Sunday, December 30, 2007

What’s The Motivation?

Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.

Behind every great fortune there is a crime.
-- Honoré de Balzac (1799 - 1850)

When the Stella Adler Theatre Studio was located on the upper West Side during the 60’s, she had a reputation for getting to the bottom line with aspiring actors. Few got in the door without an interview that involved a soul-searching stare and a penetrating glare into the heart and mind of every thespian that passed through those portals. The heart of method acting, sort of an instant psychoanalysis, begged one crucial question: What’s my motivation?
What followed was the actor’s raison d’etre – his or her drive to acquire the persona, which they were to become – at least for that one role.

We have a series of actors on our Downtown stage too, known as the politicians and activists that are playing out their own theatrical spectacle, which we all hope will result in a rational social fabric. Perhaps the most important thread in that fabric, however, is crucial to the design of our city. Kevin Lynch, in his Theory of Good City Form offers the dimensions of a city’s performance: vitality, sense, fitness, access and control – and to that he also adds efficiency and justice. The vital city fulfills the needs of its inhabitants, who understand its form and function. A good city is one, which is arranged so that its citizens have a say in the management of the spaces in which they work and reside. City Planning, as a function, therefore relies on the legal tool of Zoning to put that plan into effect.

Take Downtown, or more specifically Hudson Square, SoHo and Tribeca. Tribeca appears to be somewhat rational. Lots of condo development with areas of commercial building, City government surrounded by the courts, and parks for the children. While it’s hard to understand how Wall Street, long the center of world finance and banking has remained dilapidated and archaic (especially in the Nassau/Ann/Fulton areas) as it has in certain areas, the rationality of its direction is understandable.

SoHo has expanded almost monolithically along the lines of residential development. Home to some of the highest prices per square footage in Manhattan, its zoning as manufacturing has only driven the cost of a residential variance skywards. But, the variances are almost always approved.
As you move further west, the mood gets a little dicier.

As you approach the border of SoHo and Hudson Square, things start to break down. Interspersed between condos on Avenue of the Americas and new hotels on Watts Street and Spring Street, there are Manufacturing facilities, commercial buildings still owned and operated by Trinity Church and a number of hotels, hotel-condos, condos, possible institutional structures and a few new residential developments – all on the books or in planning stages.
In other words, there appears to be no agency at the helm to modify or correct out of control development.

The results of this lack of planning, vested in our agency called City Planning, is playing out just as it appears – it’s the Wild West of Manhattan.

The take on the Bloomberg Administration, throughout the tenure of the now retired Dan Doctoroff, was and has been a benign and paternalistic attitude, which basically has come across, as “We know what’s best for you.”
This has played out through Doctoroff’s apparently neglectful method of pushing through what he felt was best.
With Bloomberg now sitting on $14 Billion in cash and harboring Presidential ambitions, one could understand how that degree of arrogance could exist – as the boys from Harvard run the ship. The fact that Doctoroff was unpopular, even among Bloomberg’s people, makes his appointment to Bloomberg media’s top post makes you wonder what information should not be shown the light of day.

As a result of the benign neglect of City Hall, Trump SoHo has set the stage for a completely out of scale building that perverts the meek zoning which currently does exist in Hudson Square. The City Council has run for cover and Bloomberg joked with The Donald about having Billions – and the concept of contextual zoning is buried.
There are several hotels either just completed or nearing completion in this area as well as a Department of Sanitation project -- a 14-story garage on Greenwich and Spring. The latter has prompted The Steering Committee, a group of individuals from the Hudson Square area, aided by Michael Kramer; a publicity operative who consults with this group as well as with St. John’s to seek alternative sites. St. John’s can go either way – commercial (hotel) or condo – but they just want to know which way. In this instance, the condo owners across from the site are not at all happy with the zoning mix, which is arguably going to happen. The Charrette which this group has devised, with much fanfare, is precisely what City Planning has failed to do – they have proposed a zoning plan.

So, Western SoHo zoning is adrift as is Hudson Square. What is being done about it? Very little.

Christine Quinn has discussed a request that City Planning re-zone this area. City Planning’s response is that there is no plan to do so.

Meanwhile companies like Bayrock erect buildings like Trump SoHo – and activist organizations organize to sue – which our revered leader Mr. Bloomberg has allowed to happen. Rather than take the lead and review the credentials of the players in that development and the effect it will have on an area whose zoning is adrift, he jokes about it.
Donald Trump is a 5 per center (his part of that deal) and has little to do with its construction other than his name.
A Mr. Sater, a friend of Trump’s, is rumored to be either a partner or owner of Bayrock, and is a convicted criminal – whose association with Trump SoHo would make the condo plan illegal.
And, we have the elected officials sitting on their hands throughout this entire ruination of a potential jewel in Manhattan – a Manufacturing zone which could be developed as a rational plan that includes residential, institutional, commercial cooperation – augmented by parks and open space.

Political trends.

Eric Goia is an effective young member of the City Council who appears to be headed for a shot at the Public Advocate spot next time around. He has the look of a younger, more energetic, and more personable Andrew Cuomo. He’s persistent and intelligent. While we are happy Cuomo is where he is – reaching his staff during the campaign was impossible. Not so, Eric Goia.

The City Council race for District #1 where Alan Gerson will have been for eight years is still in the distance but as of this point it seems to primarily be sought by Pete Gleason, Madeleine Wils and Julie Menin. Wils may have the edge but Menin (whose detractors have grown) has the money – although Wils has access to deep pockets as well. A rumor that Kathryn Freed may return has been denied but should strike fear in the hearts of all who hear it – that plan to run for that spot. Pete Gleason and also McWater (of CB3) have been quiet as of late.

A rumor has circulated that Alan Gerson will be going on to NYU after leaving his City Council spot in ’09 – as he is term-limited.

The City Council spot that Quinn will leave in ’09 is being sought after by Brad Hoylman, current Chair of Community Board #2 and Vice President/General Counsel of PFNYC (Partnership for New York City), a business group created by David Rockefeller which merged with the New York Chamber of Commerce in 2002. Henry Kravis had charge of its investment fund. Hoylman is also President of GLID, a Democratic Club that is hooked in to many of the gay (and straight) politicians. It should not be lost on anyone downtown that there would be BIG money, in theory at least, supporting Hoylman’s run for Quinn’s seat.

While Hoylman will likely have the support of Quinn, Tom Duane and possibly Deborah Glick, he will have at least one formidable opponent in Andrew Berman, Executive Director of GVSHP, a very visible non-profit organization that has supported many Downtown initiatives involving housing and zoning. Hoylman is also making his presence known in the community but the strong business connections (PFNYC) does pose a question mark with reference to his frame of reference.

Floaters have also been mentioned – such as Maria Derr, former Board #2 Chair – who is know to also have an interest in Glick’s Assembly seat but may be thinking of a lesser starting out point.
She recently sold a development parcel on Seventh Avenue and with her Passanante background seems unlikely to be hurting for money.

Since Arthur Schwartz is known to have spent something in the neighborhood of $80,000 to challenge Larry Moss for State Committee – and won – we can only imagine the amounts being contemplated for a City Council race. Obviously, running for City Council is not based upon the salary being offered.

The money and the power in politics – comes in other, less direct ways.
But, it does arrive at some point.
Ask Chuck Schumer about the big money donations known to have found a way into his campaign fund arriving via a Nursing Home guru – which is also embarrassing Tom Spota – current D.A. of Suffolk County.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas story – Schmucks ‘R Us

Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.
-- Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977)

Christmas shopping was much more interesting this year.

To instill some sense of responsibility in our children it is sometimes necessary to teach the young ones a lesson. Instead of using a toy for an hour and discarding it, this year we provided an interesting twist.

The racing car actually stopped working an hour after buying it at the toy store. There was no lack of interest in using it – it was just defective. So, instead of putting it in the closet and taking the loss, we drove to the store to replace it.
Granted, it was a week later before we managed to get there, but everyone was feeling proud that we were not just going to accept it and forget about it in the pile of other unused or broken toys. It was a remote-control car that was actually fun to play with. And, we were going to turn over a new leaf.

The fact that the sales receipt was missing, of course, made it much more interesting. But, hey, it’s almost Christmas! Surely, a famous chain of stores catering to children would be accommodating.

Dan, the manager who had no last name – since it’s Corporate Policy not to give out last names (giving you that warm, personal feeling) – looked at the remote control race car which was packed neatly in its original box and with a completely straight face asked for the receipt. There was none.
It was at that moment that we ceased to exist as humans.

Well, then, Dan explained, he could not help us. He walked away.
Expecting this, but not happy about it, we called out again to him and reasoned that the identification from the optical scan on the box, the identification of the exact date it was purchased, and the information about the amount that was paid – should be enough for him to at least be able to check his records and identify this sale. Was it not?

“Sorry” he said. “If you don’t have a receipt, I can’t help you.
“We have no records of cash sales. We only have records of credit card sales.” There is no record of cash. I was incredulous. This was now a learning experience.

