Lawmaker takes oath of office vowing probe of ‘where this Sandy money is going’
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mark Treyger, a public school teacher turned politician, set an ambitious agenda for his first year in the City Council, telling hundreds of supporters at his swearing in ceremony on Sunday that he will push for an investigation to ensure that Superstorm Sandy relief funds are properly spent and that he also will devote much of his time in office to education reform.
“We have serious challenges to confront together,” Treyger (D-Coney Island-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) said in a speech that followed a ceremony at John Dewey High School in Gravesend in which he symbolically took his oath of office. He was actually sworn into his City Council post on Jan. 1.
While it was only ceremonial in nature, the Jan. 26 ceremony gave him the opportunity to celebrate the start of his life as an elected official with his family, friends, and supporters, he said. The audience included lawmakers, political activists, judges, civic leaders, and members of the clergy.
The event was hosted by Assemblyman William Colton (D-Gravesend-Bensonhurst). Treyger started out in politics as a volunteer in Colton’s district office and the assemblyman has served as a mentor to him over the past 10 years. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer administered the oath of office.
Taking a swipe at Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Treyger said he disagreed with the former mayor’s assertion last year that the city had fully come back from Superstorm Sandy. “I knew we couldn’t be back before our families are back,” he said, adding that thousands of residents in the Coney Island end of his council district are still struggling to rebuild their homes and businesses. What the city and state should do, according to Treyger, is “give Coney Island residents the skills to rebuild their own neighborhood.”
Last week, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito created a new Recovery and Resiliency Committee to oversee Sandy relief funds and rebuilding projects and installed Treyger as its first chairman. As chairman, Treyger said he would “investigate where this Sandy money is going.”
Treyger, who taught Civics at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst for many years before running for public office in November, said “being an educator is the most rewarding profession ever” and that the Bloomberg Administration’s focus on standardized testing of students was wrongheaded. “Allow teachers to teach to students’ strengths and not exploit their weaknesses,” he said to thunderous applause.
In his speech, Treyger spoke movingly about being the son of Jewish Ukrainian immigrants and the grandson of Holocaust survivors. It taught him about freedom and responsibility, he said.
The councilman said that when people asked him if making the decision to run for public office mad him nervous, he thought of the hardships his family had endured and realized his choice wasn’t hard at all. One of his grandmothers was sent to a concentration camp during World War II. His other grandmother lived in a ghetto “and was almost killed by the Nazis because she forgot to wear the Star of David,” he said. Under Nazi rule, Jews were required to wear the Star of David on their outer clothing so that they could be isolated from the rest of the population.
Living in the Ukraine under Soviet rule was hard for his mother and father, Tatyana and Naim Treyger, he said. The KGB stopped and questioned Naim Treyger on the street for listening to radio coverage from the West of the Arab-Israeli War in 1967, he said.
His parents left the Ukraine and came to the US to make a better life, Treyger said. “They arrived in a new land without a penny to their name” and build a life here, he said.
The nearly three-hour-long ceremony featured a litany of elected officials who were called to the stage one by one by Colton to congratulate Treyger. The speakers included Mark-Viverito, Schumer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Borough President Eric Adams, US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, state Sen. Diane Savino, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, Assemblyman Peter Abbate, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Councilman David Greenfield, Councilman Vincent Gentile and former New York City comptroller John Liu.
Adams pledged to work with the new councilman to improve the lives of Brooklyn residents. “This is an 1883 moment,” the borough president told the audience. “That was when the Brooklyn Bridge opened. In the first few days, people were afraid to walk on the bridge. They were afraid to walk over water,” he said.
Today is similar, Adams said, because “people are scared and unsure” in the current economic climate. The goal is to “build strong elected officials to carry the community,” he said.