By Bill Parry
Hundreds of supporters, family and friends of City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) packed his favorite restaurant, Manducatis Rustica, on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City last week to witness him officially sworn in to a third term at City Hall. The evening took the sting out of two significant setbacks for Van Bramer earlier in the week.
One was political, the other bureaucratic.
On Dec. 20, City Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) became the presumptive speaker of the City Council, over Van Bramer and six other finalists, after the reported backing of U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the leader of the Queens Democratic Party. While Crowley declined to comment on the deal, Van Bramer was one of the first to congratulate Johnson.
“A friend & ally and fellow Irish & LGBT caucus member who will be our next speaker,” Van Bramer wrote on Twitter. “I congratulate Corey on a remarkable run. I’ve never seen anyone work harder. Smart & passionate, he will help our city become a more just place.”
During a hearing held by his Committee on Culture and Libraries Monday, Van Bramer learned from city officials that the opening of the new Hunters Point Library, a project he has championed passionately for 20 years, would have its opening delayed another year.
The Department of Design and Construction Acting Commissioner Ana Barrio testified that construction will be completed by the end of August 2018. Queens Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott said the building would be outfitted and open to the public in February 2019.
Van Bramer said he and the residents of Long Island City were “frustrated” by “horrific decisions” made over the years that have caused multiple delays and false timelines.
“It has already been so painful. It has already been delayed for so many years there are literally already people who have been involved in this project who have died before they could see this library open,” Van Bramer said.
Walcott blamed choices by famed architect Steven Holl, such as special glass made in Germany that was held up for weeks in Spain by a dockworkers’ strike. Barrio said the DDC had changed its written design consultant guidelines to ensure “an architect doesn’t call the shots in the future.”
Walcott also blamed “bad contractors” for the delays as well, explaining that defaulting on the contracts would only create even longer delays as contractors went through a rebid process.
“It is my sense that Hunters Point Library, somewhere along the way it got off track as far as the design is concerned and monitoring what went on there,” Walcott said. “We are not going to allow that again in the future as a library system. We’re never going to allow that to happen again as long as I’m CEO.”
Van Bramer said he was outraged and angry because the new state-of-the-art $40 million library was scheduled to be open already.
“It is an utter disgrace that this has happened to the people of Long Island City and while the day it opens will be a glorious day, it will always be an outrage that the library was mangled as it was given its importance to the community,” Van Bramer said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr