Saturday, December 30, 2006

A New Year

Political tails are wagging this week over what appears to be a misinterpretation of events at the McManus Midtown Democratic Club where Carlos Manzano had been reportedly stepping down as President of the club. The Daily News has been playing out the verbal ping-pong in the Ben Smith blog and readers have been spinning off of the controversy with some interesting side tidbits. What was a tasty story for those who know Jim McManus and his politics has veered off into the Downtown quagmire.

Among the controversial blog commentaries are a few morsels involving VRDC (Village Reform Democratic Club) which has recently been reanimated by the Chamber of Commerce and Community Board #2 bar crowd, which includes Bob Rinaolo, Maria Derr, Phil Mouquinho, and Rick Panson, among others. Their gambit has been to introduce lots of new money to shore up the dubious ascendancy of Ray Cline, a former State Committeeman out of the McManus club -- by having Brad Sussman succeed him as President (formerly of the Fields BP office) as Cline retreats behind curtain #1, or is it curtain #2?

While Cline has been known to boast about having arranged successful elections for judges, thereby earning their undying appreciation (in the form of judicial largesse for club members and other "friends"), McManus was not as appreciative of his efforts at his Midtown Democratic Club. Basically, as with the finality of Saddam, Cline was thrown out.

Ray Cline has been described by McManus as "an underhanded individual who couldn't be trusted." Then there were some negative comments.

While his full pedigree will not be fully described here, suffice it to say that his ascendancy as head of a "Reform" club (now with Brad Sussman as President) leaves one to wonder about the future of Village politics, or at least VRDC. The combination of Sussman, who was shown the door by Stringer's office, the bar crowd of CB#2 pumping in money, and the machinations of Cline -- all of whom rely on Allen Roskoff (another bar crowd "consultant" and negative-spin artist) -- makes for an interesting potpourri of characters. With such a cast of characters, community politics for Village idealogues may begin to resemble a ride down the River Styx on a surfboard.

As Joe Kane, one of Joe Kennedy's trusted henchmen, once said, "There are no friends in politics, only co-conspirators."

Among the developments in SoHo, the project at 520 Broome Street seems to have run into more than just a little opposition. What was planned as an 8 story condo with a parking garage, morphing into a 9 story condo with a four level parking garage and a 35 foot high "mechanicals" addition on the roof - is now running into some problems. The project started with slowly developing community opposition that gathered some steam when the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) entered the picture. A small demonstration took place at Thompson and Broome Streets and members of the SoHo Alliance and residents carried placards and chanted slogans about saving the Tunnel Garage from demolition.

Residents of SoHo, the GVSHP under Andrew Berman, the SoHo Alliance and Sean Sweeney as well as other community groups, wanted the developer to save the facade of the building and incorporate the condo within that structure. Before these groups could gain a foothold and bring some pressure to bear through the city and its landmarking process, the building was razed. The people in SoHo were pissed.

And, as the project has wended its way through the political process, reception for the new building has been less than warmly received.

In particular, the surrounding building owners have been understandably concerned about the "bathtub" within which the new structure would be erected. The foundation would essentially be erected upon pilings drilled down to bedrock upon which a concrete bathtub would be poured four stories below grade. The depth of the construction excavation, despite the assurances of the developer's engineers, remains a concern of residents adjoining the property. Bedrock is between 75 and 100 feet below grade in this location.

As a result of this controversy, what has become clear is that builders and developers are clearly better off having reached out to the community well in advance of their efforts to get cooperation. 520 Broome now faces the prospect of a smaller building and interminable delays as it continues the process with an antagonistic community as it heads off to the BSA (Board of Standards and Appeals) for approval after being turned down by Community Board #2.

Speaking of which, at the beginning of the New Year observers will again start to focus upon Community Board #2 elections. Election rumors will start gathering momentum in a few months as a newly constituted Board (new appointments and renewals are announced in late March) will become the hot issue Downtown. The odds-on favorite for new Chair of Community Board #2 is Brad Hoylman since Derr will be term-limited out. While he is Vice Chair and is a member of the Executive Committee of the current Board, he has remained independent of the Chamber of Commerce cronies under the Maria Derr/Bob Rinaolo/Rick Panson/Phil Mouquinho/Martin Diaz/Roscia Sanz management team who are holdovers from the Virginia Fields BP days. The frequent fundraisers by that group to fill the Fields coffers bought lots of new bar-owner Board members whose mission was to stuff as many bars as possible into downtown neighborhoods while fucking the community. Self-interest and personal agendas, real estate development approvals, and liquor licenses for friends and Chamber of Commerce "associates" were the hallmark of their collective efforts. It was not a pretty picture.

