Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Irresponsible Government

It is inexcusable for scientists to torture animals; let them make their experiments on journalists and politicians.
-- Henrik Ibsen (1828 - 1906)

When agencies like the D.O.B., which has ignored calls from the community, especially SoHo, to remove offensive billboards that are illegal; when D.O.T. allows special interests who are neither residents of our community, nor interested in the will of the people; – you have a prescription for widespread discontent and political retaliation.

This past weekend was the scene of a demonstration in front of the offices of D.O.T. at 40 Worth Street. Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Kahn, an avowed bike enthusiast, along with a Mayor who increasingly resembles a prudish Dictator (in with Disney and big developers, out with nightclubs and late night entertainment) -- together have allowed the D.O.T. to butcher the roadways in SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown and parts of Greenwich Village. The recent rat maze created out of Grand Street in SoHo is a perfect example. The adoption of Park Row as a security zone that resembles Checkpoint Charlie in Soviet era Berlin is another compromise.

Interestingly, Margaret Chin, the organizer who worked with Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance, was joined by Pete Gleason and Alan Gerson – all of whom (except Sweeney) are running for the same City Council seat now held by Gerson. Gleason had made comments on the issue and Chin has been vociferous – while Gerson met with only John Fratta of Little Italy and ignored everyone else.

Clearly, all of the politicians realized that they may be subject to the whims of the Mayor (Gerson has pandered to Bloomberg on term limits), but to throw the voters of Chinatown, SoHo, Little Italy and Greenwich Village to the dogs for green stripes and mid-street parking horrors in order to pander to extreme bikers should not be worth the risk. The communities want protection for pedestrians before they start worrying about bikers having their own highway across town. A street where residents can park overnight or legally drop off their kids is a street where bikers can be welcome. A street where pedestrians are robbed of a crosswalk, is not a place where bikers need special treatment.

Everyone is clear about the fact that Houston Street was the proper location for cross-town bike traffic – and it is still the best option.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Political Scene


Too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair.

-- George Burns (1896 - 1996)

The political future of Alan Gerson, Council Member for the SoHo area seems to be a question mark that may be answered by the contenders for his seat. Julie Menin, former Republican and current Community Board #1 Chair, Pete Gleason, attorney and former fireman, Margaret Chin, housing activist and Chinatown luminary are the major current challengers.
Gerson has been criticized for ignoring SoHo, while wasting at least 5 years on a vendor law and ignoring the billboard issue, barely recognizing the pollution and traffic problems and, most recently, pandering to the Bloomberg term-limits fiasco. He has also been silent on the butchering of SoHo streets pandered to by Community Board #2 and Transportation Alternatives -- through Bloomberg’s D.O.T. Commissioner Sadik-Kahn.

Billboard Behind Trump SoHo

Menin claims to not be running, although Jewish females have a high rate of voter turnout and success at the polls downtown. Her cunning and notoriety is due in part to lots of cash and a coterie of real estate professionals and dealmakers who benefit from her control of Board #1.
Gleason is running and takes every opportunity to point out that he is the only candidate that resembles Robin Hood, in a sea of people trying to buy political office downtown. His biggest support comes from Civil Service, Firemen and Police. Although, he has recently been soliciting the advice of activists. Persistence has paid off for many other underdogs.

Margaret Chin has yet to define her candidacy with respect to the other constituencies downtown, apart from Chinatown.


Many over recent years have coveted the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Clinton. Jerry Nadler is known to have wanted it – with Scott Stringer drooling over the opportunity to move up to Congress (Nadler is Stringer’s rabbi). With that unlikely scenario occurring, they’ll both stand pat – and term-limits has kept Stringer interested in remaining as Borough President. There are no challengers on the horizon just yet.


The Cuomo people have reportedly had dibs on the Senate seat even before the election. It remains to be seen whether the old boy (Cuomo senior) network and Cuomo family can press the right buttons. In fairness, however, while Andrew has not been described as warm and gregarious, his performance has been well received.

The Maloney people are waging a feverish campaign to make us all aware of her high-visibility and impeccable credentials – also a woman and an activist. This seems like a likely selection and is supported by savvy politicians like Adam Silvera of the D.I.D., a District Leader who seems to know where a lot of the bones are buried. Julie Nadel, a leading political activist downtown, has not yet made her opinion known.
Caroline Kennedy, the choice of many Democrats, is the darling of Obama's coterie and it will be interesting to see how Paterson plays this.

Nadel, incidentally, is being forced out of HRPT (Hudson River Park Trust) by Stringer for speaking out and it is one of those unseemly power plays directed against genuine progressives in politics. The HRPT is a closed club controlled by Bloomberg’s so-called girlfriend, Diana Taylor and it doesn’t play well with either transparency or criticism.

Eric Gioia & Julie Nadel

The Public Advocate race has had Eric Gioia of the City Council (Investigations Committee Chair) pushing hard – against at least Norman Siegel (Gottbaum is not running) – when out of nowhere Mark Green has reemerged. Green, supported in the past by some dubious characters like Allen Roskoff, who has now slipped quietly into Community Board #4 and is rumored to be working on Maria Derr’s campaign – where he ran her dirty tricks campaigns for her at Community Board #2. Green, as it has been reported, has the advantage of being well known – which is also his disadvantage.

Meanwhile, Maria Derr (former Board #2 Chair) has now adopted both the McManus Midtown Democratic Club and the welcoming arms of Jim McManus – and has emerged as a “progressive” Democrat according to the propaganda from her campaign. She had previously adopted V.R.D.C. when it suited her political needs, along with nightclub owner Bob Rinaolo. Apparently, after searching for the proper venue to assert herself and present her dubious bona fides – she has decided to challenge Christine Quinn for her City Council seat which is located in McManus’s turf. Quinn has been weakened by the Slushgate investigation and downtown residents, at least, have been critical of the D.S.N.Y garage, Trump SoHo and her support of Bloomberg’s term limits play.
Derr has joined with McManus and is attempting to associate her new “progressivism” with the Obama people in order to enlist more political juice. Clearly, the view of what is termed progressive has become a malleable concept.
Of course, claiming to benefit from supporting Obama in a completely Democratically controlled political town – is like asking a New York landlord for a thank you note for paying rent. It’s just a little too obvious.

None of the above politicians (with the exception of Margaret Chin) have yet to really have any affect on the housing crisis and landlord/developer abuse, affordable housing, elimination of illegal billboards, pollution and traffic problems in SoHo to make pedestrians safer; – and none have openly criticized wildcat City agencies like Department of Buildings or D.O.T. – which ride roughshod over our community. But, then, when have any of our politicians acted in our best interests once elected?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Pedestrian Discussion

It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.
-- David Brin (1950 - )

Recent developments in SoHo as well as Little Italy have created embarrassingly foolish designs for our streets, on Grand Street in particular. Years of complaints about preserving guerilla art and calls for turning billboards into canvasses for contemporary art have been ignored. Even pedestrian safety is ignored. For almost 10 years Councilman Alan Gerson as well as the Community Board have ignored pleas to support Bob Bolles Park.
But, bike paths? Anything they want, they can have. Almost instantaneously, it would seem.
Thanks to Commissioner Sadik-Kahn of the D.O.T. and the Greenwich Village group that controls the Community Board’s Transportation Committee. They never saw an experimental plan in SoHo that they didn’t like.
There was never any rational question about the fact that a bike lane was needed cross-town – and that Houston Street was the place to put it. But that was ignored by D.O.T. and the next easiest thing was to carve up the underrepresented community in SoHo. It was never about bike safety. It was always about power and control over SoHo.

What we have here, now, are car lanes located nearly in the middle of Grand street and minimally used dirty green paint – preventing SoHo residents from having places to stop to drop off passengers, the elderly, handicapped or their children. It's NO STOPPING, not NO STANDING. And, no overnight parking at all on the bike lane side of the street.
In the interest of bike safety, Commissioner Sadik-Kahn, the leader of what is fast becoming a bike cult (as opposed to cyclists like you and your kids), has permitted enthusiasts to carve up our neighborhoods to the detriment of cars, buses, and trucks.
What? You are supporting the rights of these polluters over the serene quiet of a bicycle? Are you mad?

Yes, SoHo is mad - mad as hell! And, so is Little Italy.

Not only mad that the buses cannot turn onto Grand Street and then back up incessantly into the crosswalks in order to make the turn;
Not only mad that Fire trucks cannot make the turn at all on to Grand street (pray there is no fire);
Not only mad that Grand street and West Broadway have been turned into another impassable crosswalk for part of the day;
Not simply mad that this is just a completely stupid design that panders to leaders of the bike lane movement (not bike riders themselves) who are starting to look like cultists seeking power – for themselves – and their deified leader Janette Sadik-Kahn;
Not at all mad that the Commissioner is looking out for biker riders safety and their children who are sometimes into tow on their way to school. (Although many of us don’t have that option with several kids going to different schools or live too far away).
And, certainly not mad that there are fewer tourists who come to SoHo and who leave their debris on our streets as they show off their new Mercedes.

But, Mad as hell that no agency, especially D.O.T. or Traffic gives a damn about the residents and pedestrians in SoHo or Little Italy -- Who have complained for years about people being killed on our streets.

