Speed cameras, debates, and summer politics

Good morning again from amExpress. New York news hasn’t exactly slid into its usual summer doldrums, and after a week away there’s plenty to talk about. So enjoy this special edition as we catch you up on some important local stories.

Speed cameras get a green light

A temporary state program operating speed cameras near NYC schools has led to safer driving and saved lives, according to city officials. Sounds like a pretty safe election-year issue: kids with bookbags being protected from speeders. But the State Legislature closed up shop for the year without extending the program, and most of the cameras stopped being used to issue summonses in July.

The Democrat-controlled Assembly passed an extension — and expansion — of the program, but that didn’t get through the Republican-controlled State Senate. So Democrats and street safety advocates have spent weeks railing against Republicans and calling for legislators to return to Albany to settle the issue.

They haven’t, arguing instead that they wouldn’t have minded a simple extension of the program, which wasn’t advanced during session. Apparently, adding new lifesaving cameras was a bridge too far.

An election season when Democrats are already angry at Republicans is not a great time for such distinctions. Republicans like Sen. Marty Golden of Brooklyn, who once opposed speed cameras near schools, are mostly left twisting in the wind.

On the other hand, Democrats get to come to the rescue. With school starting next week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson have cobbled together some stopgap actions that gives the city the right to use the cameras for fines again. Cuomo signed his executive order on Monday, calling it an “emergency situation” and also thanking de Blasio, a rare case of the two oft-feuding Democrats working together even on an issue that benefits both.

A great debate

It’s election season, remember? Gov. Andrew Cuomo is facing challenger Cynthia Nixon, the actress and education activist, and the two will meet for a debate on Wednesday at Hofstra University on Long Island.

The scheduled sparring itself is more than Cuomo’s last primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout, got in 2014. But will people pay attention in the quiet week before Labor Day? Prove the cynics wrong and tune in at 7 p.m., online or elsewhere.

Neither campaign is playing the usual parlor game of naming the person playing the opponent during debate prep. There has been little released on how the candidates are getting ready. But look to see whether Nixon can show mastery over state issues, and whether Cuomo can refrain from being insulting or saying something weird, always a possibility (see his contorted “America was never that great” remark).

The debate location — the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex on Hofstra’s Long Island campus — will be somewhat familiar to both candidates. In May, it was the site of the state Democratic convention, when party chieftains met to decide on the party’s official nominee (ahead of the Sept. 13 primary). Cuomo won with 95 percent of the convention vote.

Nixon still showed up, making what her campaign says was her first visit to Hofstra.

Cuomo had been in the arena before, as an invited guest of Hillary Clinton when Hofstra hosted the first 2016 presidential debate. In 2010, he visited Hofstra for his own general election gubernatorial debate.

A week in Brooklyn

Last week was “City Hall in Your Borough” week for Brooklyn, a periodic event when the mayor focuses on some local fund distribution and constituent-meeting. This was Brooklyn’s turn.

Did you know that Mayor Bill de Blasio, who used to live close to Prospect Park and still travels miles to go to a YMCA on Ninth Street, loves Brooklyn? On Friday, he waxed rhapsodic about the park, where his kids used to play in the playgrounds, where they participated in Little League, and where “Chirlane and I got married under a tree,” he said.

Those remarks, according to a transcript from the mayor’s office, came while de Blasio was announcing nearly $9 million in funding to restore Grand Army Plaza, the formal entrance to the park and home of the Soldiers and Sailors Arch, dedicated in 1892 in honor of Union forces during the Civil War.

The arch has had good and bad moments. In 1976, a “Columbia” statue representing the United States fell out of her chariot.

The $9 million will allow for the most extensive restoration work on the arch since that era. Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver even intimated on Friday that people might be able to tour the inside of the arch, a sort of legendary elusive treat: “And now, very soon, in a few years, you’ll be able to do just that,” Silver said, according to the transcript.

When asked for more details about historic arch-exploration, a parks spokeswoman said details haven’t been finalized yet and that any opening wouldn’t be for “casual, public access.” You might have to get a tour, for example.

Still, feel free to dream, and enjoy Brooklyn’s gem of a park.