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.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


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?