Sunday, March 26, 2006

No One Gets Out Alive

The untimely and unexpected death of Community Board #2's District Manager last week is another reminder of the old adage that, “Nobody gets out of this alive.” Arty Strickler was a wily, not-so-old fox who was a survivor from what is arguably the most contentious community board of them all. Certainly, in recent times, it has not been a place where you would want to dip your toe into the political waters to check the temperature – unless you don’t want to keep that particular foot. Arty knew everyone and nearly everything that was important to know. He had himself been Chair of Board #2 and survived numerous attempts to remove him and remained in power despite the displeasure of several board members as well as board chairs. J. Edgar Hoover had nothing on Arty. He could tell you who had the votes in an election and commented about the most recent election that, “A paper bag could win as Chair of this Board” because of his vote count as to who was “on our side.” He was usually right. He wasn’t prescient; he just worked at getting the best intelligence. Sometimes he moved things along.
And, while his pants were too tight, he had a curious sense of humor that seemed to fit well with his interpretation of the job. He was also a master of the “anonymous letter,” – a form of character assassination used by those who want to besmirch those whom they determine are their adversaries. It was (and apparently still is) a tool of some Board members with weak egos and underwear that’s pulled too tight.
District Manager of Community Board #2 is not an easy job.
Arty was a close personal friend of a few Board members like Bob Rinaolo (de facto Chair of Community Board #2) and less so of Maria Derr, the current Chair, and he had famous, public, running disputes with a few Board members such as Ed Gold, a personal friend of former Mayor Koch. Arty was opinionated and dictatorial at times; – but in the end, with his curious brand of ethics, he sometimes tried to reach out to people, even adversaries, to try to heal wounds in his own imitable way. Despite his sometimes-brusque manner, he really wanted people to like him and get along with each other. He kept repeating that the split on Board #2 was just for the moment and “soon everyone would be friends again.” Arty, at least, had common sense – he did not know how deep the division had become and how intransigent and rancorous the polarity was. We can thank C. Virginia Fields for dangling the carrot of money and control of the business agenda for that.
Filling his sneakers will not be an easy task and one, which, it is hoped, will be less political, and more quieting, given the current state of disaffection on Board #2.

The jockeying for Strickler’s job has already begun and a few names including Florence from the Board office have been mentioned. As of this writing, Florence had not indicated that she was ready for the position. She is a warm and intelligent young woman who is both engaging and savvy.

It has been learned, however, that the nightlife contingent which now runs the Board, operating as the Personnel Committee but is a disguised form of the Executive committee, plan on deciding who they are going to place in the District Manager position – for their benefit. Bob Rinaolo, de facto Chair, Maria Derr, acting Chair, Mark Rosenwasser, Phil Mouquinho, Brad Hoylman (Vice Chair), and Carol Yankay – are arranging to replace Arty Strickler with a Manager to do their bidding.
The Board may not like being told what to do. The new District Manager needs to be a bi-partisan selection that goes beyond politics and personal agendas or the healing process will never begin. It will then remain for
Scott Stringer to rely heavily on the knife to rectify the situation.

Arthur Schwartz’s fortunes are once again on the upswing. It appears that he will finally Chair the Advisory to the Hudson River Park Trust. The deep and murky decision-making of Maria Derr, which is now the skirt behind the Rinaolo throne at Community Board #2, has apparently decided that Schwartz should handle that assignment after personally trying her hand at it briefly. Schwartz is familiar with HRPT matters, having chaired the Waterfront committee and he has sued the Trust on a few occasions. During the mishandled Pier 40 debacle, for example, Schwartz and others, including several electeds -- were so pissed off that the opportunity to develop the pier was lost that a lawsuit ensued. It went nowhere. But, at least we have the $5 million dollar investment in playing fields to be thankful for, compliments of the now defunct Waterfront Committee that survived Schwartz.
Schwartz is also reportedly planning on challenging Larry Moss for the position of Democratic State Committeeman. If he does run against Moss, there will be some strange new bedfellows downtown and possibly some soul-searching among the political clubs.
Moss is a favorite among some electeds like Deborah Glick and Tom Duane in favor of Brad Hoylman essentially ousted Schwartz from his District Leader’s position. However, there WAS no love lost for Moss among some of the downtown political clubs—there’s no telling where that’s at right now. Moss may be back in favor.
It may actually turn out to be a contest, after all – depending upon who else decides to run. Pete Gleason seems to be opting out for the moment.

