Their offices were flooded, their phones were down and the power has been out, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers in Zone A from helping their constituents.
Legislators who use social media to inform their constituents of events and accomplishments posted prolific messages about their relief work, provided updates on their appeals for help from responders and performed outreach to volunteers.
State Sen. Liz Krueger has blasted emails to her constituents about when power would be restored. Councilman Brad Lander has sent emails and tweets urging residents to avoid coming into contact with the toxic waters of the Gowanus Canal and bore the news of constituent deaths. And Councilman Eric Ulrich, running in a heated battle for State Senate, has instead tweeted locations of various relief efforts in the flooded parts of his district.
Others have used Twitter to vent their frustrations when help wasn’t coming fast enough.
Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny has urged emergency responders to help constituents whose homes in Manhattan Beach, Coney Island, and Sea Gate were damaged. State Sen. Daniel Squadron has posted photos of rising floodwaters and a flurry of tweets about conditions at public housing projects in his district, where some of the poorest residents of Manhattan live. And Councilman Jimmy Oddo has used Twitter to call for more government relief efforts in Staten Island, criticize the airing of campaign ads, and urge the postponement of the New York City Marathon.
Those without a a social media presence weren’t slacking off either.
Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz, whose office was flooded with four feet of water, has been making calls from his car and driving around Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, and Sheepshead Bay visiting constituents.
“It’s amazing, the devastation,” he said. “ConEd is working as quickly as they can to restore power, but I wish it could be quicker. People still have no power.”
But public officials and emergency responders in many parts of Zone A have been overwhelmed by the scope of the damage.
Grassroots organizations tried to help fill the void left by the city in Lower Manhattan. Former Community Board 1 chairwoman Julie Menin coordinated with several volunteer organizations, including JCorp and Village View to deliver food, water, and batteries to thousands of residents who were without power and running water.
“The city should have had food and water trucks going all through Manhattan offering supplies, medical assistance. There needs to be a mass food and water plan for New York,” said Menin.
“We’re going building by building through Lower Manhattan with this grassroots core of volunteers, but we need help and we need assistance,” she added.
In Chinatown, where residents were lined around the block outside the Chinatown Tenant’s Union, from which food, clothing, and water was being distributed, community advocates were disappointed that elected officials were not an active presence.
“We reached out to our electeds and nobody came,” said Helena Wong, executive director of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, who said she had reached out to Councilwoman Margaret Chin and state Sen. Daniel Squadron, among others. “They have access to email and they know about this. We’ve been running this since yesterday.”
A FEMA truck stationed in Chinatown provided little more than a generator for cell phone chargers, and an emergency shelter at Seward Park High School refused to grant the press access to any city employees.
Residents at the Grant Street Settlement Houses resorted to turning on a fire hydrant to access water, raising health concerns.
“They did that themselves, the city didn’t help them,” said Jonathan Uss, a CUNY law school student staying in the area. “They claimed they were boiling it, but I’m not sure everybody knew whether it was clean.”
Queens residents faced a harrowing road to recovery.
Neponsit, an affluent community on the western end of the Rockaway Peninsula, is named after a Native American saying that means “the place between two waters.” On Monday night, the ocean rose and met the bay, turning Neponsit’s streets into rivers. Its residents spent the rest of the week drying out their homes and pumping water from their basements. Few had even left their mud-caked blocks because they didn’t have gasoline for their cars.
“There’s no telephones, no way to get help, no one is out here,” said Neponsit resident Rick Keane. “We can’t get gas because there’s no way to get money. I wish I had an answer. I have three families living with me right now.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, wearing a navy FEMA windbreaker, visited Beach 130th Street on Thursday afternoon, where a fire burned down the popular Harbor Light Pub and several nearby homes. But residents wondered when emergency responders would show up.
“We don’t need politicians, we need FEMA and the Red Cross,” said Tessie, a Neponsit resident, who declined to give her last name.
But all of the neighbors interviewed said they would vote next week.
“Oh yeah, I’m definitely going to vote,” said James Cross. “Absolutely. I always vote. Right now I’m just confused beyond belief. The water was up to my ceiling.”
But voting itself will be a challenge. None of the public schools in the area, where polling sites are located, had any power.
Keane said he would vote for Ulrich based on his responsiveness in the Rockaways, but was focused on getting some help for his neighbors.
“We’re exhausted,” he said. “We’re in survival mode.”