Where are the bike enthusiasts who do not live in SoHo – at the Community Board, on the Traffic Committee, in City Hall, at Sadik-Kahn’s D.O.T. –- where have they been as we have tried to have our streets repaired and protected by Traffic agents to allow us to safely cross the street?

Why are crosswalks missing at our street corners? Why have our sidewalks been broken and unrepaired for decades?
Why do we only have only a handful of Traffic agents in SoHo – from Broome Street to Varick Street – watching out for our children so that we can cross the street safely? Even parents pushing carriages are ignored, to fend for themselves.

CROSSING BROOME WITH THE GREEN

Where is the enforcement in SoHo? The few police and traffic agents that do appear for a few hours a day during the week – watch as residents weave in and out of bumper-to-bumper cars that are blocking the crosswalks against the light.

The Enviro-biker friendly movement is the “next best thing” for a few leaders who have found a hook into political power and celebrity. This is a skyhook into personal status and political recognition. It is unfortunate that these people do not really care about those in the neighborhoods they cut up by supporting pedestrian safety FIRST. Where is the cry for politicians -- from people who do not live here -- to make our streets safer for our residents FIRST -- before basking in the glow of a Press conference touting their successes?
And, where are the giddy politicians who see only numbers in supporting this new group from out of town – on the issue of Pedestrian safety?

Or, is this new movement, which has gotten money to butcher our streets and inconvenience our residents, just a cynical ploy for a political party for its leaders? And, whom are they taking for a ride? Are politicians being paid off? Is this yet another, Hi-Rise Mike ploy to screw the residents Downtown?

Talk to us in SoHo about rights for bikers when we can cross the street safely. Many of us and our children are bike riders and have been for 30, 40, 50, or 60 years – but we all are pedestrians. Where were the snot-nosed kids pushing this agenda when SoHo was the cutting edge for bohemian artists?
The more dangerous the configuration of our streets, the more impossible to navigate our thoroughfares, the more self-centered vehicle drivers AND bike riders become – and the more the pedestrians suffer.
It’s beginning to look like this is just a fool’s game of power and control at our expense.

Is it that the pedestrians are, well, just not cool? We only walk.
If we were, wouldn't bike groups want to help pedestrians first – and then ask US to help THEM. Not the reverse.
But, that's not what is happening. Since the Community Board seems not be representative of SoHo, bike groups should be making contact with the people, not politicians or nominal groups.
We pedestrians and residents in SoHo apparently are not perceived to be powerful enough. We don't have a belligerent,
me-first, agenda that pushes certain politicians' buttons.

Children, senior citizens, the handicapped, pedestrians, tourists and, yes, weekend bike riders with their families - apparently don't count to those currently in office. Since members of many communities, such as SoHo and Little Italy, are offended by this treatment, politicians might do well to take notes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Big L – Gloom and Doom Part 3

Here's what Richard Russell (Dow Theory Letters) -- one of the few market commentators with first-hand experience of the Great Depression -- has to say:

“The market is warning of a coming depression. Next year there’ll be a huge problem of unemployment, job openings will have disappeared, and every business will be going over its personal thinking in terms of who the business can do without.

“The sentiment in the country will be dark grey to jet black. Fortunes will have been wiped out. Thousands of savings plans and 401Ks will have been shattered. Americans who have never experienced true hard times will be living hard times. Confusion and fear will be rampant. How do I know all this? I’ve been here before, I know the signs.”



By now, even those among us that think economists are people who know what they’re talking about, realize this: that the genie is now out of the bottle. Few believe that the government has a handle on where this ship of state is headed, financially. Despite Wall Street and its current health, next year and quite possibly the year after, 2009 and 2010, will almost certainly be a disaster. Even if a traditional-style recovery on Wall Street were to start happening now, there is no imaginative vehicle, like CDO’s or SIV’s, that will be the “next big thing” to bail out this economy. Wall Street may recover slowly from here, but it is more likely that any rally that occurs will be a Bear Rally, to be followed by pain -- a lot more pain.

What lies ahead is not a V or a U – traditional symbols of a bounce in Wall Street that signals we are recovering. The big L is now what is predicted if we are lucky enough to avoid the big D.
This describes a long, long, slide down – followed by a very long period of flat or low economic activity accompanied by deflation. It is clearly NOT a period of recovery – it is a period of economic stagnation. Few new jobs, little housing activity and disasterous, permanent downsizing. Only afterwards, assuming that rational economic policy – worldwide – is put into place, can there be any growth.
If you doubt this, contemplate the fact that Japan was in the dumpster for 17 years before it began to recover. Contemplate the fact that real economic activity after 1929 did not occur until World War II – and that any stock purchased in 1929, which was followed by SEVEN major drops before it ended in 1932, did not regain its value until 1954.

We are now still on the slide. Housing has another year or two before it hits bottom. Many houses in the Hamptons have already dropped by 50% in value and Manhattan condos and coops are just now beginning to fall in value. Many of the sales figures that real estate companies provide are hype. Few brokers will tell the truth that activity has fallen by 30-35% and that prices are buoyed only be the averages artificially skewed by a few extremely upscale new developments which are as close to speculating in tulips, as one can imagine.
Price drops are now common. They will soon be the norm.
With 50,000 Citigroup pink slips, 10% of JPMorgan Chase employees being dropped and the combined redundancies at the Merrill/Bank of America merger, the Lehman fiasco and the disappearance of WAMU, not to mention the bank failures across the country – credit, capital and investment is fast disappearing. The recovery figures in housing are based upon limited sales – foreclosures and short sales. By the end of this year and next, several million more people will be out of work and the foreclosures may INCREASE rather than decrease as a result.
There are convincing arguments that we are, in fact, no matter what anyone does, headed into a Depression by 2011. This is based upon the cumulative begging, borrowing and stealing now going on by the Federal government – which uses printed money to solve an essential problem with our economic model. And, that is, there is a limit on how long you can pay your bills and the interest on your bills by borrowing yet more money. That process, created by massive leveraging, does end somewhere. And, since we are still leveraging our way out of this mess by printing more money, issuing more Treasury Bills, and bailing out more inefficient businesses, the end will not be pretty.

What is to be learned from this?
Nothing. This is our future.
Everyone needs to understand where we all going.
To know is to be forewarned.


Buying gold is a hedge but until grocery stores start accepting gold coins for bread, the only transactions that can be had are with Steve, the coin dealer. It is neither realistic nor practical to hoard gold. And, don’t forget, those who bought gold at $950 an ounce a few months ago, have lost $200 on that investment already.
Reducing expenses, downsizing your business, limiting unnecessary purchases and increasing your productivity are among the few things you can do personally. If you MUST attend a political fundraiser, be damned sure that he or she represents your needs and will give you real promises.

What may be helpful in knowing what is about to happen, assuming that GM, Ford and Chrysler do get a bailout or bridge-to-nowhere loans (since non are viable business models), is that voters need to keep a sharp eye on the politicians.
Forget Bush and forget Paulson – the Goldman Sachs CEO who bailed out his buddies on Wall Street first -- and then scrapped plans to buy the toxic debt which he used to convince Congress to give him the money. Paulson had resigned effective January even before he got the green light from Congress, so he’s already accomplished what he needed for his friends.

But, local politicians need to be watched like a hawk.

In the Hamptons, where a bankruptcy in the Town of Southampton is not unlikely, more local residents need to understand that the Republicans have been running things for decades. They are used to living off of the fat in the real estate game – by taking the property taxes and the transfer taxes intended for the Community Preservation Fund to run the government. Fred Thiele, former Town of Southampton Supervisor, buddy of Democratic County Chairman Rich Schaeffer and friend of racist County Executive Steve Levy – created the Preservation Fund to buy vacant land not to be developed. That fund has now been raided by Supervisors in East Hampton and Southampton in order to pay salaries and other expenses. In other words, instead of the painful decisions, they have dipped into that money improperly, if not illegally.

What does this tell you? It tells all of us that the source of funds to run the government – the money used to abuse New Yorkers, landlords, non-resident taxpaying property owners – has dried up. The entire local economy in the Hamptons is in deep, deep trouble. And still, like before, they exclude the ONLY source of money in their planning or government. Calls for a Hamptons Advocate fell on deaf ears in the past. That is unlikely to change with another administration of Republicans who only want power.
With wins by Obama, Pope and Schiavoni, the economy as well as the political landscape may change without their cooperation.

In Manhattan, there is more subtlety. But, change in Manhattan will come in the form of alternative political structures. The fact that Democrats control the agenda in a liberal or progressive city, may be challenged. As the economy tanks in Manhattan, politicians may find that they do not have guarantee of a sinecure in office.
Fundraising will change. The money will not be there.

As the budget decreases, as tax revenues dry up, and the City and private workforce decreases – and as deflation takes hold, politicians will have to work harder to retain the trust of voters. The Obama win will comfort many but change is the message – not status quo.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Notes on the Dictatorship

In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.
-- Groucho Marx (1890 - 1977)


As people dropped off their young children today at school, Officer Maresco was directing the Police Department tow-trucks to remove the cars belonging to known criminals -- parents who were located in a No Parking zone.
Five Police tow-trucks cruised around the two schools waiting for the parents to escort their children in safely – and, as they walked out of sight for this 10 minute ritual known loosely as PROTECTING CHILDREN – the tow trucks swooped in. The tickets had already been issued on the spot.

The fact that numerous meetings were held with representatives of the 6th Precinct, Community Board #2, including Brad Hoylman (before he was Chair) and Commissioner Forgione, the City agencies persist in penalizing parents in trying to protect their children. Why would they say that there is no such sign allowing children to be dropped off in the mornings – and that the “word will go out so that this does not happen” and then just continue to do it?

Of course, all of this flows from the top. Bloomberg has once again proven that Ve Must Vollow Ze Rulz.
The Nightlife industry has experience Gestapo tactics by the police, with phony arrests and set-ups to shut down clubs and bars;
Communities have been ruined with Department of Buildings and Department of Transportation actions that spit on the needs and desires of residents – and, lest we not forget –
Democracy has been suspended with the term limits fiasco.

So, now that we have severely reduced crime, the City will now go after parents and children? Do you smell a prude who has the arrogance of power and money?
Another weak link where our Dear Leader can assert his complete control over our thoughts and wishes?
Even our children’s safety is an irrelevancy.

We need better leadership than this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Trump Safety

The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced.
--Frank Zappa

Walking along Varick Street as you cross Spring, Trump SoHo is a reminder that safety is now the prime issue with this project, assuming that it is legal. After crane collapses and a worker’s death, you would think that nothing could go wrong. I even controlled the urge to look up at the 42 or 45 story construction, which is completely out of place in this neighborhood.
After Speaker Quinn’s hearings and lawsuits by the SoHo Alliance, what could go wrong?

Well, the 5 construction and safety workers were busy looking up but said nothing as I walked along Varick under the shed protecting pedestrians. After reaching the other end at Dominic I saw a few more. Only they were telling a pedestrian NOT to walk where I had just exited. They, too, were pointing up and then said “They shouldn’t have let you through, that’s a 9 ton load coming down on the crane and if…” That was relaxing. Then, I looked up. Sure enough, a huge load was making its way down from the crane exactly over where I had been walking. My life insurance is up to date but would the 3 year old understand?

Does anyone understand? That we have a project where safety is LAST.

Don Ameche and Bob Dylan were wrong. Some things don’t change

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Mean Streets of SoHo

Politics... have always been the systematic organization of hatreds.
-- Henry Brooks Adams

Has anyone noticed that Grand Street has been turned into a rat maze?
In an industrial, manufacturing zone (why Chris Quinn and Hi-Rise Mike still let developers put up hotels in SoHo with no review) we have trucks that cannot turn the corner and children than cannot cross the street. We have parents that cannot cross the street with baby carriages. We have lots of space for bikes, though. Although, there are few bikes and lots of pushcarts, and homeless carts with bottles and cans. Of course, no one can stop to drop off their children or park overnight on one side of the street – now that there is “No Stopping.” Not to mention the fact that there are now cars parked in the middle of the street with grid-work lines galore. It looks like a board game.

(GRAND STREET. CARS IN LANE NEXT TO GREEN PATH ARE PARKED)























There are other areas in the City which are extremely upset as well. It seems that in Brooklyn, 30 blocks have lost their parking on both sides of the street. Apparently, there is a Mayoral Directive that is not subject to any community review at all. Read the comment sections on StreetsBlog.

It's too bad we don’t have more artwork in SoHo instead. The billboards are still everywhere, though. None of the politicians or the Community Board did anything about that. No public or guerilla art was ever saved or supported; nor has there been any effort to give Bob Bolles park any support –- although, Alan Gerson gave a million bucks to just one Village park. And, pedestrians have been completly overlooked.

So, its the Department of Transportation, another of Bloomberg’s autonomous fiefdoms like the Building Department, which apparently decides what they want to do with minimal discussions (and great support from members of the Transportation Committee who do not allow disagreement from SoHo). D.O.T. just makes a decision without the residents and they simply implement their plans, as they did on Grand Street.

(BROADWAY BUS ISLAND IN SOHO)













No one in SoHo knew about the Broadway islands either and no one in SoHo knew about the impending destruction of Grand Street. When Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn, Bloomberg’s current Commissioner of D.O.T., permits press conferences to announce their plans -- it is interesting to note that Transportation Alternatives (a bike advocacy organization) often appears at photo ops -- but no one from SoHo is ever invited – even when it affects our community. One can only wonder why. Is it perhaps because we either don’t know what is happening or may not agree with it? The controversy involving the Public Theatre is an additional case in point with respect to D.O.T.

Much of the current “planning” involving SoHo dates back to the reign of D.O.T. Commissioner Iris Weinshall, Senator Schumer’s wife, when the Houston Street Reconstruction was in its planning stages. THAT was the street, which was originally to have provided a cross-Manhattan route for bikes – which in a half-assed way, Grand Street has been elected to be. Even bike enthusiasts were in favor of Houston Street with curbs to protect them.


(HOUSTON STREET)













It was rejected by D.O.T. because of a study in, are you ready for this, Idaho, which claimed that that route was unsafe. Since Houston Street was comletely reconstructed, THAT was the street which should have benefited from a rational cross-Manhattan bike lane. It would have been a win-win situation for pedestrians, vehicular traffic AND bikers. What we wound up with is a route, which has been installed without notice or truly open meetings. Those who did know and attended from SoHo were silenced early on by the Community Board #2 Transportation Committee. At the Community Board it was badly advertised and very poorly decided. Opposition was not tolerated because D.O.T. mandated that it be done. The horrendous decisions were made for a community on narrow clogged streets in SoHo – with the help of a politicized Community Board. So, what we now have is a poorly designed, chopped up street which is ruining businesses (no parking or stopping allowed anytime), and which is confusing motorists, impeding traffic and limiting the flow of trucks in an area that is already overburdened by the Holland Tunnel.


(BROOME STREET & WEST BROADAY)













But, that’s only part of the picture.

This is an example of a small group of NIMBYists running the Community Board Traffic and Transportation Committee – Chaired by Shirley Secunda and Ian Dutton who live in Greenwich Village – making poor decisions out of allegiance to the D.O.T. without permitting any serious input from SoHo. Residents would demonstrate if the Grand Street plan were ever tried in Greenwich Village.

(GREENWICH VILLAGE BIKE LANES -BLEECKER top HUDSON bottom)
























This appears to be the local version of the Stockholm syndrome on that committee -- psychologically held hostage to the D.O.T.'s wishes and desires.
Board Chair Hoylman needs to revisit this decision and reverse it, if he has the guts to confront the Mayor and his flunkies.
Why? Because, the quality of life in SoHo demands it. We are a small community, not a testing ground for out-of-town
bike enthusiasts who want SoHo to be their playground. Do a bang-up job of protecting bikers on Houston Street where there is room for it and get rid of the junk and crazy stripes on Grand Street! Support for rational bike lanes have support. What has been done on Grand Street is completely unacceptable to residents.

Here’s the big problem: Everyone has ignored the plight of PEDESTRIANS - FIRST - in SoHo. That MUST be the priority.

Caregivers pushing baby carriages, elderly crossing the street, parents taking their children for a walk cannot do so without being accosted by cars, trucks, buses, and now bikes. We have new green pathways carved out of our streets, which makes an insane state of confusion – and no crosswalks for pedestrians. Residents cannot legally pull over their cars where they live to load or unload groceries or drop off children safely. In the few areas where there are crosswalks, there are no D.O.T. officers to protect them. Try to walk across the street on weekends at West Broadway and Broome Street, if you dare. No tickets are given out and pedestrians, who cross where there are D.O.T. officers, are often ignored if there is less than 4 inches between cars – even when the person has the light. On Bleecker Street and 7th Avenue South in the Village a whole team of cops ticket cars simply for not using a turn signal. There are no cops in SoHo, except the Midtown Taskforce a few hours a weekday at two intersections.
But, step on a green pathway and an irate biker will scream at you or hit you as they drive the wrong way on these paths. This is not Denmark, where street paths were planned out decades ago for the benefit of a society that supports biking -- which is NOT at the expense of pedestrian safety.
Shall we paint green paths on all Village thoroughfares, place protrusions in the middle of those streets, and park cars in the middle of the street and eliminate overnight parking in most areas? Remember, many of these streets are in landmarked areas in SoHo. And, there are only four cross streets in all of SoHo. But, we know that won’t happen. The D.O.T. Commissioner knows better to pick a fight with a Community Board that is stacked for the Village and against SoHo. We have no such support from our politicians.

We have broken or completely missing crosswalks, missing cobblestones, decaying or broken sidewalks, no protection from D.O.T. officers, and no pedestrian safety. NONE of the streets in Greenwich Village have been treated like Grand Street. None exist Uptown.

(CURRENT CONDITION OF SOHO CROSSWALKS - photo: Beat Keerl)











As a friend on the upper East Side recently said when asked about the Grand Street problem: “They wouldn’t tolerate this where I live.”
Are we, in SoHo, to be treated like guinea pigs for the D.O.T. Commissioner’s friends -- who would like to live and party in SoHo – and who would like to tell us how we should live? Are we the underrepresented neighborhood where the Community Board performs its experiments to save themselves discomforts?

We in SoHo, who provide the City with an arts heritage, put up with endless Film shoots, suffer from illegal billboards, breathe Downtown’s pollution from the Holland Tunnel, and bring money to the City coffers – get nothing in return. We get no support from Mr. Gerson, our Councilman, nothing but promises from Mr. Stringer, the Borough President, and absolutely nothing from the Speaker, Christine Quinn, who has let our community be developed mindlessly and then sold out to Bloomberg.

Remember this when you get your next fundraiser invitation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Hobgoblins of Inconsistency

Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.
--Henry Kissinger (1923 - )

For a good read on the term-limits saga, Henry Stern’s continuing reportage and commentary gives you some pithy views of how the game is playing out. The latest round of political posturing seems to suggest that Speaker Quinn expects more than she is getting from Hi-Rise Mike’s staff. And, while she expects a plum appointment in his new third term for rounding up the natives to push through the Council vote, all is already not golden. Whether the Councilmembers' compliant efforts will be rewarded by another term, or whether either the Council vote will be reversed by the Justice Department (not likely), or whether voters turn out the quislings at the polls next year (likely) – remains to be seen.
What is more likely, and is being played out right now – is that having produced the required vote, many Councilmembers are feeling their oats. They are giving Quinn and Bloomberg a little stress.
While politics is a many faceted game, three-dimensional chess comes to mind. And, it should not be lost on any of us that while the media has been brainwashing everyone about Mike’s much-touted popularity, never discount a multi-leveled plan that anticipates a Love Fest when our Mayor “relents” and decides upon having another special referendum to confirm his high level of morality and support for democracy. Can’t you see the hugging and kissing in the streets as we all learn to love Big Brother – with the big fat checkbook – when we are told there will be a referendum after all?
But, don’t expect love and kisses from Downtown where the hotels are sprouting like daisies – as the City agencies ignore tenants and residents who are being sold out for the benefit of developers. Hotels, a fake 45 stories Trump condo and a 3 District Sanitation garage, to boot.
Quinn has practically signed her soul away for Mikey, Alan Gerson has sold out SoHo -- and the voters will remember. Apparently, a new blog/website devoted to Quinn’s questionable popularity has recently appeared. Can Gerson’s be far behind?


While the term-limits fiasco plays out, many of the Downtowners are figuring out what their next job will be. Whether they will run, whether they can run, whether the on-again, off-again pleasures of Mikey will change yet again.
Gerson is running for his seat again and the likely opponents will be Pete Gleason and Margaret Chin. Menin will likely not challenge Gerson. Gerson may be vulnerable despite the fact that he’s a “nice guy.”
Gleason is tenacious, close to the unions, and committed. He is known as someone who remembers his friends and hires people who, when they pick up the office phone, will be able to answer a question. Jim McManus said of those he has supported, “you can pick up the phone and get him on the line.”
Margaret Chin is still a bit of a cipher. She is well respected in the Asian community but has not yet broken out of that provincial mold in some people’s minds. She is enormously effective and has become a solid supporter of stabilized tenants. But, again, it has been limited to the Chinatown community. Her intelligence and drive is still encapsulated and she would need to be seen as breaking out of that.
Julie Menin, Chair of Board #1 has appeared on CNN and seems to have decided that her star is tied to political expertise with knowledge of national politics. With a lot of cash and a PR firm behind her, the reality of what she really knows or understands is debatable. There have been a few snickers, however, by Downtown political junkies over that. While the clamor over the aborted D.I.D. incursion has subsided it is unknown whether this permanently damaged her support – at least outside of Community Board #1. Menin’s evaluation of a run for City Council seat may have as much to do with Alan’s omnipresent Jewish mother (Sophie) as any political issue. It is widely assumed that Jewish females have a lock on downtown voters. Menin has made numerous mistakes, including taking the advice of a small coterie of Downtown activists who are about as community-minded as Genghis Khan.
So, we may or may not have another five years of Alan, based upon how loudly Sophie yells out at him from behind the phone. We all await the Vendor Law, for example, in SoHo after what could only kindly be called “minimalist” politics. Nothing else, after all, has happened for SoHo in eight years.


There are positive expectations that Daniel Squadron will give SoHo residents a much-awaited shot in the arm. With numerous problems that have long been ignored (illegal billboard proliferation, traffic management and pollution, tenants rights, antiquated zoning and overzealous development, lack of parking, liquor license oversaturation) --we look to Election Day for the conclusion of a stellar campaign. Squadron has indicated that he is an activist and will work tirelessly for SoHo. We’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Capitulation or Repudiation of Democracy

The only thing I like about rich people is their money.
-- Nancy Astor (1879 - 1964)


The problem created by this election is that there is only just so much lipstick available. But, there are plenty of pigs.
Witness the precipitous drop in the market, which will now be supported in our newfound brand of socialistic capitalism (“Disaster Capitalism) – in which what goes up must only go up. If it comes down, we have to make it go up, anyway. Even if we have to buy it to make it go up – with taxpayer’s money – our money. Yours and mine. Clearly, the natives are getting restless.
So, let’s see, President Paulson bails out his buddies at Goldman Sachs after letting his enemies lose everything at Lehman, then he engineers a $700 Billion dollar bailout Band-Aid that will be operated by a buddy at Goldman and allows fully 10 percent of that taxpayer money for golden parachutes. Not bad.
And, the first $250 Billion goes to Goldman, JPMorgan and Citigroup among others on the short list.
Wouldn’t you love to be at that party when the severance checks are handed out?

The fact is that no matter what Paulson does, no one will be able to stop this runaway train. We have Lehman's credit default swaps coming due at auction – which will identify the counterparties- and we may find out who’s behind curtain number two (could it be AIG, JPMorgan Chase or Citigroup?) which may tell us who holding another bag of $100-400 Billion in derivatives.
There’s also the hedge fund disaster - a two trillion dollar problem that has seen over $200 Billion in redemptions just this last couple of weeks.
There’s the money-market problem, which has caused the bankruptcy of an HMO and is rippling through schools and hospitals that used funds like The Reserve (which just failed) to maintain their checking account cash in order to make higher interest on the float.
Lest we not forget, pension funds are tied inextricably to Wall Street performance – across our entire nation. The merger of GM and Chrysler will be another bailout connected to that problem. The guess is that another 50 to 100 Billion will be needed there as well.

Are we finally arriving at the point of capitulation in the markets or are we witnessing the bailout of more than a few Wall Street characters who are benefiting from the carnage – yet again. A few disgruntled citizens are beginning to wonder why we want to push this form of “Democracy” on any other country – as we have in Iraq, to the tune of $3 Trillion of our dollars.

So, is this a bear rally that, like 1929 will take two years to finally reach bottom – while all of these manipulations simply protect a few insiders?
Is this capitulation (the technical term for a bottom), or is Main Street finally getting the picture and planning to repudiate these phony economic leaders like Paulson who is simply protecting his friends?

Counties, Towns and Villages across this country are already starting to head for the Chapter 11 exit – because they cannot pay salaries with no credit and failing investment accounts.
Since “all politics is local,” it is time for our leaders to grapple with the direction needed in this country. A grassroots correction in course for our Republic and the system of Democracy we believe in needs to be reviewed.

We need to stand behind our principles and regenerate our faith in our form Democracy. As with the term-limits debate currently going on – the people voted in a referendum and it needs to be respected. Not bought off.
Buying a seat in the City Council, buying the Mayor’s Office, or selling out your constituency for the promise of higher office – even buying your way into a political club for future endorsements – have all contributed to what King Paulson has now given us with the Bush imprimatur. Democracy for sale.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Political Class

People that are really weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.
-- Dan Quayle (1947 - )

The problem with most political writers is that many of them seem to know more about what’s going on then most of the politicians or, for that matter, nearly all of the voters. The media manipulates the effluent that dutifully seeps out from the planted PR sources and some flows down through editorial boards that get some of their orders from the publishers.
Activists, Community Board members, political junkies, political club members, and bloggers, make up most of those who are interested in what’s going on inside the Halls of Government. For want of a better nom de guerre, they comprise a Political Class.

The recent term-limits gambit playing out in the City Council and City Hall is one of those rare moments when the Political Class can stand around scratching their heads, looking at each other with a look that says, “What were they thinking?”

Here we have a Mayor who is not yet fully out of the closet, writing checks to organizations to round up support for future wars, using the golden shackles and parachutes to bind people to his every whim – which has ranged from President, Vice President, Governor and Mayor, to Charitable Organization CEO – with every flunkie in earshot ready to drop their pants at his whim – now deciding that the law has to be changed and the voters wishes can be ignored. Is this for real?
Has Christine Quinn really been struck deaf, dumb and blind – to self-destruct in public – in order to be granted an annuity in order to run for an office that would become impossible to achieve after becoming Bloomberg’s sacrificial lamb?

A friend once said, 'before we sent the boys into Iraq – they better know more than we do about what’s really going on – or, this is just a suicide run.
There’d better be WMD’s over there or this is just crazy.'

Bloomberg and Quinn better know more than we can even conceive of – and their media pals better be a lot better than what is seeping out from under the cesspool cover – or this is going to kill both of them, despite any positive work that may have been done.
Quinn rolls over and pushes through a third term for Mayor Mike just as Slushgate is (curiously) ebbing in the media, Bloomberg reverses his stance on a third term just as his second term is about to end – and all of this dirty laundry is done in public. Do they think the voters are completely stupid?


