Sunday, March 26, 2006

No One Gets Out Alive

The untimely and unexpected death of Community Board #2's District Manager last week is another reminder of the old adage that, “Nobody gets out of this alive.” Arty Strickler was a wily, not-so-old fox who was a survivor from what is arguably the most contentious community board of them all. Certainly, in recent times, it has not been a place where you would want to dip your toe into the political waters to check the temperature – unless you don’t want to keep that particular foot. Arty knew everyone and nearly everything that was important to know. He had himself been Chair of Board #2 and survived numerous attempts to remove him and remained in power despite the displeasure of several board members as well as board chairs. J. Edgar Hoover had nothing on Arty. He could tell you who had the votes in an election and commented about the most recent election that, “A paper bag could win as Chair of this Board” because of his vote count as to who was “on our side.” He was usually right. He wasn’t prescient; he just worked at getting the best intelligence. Sometimes he moved things along.
And, while his pants were too tight, he had a curious sense of humor that seemed to fit well with his interpretation of the job. He was also a master of the “anonymous letter,” – a form of character assassination used by those who want to besmirch those whom they determine are their adversaries. It was (and apparently still is) a tool of some Board members with weak egos and underwear that’s pulled too tight.
District Manager of Community Board #2 is not an easy job.
Arty was a close personal friend of a few Board members like Bob Rinaolo (de facto Chair of Community Board #2) and less so of Maria Derr, the current Chair, and he had famous, public, running disputes with a few Board members such as Ed Gold, a personal friend of former Mayor Koch. Arty was opinionated and dictatorial at times; – but in the end, with his curious brand of ethics, he sometimes tried to reach out to people, even adversaries, to try to heal wounds in his own imitable way. Despite his sometimes-brusque manner, he really wanted people to like him and get along with each other. He kept repeating that the split on Board #2 was just for the moment and “soon everyone would be friends again.” Arty, at least, had common sense – he did not know how deep the division had become and how intransigent and rancorous the polarity was. We can thank C. Virginia Fields for dangling the carrot of money and control of the business agenda for that.
Filling his sneakers will not be an easy task and one, which, it is hoped, will be less political, and more quieting, given the current state of disaffection on Board #2.

The jockeying for Strickler’s job has already begun and a few names including Florence from the Board office have been mentioned. As of this writing, Florence had not indicated that she was ready for the position. She is a warm and intelligent young woman who is both engaging and savvy.

It has been learned, however, that the nightlife contingent which now runs the Board, operating as the Personnel Committee but is a disguised form of the Executive committee, plan on deciding who they are going to place in the District Manager position – for their benefit. Bob Rinaolo, de facto Chair, Maria Derr, acting Chair, Mark Rosenwasser, Phil Mouquinho, Brad Hoylman (Vice Chair), and Carol Yankay – are arranging to replace Arty Strickler with a Manager to do their bidding.
The Board may not like being told what to do. The new District Manager needs to be a bi-partisan selection that goes beyond politics and personal agendas or the healing process will never begin. It will then remain for
Scott Stringer to rely heavily on the knife to rectify the situation.

Arthur Schwartz’s fortunes are once again on the upswing. It appears that he will finally Chair the Advisory to the Hudson River Park Trust. The deep and murky decision-making of Maria Derr, which is now the skirt behind the Rinaolo throne at Community Board #2, has apparently decided that Schwartz should handle that assignment after personally trying her hand at it briefly. Schwartz is familiar with HRPT matters, having chaired the Waterfront committee and he has sued the Trust on a few occasions. During the mishandled Pier 40 debacle, for example, Schwartz and others, including several electeds -- were so pissed off that the opportunity to develop the pier was lost that a lawsuit ensued. It went nowhere. But, at least we have the $5 million dollar investment in playing fields to be thankful for, compliments of the now defunct Waterfront Committee that survived Schwartz.
Schwartz is also reportedly planning on challenging Larry Moss for the position of Democratic State Committeeman. If he does run against Moss, there will be some strange new bedfellows downtown and possibly some soul-searching among the political clubs.
Moss is a favorite among some electeds like Deborah Glick and Tom Duane in favor of Brad Hoylman essentially ousted Schwartz from his District Leader’s position. However, there WAS no love lost for Moss among some of the downtown political clubs—there’s no telling where that’s at right now. Moss may be back in favor.
It may actually turn out to be a contest, after all – depending upon who else decides to run. Pete Gleason seems to be opting out for the moment.

Activists Downtown have a new friend in the Development Wars.
Andrew Berman is looking more and more like a friend of SoHo, not to mention his already having conquered the hearts and minds of Greenwich Villagers. The Tunnel Garage is finally coming to its last days before demolition starts and Berman’s GVSHP has been the only organization outside of the SoHo Alliance, which has taken an active role in pushing to get some of the historical buildings in SoHo landmarked. Berman has had a crystallizing effect upon Villagers and there has been genuine progress is slowing down, and zoning down sections of downtown. Manning the barricades did not go out of vogue with student protestors – Berman’s success in getting people out to demonstrate, as he has at the Tunnel Garage – bodes well for a resurgence in genuine community activism.
While this may not be the battle where a line is drawn in the sand, it is clear that the hearts and minds of people in the community are with Berman and the GVSHP.

Fallout over The Falls has been much more lamented by the Nightlife people in lower Manhattan than would have been anticipated. It has drawn attention to a smarmy business.
There has been so much nasty publicity and so much negative press as a result of The Falls’ management having lied to the police over the rape and murder of a young female customer – that other bars throughout the city are wringing their hands over the bad rap this has generated. Not to mention heavier surveillance and investigations into personnel practices with regard to bar employees and security workers—at other locations.
Demonstrations, picket lines, media trucks, satellite dishes and police brass are not conducive to business as usual in some of our “watering holes” downtown.
However, a little more scrutiny might provide the community with a silver lining – like providing the kind of police presence at downtown bars that eliminates drugs and reduces noise and the kind of antisocial behavior that has created a lower Manhattan that is antagonistic to family life. This has occurred in the name of enticing tourists to drink until stupid and endlessly bar hop at the expense of our community’s quality of life.

Community Board #2’s Business Committee, Chaired by Martin Diaz did an unusual thing. It denied a liquor license to the old Verushka location on Broome Street – across the street from the site of a new condo development (Tunnel Garage) and below a condo building itself on the ground floor and basement level. The applicant wanted the lower level to be open until 4 a.m., a strange request for the so-called white tablecloth restaurant that was being proposed.
The Business committee is not known for its sensitivity to SoHo’s needs, which is what makes this denial all the more perplexing.
Makes you wonder what’s afoot.

Stay tuned.

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