Friday, February 16, 2007

Weighing In

Politically speaking, there is a big difference between addressing an issue and "Weighing In" on a matter that means a great deal to people in a segment of the community. Politicians are adept at making speeches, giving interviews, addressing constituents at small gatherings or writing irate letters to subordinates or bureaucrats -even to commissioners of city agencies.

"Weighing In" on an issue is a totally different brand of toothpaste.

It is one of the more common catchphrases used by activists who can see through the fog of political rhetoric and window-dressing used to disguise the fact that a particular politician wants to appear to be fighting the good fight - but for one reason or another really doesn't give a shit whether the issue at hand is dealt with, or not. As long as it appears that he or she appears to be putting up a good fight - an argument can be supported that an effort was made.

But, the politician in question never really attempted to pick up the phone or have a meeting with the Commissioner who could make something happen and said "If you don't get this done, I'm going to fuck you politically!"

How does a resident of SoHo or Hudson Square, for example, know whether a Councilmember, Assembly member or Senator is really "Weighing In" on a matter of extreme importance?

How does anyone in the community know that their representative went to the mat for them? Like Lyndon Johnson - who was known to physically choke Congressmen in the halls of power - to get votes for his agenda. They feared him.

Politicians learn quickly about what they have to do and what they can get away with to get something done.

That's how they survive.

So, how do we know if our representative is REALLY fighting for us?

The answer to that is, follow the breadcrumbs.

Or, more succinctly, follow the phrase which teaches us that -- "It doesn't matter what you say, it only matters what you do."

Activists have their ears to the ground in a variety of ways. Whether someone is a member of a Community Board or one of its various committees, the public is always entitled to attend and listen. Newspapers, community publications and blogs tell those who are interested what they need to know, if they are listening.

In this regard, rumors have legs - and while some negative and false rumors are simply intended to damage reputations, there are rumors, which convey useful pieces of information. Some rumors are emotional reactions about the seeming intentions of an elected official -- but are nevertheless useful in evaluating a politician's real agenda.

Let's take one of the difficult issues in lower Manhattan: Billboards in SoHo, NoHo and Hudson Square. Not one of the elected officials has come out in favor of Billboards. It's sort of like the Trump condo-hotel, Trump SoHo. No one is in favor of it. Only in the case of Trump, no one is doing anything to stop it. No one is Weighing In on Trump. Why?
366 West Broadway/505 Broome St
In the case of the Billboards, it's a very straightforward matter. Everyone is discovering that big BILLBOARDS can destroy an area, turn it into a mini-Times Square, destroy the appreciation of surrounding architecture, and generally piss people off.

Only, for the last six years it was only happening in SoHo, NoHo and Hudson Square (as well as in Queens and Brooklyn along the elevated highways). It wasn't happening in Greenwich Village or in Gansevoort--where there are more votes. Landmarking comes from votes and pressure, ergo, protection.

It also wasn't on the radar screen of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Andrew Berman, who runs GVSHP, gets things done. 28 Watts Street at 6th AveHe focused on the billboards going up in the Meatpacking District a/k/a Gansevoort where a demonstration was held this past weekend - and the community "manned the barricades." Berman got the politicians focused and scared the shit out of them. Votes, baby! They started to "Weigh In" on the issue and suddenly the Department of Buildings was reviewing the "self-certified" permits.

This is an issue that the SoHo Journal has been writing about for five or six years; what SoHo, NoHo and Hudson Square residents have been screaming about - has now been discovered. Suddenly, the fact that Van Wagner has been defacing our community for nearly a decade through felonious applications by architects who employ a process known as "self-certification" -- which is used to circumvent the Department of Buildings and the City Council - is big news.28 Watts Street at 6th Ave

Letters have been hastily generated by all of the politicians to "Weigh-In" on this issue. The existence of these signs, now, really mattered. There were more votes to contend with; people were demonstrating. The game had changed.

In fairness, only Borough President Scott Stringer had made an attempt with a recalcitrant Commissioner Lancaster of the Buildings Department to remove the offensive signs and structures. The D.O.B. response has been belated and insufficient.

But, what has been offered by D.O.B. is to -- are you ready for this -- have VanWagner Communications in charge of covering over illegal billboards. Talk about having the wolf in charge of the chicken coop! And, then a reward for eating them.

So, here is an open comment to Senator Tom Duane, Speaker Christine Quinn, Assembly member Deborah Glick, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Borough President Scott Stringer, Senator Connor, and Councilmember Alan Gerson:

Weigh-In on the Billboard issue.

Thompson & Broome StreetsSoHo, NoHo, Hudson Square, Greenwich Village and yes, Gansevoort too, wants the horrendous billboards removed from their respective community.

Investigate Van Wagner and sign installers and the architects they have used who have employed self-certification to install horrendous and unsafe structures in SoHo, NoHo and Hudson Square--as well as in Greenwich Village and Gansevoort. Send the Fire Department to investigate locations where these unsafe, illegal and horrendous billboards are installed to thoroughly investigate ALL of the safety issues, and to assure residents that these buildings conform to all codes and have no violations.
A building owner should not be entitled to install any structures, even a legal billboard, if there are ANY violations on their building.

40-42 Thompson St at Watts StInsist that the City Council-mandated fines (passed by Peter Vallone) are applied in all instances, so that there is a disincentive to flout existing laws; create an enforcement unit with the power to remove billboards; and create a review board to determine what signage the community will allow constructed.

Calling 311 is a joke, writing letters is a waste of time. Only action counts now. You are expected to make a real effort NOW.

It's time for politicians who are not concerned about campaign contributions from Van Wagner or other media companies like ClearChannel - to act.

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