“Do you mean that even though you charge sales tax and you collect cash, you have absolutely no record of this transaction? How is that possible?”
He looked directly at us, with an emotionless face that one could see he may have put on a thousand times.
Whoa, we thought. How many defective toys sold for cash could that generate income for? How many customers who pay cash have been down this road before?

This was really getting interesting. We have a batched out tape with – maybe, hopefully, some sales tax – that cannot be located or identified – for a toy that may or may not work – and no way to recover your money or get a replacement. There was no sign over the register that said, “We keep no record of cash transactions” or “Hold on to your receipt since cash transactions don’t exist.” Even better, “Sales Tax is reported only on credit card transactions.” And, I like the one that would say, “Please advise clerk if you’re going to pay cash. Her college fund is dwindling.”

“So, does that mean that we have to sue you to get money back or a replacement??” We thought, well even in Riverhead Small Claims court it would have to cost more than the toy just to get in front of a judge. But, he already had his answer: “You can do whatever you have to do,” said Dan and he walked away. He was well trained in “Corporate Policy.”

“Well, how do we speak to management about this,” we said – and he came back and pointed to two white phones (Khrushchev preferred red for hot lines. Hopefully, those had worked.)
One phone did not work and the other had a weird Verizon recording telling us that the number the manager had actually dialed for us, which was for “Corporate” was a non-working number. Apparently, “Corporate” phone lines were not often used.
Things were starting to get a little frustrating. Not unexpectedly, of course.
This was corporate America at its best.

“Riverhead Police” came the answer on the line.
The officer was actually helpful and said he would come right over – and then, he did. In less than 10 minutes. It was like we were on a movie set. People on the Customer Service line were starting to look at us like we were Alien Humbugs. Voices were raised, blood pressure was bubbling, faces got flushed, and there were uncomfortable stares. Some actually smiled sympathetically as if they had been there, done that, and had gotten the same results. What in the world were we doing, expecting to get satisfaction from minimum-wage workers who had been trained in “Corporate Policy.”

Except, that I was pissed. We had paid good money – in real U.S. Dollars – even if they are nearly worthless compared to the Euro now – and we had gotten bad merchandise. The value of those dollars had not depreciated THAT much in one week. The store probably had no idea that the toy was defective – but they DID know that the toy came from their store. They admitted that in front of the Riverhead Police Officer. I was eager to operate the racing car and show them how it stopped working. The battery was even charged, ready to demonstrate.

By the time the police arrived, everybody was staring at us and many were hoping that the offending ex-customers would be taken out of the store in cuffs for asserting their rights – or, at least the rights that one reads about in political novellas describing America’s freedoms.
It just wasn’t right. You pay cash, they know you bought something at their store and then they refused to acknowledge that they took your money.
And, they were condescending about it as well. Bet you that they would find a video of the transaction if I had lifted a $50 from the till, or tickled the clerk.

The “Store Manager” finally arrived and he told the police that the store had been threatened with a State Sales Tax audit for claiming that they had no record of transaction and that they had a “Corporate Policy.” After all, how did they know whether we really bought the truck?

At that point I was reminded of Jamie Lee Curtis in “A Fish Called Wanda.”
In her scene with Kevin Kline, Curtis is being attacked by Kline’s character – a second story man dressed in black – for calling him stupid – apparently a phrase he had heard before and was very sensitive about.
Curtis says to him: “Oh, I’m sorry. Calling you stupid would be an insult to stupid people.”

I thought, yes, this store manager is right. We could have been lying.
We could have tracked the purchase of people that bought that toy – followed them home and watched to see that it didn’t work and purloined the broken toy – all the while taking note of the day that it was purchased, or even better, stole the receipt for cash. Then, we waited a week and made a lot of noise about the fact that we paid cash, pointed out that the store could check the optical scanner information on the toy – and then called the Police over.
Or, we could have bought it Downtown on Canal Street from an Asian gang for $5 and had it completely re-packaged, and THEN drove to Riverhead to make $39.95 for our troubles. All the while planning to obtain the help of the Riverhead Police.
The possibilities were endless.

The absurdity of the situation was starting to dawn on Mr. Store Manager and he finally said, “Well if I had been asked nicely whether I would make an exception to ‘Corporate Policy’ I might have considered giving store credit.”

Without genuflecting, in my best supplicant’s voice, I repeated his words verbatim back to him. He was obviously thrilled by the lengths that I would go to in order to obtain satisfaction.
The Police Officer was satisfied and we were satisfied. Mr. Toy Store Manager was, well, resigned to making an adjustment to “Corporate Policy.”

Somehow, it seemed, it shouldn’t be so difficult to deal with a giant corporation whose real customers are just kids.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Downtown Dilemma

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
Voltaire (1694 - 1778)

Making decisions on the waterfront are just as difficult now as it was for Brando’s character in On the Waterfront. And, the old ILA was notorious but today is a group of Teamsters who are trying to keep passenger ships in Manhattan as well as save their livelihoods on Pier 92.
Lucky Luciano was the man that ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) finally made a deal with when they needed an anti-sabotage ring on the piers. In return, Luciano got a better deal than Dannemora.

Some of those thorny decisions still plague residents who are trying to keep Pier 40 away from the developers. The newest threat if Pier 40 were not to be developed as “Vegas-on-the-Hudson” by Related comes partly from the frustration among Hudson Square residents with the Department of Sanitation’s plan to build in a few locations. A fourteen story garage at Spring and Greenwich Streets has generated a major amount of heat with residents in that location and the “Steering Committee,” as they are known has developed plans for Hudson Square and proposed several alternative sites.
At the same time, the Gansevoort Recycling plan, which includes a transfer station that Bloomberg and Doctoroff were pushing, may get some new attention in Albany at the beginning of next year.
The problem with the recycling plan and the DSNY building is the following dilemma. As a result of the settled lawsuit brought by the Friends of Hudson River Park several years ago, DSNY has to be off the Gansevoort Pier by 2012 and was supposed to move to the UPS site – on Greenwich and Spring. If they cannot move off Gansevoort they violate the terms of the settlement or they move to where the Steering Committee doesn’t want them to move.

This is how the idea of Pier 40 as a quasi-garage for garbage trucks came to pass recently. The problem with that solution is that a tremendous amount of community opposition is expected – since the Trust just spent $5 million for ball fields and the consensus is that the pier should be a park, not a substitute garage for sanitation trucks. It’s bad enough that Downtown is inundated with diesel smoke, the kids don’t need to breathe it while they’re playing soccer or baseball.
A major part of any solution needs to involve Pier 76, where there is room for lots of parking and is not directly part of a residential neighborhood.
Turning Hudson Square into a parking garage for DSNY makes as little sense as turning Pier 40 into a garbage truck facility.
Hudson Square, SoHo, the West Village may have some manufacturing zones – which need to be changed – but the trend towards residential use is undeniable. It should not be forced into an ugly bastardization of this potential future by encouraging numerous hotels, hotel-condos and DSNY facilities.

As Doctoroff moves off into the sunset in January – rumored to have been awarded the keep-your-mouth shut post as head of Bloomberg media – we look beyond the horizon. Perhaps he’ll hook up with Karl Rove and write a book on “Development Strategies for a neighborhood without zoning” or make a deal with Trump to build a 75 story Disney tower in the Hudson River Park.

The head of HPD (Housing Preservation and Development), Mr. Sean Donovan, has moved on.
HPD, a city agency, DHCR, a state agency and our very own Buildings Department, are among the major agencies involved with housing in Manhattan. Landlord abuse of tenants has risen to a crisis level and Deborah Glick (Assembly), Christine Quinn (City Council), as well as Scott Stringer (Borough President) have been active in different ways to address this issue.
Stringer has pushed for more affordable housing, Glick has been pushing for controls on “phony demolition” and landlord abuse and Quinn has recently introduced legislation to curb harassment of controlled and stabilized tenants.
In addition,Brad Hoylman, Chair of Community Board #2, has weighed in on these issues and is planning to hold hearings at the beginning of 2008.

As the Trump Godzilla (Trump SoHo) project reaches for the last few floors of its 45-story height, the stories have unfolded about the developer himself.
As a hard money lender (higher interest, shorter terms, and not a bank) described him, Trump is known in the trade as a Five Per center. He puts his name on a deal and the money guys and developers come in and do the “The Real Deal.” Trump doesn’t have any money in the project, he basically skims off the top for lending a moniker that, god help us, connotes “something” that people have been taught to want. Americans deserve what they get. With a Five Percenter who has to run a T.V. career to help promote his carnival barker antics, the Forbes article that placed his net worth at $150 million seems closer to the truth.
And, in this case, the “stories” are a little dicier than usual. Apparently, one of the major players in the Bayrock company who handled the development with money rumored to have come from Dubai, is a character know as Sater.
Trump, who normally has a good memory, does not remember rubbing elbows with someone who was the focus of a recent New York Times piece. Sater is currently known as Satter and apparently has been around the corner a few times – from the Soviet Union to Brighton Beach – via the Central Intelligence Agency and Wall Street – stopping off long enough to be accused of laundering some money. He currently identifies himself as real estate executive and does business with The Donald.

