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Sunnyside/Woodside/Astoria & Long Island City, has become a highly recognizable figure in the four years he has represented the district. He doesn’t show up at events and sit in the corner. He is typically the first to speak and is able to hold an audience—whether it’s a group of children or a tense community board.
Last week, Van Bramer produced ‘his’ own annual report card that stated how he had increased the number of schools in the district, upgraded neighborhood parks and funded several cleanup programs. It noted that his office dealt with 4,093 constituent cases in 2013, up from 1,521 in 2010.
On the front page of the report, it reads: “96% attendance record [in city hall] in 2013.” (Click for report card)
Van Bramer’s report card is a unique concept—since no other councilmember is known for producing one. But Van Bramer insists that he issues it for two reasons: to let the public know what he is doing and to showcase his results.
“I don’t want people asking: ‘Who is he? What does he do?’” Van Bramer said. “When I ran for city council I pledged to be accessible, accountable and transparent. I said I would be visible and I would be all over the district.”
He claims that by going to meetings and events, people have got to know him. By doing so, they have felt comfortable bringing their concerns to his office and seeking help.
Van Bramer said his biggest achievement since being in office has been in bringing schools to the district.
“We have the first new school in 60 years coming to Woodside,” Van Bramer said, referring to PS 339 (57th Street/39th Avenue), which is scheduled to open in 2015. Furthermore, PS 11—located at 54-24 Skillman Ave– is getting an additional 350 seats through the creation of an annex.
Meanwhile, in Sunnyside, PS 313 (catering to 430 students) will be opening in September, and construction will begin this summer on a new $50 million, 600-seat building at IS 125.
In September, a new middle school opened in Long Island City, while a new building was added to PS 78.
Van Bramer’s report states that he has brought several upgrades to neighborhood parks. These include the resurfacing of Sunnyside’s Lou Lodati Park (including a new dog run) as well as improvements to Andrews Grove/Shady Park in Long Island City.
Meanwhile, work is expected to start this year on a $1.3 million revamp of Noonan Playground in Sunnyside and the creation of a dog run at Doughboy Park in Woodside.
Van Bramer claims he has tackled several quality-of-life issues.
The $30,000 graffiti cleanup program he introduced in 2010 continues–where streets such as Broadway, Skillman Ave, 43rd Ave., Roosevelt Ave., Woodside Ave. and 65th Place are cleaned monthly.
Meanwhile, a Woodside street cleaning program that was introduced in 2012 will continue in 2014. The program involves two workers spending three days per week cleaning Roosevelt (51st to 61st Streets) and Woodside Avenues.
A similar program was introduced in Hunters Point in 2013, where the streets around Vernon Blvd/Jackson Avenue are kept cleaned.
Van Bramer, however, has had difficulty in making headway with traffic safety issues.
“We have pushed very hard for traffic calming measures all over the district,” Van Bramer said. “One of the most frustrating things in my first term has been how long it takes DOT to approve anything.”
“We have been asking for years for traffic signage (such as a stop sign) at 51st Street and Skillman Ave.,” Van Bramer said. “The DOT then comes back and says it is not needed.”
He has been asking for signage around Center Blvd in Long Island City too—and faced similar resistance.
However, over the course of the past year, two slow zones were introduced (one in Sunnyside, the other in Woodside) and changes have been made to traffic flows at Thomson and Skillman Avenues, the location where a 16-year-old pedestrian was killed.
But Van Bramer did have his critics in 2013. Most, however, were ardent supporters of the 5 Pointz ‘graffiti’ building. The artists wanted Van Bramer to preserve the building and the artwork. Van Bramer, however, said the city could not take over the building and that it belonged to the owner.
As Van Bramer begins his second term in office, he said that there will be little change in how he operates.
“When I ran for office [4 years ago] I said that I would be a stay-at-home councilmember and that I would be visible and accessible…and none of that will change,” he said. “I will continue to build schools, ensure safer streets and invest in parks.”
However, this term Van Bramer is likely to put in charge of a highly-prized council committee, such as the finance committee. Van Bramer is particularly close to the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who he endorsed early for the speaker role and helped her get the votes need to get the top council job.
No matter the case, Van Bramer plans to stay in office for a while. “I think I will run for reelection in four years…this is the most meaningful job you could have.”