Community members and local politicians crowded the South Hall of Riverside Church Sunday afternoon to officially inaugurate Mark Levine as a City Council member for Manhattan's District 7.
"Mark Levine has been a community leader for years," Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said. "There are few people who come to the job with this wealth of experience."
The district Levine will preside over is composed of several distinctive neighborhoods—Morningside Heights, West Harlem, lower Washington Heights, and a northern portion of the Upper West Side.
Community members say that uniting and serving each of these different areas equally will be one of Levine's biggest challenges.
"The concerns of a wealthy, elderly Upper West Sider are simply not the same as those of a West Harlem family living in an affordable housing unit," District 7 resident Craig Harris said.
However, the local politicians and residents at the inauguration believe that Levine is up to the challenge.
"Mark Levine is a true coalition-builder," State Sen. Adriano Espaillat said. "Under his leadership, I'm confident that any gaps can be bridged."
Levine delivered parts of his inaugural address in Spanish—perhaps recognizing the Hispanic majority population in the northern parts of his district.
At a recent meeting of the Broadway Democrats, Levine pointed to education, housing, and transportation as some of his political priorities.
He said that he supports Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposal to increase income taxes on the wealthy to supply funding for preschool education and junior high after-school programs, and wants further development of permanent affordable housing.
"I want New York to be a place that works for everyone," he said, "Where people of all incomes have an affordable place to live, a good school for their kids, and a job that pays a living wage."
He said he also wants to continue to push for extending Select Bus Service on 125th Street, a measure that was hotly debated last year and that would speed up the slow buses by constructing bus-only lanes along the street.
"I'm sure any of you who have ridden the M60 know that something needs to change. The bus speed is slower than most pedestrians," Levine said to the Broadway Democrats. "This is unacceptable, especially for an important transportation corridor like 125th Street."
The City Council announced last week that Levine will chair the Committee on Parks and Recreation, in addition to serving on five other committees—Education, Housing and Buildings, Finance, Governmental Operations, and Rules, Privileges and Elections.
"Parks help unite neighborhoods together," Levine said. "I want to make sure this is true in all parts of the city, not just the wealthier areas."
Politicians and residents alike said they are optimistic about the council member's ability to enact change.
"Mark Levine will never put himself before the needs of his community," local resident Elaine Epstein said. "I think he'll do what he says he's gonna do."
District 10 City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez said, "With Mark's fierce commitment to progressive principles, New York City stands to benefit immensely over the next four years and beyond."
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