The whole project has smarmy written all over it – and it would be interesting to see how it would all play out if the “condo” part of hotel-condo were rendered illegal. The SoHo Alliance is betting that will happen.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Home Rule

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
John Howard Payne (1791 - 1852)

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Bob Dylan (1941 - )

If you can remember Housing Court in the 70’s, it was a wild experience.
Judges were so pro-tenant attorneys had to do little more than urge their clients to show the Court a copy of the front side of a rent check in a non-payment action and the case was dismissed out of hand.
It was difficult to be evicted from a rent-controlled or stabilized apartment for anything other than not having paid rent for months or years – and even then the Judge usually ordered the landlord to take minimal payments and forestall the act of putting the tenant out on the street.

A visit to one Housing Court Judge's chambers was as likely as not a visit to the inner sanctum of a not-so-closeted Liberal. One visitor to Chambers reported seeing a poster of Che Guevara on the wall.

That was then.

The pendulum has moved so far to the right that the poster on the Judge’s wall is now more likely to be that of Karl Rove or George Bush. Come to think of it even those luminaries are a little too far to the left.

At a meeting last week, Borough President Scott Stringer spoke at a SoHo Alliance meeting and the issue of tenants’ rights was raised. Stringer answered a few questions and elaborated upon his strong support of tenants rights groups against attempts by real estate management companies, landlords and developers to evict tenants.
What he heard from the audience was a claim that in Manhattan in particular there is a not-so-disguised attempt to de facto eradicate rent-control and rent-stabilization -- as well as silence market rate tenants. Landlords are being given immunity from criticism, complaints, prosecution, or any other legal action that would preclude them from collecting rent – even in health or life-threatening conditions through the apathy of the courts and City agencies.
Further, Stringer heard that there is a clear trend that many landlords and developers are now utilizing a favorite tactic in ridding their buildings of controlled tenants by harassing them through the use for the legal system. It keeps their hands clean and lawyers do the dirty work with the help of the court system.

The comments that Stringer heard were only the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, we are now living in the midst of an organized and well-funded system that involves several of the City agencies, law firms that specialize in Holdover actions, certain landlords, and Housing Court.
Politicians have become acutely aware of the problem but it has gone far beyond anyone’s expectations and has entered the domain of widespread and tolerated legal abuse. Department of Buildings, the DCHR, HPD and especially City Hall is involved. The Justice system, reminiscent of the bust that took down a number of cozy little relationships in the Brooklyn Courts, is starting to look a bit flaky in Manhattan.

Tenants groups look to the politicians and to the Community Boards to support them and act as an entry-level watchdog when it comes to problems that need to be addressed. Board pass Resolutions that deal with abuses and hopefully, ultimately force the government to take notice. If they are ignored the elected officials incur the wrath of tenants (voters) and must answer to them at the polls. That is the theory of how our democratic system functions. But, is it working?

Recently, Speaker Quinn introduced legislation that would impose fines for tenant harassment. The Bill would fine a landlord $5,000 for “Tenant Harassment.” It is a much needed and appreciated piece of legislation. We hope that it is followed by additional actions and legislation on the part of our elected officials – and that the missing piece is also dealt with.
That would be -- enforcement.

The current system, as interpreted by City and State agencies in their current state of apathy, mismanagement or corruption – allows the current legal system to litigate tenants out of their apartments. There is virtually no enforcement.
There is a long laundry list of what tenants can be attacked for. The list may start with having a roommate that has not been approved by the landlord; not recycling and properly disposing of garbage; or making alterations in one's apartment. It’s a long list and for the most part is neither of interest nor enforced by landlords. It’s simply available as a bag of tricks when they want to press the legal button on an offending tenant. It is a targeting mechanism.

Here’s the point.

Currently, if a landlord decides to “press the button” on a tenant, as the term is used by fellows with funny noses, there is virtually no defense against the legal anschluss. There are a few law firms in Manhattan that specialize in this form of legalized tenant abuse (several of which are under investigation) -- which utilize repeated and persistent legal actions against tenants.

Thus far, no elected official or City agency has looked carefully at the Court system and contacted the Attorney General and asked him to step in.

Law firms are acting for landlords in unison with the Courts and City agencies to perpetrate a crime against the fabric, the artistic and cultural essence, of our City. Senior citizens, artists, community activists, minorities, all face the new and relentless attempt to rob them of their homes.
It is happening because Developers want to raze buildings and sell condos, it is happening because there is no serious attempt to create affordable housing, and it is primarily happening because landlords want to raise rents beyond the restrictions on rent-controlled and stabilized apartments so to create market rate apartments.

Once an apartment is market-rate – virtually nothing can stop a landlord from evicting a tenant during or at the end of the one or two year lease that is offered.
No matter whether there is heat, water, or elevator service – or if the apartment is full of lead paint and there is black mold growing on the walls. If a tenant complains – he or she is OUT. No new lease.
With a 2 or 3% vacancy rate, nothing stops a landlord from simply telling the tenant –“If you complain, I won’t give you a new lease.”
The potential for abuse of any and all tenant rights in this situation is not difficult to imagine. Imagine it, because that IS what is happening.
And, it is obvious that this is a dangerous situation. With incompetent or corrupt agencies that do little to protect tenants, landlords employ law firms that are “Legal Hit Men.”

What Speaker Quinn may or may not know is that there is no law against persistent legal actions against tenants. It is not illegal to start repeated Holdover Actions against a tenant. Whether the lawsuits are legally permitted, several law firms operate as enforcers by repeatedly suing a tenant and placing them in the position of paying more to stay in their apartments then they can afford – often using the tenant's rent money to pay their attorneys. At a certain point, by targeting certain tenants that complain or assert their rights, and who cannot afford to pay rent plus legal fees -- are forced to accept what is called a buy-out.
This small offer from the landlord, to vacate the apartment and end the litigation, is often the only option for an artist who cannot sell his paintings – or for the rent-controlled tenant who lives on a pension.

So, what can be done about this wholesale harassment of our city’s cultural life – so that we do not lose the people who created the Manhattan that everyone wants to move to?

The Community Boards need to face the fact that there is a crisis. The politicians need to understand that widespread abuse is occurring. And, the heads of City and State Agencies need to review their practices and re-allocate personnel so that tenant abuse is addressed – and PROSECUTED.
The Justice system needs to be scrutinized. Law firms need to be investigated and rated by State agencies.

A tenant recently complained to a Judge in Housing Court that as a single female she could not simply let the non-English speaking illegal immigrant workers come and go in her apartment without prior arrangements for her security. She did not know them and felt unsafe.
The Judge ruled that she had to let them in whenever they wanted to and that he saw no problem with their arriving unannounced -- and, he stated further from the bench, that there were many single women in Manhattan who let workers in and out of their apartments while the while they were home alone. Her safety was negated and she was insulted in the court.
The fact that women in the building had been raped was of no concern to him.

Doris Deither, a member of Community Board #2 had been fighting with her landlord for many years. She finally got to him for criminal actions. You don't fool with Doris.
The tenants at 80 Varick Street have been battling with the infamous Ramer & Saperstein dentist duo, which have targeted and evicted Tenants Organization members; they have been using the kinds of tactics that got Helmsley put away but so far have managed to avoid prosecution. Few have the focused ability of Board member Doris Deither to defend against illegal behavior.
The former Chair of Board #4 was the subject of years of torturous legal actions by the landlord.
Thus far, only Stringer’s actions and those initial steps by Quinn – and the nearly legendary strength of Deborah Glick – have been in evidence.

The Community Boards have done little to address the problems and while it is possible that many middle-class and upper-class members of the Boards are homeowners and thus do not have a vested interest in solving these problems – it is more likely that there is not sufficient awareness of what is going on. Community Board #1 has a Task Force and Community Board #2 has a Zoning and Housing Committee. But the issue of enforcement and harassment in the context of the City agencies and the outlaw behavior rampant in the legal system -- has not been addressed in these forums.
Rather than short-term solutions, ongoing committees need to specifically address the concerns and needs of tenants.

Entire communities like Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side and Chinatown are areas with large numbers of Rent-controlled and stabilized apartments that are being threatened. SoHo has a large number of market rate apartments with families that have no voice. Are these voters a base to ignore? Only recently, has Community Board #2 instituted a full committee, under Jim Solomon, which addresses Chinatown's needs. Until now, it has been a huge but neglected political and economic area Downtown.

New tenants organizations have begun organizing and there is little doubt that a political movement will arise due to the level of anger over the housing crisis we now face.
Community activists have started to recognize that some elected officials are more concerned with campaign contributions for landlords and developers than they are concerned with protecting their constituents – the voters.
Leaders who hope to run for political office must address this issue NOW or face a slippery downhill slope into oblivion.

