Since Mayor Bill de Blasio’s last official public event on Staten Island, to see if a groundhog spotted its shadow, he has traveled to Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, California and the nation’s capital.
The prodigal de Blasio returned to Staten Island on Thursday, making only his third official visit of 2015 to the one borough that didn’t vote for him two years ago. He came bearing good news: his administration’s $242 million budget investment to repaving and maintaining the city’s roads, a particular source of interest for the most car-dependent area of the city.
But some of the residents of the neighborhood he visited weren’t all that happy to see him.
One said the Democratic mayor’s liberal policies had rendered Republican-heavy Staten Island “the forgotten borough.” Another was disappointed that the to-do over the mayoral visit wasn’t actually a movie shoot. And one man harangued the mayor in an animated discussion after his press conference, saying the city had installed speed cameras across Staten Island not to improve safety but to raise money for the city’s coffers.
“You want the revenue!” Chris Altieri angrily said after de Blasio walked over to talk to him.
The mayor, seemingly growing irritated yet keeping his composure, asked, “Can you really look me in the eye and say we don’t want to save people’s lives? Do you really believe that?”
“No, you don’t,” Altieri said.
When asked by reporters about his recent spate of national travel in comparison to his infrequent visits to Staten Island, he parried the question, saying he looked “forward to spending time all over the borough.”
The mayor had come under scrutiny for not following his predecessors’ practices of hosting town halls or appearing on a weekly call-in radio show, decisions some critics believe limit the public’s access to him.
But then suddenly de Blasio was involved in an impromptu street corner town hall as Altieri grilled him on speed cameras and property taxes. When the tense three-minute conversation ended, Altieri turned to the reporters gathered and said the mayor “should be more available to where people like me can air our grievances.”
Many people who lived nearby greeted the mayor with a shrug, proclaiming they were no fans of his. One, Deena Gamba, joked the Verrazano’s $16 cash toll was scaring him off.
“That’s probably why he doesn’t come through here,” she said.
Her brother Jimmy Gamba went one step further with a prediction: “This will be his one trip and his only trip.”