Activists Downtown have a new friend in the Development Wars.
Andrew Berman is looking more and more like a friend of SoHo, not to mention his already having conquered the hearts and minds of Greenwich Villagers. The Tunnel Garage is finally coming to its last days before demolition starts and Berman’s GVSHP has been the only organization outside of the SoHo Alliance, which has taken an active role in pushing to get some of the historical buildings in SoHo landmarked. Berman has had a crystallizing effect upon Villagers and there has been genuine progress is slowing down, and zoning down sections of downtown. Manning the barricades did not go out of vogue with student protestors – Berman’s success in getting people out to demonstrate, as he has at the Tunnel Garage – bodes well for a resurgence in genuine community activism.
While this may not be the battle where a line is drawn in the sand, it is clear that the hearts and minds of people in the community are with Berman and the GVSHP.

Fallout over The Falls has been much more lamented by the Nightlife people in lower Manhattan than would have been anticipated. It has drawn attention to a smarmy business.
There has been so much nasty publicity and so much negative press as a result of The Falls’ management having lied to the police over the rape and murder of a young female customer – that other bars throughout the city are wringing their hands over the bad rap this has generated. Not to mention heavier surveillance and investigations into personnel practices with regard to bar employees and security workers—at other locations.
Demonstrations, picket lines, media trucks, satellite dishes and police brass are not conducive to business as usual in some of our “watering holes” downtown.
However, a little more scrutiny might provide the community with a silver lining – like providing the kind of police presence at downtown bars that eliminates drugs and reduces noise and the kind of antisocial behavior that has created a lower Manhattan that is antagonistic to family life. This has occurred in the name of enticing tourists to drink until stupid and endlessly bar hop at the expense of our community’s quality of life.

Community Board #2’s Business Committee, Chaired by Martin Diaz did an unusual thing. It denied a liquor license to the old Verushka location on Broome Street – across the street from the site of a new condo development (Tunnel Garage) and below a condo building itself on the ground floor and basement level. The applicant wanted the lower level to be open until 4 a.m., a strange request for the so-called white tablecloth restaurant that was being proposed.
The Business committee is not known for its sensitivity to SoHo’s needs, which is what makes this denial all the more perplexing.
Makes you wonder what’s afoot.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Downtown Gets Hot

Special Assistant to D.A. Bob Morgenthau, Eben Bronfman, has been a busy guy. Between the Page Six comments referring to his recent marital conflagration and time spent with his current main squeeze Kathy, you’d think business would suffer. Not so.

He’s off to China on a mission to promote Human Dignity and Policing, a program which the Chinese leadership is eager to implement. Considering the negative press that the police in China have been exposed to, it is understandable that they wish to correct that. Or, at least make a serious attempt to mitigate the damaging perceptions. Eben and his associates will be spending several weeks consulting with the Chinese leadership on this matter and presumably he will avoid controversy in the process of straightening out the police.

Scott Stringer is off to a great start with his appointments. He’s chosen attorney/activist Lawrence Goldberg to fill one of the Hudson River Park Trust Board (HRPT) slots. While there has been a lot of jockeying by some Downtown hopefuls, Goldberg seemed the obvious choice. He’s a community person, heading the Friends of LaGuardia Place, formerly Chair of the Advisory to the HRPT, a previous member of Board #2’s Waterfront Committee, and a staunch supporter of Mr. Stringer’s campaign.

Fortunately, for residents, Goldberg is a family man and has the interests of parents and children in mind – and has several ideas for Park uses that will benefit the young children of our community. Too few activists, fewer politicians and virtually no one on Community Board #2 gives enough consideration to the kids in our community – not to mention the parents, who must provide not only education but access to safe outdoor activities. Scott Stringer used judgment and consideration in appointing Lawrence Goldberg and it augurs well for his promise of reform for the Community Boards that he chose a community-oriented person of character and experience.

Julie Nadel, an important person in the Downtown political scene, will be re-appointed to the Trust Board, as will Franz Leichter. Madelyn Wils will not.

Which is a reminder of another position from which Wils has recently become dearly departed. Apparently, chess allows for more than two Queens in a game. Not so, the Tribeca Film Institute. The staff reportedly seems to have felt that there was just a little too much attitude in the air and Jane Rosenthal (DeNiro’s partner in the Film Festival) was less than thrilled with the quality of the competition. It also should not be lost on anyone that Wils, no longer Chair of Board #1 is out of a job less than 6 months after being ousted as Chair by Virginia Fields. Things are a whole lot less “fluid” now -- a lot less juice and a lot more acid to go around. Oh, well, at least DeNiro got his hotel in time.

The management of Board #2 continues to flounder.

A persistent problem that has begun to fester relates to the Pier 45 congregation of gay youth that populate the waterfront late in the evenings primarily during the summer. When the pier closes at midnight, the kids leave the Park and noisily make their way up Christopher Street, at least as far as the PATH station near Hudson Street. Neighbors cannot sleep and have complained bitterly. For years.

