By Patricia Adams
Three months after a powerful re-election victory — capturing 58 percent of the vote — Councilman Eric Ulrich is meeting the challenges of his work at City Hall head on, and with a smile. “I love my job,” the 25-year-old quips, and behind the big toothy grin that accompanies the statement, is a definable air of truth.
Ulrich, one of five Republicans on the council, speaks plainly about the current economic and political climate he is facing. “The city is going through unprecedented challenges and there are so many difficult decisions to be made by the council.”
Among the most crucial are those that involve consolidating services and cuts to funding. “It’s almost like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” a look of concern appears as the newly appointed Minority Whip continues; “Do you fire cops, teachers? Do you close firehouses? The decisions we make obviously have to be the ones best for everyone, but none of them come easily or without consequence.”
While it’s much easier to be an elected official in good times, Ulrich seems determined to make the most out of whatever these times can bear. On his agenda for the upcoming year is a pilot program he is investigating for high school students. “There is tremendous focus on Regent’s testing in our public high schools, but no focus on a crucial step in the preparation for college, the SAT’s.”
The councilman has met with executives from Stanley Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions and is currently in negotiations for institutional instruction rates with the testing experts. “Kaplan has a strong track record and they guarantee elevated scores.” The program would be the first of its kind in Queens and ongoing negotiations also include a strategic progress tracking for enrolled students.
In addition to meetings with Kaplan, Ulrich sat with each of the high school principals in his district and discussed establishing one SAT prep course in each of the 5 schools. The focus is on results and he says it’s imperative to give students who want to succeed the opportunity to do so. “For these kids a boost in their SAT score could mean admission to a more desirable college or a scholarship.” The program, which will be funded entirely through the councilman’s budget, will make the course available to those who would otherwise be unable to take it due to prohibitive costs.
Among other items on his agenda for the district is the expansion of the successful graffiti cleanup program he began back in August. “We’ve had great results and people really feel the impact of the program on their quality of life.” He is particularly enthusiastic about adding the Liberty Avenue corridor to the project and also about taking the initiative to a “higher” level. “In addition to the same type of cleanup initiative, we will expand the program to target graffiti on second floors and the tops of buildings.
Education is a priority for Ulrich and this year his plans are to direct more capital money to district schools. “I’ve met with principals and administrators throughout the district and we have successfully identified the needs of individual schools.” To that end Ulrich says he is committed to addressing the diverse needs of district schools.
On the immediate horizon for the councilman is a trip to Israel as part of a 13-member contingency from the New York City Council. The group that includes Ulrich and Council Speaker Quinn will travel to the Middle East on Saturday and return on February 26.
One of the real upsides of the venture according to Ulrich is that it is not being funded at all by taxpayer dollars. “The entire trip has been arranged and paid for by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the City of New York.” The purpose of the trip is for council members to meet with journalists, elected officials and state leaders, police and military.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to speak with people who deal with the looming threat of terrorism every day,” Ulrich said. “There are so many ideas and valuable experiences we can bring back to the city with us.” The delegation was chosen by the speaker and put together to include ethnic, political and gender diversity. “It’s a true reflection of the makeup of our city council,” said Ulrich, “and it’s a very unique and exciting opportunity.”
And on the more “normal” side of life for the City Council’s youngest member, he celebrated his 25th birthday on Saturday evening with a few close friends and family members at a quiet dinner party hosted by wife Yadira. “I was a little disappointed they didn’t bring Tiny with them,” Ulrich says laughingly referring to the couple’s Yorkshire terrier. His joking is something Ulrich maintains everyone around him has had to get used to. “I always try to introduce a little levity and keep my sense of humor on deck. I take my responsibility very seriously but we have to maintain good spirits—we’ll get through all of this. We just have a lot of hard work to do.”
As for the whirlwind Republican climate he’s a part of, Ulrich says there’s much to be hopeful about in the future. “Electing Republicans on a local level is a testament to the decision by voters, to cross party lines and elect candidates on issues not ideological platforms.” And Ulrich says he believes strongly that the trend will continue. “I value and respect the honor that my constituents displayed in electing me. And if I didn’t deliver for them, I fully expect they would not return me to office.”
The immediate future for Eric Ulrich is crystal clear — “I have no plans beyond doing the best job I can in the Council. Anyway for me it’s not a job, public service is a calling.” And then comes the levity again—“I am sure my wife has a few things to add to the list of my future plans, and if you think you can’t fight City Hall…”