NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Is a 7-year-old girl a pawn in the fight over a waste transfer station on the Upper East Side?
The facility under construction at 91st Street and the East River could impact thousands of families. But as CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang reported, the new ad has fueled a fiery debate.
The waste transfer station has already drawn heated protests.
Last month, eight residents – including three elderly grandmothers, were handcuffed and hauled off to jail. They were protesting against a plan to cut down eight 30-year-old pear trees at the Asphalt Green recreation center to make way for the waste transfer station.
And in the hot debate over the waste transfer station, it seems anything goes to fight the politically-charged project. The latest weapon to try to block it is a TV commercial with a second-grader voicing her concerns.
“We deserve better. We deserve better from our city,” the girl, Nissi Kyomukama Flynn, says in the commercial. She says 3,400 children play in an adjoining field, and “trucks driving where children play is just dangerous.”
CBS 2 wanted to find out who Nissi is, and why she was chosen for the ad. It turned out that single mom Jillian Flynn adopted Nissi from Uganda two years ago, and they live four blocks from the construction site – right next to Asphalt Green where Nissi goes to camp.
A garbage truck ramp would cut right through the Asphalt Green compound, and the large and popular recreation center is a partner in the ad campaign.
When Nissi was asked in an interview why she thought it would be scary to be around the big trucks, she shrugged and did not answer. She appeared to be shy and nervous like any 7-year-old, but also paying attention to her mother, who was off camera prompting her, Jiang reported.
A representative of Asphalt Green told CBS 2 Nissi’s lines in the TV ad were scripted, and she did “audition” for the part. But Asphalt Green insisted that Nissi was chosen based only on her personal ties to the area.
Not everyone agrees.
“To be perfectly honest, I was disgusted when I saw that ad,” said City Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-34th), chairman of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management.
Reynoso said the commercial is misleading.
“For them, the image of affluent white property owners or real estate interests is not an attractive image for anyone in New York,” Reynoso said. “But a young black girl — to be able to send a message — is what they’re trying to use.”
Reynoso said Nissi is being used as a pawn to keep a trash facility out of one of the city’s richest neighborhood.
“This is all about them,” Reynoso said. “It’s very self-interested, and NIMBY-ism at its worst.”
But the president of the privately-funded Pledge 2 Protect organization behind the ad said Nissi is simply a real-life example of someone who will be adversely affected by the garbage facility.
“She is just a little girl, and a real face – a real face of one of the children who’s going to have harm,” said Pledge 2 Protect President Kelly Nimmo-Guenther.
Speaking to Jiang, Nissi did have something to say about the garbage transfer station – unscripted and unrehearsed. When asked if she were next to the mayor and he said the garbage facility was a good idea, Nissi responded that she would “bring him to camp, and I would show him what it would be like with all these trucks coming in.”
City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia has said there are several plans in place to mitigate the impact for people who live close by.
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