Jan. 28, 2016 By Christian Murray
It’s 6:30 am and the notoriously bad 7 train is down. The MTA says it’s signal problems.
“My phone blows up, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, it’s all going crazy,” recalls Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
“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 constituents 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% 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.
“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 that many projects that he had been working on for years became a reality.
“It was my best and most productive year in the city council,” he said. “I think we have seen some things that we have been fighting for years come to fruition.”
Ground finally broke on the Hunters Point Library, which had been subject to delays for years. The library is now fully funded, with the last $3 million allocated by Van Bramer in the 2015/2016 City budget, and it is expected to open in 2017.
Van Bramer, who is chairman of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries committee, noted that the Court Square library expansion was also completed.
Six-day library service, something he has championed since he took office, returned to libraries throughout New York, including the branch in Woodside, a core part of his district.
Construction started on the protected bike lane on the Pulaski Bridge in 2015 and is expected to be completed by spring. The project was supposed to have been completed in 2014.
Meanwhile, Citibike, which came to Long Island City in August, was 2.5 years behind schedule largely due to damage to the system sustained a result of Superstorm Sandy.
Van Bramer kicked off participatory budgeting for the first year in 2015, where residents got to vote for projects—up to a total of $1 million– they wanted in the district.
Residents voted for a $500,000 Long Island City bikeway project, which will bring upgrades to the roadway where Queensbridge Park connects with Vernon Blvd.
Van Bramer also noted a handful of victories in 2015 that he played a roll in. These included a new dog run in Hunters Point, located between PS/IS 78 and the Queens West Sports Field, to cater to the growing number of down owners in Long Island City.
He noted the landmarking of the Clock Tower in Queens Plaza and the July 4 fireworks being held in Long Island City, and the opening of Planned Parenthood in Court Square, which he funded to the tune of $750,000.
Meanwhile, the playground in front of PS/IS 78 was completed.
Van Bramer said he is very focused on bringing schools to Long Island City and has been in constant talks with the administration and officials about opening additional schools in the area.
He said that Long Island City parents have had to contend with wait lists to get their children into kindergarten at PS/IS 78 in recent years.
Last May, parents were alerted that 6th, 7th and 8th grade students might be phased out of PS/IS 78 to make way for the growing number of younger children.
Van Bramer said at the time that he would find ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Just last week, Mayor de Blasio announced that there would be funding for three additional schools in Long Island City and one in Woodside.
Van Bramer said two of the Long Island City schools will be elementary schools, with the third yet to be determined.
One of the elementary schools is very likely to be built as part of the Hunters Point South development, according to the Councilman. He said that he is in discussions with TF Cornerstone, which is handling the next phase of the HPS development, about locating a school there.
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.
“We should do whatever we can to prevent a death, particularly that of a child,” Van Bramer said.
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 fled 4,000 people during the first 11 months of 2015.
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 much needed funding.
Given the controversial natural of the issue, many elected officials have not disclosed their opinion on the matter.
Van Bramer is in 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.”
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