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Op-Ed: Participatory Budgeting Under New Leadership in District 29

Photo: participatorybudgeting.org

June 21, 2021 Op-Ed By: Heather Dimitriadis 

Will Participatory Budgeting continue in City Council District 29?

Well, that all depends on who you vote for on June 22.

Recently the Participatory Budgeting District Committee for City Council District 29 surveyed all 10 candidates vying for that seat in the upcoming primary.

For those new to Participatory Budgeting, it is a democratic process which helps make budget decisions clear and accessible. It gives real power to people who have never before been involved in the political process. And it results in better budget decisions for communities that participate.

The Participatory Budget process creates new relationships, empowers new leaders, and generally strengthens local democracy.

Recently the Participatory Budgeting District Committee for City Council District 29 surveyed all 10 candidates vying for that seat in the upcoming primary.

Over the past several years Council Member Karen Koslowitz has set aside $1M of her discretionary budget for Participatory Budgeting, giving community members the opportunity to directly decide how to spend part of a public budget.

Recently this process was put on hold citywide due to Covid-19.

During the current Councilwoman’s tenure, Participatory Budgeting amassed 11,555 votes on projects built by people in the district for people in the district.

There were numerous capital investments in the district:

● 11 public schools received funding for renovations to their bathrooms
● 11 public schools received funding for new water fountain/water bottle refill stations
● 9 public schools received funding for technology upgrades
● 3 public schools got electrical wiring enhancements to facilitate AC installation
Additionally the community prioritized funding for:
● Technology upgrades in all 4 area libraries
● Subway Kiosks in all stations districtwide
● An outdoor reading space at Forest Hills Library
● Bus Countdown clocks at key stops
● NYPD Security Cameras

The District Committee for Participatory Budgeting in District 29 asked the following three questions:

1. Will you continue Participatory Budgeting in District 29?
2. Council Member Koslowitz allocated $1M of her discretionary budget annually to
Participatory Budgeting. Are you willing to invest the same or more? If more, how
much would you allocate?
3. Are you committed to ensuring that all capital projects yet to be completed before
Council Member Koslowitz leaves office are completed?

The committee received responses from 8 of the 10 candidates.

There was no reply from Avi Cyperstein or Michael Conigliaro.

Aleda Gagarin, David Aronov, Donghui Zang, Doug Shapiro, Eliseo Labayen, Ed Wong, Lynn Schulman, and Sheryl Fetik have all committed to continuing Participatory Budgeting in District 29.

When asked how much of the Council Members discretionary budget the candidates were willing to allocate to this process, Schulman, Wong, and Zang all indicated they would maintain the status quo at $1M.

Fetik and Shapiro indicated a desire to increase the $1M allocation, yet weren’t able to commit to a specific amount. Aronov, former staff member to Councilwoman Koslowitz, would allocate $1.5 million if elected. Gagarin, committed to allocating $2M – for that to be our floor, and pending the size of our discretionary budget, we could ideally allocate $3M.

Photo Provided By: Heather Dimitriadis , District 29 PB Commitee

Currently, City Council Members are allocated $5M in Discretionary Capital Funding. Which makes the $9.8M allocation as proposed by Labayen pretty unachievable at this point in time. But we applaud the exuberant dedication to Participatory Budgeting.

As to what Participatory Budgeting would look like under the leadership of each of these candidates – Doug Shapiro would “…like to (make it) much more inclusive for all four neighborhoods in our district.” Aleda Gagarin wants to “….include expense projects if possible, since so many local community organizations are doing incredible work as well.”

District 39 in Brooklyn under Brad Lander’s leadership has found that a PB process that includes expense projects allows their district to serve more people, more immediately.

*The District Committee for PB in District 29 is under the leadership of – Anisia Ayon, Heather Beers-Dimitriadis, Judith Berman, Alejandra Diaz-Houston, Bruce Grossberg, Soumaly King, Mark Laster, Nina Lipton, and Jean Silva.

** Heather E. Beers-Dimitriadis has been a resident of Rego Park for over 21 years. She has served on the Citywide Committee for Participatory Budgeting (City Council) and presently serves on the Participatory Budget Advisory Group to the Civic Engagement Commission. Heather also presently serves on Community Board 6 as Vice-Chair of Finance and Co-Chair of the Education, Library and Youth Committee.

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