We have now reached the crisis level as law firms ravage our communities. While some landlords live in gated communities, far from the eyes of the law, tenants are being robbed of their quite enjoyment, peace of mind and their homes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To the Shed

I've always said that in politics, your enemies can't hurt you, but your friends will kill you.
--Ann Richards

One of the amazing things about City Agencies is the fact that almost no one ever gets around to investigating them. Investigations are very time consuming ---and corruption is so pervasive that it becomes almost a ho-hum obviousness.

Downtown politicians know about the corruption and it's almost institutionalized at some agencies. Take the Department of Buildings, for example, where Inspectors routinely are so chummy with landlords and supers that it's practically a joke calling 311 to complain about illegal construction by building owners. Some residents complain about Housing Inspectors, for example, reporting that suddenly just before an Inspector is about to come to the door to “investigate” a potential violation, the landlord wants to fix their problems. Who was it that said, there are no coincidences?

But, Buildings, under the tutelage of Commissioner Lancaster has earned the enmity of downtown residents for yet another reason. While there has been legislation, dating back to the Vallone days in the City Council, providing for big fines over the illegal billboards that has destroyed the cityscapes of SoHo, NoHo, Tribeca and the lower East Side, none of it has been enforced.
Lancaster cancelled meetings that Alan Gerson called to discuss the problem, she has circulated phony objections to implementation of the law, and she has recently signed on to a new initiative by Councilmember Melinda Katz of Queens.

Katz had been helpful to SoHo and generally has been a charming and knowledgeable City Council member who is currently campaigning for the Comptroller slot. She is ambitious and intelligent.
But, we fear, she has been pushing for yet another objectionable advertising venue, the sidewalk shed.
This really annoying addition to the streetscape, one that especially SoHo has been blighted with, is now rearing its ugly head in a bill introduced by Melinda Katz. It provides for the ground rules that would allow companies like VanWagner – the most egregious offender downtown – to legally affix advertising to the temporary sheds, which are placed over sidewalks during the construction phases of many buildings. Often, the sheds are left in place simply to provide companies like VanWagner with the ability to unendingly continue advertising as has happened with Frost Myers', "The Wall." Community organizations have fought to have these additional huge signs removed – and they continually pop up – and are removed after enough complaints are made.
The Katz proposal, Intro 623, would legalize this advertising and provide for yet additional locations for companies like VanWagner to annoy residents. The Department of Buildings, of course, would administer this additional cash cow, for the delight of residents.
And, what is disturbing about the bill being introduced has been the fact that VanWagner has been a large contributor to many political campaigns – Katz included.
According to some reports, Richard Schaps, the CEO of VanWagner, has been the largest contributor ($70,000) to the Katz campaign with numerous maximum limit checks from family members. Apparently, he had “no comment” when queried about his affinity for Ms. Katz political style in running for NYC Comptroller.

While In fact, Bloomberg prances around City Hall with his Harvard boys, figuring out how to knock off Spitzer (despite his protestations to the contrary), he and Doctoroff have been following the tradition of the original inhabitants from Manhattan. From the Related Pier 40 cram-down (our throats), to the Gansevoort racism ploy, to the Pier 76/Convention Center project, and to the imposition of the gargantuan Trump SoHo condo-hotel project on Downtown – the new Robert Moses wannabee (Doctoroff) and Bloomberg dynamic duo has not seen a deal they could resist in the selling out of Manhattan.
Bloomberg and Trump were practically giddy over each other’s billions when the Trump condo-hotel was first announced – laughing and scratching over the bucks from Dubai flowing through Chicago and the Bovis-Lend Lease boys into Manhattan.

Katz is now following in this tradition of selling Manhattan for cash and political advantage – whether she is conscious of it or not. Hopefully, she will pull this bill and give VanWagner back his money and he can stick it where he sheds.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Moving On.

The secret of life is to appreciate the pleasure of being terribly, terribly deceived.
--Oscar Wilde,

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.

While news pieces have been probing the Deutsche Bank fiasco, some of the subterranean activities are more relevant to Downtown people - including the Community Board and who's who in local politics.

One thing is for sure, two firemen died as a result of a questionable clean-up contract which was awarded by LMDC to Bovis Lend Lease which then subcontracted the asbestos removal job out to the John Galt Corp., a company reputed to have mob ties.

Whatever the truth is as to why the contract was awarded to a questionable company, it is well-known that LMDC is a rubber stamp entity. The protestations that are coming from some of that Board's members, that certain individuals sought to nix that contract choice - are coming a little too late. There are also rumors that anonymous threats have also been made to keep this whole thing quiet.

Morgenthau is rumored to be very involved in this case personally and that he may, in fact, be the guy in the Operations room making sure it goes well.

The fact that the Corporation Counsel is still meeting with people and before they get to the D.A.'s office - is not being appreciated. It's the kind of pre-interview "trial run" that creates the possibility of suborning perjury.

It is also known that the Mayor's Office has hired criminal counsel, should things not go well.

Apparently, Douglas Durst, the developer/head of Friends of Hudson River Park has seen fit to give Al Butzel his walking papers. Within the last six months or so, things have not been hunky-dory at FOHRP and there has been some gnashing of teeth at the community response to Butzel's particular charms.

There is no doubt that Al is one of the most knowledgeable people downtown when it comes to Waterfront issues. He has been liked and disliked by many an activist and bureaucrat but he did know his stuff.

However, a few public verbal fisticuffs have tarnished his usually charming patina, particularly at a recent Board #1 meeting where he and David Reck had "words."

What is being discussed in lieu of his present position as President is a "consulting" role.

The Truth Will Out is essentially the message from Andrew Berman of GVSHP in his commentary on an interview over the Trump SoHo project.

Apparently, contrary to the party line by politicians downtown that the project was going to be built whether it was a "condo-hotel" or a hotel -which could have been built as of right - was not what the developer planned.

As Steve Cutler asks in his interview with Julius Schwarz, the developer:

"So why not a straight luxury hotel? "It's a financing mechanism," said Schwarz, who added that financing is tough to come by. "You can't model it out 10 years. Right now, there's a shortage of hotels, so people are going to be building hotels, and the rates will eventually come down." Hotel rooms will always be in high demand, said Schwarz, "but you can't rely on the $1,200 a night rates. Even with a very high-end luxury hotel like this, where rates are going to stay high, you have to convince a lender. That's the most important thing; otherwise, the deal doesn't get done (emphasis added)."

Schwartz also says "I had to fight for so long against the notion that this is somehow a disguised residence...It was never a residence." And yet it was he who the Villager in 2006 said described the project as "more pied-a-terre than short-term stay hotel...every unit ...will be sold individually to buyers who might live there year-round, from time to time or seasonally. All owners will be free to offer up their Rockwell Group-designed units as hotel rooms, if they so choose (emphasis added)"

What the Mayor's Office, including Bloomberg and Doctoroff, the Buildings Department and Speaker Quinn's office -- would have us all believe that there was no way that this Project could have been stopped.

And, here we have the developer telling us himself that without the special treatment by the City - it would not have made sense to be built.

Remember that the next time you go to the polls.

So, is Trump SoHo really in SoHo after all?

Well, look at it this way.

According to the Friends of Hudson Square, the organization behind the "charrette" or vision for Hudson Square whose title of "unofficial Mayor" is claimed by David Reck, Hudson Square begins at the River and ends at Hudson Street - from Houston to Canal Streets. With several condo owners, St John's and the apparent support of Christine Quinn, the Friends have essentially established their turf and no one appears to disagree.

Trump SoHo seems to feel that Spring and Varick Streets are part of SoHo. The fact that their sales office is on Wooster Street does not preclude them from claiming SoHo residence for a project on Varick Street.

And, the SoHo Alliance under the tutelage of Sean Sweeney recently commented that people as far west as Greenwich Street used to consider themselves SoHo residents.

His view is that from 6th Avenue to the eastern side of Hudson Street is really SoHo West, or western SoHo. Several restaurants have touted their SoHo presence at locations as far north as Carmine Street and Varick.

Of course, those who live below Houston Street and west of 6th Avenue have been known to claim this area as part of the South Village.

Given the fact that the Hudson Square residents have by choice cut off their territory at Hudson Street - partly to limit their expectations and expenses (presumably also not to piss off Trinity Church who owns a lot of Varick Street) - Sweeney may have a point.

It may be one of the few times the Donald and Sean Sweeney agree.

We'll see how this plays out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

This Week in SoHo

The only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Democrats allow the poor to be corrupt, too.
--Oscar Levant

Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.
--Ronald Reagan

The demonstration this week occurred as Ivanka and guests were filing into the new Trump SoHo building among jeers from residents who found the experience distasteful and maddening.

From across Spring Street, Sean Sweeney and members of the SoHo Alliance, supporters of Andrew Berman and the GVSHP, David Reck of the Friends of Hudson Square and even Tony Avella of the City Council - watched as the glitterati were ushered into the speedily constructed condo-hotel.