Hoylman has been an effective Chair of the Traffic and Transportation Committee and the only apparent self-interest in his agenda seems to be a possible run for future political office -- not, however, using the Community Board for his personal gain. That's more than you can say for many of the members with which he's had to share power on the Board, especially on the Executive Committee dais.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'Tis the Season

For all of the cranky people out there, this was a spectacular week.

The main question for those of you Downtown rangers is “What’s the rush?”
As in, hey Mr. Mayor, why rush in pushing Trump SoHo (at Spring and Varick in Hudson Square) on to completion after the deal of the Art (as in Con Art) has shown itself to be a residential tower in disguise as a Hotel.

As of right development can make you want to hide the real deal. Hotels go very high – because City Planning has been asleep. Condos go low – like only 8 to 10 stories.

After discovering Bones, as in the humankind, a stop work order was initiated by the Department of Buildings – only to be rescinded today so that the Donald can get back to work selling condos, oops, no Hotel/condos. All 45 stories – which, had he told everyone that he wanted to sell straight condos – he would have been lucky to get maybe, say, 8 stories. An FAR of 5 is about right normally.

So, you can see where a little subtlety (or even lying) might be useful.

There’s no subtlety for Commissioner Lancaster ( Department of Buildings ) or her boss, Mayor Bloomberg. Where a full archeological investigation might have otherwise ensued, we have a stop work order that lasted roughly one week.
That’s after all of the signals out of the Trump organization saying, “HELLO, we’re building a condo here!”
– but that was completely lost on Lancaster and Bloomberg, however.

Gives you a warm feeling when you think about how closely the City and Trump work and play together – at the expense of the residents Downtown.
Politicians keep forgetting about this area having the fastest residential growth in Manhattan. As in votes!

Speaking of building, Pier 40 is now about to have its future reconsidered – again.
The Hudson River Park Trust, the agency responsible for the redevelopment of our Hudson River shoreline, has now begun the process of reviewing plans submitted for the final development of Pier 40, at the foot of Houston Street.
Only four plans were received as a result of the RFP (request for proposal), which was sent to at least 300 potential developers. Of those four received, only two are serious entries – The Related Companies “Pier 40 PAC” (Performing Arts Center), featuring Cirque du Soleil – and CampGroup’s “Pier 40 – The People’s Pier” which primarily features ball fields, a pool center and an educational complex. Both entries have extensive plans and financials that are credible.
The RFP had a few ground rules. Among them were two requirements: that parking would remain and that ball fields would be part of any plan.
The “Pier 40 Working Group” under its Chairman Arthur Schwartz (who is also Chair of Community Board #2’s Parks and Waterfront Committee, will recommend a plan (or no plan) to the Trust Board once it has finished its review of the proposals.

Moving along On the Waterfront we find that a curious phenomenon has graced its development. It seems as though the Port Authority in its wisdom has authorized something like $5 million for the Beacon Institute to run the Pier 26 Estuarium when, in fact, the Board of Directors of the Hudson River Park Trust has not yet voted to designate any entity, Beacon or otherwise, to run the Pier 26 estuarium, and no process has yet been determined to select a developer for this site.
But, that didn’t stop the Port Authority from adopting a resolution. To wit:

RESOLVED, that the resolution adopted by the Board at its meeting of October 19,
2006 authorizing the Executive Director to enter into one or more agreements with the
Hudson River Park Trust and/or another appropriate entity, pursuant to which the Port
Authority was to provide up to $10 million toward the development of the new Urban
Estuary Center to be constructed on Pier 26 within the boundaries of the Hudson River Park
in Lower Manhattan, be and it hereby is amended (i) to reallocate $5 million of the funds
authorized for that purpose toward the reconstruction of Pier 86 in Manhattan, the berthing
site of the U.S.S. Intrepid (Intrepid), and toward the cost of repairing the Intrepid’s hull, and
(ii) to provide that the remaining $5 million of such funding for the Urban Estuary Center be
allocated by the Hudson River Park Trust and/or another appropriate entity for the study of
Hudson River estuary preservation strategies by a consortium of educational institutions led
by the State of New York and the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries (Beacon
Institute) pursuant to the Strategic Plan and Conceptual Design 2006 prepared by Gensler on
behalf of the Beacon Institute;

It appears that as Pataki waves good-bye on Trigger like Hop-Along Cassidy, his buddy-environmentalist John Cronin will be left behind like Tonto with a 3 year old firm (Beacon Institute) and $5 mil to make the rounds of potential employers. With the Port Authority as the financial conduit to push the job by funding the money, the question is, do environmentalists take Cronin seriously and does the Trust want to be told what they’re going to say before they say it? In roughly 10 days Trigger could break a leg and Tonto would be left holding a bag of horseshit.

