Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rumors or Realities?

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
--Yogi Berra

The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less
than you settled for.

--Maureen Dowd

So far we have a few uncommitted candidates for next year’s fireworks.
The Presidential election doesn’t garner all that much interest among political professionals simply because the candidates are rarely seen on ground level without a motorcade or the Secret Service. Even Chuckie is above visiting his former teammates downtown. While Nadler tries to cut a deal with the Molinari forces in Staten Island, SoHo is still gasping for air as a result of the Verrazano one-way toll. Congestion pricing would almost be unnecessary if the free round-trip from New Jersey and out the Holland Tunnel were done away with.

The theories for ‘09 are that Scott Stringer and Eric Gioia will run for Public Advocate. Stringer has the problem of being out of synch for another meaningful office to occupy if he remains for a second term as Borough President and ergo a lateral move to that “Assistant” Mayor office. Gioia is Chair of the City Council Investigations Committee and is an ambitious young politician. Both of them have a great deal of energy and would certainly be more visible than Betsy Gottbaum. Mark Green, someone who knew how to lose an election, was actually a responsive Public Advocate if you had ever tried out his office when he occupied that seat.

Thus far the known Mayoral candidates are Bill Thompson, Chris Quinn and Anthony Weiner – with Brian Ellner, Adolfo Carrion and Tony Avella as possible contenders. So far, for those interested in vetting the candidates based upon responsiveness (one of the ways that some activists assess supporting a candidate) Thompson has an office that returns calls and is responsive to inquiries. Sometimes, the back office is a better indication of a candidate’s future than all of the media hype.

Bloomberg had seemed to be backing off from his presidential thrust, and then it burgeoned again, according to recent national-scene news commentators. Whether Hillary is now positioning herself well and Mr. Bill has been wagging his tongue less vituperatively its hard to tell. The fact that she has ditched her campaign manager begs at least one question. But Obama is still clearly in the running. With Nader threatening to enter the mix again, there may be just so many bargaining chips out there to land a slot in the new Democratic administration. But, with a wide-open convention, Bloomberg could still find himself in a bargaining position.
Don’t count McCain out, though. There are Democrats who find neither of their candidates very attractive. And, McCain's got a little of that Harry Truman thing going for him.
Obama benefited by the Kennedy endorsements and the likening to JFK – but that only works if you haven’t read “The Dark Side of Camelot.”

Arthur Schwartz, an Obama fan, is still trying to get the message across to Diana Taylor that the Pier 40 Partnership. is the way to go. The resistance is strong from the HRPT – and the question is whether it is purely based upon the financial figures or whether the pressure from Related is just that strong politically. Let’s face it, if Related manages to pull this out of the bag – in spite of the clear message from residents and voters Downtown that it is NOT wanted, we might as well all move to Peoria. Or, start manning the barricades, as the students did in Paris during the 1960’s. There’s a point where elected AND appointed officials need to get the picture that they work for us, not themselves. No matter who you break croissants with every morning.

Tenants at One Bank Street have fallen into a small abyss that is reminiscent of the Trump SoHo project. That is, rules and regulations, zoning and legal interpretations, lawyers and lobbyists – not to mention failure of political will – are coming home to roost and are about to try to kill Manhattan’s affordable housing stock.

Not that Senator Tom Duane hasn’t fought the good fight in this instance. It appears that even Duane has been shocked by the neutering of the agencies responsible for monitoring the regulated housing stock in Manhattan.
What is unfolding around us, is a lack of political will at the City Hall level – leaving our Assembly, Senate and City Council elected officials scrambling for a way to enforce a policy decision that is very clear. Stop screwing with regulated housing and that enormous voting base.

Apparently Lucky Bhalla, the owner of One Bank Street has decided to evict all of the tenants of that building in order to turn it into a hotel.
One of the problems is that this property is still subject to a J-51 tax abatement, which is a legal deal made by property owners and was a cooperative effort to create and maintain affordable housing in Manhattan.
Now that Bhalla is trying to double-dip, the enforcement agencies, that have been intentionally weakened by Pataki, are backing away from the community’s call to stop the evictions while this legal quagmire is negotiated. Both DHCR and HPD are refusing to stop the evictions of tenants in this building while the legal process weighs the conflicting arguments involving the J-51 agreements.
The fallout from this is startling. We have one million apartments in Manhattan potentially affected by this and a real estate industry that would be nothing short of ecstatic over the dismantling of rent control and stabilization.

Trump SoHo was a mistake. And, by the loss of life and poor construction, it is an embarrassment for Downtown. That, on top of the fact that the project is completely inappropriate and of questionable legality.
City Council held hearings that took testimony with regard to the claims that Bayrock ignored safety concerns in its rush to complete this 45-story “condo-hotel” tower. But, what has emerged from this fiasco is the fact that the Department of Buildings is an agency that is politically managed, badly staffed, ignorant of its mission and possibly corrupt as well.
From personal experience, many residents report that D.O.B. representatives and inspectors are completely ineffectual to the point of exasperation. Instead of protecting tenants, there are reports of brief, chummy meetings with landlords and supers – that end with no actions against gross violations of the building codes.
A look around Downtown at the proliferation of illegal billboards will tell us the story. How many of these huge signs have been removed by what Lancaster had initially held hearings about?
We were all duped into believing that the crews from VanWagner, ClearChannel and North Shore Neon Sign, were a thing of the past. Just walk by the neo-Time Square look at West Broadway and Broome Street in SoHo if you believe that the Department of Buildings took any action.

If Bloomberg had any real interest in grassroots support, instead of the same kind of media-hyped “we like Mike” he would start removing the billboards from the acknowledged center of the Art world.

But, don’t hold your breath. As Helmsley put it, we’re only “the little people.”

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