In a little over a week’s time, the book will close on 2021 with sights set on a new year. And like any other annual turnover, many will think about the New Year’s resolutions they’ll likely break, and plans for 2022.
But for city council, the end of this year means the end of an era. That’s because a majority of the council — more than 30 of its 51 members — are leaving office thanks to term limits.
That would have affected all three councilmen in this corner of the Bronx, except Andrew Cohen stepped down nearly a year ago to become a Bronx Supreme Court judge.
But sticking it out until the end are Ydanis Rodriguez and Fernando Cabrera — even if Cabrera has been largely unseen since losing a primary race for Bronx borough president last summer.
For Rodriguez — who was named as the city’s next transportation commissioner on Monday — his 12 years on the council were time spent holding onto his roots.
“I was and (still) consider myself an educator before being elected to office,” Rodriguez said. “Then when I was elected to office, I never saw myself just as an elected official, but I saw myself as an educator that had the opportunity to add my voice with my colleagues to bring initiatives.”
Rodriguez spent 15 years in the classroom as a history and American government teacher. Additionally, Rodriguez co-founded Gregorio Luperon High School for Science and Mathematics in Washington Heights.
True to form, Rodriguez is most proud of seeing significant improvements in education during his time in office. Schools in northern Manhattan were brought into good standing when it came to reading, writing, math and science for the first time during his tenure.
Rodriguez also helped introduce technology and robotics programs into many of the schools he represented while spending more than $1 million in city funds over the last couple of years expanding the City College of New York STEM Institute. That’s a program allowing low-income high school students to access college-level science, technology, engineering and math courses.
“I can say, with the support of my colleagues, with the participation of parents, students, academics, members of the private sector … we can say that we are leaving the council in the next few days (with) the education in northern Manhattan in good quality,” Rodriguez said. “Still, much more has to be done.”
As chair of the council’s transportation committee, Rodriguez feels he’s helped to make the city’s transportation infrastructure more environmentally friendly. Something that’s increasingly important as extreme weather events like the remnants of Hurricanes Ida and Sandy become more common in this part of the country.
“Everything that we’ve been getting in the last 20 years is a reminder that climate change is real,” the councilman said. “It’s the result of having so many trucks (on) the Cross Bronx (Expressway). It’s the result of having so many buildings contaminating our city. And I think that we in our 12 years have been able to make the city greener.”
This can be seen, in the city’s efforts to build bike lanes, Rodriguez said, as well as the expansion of the e-bike and bike-share programs across the five boroughs.
Rodriguez hopes the new council will continue several transportation initiatives started during his tenure that are not quite complete. Like highlighting the need for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to increase subway accessibility by adding elevators to many of the stations that don’t have them.
“We highlighted in many of the stations, starting with the West 242nd Street 1 train, the need to get elevators at stations such as 242nd,” Rodriguez said. “We said it didn’t make sense that someone that is in a wheelchair and needs the train, who lives on Dyckman (Street), had to use the downtown side of the 1 train that has (the) elevator. Go down to 96th Street at the next station, they could transfer in order to come back to West 231st and Broadway.”
Rodriguez also contributed to impproving public and affordable housing in his district, like a $500,000 project he brought to the Marble Hill Community Center to update the facility’s bathrooms and community spaces. He also secured hundreds of new affordable housing units for Inwood when the city passed a controversial rezoning for the neighborhood in 2018.
Cabrera, who represents part of Kingsbridge Heights, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. The outgoing councilman — who chaired the government operations committee — however did reflect on his time in City Hall during the body’s final stated meeting last week.
“What can I say after 12 years?” Cabrera said. “Twelve amazing years. We had an amazing ride. Every time I go through those gates, from day one to this day, I’m so humbled by the opportunity that I had. And I want to thank God and my constituents for the opportunity. And my staff, many who stuck with me for the last 12 years.”
It’s unclear what Cabrera will do since his defeat for the Bronx’s top job to his council colleague Vanessa Gibson earlier this year. He’ll be replaced on the council by Pierina Sanchez.
Taking over for Rodriguez is Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa. When Eric Adams is sworn in as mayor Jan. 1, Rodriguez will take his own oath, replacing Henry Gutman.
But whether it was making improvements to public education, transportation or housing, Rodriguez says everything he did during his time on the council was guided by the values of “dignity, honesty and transparency.”
“Overall, I can say that those are the most important things,” the councilman said. “I can say that the most important legacy is that I conducted my life with the same value of social justice that I grew up (with) back in my countryside town in the Dominican Republic.”