Back on land, the natives on Community Board #2 are a little miffed about items that keep disappearing before they hit the Full Board for consideration and a possible vote. Democracy is a fleeting concept on Board #2.

Like the Board #3 resolution, the one that was approved at Board #2’s Zoning committee Chaired by Doris Diether managed to get lost on its way to the Full Board.

When you consider the fact that the resolution had to do with grandfathering restaurant and bar use in order to limit further liquor licenses, you kind of get the feeling that the Bar Boys & Girls (Rinaolo, Panson, Derr, Mouquinho, Maggio, Diaz) might have sidelined the resolution before it got any real consideration.

This gives Humbug a bad name.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition

When a politician comments about knowing “where the bones are buried,” he’s usually not talking about real estate or his landlord – although a few stories about such results due to hassling tenants are not unknown. Its more likely an unkind remark that is used to ward off threats and unpleasant gossip generated by an adversary.
Unfortunately, for the Trump SoHo project a/k/a Trump Godzilla, the 45-story behemoth about to dwarf Hudson Square and cast shadows on New Jersey, the bones are real.
It seems that in their rush to get a foundation in on Spring and Varick Streets - having bemused residents with the usual Dog and Pony show celebrating Trump luxe – the one thing they did not count on after trying to delude the politicians was bones.
Apparently the remains of ten to fifteen people thought to be of African-American origin have been unearthed -- indicating that this may have been a cemetery for the abolitionist Spring Street Presbyterian Church.

As a result of this discovery, a stop work order has been issued by the Buildings Department. Presently, there is a permit to excavate but not build. However, that work has now been halted. At the strong suggestion of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation , a full investigation is being considered.

In addition to last week’s discovery that Trump’s own website was selling “Primary, Secondary, and Investor Residences” it doesn’t help the project that the City’s own convention website was touting Trump Soho as a “year-round residence.”
Looks like the selling season may be delayed.

The waterfront is heating up again.

Arhur Schwartz, survivor par excellence, is getting a little flack over a procedural problem on the Hudson River Park Trust Advisory Council.
This Chairman of the (Advisory) Board appointed a Pier 40 Working Group – a committee to review the plans for the future and hopefully final development process for the pier at Houston Street and at least one activist, Friends of Hudson Square president David Rack, is feeling left out.
Pier 40, a 14 acre development site, is one of the largest public lots to be developed downtown and it is now about to witness its second major round of reviews of proposals (RFP’s) received by the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT). The last round of hearings and meetings involving the Pier 40 selection was the scene of major disruptions and mudslinging among politicos. There were charges of insider deals, favoritism and questionable uses, not to mention conflict of interest. Schwartz was one of those at the center of the storm during that period and has risen again, now as a State Committeeman, Chair of Community Board #2’s Parks and Waterfront Committee, Chairman of the Advisory to HRPT, and presumably now also Chairman of the Pier 40 Working Group – a committee chosen by Schwartz to review the Pier 40 contestants. One of the hotly contested questions is whether this is Schwartz’s committee, the Advisory’s committee, or some ad hoc group of individuals simply known as the Working Group – owing fealty to no one but Schwartz. Trust Board members Larry Goldberg and Julie Nadel have taken issue with Schwartz over the pedigree of the Working Group committee and resolution is not yet in sight. Given that the HRPT has made secrecy, or at least the avoidance of public scrutiny, the hallmark of its current administration (a questionable point of view for a public Trust), we may never know how this will all play out.

