Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Big Easy

With media operatives working for politicians, assorted commissioners, real estate developers and other non-civilians working the New York City goldmine, it's almost possible to believe that the glass truly is only half-empty. The stage in Gotham is one upon which the political charade is played as activists watch in disbelief while "pearls of wisdom" fall from the lips of our elected thespians.

But, the glass is really much less full than just half empty. And, those droppings from the lips of our elected leaders are often not pearls but the dribbling of idiots.

And, from this vantage point, it appears that many of our current politicians view the community and those who object to their handling of crucial issues as insignificant pests preventing them from doing what they want. Not for the community, but for themselves. Grandiosity is a dangerous fault among those who have won elections.

Take the illegal Billboards issue. Take the Bob Bolles sculptures in "Sunflower" Park. Take the illegal (and legal) vendors in SoHo that prevent residents from taking baby carriages down Prince Street or West Broadway. Take the polluted "Black Zone" in lower Manhattan exacerbated by the Verrazano one-way toll. Take the Trump development, lack of zoning oversight and sell-out of Hudson Square.

From the beginning, many of these little "community issues," the level of concern displayed by Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, Speaker Quinn, Commissioner Lancaster, and most of the politicians at City Hall and the City Council, has been muted.

With a few nods, some carefully orchestrated meetings (several of them behind closed doors), a few well-placed news items of feigned outrage and concern, and a number of winks and nods - nothing has been done. What the respective deals were exactly, of course, we may never know. What we do know is that the white flag was raised before the battle began.

Simply, the art of Bob Bolles in SoHo was carted away by the Parks Department, the vendors still crowd our sidewalks, the illegal billboards flourish, and Trump is building Trump SoHo, known locally as Trump-Godzilla. (To be fair, though at least Commissioner Castro has returned a few Bob Bolles sculptures to SoHo.)

Of course, Bloomberg owns a media company and hopes to be President if everyone else is captured by aliens; Commissioner Lancaster works for Bloomberg and does what she is told: to help Trump and leave the billboard (media) companies alone -- and Speaker Quinn is rumored to be an ambitious politician whose main focus in life is fundraising for her next move (Mayor or comptroller is the latest rumored gig). She is perceived as cold and ruthless.

The billboards are funded primarily by Van Wagner and ClearChannel, media companies that give BIG fundraisers - in the form of campaign contributions. The illegal vendors are a pain in the ass to deal with and none of the elected leaders want to get their hands dirty so they leave residents to fend for themselves. The fact that the vendors are a blight on our community (legal or not), except for a small percentage of real artists who should form a collective and get off the streets - is beside the point for the upwardly mobile political hopefuls who don't want to take on a tough issue.

Then, there's the Trump fiasco.

The largest building between Midtown and Wall Street will be built in Hudson Square. Forty-five stories of "Hotel-Condos."

No objections from City Planning. No objections from Department of Buildings. Not a word from City Hall or Mayor Bloomberg - except for some cute words sparring with "The Donald." And, nary a negative word from Speaker Quinn or the City Council. Most of the heavy lifting has been done by Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation. And, he's not even on the city payroll.

Instead of dealing with any of these issues, instead of creating a wall of legal opposition and denying permits to the Trump monstrosity that will destroy downtown, instead of pursuing answers and funding community-oriented initiatives - Bloomberg is mailing one billion dollars back to real estate owners. Let's buy some votes for the next campaign, forget the community needs.

There are no schools or parks for children in SoHo and there are no traffic enforcement agents to control the out-of-control traffic horrors. Why, because there is no money available. But, hey, why is Bloomberg mailing a billion dollars back to real estate owners?

This Fix is in.

Bloomberg has four or five $Billion and Quinn reportedly is looking for financing for her political campaign.

Lancaster is told what to do by Bloomberg (as in, lay off the illegal billboards and give Trump what he wants) and no one wants to upset Trump and his machine for plowing through communities that don't want his projects.

Take the Bovis Lend Lease Company that is construction the Trump-Godzilla project. They attended this week's Community Board #2 meeting to "update" everyone on their progress. It was explained that they expect construction of the building to begin in May (they know something we don't know because the deal has already been cooked with Department of Buildings) and requested that they be permitted to pile-drive on weekends.

