Voting & Outcome

Deidre Levy and Antonnet Johnson

Deidre Levy and Antonnet Johnson

Laurie Cumbo with delegates

Laurie Cumbo with delegates

The Results Are In: Six Winners and NAIA Is One of Them!

In the evening of April 19, Laurie Cumbo's office sent out the results of the Participatory Budgeting vote, twelve days after the voting was over. There were six winners as follows, with about 5,400 votes cast:

1. 2,555 votes: Tech Upgrades for Medgar Evers College Prep

2. 1,781 votes: Bathroom Renovation for PS 316 Elijah Stroud

3. 1,633 votes: Trees and Tree Guards along Nostrand Avenue

4. 1,484 votes: Young Adult Upgrade at Walt Whitman Library

5. 1,406 votes: Bathroom Renovation for PS 67 Charles Dorsey Campus

6. 1,393 votes: Green Classroom Installation for PS 9 Sarah Smith Garnet

  **Votes do not add up to the total cast ballots; each voter chose up to 5 projects**

It was the end of a long process that began in September when Budget Delegates first assembled. I wrote about the process as it developed, and, of course, the process is ongoing. We have now reached the stage of implementation. In the case of the NAIA proposal to plant trees, my understanding is that $50,000 will be transferred to Brooklyn Forestry, part of the Parks Department, and then there is a need to pick the specific sites for the trees and tree guards. This will happen in June at the soonest as the city council must approve the budget. We will keep reporting about the next stages.

However, it seems now is a good time to look back at the vote and comment on that. In the 35th District there were thirteen proposals that made it to the ballot. I estimate that the total value attached to the various proposals was something over two million dollars. There is a pot of million to be distributed among those proposals with the winning vote totals. It seemed roughly half should have been funded, and it came out that way. Six proposals made it and two more were very close. I didn't anticipate the NAIA Tree Proposal would win first place, but I thought if it could get 1,500 votes it would win. We got 1633 votes, and we made it. I knew the proposal that would win first place was the Medgar Evers Tech Upgrade. When I visited the school I met Charisse Smith on duty collecting ballots. She told me the school has 1300 students. That would give them an insuperable base to build on. Thinking that Medgar Evers was sure to come in first, I tried to make an alliance with them, hoping to get them my voters in exchange for theirs. Both of us are on Nostrand Avenue. I also made an alliance with two other schools, supporting upgrades to the bathrooms at Elijah Stround and Charles Dorsey, the first because I know many parents who have children in that school and the latter because I was appalled at the terrible conditions in a school dealing with children with special needs. I also made an alliance with Sharon Hunt to support her trees proposal, thinking the more trees the better. It did well but came up about 200 votes short.

There were three groups active in Participatory Budgeting, staff from Laurie Cumbo's office, people from Neighbors in Action plus volunteers they enlisted; Neighbors was given the task of administering the vote, and then the budget delegates themselves who had sponsored proposals. From Laurie Cumbo's office I talked to Zetreen Henriques, a resident of Canarsie, a junior at New York Technical College majoring in Law/Paralegal Studies who was taken on as an intern to work on PB. She was active in all the preparations to chose proposals and then have a vote on them. She was present at the Expo at Grand Army Plaza working with volunteers talking ballots, and she went to polling sites – the Central Library, Neighbors in Action and Nostrand Avenue. At the library her job was to take addresses and punch them into a computer program that would tell if the address was in District 35. Many people had no idea what district they lived in. If the address was all right the voter would fill out a confirmation card and then get a ballot. They would be told to vote for as many as five of the thirteen proposals. The card and the ballot would then be put in something like a ballot box, an actual box or maybe a large envelope. The process was laborious as it turned out many people did not live in the district. In a two-hour session it was possible to process 20 to 40 ballots. Zetreen said there were way too many materials – ballots in Spanish, Creole and Hebrew were basically useless. A survey form had been created, but virtually no voters would fill it out; there were already too many steps in the process. However, stickers saying one had voted were popular.

