Saturday, July 21, 2007

Matters of Some Concern

"Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat."
-John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy, 1981-1987

After throwing away an old t-shirt, it was clear that its inscription was still quite valid. In a corner, on the breast pocket read, "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished." This is especially true in politics. It may be one of the reasons why "Scooter" Libby was, essentially pardoned. He was doing his job - and did it too well. And, if you hate Cheney, even a Democrat could sympathize with an employee who was doing what he was told to do - and did it well.

In politics, even community politics, we all make choices. While there are rewards (Community Board #2 mail, for example, addresses all of its members with the title "Honorable"), most of them are illusory and none of them pay. If you join the Community Board, keep your day job. It's not likely to lead to much income. Graft is frowned upon; even "Good graft" as George Washington Plunkett described it, is eschewed. And, this brings us to the issue of service on Community Boards - a forum for debate and an entity with only advisory power. Albeit, with some respect.

A big point is made of Conflict of Interest. Essentially, the concept means that if you are going to make a profit or have an interest that could potentially translate into some sort of personal gain - as a result of an issue being decided in a Community Board committee or Full Board decision - it should be divulged and you should not participate in voting on the matter.

But, there are gray areas. And, respectable Board members get caught up in the machinery when things go awry.

Tobi Bergman, current Chair of the Parks Committee, for example, found himself in the midst of a controversy several years ago and there was an investigation over the C&K matter by the COIB and Department of Investigation. Someone dropped a nickel on Tobi after nasty rumors persisted involving the prior Pier 40 RFP. His trip to Paris to meet with the C & K plan architects over one weekend -- involved more jet lag than Follies Bergere, but created shrieks from the floor of the Community Board. Jealousy and envy in Greenwich Village is naturally green; in SoHo it turns black. Arthur Schwartz also had to answer questions from investigators. The Friends of Hudson River Park and Al Butzel was viewed askance, Tobi was questioned and ultimately the plan to develop Pier 40 went nowhere - the Trust Board voted to reject it. Looking back, with the current Working Group and Advisory to the HRPT about to tell us that we should do nothing (again), the C & K plan wasn't all that bad. It was a far cry from the current Related "Vegas on the Hudson."

Prior to this, P3 had been involved with a lawsuit initiated and settled by Schwartz because C & K (which had the Pier 40 lease) had not afforded Pier, Park and Playground, which is a true kid-friendly organization in a sea of condo developments, the space that they were entitled to via the Hudson River Park Act. The lawsuit was settled by C & K and P3 was awarded $5000 monthly, which benefited the kids. Since he was an employee of P3, it also benefited Tobi.

In a subsequent Community Board vote involving C & K, after this settlement, Tobi participated and did not recuse himself. In retrospect, Tobi acknowledges that this was at least a mistake in terms of its appearance of impropriety.

But, does this rise to the level of say, Bob Rinaolo, being Chair of Business Committee -- overseeing votes on his own liquor license - or selling his Houston Street garage to the Village Nursing Home after contacting other Board members to "suggest" that they vote in favor it - never stating the fact that he owned it at a Full Board meeting that approved a variance for the buyer?

What is to be learned from this? What is to be learned from community service when a mistake (obviously Tobi thought that everyone knew about the lawsuit and settlement with P3 and C & K) - is investigated by prosecutors who have deep pockets and interrogated by, to quote a lawyer who defends people against prosecutorial zeal, investigators and police that are "not your friends." Tobi, is paying a $1000 fine, rather than spend multiples of that continuing to defend against the claim of conflict of interest.

Be careful rangers, think twice about community service, think three times about taking a stand in public, think four times about voting your conscience in an unforgiving environment - because even if it only appears that you could gain a nickel - the vultures may descend. It does not bode well for activism.

Any day now, any day.
Actually, it will be any day.

The SoHo Alliance and its attorney Stu Klein will soon be requesting that Trump SoHo move to Cleveland. Well, not exactly.