While rumors have been circulating that Cirque DuSoleil has the inside track on winning the contest (which the Trust Board headed by Trip Dorkey ultimately decides), a number of activists and organizations are concerned about not losing those hard won ball fields which cost $5 million and were completed only last year for the kids Downtown. Parks in SoHo and Hudson Square are about as scarce as family-sized apartments for under $3 million. Space for the Little League and Soccer Leagues are virtually non-existent south of 23rd Street – even if you offer to pay heavily at Chelsea Piers.
The review process will be focused on at the HRPT Advisory, Community Board #2 and among the Electeds Downtown. In addition, Al Butzel’s Friends of Hudson River Park,, a public interest group that carefully scrutinized and weighs in heavily on HRPT decisions, will also be a player. The Trust Board, of course, could ignore everyone and choose the developer they prefer. But, for now, since Pataki is out and since Spitzer is in and more likely to investigate than screw the community, the Pier 40 RFP is likely to be with us for a good part of 2007 before a decision is made.

Schwartz has most of the bases covered, except for the Electeds. He ran against Larry Moss for State Committee and won despite opposition from Speaker Quinn, Assembly Member Glick and Senator Duane. Since Maria Derr, Chair of Community Board #2 shares his building and Schwartz is CB#2 Parks and Waterfront Committee Chair as well Chair of the Advisory – it looks like he’s running the whole show again.

Community Board #2 apparently was asleep at the switch – or at least the Institutions Committee under the sometimes leadership of Bob Rinaolo, of former Business Committee and liquor license fame. It appears that a controversial issue, the NYU co-generation plant expansion that has Mercer Street residents up in arms, was totally missed by Institutions. In an effort to get completely off the grid, NYU is planning to generate all of its own power – at a cost, of course. The question is, who will bear the cost of this expansion (again) – could it be? Yes it could! Yes! It’s the residents again.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Real Estate: Rules of the Games

At an old NYU course, the professor repeatedly referred to the pursuit of real estate deals involving buying or selling as The Real Estate Game. Those who inhabit an apartment in Manhattan view it as less of a game and more of a necessary obsession. Not only has it become the paranoia of numbers, as in "how much of my income is going towards paying my rent (or mortgage)" but more likely "how much higher will the rent/adjustable mortgage-maintenance go before I can't pay it and I have to move out?"

For landlords, it's a simple yet different formula. If I buy that property, how long will it take to get the rent-controlled/rent-stabilized tenants out? How many "Holdover" actions will I have to start in order to recover the apartments? And, how deep are the tenant's pockets - to pay a lawyer to prevent us from forcing the tenant to the wall and agreeing to move out simply because of the cost of a defense?

While Manhattan becomes more of a land of the rich and politicians wring their hands trying to figure out how to provide "affordable housing," the rules have been changing as fast as the landscape. Like the Skinnerian principle of Variable Ratio Reinforcement, tenants and prospective buyers in Manhattan find themselves pecking away - never knowing if they are going to succeed at getting a reward or wear out their beaks in the process. Will they be able to afford the next rent increase? Will they be able to pay the landlord-tenant lawyer the next time the umpteenth holdover proceeding is brought to evict them from their apartment?

Causes of Action permitted in Housing Court as Holdover proceedings, for example, are many and varied. Landlords can evict tenants for anything from failure to sort recyclables, to doing renovation work on the apartment without approval. Failure to permit the landlord access to an apartment is a favorite of many slumlords - because it often boils down to "he said, she said" and the one with the greatest staying power (ability and persistence in paying legal fees) usually wins. Slumlords know this and phrases like "the landlord is lying" and "that's not fair" come to tenant's minds - and are reminiscent of schoolyard in the 4th grade. Housing Court judges, with exceptions like activist Judge David Cohen, usually don't give a shit and rule for landlords.

Which leads us to consider some of the newest gifts from lame duck Governor Pataki - the lover of landlords in Manhattan. Assembly member Deborah Glick and Linda Rosenthal have been trying to make people aware of the latest round of tidbits that would make evictions easier in Manhattan. Among the new proposals is a change in DHCR rules that would make the tenant the victim of lead paint found in an apartment. This new and onerous proposal would transfer the cost of lead paint abatement to the tenant - much like saying to a parent "if you don't want to have a brain damaged child, you pay for the clean-up in your apartment." Poor tenants would end up having brain-damaged children rather than report the health danger that could result in their being evicted for the horrendous cost of a lead paint clean up done properly.

Then there's the attempt at evicting roommates who unequally share rent. Another of George's new proposals would allow landlords to evict a tenant or tenants - and would do so based upon the balance of payments collected between consenting adults and forwarded to management.

Deborah Glick has outlined many of these egregious new proposals and has clearly enunciated the danger to many of us who made Manhattan the place where people want to live. Attached is a follow-up to the news conference she held last week.