Neighbors in Actions performed heroically; they had about 15 people involved, but many of them had other jobs. For example, Leah Alper did a lot, but her main job is development. Karolin Betances who was to lead the effort was transferred to a new position just before the vote. Neighbors may have been trying to do too many things at once. For example, they held meetings of volunteers to man polling stations. At these meetings there were both budget delegates and brand new volunteers. The volunteers were instructed in the rudiments of Participatory Budgeting. The delegates had been through all this six months previously. It was pointless to be lecturing them about a subject about which they could give the lecture. Leah told me Neighbors did not have a list of delegates so they did not know how to separate them out. There were numerous technical problems. Given the large amount of materials, the essential ones tended to run out. On three different occasions that I was aware of the supply of English ballots was exhausted. One time I called Neighbors in Action after having been told by Jason Hur of Laurie Cumbo's office that they had more. Leah told me they didn't have any and were unsure when they would get more. She said there were more people voting than they had planned for, so they had to go back to the printer. Antonnet Johnson volunteered to work at various polling stations but the original schedule was torn up, and she was offered a set of sites and times that did not fit with her schedule. A valuable volunteer was lost. When I arrived at the Central Library one time, no one knew I would be coming, and there were no materials there. It turned out Brian, who was supposed to bring materials had gotten sick, and no one took his place. A volunteer named Joyce showed up and found this out on the phone. She arranged to have Sharon Hunt come over from the Franklin Avenue subway stop with materials. Instead of two hours we only got in one and we ran out of English ballots. On another occasion, I went to the Bedford Library on a rainy day to set up a polling station. The library was closed for repairs, so Sharon Hunt and I, along with an intern, went under the elevated shuttle train and worked there until we ran out of English ballots. Jason Hur walked all the way over from Eastern Parkway to supply more materials, unable to hold up an umbrella and carry a box at the same time. He got soaked. These problems were multiplied over and over again. A larger, better prepared organization was needed with a better ability to handle problems. This was the eighth time PB had been done in the 35th District, but most of the people involved were new to the process. At this writing (April 25), Neighbors and Laurie Cumbo's office are still to have a meeting to think back about how things went. With its many programs Neighbors seems a good organization to handle PB, but it might need more personnel dedicated solely to PB and a more careful consideration of past problems and think of ways to deal with them.

The other side of the story was the enthusiasm of the people involved. Leah told me that Marissa Yanni, who was a citywide PB person, told her that the 35th had one of the highest vote totals at the Expo at Grand Army Plaza. Leah herself had a great experience at the Q/D stop on 7th Avenue and Flatbush telling people how to vote digitally. This worked for Cumbo's district to the north side of Flatbush and Brad Landers' on the other side. People overcame all the problems, and they mostly encountered an enthusiastic public, unsure about where they lived, often encountering the proposals for the first time as they voted, but nevertheless glad to have a chance to have a say in the development of the neighborhood. One result was that almost a thousand more people voted this year than last – about 5,400 over 4,400. This program is growing and more and more people seem to like and want it.

– John DeWind


Tree Care Program

On April 28 a program of tree care began that is an adjunct of the Twenty Trees Proposal that recently won funding in Participatory Budgeting in Laurie Cumbo's 35th Council District. Crown Heights wants more trees, but it also wants them to survive and grow. New trees are especially vulnerable. They can be poisoned by nicotine from cigarette butts, the ammonia in dog urine, and the numerous toxins in dog feces. They also might suffer from poor soil, lack of water and being closed in with bricks or cement. Only when a tree has spread its roots wide can it deal easily with the rough and tumble of city life. So the first meeting of Sunday Tree Care took place. At 1pm at the corner of Sterling Place and New York Avenue, a group assembled for an hour. I was there as was Abdul, Jerome and Celeste as well as her two girls. We cleaned garbage from the tree pits, loosened the soil, created “volcanoes” around the trees and doused them with water. Also, for those trees in need of it, we spread mulch around them. Next week we hope to have signs warning dog owners to stay away, and eventually there will be tree guards. We worked on ten trees. Next week we hope to do more.