The police, commanded by Chief Paragallo and Officer Turco, aided by a suit from the Intelligence Unit who would not identify himself, were abrupt and threatening towards the demonstrators - who followed the law and moved away. The hundred or so residents with placards were there to emphasize the sell-out by the City in permitting an illegal building for "The Donald" who apparently allows his daughter to be used as bait for the selling of the condos. And, the police basically told the residents to move across Varick Street so as to be out of sight for the "opening" of the building to viewers. As if to replay the Republican Convention, anyone not moving back and forth like the clay ducks in the Coney Island shooting gallery or background walkers on a sidewalk movie set was threatened with arrest.

When asked questions, Chief Paragallo simply said, "I'm busy, get moving."

So much for Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Expression - or, dare we say, Freedom of the Press.

The Police were there - just as the City has been there - to support developers like Trump. The sell-out has been accomplished. And, to add insult to injury, Dan Doctoroff, Deputy Mayor, and the Robin to Batman Bloomberg - is rumored to be stepping down from his current post in order to run for Mayor.

Now, the question is this.

How does this affect the well-known intentions of Christine Quinn? She has been known to covet the position of heir-apparent to Bloomberg. And, we have all been groomed to accept the fact that Mr. Mike and she enjoy a very cozy relationship - even bordering on affection for each other.

Given the fact that Quinn has been saving her nickels and enjoying campaign contributions from developers (according to Crain's) in order to pursue these election plans - what does Doctoroff's plans do to this agenda?

One would suspect that Mr. Mike has more interest in Robin than Ms. Speaker.

Speaker Quinn is known as a politician who keeps a black book and does not like criticism but all politicians have the same blind eye when it comes to political aspirations. The more complex the political spin, the further from the truth the observer becomes.

When you shun the voters who rely upon your position in office, you run the real risk of being rejected.

It was no surprise then that the demonstrators were heard chanting, among other things, on Varick and Spring Streets, "Who's out, who's in, where the hell is Christine Quinn." - even though they were pushed a block away.

While Quinn may be no more responsible for the failure of the City and its agencies - in allowing big developers to destroy our urban landscape - it is still her district and the voters wanted to know why was she not on the picket lines with Toney Avella?

Community Board #2
entertained its audience this week as a liquor license bit the dust on the floor of the Full Board.

A good segment of Chinatown came out for a liquor license application that has seen more twists than the old Peppermint Lounge.

Forty Deuce
, was a bar/restaurant/burlesque application for Kenmare Street that Business Committee Chair Ray Lee allowed to slip through, despite the initial opposition from the community.

Hoylman had allowed Lee to remain Chair of this committee and has slowly allowed former members like Roscia Sanz return, to the annoyance of others on the newly configured Board.

Apparently, there are some, like former Board member and Business Committee Chair Bob Rinaolo, who never saw a bar that he didn't like. Or, at least those in SoHo and NoHo felt that this was the M.O. of that committee.

At this week's Full Board, not only did Rinaolo appear for a cameo performance - kissing and shaking the hands of his friends still on the Board - but also the voting was faintly familiar.

Almost in a block, those members who had been part of the Board #2 "self-interest" cabal - those who never saw a liquor license submitted by friends and Chamber of Commerce associates and cronies alike that they didn't like - seem to have returned.

Phil Mouquinho, who is now Vice Chair of Zoning, Roscio Sanz, former Youth Committee Chair Shirley Smith, Carol Yankay, former Chair of the Board Maria Derr, and Ray Lee - greeted Bob Rinaolo with smiles and salutes of comrades. Those new members on the Board who do not know their agenda and those on the Board who do remember the games and political treachery - must all understand that reform is a continuous process. This was a well-understood principle of the political game in Tammany Hall. It's still true today. Reform must be ongoing to be successful.

Meanwhile, in a telling performance -- it took a tremendous effort to block a bar on one NoHo street and Herculean effort to stop one bar on the periphery of Chinatown at Kenmare Street.

The community still must exert tremendous effort to protect itself from special interests, which never rest.

Mr. Hoylman still has a lot of work to do if he is to gain the respect of the community, not just the Community Board - and, as smart as he is, he must never underestimate the intelligence of the voters - not just the fundraisers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Housing on the Hudson

"Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game."

Donald Trump (1946 - )

There are unconfirmed rumors that Community Board #2 Chair Brad Hoylman may decide to pursue an initiative aimed at dealing with the pathetically weak response from City agencies towards rent-control/rent stabilized complaints and tenants. The number of allegations that landlords have been harassing and retaliating against tenants who complain about housing conditions with impunity -- have increased dramatically – as have illegal efforts to evict them or litigate them out of their homes.

Instead of helping tenants, however, the HPD, DHCR and Department of Buildings have more or less cooperated with landlords by ignoring dangerous conditions and instead have been focusing on complaints by landlords about tenants. HPD prosecutors have been lax to the point of incompetence and Judges have appeared to be indifferent when tenants have instituted HP actions. The 311 system has been so ineffective that many tenants no longer bother to register serious housing complaints – which may weaken a tenant’s legal defenses -- but has become an irrelevancy with regard to action by the City to coerce landlords into making repairs.

A community forum, much like the Town Hall meetings that affected the S.L.A. response to over saturation of liquor licenses could have a beneficial affect on the “legal method” of evicting tenants in Manhattan through financial intimidation. You can’t fight a phony eviction and pay rent without being forced to accept a buyout at some point.

While Speaker Quinn has been criticized for inaction on some downtown issues, it is Hoylman’s view that she has been an advocate of tenants rights and effective in dealing with landlord abuses.

Organizations like the newly formed UNYTE may choose to make their views more focused and present them to Quinn’s office.

Trump SoHo is moving upward and the controversy does not seem to quit.
Stu Klein, the SoHo Alliance attorney, has advised the Buildings Department that there are serious violations that need to be addressed and that the permit to build should be pulled.

After having outlined his reasons in a letter to D.O.B., he waited for their response.

He’s still waiting.

And, the wait is really the answer. It never ceases to amaze activists downtown how completely rude and insensitive this City distraction is to residents.

The lack of response and avoidance of even a feigned community-relations pretense is what has become the hallmark of the Bloomberg Administration.

Essentially, Klein’s objection cites three reasons why the Trump project should be stopped. For one thing, the Restrictive Declaration is a joke. There is no way that the Department of Buildings will enforce the restrictions that have been written. There is no enforcement unit in place that will stop hotel-condo tenants from exceeding their stay. Currently, no owner of one of these condo units can occupy a unit continuously.

Who’s going to put them out if they stay over?

Which is exactly why they are selling so well. A recent piece reports:

The Co-Exclusive Marketing and Sales is Prodigy International Development Sales and Core Group Marketing. The Post ran the following article on 8/16:

Early demand for developer Donald Trump's condominium hotel in Soho is impressively high, says the New York Post. Sources claim that 2,800 applications have already been received for 500 units, catching prices of nearly $2,700 per square foot. The units have an occupancy limit of 120 days per year. Trump's condominium hotel project has been controversial from its inception. Opponents have criticized what they believe is a manipulation of the neighborhood's designation as a manufacturing zone.

The Department of Buildings, by allowing the project to continue, also appears to be violating Federal Security laws.

When a condominium has substantial restrictions on its use, it is treated as a “Security” in the eyes of the S.E.C. In this instance, the restrictions on the use and temporary occupancy rise to the level of being substantial – thereby relegating the sale of condominiums to the level of selling an investment instrument that is considered a security.

It appears that further legal challenges may occur – which could result in the project being stopped by the Securities and Exchange Commission for violating Federal securities laws.

Stay Tuned.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Bigger Easy

Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.
-Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977)

While New Orleans has been known by that moniker, Manhattan is also starting to become “The Bigger Easy.” Developers, and developments that are known to have contributed to local politicians campaigns and projects that offend downtowners are rapidly expanding.

The politicians and government are appearing to be selling lower Manhattan for a nice price and thumbing their noses at residents.

What seems to be happening is a sense that local government, from the Mayor and his appointees down through the City Council has disconnected from the electorate – and is bent on selling off to the highest bidder.

Trump SoHo
continues upwards towards it 42 stories on a parcel on Spring and Varick streets where contextual zoning would not have permitted anything higher than an 18-20 story structure either as a hotel or commercial building – or 8 to 10 stories as a condo development. Under current zoning there is no community input.

A 17-story hotel is nearing completion on Watts street that may a stopping point where tourist buses flood lower Manhattan and in a location where traffic congestion is so bad that it is like adding open sewers to the 19th century streets of Calcutta.

The Department of Sanitation has chosen Greenwich Street for a 10-story garage and fuel storage depot instead of placing it on 30th street (block 675) even though it has obtained approval to build it there -- long before Joe Rose (former head of City Planning) and his family have been attempting to obtain approval to build. There is already a condo development in close proximity to that site. Do you think there is any connection with the City's decision to instead dump the project in Hudson Square -- despite the fact that the project was approved and even accepted by that area's Community?

