By Rich Bockmann
The City Council is divided into 51 districts that serve as points for constituents to access their municipal government on a local level, but for the time being that number stands at 50 — sort of.
Residents in Rosedale, Laurelton, Far Rockaway and Springfield Gardens have been without a sitting Council member since Dec. 31, when the newly elected state Sen. James Sanders (D-Rochdale Village) tendered his resignation from the district he represented for 11 years.
A new Council member will not be sworn in until some time after a special election to fill the seat is held in mid-February. In the meantime, the lights are still on and the doors open at the district’s Laurelton and Far Rockaway district offices, which are now run by the Council’s central staff.
“I’ve been doing this for two years for former Councilman James Sanders, so I have relationships with a lot of different agencies,” said Tri Hinds, who worked as a community liaison in Sanders’ office and is now employed by the central office. “Sometimes I can advocate with just a phone call and then they can follow up themselves.”
For years Sanders had a representative from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program visit his office during the cold months to assist those who had trouble paying their heating bills and Hinds said the office continues to provide many of those services, if and when people show up. She said she has been getting fewer calls since Sanders left.
“I guess they’re waiting for the transition. Also, they may be contacting different Council members,” she said. “Once the word spread they may be contacting Sen. Sanders’ office directly, but I wouldn’t know.”
Marcia O’Brien, president of the Rosedale Civic Association, said she and her members are aware the Laurelton office is still open to address their concerns, if they have any.
“Our civic’s board just had a meeting where we discussed how we would open the line of communication with the next councilman’s office, but as far as issues we didn’t come up with any,” she said.
O’Brien’s only real gripe was that the Council’s website merely lists the District 31 seat as vacant and does not explain that staff members are still in place.
“It would be nice to have something on the website,” she said. “It would be nice to add a bit more clarity.”
Steve Cooper, an Edgemere resident and president of the Frank Avenue Civic Association, said he could have used a Council member’s help when he was trying to get the city Department of Environmental Protection to turn off water to a house.
“The DEP told me the councilman can help, but we don’t have a councilman,” he said.
As Sanders looks for a place to locate his Senate district office, he said he feels for his former constituents, especially those in the Rockaways still reeling from Superstorm Sandy.
“There absolutely is a need for a Council person. It’s an all-hands-type situation,” he said. “For those people without lights and heat, every day is a long day.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.