Something is rotten in Brooklyn. It’s not just the piles of trash on St. Marks Avenue near Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church in Crown Heights or the missing trashcans in front of Bethany Baptist Church on Marcus Garvey Boulevard in Bed-Stuy.
It’s the behavior of the public official responsible for removing the trash and supplying the trashcans to the communities of East and Central Brooklyn. His name is Jarrit Scotti and he is the chief of sanitation for Brooklyn North.
Chief Scotti must have closely studied the behavior of his boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who famously ducks questions that are "off-topic" at his press conferences. Apparently Scotti decided that what works for the boss will work for him. He has avoided our calls, emails and even a visit to his office.
As pastors and leaders of East Brooklyn Congregations, we are tired of seeing the sidewalks near our places of worship littered with dog droppings, junk food and plastic bags. We are even angrier that the person who has the power to correct this condition refuses to meet with us, at one point declaring, “I’m not allowed to talk to the public.” In other words, being held accountable is ‘off-topic’ for him.
The hard-working men and women who empty our trashcans, sweep our streets and plow our snow do an incredible job at keeping most of the city very clean. But several areas aren’t as tidy as the blocks around Gracie Mansion or the mayor’s second home in Park Slope. One of them is next door to Holy Rosary Catholic Church on Chauncey Street. Mounds of trash, bed mattresses and half-eaten food pile up throughout the week. While many of the surrounding brownstones are selling for well over a million dollars, our members are stepping over this disgusting mess on their way to Mass or Bible study.
That’s why we’re heading down to Scotti’s office on Monday, May 1. A couple of weeks ago, we went to his office in east Williamsburg to request the meeting in person and were thrown out of the lobby by some of his staff. We don’t take kindly to being ignored or ejected so we’re coming back with enough people to show how willing we are to force officials like Scotti to respond differently and more respectfully. Our next stop can be Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia’s office, but that’s entirely up to him.
By now, the mayor’s habit of avoiding questions and scolding people that don’t stick to his carefully scripted themes is well known. The Times editorial board wrote about it recently, saying, “When shutting down reporters for doing their jobs, Mr. de Blasio — who so fiercely poses as an anti-Trump — displays his inner Donald.”
As pastors and leaders of East Brooklyn Congregations, we are tired of seeing the sidewalks near our places of worship littered with dog droppings, junk food and plastic bags. We are even angrier that the person who has the power to correct this condition refuses to meet with us.
While the Times focused on the mayor’s childish treatment of reporters, we have seen his example spill over to many commissioners and public officials, which we wrote about in our op-ed in the Daily News.
In one case, the city transportation commissioner initially refused to meet with us. After delivering more than 250 students, parents and pastors to her front door in lower Manhattan, she came down to publicly agree to meet within 30 days. Her willingness to show up was greeted with deserved applause and cheers.
There are two common ways people in power avoid direct contact and accountability. The first, most often demonstrated by de Blasio, is to refuse to answer questions or meet. It’s similar to many conservative Republicans who recently skipped their own town halls meetings after their failed attempts to repeal Obamacare sparked widespread outrage.
The second tactic, now being employed by Scotti, is to send out people who have little or no power. They usually call these people “community affairs” officers. The New York City Housing Authority recently employed this strategy when tenants in Bushwick, Brownsville and East New York demanded that their development managers start cleaning up their filthy lobbies and stairwells. Managers told tenants that they were only allowed to meet with tenants one by one. If tenants wanted to meet as a group, then someone from community affairs could come, but only between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. when most tenants work.
And while the community affairs folks can be pleasant people, they have no authority to spend money, hold staff accountable or improve services. That’s why we never meet with them and avoid wasting our time with others who have no real power. Our members are working families, retirees or students; time is their most important commodity.
We’ve learned a couple things over nearly four decades of confronting and negotiating with mayors, bankers, slumlords and other public officials.
First: only meet with decision makers – the people that have the power to give you what you want. That’s why the first fight is always for recognition and respect from the person in power. Accept no substitutes for them.
Second: go to power with a decision, as the management consultants used to say, not for a decision; in other words, come with a list of carefully researched problems but also a set of pragmatic solutions. We’re ready to do both. We hope that Scotti and other officials like him start showing up.
Adolphus Lacey, Clinton Miller, Edward Jenkins, Clive Neil and David Brawley are pastors of Bethany Baptist Church, Brown Memorial Baptist Church, Ebenezer Weselyan Methodist Church, Bedford Central Presbyterian and St. Paul Community Baptist Church, respectively, and leaders of East Brooklyn Congregations.