Speaking of which --- subpoenas have been floating around according to some rumors. Unconfirmed reports have been surfacing that Jimmy McManus and possibly Ray Cline among others, have gotten, or will get, papers (neither of them are targets) – and may be asked to talk about the shenanigans suspected in the Nora Anderson matter. The press has been having a field day with rumors that Anderson is not going to make it through this with her newly won job in Surrogate Court intact – due in part to Oliva – her campaign manager -- and Bernie Cohen. Election law may be the source of the problem. The D.A’s office would not comment but it is known that there’s some trouble afoot. Mr. Tingling could not be reached but one can hear the “I told you so’s” already being mouthed.


Now that Quinn has apparently shot herself in the service of a rumored Deputy Mayoral position next year if she’s forced out of the Speaker’s job – we are back to the question of whether Berman and Derr will go ahead and challenge her -- now that term limits keep her in her seat. Hoylman won’t run if Quinn runs again since they are soul mates – leaving him without a race to run after Community Board Chair, so far – as he apparently won’t run against Gerson for fear of a replay of the last time he challenged Alan. While many downtown are still waiting for Gerson to do something, anything, any credible challenger would have a chance. Pete Gleason is running. Margaret Chin is running. Menin claims that she won’t run against Alan.
Derr will absolutely run because there is no other political option for her and, despite the fact that she has no experience, if Berman does not run, almost anyone could have a shot. Quinn has damaged herself to that degree. The Council may not re-appoint her Speaker if they have their way.
But, who knows, Mike might just write them all checks. That’s the state of our democracy. Pay them off!


If voters support any of these people, the only rational response is, as Lewis Black would say, “What the fuck were they thinking?”

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Walking Close to the Buildings

Too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair.
-- George Burns (1896 - 1996)

During the Great Depression, there were a few rules that only those who lived through it would know about. Wall Street workers in those dark days, for example, were happy to work “Scotch” weeks – when not being paid for every week of work was accepted. It was better to have half a job than lose a whole one. There were other familiar words of advice that were not a joke.
People working on “the street” were told not to venture near the curb as they walked towards Broad Street. Looking up when crossing a street was advised.

When someone went out a window after reading the latest ticker tape, the arch of the falling body took them out to the curb, away from the sidewalk closest to the building. Those times are upon us again.

The worst period in the Depression, from a stock market point of view, actually did not arrive after the first round of major drops. A period of nearly a year elapsed after the initial calamity that brought everyone and everything to its knees.
The current scenario is playing itself out on Wall Street and Main Street – no matter whether you are a real estate investor, a shopkeeper, a member of the Town Board in the Hamptons, a City Council member in Manhattan – or, even if you managed to hold on to your Lehman Brothers job when Barclay’s picked up your ticket after the Bankruptcy.

The problem with watching the gyrations on Wall Street every day is that it has little to do with what is now in the cards for every one. No matter whether we see a capitulation, as it is called when a bottom is announced by the gurus, or whether we see a rally after all of the bad news is digested.
What ensues after that is already pre-ordained. It is starting to unfold now.

Mortgages under $500,000 are extremely difficult to obtain. What used to be called super-jumbos, million dollar plus loans which fueled the sale of Hamptons properties and Manhattan condos – are history.

The Southampton Press, for example, reported that:
‘As a sign of the worsening economy, Mr. Bishop noted that on Eastern Long Island there are at least 14 multimillion-homes being built where the owner of the home has stopped construction “because he doesn’t know what’s in his future. It’s not just about the 14 homes; it’s about all the construction workers that aren’t going to have jobs as a result.
….Families are having difficulty with the daily expenses and certainly with their housing costs as home values drop. And we know that this credit crisis that we are in the midst of cannot on its own correct. It sounds dire, but there is a risk that commerce could grind to a halt,” she said.’


Even buyers with perfect credit and huge amounts of cash find the process impossible to complete IF they can find a lender with such a product. And, yes, folks, the Europeans are leaving town in order to locate their accounts before their bank fails.


Villages and Towns, as well as Counties will struggle with budgets – and some will be forced to file for bankruptcy. That includes Southampton Town, East Hampton Town and Suffolk County. Dipping into the Community Preservation Fund (where Transfer Taxes from New Yorker home purchases went to buy open land) in order to pay local government employee salaries -- is a good indication of the severity of their financial situation. It is not a glowing picture despite the hostility demonstrated towards New Yorkers and investor-landlords.

Then, as the Hamptons properties become worth less than 50% of what they were “worth” two years ago, as credit lines evaporate, as home equity credit lines are withdrawn, as credit cards are cancelled by the lenders without notice, as car loans disappear -- forcing Ford and General Motors to be bought out –and potentially resulting in the wholesale repudiation of pensions in bankruptcy court – we may awaken to see the final Panic leg on Wall Street. That’s where the buck stops. In fact, that’s where everything stops.

When the Panic Leg finally resolves itself we will have arrived at the point where Manhattan landlords provide services in order to keep their rent-paying stabilized tenants.
It’s the point where coop and condo boards send out maintenance statements that double the fees to compensate for their deadbeat members – forcing a final round of foreclosures.
It is the point where some schools close, hospitals fail, houses and apartments are abandoned and political fundraisers are cancelled for lack of attendance and lack of money.

The Federal bailout and Paulson’s protection of his buddies at Goldman Sachs have made all of this possible. Whether Paulson leaves office in January, as he previously had indicated, he has taken care of Bush, Goldman Sachs and a few other well-placed friends.
It leaves behind the following problems which must play out before we reach that point, which have still not been addressed:

Credit default swaps which Warren Buffet, himself, divested his company of years ago – total an estimated value in excess of $800 Trillion dollars. That’s an amount approaching $1 Quadrillion dollars. If that blows up, even selling apples won’t help. And, by the way, JPMorgan Chase has several Trillion dollars worth of these little beauties lying around off of its balance sheet somewhere, ready to explode at the right moment;

The Hedge Fund implosion, which was blindsided by the SEC Short sale prohibition -- triggering redemptions that threaten that entire $2 Trillion dollar industry;

The Money Market Fund problem caused by The Reserve’s “breaking the buck” which resulted in a return of only 30-40 percent of the original cash paid out due to the failure of Lehman Brothers;

The rescue packages of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, which will cost another $100 Billion.

And, finally, the credit card debacle is slated to hit us in 2009 as American Express and Capital One (among others) play their part in another $1 Trillion dollar disaster. Of course, that amount is predicated upon those companies having told us the truth about the severity of the problem.

This comes upon the heels of our $3 Trillion dollar military expeditions in Iraq and Afghanistan. If ever the “King needs a war” -- (Iran), it’s now.

As illegal immigrants and Latinos in the Hamptons leave town due to lack of work and the unconstitutional terrorizing of women and children in their homes -- white Americans will need to double-up and triple-up in houses in order to survive. Living situations, formerly considered illegal, that have promulgated attacks on landlords and New Yorkers, will now be permitted. Many of them will be Code Enforcement police who will not be able to afford a place to live on their own. Housing violations will suddenly seem unimportant and what was once considered overcrowding – will become the norm.

In Manhattan, real estate agents who have touted the strong condo market will be looking for jobs as the “European investor” heads for his hometown to hide his devaluing Euros under the mattress.

Political ploys like Mayor Bloomberg running for a third term along with his sycophantic supplicants on the City Council – buying himself another term in office – is only the most obvious move as everything is suspended.
Cynical plays that presume to be managed for the good of the people will become more prevalent.

Morality, ethics and fair-play will be sorely tested.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The October Surprise

Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.
-- Philip K. Dick (1928 - 1982)


Those of you who have been anticipating regime change in lower Manhattan will be happy to know that 2009 will be the year that all bets are off. Flowing from the national political scene down to the City Council and Mayoral elections, big changes are coming our way.

Due to the financial problems on Wall Street and the difficult economic conflagration that is now clearly coming, there will be disruptions that are unexpected. However, all of our needs will be met by those who care deeply about us.

First of all, George Bush is now expected to run for a third term as President and will be announcing his plans shortly.
Due to the fact that we are at war on two fronts, are seriously considering an attack on Iran, and are facing the challenge by worldwide terrorism, it stands to reason that the continuation of our policies with a President who is familiar with our current positions, should be supported in his plans to run for a third term. Bush is also dealing with the disruption in our financial markets and a worldwide credit meltdown. Since he is precluded from running for a third term, and since holding a referendum on the issue is deemed unnecessary, the Republican caucus will handle this mere detail.

Bush has also held discussions with other leaders who also concerned with our well being.

Locally, in view of those same economic concerns, a special session of the City Council will be asked to confirm suspension of term limits which will maintain the status quo for most City Council members as well as Mayor Bloomberg. The Mayor is scheduled to formally announce his plans tomorrow -- when he will advise us that only he can save us from the economic storm about to hit. No doubt, he and Bush come from the same school of Republican Saviours.
The current Council members, displaying their typical hubris, have no personally vested interest in promulgating this mid-session change of heart. Roughly two-thirds of the City Council who would ordinarily have been forced to leave office, will now remain seated.