What will happen, in fact, is that the Department of Buildings will be asked to terminate the permit allowing Trump SoHo to be built. And, the response will be --- the same response that activists have received from the D.O.B. involving the illegal signs which have been plastered all over SoHo, NoHo and Hudson Square - they will either deny the request or ignore it.

That's when things are going to get interesting.

Sean Sweeney, Executive Director of the SoHo Alliance and the unofficial "enforcer" of SoHo -- is no stranger to controversy. And Stu Klein is an attorney to be reckoned with. Keep your eyes peeled on this one, but don't expect the cranes on Varick and Spring Streets to be idled just yet.

With Speaker Quinn reportedly kowtowing to Real Estate interests, Bloomberg eyeing a third-party race for President, and D.O.B. Commissioner Lancaster taking her cue from Robert Moses Doctoroff and the developer/fundraisers who employ her - don't expect an easy resolution to this sell-out of Hudson Square and SoHo. Only a change of zoning, an issue that is avoided by Quinn, will preserve Hudson Square in time to prevent these huge, completely out-of-context condo-hotel monsters from being built.

A matter of some concern has arisen at Community Board #2.

It appears that the Business Committee may be up to some of its old tricks. This periodically renegade committee, which is responsible for approving liquor licenses, seems to be reverting to methods and actions that had caused controversy in the past.

In its prior life, it was Chaired by Bob Rinaolo, a bar owner, and was packed with liquor license holders like Rosia Sanz, Judy Paul, Phil Mouquinho and packed with their friends and associates like Lee and Rosenwasser and Derr. It was a club that controlled who got a license and what community suffered from bar saturation. Tricks abounded under Rinaolo, and later Derr's tutelage. What used to be a Community-oriented Board became a Chamber of Commerce-oriented Board. Liquor license applicants were given priority over implementation of the 500-foot rule (Padavan Law) - which put the responsibility on the license applicant to justify his/her need, as opposed to the overriding community welfare.

Under Ray Lee, the current Chair, who was a Rinaolo and Derr stalwart - despite the fact that the newly configured committee is less heavily weighted with bar owners (still Sanz and Paul are bar owners) - questions of fairness have arisen.

A recent matter by "Forty Deuce on Kenmare" is a bar and burlesque application which has been floating around Community Board #2. A few community people appeared several months ago, strenuously objecting to yet another bar in this mostly Asian location - having difficulty with their English - but clearly making the point that "enough is enough" when there are 30 bars within 500 feet of the site.

Recently, the application was heard with only one-day notice - yet people appeared - but the committee approved the application nonetheless.

Apparently the Full Board let it ride through based upon the committee's report.

What we have here, folks, is a failure to communicate.

Brad Holyman, the new Chair of Community Board #2, has wielded a very soft knife and has tried to cut away softly at the corrosion on the Board. He has wended his way between the layers of presumed power bases and removed people who are incompetent and allowed people to stay in positions of some power because they are potential rivals or liabilities.

Ray Lee was allied with the Rinaolo/Derr/Mouquinho/Sanz bar owner/Chamber of Commerce group, which gained favor and power from the ability to grant liquor licenses to friends and associates.

Lee was their front man when the seat of the Chair of Business got too hot for the obvious players. And, he did what he was told - and may still be doing just that. He is conflicted and the committee is still conflicted.

Until the Community comes first, until the Padavan Law (500 foot rule) is appropriately applied and taken seriously so that it becomes the job of the applicant to justify why ANOTHER bar is allowed to open in a liquor license saturated location -the Community Board is NOT doing its job.

It is ironic that the current S.L.A. is more community friendly than the Community Board.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Crosscurrents II

As we anticipate those Dog Days of August, political junkies search for material in a summer that seems bereft of hot issues. Yet, there are a number of current, essentially New York, problems needing attention.

