Courtesy Van Bramer’s office
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (c) is all smiles at the 50th anniversary party at Donovan’s Pub in Woodside after hearing word’s of support over his recent rift with Mayor de Blasio.
By Bill Parry

More than a week has passed since Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would have a “polite but firm conversation” with City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) over his position on a City Hall-backed affordable housing plan in his district. While Van Bramer is still waiting for that phone call from the mayor, who is currently on a family vacation in New England, he has heard plenty of support from his constituents after he took umbrage with de Blasio’s tone.

“I went to Donovan’s 50th anniversary on Saturday and as I walked from my place I got stopped several times along the way,” Van Bramer said of his stroll from Sunnyside Gardens to the popular Irish pub in Woodside. “Outside of The Globe, Aubergine’s, The Copper Kettle and at Donovan’s there were people thanking me all the way up Skillman Avenue.”

The rift between the mayor and Van Bramer began last week after the City Council unanimously voted down an affordable project in Upper Manhattan. It was the first test of his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, which requires affordable units when a project benefits from rezoning. During an unrelated press event in the Bronx Aug. 18, a frustrated mayor reacted to the project’s defeat.

“This one makes no sense to me,” de Blasio said. “I’m going to be very straight up with people in this community and every other community: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”

And then the mayor turned the spotlight onto Van Bramer, who will hold sway over the Council’s decision on the controversial Phipps Houses project that would deliver a 10-story building with 209-units of 100 percent mixed- income affordable housing just outside the Sunnyside Gardens historic district. Van Bramer, who has the power to determine the fate of the project as the area’s representative in the Council, renewed his opposition to the proposal, because of its height and loss of parking spaces, after the City Planning Commission approved it Aug. 10.

“This project now comes before the City Council where I will oppose it, vote against it and encourage my colleagues to do the same,” Van Bramer said.

At last week’s Bronx press event, de Blasio said: “I am going to have a polite but firm conversation with the councilman, who I know very well and respect greatly.”

Van Bramer returned fire through social media, immediately tweeting “and he will be met with a polite and firmer response.”

In articles published Friday morning, Van Bramer went ballistic.

“I don’t work for the mayor. And I do not appreciate the tone that I will be spoken to in a firm manner,” Van Bramer told the Wall Street Journal. “I suppose if I disappointed my husband or my father, I might get that reaction, but you know, I am fighting for my community.”

When Van Bramer, a resident of Sunnyside Gardens, first rejected the Phipps House plan in the spring, he said he got more feedback from residents and neighbors that on any other issue in his 6 1/2 years on the City Council.

“I have gone back and forth for over a year, listened to my constituents,” Van Bramer told Politico New York. “He can be firm if he’d like, but I will be equally firm if not more so at this point in defending my position and the position of the vast majority of people in my community. The only people that I work for are the people of the 26th District, and I might add the mayor also works for them.”

“If the mayor wishes to have a polite conversation about his arguments in support of the Phipps development and my reasons for being opposed, he has my phone number,” Van Bramer said last Friday morning. “I gladly await his call.”

Van Bramer said Monday he and the mayor still had not had one conversation about the project.

Residents in Sunnyside and Woodside applauded Van Bramer’s opposition to the project and his stand against the mayor’s comment.

“I was quite proud that Jimmy Van Bramer stood up to de Blasio’s bully tactics,” Kevin Leddy, a Sunnyside Gardens homeowner since 1990, said. “He’s got my vote going forward.”

Keith Carter, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and a resident of Sunnyside since 1993, is against the Phipps project because it would bring more riders to the No. 7 subway line, which is already operating at capacity. The extra population would further stress the 52nd Street station which is considered to be one of the worst in the borough.

“I like it. It tells me he’s not above the people, he’s for the people,” Carter said. “He’s clearly working for us and that’s a great attitude to have. I’d say de Blasio is a flawed leader who could use some professional leadership training.”

Carter’s friend, Kevin Butler, a veteran of the Vietnam War, who has lived in the neighborhood for 62 years, is adamantly opposed to the Phipps Houses plan.

“I think the mayor is a bum and I don’t like Van Bramer but I’m with him on this one,” he said. “I think that development would lower the whole community financially and every other way. It’s not a good thing for all of Woodside and Sunnyside.”

Van Bramer said he has no problem with de Blasio disagreeing with him but he will not be disrespected and the Council’s vote on the Phipps Houses project could not come soon enough, for him.

“It could happen as early as next month,” he said. “I would like to vote as soon as possible and get it done.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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