“My job is not to be aloof and cold and to run away from the people I asked to give me this job. My job is to be friendly, open and accessible.”
I had almost given up on the accountability of politicians when Jimmy Van Bramer, councilmember of the 26th district in Queens, revived my faith. After months of complaining to the DEP and the local police department about a neighborhood bar whose drunken patrons bawled and bellowed in its backyard at 3:00 am, my husband and I decided to go to a community board meeting and ask for assistance. To be honest, we had little hope.
Catching up with Jimmy Van Bramer as he was leaving the meeting, I presented the problem.
“Kenny!” Jimmy called one of his aides. “Take down this lady’s number and get on it.”
A young man with pen and notebook briefly introduced himself as “Joe Kenton”—and then he “got on it.” Within a couple of weeks the problem was solved. A special clause was inserted into the bar’s liquor license stipulating that it had to close its backyard at 10:00 pm. Furthermore, Joe approached me each time he ran into me on the street. Had the bar been quiet? Please call if the problem recurs.
“My job is not to be aloof and cold and to run away from the people I asked to give me this job,” says Jimmy, who represents Astoria, Woodside, Long Island City, Maspeth and Sunnyside, and who has lived in our neighborhood for the past seven years. “My job is to be friendly, open and accessible.”
To prove his point he recounts another noise complaint, which he and “Kenny” successfully solved. When a group of people approached him one Friday night at 10:30 pm while he was strolling the streets with his partner, he promptly put down his ice cream and got on his Blackberry.
In the six months since he has been in office, he has processed 600 requests and complaints from constituents, including a lack of garbage cans on 39th Avenue, graffiti and drug dealing in Sunnyside Gardens, broken streetlights and falling tree branches.
“Sometimes the seemingly smallest things are actually the biggest,” he tells me in his nondescript office on Queens Boulevard, where we met to discuss his aspirations for the neighborhood. (Those aspirations do not include putting his name on the new garbage cans like some other council members have done, a practice he dismissed as “self-serving and abhorrent.” My request to put Joe Kenton’s name on the cans produced laughter, but no results.)
“What about the bigger issues?” I asked when I saw the black-and-white photograph of John F. Kennedy on his wall. “How do you, for example, fight poverty on a local level?”
Jimmy, who has avidly fought for the continuation of special services at libraries, schools, senior centers and youth programs, admits that “It’s a little frustrating to come into council at a time when everything is facing record cuts. It’s a real challenge to fight for the things you believe in.”
But like a true politician, he doesn’t waste his time complaining about failed endeavors. As aides keep popping their heads into the room, reminding him of the scheduled neighborhood protest to save a small Woodside park from destruction, Jimmy closes our conversation with yet two other achievements.
Not only did he hire two residents from public housing projects in the neighborhood. During his second month in office he passed a law, which he says not without pride, “for a freshman councilmember is very hard to do.” The “Library Card For All Act” requires the Department of Education to help public school students apply for library cards.
“[Libraries are] a particularly good equalizer for children who come from families with low income,” Jimmy says. “We want to make sure that all of those kids have access to the information they need.”
In the short podcast Jimmy Van Bramer talks about what a typical day in his life as councilmember looks like, which events he likes most, and what he does in his rare spare time.