Wednesday, January 04, 2006

SoHo Perspectives

The air is thick with intrigue in SoHo politics. As former Borough President Virginia Fields' legacy is evaluated, the vote is still out who or what will be left standing on the Community Board battleground. What is clear is that the damage done by the Nightlife crew in supporting Maria Derr as Chair of the Board, utilizing the skills and power wielded by Fields in ensuring her election, will be felt for some time to come.

Aside from marginalizing SoHo as a financial, social and political entity among the mostly Greenwich Village members on the Board (90%), the more concerning split is between Nightlife Business members and The Community -- and, which is, or should be, more empowered. Right now, with the support of Chamber of Commerce members and Bar/Restaurant owners calling all of the shots, residents of the Board #2's communities take a back seat in quality of life issues. So, it's booze first and Quality of Life last.

Former members of the Board like Honi Klein and Anne Arlen, controversial people in their own right -- as well as Greenwich Village residents, were emphatically concerned with the Community FIRST. Klein, in fact, is the Executive Director of the Village Alliance, which is not exactly anti-Business. But, she has her priorities straight. People like Klein and Arlen are off the Board because they were controversial and outspoken and belong back on. Ditto for former activist members like Tobi Bergman and Jo Hamilton whose appointments were blocked by Fields in her all out effort to help elect Derr as Chair of Community Board #2.

A recent example of this Nightlife v. Community conflict has been the recent Lola application. As we have reported previously, this was a controversial liquor license. With all of the twists and turns, the bottom line is that the community (SoHo in this case) had to lay out a tremendous amount of money and put great physical effort into thwarting what was going to be the next best thing to a nightclub -- a restaurant/bar/cabaret. Residents were offered fixed-pane windows to shield their coop bedrooms from the noise of an outside bar which would have been open until 4 a.m. Every trick in the book was used to push this through -- including gratuitous claims of discrimination -- which has become a favorite tool of the nightlife crowd when it is clear that the Community is against it. Roscio Sanz, a wealthy Latino member of Community Board #2, with several bars under her and her family's belt, has used that same card numerous times to help push through Besito Restaurant in SoHo. A more Progressive community would be hard to find, but if all else fails, Discrimination accusations is a fall-back ploy that has worked.

While the Community Board did deny Lola a liquor license, it took a great deal of effort to overcome the wishes of those Nightlife members on the Board who now control it.

Many are hopeful that Scott Stringer, the new Borough President, will do what is necessary to reconfigure Community Board #2 so that it is truly representative of the Community and will hopefully bring back some of the members that need, not just deserve, to be back on Board #2.

So far, Stringer has enunciated the correct position: That everyone will be considered and re-considered and will be properly evaluated. He is mindful of the fact, as well as appearance, of Conflict of Interest.

While we like Melinda Katz who has been a friend of SoHo and hope that she takes a strong position in the new City Council, we wish Christine Quinn best wishes in ascending to her new role as Speaker. She is a strong personality and knows Downtown issues. Her long time alliance with Senator Tom Duane and her familiarity with our problems -- pollution due to the Verrazano Bridge toll reversal, unpatrolled traffic crosswalks, illegal billboards, oversaturation of liquor licenses -- just to name a few -- is a good basis for knowing the job that faces her. Her tough attitude could be a plus for SoHo, Hudson Square and Downtown in general in getting a better deal in this City, if she wishes to help us. By the big hug she gave David Gruber of the Carmine Street Neighborhood Association, it appears that the Village will do well during her tenure. Perhaps she will help David and his people get the signage removed at Abatino Pizza which is driving the natives crazy. They should live in SoHo if signs make them nuts -- our area is festooned with illegal and just plain obnoxious billboards 30 or 40 feet high, lit up 24 hours a day and shining into people's apartments -- courtesy of VanWagner Communications or ClearChannel. No City official seems to have had the ability or will to do anything about it. Now those video screens are popping up on our subway entrances as well. Does the name Bloomberg sound familiar with regard to media?

That the Mayor has not shown any interest in SoHo and the proliferation of illegal billboards and repeated invasions of film crews on our streets in what is supposed to be a "Hot Zone" demeans the quality of life of our residents. His Commissioner of Buildings, Lancaster, has all but cut off any discourse with the community and no action has been taken against these offensive eyesores. Not one sign has come down in SoHo, despite the years of complaints and press coverage. The owner of 366 West Broadway/505 Broome Street complained one day that if he gave up the $15,000 monthly lease for each of two signs, he would have trouble paying for his child's schooling. So, fuck the community.

Let's hope Chris Quinn remembers the community.

Keep your eyes on the support of Assembly Member Deborah Glick for re-election. Tougher than Christine Quinn when she disagrees with you, she is clearly a Community supporter. In fact, she has been criticized by the Nightlife people for being anti-bar (which she is not). The bottom line is that she is not afraid to take on monied interests in supporting the residents rather than large contribution organizations. She is independent and tough. To contact "Friends of Deborah Glick" regarding contributions to her campaign, call 212-684-3191.

The powerful Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation has finally weighed in on SoHo developments -- and this is an important development for those who are wary of multi-level condominium projects that threaten to destroy the character of our community. Andrew Berman, one Downtown's political assets, appeared recently at a demonstration to emphasize the importance of protecting our historical architectural heritage. As he "manned the barricades" at the Tunnel Garage on Thompson and Broome Street with other demonstrators carrying placards, he gave new life and meaning to efforts by activists in the SoHo community. We hope this is a portent of new activism to come.

Finally, Carlos Manzano, president of the McManus Midtown Democratic Club and former candidate for Borough President advises us that he is gearing up for his next political move and has moved his constituent office to 321 West 44th Street (2nd floor). During the period in which he assess his next candidacy for office, he let us know that he has taken on some additional assignments. He is now member of the Board of Directors of En Foco, a non-profit organization dedicated to photography representative of African, Asian, Latino, and Native American artist. The website is www.enfoco.org. He also informed us that he is now associated with ARDOR Realty, a company that handles rental, co-op and condo sales, and commercial leasing. So that if any of you want any help with your real estate needs, Carlos would be delighted to help you find what you need. His e-mail address at the company is cmanzano@ardorny.com, or by phone, at (917)751-0186.

1 comment:

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