Last night, during what was billed as a "virtual" town hall meeting live from Albany, Pedro Espada, the state senator and Senate majority leader, announced that he now favors tolling four East River bridges.
Charging motorists $2 dollar per crossing would generate $525 million of revenue each year, Espada said, and "directly pay for the free students MetroCards" the MTA is threatening to abolish.
His decision to support the tolls is something of an about face. Last year, he helped crush a similar plan.
Espada's constituents and other interested parties were able to watch yesterday's meeting online or on BRONXNET, or listen in by phone. Questions could be submitted beforehand as well as during the event. Most pertained to the economy and the budget. Aside from tolling bridges, Espada said he's proposing raising additional revenue by charging non-profits property tax.
If you were hoping to hear Espada talk about Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation into his healthcare network, or address concerns that his housing bill may benefit landlords, you would have been disappointed. If tough questions were asked, the moderator ignored them.
Some additional thoughts:
Espada deserves credit for at least trying something like this. Many (most?) Bronx politicians have never held a town hall meeting - virtual or otherwise.
Nineteen people, myself included, watched the meeting online, according to the counter at the bottom of the live stream. Presumably a few more saw it on BRONXNET or listened in by phone. If several others later watch it on Youtube or on his Web site, then the meeting was - ultimately - quite well "attended."
This format doesn't allow for much back-and-forth. A question was asked (or rather the moderator relayed a question) and Espada responded, speaking for five minutes or so. Then they moved onto the next one. Shouldn't townhall meetings be more informal? More animated?
The moderator had opportunities to ask Espada good follow-up questions, but seemed more interested in praising him instead. At one point she told him, "You are a staunch advocate for civil rights, that's for sure." It would have been helpful if her agenda - whatever it was - was made clear. Or, better still, if someone else had run the show.
When we mentioned on Friday that this town hall meeting was scheduled, several readers left comments on the post criticizing the idea. You can read them here.