There are 101 reasons to re-elect 11th Council District incumbent Oliver Koppell, shouts a campaign brochure. The two-term councilman funded a new playground at P.S. 81 on Riverdale Avenue. He had a traffic light installed at Bainbridge Avenue and East Gun Hill Road. He sponsored St. Stephen’s Meals at the Lutheran Church of the Epiphany in Norwood.
There are 101 reasons to re-elect Koppell…plus the reason that matters most.
“I know Koppell,” said Holocaust survivor Sal Warsager, 85. “The man has been around a long time.”
So it went on Friday, September 4 at the JASA Van Cortlandt Senior Center on Sedgwick Avenue, where Koppell has campaigned many times before. A former assemblyman, state attorney general and school board member, Koppell has represented the northwest Bronx for more than three decades.
“I remember heading to work and seeing Koppell on 238th Street,” Gussie Rosenbloom said. “That must have been 25 years ago.”
Koppell has canvassed the JASA Van Cortlandt Senior Center before, but rarely with such urgency. The incumbent admits that 11th Council District candidate Tony Perez Cassino has mounted a formidable challenge.
“Vigorous,” Koppell said. “Is how I’d describe this particular campaign.”
To match Cassino, an energetic lawyer and former Community Board 8 chair, Koppell launched an up-tempo street operation. He hits subway stations and bus stops; Rangy and suited, Koppell posts up at libraries and apartment buildings. He walked from Riverdale to Wakefield on Labor Day.
When an 11th Council District resident tosses Koppell a muni-meter or noise complaint, he frowns. When a resident thanks Koppell, he beams.
“The seniors know me best,” Koppell said.
Koppell voted to extend term limits in 2008, voted to allow Mayor Michael Bloomberg and two-term council members such as himself a third term. Although Koppell in no term limit fan, he did propose a referendum on the issue in 2008. The proposal failed. Koppell understands that some 11th Council District residents consider his vote a betrayal; that Cassino would blast the vote, Koppell doesn’t understand. Cassino endorsed Bloomberg in 2005 and plans to vote for the mayor again.
“To condemn my [term limits] vote is fair in the abstract,” Koppell said. “To condemn it as Tony Cassino is unfair. Bloomberg is Cassino’s patron.”
When interviewed, most pols fire a round of successes: parks renovated and clinics retooled. Koppell grabs a machine gun.
“I initiated the Riverdale rezone and landmarked Fieldston,” he said. “I funded the P.S. 95 annex and the P.S. 94 annex. I had the [Department of Education] find a new building for Jonas Bronck [Academy]. I recommended a new school on Webster Avenue. I sponsored the law that requires rechargeable batteries to be recycled. I got money for the library in Woodlawn…”
Cassino has argued that Koppell is a City Council outsider; the incumbent chaired no committees in his first term. Only 14th Council District incumbent Maria Baez won fewer capital dollars in fiscal year 2008-2009, according to a Gotham Gazette report. Koppell admits that he was blackballed in 2001. But if Koppell had no clout…
“Then why are there new schools in the 11th Council District?” he asked.
Neither Koppell nor Cassino stopped the Department of Environmental Protection from digging a water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park; Koppell suggested a site in Westchester, he said.
Cassino has suggested that Koppell’s wife, a real estate broker, had a hand in the land deal for Tulfan Terrace, a stalled development on Oxford Avenue. Koppell highlights $8,000 in Cassino campaign contributions linked to John Fitzgerald, the Yonkers-based lawyer behind Villanova Heights, a high-end residential development. Koppell attempted to block Villanova Heights. He considers it out of character and the origin of dangerous construction run-off.
Koppell campaign coffers are developer-free, the incumbent said. Non-profits in the mental health business do target Koppell. The City Council mental health committee chair has raised $124,463 and $84,122 in matching funds. Cassino has raised $104,987 and $84,122 in matching funds.
Koppell and Cassino differ on Riverdale, its present and future, the incumbent said. Cassino sees a troubled Riverdale Avenue in need of aid and a neighborhood ripe for development. Koppell sees a vibrant Riverdale Avenue and a neighborhood content to age. The economic crisis hit Riverdale Avenue but State Farm Insurance has opened a new office; a gourmet deli is set to open soon, Koppell said.
The incumbent is upbeat on Norwood and Bedford Park. Graffiti on E. 204th Street in Norwood has abated, he said. Bedford Park Boulevard is busy. Cassino has argued that Koppell spends energy on Riverdale only, that he neglects the poorer and predominantly minority neighborhoods east of the Major Deegan Expressway.
At that, Koppell snorted. He helped tenants in Bedford Park sue to obtain heat and hot water. He funneled $10,000 to clean up Mosholu Parkway. He funded the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Woodlawn and held office hours at Mosholu Montefiore Community Center. Koppell plans to shift the National Guard from the Kingsbridge Armory annex to Bronx Boulevard, in order to build two schools…the machine gun rattles on
There are 101 reasons to re-elect 11th Council District incumbent Oliver Koppell, and the reason that matters most.
“I know Koppell,” Warsager said. “He has a good Jewish heart.”
This story belongs to a series of profiles of the Democratic candidates running for City Council in the 11th Council District, encompassing Kingsbridge, Riverdale, Woodlawn, Norwood, and parts of Bedford Park, Wakefield and Bronx Park East. The other candidate is Tony Perez Cassino.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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