Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Issues and Politics

As Community Board #2 awaits the results of deliberations and voting by the Nominating Committee, Board Members as well as residents of SoHo, NoHo, Little Italy, Hudson Square and Greenwich Village watch in anticipation of a reformed Community Board.

While Brad Hoylman is widely expected to be the only candidate for Chair and Jo Hamilton and Bo Riccobono for 1st and 2nd Vice Chair are running with Sheelah Feinberg - there are always surprises. The difference this year is that a reform slate is likely to be the slate recommended by the Nominating Committee. It is no longer an uphill battle to root out entrenched, self-interested, business Members of the Board.

But, the problem with reformers is that they are driven by a desire to correct inequities and unethical behavior. Once the threat to Democracy has subsided or has been reduced, reformers relax and don't push as hard - just when they should pressure for even greater improvements. Tammany Hall, for example, counted on that fact of life and would simply wait out the reform movement. Community Boards are tremendous vehicles for pushing change. An effective Board can pass resolutions in tandem with sister Boards, which can give elected officials a clear and effective message. "Get to work to solve this problem or face being thrown out of office." With dangerous air pollution caused by a choking level of traffic congestion, a lack of police interest in controlling quality of life issues, a rapidly expanding influx of bars in some neighborhoods, the proliferation of illegal billboards, and the threat of over-development to entire neighborhoods - the need for leadership has never been greater. SoHo and Hudson Square have no parks for their children, yet the HRPT may allow "Vegas On the Hudson" to take away the ball fields on Pier 40. Washington Square Park is slated to be renovated but leadership in brokering a truce with the community is sadly lacking. The NYU co-generation plan is tearing at Greenwich Village and NoHo while more and more of the community is eaten up by the University. And, zoning in Hudson Square has been so ignored that Trump is building a 45-story hotel/condo in an area where commercial and residential buildings are less than half that size.

It is also rumored that Trump's brother is involved in a behind the scenes attempt to assemble a parcel on Watts, Broome and Varick Street for yet another colossal development - not unlike the Mark Epstein hotel/condo project in the works for 515 Greenwich Street. Speaker Quinn's office, as yet, has no credible time table for what activists are demanding for this area - a change to contextual zoning for Hudson Square and the western part of SoHo.

Maria Derr, the current Chair of Community Board #2 is a politician. Her two-year stint was primarily a political move. As the heir to a political family name, her objective was, and is, to take a first step towards being taken seriously as a political candidate. Whether she was effective or not, liked or not, interested in her job or not - is an irrelevancy. She became Chair of Community Board #2 for two years and can now focus on her next political move - which is rumored to be taking a shot at Deborah Glick's Assembly seat.

Derr could never be classified as a reformer. She ran for Chair at the suggestion - some say, the instructions of - Bob Rinaolo - previously known as the self-appointed Godfather of Community Board #2 who advertised the fact that he sometimes carried a copy of The Prince in his back pocket when he went to meetings. While currently off the Board, some believe he is still running the show for some people still on the Board.

Derr and Rinaolo, as well as a number of their bar owner/Chamber of Commerce allies controlled the Board for political gain and influence, and also for occasional financial gain through business dealings.

They were politically driven and had power. They were not driven by issues that affect the community even when it appeared that they were immersed in controversies. It was always the politics and the power.

Now, with the ascent of Brad Hoylman, who is widely expected to become the next Chair, there is some anticipation that Issues will once again become the focus for decisions made on the Board.

Candidly, however, Holyman is also well known as someone who wishes to run for City Council. He previously ran for the seat currently held by Alan Gerson in District #1. He is both highly intelligent and ambitious.

He is also known as someone who wants to heal old wounds and reach out to those on the Board who have been at loggerheads throughout the Bar/Chamber of Commerce vs. Community maelstrom that lasted for a few years. While reform of Board membership has proceeded, there are still remnants of the Tammany-style club and hangers-on that still listen for whispers from Rinaolo & Co., to give them their marching orders. Ray Lee, a Derr associate, is expected to remain in a sensitive post as Chair of the Business Committee -- the source of tremendous community contentiousness over liquor licenses. And, Phil Mouquinho is expected to become Vice Chair of the Zoning Committee. Arthur Schwartz, another of the Rinaolo/Derr team, is rumored to have been awarded the Chair of Waterfront.

While the Board weighs Issues that beg to be addressed, Political animals are still quite active.

Arthur Schwartz, formerly a District Leader was displaced by Brad Holyman. Despite the fact that less than a year ago Holyman decapitated Schwartz as District Leader -- with the help of Tom Duane, Deborah Glick and Speaker Quinn --Schwartz resurrected himself by winning the largely ceremonial position of Democratic Committeeman after spending heavily on the campaign. None other than Allen Roskoff (of Arty Strickler's CB2 Anonymous Letter fame) was rumored to have helped him spin the web of words that carried the day. Larry Moss and the politicians who supported him were stunned when it happened and Schwartz is still reaping the benefits. He is now "advising" political aspirants to fall in line lest there be consequences for their actions.

While Schwartz has arguably done a decent job with his committee work and in running the Advisory to the HRPT, he, too, is a supremely political animal. Issues are secondary to political moves. And, having blown off the Speaker, the Assemblywoman and the Senator, he's flexing his muscles.

Has Brad Hoylman responded only to the politics of the situation? Is Schwartz's ascendancy (by remaining a committee Chair on the new Board in spite of a vicious political rivalry) a measure of Hoylman's reaching out to the various factions on the Board? Or, is this about the realities of local politics - about control and balance of power via County Committee slots on downtown clubhouse political tickets?

What we will all have to ponder is this: Will the community see its Issues addressed and confronted or will residents have to sit by and watch another two year long Dog and Pony show as personal political goals are fulfilled?

Attention should now be carefully paid to the process. Issues should now move the Board, not Politics and personalities who wish to accumulate power.

Stay tuned Rangers.

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