Pier 40 is under siege with the probable selection of Related’s “Vegas on the Hudson” development – despite the fact that the community, kids, parents, ballfield supporters AND politicians feeling the pressure – because the Trust Board clearly wants to see the project built. There is no doubt that the Hudson River Park Trust Board, using the excuse that the infrastructure needs repair, is clearly in favor of the Related proposal. Spitzer is weakened and Doctoroff may have the upper hand since he is reportedly the real de facto Chair with Bloomberg the other major Trust controller at this point. And, there had been rumors afloat that Joe Rose had in interest in the appointment as Chair of the Trust Board -- but it has just been awarded to Diana Taylor, Bloomberg's "friend." It will be interesting now to see how this plays out for the community.

The “we know better about what’s good for you” approach was most evident at the last public meeting of the Trust Board where Marc Ameruso, Chair of the Advisory, reported on the community suggestions largely extruded by Arthur Schwartz (as Chair of Waterfront at CB2 and previous Advisory Chair). The Trust Board received the Advisory’s report with ho-hums. It speaks reams that Doctoroff said nothing at all at that meeting. He may not have needed to – since whatever needed to be said had already been communicated – behind the scenes. The connections between the Related proposal, the Trust Board, and government may need to be delineated more clearly at some point.

The Gansevoort Recycling plan has been kicking around for years. Under the tutelage of the EDC (Economic Development Corporation) via the efforts of Kate Ascher. The most recent PR plan, however, involved using a kid suffering from asthma in a commercial to support Bloomberg and Doctoroff’s push to get Albany to push through the plan for Pier 52 – by emphasizing the need to protect our children from pollution. Of course, there was no mention of the huge increase of truck and vehicle traffic downtown caused by the Verazzano toll reversal that gives free rides in and out of downtown to New Jerseyites and Staten Islanders. Of course, since Staten Island created the Republican win for both Giuliani and Bloomberg, that was never mentioned.

The other part of the Gansevoort deal was a political push to win quid pro quo from North Manhattan politicians who found it necessary to use the NIMBY theory of waste disposal. The rational location for a downtown recycling site was, and still is, Pier 76. But that would interfere with another Bloomberg/Doctoroff redevelopment site – the Convention Center and its cross-West Side Highway overflow.

Selling out the West Village and inundating them with diesel particulates is acceptable. Impeding a development site is not.

So, what is really going on?

It appears that there is just so much money around – although liquidity may soon start to ebb as a result of the current banking crisis – that financial pressures are just too hard to resist.

For one thing, Hudson Square is still a “No-man’s-land” that bears a resemblance to the Great Plains of the 1930’s and the resulting dust bowl from which that term emanates.

With no coherent zoning, the foot dragging from the Speaker’s Office where pressure for change should come from, and the gleeful selling off of downtown by Bloomberg/Doctoroff’s Batman and Robin team – there is clearly no interest in stemming the new Homestead Act for Manhattan. Parcels can’t be given away for development fast enough. The pressure to give downtown away makes Robert Moses and his sell-out of the Brooklyn Dodgers look mild by comparison.

The fact that Speaker Quinn has accepted at least $262,000 toward her mayor campaign already, is a significant signal as to what we have in store.

Tony Avella, Council Member of Queens joined the picket line in front of Trump SoHo. Where was Speaker Quinn – at a site that exists in her own district? What does that say about representation?

From Trump SoHo to the Gansevoort Recycling proposal, to the Pier 40 development, to the DSNY project, residents are being treated as children who don’t really know what’s good for them -- and maybe they don’t. Even scarier, maybe they shouldn’t know what is really going on.

As Jack Nicholson said, while playing Jessep from A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Maybe residents need to consider candidates who represent them instead of those that represent their own interests and the interests of developers.

Note: As a postscript to the discussion on development pressures, there is a new tenant push to address the issue of development and lack of enforcement by that corrupt of all city agencies -- The Department of Buildings -- an agency that is in the business of making money from all comers. And, it is the agency that politicians would have us believe will scrupulously watch how the Trump SoHo people restrict usage at their new heinous condo-hotel. The new organization, called UNYTE is meeting on August 15th and they deserve your attention.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


"In politics, absurdity is not a handicap."
-Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821)

After the dust has started to settle in Albany we find that the Prosecutor as Governor is no longer the fair-haired warrior who will right the wrongs for New Yorkers. Last year, the SoHo Journal, wrote an article in support of Tom Suozzi for Governor. There was criticism for that - not the least of which pointed out that Spitzer was going to win and being on the winning team is key to political survival.

But, as Jim McManus, the respected leader (McManus Midtown Democratic Club) once pointed out, winning is not everything - even in politics. What is most important is integrity and fidelity. At lunch, McManus told Spitzer - when he was asked for his support - "Eliot, I'm supporting Tom Suozzi. This is a race for Governor but you're a prosecutor."

Spitzer was not happy and basically told McManus that he was going to win big even without his support.

But, McManus knew that Spitzer, like Aeschylus, had his head in the clouds and was not really a man of the people. He was, and is, at heart a bully and a prosecutor.

Joe Bruno has taught him a lesson. A very expensive and likely, a terminal political lesson. The degree to which this lesson will contribute to the end of his political career will be played out in the months and possibly years to come. Who could have imagined that anyone would be sympathetic to Joe Bruno? But, here we are.

Of course, how this plays out should be instructive.

Giuliani is calling for a Special Prosecutor and thinks that Cuomo might just be the right guy. Cuomo, of course, would love to be Governor, and it would seem quite plausible for him to step further into the limelight.

Giuliani, a Presidential hopeful, is actually getting some sympathy from Democrats in New York for tiptoeing around the issue without verbally nailing Spitzer. While Police and Firefighters don't buy the hero routine over 9/11, Giuliani might actually hit a nail on the head with the Bully and his abuse of power.

No one, of course, believes that Spitzer didn't know what going on. The idea that his "Haldeman and Erlichman" told him nothing about what they were doing - is ludicrous on its face - with a politician who bragged about his micromanagement style.

We are left with what threatens to be a political witch-hunt and a Mexican standoff - while the important matters of appointments and funding goes begging. The HRPT for example, is just one agency that Board Chair appointment is being held up by the prior Bruno/Sptizer antagonism. Many think that Spitzer did not do his homework on political appointments but the fact of the matter is that Bruno was holding them up.

We now have a Governor consumed with his political survival and who knows when these necessary slots will be filled. Even more disturbing - would we really want the positions to be filled by Spitzer's people?

The unpopular Business Committee of Community Board #2 has been the focus of its new Chair, Brad Hoylman - who has acted quickly after hearing from some of his Board members.

The application for a new bar/restaurant/burlesque location on Kenmare Street ("forty deuce on kenmare") was approved by the Business Committee and slipped through the Full Board. This occurred despite the fact that several Asian community members appeared in prior meetings to protest the excessive number of liquor licensed establishments - arguably 30 in a radius of 500 feet. Normally, this would automatically trigger a "500 foot rule hearing" required by the Padavan Law.

Sensing that the Board, previously under the control of Maria Derr and her anti-community, pro-bar Board Chairmanship - was being perpetuated by this decision - Hoylman decided to take action.

The matter is now being reviewed by a group of Board members in conjunction with the Borough President's Office.

Questions as to the wisdom of retaining Ray Lee as Chair of this committee - someone who was an associate of Bob Rinaolo, Phil Mouquinho, Roscia Sanz, Judy Paul and Lisa Canistraci - bar owners who often voted as a bloc with other supporters when a liquor license was being proposed - is being questioned by the community.

The cozy relationship between those Business committee members who also enjoyed Chamber of Commerce membership and consequent business respect for being able to be helpful to applicants - while no impropriety is being suggested - is not a good situation.

Hoylman has made a good start and will hopefully balance business interests with the demands of the community.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Matters of Some Concern

"Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat."
-John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy, 1981-1987

After throwing away an old t-shirt, it was clear that its inscription was still quite valid. In a corner, on the breast pocket read, "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished." This is especially true in politics. It may be one of the reasons why "Scooter" Libby was, essentially pardoned. He was doing his job - and did it too well. And, if you hate Cheney, even a Democrat could sympathize with an employee who was doing what he was told to do - and did it well.

In politics, even community politics, we all make choices. While there are rewards (Community Board #2 mail, for example, addresses all of its members with the title "Honorable"), most of them are illusory and none of them pay. If you join the Community Board, keep your day job. It's not likely to lead to much income. Graft is frowned upon; even "Good graft" as George Washington Plunkett described it, is eschewed. And, this brings us to the issue of service on Community Boards - a forum for debate and an entity with only advisory power. Albeit, with some respect.

A big point is made of Conflict of Interest. Essentially, the concept means that if you are going to make a profit or have an interest that could potentially translate into some sort of personal gain - as a result of an issue being decided in a Community Board committee or Full Board decision - it should be divulged and you should not participate in voting on the matter.

But, there are gray areas. And, respectable Board members get caught up in the machinery when things go awry.

