It’s hard to find a leader like Father Ted Hesburgh.
He led the University of Notre Dame for 35 years — transforming the school from just a football favorite to one with academic prowess. He worked under a number of presidents beginning with Dwight Eisenhower, and he even joined hands with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., singing “We Shall Overcome.”
So when Hesburgh talks about leadership, it’s hard not to listen.
“The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision,” Hesburgh once said. “It’s got to be a vision that you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”
There are times when Councilman Andrew Cohen lives up to Hesburgh’s view of leadership. But when it comes to the Special Natural Area District, he’s not only blowing that uncertain trumpet — he’s blaring it.
During a Community Board 8 land use committee meeting last week, Cohen took center stage as if he were Boris Johnson during the British Parliament’s “question time.” Cohen wanted to make it clear he has finally taken a position on the city planning department’s attempt to reinvent SNAD as the Special Natural Resources District. It’s a position he took last month in front of the City Planning Commission as well — he would vote against SNRD if it appeared in front of the city council in its current form.
That’s great. That’s what many in the community — including a near consensus from the community board — wanted to hear.
What is needed is a clear direction. The city planning department knows SNRD has no chance of making it through the city council if the councilman who represents the affected area is against it. So they are going to do what they can to win his support — including implementing what he believes should be part of a revised greenbelt plan.
Cohen doesn’t have those answers, however. He’s simply waiting to see what the City Planning Commission comes up with and will then react to it.
React. It’s an interesting word, and not one that is usually applied to leaders. There is reaction, and then there’s pro-action. For those we elect to represent us, we want someone who will be proactive, not reactive.
Cohen’s counterparts on Staten Island figured that out quickly. They made it clear where their position was, and it wasn’t one favorable to passing SNRD. And it wasn’t long after the city planning department snuck the plan out of Staten Island practically in the middle of the night.
Cohen fears that not allowing the process to continue — even broken — will result in no changes to a SNAD that needs an update. Maybe that’s true. But the city planning department broke this process the moment they demanded CB8 vote on something they couldn’t even read.
We hear your trumpet, Councilman Cohen. But we don’t have a clue what song you’re trying to play.