The Parks and Waterfront Committee, headed by Arthur Schwartz, with Board Chair Maria Derr in attendance, attempted to pass a resolution this past week that would call on HRPT to open Pier 54 as Pier 45 closed during the summer – allowing the groups of kids to move on to another location for a few hours more after the Christopher Street pier closed (Pier 45) at midnight. The plan was to provide portable toilets as well as some food and other amenities, to be located at Pier 54, and that would ameliorate the yelling and screaming up Christopher Street (Pier 54 would remain open until 2 a.m.).

Unfortunately, Schwartz’s reso spoke of this plan but went on to mention that the kids were primarily Black and Hispanic and as a result, basically, the shit hit the fan. Since the kids have a PR-type guy who calls their group “Fierce,” the cries of Homophobia as well as Racism rang out. The committee, along with Schwartz and Derr, wilted. The big losers in this fracas were the residents and members of the Christopher Street Block Association who gained no help from the Board or the police – who do not treat yelling and screaming after midnight a criminal offense. It’s also a sticky problem that the police would rather avoid.

So, while many Village residents, especially those on Christopher Street where there is a long history of diversity and acceptance (gay, straight, bi, Trans, black, white, Asian, Hispanic – or even Republican), which essentially blows the homophobic and racist label to hell – the kids have made the adult politicians extraordinarily defensive. Not to mention useless. Only Melissa Sklarz and Lisa Canistracci, Board #2 members, spoke with some rationality on this issue. The fact that Sklarz and Canistracci are LGBT (Lesbian,Gay,Bisexual,Transgender) members and familiar with sexual orientation issues as well as the community issues, connected with both groups.

But, Village residents on Christopher Street will still get no sleep.

The issue will come to a head at the Full Board meeting on Thursday the 23rd of March. Expect a few sparks if you attend.

It should also not be lost on us that Schwartz and Derr are not exactly seeing eye to eye these days. Derr is trying to distance herself from the Rinaolo/Sanz/Panson liquor license/Chamber of Commerce/real estate group that took control of Board #2 in order to further their personal business agenda. Schwartz helped Derr in her election bid but there is now no love lost between them – as witnessed by her taking the helm of the Advisory to the Hudson River Park Trust. This is an honor that typically goes to the Chair of the Waterfront Committee, which was recently merged into Parks and Waterfront, making Schwartz a bigwig at Board #2. Unfortunately for Schwartz, since he would normally be entitled to Chair the Advisory as Waterfront Chair – Derr decided to assume the position herself. The fact that Schwartz has been denied this coveted position does not speak well for the cooperation between them, nor does it reward his support for her election.

There are a lot of pissed off people now on Board #2 who were either sidelined by the Rinaolo putsch in electing Derr, or who, like Schwartz, were sabotaged by the burgeoning ego of Derr and the Machiavellian aspirations of Rinaolo – who is still the de facto Chair of Board #2.


What Downtown Community Board politico has been the subject of harassment by his/her landlord and has been dealing with a totally untenable living situation for years?

Which members of Community Board #1 and #2 are about to bite the dust with the reform sweep about to hit the decks?

What are the electeds proposing to do about the “Demolition clause” that landlords are using with the help of DHCR to “evict” rent controlled and stabilized tenants Downtown?

Is the rumor of a 50 story Trump Hotel "near the Holland Tunnel" real and going to be built on the 596 block at West, Spring and Washington Streets?


Congratulations to Noreen Doyle, Vice President of the HRPT. She just gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Kenna. A lovely young lady for a lovely young lady.

We were advised of the passing of Arty Strickler, District Manager of Community Board #2's office. He suffered a fatal heart attack and died on Sunday, March 12th. He was a knowldegable person, who had served as Chair many years ago and knew the Board and all of its members well. He will be remembered.

Stay tuned rangers.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Community Speaks

This week there was an impressive joint meeting held by Zella Jones and the NoHo Neighborhood Association, Sean Sweeney and the SoHo Alliance and Rob Hollander and LESA, the Lower East Side Alliance. In part, it was sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and the SoHo Journal. The forum was very well attended by a crowd of several hundred residents and many downtown pols -- including Tom Duane, Martin Connor and Scott Stringer, as well as representatives from Deborah Glick's office, Alan Gerson's office, Rosie Mendez' office, Sheldon Silver's office and the Mayor's office.
Manhattan Borough D.O.T. Commissioner Margaret Forgione, Parks Department's Bill Castro, and the Police Brass were in attendance as well.
In other words, folks, it was a meeting that should not have been missed and NBC as well as NY1 were on hand to hear what was being said.