On the waterfront, the ILA (International Longshoremen Association) at Pier 92 fight for their lives amidst the onslaught from the Economic Development Corporation - with Kate Ascher out and Madelaine Wils in - which wants to support trade organizations instead of allowing passenger ships to arrive from abroad. In other words, the Princess Lines show Manhattan in their brochures as the point of arrival - when, in fact, they wind up in Red Hook where the City has decided to receive its international celebrities.

Can't you see it now? You're watching a news report of crowds awaiting a billion dollar Queen arriving in Manhattan but reality is that the Mayor diverts his limo to Brooklyn -- Red Hook no less -- to receive his visiting dignitaries. Of course, some go to New Jersey, where the EDC is trying to steer the ILA. They've spent millions in Red Hook but won't repair the peeling paint on Pier 92. Billy Cox, secretary of the ILA, thinks that the City is pushing them out so that the piers can be taken over for more trade shows.

The numbers show that passengers arriving spend upwards of $500,000 per day on their visits ashore and that local business suffers when ships are diverted. After all, what was the last Broadway show you attended in Red Hook; which used to be more famous for the "Canal" and some powerful odors, not to mention gang brawls?

There have been allegations that the trade shows and organizations who now employ Ascher, formerly Vice President of EDC, seem to be a little too cozy. EDC pushes the ILA out, the trade organizations pick up the piers. A little thought should fill in the blanks. Oh, did we say Doctoroff is on the Board as well. While the Longshoremen are hardly choirboys, it's ironic that Marlon Brando and a former union president, who was machine-gunned down, have been upstaged by politicians.
Brando and the union in "On the Waterfront" may have portrayed rubes by comparison the the trade show games now being played in trying to evict the union.

The current thinking about downtown politicians give us this scenario:

Borough President Scott Stringer
, who has gotten high marks from Community Board members is clearly running. He is running in place and running for the future. His high energy translates into the realistic speculation that he makes a run for Public Advocate or Comptroller in '09 - for Bill Thompson's current job which is term-limited. While Stringer would undoubtedly win re-election, it is a dead end job for the next curtain. If he were to term limit out, there would be no slots with an upwardly mobile life in sight at the end of that run.

Thompson is widely expected to run for Mayor when Bloomberg is buying his way into a presidential race - which he is eyeing as a third party candidate. He is rumored to be cautiously studying Ross Perot's roadmap and subsequent faux pas.

While he could also make a detour towards Albany the year after, with all that money, he seems to be more interested in the gold ring. The Steeplechase Carousel in Coney Island always drew the biggest crowds.

Thompson has Weiner and Carrion to be concerned about - although some believe, (wishfully some say) that Quinn has a second-tier chance. Quinn has a following but has managed to alienate some Downtown voters who hoped for guidance and support on issues such as the Hudson Square re-zoning in her own Council seat area. Picking up Bloomberg's Staten Island supporters could be a pipe-dream.

While race and gender are never supposed to enter into politics, a New York Jew does not always play well for President in Peoria and Gay politics are not as popular in Queens as they may be in Manhattan. Spitzer bucked the trend when he managed to take Albany, but the heartland is more visceral than P.C. in the voting booths.

Melinda Katz, Queens Councilwoman, is also a popular candidate who is rumored to be angling for the Comptroller position and she is a strong and attractive candidate - politically and personally. The Hevesi furor was gone but has recently returned with what appears to be mostly prosecutorial heavy-handedness than an issue for the people. He was re-elected after all. Katz was irresponsibly associated with Hevesi simply because she was a friend. She is warm and personable and this was used against her.

She is a very successful fundraiser and has been a staunch supporter of SoHo when it came to land use.

Arthur Schwartz, the ultimate downtown political survivor has been "sharing" his Pier 40 statement with everyone. While the downtown electeds have demurred in signing on to the Advisory (HRPT) document that has been generated, he is still looking for a media outlet. Any day now a press conference should be held to discuss the findings and suggestions for the development of Pier 40. Any day, now.