In other words, they asked that the community help them get the hated project done faster. The Community Board denied their request to work on weekends so people could sleep.

Of course, the Department of Buildings doesn't give a shit about the community. So, Borough Commissioner Christopher Santelli issued an "After Hours Work Variance Permit" on Friday for Bovis to work and the pile driving continued, starting at 7 a.m. Saturday morning.

Bovis Lend Lease, the construction company that attended the Community Board meeting, ostensibly seeking approval for weekend work, of course, knew that they would be working on the weekend even if they did not get the assent of the Board. They were there for the dog and pony show. The same kind of show that Trump is known for. At the meeting the Bovis spokesman smiled and said that Trump wasn't even part of the deal, that the Donald, was "just a movie star."

(As an interesting footnote, Trump has been quoted as saying that he may weigh in on the side of the community to prevent the Department of Sanitation plan for new buildings and a fuel storage facility a few blocks from his site. Is this a sudden pang of concern for the area he is about to destroy, or concern that the units may not sell as well with a potential bomb a few blocks away?)

Even the foreman at the Trump site gave the party line "We always want to work with the community." He said this as the deafening pounding of the pile driver continued to work.

And, Lend Lease, when asked why they didn't augur (screw) in the pilings, the answer was an evasive "it works better" on the site. For who?

As an interesting side note on the most recent Community Board #2's Full Board meeting, Sidewalks Committee Chair Phil Mouquinho, at the urging of SoHo residents, passed a resolution and gave a mini-speech about the arts community's problems. His focus was the vendors that block sidewalks and clog streets. The Full Board also discussed SoHo's illegal billboards and touched upon the horrendous traffic gridlock caused by the one-way toll that comes in from Staten Island and exits free into New Jersey via the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. This was forced down our throats by the Molinari Republicans who have repeatedly managed to install Republican Mayors in a Democratic New York City. (Fortunately, Jerry Nadler is introducing a bill in the now Democratic controlled House that may reverse this)

It was an evening at CB2 in which SoHo residents felt that there was finally some recognition from a Board that had ignored its pleas to stop liquor license saturation and had ignored its attempts to return the Bob Bolles sculptures to the vest park on West Broadway. Something seemed to be softening up the Board.

The fact that Brad Hoylman, Vice Chair of the Board, has just announced that he is officially declaring his candidacy for Chair of the Board - and the fact that Phil Mouquinho has been rumored to desire the slot himself - is cause to ponder just how "too little, too late" these interests in SoHo really are.

Of course, Phil, seems sincere. Even though he has been closely allied with Bob Rinaolo, Maria Derr, Rick Panson, and Roscia Sanz and the bar crowd who sought to "teach SoHo a lesson" about who controls the board - we should deal with some pronouncements at face value, and see if the comments have feet.

Hoylman has an agenda. He wants to be Chair and has future political aspirations. City Council is high on his list and he is well connected. He is neutral to the extent that his main interest is in moving along Board reform to augment his resume. This is a personal agenda that is neutral for residents during a presumably constructive two year run.

Phil, who has not yet unannounced his candidacy, will have a harder job in convincing people that the strings that were formerly attached to the bar crowd, are not still attached to Rinaolo's apron where there remains the desire to control the Board from a distance. Out of that corner comes true self-interest.

So, what have we learned?

Well, folks, what we have learned is that most of our elected leaders basically don't give a shit about the small (and large) issues that affect our everyday lives - and that they pander to the sources of money which will buy them higher glory. The Bloomberg's, the Quinns, the Doctoroffs, the Lancasters, the Rinaolos are money seekers and makers. The Hoylmans, Glicks, Stringers, and maybe even the Mouquinhos, are in it for the ideology and philosophy of it. While this is no surprise to most of us in the political game, it should be a surprise to those elected officials that ignore our needs while pretending to have our interests in mind -- that we know very well that this is a long con, not leadership. You can't bullshit a bullshitter, the saying goes.

You can buy political office but you can't buy respect. You can buy PR and media that glorify your work. But, the people know.

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