Vol. 18, No. 17 Sept. 8 - 21, 2005


Koppell Banks on Record, Experience in Race


After more than 30 years in politics, Oliver Koppell is understandably quite confident in his ability to win elections. “Quite honestly, I’ve run a lot of campaigns and I think I know what to do,” said Koppell, 64, wearing a large “Koppell for City Council” button on his lapel.

Despite the self-assuredness, Koppell is not neglecting his bid for reelection to his Council seat in District 11. He campaigns at subway stations every morning, has visited senior centers and shopping strips, and has mailed leaflets to 200,000 residents — more than during his first Council race in 2001.

“I think we’ve done everything that we need to do,” he said.

Koppell is campaigning on his attentiveness to local issues and needs, like funding Norwood youth programs and helping to open the Bedford Park Senior Center. He is proud of his outspokenness against the filtration plant and the overhaul of the Bronx Meals on Wheels program, and thinks both can still be reversed.

“If we get a new mayor, I think we can stop [the plant],” said Koppell during an interview at the Norwood News last week. “We can fill the hole up. I haven’t changed my view.” He is also looking to rescind the Meals on Wheels pilot, which is up for review this fall.

If reelected, Koppell said he will help start a Business Improvement District in the East 204th Street and Bainbridge Avenue shopping district. He also wants to see more cops in that area. Last month, he met with the 52nd Precinct’s commander to discuss concerns about drugs on the strip and along Jerome Avenue.

The Kingsbridge Armory is important to Koppell, even thought it’s not in his district, and he pledges to continue working with Assemblyman and Bronx Democratic Chair Jose Rivera, a former foe he has gotten closer to, to push the governor on the stalled development. “I think it’s the governor’s responsibility, there’s no doubt,” said Koppell, referring to the task of finding another location for the armory’s remaining National Guard companies. He sees the armory as the linchpin to creating more schools in the area, but didn’t have ideas of other possible school sites.

Koppell met with Tracey Towers management and tenants last week to discuss the buildings’ hefty repair needs, and he hopes to secure a sizable grant or low-interest loan for them next year. “There is a significant improvement at Tracey Towers, but it’s not enough,” he said.

Another priority for Koppell is targeting local problem buildings for a new city housing inspection program. He intends to push several pieces of environmental legislation, and create more incentives for affordable housing.

For the current budget, Koppell brought $4 million in capital funds to the district, an increase from his first three years on the Council. Koppell was long aligned against Bronx Democratic regulars and was a backbencher for most of his first term in the Council. He has since come in from the cold, becoming a close ally of Council Speaker Gifford Miller and working with Rivera and his daughter, Naomi, a freshman member of the Assembly.

Koppell would love to be chosen as the Council’s next speaker, but isn’t overly optimistic about his chances. “Politically, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, [but] I think I would be the best person for it,” he said, smiling. “I guess I’m not modest.”

He also doesn’t mince words fending off his challenger’s attacks. “It’s poppycock,” said Koppell in response to an accusation that he spends more hours in his part-time legal practice than with the Council. Koppell contends that he works over 40 hours a week on Council affairs, and is at City Hall four days a week. He says he averages roughly 15 hours a week at the law office.

“I have one of the best attendance records in the Council,” he said. In response to another of Hoffnung’s attacks, Koppell denied that his office hours are limited, saying that most Council people do not offer evening service.

Koppell counts endorsements from 45 of the 51 Council members, and he’s been out campaigning with Assemblywoman Rivera and other elected officials. The Riverdale-based Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club has been calling voters, and 75 volunteers have distributed some 80,000 leaflets. It’s that support that led Koppell to select his 22-year-old daughter, Jackie, to run his campaign.

“I felt it would be good for her and good for me,” said Koppell, who has two daughters and three grandchildren.

If he defeats Ari Hoffnung, Koppell can only serve one more four-year term in the Council due to term limits. He wouldn’t say what he would do afterward.

“I’m just focusing on the Council for now,” he said.

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