This week there was an impressive joint meeting held by Zella Jones and the NoHo Neighborhood Association, Sean Sweeney and the SoHo Alliance and Rob Hollander and LESA, the Lower East Side Alliance. In part, it was sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and the SoHo Journal. The forum was very well attended by a crowd of several hundred residents and many downtown pols -- including Tom Duane, Martin Connor and Scott Stringer, as well as representatives from Deborah Glick's office, Alan Gerson's office, Rosie Mendez' office, Sheldon Silver's office and the Mayor's office.
Manhattan Borough D.O.T. Commissioner Margaret Forgione, Parks Department's Bill Castro, and the Police Brass were in attendance as well.
In other words, folks, it was a meeting that should not have been missed and NBC as well as NY1 were on hand to hear what was being said.
In a well organized agenda, speeches were made by Zella Jones, Sean Sweeney and Claudia Flanagan of LESA, and the gist of it was this: stop the proliferation of bars that are ruining our communities -- start paying attention to the fact that we can't cross the streets unmolested by cars and trucks -- and start talking to us about the out of control zoning in our neighborhoods.
Claudia Flanagan made a compelling case for the neglect of our communities by the S.L.A., for example, as she cited the fact that 4500 liquor licenses have been approved Downtown in the 10003, 10012, and 10013 zip codes alone.
Zella Jones made a case that the more bars that are allowed to open downtown, the higher the commercial rents go for retail space -- making it impossible for small shops, food stores and service establishments to afford the rent. And, therefore, this bar saturation is depriving our neighborhoods of other necessary services.
We have become the open bar and late night game room for the Tri-state area. Times Square, High Noon at the OK Corral, and Coney Island -- all rolled into one big party-time for our families to endure.
As Claudia Flanagan told the packed audience, including the politicians and media that were present, "The community is putting you on notice" and we are going to make our voices heard.
Some of the politicians did hear the message and some took it to heart even before the meeting.
Deborah Glick's office announced that she has introduced two new bills to afford oversight and greater community involvement in the S.L.A. approval process.
Scott Stringer suggested that residents attend the Borough Board meeting for the purposes of having input on zoning matters, S.L.A. enforcement matters and Traffic problems.
Sheldon Silver's office announced that he will be holding hearings in May and specifically asked the community to send representatives. He wants to modify the Padavan Law, known as the 500 foot rule -- so that this is more rigorously observed and enforced.
Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott pledged a meeting with Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler who is in charge of Operations (Police) in 6 weeks, to follow up on the needs of the community. He also directed all of the NYC Commissioners to remain until the end of the meeting.
As an interesting side note, Besito Restaurant in SoHo, the focus of much bad blood at Community Board #2, has seen some management changes. Even with a liquor license, business has reportedly been slow. Rumors of a possible late night club scene and "hot" music have been bandied about. Then the unthinkable happened.
A robbery was reported this week. All of the liquor, the cash register and even the phone was stolen. On West Broadway?
Well, at least it wasn't a fire. Right?
Rumors abound about what actions will be taken by the new Borough President, Scott Stringer, with regard to changes on the Community Boards. Among these, is a rumor that Community Board Chair Maria Derr has been read the riot act about straightening out the mess at Board #2. Especially, with regard to the "anonymous" letters and attempts at character assassination which once again has reared its ugly heads at that Board. This traditional method of spreading around the cheer at Board #2 (which would never be tolerated at any other Board) has happened a number of times in the past and actually resulted in the passing of a resolution.
Only Board #2 has developed this rancorous reputation for trying to tarnish reputations with fraudulent, unsigned missives.
Seems that David McWater, Chair of Community Board #3, former Vice President of the New York Nightlife Association is divesting himself of bars as fast as he can. Between a just announced investigation by Eliot Spitzer involving the S.L.A., liquor companies and some bars, and the sweeps being conducted by Deputy Chief Steven Paragallo, the pressure is on. McWater reportedly owned as many as nine bars in his own Community Board turf but has dropped a couple of them.
Apparently, there are some involved at the Community Board level of politics who see no conflict running businesses that are counter to the wishes of large segments of the community -- like David McWater of Community Board #3 and Robert Rinaolo or Roscio Sanz of Community Board #2 -- and who feel compelled to force their views down the throats of many activists.
For people like these to have gained control over any community board is a testament to the power of campaign contributions. Virginia Fields packed the Boards with bar owners because the money kept flowing into her campaign coffers. The Nightlife people wrote checks as fast as they could.
Oh, and don't be fooled by those divesting themselves of bars. Rinaolo may have "sold" one of his bars, as McWater has -- but whether these are truly arms-length transactions or a ruse to permit future political moves -- given the antipathy shown by the community -- is a matter of opinion. McWater wants to run for City Council and Rinaolo has wanted to be Community Board #2 Chair for quite some time. Shills (even to run bars) are a favorite ploy among those with big egos.
But, the days of maintaining control over the community through intimidation, fear, political favors or character assassination, are over. The cat is out of the bag. The bird has flown the coop. The ship has sailed. And, the Fat Lady has definitely sung.
And, contrary to Yogi Berra's famous remark, sometimes it is over when it's over. Especially when, as Joe Mantegna says in The House of Games, if everyone is in on "the Tell."
The entire community now knows how the Nightlife people pulled this off. So, the politicians now must realign their allegiance, or leave the stage.