Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso laid out his vision for the borough Wednesday morning with what he called “a proposal for a different way to manage the city.”
With 2.3 million inhabitants stretched across 71 square miles, Brooklyn is plagued by stark inequities along racial and socioeconomic lines. Residents of Park Slope make on average $125,000 more than those in Brownsville and live on average for seven more years.
To try and narrow those gaps, Reynoso’s 201-page “comprehensive plan” offers 200 recommendations for improving and increasing access to healthcare, affordable housing, transit and public spaces.
“It is a proposal for a different way to manage the city,” Reynoso said at a press conference in Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. “To define the future of planning in New York City is the ultimate goal.’
Some of Reyono’s recommendations include a permitted residential parking system with fees that would pay for public space upgrades, planting more trees, and pressuring Mayor Eric Adams to build out protected bike lanes as the city is legally required to but has so far fallen far short on this mayor’s watch.
“We’re having conversations about reducing pollution, reducing traffic, expanding our bus network in a more meaningful way,” Reynoso said. “We really wanna show people through this plan that we can build a better city, a more mobile city.”
But with an $8 million budget and a staff of around 50, the borough president’s powers are nearly as limited as his ideas are expansive.
The office is a vestige of the old Board of Estimate system, in which borough presidents served on that powerful body until it was found unconstitutional in 1989 for violating the one-person-one-vote principle since voters in Staten Island had one representative on that board, the same as Brooklyn, representing more than five times as many people.
(The citywide office of the public advocate, another mostly ceremonial position that ambitious politicians nonetheless covet as a springboard to a more powerful office, also came out of that same court decision.)
‘Service not Celebration’
The borough president does have a formal role – albeit an advisory one – in the city’s complex and critically important land use and rezoning processes.
As such, Reynoso focuses on the rezoning proposals that cross his desk to push for higher density developments in transit-rich areas and places where housing production has lagged. The report highlights large swathes of Southern Brooklyn where almost no new housing was built in the decade spanning 2010 and 2020.
Reynoso released the plan a week after Adams offered a sweeping proposal for citywide zoning changes, aimed at spurring more affordable housing creation from private developers.
The timing was coincidental since his framework had been years in the making, according to the borough president, who nonetheless had a critique of the mayor’s plan.
“Updates to the zoning code are not a solution. What we really need is an entirely different book,” Reynoso said.
Spokespeople for City Hall and the Department of City Planning didn’t immediately return requests for comment about the borough president’s plan.
Last week Reynoso announced he was redirecting his staffers towards direct services for Brooklynites, like helping them sign up for SNAP and other benefits, rather than having them planning and throwing parties and events.
“What we do have is a housing crisis, a homelessness crisis, a migrant crisis, climate change crisis,” he said. “Our office is better suited to do service work than it is to do celebration work.”
Reynoso, 40, is aware that his name has been floating around progressive circles as a potential Democratic challenger to Adams, a short list that also includes State Sens. Zellnor Myrie (D – Brooklyn), 36, and Jessica Ramos (D – Queens), 38. All of them are, notably, a generation younger than Adams, who is 63.
”Adams has not demonstrated a vision for this city like virtually all of his predecessors did,” said Janos Marton, a criminal justice reform advocate who helped lead the push to close Rikers Island and who has been involved in those conversations. “People are hungry for other leaders who will.”
Reynoso on Wednesday deflected a question about his mayoral prospects.
“I wanna be the best borough president that I could possibly be,” he said. “And that is what I’m focused on.”