Less than two hours after commending fellow Community Board 8 members for taking a stand against a deeply unpopular plan that would be detrimental to Upper East Side residents, Russell Squire used his power as CB8 chair to kill the groundswell of grassroots opposition against a deeply unpopular plan that would be detrimental to residents without debate— kneecapping the opposition to the MTA’s congestion pricing toll plan during a fiery meeting and silencing its opponents, including a disabled board member with very real concerns about the impact a $23 toll will have on New Yorkers with a disability.
“Implementation [of congestion pricing] is going to start soon and I’m just concerned that if we kick things back, we don’t have much power here at all.” said board member Rebecca Lamorte.
“But if we delay more, I have more concern. And my concern comes from the perspective of a disabled New Yorker. That’s something that’s largely been left out of the conversation,” explained the 31-year-old disability justice advocate, who herself became mobility-disabled more than a decade ago after being pushed on the subway and falling into the gap between the platform and train.
Squire, using his authority as Community Board 8 Chair had just moved to table any discussion on congestion pricing— kicking the can instead of taking action— asking the community board’s task force, which already approved a sweeping resolution condemning congestion pricing for dozens of reasons, to come up with a new, more specific resolution.
“The motion to table is not debatable,” Mr. Squire said matter-of-factly with the ‘because i said so’ emphasis of an annoyed parent, while using parliamentary rules to block any discussion about congestion pricing or the lack of action being taken Wednesday night.
“Unfortunately, the task force did not produce a resolution with that kind of detail that addressed those kinds of specifics,” the Community Board 8 Chair and one-time State Assembly candidate continued.
“Something that will be implemented no matter what we say or do. We can’t play the game of delay,” Lamorte defiantly explained, reclaiming her time after being spoken over by Squire.
“We’re not going to get all the exemptions we want. Disabled people are going to be harmed. Vulnerable New Yorkers are going to be harmed. We need to use our power now to speak full-throatedly about the changes we want to see,” said Lamorte.
Squire’s decision to table Congestion Pricing without any discussion was also dismissive of more than a dozen members of the public spoke out against the MTA’s plan— which would charge drivers up to $23 to drive south of East 60th Street— many who used their two minutes of time to explain how it would hurt families, seniors, caregivers, disabled people and low-income New Yorkers.
“We’re almost four hours in and a bunch of people from the public came here to hear about this issue as well,” said Lamorte, “and now we’re tabling something that over one hundred people were on our meeting for at some point.”
“If we can have full-throated debates about bike lanes and sidewalk melt systems and electrical versus gas systems. Why are we not having this debate now?” Lamorte asked rhetorically.
Roughly two hours earlier, Russell Squire had actually commended board members for standing together and fighting unpopular new proposed City Council district maps, which would give part of the Upper East Side to Queens
“If we have a great example that we’re being commended for, with what we did with redistricting, where we’re going to keep our district whole and we’re going to keep Roosevelt Island, why can’t we be doing that here?” asked Lamorte.
Despite the September 23rd deadline for public comment on the MTA’s congestion pricing environmental assessment, Community Board 8 sent the resolution back to the Congestion Pricing Task Force, which will not meet again until October.