Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Downtown Political Contests

There has been some gnashing of teeth Downtown over the upcoming contest for State Committee slots. Usually, there isn't much to talk about since State Committee is more important in appearance than in substance. Not so this year. Voting on the part of this year's State Committee members will result in deciding who gets on the ballot this fall, an important election in which Democrats, so far, are expected to turn a lot of Republicans out of office.

Arthur Schwartz, Chairman of the Parks and Waterfront Committee of Community Board #2 is running on a slate with Lisa Cannistraci, a new Board #2 member and owner of the Chick Inn. The opposition is incumbent Larry Moss, current Democratic State Committeeman and Human Rights Watch lawyer, and Rachel Levine, an outspoken advocate of same sex marriage and other progressive issues.

Behind the curtains, of course, is where the fun is.

Cannistraci is a relative newcomer to politics Downtown, has just recently joined the Community Board and is a close friend of the new Chair of Board #2. Arthur Schwartz, a union lawyer who was deposed from the Waterfront Committee on Board #2 by Aubrey Lees and then was placed back in that slot with its expansion to include Parks by Maria Derr. However, while he has been riding a bucking political pony at the Community Board, the local electeds, Tom Duane and Chris Quinn -- gave Schwartz the heave-ho as District Leader - preferring the company of Brad Hoylman instead.

Larry Moss, on the other hand has had his own problems with the support of the Downtown clubs. While the Village Independent Democrats are likely to support Moss and Rachel Levine, it is not clear which way the Downtown Independent Democrats will line up. There have been "difficulties" between Moss and D.I.D. President Sean Sweeney and it is unclear as well if David Reck (District Leader) is thinking more positively towards him these days. It is doubtful that D.I.D. would support Schwartz/Canistraci.

And, it is unclear which way Village Reform Democrats are leaning in this race.

It seems likely, regardless of how the clubs line up, that Duane, Quinn and Glick will be supporting Larry Moss and Rachel Levine. Thus far, the major support given to Schwartz and Canistraci is from Maria Derr, Chair of Community Board #2. With that kind of political support lined up, it seems clear which candidates have the best odds.

The Community Board #2 election is no longer a forgone conclusion. Usually, in the second year of a two year run, the Chair of the Board gets a free ride. At this Board, of course, anything is possible. So, this June, we get to watch it all again.

Most recently, Derr ran and won with the support and campaign management of Bob Rinaolo, someone who had considered running for Chair but was compromised with a conflict of interest scenario involving the Business Committee. Plus, there is the pregnant issue of bar owners running community boards -- still a hot, unresolved issue. Rinaolo, a bar owner, supported Derr, who has made good use of the Passanante name and managed a lot of support from Virginia Fields when she was Borough President. They gave good fundraisers.

This year, however, in the middle of Derr's two year run, she is being challenged by architect David Reck, Chair of the Zoning Committee of Community Board #2. The split on Board #2 has been especially rancorous due to the Bar Business vs. Community issue. Reck is an activist that has supported and established community groups to fight bars, lounges and nightclubs which have wreaked havoc in SoHo, NoHo, Greenwich Village and Hudson Square neighborhoods.

His thrust in opposing Derr is that the Community Board representing these neighborhoods is basically off course. While some would say Board #2 is mired in self-serving, self-interested, sub Rosa insider deals which has basically benefited the Chamber of Commerce/Nightlife takeover of the Board at the expense of the Community - Reck has simply used the ship off course analogy. Others would say that Board #2 is more like a hospital ship that's on fire, soon to sleep with the fishes . Derr has been busy, along with her mentor Bob Rinaolo in hurriedly interviewing the new appointees to the Board in an effort to read them the riot act about the upcoming election. No doubt they are getting the new party line about how community-friendly the current slate of bar owners and associates have become. And, oh, by the way, which committee would you like best?

Reck has promised that he will take his candidacy to a vote regardless of how difficult or contentious the campaign gets. There is no doubt that his is a difficult task. Reforming Community Board #2, with its deeply rooted penchant for attacking and defaming opponents, is a tough road for any activist to travel.

While the Chair of any Board has little real political power, Derr has the machinery to operate in trying to hold on to her seat. The appearance of power is sometimes enough to sway new Board members in their voting.

Even if it's against their best interests. Or against the best interests of the community.

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