Friday, November 11, 2011

The SoHo Power Structure

“Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects.”
-- Lester Pearson

The levels of political power in SoHo, for the uninitiated, rest with elected politicians. Margaret Chin is the City Council member – having unseated Alan Gerson. And, in the Western section of SoHo, Speaker Quinn is the designated City Council representative covering the area from Thompson Street to the Hudson River as well as Hell's Kitchen. SoHo's boundaries arguably run as far West as Hudson Street, depending upon whose view you rely upon.
Gerson was ousted partly over his support for Bloomberg’s third term and partly because he thumbed his nose at Sean Sweeney – then, the President of Downtown Independent Democrats. Alan was a nice guy, a much used phrase that connotes friendliness but not political acumen.

Chin was elected over Gerson and competitor Pete Gleason, drawing heavy support from Chinatown. She was known as a housing activist and a Communist (in a former life), which only added to her persona as a supporter of the people. Lots of energy and drive characterizes her political approach to most things, but her bona fides as a strong SoHo supporter are giving way to the main concern of activists in SoHo – provincialism. The strong support of housing issues in SoHo and local issues such as the SoHo BID, leave a question mark about her fealty. Hopefully, that will change. However, rumors have surfaced, that Quinn will support a redistricting that takes SoHo away from Chin's Council seat.

Daniel Squadron, the State Senator, has been a pleasant surprise. He has done a great deal of work on housing issues and has been supportive of SoHo issues. The only criticism of Squadron is that trying to have a conversation with him, after having defeated Marty Connor – is like sitting down with a moving cyclone. In a previous conversation, we discussed Traffic danger, Housing, Billboards and Art preservation in SoHo. Those issues should be revisited. In addition, Quinn’s last legislation, which sanctions abuse and harassment against landlords – is inadequate and unenforceable. Squadron has a better understanding.

Quinn is a force to be reckoned with and despite the fact that she supported the DSNY garage she still has traction in SoHo. While she is often criticized for the Trump SoHo debacle, however, she did force Bayrock/Sapir, the developer, to accept a Restrictive Declaration -- which restricted continuous occupancy to 29 days in a row and only 120 days max per year. This effectively made it a hotel, not a condo. Few people will invest millions in an apartment that they cannot truly live in. And, successful lawsuits have resulted from buyers/tenants who realized that if you cannot live there and that if the developer was misinforming you about the number of sales -- you may want out. If Quinn becomes truly disentangled from Bloomberg, the fact that the Staten Island politicians are saying not unpleasant things about her – could pave the way for a more community-minded Mayor. A Democrat in office, for a change would be welcomed. Both Bloomberg and Giuliani won because of Staten Island support. This may neutralize the threat of success from Ray Kelly, the presumed Republican candidate for Mayor.

But, the real political power rests with the Downtown Independent Democrats. While only a few political clubs have maintained their presence, it is one of the exceptions to the generally waning power of clubs in Manhattan.
The hierarchy that really decides who runs for office – and who wins – rests with a few people. The President of the club is Jeanne Wilcke, Paul Newell is a District Leader, Adam Silvera is Vice President, Jim Stratton is also Vice President and Sean Sweeney is Treasurer. While they have several other elected leaders, some are newly elected.

The political decisions, candidate selection and interviews are primarily handled by Wilcke, Newell, Silvera, Stratton and Sweeney. Wilcke is the public face and leader of the club (keeping the troops in line), Silvera’s expertise is in judicial selection, Stratton is the political guru,
Newell is a strategist and Sweeney is in charge of the smoke-filled back room. Together they manage D.I.D.
As JFK once said, “Politics is the only game for adults.” And,apparently, they play well together.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

SoHo Politics - Musings

"Don't be afraid to see what you see."
-- Ronald Reagan

The professional pundits are already busy picking the next horse for Mayor. Among the favorites (at least in terms of frequency of media mention) are Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, Bill DeBlasio, Ray Kelly and in the back of the pack, Scott Stringer. And, here's my reasoning, since it's anything BUT scientific, prescient, or even that reliable.

Quinn is always in the news, like her or not. The phrase, "I don't care what you say about me, as long as you say something and spell my name right" comes to mind. She seems to have alienated a portion of SoHo on issues like the DSNY garage, Trump SoHo (Quinn actually forced the developer to accept occupancy restrictions), -- and apparently Slushgate has either been dropped or is going nowhere.
CityTime, which clearly is a major scandal, appears to have been contained by Bloomberg. Bill Thompson, isn't all that much in the news, but he ran last time and the desertion of fellow Democrats still stings -- since he clearly would have defeated Bloomberg. Bill DeBlasio has been running since the day he was elected as Public Advocate. He's a nice guy, very tall, and seems truly progressive. He has traction.

Ray Kelly is a Republican, has become the face of Bloomberg, and apparently has a higher security clearance than Obama. While the NYPD scandals and treatment of Occupy Wall Street seem a little less heavy handed than they were, his communication skills leave something to be desired. What New Yorkers do not want is a Police State nor a mini-Homeland Security Department in Manhattan. Not even all of the Police want that - just the overtime. That may be tolerable for other boroughs or surrounding counties, but Manhattan is a little different. The ability to fire a missle to down hostile aircraft in Manhattan is not a consoling thought. Keep in mind that the outlying boroughs like Staten Island have consistently picked our Mayor with Fire and Police family populations. Both Guiliani and Bloomberg took office thanks to the Molinari's.

Lastly, Scott Stringer, has been running since his first election as Borough President. His Rabbi is Jerry Nadler but his press coverage has waned. His original "Affordable Housing" push was welcomed in the community but seems to have gone nowhere recently.

To call these comments a scientific evaluation would be ludicrous. But, the funny thing about politics is, the more you discuss a candidate, the higher his/her visibility.

Which brings us to the Governor's race. The Governor's race?


Cuomo is doing well, publicity-wise. He's even gotten decent grades from Ed Koch and Henry Stern. Two people who REALLY knows their politics. And, they're too old to worry about whether the politicians dislike their views.

But, what's next?
First, with the help of Suffolk D.A. Thomas Spots (via the roasting of former legislator George Guldi), Cuomo's major future opponent, Steve Levy (Suffolk CE), has been neutralized. Levy was a major competitor for the Governor spot but agreed to step down after a pay-to-play allegation in which he turned over $4.1 million to the D.A. and dropped out. His former roommate and wedding guest, Ethan Ellner, a title closer, was ostensibly trading campaign contributions for title work.

That leaves us with the following scenario. Cuomo wants to be President and may actually get there via the V.P. route in the election after this. Probably not on the coming election but on the following ticket -- perhaps with Biden. Or, he might try it on his own.
So, who would then take the Governor's slot?
Okay, so this is a long-shot but the most visible, and seemingly-aggressive, and effective State politician is Schneiderman.

His stance on continuing the investigations of the banks over the mortgage mess has put him at the head of the class. Having listened to his politics at a political lunch was instructive. Pragmatism, combined with political acumen is his forte. At this early stage of the game, he gets high marks. When Cuomo is termed out, Eric Schneidermen looks eminently electable. If he succeeds in dismantling the settlement talks that former HPD Commissioner Shawn Donovan is pushing for Obama, and pursues real investigations that yield prosecutions and benefits for victims of foreclosures -- he will be at the head of the class.

Not to mention the fact that Schneiderman had, and still does have a formidable internet presence. A key to success.