Prospect Park

OPINION: Before Mayor de Blasio goes to work at City Hall, he works out at Prospect Park Y

February 24, 2015 By Jennifer Weiss For the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In this Nov. 6, 2013, photo, Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, leave their house in Park Slope. While the mayor and his family now reside at Gracie Mansion in Manhattan, de Blasio still frequents the Prospect Park YMCA in his old neighborhood. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Some mornings when I approach the entrance of the Prospect Park YMCA on 9th Street in Brooklyn, there are tell-tale signs that the mayor is inside. It could be the black SUVs out front or the small entourage of plainclothes policemen and policewomen huddling outside the entrance. Once I enter, it’s just a matter of time until I spy him, his unmistakably tall frame easy to spot amongst the exercise machines and workout mats.  

Park Slope residents pay their former neighbor no mind — there are no sweaty YMCA patrons rushing up to the mayor to take a selfie, no one following him around (except for the plainclothes officers) trying to determine his next exercise move, and if an eager person has attempted to push their pet issue while stretching next to the mayor, I certainly have not seen it.

Nonetheless, when you have been exercising “with” Bill de Blasio, you invariably feel the need to tell someone about it. In my experience, the follow-on conversation usually goes in two directions:  First, there is surprise that the mayor is there at all. People question his presence at the gym at the relatively late hour of 8:30 a.m. Isn’t there some breakfast he should be attending with police officers or activist groups? Maybe he should be immersed in some policy briefing with key advisors at this hour? And isn’t there a gym at Gracie Mansion that he could use and remain out of the public eye?

The second turn the conversation takes is decidedly more generous. First there’s an acknowledgement that the mayor’s YMCA visits prove that he’s keeping ties with his old neighborhood and that he’s still “one of us,” not having jettisoned his Y membership for a swankier health club.

Then there’s the matter of the mayor, quite visibly, putting a priority on his health by incorporating regular exercise into his schedule. Is he not leading by example? Is he not implying to New Yorkers that if he can find the time to exercise shouldn’t they be able to fit in a half hour or so a day? Perhaps de Blasio’s morning time slot has been strategically chosen to increase his exposure and to inspire New Yorkers to reflect on their own commitment to health. 

And as for the mayor’s 8:30 a.m. appearances at the gym instead of in huddles with constituents or advisers, this point may be negligible. Who’s to say he didn’t come up with the blueprint for his affordable housing plan while on the treadmill?

Isn’t it possible that details for the citywide ferry system came more into focus for the mayor while he was on the stationary bike versus at his City Hall desk? Exercise has been proven to boost creative thinking, so it’s best to encourage it — not only for the mayor but for all of our legislators.  Just imagine if it became the antidote to political gridlock. 

Former Mayor Bloomberg, during his tenure, invested in many critical public health efforts that have undeniably resulted in a healthier city. Mayor de Blasio appears to be pressing forward with many of his predecessor’s programs as well as pursuing his own signature health initiatives, such as diverting people with mental health needs from the criminal justice system into treatment and increasing the number of community health centers throughout the city.  Is there room for a de Blasio campaign on physical fitness as well?  I’ll be seeing the mayor at the Y later this week — I’ll let you know. 

Jennifer Weiss is a public health consultant working with New York City-based non-profits. She is a non-fiction writer and, with her husband, Lenny Benardo, coauthored “Brooklyn by Name: How the Streets, Parks, Neighborhoods, Bridges and More Got Their Names” (NYU Press), and “Citizen-in-Chief” (Harper Collins).