Fortunately, it will also be unnecessary for people to vote on this issue.
And, while Ron Lauder, the activist politician who has previously championed the rights of voters in deciding such changes in the past, he has now seen fit to support this third-term cause. It wasn't o.k. for Rudy, but for Mikey, sure, why not? Clearly, Murdoch of Newscorp and Ross of the Related Companies (of Pier 40 fame and Doctoroff’s buddy) having seen the "green" light, as well as a precipitous drop in their stock, has indicated the right path for Hi-Rise Mike to follow.
Apparently, business leaders will soon convince the reconstituted Mayor and the amenable City Council, that a voter referendum on this issue will be unnecessary.

If we are all lucky enough to have our Dear Leaders think and plan for us in these difficult times, we will not have to worry our pretty little heads about what is best for us. They really don’t need us meddling with their plans.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Politics of Depression

Politics: "The conduct of public affairs for private advantage."
--Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914)

Our Dear Leader, Hi-Rise Mike, is still playing with us over whether he plans to step down. Rudy did the same thing, using 9-11 and our perceived ability not to be able to do without him. He is severely misinformed, or perhaps just egotistical.
While numerous media plugs discuss his supposed popularity among the voters, many Downtown have put up with one development proposal after another – including his buddy’s Condo-Hotel (Trump SoHo) – a project that has destroyed a neighborhood as well as its re-zoning. Trump is still trying to add floors, even while the project is stalled.
Fortunately, although Quinn still has Bloomberg’s job in her sights, she has managed to pass legislation that, in spirit at least, does something that harassed tenants can hang their hats on. Provided, of course, that they can afford expensive legal counsel. Slushgate has started to fade in people’s minds.


We all recently learned that Hi-Rise Mike has been meeting with others who control what we think – Murdoch of News Corp and Zuckerman of the Daily News – to float the coordination of support for this third term as Mayor. The fine print of their meetings makes note of the fact that the current candidates are not generating enthusiasm among those moguls. For those who know the field of dreams for next year’s election, that means the front-runner Bill Thompson – with a second and third tier that includes Weiner and Quinn.

The Boys from Harvard have been groping for a way to prove that Mike is our man and should remain so with as arrogant a Press crew as one can imagine. So far, that has been falling on deaf ears.
The fact that our new Mayor told us from the beginning that where he goes and what he does is none of our business – was the tell as far as arrogance was concerned -- when he was first elected. His estate in Burmuda was the probable location of a weekend away from the helm. But, hey, I’m away for the weekend, it’s none of your business where I go. Koch or Guiliani would never have done that, come to think of it, neither would Bush.
A man of the people doesn’t hide out when he doesn’t want to be bothered. This is a public job, not just public when you feel like it.

Bill Thompson, the front-runner in the Mayoral election is a smart, able politician and was duly pissed-off when Mayor Mike started this “I know better what you need than you do” routine, recently.
What Thompson did not say, and what is increasingly a possibility, is that it may be just another form of political racism -- sugar-coated so as to be tolerated by the masses of liberals being duped by the money and the media control -- which obviously includes the Bloomberg media. For him and his media buddies to assume that Thompson is not every bit as competent as he is to run this city, is suspect to say the least.


So, as we sit back and watch the Depression overtake us, ponder some of these unspoken tidbits:

Coop and condo sales ARE tanking and prices are being dropped by people who are having a hard time paying maintenance fees. It is done more stealthily, but any broker who tells the truth will verify it. Six months ago, even HPD would tell you that coop and condo boards were starting to be investigated for not maintaining buildings – individual shareholders having had to call HPD to get the board to make routine repairs in common areas.

And, now that Wall Street is imploding, expect to see a wave of defaults and foreclosures—not to mention nearly 100,000 layoffs. Lehman Brothers employees managed to be picked up by Barclay’s (for the moment) but what no one is talking about is the massive loss of assets as stocks tank or become worthless, as in the case of Lehman. At the big firms, the cash for multi-million dollar properties (condos, coops, townhouses, developments) was not always arranged with mortgages. Many were financed with loans collateralized with stock pledges. Now that some of that stock is worthless, the loans can be called on that stock. Now, there’s a prescription for joy.

And, a word about our new savior, who has unlimited powers NOT subject review by the Courts. It’s very interesting to note that Lehman was allowed to fail and Goldman Sachs survived.
Lehman did not contribute to the Long Term Capital debacle – and many consider this payback. Barclay’s was interested in part of the Lehman operation and had been offering numbers approaching $5 Billion – and rumor has it that they were told to wait. They did – and bought if for $1.3 Billion only days later.
Paulson was the CEO of Goldman Sachs.

Think there is any correlation here?

Wait til you see what kind of sweet deals are cooked up with the RTC-styled maneuver now in the works.

"Somehow Lehman Brothers gets left on the sidelines," said Daniel Golden of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, who represents clients holding about $9 billion in bonds. "We believe this was a flawed sales process. It benefits Barclays and the federal government but not the creditors of this estate.

"The economic landscape seems to have changed over the last two days," he said. "Yet the debtors and the Fed seem determined that nothing get in the way of this transaction."

Had Lehman filed for Chapter 11 a week later than it had, its fate may have been different.

"This is a tragedy - maybe we missed the RTC by a week."

If they think Lehman was a tragedy, wait until the new RTC deal, christened Baillie Mae, gets moving.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sparks Flying

Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, coast for a while, and then have a hell of a close.
-- Ronald Reagan (1911 - 2004)

Some of the current political races are becoming testier.

Pete Gleason is weighing his options for City Council in ‘09 and faces a field which currently includes Julie Menin, more remotely Kathryn Freed (inhibited we think due to financial constraints), Madeleine Wils, and Margaret Chin.
Gleason is seen as an emotional favorite to many in SoHo; Menin has the Board #1 faction and parts of Tribeca; Wils has an alternate slice of Tribeca and Board #1; and Chin has a strong field in Chinatown.
What Gleason has in popularity he lacks in cash. The reverse is true for Menin and Wils – although, slick as she is, Wils is preferred by many.
She’s smarter and knows how things work.
Chin has Chinatown but needs to reach out among others and lose the provincialism of a primarily Asian candidate.

The lay of the land has Wils as the favorite, were she to run at this point due to money and political savvy.
Gleason is seen as someone who can be trusted.


At a fundraiser held this Saturday, Bernie Cohen, former attorney and consultant for Nora Anderson’s Surrogate’s Court bid – a lucrative position – apparently took a swing at Eben Bronfman, Special Assistant to D.A. Bob Morgenthau. It connected.
Bronfman, who was holding his daughter’s hand at the time and was about to leave, caught the unexpected punch. Various obscenities accompanied the blow.
Apparently, Eben has been seen in the company of Anderson’s opponent (Milton Tingling) and he speculates that this was the reason for Cohen’s actions.
Bronfman, however, wasn’t amused that he received this “show of emotion” in front of 80 people.

It’s a hot July.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Rumors & Politics

A recent survey was said to prove that the people we Americans most admire are our politicians and doctors. I don't believe it. They are simply the people we are most afraid of. And with the most reason.
-- Author Unknown

The problem with rumors is that sometimes they’re true. Enron is a good example. Bears Sterns is another. Politically, Spitzer is as good as any you’ll ever hear and for those of you who remember Donald Manes, there’s little to be said.
In this season of danger, euphemistically known as Primary season, few want to be on record for the battles that are occurring. Whispers, anonymous letters and fourth hand accusations that are unattributed are the coin of the realm.
Since, for better or worse, Manhattan is still a one-party town, the Democrats fight it out in September. Whoever survives the Primary usually wins in November.

This year there are a number of real races among the Democrats.









Daniel Squadron, for example, is running again Democratic incumbent Marty Connor, who for 30 years has not had a serious opponent. That has changed this year. Squadron managed to garner the endorsement of Downtown’s major, but embattled, Democratic political club, D.I.D., and is clearly now in the lead for the State Senate seat. While Squadron has raised significant money (reportedly over $425,000 thus far), his real success is in making headway without the overt support of his major political rabbi, Senator Schumer. Squadron actually traveled with Schumer and they wrote a book together.
Having to make one’s own political way in spite of a tremendous political asset in order to connect with the community and inspire a sense of commitment is not an easy task. Squadron seems to have accomplished this by virtue of his energy and persistence.

Bob Morgenthau has been one of the strongest forces for political power and social responsibility in the Manhattan justice system. Legendary stories about Bob as a Federal prosecutor, his advisory meetings with Suffolk County D.A.’s like Thomas Spota and his socially correct politics do not do justice to his power. His prosecutors and assistants, including Dan Castleman and Eben Bronfman, are polite and charming but deadly, if you’re on the wrong side of the conference table.
As a supporter of women’s rights and as a force for social justice he has managed to succeed in breaking new ground with John Doe indictments -- which maintain DNA material and prosecutorial integrity – thereby protecting the ability to prosecute a rapist beyond the usual statute of limitations.
His opponent for D.A. is likely Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former judge and investment banker. She garnered 40% of the vote in the last election and is expected to run again. While a threat, the piggy bank on Wall Street may dry up this time around. She had been in favor of the death penalty but apparently has relinquished that position.
Others who wish to take over once Bob Morgenthau has retired are Catherine Abate, who has been waiting for him to step aside for years – and there is newcomer Cyrus Vance, Jr., who has stated clearly that he will not run if Bob decides to run again. Bob is running again.
Another possible wild card candidate mentioned has been Jim McManus, District Leader and head of the McManus Midtown Democratic Club.
As unusual as that may seem, remember the D.A’s office is about knowing where the bones are buried and digging them up.
Bob knows how to dig them up and Jim likely knows where some of them are buried.

