The head of the City Council’s Small Business Committee scolded entrepreneurs in his district because they wouldn’t help pay for an anti-bike lane lawsuit filed by an attorney with ties to his own staff lawyer.
“Some of the people in this room should be embarrassed that they didn’t partake in the … lawsuit,” Bronx Councilman Mark Gjonaj told an October meeting of the Morris Park Business Improvement District, which advocates for local shops.
“They say, ‘Someone else could do it. I don’t have to dig into my pocket,’” he continued. “Only a few did it. That lawsuit cost $25,000.
“It didn’t come out of my campaign — it was personal money.”
He was referring to a lawsuit against city Transportation Department plans to create a so-called road diet for Morris Park Ave. The plans entail narrowing the road and creating bike lanes and new spaces to make left turns.
Gjonaj, four local businesses and a community association filed the suit in April. It resulted in an injunction that a judge overturned in October. The plaintiffs subsequently appealed, costing them $10,000 in extra legal fees, according to Gjonaj.
Lawyer John Parker represented the plaintiffs. He works out of a tiny office on City Island in the Bronx where the staff legal counsel for Gjonaj runs his private practice. The two have the same receptionist.
Neither Parker nor Gjonaj’s staff attorney, Ted Pryor, immediately responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for Gjonaj said Parker does not actually work for Pryor.
But a local bike safety activist who closely followed the lawsuit said he saw Pryor attending the court proceedings, where the lawyer sat in the gallery taking notes.
That activist, Michael Kaess, also went to the Oct. 25 meeting in which Gjonaj scolded small business owners.
“Out of all the causes that (Gjonaj) would put his own money into, putting all that money into defeating a safer street really rubs me the wrong way,” Kaess told the Daily News.
“That is very questionable if the Council member is asking for people to give money in a way that benefits someone associated with him,” added Kaess, a programmer who works in finance.
Gjonaj doubled down on his remarks at the meeting.
“At the request of the community, I joined their efforts to seek a compromise. I was simply encouraging those that voiced opposition to the plan to do whatever they could to ensure that their voices were heard,” he said in a statement.
But another street safety activist was outraged.
“It seems like he’s pandering to a few who support him financially or otherwise, while berating and belittling the small businesses that he is the chairman of in the City Council,” said Kevin Deloia, who regularly attends meetings of local Community Board 11, which overwhelmingly voted against the road diet.
CB 11’s chairman Al D’Angelo, who said he helped pay for the lawsuit, was fine with Gjonaj’s approach to the Morris Park BID meeting.
“Everybody there was against it, and yet only a handful of people gave money to the lawyer,” said D’Angelo, who owns Side Street, a sporting goods store.
“He wasn’t browbeating them or anything like that,” D’Angelo added. “In fact, he got an ovation. I think people just needed a wake-up call.”