Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Political Season

Eliot Spitzer surprised no one and took the primary election for Governor with close to 80% of the turn-out, which was very light. At one point, Tom Suozzi had been the darling of the New York Times but that waned and after missing the Times endorsement, the lack of money just was too much of a hurdle to overcome. The big question for many downtown is whether Spitzer is going to shed the image of a prosecutor once he moves into his new office. A lot of old-timers were reticent to support his candidacy despite his successes in bringing Wall Street to its knees. Or, at least digging deep into its pockets to avoid prosecution. Spitzer certainly has the gray matter to make it work -- it's just a question as to whether he will govern like a Clinton or a Teddy Roosevelt. A Governor with a big stick is not an appealing image.

Mark Green had also gotten the endorsement of the New York Times but unlike Spitzer, went down in flames with a superior organization supporting Andrew Cuomo. Fundraisers held by Cuomo were very smooth events and Mario was always around to shake hands. Green may now have a tough time maintaining a presence and being taken seriously for a major public office after losing the mayoral race and now this one for Attorney General. Some attributed Green's loss in both elections to not taking the "high road." Among those responsible for the usual dubious, subterranean antics was rumored to be none other than the ubiquitous PR operative Allen Roskoff -- who was a "consultant" to Green's campaign.

Hillary was, predictably, a shoe-in -- but did get a run for her substantial amount of money. Her adversary Jonathan Tasini did make a decent showing, however. The downtown crowd has been less than thrilled with Clinton because of issues like the conservative Death Penalty and Iraq War positions. For some, she looks more like a Republican in Mr. Bill's clothing. While many hope that there is a Democrat on the horizon to take back the Oval Office, she has more vulnerabilities than one would have liked to see this early on.

Martin Connor successfully beat off the attack by Ken Diamondstone for State Senator and much of SoHo was happy about it. Senator Connor had scored a major victory in the contest between Nightlife forces to have "all bars all the time" throughout SoHo and the community -- by helping in the effort to reform and reconfigure the S.L.A., or at least help sharpen its sensitivity to residents wishes.

Apparently, Arthur Schwartz, Chair of Parks, Waterfront & Open Space at Community Board Two, has managed to pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat. After years in political semi-oblivion, he has resumed his community board role with a passion and recently knocked off Larry Moss as Democratic State Committeeman. Considering the fact that Moss was supported by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane, and Assembly Member Deborah Glick, it was no mean feat. While Schwartz's win will have no affect on their political careers, there is no doubt that they will be miffed at his ascendance. Of course, while State Committeeman is of dubious political value -- you can work hard to make it count. After having recently had quadruple by-pass surgery, Schwartz has shown remarkable resilience. The political win, however, was rumored to have personally cost him nearly $80,000.

Deborah Glick has had no competition and was not challenged in the Primary. She will be re-elected to the Assembly. However, she recently learned that the gossip column piece which appeared a couple of years ago was not off the mark. The Page Six piece reported that Maria Derr was rumored to be thinking of running for the same seat that her uncle Bill Passanante had held and abandoned to Glick's challenge. Derr originally had denied the rumor -- which, of course, is the way ideas are tested in the political arena. It seems that Derr had recently been making the rounds and seeking advice about the wisdom of challenging Glick -- and was told to forget it. Clearly, that is now more of a possibility for the future -- given that Derr will now have two years as Chair of Community Board Two under her belt. Derr has weathered a lot of criticism for her association with the Nightlife faction on the Board but so far Glick is far and away the more community-oriented of the two. Glick has come down hard on the oversaturation of bars in lower Manhattan and Derr, who once ran the Business Committee which approves liquor licenses and was elected with Nightlife support on the Board, has been antagonistic to residents trying to clean up their communities.

Speaking of bars, the owners of Lola scored a victory at the Appellate Division. The controversial Bar/Restaurant/Cabaret that has been trying to graft itself on to SoHo for last couple of years -- got the Appeals Court to reverse the lower Supreme Court decision which canceled the S.L.A. license. With enough twists and turns to give SoHo residents indigestion (after spending $30,000 in legal fees), the Lola matter just keeps on going. Essentially, the truth is that Lola did not win the right to a license. The Appeals Court sent the matter back to the S.L.A. to state a reason why the granting of a liquor license is in the public interest.