Scott Stringer has been one of the first politicians to point out that the Emperor indeed has no clothes. Apparently, Trump SoHo is just what everyone thought it was. Throughout the review process for this mega-development, in an attempt to negotiate in good faith for the community, Stringer, Jerry Nadler, Tom Duane and Christine Quinn held several meetings attempting to solve the zoning dilemma. It became a genuine team effort. But, even though the Trump boys presented their case in public and in private with the various elected officials, someone in the Trump organization let the ball drop and the real agenda started to spill out.

According to several activist organizations, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation being one of them, negotiations permitting the Trump SoHo Hotel/Condo to go forward were all but done. The deal that was going down was that there would be a restrictive declaration limiting the number of days that hotel condo owners would be allowed to maintain occupancy. In return for the limitation on length of stays, specifically agreeing that the hotel would be essentially a transient Hotel (and therefore a legal use) for the 45-story edifice euphemistically called "Trump Godzilla" -- a building permit would shortly be issued.

The important element of the agreement was that Trump wanted to be able to sell rooms/apartments and the City wanted the understanding that this was to remain essentially a transient hotel. This love fest had the elements that permitted Trump's boys to start selling before the cement foundation was dry, and allowed City officials to state that we had achieved "Peace in Our Time."

Then, the Trump website went up. The online ad appeared and was quickly picked up by GVSHP and and it made the rounds. What was most interesting and informative about the website ad though, was that it initially offered the apartments for sale either as Primary "Residences," Secondary "Residences," or Investments. The essential fuck-up, of course, was the word "Residence." And, Primary Residence was the Primary fuck-up. This was contrary to what the schmoozers were publicly telling the electeds.

So, which character on the Sales/Website team do you think will get the shit kicked out of him for letting that particular cat out of the bag? It wasn't a surprise to anyone downtown that this was the plan all along - and that the negotiations with the City were all a smoke screen to get the foundation in and get the mortar sliding down the chute.

Stringer fired off letters about the obvious charade, also signed by Nadler, Glick and Duane, and while a building permit may be issued at any moment - there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that if construction goes forward ASAP, the smoke is not only in front of the proverbial mirrors but is also blowing out of a few asses in City Hall. The investors are lined up, the contracts are signed and the website ads are in place - albeit with a little more fluff to cover the tracks.

Oh, and P.S., look for Community Board #1 Chair Julie Menin to seriously look at the City Council slot Downtown. With the work that she has done to bring that Board together, if you know her, nudge her on. Maybe we can straighten out some of the intractable traffic and pollution problems.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Getting the Message?

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) under the vigorous leadership of Executive Director Andrew Berman has been weighing in on zoning issues in SoHo and Hudson Square. The Tunnel Garage was one of the first SoHo locations where a small protest demonstration was held and although the building was ultimately razed, consciousness was raised as well - and developers and their attorneys have taken notice. It's no longer business as usual. And, the Far West Side, where the Superior Ink building became a cause celebre, the Meatpacking District where the High Line has been preserved, the Julian Schnabel "high rise" in the Village and lately the "Trump SoHo" (which is actually in Hudson Square), have become targets of Mr. Berman's intense scrutiny. It's not easy to save buildings or neighborhoods in Manhattan, where buildings and then neighborhoods are destroyed in a matter of a few years. Especially, when politicians are asleep at the switch.

But to her credit, Christine Quinn, the new Speaker of the City Council, seems to be listening. A public hearing has now been scheduled for Monday of next week. One of the criticisms leveled at Quinn, Bloomberg and other political leaders downtown had been what appeared to be the lack of opportunity for the community to review and speak on a few zoning and development issues - notably the Schnabel and Trump matters. That has now changed.

While it is true that GVSHP is an organization which represents the positions of numerous downtown community organizations, it also has a focus of its own. As a result of the persistent attention given to issues raised by the Far West Village development pressures and the SoHo/Hudson Square development pace, there may now be reason for some cautious optimism.

Although no one expects Trump not to build a hotel, it would not be terrible if he actually got a condo/hotel with some real modifications. And, it would not be a travesty if it were 25 stories instead of 45 stories. As a result of the air rights sold to him (Trump is just the marquee on the deal, the money comes from Dubai and the syndicate is out of the Midwest), the permitted 45 stories would really change Downtown for the worse. The real Trump card for Downtown would be getting the rezoning of Hudson Square initiated and on the fast track as a result of all of this.

Quinn's stock just went up 100 points on this effort to bring the community in on the process. At this rate, her chances of preparing for a Mayoral run look a lot better Downtown.