Tobi Bergman, current Chair of the Parks Committee, for example, found himself in the midst of a controversy several years ago and there was an investigation over the C&K matter by the COIB and Department of Investigation. Someone dropped a nickel on Tobi after nasty rumors persisted involving the prior Pier 40 RFP. His trip to Paris to meet with the C & K plan architects over one weekend -- involved more jet lag than Follies Bergere, but created shrieks from the floor of the Community Board. Jealousy and envy in Greenwich Village is naturally green; in SoHo it turns black. Arthur Schwartz also had to answer questions from investigators. The Friends of Hudson River Park and Al Butzel was viewed askance, Tobi was questioned and ultimately the plan to develop Pier 40 went nowhere - the Trust Board voted to reject it. Looking back, with the current Working Group and Advisory to the HRPT about to tell us that we should do nothing (again), the C & K plan wasn't all that bad. It was a far cry from the current Related "Vegas on the Hudson."

Prior to this, P3 had been involved with a lawsuit initiated and settled by Schwartz because C & K (which had the Pier 40 lease) had not afforded Pier, Park and Playground, which is a true kid-friendly organization in a sea of condo developments, the space that they were entitled to via the Hudson River Park Act. The lawsuit was settled by C & K and P3 was awarded $5000 monthly, which benefited the kids. Since he was an employee of P3, it also benefited Tobi.

In a subsequent Community Board vote involving C & K, after this settlement, Tobi participated and did not recuse himself. In retrospect, Tobi acknowledges that this was at least a mistake in terms of its appearance of impropriety.

But, does this rise to the level of say, Bob Rinaolo, being Chair of Business Committee -- overseeing votes on his own liquor license - or selling his Houston Street garage to the Village Nursing Home after contacting other Board members to "suggest" that they vote in favor it - never stating the fact that he owned it at a Full Board meeting that approved a variance for the buyer?

What is to be learned from this? What is to be learned from community service when a mistake (obviously Tobi thought that everyone knew about the lawsuit and settlement with P3 and C & K) - is investigated by prosecutors who have deep pockets and interrogated by, to quote a lawyer who defends people against prosecutorial zeal, investigators and police that are "not your friends." Tobi, is paying a $1000 fine, rather than spend multiples of that continuing to defend against the claim of conflict of interest.

Be careful rangers, think twice about community service, think three times about taking a stand in public, think four times about voting your conscience in an unforgiving environment - because even if it only appears that you could gain a nickel - the vultures may descend. It does not bode well for activism.

Any day now, any day.
Actually, it will be any day.

The SoHo Alliance and its attorney Stu Klein will soon be requesting that Trump SoHo move to Cleveland. Well, not exactly.

What will happen, in fact, is that the Department of Buildings will be asked to terminate the permit allowing Trump SoHo to be built. And, the response will be --- the same response that activists have received from the D.O.B. involving the illegal signs which have been plastered all over SoHo, NoHo and Hudson Square - they will either deny the request or ignore it.

That's when things are going to get interesting.

Sean Sweeney, Executive Director of the SoHo Alliance and the unofficial "enforcer" of SoHo -- is no stranger to controversy. And Stu Klein is an attorney to be reckoned with. Keep your eyes peeled on this one, but don't expect the cranes on Varick and Spring Streets to be idled just yet.

With Speaker Quinn reportedly kowtowing to Real Estate interests, Bloomberg eyeing a third-party race for President, and D.O.B. Commissioner Lancaster taking her cue from Robert Moses Doctoroff and the developer/fundraisers who employ her - don't expect an easy resolution to this sell-out of Hudson Square and SoHo. Only a change of zoning, an issue that is avoided by Quinn, will preserve Hudson Square in time to prevent these huge, completely out-of-context condo-hotel monsters from being built.

A matter of some concern has arisen at Community Board #2.

It appears that the Business Committee may be up to some of its old tricks. This periodically renegade committee, which is responsible for approving liquor licenses, seems to be reverting to methods and actions that had caused controversy in the past.

In its prior life, it was Chaired by Bob Rinaolo, a bar owner, and was packed with liquor license holders like Rosia Sanz, Judy Paul, Phil Mouquinho and packed with their friends and associates like Lee and Rosenwasser and Derr. It was a club that controlled who got a license and what community suffered from bar saturation. Tricks abounded under Rinaolo, and later Derr's tutelage. What used to be a Community-oriented Board became a Chamber of Commerce-oriented Board. Liquor license applicants were given priority over implementation of the 500-foot rule (Padavan Law) - which put the responsibility on the license applicant to justify his/her need, as opposed to the overriding community welfare.

Under Ray Lee, the current Chair, who was a Rinaolo and Derr stalwart - despite the fact that the newly configured committee is less heavily weighted with bar owners (still Sanz and Paul are bar owners) - questions of fairness have arisen.

A recent matter by "Forty Deuce on Kenmare" is a bar and burlesque application which has been floating around Community Board #2. A few community people appeared several months ago, strenuously objecting to yet another bar in this mostly Asian location - having difficulty with their English - but clearly making the point that "enough is enough" when there are 30 bars within 500 feet of the site.

Recently, the application was heard with only one-day notice - yet people appeared - but the committee approved the application nonetheless.

Apparently the Full Board let it ride through based upon the committee's report.

What we have here, folks, is a failure to communicate.

Brad Holyman, the new Chair of Community Board #2, has wielded a very soft knife and has tried to cut away softly at the corrosion on the Board. He has wended his way between the layers of presumed power bases and removed people who are incompetent and allowed people to stay in positions of some power because they are potential rivals or liabilities.

Ray Lee was allied with the Rinaolo/Derr/Mouquinho/Sanz bar owner/Chamber of Commerce group, which gained favor and power from the ability to grant liquor licenses to friends and associates.

Lee was their front man when the seat of the Chair of Business got too hot for the obvious players. And, he did what he was told - and may still be doing just that. He is conflicted and the committee is still conflicted.

Until the Community comes first, until the Padavan Law (500 foot rule) is appropriately applied and taken seriously so that it becomes the job of the applicant to justify why ANOTHER bar is allowed to open in a liquor license saturated location -the Community Board is NOT doing its job.

It is ironic that the current S.L.A. is more community friendly than the Community Board.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Crosscurrents II

As we anticipate those Dog Days of August, political junkies search for material in a summer that seems bereft of hot issues. Yet, there are a number of current, essentially New York, problems needing attention.

On the waterfront, the ILA (International Longshoremen Association) at Pier 92 fight for their lives amidst the onslaught from the Economic Development Corporation - with Kate Ascher out and Madelaine Wils in - which wants to support trade organizations instead of allowing passenger ships to arrive from abroad. In other words, the Princess Lines show Manhattan in their brochures as the point of arrival - when, in fact, they wind up in Red Hook where the City has decided to receive its international celebrities.

Can't you see it now? You're watching a news report of crowds awaiting a billion dollar Queen arriving in Manhattan but reality is that the Mayor diverts his limo to Brooklyn -- Red Hook no less -- to receive his visiting dignitaries. Of course, some go to New Jersey, where the EDC is trying to steer the ILA. They've spent millions in Red Hook but won't repair the peeling paint on Pier 92. Billy Cox, secretary of the ILA, thinks that the City is pushing them out so that the piers can be taken over for more trade shows.

The numbers show that passengers arriving spend upwards of $500,000 per day on their visits ashore and that local business suffers when ships are diverted. After all, what was the last Broadway show you attended in Red Hook; which used to be more famous for the "Canal" and some powerful odors, not to mention gang brawls?

There have been allegations that the trade shows and organizations who now employ Ascher, formerly Vice President of EDC, seem to be a little too cozy. EDC pushes the ILA out, the trade organizations pick up the piers. A little thought should fill in the blanks. Oh, did we say Doctoroff is on the Board as well. While the Longshoremen are hardly choirboys, it's ironic that Marlon Brando and a former union president, who was machine-gunned down, have been upstaged by politicians.
Brando and the union in "On the Waterfront" may have portrayed rubes by comparison the the trade show games now being played in trying to evict the union.

The current thinking about downtown politicians give us this scenario:

Borough President Scott Stringer
, who has gotten high marks from Community Board members is clearly running. He is running in place and running for the future. His high energy translates into the realistic speculation that he makes a run for Public Advocate or Comptroller in '09 - for Bill Thompson's current job which is term-limited. While Stringer would undoubtedly win re-election, it is a dead end job for the next curtain. If he were to term limit out, there would be no slots with an upwardly mobile life in sight at the end of that run.

Thompson is widely expected to run for Mayor when Bloomberg is buying his way into a presidential race - which he is eyeing as a third party candidate. He is rumored to be cautiously studying Ross Perot's roadmap and subsequent faux pas.

While he could also make a detour towards Albany the year after, with all that money, he seems to be more interested in the gold ring. The Steeplechase Carousel in Coney Island always drew the biggest crowds.

Thompson has Weiner and Carrion to be concerned about - although some believe, (wishfully some say) that Quinn has a second-tier chance. Quinn has a following but has managed to alienate some Downtown voters who hoped for guidance and support on issues such as the Hudson Square re-zoning in her own Council seat area. Picking up Bloomberg's Staten Island supporters could be a pipe-dream.

