Friday, June 30, 2006

New Beginnings

During a recent interview with Assembly member Deborah Glick, there came the unsettling realization that defending the community from encroachment on all sides is a daunting task. The path for any activist as well as a community-oriented politician (as is Deborah Glick), is risky and incredibly difficult - full of barbs and punji traps.

We spoke about a few issues that affect residents in the most basic of ways.

Housing - shelter -- is one of those most essential needs that affects all of us so fundamentally. And, anyone who depends upon the stock of rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments - especially in Manhattan - are especially prone to becoming targets of changes, attacks, scams, legal decisions (or indecisions), and bureaucratic ineptness, all of which can effect tenancy. Landlords are always looking for novel ways to take that rent-regulated apartment away from a tenant. Or, at the very least, multiply the rent many-fold.

Glick discussed two of the more recent attempts to deprive tenants of a place to live. One is the recently revised notion of "demolition." The accepted fact is that if a building needs to be torn down, tenants have to leave. But the most recent variation on this theme has the landlord doing a "partial" demolition for which the express purpose is evicting tenants with the help of the DHCR. Often, the current ploy of partial demolition is really a cosmetic matter that hardly meets the criteria of demolishment in any language - in Togo it might come closer to the word for Fraud. But, so far, City government is playing ball with developers. Glick feels that demolishment should be re-defined in legal terms as the total razing of a building so that this does not become a rampant new means whereby developers legally evict tenants.

Similarly, the cute little moniker "landlord recapture" has been another soon to be abused concept. Recently, a 14 family apartment building was purchased by an individual who proceeded to begin evictions against all of the tenants in the building. This Lower East Side landlord claimed that he needed space for his growing family. This novel approach, if it weren't so ludicrous, is currently being tested in the courts and could have a potentially devastating effect upon the lower and middle class housing stock in Manhattan.

Deborah Glick is running for re-election and should be vigorously supported - few of our elected officials and even fewer of our Community Board representatives have bothered to make these issues known. The City and State have done a miserable job in protecting our rent-regulated housing stock and have pandered to the development of luxury coops and condominiums. It is a short-sighted view which destroys the vibrancy, diversity, and artistic creativity of our communities.

For those architecture lovers out there, Doris Diether has put the Victorian Society's proposed expansion of the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District on the Community Board #2 agenda. The Landmarks Committee will be meeting next Wednesday, July 5th and the Zoning Committee will also be reviewing this issue. Shawn Brennan, the vice president of the Victorian Society, will be presenting the proposal which was described here a few weeks ago. For those of you who have any interest in the possible changes, here is a first-hand opportunity to see what may be in store for SoHo.

The dust has settled, the axes have been buried, and the invectives have all been hurled at Community Board #2. The election between sitting Board Chair Maria Derr and Zoning Committee Chair David Reck was widely anticipated and closely watched by residents, Board members and several politicians for a number of reasons.

For one thing, Derr has been closely associated with the takeover of Community Board #2 by the Chamber of Commerce and Nightlife pro-business, pro-bar faction on the Board. Derr was their successful representative to which she added the Passanante name. While her uncle Bill was liked by many old-timers in the Village, he meant nothing to residents of SoHo or Hudson Square and apparently Derr was rumored to be not all that close to him either - until it became politically helpful.

Maria Passanante Derr, as she is now apparently known, won the election handily. And, while there were dirty tricks (is this not politics?), she gave a great speech and handled herself with composure and even-handedness throughout the election evening.

She even permitted a second vote on an issue due to the fact that some Board members were in a hall outside the voting chamber -- which turned out to negatively affect a liquor license issue. Unusual for her previous behavior. Was it a good show, or was it a new beginning?

Despite the fact the old Bill Passanante was considered a bag of wind by some; a little suspect by others; a prescient crusader for gay rights by others still -- and despite the fact that Carmine DeSapio was also a relative and a politician but was not mentioned - Maria did well. She now stands on her own. She no longer needs old Bill or Carmine and she should dispense with that questionable baggage.

So, what does this mean for SoHo, which counts for nearly a third of Community Board #2 -- but is represented by less than half of that in voting privileges?

Not much.

An political insider has speculated that the vote was indicative of a core group of bar-owners wishing to hold on to control of the Board and also those who owe fealty or who are afraid of them; then there are the Greenwich Village historicals (not to be confused with GVSHP), and those who mistakenly believe that Passanante equals Kennedy and Camelot.

And, then there were those who just liked Maria Derr better than David Reck.

Reck is a fighter who has been aggressive and passionate. He delivered a strong, sobering message - that the Board has lost its direction and that those outside of the Board speak disparagingly of the way the business of the community is being handled.

Derr's message was smoothe and conciliatory. She spoke of change and spoke of the need to move on and put negativity and divisiveness behind. She cited what she believed to be changes on the Board that had already been made in favor of the community.

Neither of them could hold a candle to Lewis Black, but then again, this isn't supposed to be stand-up comedy even if appears to be. And, there wasn't a funny comment all evening - until Phil Mouquinho joked about losing all three of the contentious licenses coming in front of his committee.

Unfortunately, that was the one funny remark that wasn't funny.

The message gotten from this election was not that many Board members are afraid to vote any way but the way they are told (for Derr), on pain of losing their financial connections and Board status;

It was not that the Board membership can now sit back for another year and wait for Brad Hoylman to bring some balance back to Community Board #2;

It was not that the Nightlife contingent on the Board managed to threaten, smear, or distort their way into buying another year of control.

It WAS that the activists on the Board, along with newly appointed members, have forged a new alliance. There is now a new bloc of voters on the Board who see issues first and foremost from the perspective of the Community. It was a portentous change that augurs well for all of us. And, it was apparent as well in the spirit of change evident at the Quality of Life forum held at the Puffin Room this past week. Zella Jones of the NoHo Neighborhood Association, Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance, the new Commissioners of the SLA, the police brass and numerous elected officials and their representatives were all in attendance. Significantly, there were representatives of 26 community organizations from lower Manhattan at this "Summit."

There is a new working alliance forged between members of Community Board #2,the community organizations and the political structure of City government to effectively deal with Quality of Life issues.

The new S.L.A (State Liquor Authority) had two of its three members at the Forum, Daniel Boyle who is the Chairman and Noreen Healey -- a new member and resident of Brooklyn Heights, is both a former prosecutor and a Democrat. It's nice to have another woman in power as well.

Boyle is a former prosecutor who helped clean up the police corruption in Schenectady and is expected to clean out the cobwebs and anti-community sentiment at the S.L.A.
State Senator Marty Connor, who is our SoHo representative, is credited with having been instrumental in helping us get the new Democratic representative to the S.L.A. -- recommended by Governor Pataki and confirmed by the Senate. Connor's influence and friendship with Pataki has apparently paid off for Downtown. Remember that when you think about the fact that of the last ten contested 500-foot-rule hearings, seven were denied by the newly reconfigured S.L.A. Connor is facing re-election and we should support a candidate who produces for the community. We need people like Marty, especially in our fight against oversaturation of bars and support for quality of life issues.

The Forum was congenial and respectful and there appears to be a clear path towards a working relationship on the quality of our lives -- including problems with bar oversaturation, pollution and traffic. Could illegal sign enforcement be far away?

And, as for the new beginning promised in her campaign speech at the Community Board election --after being elected Maria Derr proceeded to remove her opponent David Reck as Chair of the Zoning Committee.

Some might just see that as retaliation, not a new beginning.

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