The "old" S.L.A., before Boyle took over as Chairman, was a Pataki group of Republican political hacks that cared little about downtown. But, as a result of the community movements, partly due to the efforts of Zella Jones and Sean Sweeney, political storms enabled the transformation of the S.L.A. into a more community-friendly panel.

So, the "new" S.L.A. denied a Beer & Wine license that Lola applied for during the long Appeals Court deliberations for a full liquor license. Now that the new regime at the S.L.A. is getting the liquor license issue back before them again, the community is making known their displeasure with Lola. In addition to the fact that there are at least 17 bars with 500 feet of this proposed establishment -- PR efforts have been leveled at any and all activists who have been fighting the application.

And, despite that fact that some pretty nasty accusations have been leveled by parties on both sides of the aisle, few people can avoid the fact that a cabaret on Watts Street where 3 lanes of horrendous Holland Tunnel traffic blocks intersections -- is a bad idea. This feeling is shared by residents who had the audacity to turn down an offer by Lola's owners to permanently seal off their windows -- so that the 4 a.m. closing hour with live entertainment would not keep them awake. Now there's an offer you can hardly refuse. Especially if you've paid a couple of million dollars for your loft apartment.

The race card has also been prominently been played by the applicant. Not wanting the cabaret has been widely played as discrimination. Page Six has been enlisted by Lola's PR machine which has given lip-service to this phony racial theme. The SoHo Alliance was criticized and false information was spread around. Sleeping at night, somehow, does not seem to be a black or white issue. Unless, of course, you want a liquor license. Anything that works has been tried -- including the harassment of community activists. Private investigators had been hired and tracked residents who oppose this bar in a relentless effort to discredit anyone in their way. A community should not have to endure this just to fight one bar. Talk about discrimination?

Contact S.L.A. Chairman Boyle, Commissioner Healey, State Senator Connor, Assembly Member Glick, Councilman Alan Gerson, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg to make your feelings known about this issue in SoHo.

And, speaking of Sean Sweeney, he has been the recipient of the latest in a round of "smear" letters leveled at activists who criticized the Community Board, the Nightlife lobby, and political cronyism. Only this one isn't anonymous -- or is it by the same hand who wrote the last one? An attorney by the name of Shanahan wrote, or allowed to be written on his stationery, a 3 page letter appearing to be a "Cease and Desist" letter -- stating that Sweeney essentially has been nasty to Maria Derr, Chair of Board Two, and threatening to obtain an Order of Protection. It has been confirmed that Maria Derr hired Shanahan to represent her in this matter. The basis for Sweeney's alleged faux pas ostensibly is that he criticized Derr for her role as attorney for the Estate of Arty Strickler (deceased Board #2 manager) and acting as Chair of Community Board Two while allegedly trying to obtain $27,000 from Board Two coffers for the Estate. Of course, the problem with such a letter is that one attorney writing a letter to protect another attorney who is fair game as far as criticism of an elected official is concerned, hardly needs an "Order of Protection." Protecting Maria Derr from Sean Sweeney is a little like protecting Winnie the Pooh from Donald Duck. It's a ludicrous concept -- in reality as well as fantasy. The letter, consequently, is ridiculous on its face and calls into question the sanity of the writer, not to mention his client.

Interestingly enough, there are so many wild accusations and threats of legal retaliation in this letter, not to mention passages that call to mind someone ready to burst into song about being gay, that one has to question its real message. Is it really about Sweeney "threatening" Derr? Curiously enough, while the letter has been cc'd to several downtown politicians, we could not confirm anyone having recieived it. The Post Office isn't that bad. As Sweeney remarked,"phony accusations and hollow threats like this just give attorneys a bad name and it emboldens me to fight harder for what I believe in for the community's good."

This not-so-anonymous letter to Sweeney is curiously similar to the "anonymous letter" crafted by the Nightlife people and cirulated by PR operatives like Allen Roskoff (who, incidentally, is a friend of Shanahan), and the Board #2/Chamber of Commerce/Bar crowd. As another downtown activist put it, the messages have been -- "we will relentlessy smear and attack you if you don't back off. We have the money and the contacts and we will bury you for standing up against us (Derr) in favor of the community."

That is also the real message to Sean Sweeney; the message to the community; and, is also the oblique message to Borough President Stringer -- for having had the guts to begin the difficult process of reform on the Community Boards. And this message is coming directly from voices at Community Board #2.

What is the response going to be to this organized assult on the community?

That's the real question.