In a well organized agenda, speeches were made by Zella Jones, Sean Sweeney and Claudia Flanagan of LESA, and the gist of it was this: stop the proliferation of bars that are ruining our communities -- start paying attention to the fact that we can't cross the streets unmolested by cars and trucks -- and start talking to us about the out of control zoning in our neighborhoods.

Claudia Flanagan made a compelling case for the neglect of our communities by the S.L.A., for example, as she cited the fact that 4500 liquor licenses have been approved Downtown in the 10003, 10012, and 10013 zip codes alone.

Zella Jones made a case that the more bars that are allowed to open downtown, the higher the commercial rents go for retail space -- making it impossible for small shops, food stores and service establishments to afford the rent. And, therefore, this bar saturation is depriving our neighborhoods of other necessary services.

We have become the open bar and late night game room for the Tri-state area. Times Square, High Noon at the OK Corral, and Coney Island -- all rolled into one big party-time for our families to endure.

As Claudia Flanagan told the packed audience, including the politicians and media that were present, "The community is putting you on notice" and we are going to make our voices heard.

Some of the politicians did hear the message and some took it to heart even before the meeting.

Deborah Glick's office announced that she has introduced two new bills to afford oversight and greater community involvement in the S.L.A. approval process.
Scott Stringer suggested that residents attend the Borough Board meeting for the purposes of having input on zoning matters, S.L.A. enforcement matters and Traffic problems.

Sheldon Silver's office announced that he will be holding hearings in May and specifically asked the community to send representatives. He wants to modify the Padavan Law, known as the 500 foot rule -- so that this is more rigorously observed and enforced.
Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott pledged a meeting with Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler who is in charge of Operations (Police) in 6 weeks, to follow up on the needs of the community. He also directed all of the NYC Commissioners to remain until the end of the meeting.

As an interesting side note, Besito Restaurant in SoHo, the focus of much bad blood at Community Board #2, has seen some management changes. Even with a liquor license, business has reportedly been slow. Rumors of a possible late night club scene and "hot" music have been bandied about. Then the unthinkable happened.
A robbery was reported this week. All of the liquor, the cash register and even the phone was stolen. On West Broadway?
Well, at least it wasn't a fire. Right?

Rumors abound about what actions will be taken by the new Borough President, Scott Stringer, with regard to changes on the Community Boards. Among these, is a rumor that Community Board Chair Maria Derr has been read the riot act about straightening out the mess at Board #2. Especially, with regard to the "anonymous" letters and attempts at character assassination which once again has reared its ugly heads at that Board. This traditional method of spreading around the cheer at Board #2 (which would never be tolerated at any other Board) has happened a number of times in the past and actually resulted in the passing of a resolution.
Only Board #2 has developed this rancorous reputation for trying to tarnish reputations with fraudulent, unsigned missives.

Seems that David McWater, Chair of Community Board #3, former Vice President of the New York Nightlife Association is divesting himself of bars as fast as he can. Between a just announced investigation by Eliot Spitzer involving the S.L.A., liquor companies and some bars, and the sweeps being conducted by Deputy Chief Steven Paragallo, the pressure is on. McWater reportedly owned as many as nine bars in his own Community Board turf but has dropped a couple of them.

Apparently, there are some involved at the Community Board level of politics who see no conflict running businesses that are counter to the wishes of large segments of the community -- like David McWater of Community Board #3 and Robert Rinaolo or Roscio Sanz of Community Board #2 -- and who feel compelled to force their views down the throats of many activists.

For people like these to have gained control over any community board is a testament to the power of campaign contributions. Virginia Fields packed the Boards with bar owners because the money kept flowing into her campaign coffers. The Nightlife people wrote checks as fast as they could.

Oh, and don't be fooled by those divesting themselves of bars. Rinaolo may have "sold" one of his bars, as McWater has -- but whether these are truly arms-length transactions or a ruse to permit future political moves -- given the antipathy shown by the community -- is a matter of opinion. McWater wants to run for City Council and Rinaolo has wanted to be Community Board #2 Chair for quite some time. Shills (even to run bars) are a favorite ploy among those with big egos.

But, the days of maintaining control over the community through intimidation, fear, political favors or character assassination, are over. The cat is out of the bag. The bird has flown the coop. The ship has sailed. And, the Fat Lady has definitely sung.

And, contrary to Yogi Berra's famous remark, sometimes it is over when it's over. Especially when, as Joe Mantegna says in The House of Games, if everyone is in on "the Tell."

The entire community now knows how the Nightlife people pulled this off. So, the politicians now must realign their allegiance, or leave the stage.