Community Board #2 is still owned and operated by the Bar and Chamber of Commerce crowd and its now wholly-owned political subsidiary, VRDC (Village Reform Democratic Club).

The newly elected president of VRDC, Bradford Sussman, was previously with C. Virginia Fields' office before she term-limited out last year. Scott Stringer defeated several contenders and replaced Fields as Borough President and quickly disposed of a number of her appointees. Sussman hung around for a while before moving on. Now, however, he will be listening carefully to Bob Rinaolo, Maria Derr, Phil Mouquinho, Arthur Schwartz (Democratic State Committeeman), and supported PR-wise by none other than the ubiquitous Allen Roskoff - of CB#2 "Anonymous Letter" fame and political character assassination notoriety in the Downtown political arena. These sparkling jewels of political science is under the supreme leadership of Ray Cline, another of the survivors of political intrigue. Having bounced around Gotham for many political wars, unlike Roskoff he is described as genuinely smart. As President of VRDC before Sussman's recent election, there is little doubt that he will be still running the show, Deus Ex Machina-style. It appears that the "Reform" moniker of this, the Village Reform Democratic Club, has to be seriously questioned as it hitches its trailer to the recent ascendance of Arthur Schwartz, who defied the Quinn/Duane/Glick powers that be and pulled off a stunning upset in winning the race against Larry Moss for State Committee. While Arthur is rising star at VRDC (despite his former adversarial relationship with Cline) he also serves as Chair of the Hudson River Park Advisory to the Trust Board. As wily a character as Schwartz is, he needs to be careful with whom he associates. Traces of Polonium-210 have been suspected at several meetings and a "taster" is rumored to be on call at all of the VRDC functions where food and drink is served.

Speaking of contests, rumors have it that the VRDC crowd - aka the Bar/Chamber of Commerce group currently controlling Board #2 - will float Phil Mouquinho for Chair after Derr is retired next summer. Derr goes off into the sunset to contemplate how to unseat Deborah Glick and Mouquinho will battle it out with Brad Hoylman.

Hoylman, Chair of Transportation Committee and 1st Vice Chair is not allied with any political group on the Board and seems to be intent on normalizing the nastiness of the last few years. Mouquinho, currently Chair of the Sidewalks Committee is a question mark after having been so closely allied with the business interests taking their cue from Bob Rinaolo, Chair of Institutions Committee, and his underlings. Rinaolo has divested himself of several Village business interests and is sitting on a mound of cash from the sale of former properties, including the Garage Restaurant, Senor Swanky's and the Village Nursing Home parcel - all of which came before Board #2 for approvals of one sort or another whether they knew it or not - and he may now no longer need Board 2's services.

A new dynamic duo of the Real Estate world has seen the rising stars of Mark Ramer and Michael Saperstein wafting in the stratosphere with such luminaries as Trump, Rudin, and 'er Alred E. Newman.

They own numerous properties since giving up dentistry. But while Aeschylus keeps his head high and Trump tries to work the Art of the Deal, these two characters, Ramer & Saperstein, take on a whole new meaning when thinking SoHo Slumlords. But, with psychiatric overtones.

Picture a "Monk" episode which tries to figure out how two supers, both Polish, both in the U.S. on permanent "temporary work visas" as slaves to these landlords, and both dead (in their 40's) from doing the same job at the same building within just a couple of years of each other (no health insurance can do that). Then add several "teen" apartments illegally "shared out" at $1500 per head with 5 to 10 "models" occupying each apartment courtesy of a private, illegal deal involving I.D. Model Management and these very religious landlords, through a surrogate;

Add to this -- a building where members of the Tenants Organization are routinely subjected to threats of eviction and where decontrolled tenants are abused and threatened to keep quiet about building violations;
And then add to this wonderful pedigree, a building infested with bedbugs.

With tenants living in the basement, in storefronts, in commercial spaces, anyplace where another bed can be stuffed - it almost gives landlords a bad name. It's good for bugs, though.

Monk would have a good time but not the tenants of 80 Varick Street. Makes you wonder how bad a building has to get before the electeds take notice.

But, the bugs are everywhere these days. Even the Downtown hotels have been hit.

Europe is a wonderful destination. It's what comes back with the luggage that makes the trip truly memorable. Wipe down your bags with alcohol on your way back from the airport -- don't drink it first. After a few weeks and no bites, then finish the bottle.