The City Council race for District one will soon become more interesting. While Julie Menin, Chair of Board #1 and her forces have zeroed in on Pete Gleason, her attention may be misplaced.
Gleason is the choice of many and is clearly preferred by registered voters North of Canal Street but money may become the issue. Menin’s war chest is supported by developers and husband Bruce Menin, reportedly with a family fortune in the hundreds of millions -- a daunting reality for opponents.














Margaret Chin, however, is the candidate to watch.
She is an activist who fervently puts her energy where her mouth is. No one works as hard as she does. And, while she represents the huge Chinese voter majority Downtown, she has gained popularity with those who do not like the idea of a political seat that is bought.

Chin’s detractors have tried to find an Achilles Heel and the best they’ve been able to come up with is the fact that as a young girl she was a member of the Communist Party. Move over Hollywood.

Ballotgate is heating up.
Apparently, Community Board #1 may be ripe for an investigation over a missing ballot. A recent election for assistant secretary, an Executive Committee position has created a little monster for all involved.
The rough details apparently are that during the balloting in a race between Community activist Marc Ameruso and his opponent, Board member named Lynn-Rudder -- one vote went missing. While the election was not a close one, the missing ballot is troubling for a few different reasons. First, it was Julie Menin’s vote, the Chair of the Board. Second, it indicates that someone is toying with the election process.
Rumors have circulated indicating that the motivation for the missing ballot is related to the fact that all election results at Community Boards are open and transparent. Ergo, anyone can review the results and figure out who voted for whom. In the past, these election results often indicate to either the winning or losing candidate who your friends really are.
Since Menin verbally promised her vote to Ameruso and since Lynn-Rudder is from the Menin camp (he is not), it is logical to assume that that particular missing ballot might be an embarrassment.
Whatever your politics are, however, there is no indication of where the missing Menin ballot went after being accepted by Pat Moore, one of her supporters and head of the Nominating Committee. Moore was also Menin’s entry for the D.I.D. election, which ended with Sean Sweeney being re-elected.
Ameruso discovered it the next day when he reviewed the results at the Board office and he then reported the fact.
Interestingly, he was then accused of committing the crime that he, himself discovered and reported. A little thin, even for political logic.

If nothing else, it elucidates the depth of political intrigue going on at Board #1 – and whether this needs an investigation by an outside entity (since rumor has it that two attorneys sit on the Executive Committee and are upset over this), remains to be seen.
Stringer is a political ally of Menin and depends upon the fundraising potential but he clearly takes his connection with the Community Boards very seriously. He may have to step aside and let a completely neutral body check this out if it does not quickly get resolved.
Somebody might want to suddenly find that missing ballot before it gets too messy. Perhaps it stuck to the bottom of someone’s coffee cup.
This is being reviewed at an emergency Executive Committee meeting next Monday at 6 pm at the Board office. Stay tuned rangers.


Apparently, D.I.D. is stabilizing after the failed Menin and David Reck orchestrated Putsch – but suddenly Julie Nadel (who had been elected Treasurer) was advised that she could not have a position on the H.R.P.T. and also serve as an officer in a political club. She received the Dear Julie letter from Connie Fishman, President of the Trust, stating that this was not permitted. Nadel, graciously dropped out of the D.I.D. position and District Leader Adam Silvera took over on an interim basis.
While the matter was handled quickly and efficiently, one wonders why this particular responsiveness occurred at this moment in time. Other H.R.P.T. members have enjoyed dual roles.
Nadel, however, has been one of the only critics on the H.R.P.T. Board that covets secrecy and she has been known to speak her mind on a number of controversial issues.

Nadel was also was involved in helping to arrange a Meet & Greet for Councilmember Eric Gioia, an announced candidate for Public Advocate in ‘09 – a position that Scott Stringer has not announced he is seeking – but is known to be considering. Stringer appoints three of the H.R.P.T. Board members.
Interesting.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Elitism






















An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.
-- Simon Cameron (1799 - 1889)

Talk to any good lawyer and it’s likely that you will soon learn the difference between rational logic and legal logic.
While it makes perfect sense, for example, that someone who defrauded you out of a substantial amount of money should be instructed by the courts to refund you your loss – rules of evidence and legal precedent have a way of interfering. Even a crystal clear matter that no one, even the perpetrator, doubts as truth – can be shoved aside by the vagaries of that arcane legal logic. Political logic is far beyond even that abstruse common sense.
This also applies to the common sense with which the public devours information. It’s one of the reasons why Page Six has an avid audience. The fourth estate finds its raison d’etre at the feet of politicians’ lies.
But, more important, there are some realities that so fly so in the face of common sense, that one can simply smell the truth despite what the words say.

As the political landscape is evolving Downtown, it is clear that politics is now the domain of BIG money a/k/a Developers. And, in an attempt to insist that what we are seeing, in fact, is not what we are really seeing – we have an elitist PR logic that is being foisted upon us through the media. As this plays out, we are as W.C. Fields notes, one of the suckers that are born every minute. And, the politicians ARE there to take us every 59 seconds.

Numerous issues have erupted in this Democratic Town of ours in which the elected officials are making decisions based upon THEIR political realities and aspirations and are contrary to the wishes and desires of the community they are supposed to serve. It should not be lost upon us that big money is now needed to run a political campaign – especially, when you are term-limited and need to find that next big job.
Bloomberg, for example, with a smooth PR machine and a media company to boot, has managed to force us to believe that he’s a great Mayor. The Tell really came at the beginning when he took a vacation and refused to let anyone know where he was going -- it was none of our business. That should have tipped everyone off about where he was coming from, not where he was going.
Meanwhile, we've had major thrusts. We have had the West Side Stadium, Trump SoHo, Related’s Pier 40 plan, the Gansevoort Recycling and Garbage Depot, the DSNY garage and the raping and pillaging about to occur in the Village, Hudson Square and SoHo. We have lots of new hotels to invite even more hoards of visitors. Not ALL of the cash from the engine for New York City should be on the backs of Manhattan residents. That argument is lame and self-serving -- responsible zoning produces better income. Illegal signs produce income for the City too, but it severely reduces everyone's quality of life.
All of these issues come under the planning tutelage of the Mayor’s office, the City Council and the Community Boards.
There are public pronouncements, hearings, closed-door sessions and dialog between and among the elected officials. Not for the community, however.
But, lest we not be taken in by this – the fix is in. The money has been spread around – or promised – and the plan is in place.

Quinn wants money and support for her Mayoral run next year, Stringer has aspirations for higher office and wants the fealty of the Community Boards to keep that fundraising machine in place, Silver wants to hold on to his Speakership, Menin wants to arrive at City Council, and Mayor Mike wants to figure out what to buy with his next billion dollars – he’s currently negotiating to buy the remaining 20% of the media company back for $5 billion dollars. But, oh, that’s part of a blind trust – he has no control over a major media conglomerate and the money he doles out – now, does he?
nt, for example. Why do we now learn that part of one of our parks will be Melinda Katz, a candidate for Comptroller, in fact, makes no bones about taking as much money as she can get from developers.
But, while this process unfolds, one thing is clear – none of this has anything to do with what the voters want. It is the most insulting form of elitism.
It’s the “we know what’s best for you” form of governing.

Quinn needs to hold hearings, as to what happened with the Trump SoHo project, with the doors open. And, let all of the dirt out.
She should clearly indicate that she is not Mayor Mike’s subordinate.
The Trump SoHo travesty, for example, cries out for an investigation into how that little project got slipped through. Who were the real players?
Why have the City agencies been playing along with the Trump SoHo management to delay responses from the B.S.A. and Department of Buildings that permit the lawsuit filed by SoHo Alliance to linger? Stu Klein, the lawyer, may have a view on what that deal is about. Why should a city agency be in bed with a developer?
Yes, that’s the point – about the developers. The money is now trying to buy Manhattan – and hi-rise Mike is letting them.

Take the Parks Department, for example. Why do we now learn that part of one of our parks will be sold off to a developer for a restaurant?
Why is there a constant push to place advertising in our parks, usurp them for commercial uses, and make them testing grounds for commercial products?
Why do we find, belatedly, that the artificial turf that our children play on, can burn them if they play on it? Was the deal too good for Commissioner Benepe to resist, or was he instructed by Bloomberg to sign on the dotted line. How much development pressure is Mayor Mike placing on Benepe and why do the rumors tell us that Benepe is afraid to talk to anyone?
At 165 degrees, allowing a child to walk on the “grass” and burn their feet is criminal. Even if you’re afraid you’ll be fired and lose those golden shackles, allowing children to be burned is really not cool.