While race and gender are never supposed to enter into politics, a New York Jew does not always play well for President in Peoria and Gay politics are not as popular in Queens as they may be in Manhattan. Spitzer bucked the trend when he managed to take Albany, but the heartland is more visceral than P.C. in the voting booths.

Melinda Katz, Queens Councilwoman, is also a popular candidate who is rumored to be angling for the Comptroller position and she is a strong and attractive candidate - politically and personally. The Hevesi furor was gone but has recently returned with what appears to be mostly prosecutorial heavy-handedness than an issue for the people. He was re-elected after all. Katz was irresponsibly associated with Hevesi simply because she was a friend. She is warm and personable and this was used against her.

She is a very successful fundraiser and has been a staunch supporter of SoHo when it came to land use.

Arthur Schwartz, the ultimate downtown political survivor has been "sharing" his Pier 40 statement with everyone. While the downtown electeds have demurred in signing on to the Advisory (HRPT) document that has been generated, he is still looking for a media outlet. Any day now a press conference should be held to discuss the findings and suggestions for the development of Pier 40. Any day, now.

Essentially, this compilation of Trust information, Board #1 resolutions, Little League suggestions and former Board #2 discussions - augmented by input by the electeds and the members of the Advisory - the document suggests how Pier 40 should be allowed to develop in great detail. In other words, the ball fields should be left alone, the parking should be left alone, and money should be generated by the Legislature or private funds to develop it in a community friendly way. That part we all got.
But it should be lost on any of us that the elected officials refused to sign on to it. Although, this may simply have been because they did not want to be responsible for having to come up with the money to support the new "plan."

After by-pass surgery, removal as District Leader by Duane and Quinn in favor of Brad Hoylman (current Chair of Board #2), and fired by Aubrey Lees from the Board #2 Waterfront Committee four years ago - he has risen from the ashes of defeat and has arrived as Waterfront Chair of Board #2, Chaired the HRPT Advisory, and become a State Committeeman. The press conference will be center stage with a spotlight. The question is, does it matter?

The Advisory of the HRPT has become a suspect entity - not because of its membership but because the Trust Board is led by a lame duck Chair (Trip Dorkey) while the real control is reportedly in the hands of Dan Doctoroff - Bloomberg's Robert Moses wannabee. Spitzer is too busy being a prosecutor and trying to bring down Bruno in Albany to appoint many of the positions needing leadership. Bruno, in a characteristic power play, pissed off at being the target of our prosecutor-Governor has been instrumental in holding up many of these appointments. So, the HRPT goes adrift and current history shows us that the real political and financial decisions are made behind closed doors while community people spend their time believing that their opinions will matter in all of this "decision-making."

There is speculation that the Trump SoHo project may run into trouble soon. Apparently, the I's and T's were not handled properly and some activists are saying that the project groundwork is not fully legal. You didn't hear that here.

Investigations are continuing downtown. There are several focusing on the waterfront.

Some are ongoing and making not a few people nervous.

The D.A.'s office refuses to comment but there are rumors that there may a few frowns out there that are not just the result of wedgies.

Oh, and just to keep it light. The Mayor of Quogue, George Motz, who was investigated by the S.E.C. for "ticket-switching" is currently dealing with a possible U.S. Attorney's office consideration of a criminal investigation.

It seems that Georgie, big with the Quoguedelytes where his wife Kitrick Motz is also the Judge (keeping it in the family) avoided being written about in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal as well as local papers for this cute little maneuver. The SoHo Journal, however, did cover the delectable matter a few months ago.

Finally, Brad Hoylman, the new Chair of Community Board #1 seems to have configured the new Board without alienating most of the members.

He has elevated several new members, such as Phil Mouquinho, who is now a committee Chair as well as a Vice Chair, he has allowed people like Ray Lee (a Rinaolo holdover) to remain Chair of Business, where years of community opposition to the self-serving Chamber of Commerce/Bar owner crowd saturated downtown with new bars and nightclubs. The committee, so far, seems to be balanced, however. A few of the Board's dowagers are also relegated to the background - something that no one has had the guts to do. Committees have been folded into others in a deft move that relegates problem members to a position of lesser importance with smaller mouthpieces.

Mouquinho may turn out not to be a die-hard Rinaolo holdover, although he was close to the bar owner cabal, but he clearly is also a community activist - putting his time in on the DSNY issue in Hudson Square and the redesign thrust headed by David Reck and the Friends of Hudson Square. Part of his ascendance is due to Hoylman's desire to have avoided competition for the race for Chair to which Mouquinho is known to be aspiring.
However, he has Jo Hamilton and a sleeper, David Gruber, to be concerned with over the next two years. After that, Hoylman exits and runs for City Council.

Considering the fact that Stringer may only be BP for another two and a half years, it will be interesting to see who's behind Curtain number three for those political slots on Board #2.

Meanwhile, the race is already shaping up for Alan Gerson's seat -- who is term-limited out in another two years. The names so far seem to be Julie Menin of Board #1, David McWaters of Board #3, Madelaine Wils (currently of EDC and former Chair of Board #1), and Pete Gleason, an activist-attorney.

That's not the end of the list but it is the end of this week's diatribe.

As Joe Kane, one of Joseph P. Kennedy's trusted sidekicks, once said: "There are no friends in politics, only co-conspirators."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Quiet before the Storm

Yet another development site is being proposed in Hudson Square. The King Street parcel at 179 Varick Street is the next known site for a 16 story hotel proposed for Hudson Square. While activists and community organizations have been pounding the tables at the offices of elected officials, City Planning has been looking over the rainbow. In fact, there seems to be no concern whatsoever at that agency as parcels are devoured and Hotel/Condos and Hotels rush to the planning boards to turn the west side of lower Manhattan into a set for the remake of that famous cult horror movie Motel Hell - now Hotel Hell. Hudson Square is about to become the location for "Short stays" replete with billboards and fast exits through the Holland Tunnel.

Such a bad precedent -the equivalent to the destruction of a community in transition would never be tolerated in SoHo or Tribeca, certainly not Greenwich Village or even NoHo. And, the fact that Christine Quinn, Speaker of the City Council and representative for this area, is taking no obvious action to stop the accelerated development in Hudson Square - is indicative of the money and power behind this anschluss:

Trump (Spring Street), Marc Epstein (515 Greenwich), Wingate (179 Varick), and the just completed 17-story hotel on Watts and Avenue of the Americas.

So, in the midst of this sell-out, while Amanda Burden and City Planning order their second round of watercress sandwiches, Chris Quinn fiddles with her next fundraiser for Mayor and Bloomberg checks his compass for directions to Pennsylvania Avenue - Hudson Square is being lost.

No other burgeoning community has had to suffer at the hands of this influx of BIG money for the simple reason that the zoning classification has been purposely left vague. This is a money decision, make no mistake about it.

Andrew Berman of GVSHP basically has laid this issue on the steps of City Planning and made the issue one that cannot be mistaken. His letter to Amanda Burden, which he has written in response to her very weak logic, deserves to be read and appreciated.

Other letters have also been written as this travesty is allowed to unfold. The pressure to adopt contextual zoning for this area is now critical. It is no longer a manufacturing zone and only hotels and hotel/condos are being built in this no-mans-land of development without limits. The natives are definitely getting restless.

The update on Gansevoort is that no action has been taken in Albany. A reliable source predicts that the recycling center will be killed.

According to this source, there were many who didn't want to piss-off the Mayor on this issue for partisan reasons, and that it will be formally abandoned in the Special Session that starts on July 16th. If true, it's good news for Downtown - and should spur some hard decisions on the use of Pier 76.

The details of the D.S.N.Y imbroglio which have Friends of Hudson Square, squaring off against the City in its attempt to build a parking garage and fuel storage facility in the Greenwich and Spring streets location - have been getting more interesting.

One of the logical sites for this facility is "Block 675" located at 29th street and 11th avenue. In fact, that location was slated by D.S.N.Y for a garage after having completing condemnation proceedings two years ago. However, rumors have been swirling about that a certain developer will shortly be applying for a variance to develop the site for a residential tower and would accept a tow pound but not a garage under the planned building, according to public statements by Ann Weisbrod of the Hudson Yards Development Corporation.

The rumored developer is Georgetown Associates, related to the still powerful Joe Rose who was formerly Chair of City Planning. And, he purportedly still has tremendous influence over this agency's decisions.

According to one activist, in reporting on this situation at Block 675, he said,
"All of the approvals have been in place (including condemnation) since January 19, 2005 for the City to build a park over two DSNY garages and a NYPD tow-pound. There is an urgent need to mitigate 24 million sf of development across the street (30th-33rd Streets Eastern and Western MTA railyards) with some public open space requirements. At one point another developer purportedly offered to build a 70 story residential building and throw in the DSNY garages for free in the basement. Bottom line is that we are told that it is more cost-effective, more efficient for DSNY and would take less time to build this facility privately (avoiding the Wicks law)."

Things just keep getting curiouser and curiouser.