How 3 freshman lawmakers navigated their first year in office
BAY RIDGE – Three newly elected lawmakers spent 2019 getting their feet wet in the halls of power in Albany and Washington D.C., passing legislation, speaking out on issues both local and national and fighting to have their voices heard above the din of partisan politics.
U.S. Rep. Max Rose and state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, both Democrats, were at the forefront of a sea change in Bay Ridge politics when they defeated two Republican elected officials, former Congress member Dan Donovan and former senator Martin Golden, in what had been traditional GOP seats, in the November 2018 election.
Rose and Gounardes were sworn into office in January. Fellow Democrat Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, who won a special election in November, 2018 to replace disgraced former Assemblymember Pamela Harris after Harris pleaded guilty to fraud charges and resigned, took office in November.
Here’s a look at how all three elected officials navigated their first full year in office:
Rose made an immediate splash upon taking office in early January when he voted against California Democrat Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House and ended the year siding with the speaker in voting to impeach Republican President Donald Trump.
In between, Rose sought to carve a role for himself as a centrist willing to work across the aisle with Republicans on such issues as opioid addiction treatment and the fight against terrorism. He joined the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of solutions-oriented lawmakers.
Rose represents New York’s 11th Congressional District, a district that takes in several neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn and covers the entire borough of Staten Island.
Rose worked with two fellow Democrats, U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, to successfully bring split-tolling back to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge for the first time in a generation. The split-tolling for the bridge was included in a $1.4 trillion federal spending bill.
The one-way toll system that the bridge operated under for years was first installed through federal legislation in the 1980s. The $19 toll is paid by motorists traveling westbound (from Brooklyn toward Staten Island). Motorists heading eastbound drive on the bridge for free.
Rose and other elected officials charged that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees New York City’s bridges and tunnels, loses millions of dollars in tolls each year because of truckers who drive eastbound over the bridge for free and then avoid the toll on the return trip by driving through Manhattan and crossing into New Jersey.
“Thanks to the overwhelmingly bipartisan support from every level of government, outdated federal laws will no longer create traffic on the expressway and let New Jersey truckers skip out on paying the same tolls we pay every damn day,” Rose said.
Gounardes campaigned for his senate seat on a platform of street safety. His signature issue, speed cameras, was also a major focus of the new Democratic majority in the State Senate. As a result, the rookie lawmaker was able to get one of his first bills quickly passed. The legislature approved a bill he sponsored to increase the number of speed cameras in New York City school zones to 750.
The bill also increased the hours the cameras are operational. The devices are on from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“Schools are not open from just 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. anymore. Kids are going to after-school programs. The schools are open at night. It’s a significant issue,” Gounardes told the Home Reporter in an interview earlier this year.
Gounardes represents the 22nd Senate District, which takes in parts of several neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn, including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park.
In his first year, Gounardes established the Southern Brooklyn Pedestrian Safety Task Force, a group of grassroots volunteers looking at ways to increase street safety. The group has since spawned a Youth Pedestrian Safety Task Force composed of high school students.
But Gounardes had some disappointments in 2019. He failed to secure passage for his bill that would have provided a discount on the toll on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to Brooklyn residents who drive on the bridge at least 10 times a month.
Gounardes is continuing work on his 3 For Community initiative, in which he encourages his constituents to perform three acts of neighborly service, such as removing trash from a park or helping an elderly person to cross the street, every week.
Frontus has been busy her first year in office, introducing legislation on public housing, combating illegal home conversions and finding ways to increase government visibility.
Frontus represents the 46th Assembly District, a seat that includes Coney Island, Seagate, and parts of Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge.
She introduced a bill to ensure more safety inspections at New York City Housing Authority buildings to safeguard tenants against lead and other toxins.
Another bill she sponsored would crack down on property owners who fail to obtain proper permits from the New York City Department of Buildings. The bill is part of her efforts to crack down on illegal home conversions, the practice of property owners converting one or two-family homes into multiple dwelling apartment buildings.
Frontus also pushed her legislation to establish an online database where residents can look up projects funded in the state budget.
She led the effort in the assembly to pass a championed by Gounardes in the senate to give Brooklyn drivers a discount in the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge tolls. Under the bill, Brooklyn motorists who frequently drive over the bridge would receive the same discount as Staten Islanders.
“We’re talking about fairness and equity,” Frontus said.
The bill did not pass, but Frontus and Gounardes vowed to keep trying.