We also have to face the fact that the Community Boards are now under attack by the Mayor, who wants to strip what little power they have – by eliminating their input on matters that would interfere with development.
Stinger utilizes the Boards to further his political agenda by exerting his influence directly and indirectly – so as to make Board members aware that they serve at his pleasure. This is not conducive to community democracy. When you have people who, ostensibly, represent the wishes of the community in which they serve – and who are afraid to lose their membership or position in the community if they contradict or disagree with the power structure – you have nothing but palavering.
There is a real question, of course, as to whether the Community Boards represent the community at all. Elitism runs deep.

We need to move away from politicians and elected leaders who believe they know what is best for us and will do anything to achieve that result. Or, even direr, we need to expose the elitism which seeks to use money to
buy political office and then give us what they want us to have.

Fortunately, the economy will slow development pressure, lose Wall Street jobs and drop real estate values in Manhattan will have an effect upon these forces. We must do the rest.
Structural reform of the Community Boards is necessary, for example.
They no longer represent the people in our communities and are fast becoming political parties, which are mechanisms that propel people into political office.

A grassroots re-organization of the democratic process is now needed. A parallel universe is needed. Otherwise, like Alice we will continue to view democracy through the lookinglass.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dealing in Garbage













Politicians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.
-- Unknown

As complicated as politics can become, the smell was not simply coming from the Gansevoort Pier. The only accurate fact was that it is the location where the Department of Sanitation parks its trucks and operates a salt pile for those nostalgic years before global warming.
The settlement made a few years ago with Friends of Hudson River Park under the tutelage of Al Butzel called for DSNY to be off the pier by 2012 even though it has been stymied by community opposition and a lack of responsible planning. The UPS site on Spring Street where a 14 story garage and fuel depot has become the convenient, if not flawed solution – even when a location at block 675 in Board 4 was readily available. And, instead of it being a two district garage, it was enlarged so that it would be a three district garage. So much for logic.

But, what really wafted out from between the decaying compost was the decision by Shelly Silver to suddenly push through a change in the Hudson River Park Act in order to accommodate unseen forces with virtually no prior warning to the community. His closest allies, among them Deborah Glick and Dick Gottfried, were put in a difficult situation publicly after having fought the Gansevoort Recyling plan. What appears to have been a victory for anti- NIMBYism, however, is not sufficient for downtown to appreciate the role of our elected officials in this little morality play. The electeds downtown pandered to their own political aspirations and need for campaign funds. In other words, it was not simply their fear of the convenient cry of "racism" that forced this issue. It was worse than that. This is a deal that sells out the community.

Hi-rise Mike, Quinn, Stringer and Gerson all supported this plan because it was easy. Lots of money for campaigns, lots of ego (for the the Mayor and his Harvard Boys), all cooperating to send Silver a magic bullet. Vote for this, or else. This time it worked. The use of the racism card, which has worked for Lola, a downtown bar which the community did not want, is now followed by a development that is anathema to a community where pollution is the new commuter and tourist attraction.

As politics have changed downtown, where the power bases have begun to transform from political clubhouse to Community Boards -- and from independent political parties to developers with public relation firms – it’s the media perception of a politician that counts, not the voter’s opinion. It’s no longer a matter of appealing to the community. Reality doesn’t seem to count for very much – at least that seems to be the case if you are a politician.

Many activists who are also community board members, for example, now find themselves inquiring as to whether the Borough President approves of his or her point of view before being seen in public. Community Board Chairs or Committee Chairs now worry about whether their political point of view is in synch with the Borough President and whether they will be dumped even before their two year term is up if they disagree with the party line.

Council Members concern themselves with whether the Speaker agrees with their point of view on issues. They still worry about the pork barrel even though there is a Federal prosecutor watching them dig out the meat.
And, Speaker Quinn has to be worried about whether she will get financial support from the Mayor in return for her support or lack therof. Those $500,000 donation checks to non-profit organizations buy a lot of footwork no matter who later is empowered to call in for the chips.

Formerly powerful political clubs look to the Chair of the Community Boards as well as the Borough President, to assess who the rank and file should support – since many of the clubs have members on the Boards.
At a recent fundraiser for Eric Gioia who running for Public Advocate, an old veteran of the political wars, Ray Cline, showed up. In spite of his canny knowledge of downtown politics, a supporter of Maria Derr for City Council, he appears to not fear any powerful politician. His coming out for Gioia was noticed.

So, there is no surprise that Shelly Silver, who was instrumental in killing Bloomberg’s pet Congestion Pricing, the West Side Stadium, the sub rosa Related Pier 40 plan, and who was threatened with a very expensive campaign for his own re-election which Bloomberg vowed to fund – had to deliver --something. This appears to be it. There was even the threat that the old sexual harassment issue involving one of Silver's staffers from years ago was going to be dragged up again.
Whether Bloomberg can find a new job for himself, money is not his problem. It does, however, seem to be everyone else’s problem.
While no one will ever know just exactly how the deal was done, just locating the air fresheners in the room can tell you where the smell was coming from.

Then there’s the matter of compliant behavior on the part of everyone else.

Quinn has wanted Bloomberg’s support for a long time. She, too, needs the money for her mayoral campaign. And, Slushgate, receding somewhat, still leaves her with the need for the many contacts that can raise the necessary funds for a successful race. With the angst over the Feds subsiding and the media interest waning, large amounts of cash are still necessary to keep her in the running. There’s Weiner, Thompson and Republican John Catsimatidis out there to deal with. And, with a Gristede’s fortune, he has no cash problems and no negative press yet. And, lest we no forget, the Molinari's in Staten Island have decided who our last two mayors have been. They like Republicans.
So, Quinn’s support of Gansevoort is no surprise, despite pronouncements that Downtown should take its fair share of garbage – in spite of the fact that it was supposed to be a park. Glick is in a tough position since she is close to Silver. She has strongly come out against this plan. Arthur Schwartz, Chair of CB2 Waterfront Committee, who has young children, has again voiced his opposition. While he has a controversial political past, he apparently is not afraid of anyone and thinks the plan is a sell-out.

As far as racism is concerned, calling downtown liberals anti-African-American is not only phony but insulting. Will this be the new way to get things?
Unfortunatley, the simple charge begets the old indefensible logical form as in "when did you stop beating your wife?"
If you are against this, you are a racist? Will this be the new Jewish guilt that makes activists work and voters choose on the basis of the horrors of the past?
Do we now choose between being able to breathe or being called racists?
Shall we all lie down and let the garbage trucks roll over us and our children so that we are loved for our proven racial neutrality?
Thanks, guys. Maybe it IS time for a real Republican. Not a born-again Julie Menin who has apparently switched parties to run for City Council and not Hi-rise Mike who also did the switcheroo a few years back and wants to be Vice President, President, Governor, Mayor again, or, whatever else strikes his fancy this week and is now "Independent."
Just get out the checkbook and screw what the people want.

Then there's Stringer’s tacit and stated support of the garbage solution on Gansevoort which is based upon his desire to keep all options open and run in step with the money. His alliance with the Mayor and his close affiliation with Julie Menin who seeks to take the City Council seat currently held by Alan Gerson as well as control of D.I.D., the downtown political club, -- is a friendship with the Bruce Menin developer money. Rumors abound over Stringer’s desire to run for Public Advocate, remain where he is – or possibly take the position of his closest political ally, Congressman Jerry Nadler, once Jerry finds a more powerful slot (like Senator). The hope is that Hilary will move on and give Jerry his shot.

What also has rankled some activists who recently felt safe in opening their mouths – since the Community Boards have become the new center of political “power” – is that Stringer failed to hold a convocation of Boards in order to arrive at a community concensus solution on the waste situation, rather than just adhere to the Bloomberg message. Properly done, this would have ameliorated the racial undercurrents that make this NIMBYism so pernicious. So, instead of using his mandate in calling upon the Manhattan Boards to address this issue and try to work at a better solution – as well as other issues like affordable housing – he allowed his political agenda to be the guiding principle. Make nice with Uptown politicians, like powerful Inez Dickens, Denny Farrell, Charlie Rangel and Bill Thompson, and ignore Downtown.

It is clear that Community Board members should not also be members of a political party. The obligation should be solely to the residents whom they are supposed to represent. Political leaders should not be permitted to sit on the Board. The possibility for a commingling of obligations – either by the Boards becoming de facto political parties for the support of the Borough President – or, for the Boards to become elaborate, de facto, fundraising political machines – is a bad precedent. It is an invitation to an inbred cycle which leaves out the interests of the community.

With the politicization of the Community Boards, with the attempts at buying the votes and fealty of residents downtown with developer money and political fortunes – P.R. companies will soon be telling us how popular our elected officials are. Not asking us. The media-fed misconception of how popular Hi-Rise Mike is, for example, when many activists can't wait for him to go, speaks to the managed publicity.
And, recently, a multi-page spread appeared in the N.Y. Post describing the works of Board #1 Chair Julie Menin. Amazingly, this spontaneous interest in her work is timed to augment both the D.I.D. putsch and a City Council run.

Forget all the hard work in winning a park for us and our children.
Forget that we will be forced to breathe even more diesel fumes in a community with the highest rates of disease from particulates.
And, forget the fact that our elected officials should be working for us, not for themselves and their next elected office.

We have a bevy of “popular” elected officials.

According to whom?

Are the PR firms that now dictate policy in Washington, going to tell us who we should support downtown?