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Boots on the Ground: Part II of a Conversation with Councilman-elect Cohen

Part II of our conversation with Councilman-elect Andrew Cohen.

HH: There is a lot of vitality in Riverdale, a lot of new construction, which is terrific, but does it have a downside?

Cohen: "The district is big. Development has different meanings and implications in different corners of the district. I think that the development on Broadway will be successful and that's going to be an asset to the northwest Bronx. The project proposed by Montefiore, however, is very, very problematic. I am not sure that is a viable project. There are a lot of issues with that project; the height, the traffic generated by it. I'm not sure about the public transportation that is associated with it. It's clearly not designed for the local community. You have to remember, though, that it is the position of the developer and Montefoire that it is a project "as of right", no special permits required. That is there position, however I with the other elected officials, Congressman Engel, Senator Klein, Assemblyman Dinowitz, Councilman Koppel have agreed to work together to stop the project as it is. In terms of the rest of the District there is a Webster Ave BID proposed as a result of recent zoning changes that could be very good, though it's not without its risks.

HH: Would you talk about the proposal for the Putnam Trail and your reaction to it?

Cohen: That's a perfect example of where with a new administration it is a problem that will get looked at with new eyes and it might get resolved in a way that serves most people. I am optimist about that. It is an issue that I will be aggressive about after Jan. 1.

HH: Who do you most looking forward to working with and why?

Cohen: I am looking forward to picking my speaker. The speaker race is the first big decision I will make and the biggest. I am looking forward to sitting down with them. I am already hard at work. I am going to another candidate's forum on the speaker later today. I have been working with Councilman Koppel to ensure a smooth transition. He has been generous with his time.

HH: How do you see Riverdale growing? Do you have any concerns about the neighborhood that you would like to see addressed?

Cohen: Overall Riverdale's on a good path. I am concerned about Johnson Ave. There are a number of vacancies on Johnson Ave and I think that it will make the area more attractive than it is to fill those vacancies. It is an attractive area and we have a lot of young families moving here all the time. Riverdale Avenue is doing very well. It will take some work to make the same thing happen on Johnson Ave. We have a development corporation that can make the area more attractive. There are some issues with the landlord on Johnson Ave that we can informally address by asking the landlord to be a good neighbor.

HH: You mentioned young families but Riverdale also has a large senior population. What issues do you think you will need to address for the seniors?

Cohen: I became involved with senior issues during my time on Community Board 8. We do have a significant senior population, particularly in Riverdale and we have great senior centers. They could be made more attractive to younger seniors. The City has already become involved with making centers more attractive to younger seniors. Pedestrian issues are a particular concern, such as audible crosswalks. Overall I think we need to be cognizant of making the area more friendly to seniors by adapting things that are already in place.

HH: Do you have a favorite place in Riverdale that you will return to on your breaks?

Cohen (laughing): Don't want to get myself in trouble here. I love the outdoor spaces: Wave Hill, Van Cortlandt Park.

HH: You mentioned that you have been commuting regularly since the election to attend candidate's forums etc., and certainly one of the attractions of the neighborhood is the proximity to the City. Are you noticing any issues with the Transit system that you would like to see addressed?

Cohen: There are some things in terms of technology that the MTA seems to be implementing already; GPS on the busses, for example. On the campaign I heard a lot of complaints about the busses coming in clumps. On the other hand, I was presently surprised by the rail link. We are fortunate to have it. I have noticed because I have a lot of business downtown lately. Getting kids to school on the Express Bus using a transit pass is another issue. I heard about that one from a few people during the campaign. It wouldn't be overly burdensome on the MTA to make that work.

As we wound up our conversation Mr. Cohen was already checking his appointment schedule. He is not yet used to how hectic it is, he said, noting with frustration that his phone calendar only allows him to see a few hours ahead. Since the election he has a lot of work to do planning to assume his new role. He has looked at office space, interviewed potential staff, met with Mr. Koppell and attended meetings. Finance rules, he notes, will not allow him to spend money until he is actually in office, so he is balancing it all with the assistance of a few key volunteers. Asked for a parting word he says, "I am very optimistic."

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