Essentially, this compilation of Trust information, Board #1 resolutions, Little League suggestions and former Board #2 discussions - augmented by input by the electeds and the members of the Advisory - the document suggests how Pier 40 should be allowed to develop in great detail. In other words, the ball fields should be left alone, the parking should be left alone, and money should be generated by the Legislature or private funds to develop it in a community friendly way. That part we all got.
But it should be lost on any of us that the elected officials refused to sign on to it. Although, this may simply have been because they did not want to be responsible for having to come up with the money to support the new "plan."

After by-pass surgery, removal as District Leader by Duane and Quinn in favor of Brad Hoylman (current Chair of Board #2), and fired by Aubrey Lees from the Board #2 Waterfront Committee four years ago - he has risen from the ashes of defeat and has arrived as Waterfront Chair of Board #2, Chaired the HRPT Advisory, and become a State Committeeman. The press conference will be center stage with a spotlight. The question is, does it matter?

The Advisory of the HRPT has become a suspect entity - not because of its membership but because the Trust Board is led by a lame duck Chair (Trip Dorkey) while the real control is reportedly in the hands of Dan Doctoroff - Bloomberg's Robert Moses wannabee. Spitzer is too busy being a prosecutor and trying to bring down Bruno in Albany to appoint many of the positions needing leadership. Bruno, in a characteristic power play, pissed off at being the target of our prosecutor-Governor has been instrumental in holding up many of these appointments. So, the HRPT goes adrift and current history shows us that the real political and financial decisions are made behind closed doors while community people spend their time believing that their opinions will matter in all of this "decision-making."

There is speculation that the Trump SoHo project may run into trouble soon. Apparently, the I's and T's were not handled properly and some activists are saying that the project groundwork is not fully legal. You didn't hear that here.

Investigations are continuing downtown. There are several focusing on the waterfront.

Some are ongoing and making not a few people nervous.

The D.A.'s office refuses to comment but there are rumors that there may a few frowns out there that are not just the result of wedgies.

Oh, and just to keep it light. The Mayor of Quogue, George Motz, who was investigated by the S.E.C. for "ticket-switching" is currently dealing with a possible U.S. Attorney's office consideration of a criminal investigation.

It seems that Georgie, big with the Quoguedelytes where his wife Kitrick Motz is also the Judge (keeping it in the family) avoided being written about in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal as well as local papers for this cute little maneuver. The SoHo Journal, however, did cover the delectable matter a few months ago.

Finally, Brad Hoylman, the new Chair of Community Board #1 seems to have configured the new Board without alienating most of the members.

He has elevated several new members, such as Phil Mouquinho, who is now a committee Chair as well as a Vice Chair, he has allowed people like Ray Lee (a Rinaolo holdover) to remain Chair of Business, where years of community opposition to the self-serving Chamber of Commerce/Bar owner crowd saturated downtown with new bars and nightclubs. The committee, so far, seems to be balanced, however. A few of the Board's dowagers are also relegated to the background - something that no one has had the guts to do. Committees have been folded into others in a deft move that relegates problem members to a position of lesser importance with smaller mouthpieces.

Mouquinho may turn out not to be a die-hard Rinaolo holdover, although he was close to the bar owner cabal, but he clearly is also a community activist - putting his time in on the DSNY issue in Hudson Square and the redesign thrust headed by David Reck and the Friends of Hudson Square. Part of his ascendance is due to Hoylman's desire to have avoided competition for the race for Chair to which Mouquinho is known to be aspiring.
However, he has Jo Hamilton and a sleeper, David Gruber, to be concerned with over the next two years. After that, Hoylman exits and runs for City Council.

Considering the fact that Stringer may only be BP for another two and a half years, it will be interesting to see who's behind Curtain number three for those political slots on Board #2.

Meanwhile, the race is already shaping up for Alan Gerson's seat -- who is term-limited out in another two years. The names so far seem to be Julie Menin of Board #1, David McWaters of Board #3, Madelaine Wils (currently of EDC and former Chair of Board #1), and Pete Gleason, an activist-attorney.

That's not the end of the list but it is the end of this week's diatribe.

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