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How Mayor Adams Took a U-Turn on McGuinness Boulevard Redesign

The reversal followed a weekslong pressure campaign tied to the influential Argento siblings, owners of a film production company — and donors to Adams.

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A truck barrels along McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, June 15, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The city Department of Transportation’s decision to walk back its own plan for a street redesign on Greenpoint’s McGuinness Boulevard came at a July 3 Zoom meeting where Mayor Eric Adams’ top aide claimed the plan was only supported by outsiders. 

Adams and two dozen other staffers were present on the call, in which Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi had to defend the DOT’s proposal, even though Adams had personally approved the plan in March. The DOT has a policy of bringing all potentially controversial proposals to the mayor for his verbal approval before moving forward with a public-facing presentation of the project, two administration sources said. 

But even though he signed off on the McGuinness plan previously, on Monday’s call Adams turned to his controversial top aide Ingrid Lewis-Martin for her advice. Lewis-Martin had been raising concerns about the project for several weeks, multiple sources said, following a campaign backed by the Argentos to block the roadway changes, as THE CITY previously reported. Siblings Gina and Tony Argento own Broadway Stages, a film production company based in Greenpoint with dozens of sound stages across the area. 

“Ingrid, tell me what you’re seeing on the ground,” one person on the call recalled the mayor saying to her. Streetsblog first reported that DOT changed course on the McGuinness plan due to pressure from Lewis-Martin.

Lewis-Martin replied that businesses in Greenpoint hated the DOT’s proposal for McGuinness, according to a source on the call, who recalled that Lewis-Martin went on to say that the advocates supporting the plan were all from outside of the community.

The source called that contention “laughable,” and asked rhetorically, “Why would she know better than people who have actually been doing the engagement?” 

Most of the staffers were told to leave the call, while the mayor and a handful of top officials remained. After that meeting was over, staffers were told the city had to work to come up with a “compromise proposal.” 

Starting Over

DOT officials had planned to begin repainting the street this summer, eliminating one lane of traffic on the four-lane street in each direction and adding protected bike lanes. Instead, the staffers are now back at the drawing board. 

“Ingrid completely bigfooted them,” said a second administration source who was familiar with the matter. “It seriously jeopardizes the possibility of doing something this year.”

“NYC DOT is dedicated to enhancing the safety of critical arteries like McGuinness Boulevard,” said Mona Bruno, a spokesperson for the transportation department.

“We’re reviewing community stakeholder feedback as we finalize the design,” Bruno added.

She declined to comment on City Hall’s about-face. 

DOT staffers have “participated in dozens of meetings over multiple years and are continuing to refine the proposal as they receive feedback from the community,” said Adams spokesperson Charles Lutvak, who also declined to discuss the administration’s change of heart. 

“All decisions are based on the merits of any issue,” Lutvak said.

Noting the plan had gone forward after dozens of community board meetings and a monthslong DOT review, the administration source who was familiar with the situation said the reversal would “have a chilling effect” on future projects, adding that a city with limited resources can’t afford to redo projects multiple times.

“It’s Groundhog Day,” the source on the call added. “Every time we have a plan we do a ton of outreach, we gather the support, then someone makes a phone call and completely kills the plan.” 

Dueling Campaigns

It’s not the first time that Lewis-Martin, a proud car driver who told NY1 she had not ridden the subway in more than 40 years, has waded into transportation policy. She has railed against congestion pricing and briefly overruled the DOT to end an Open Street on Willoughby Avenue, though Adams eventually reinstated it, The New York Times reported

Her concerns about the McGuinness redesign followed a pressure campaign to block the proposal by the group Keep McGuinness Moving, which had papered Greenpoint in banners and posters, sent direct mailers to people’s homes, and sent out robocalls and texts to people all across the area urging them to push back against the city’s proposal. 

The group had significant ties to the influential Gina and Tony Argento, the owners of Broadway Stages. While Broadway Stages was just one business on a list of more than 180 publicly opposing the redesign, a review by THE CITY found at least a third of the companies on that list could be traced back to the Argentos. Broadway Stages also hosted two town hall-style meetings that catered to opponents of the project. The Argentos are also longtime Adams supporters, and the family has donated at least $15,100 to his campaigns over the years. 

Tony Argento had voiced concerns about the street redesign at public community board meetings, fearing it would slow down his company’s trucks entering and exiting the neighborhood’s industrial business zone that sits just east of McGuinness. 

Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez attended a Greenpoint meeting of the anti-redesign group Keep McGuinness Moving, June 15, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Speaking on behalf of the Keep McGuinness Moving campaign, spokesperson Juda Engelmayer said the group is hopeful Adams will make significant changes. 

Engelmayer, who also represents Broadway Stages, said on the company’s behalf that it is concerned “not just about securing bicycle and pedestrian access, but … also making sure the flow of business continues, and continues safely and efficiently.” 

The DOT’s proposal, unveiled to the community board in early May, came after years of agitating for safety improvements by grassroots organizers following the death of beloved neighborhood teacher Matthew Jensen, who was killed while crossing the street in May of 2021.

Parents at P.S. 110 where Jensen taught banded together to push for changes to the Robert Moses-era thoroughfare which serves as a shortcut between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Long Island Expressway. Three pedestrians have been killed there in the last decade, according to DOT statistics, and dozens more injured along the treacherous 1.4 miles stretch of roadway. 

Residents who fought for the redesign said they were crestfallen at the city’s reversal, and balked at the characterization from Lewis-Martin that people who wanted the safety improvements were outsiders. 

“After two years of exhaustive work from neighbors here on the ground, and advocates, and families, and our elected officials, and the mayor’s Department of Transportation, it’s unbelievable that this is happening,” said Kevin LaCherra, 32, a fourth-generation Greenpoint resident who pushed for the plan with the group Make McGuinness Safe. 

LaCherra pointed out that on Thursday afternoon, the same day reports emerged that the street redesign had been halted, someone was injured on the street in a collision at the intersection of Calyer Street and McGuinness. An NYPD spokesperson confirmed a blue minivan struck a pedestrian there shortly before 3:30 p.m. The 43-year-old man was treated at the hospital and released by Thursday evening, an NYPD spokesperson said. 

“All delay means danger and it potentially means death,” LaCherra said.

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