Wednesday, July 29, 2009

City Council Heat

In politics, absurdity is not a handicap.
-- Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821)

The City Council races for Downtown continue to heat up. Christine Quinn appears to be on track to be re-elected in her district while Alan Gerson is having his problems. Among the contestants in District 1 are incumbent Alan Gerson, Pete Gleason and Margaret Chin. While speculation has the contest in a three-way tie, Gerson is losing ground in the Village, SoHo and Tribeca to Gleason and in Chinatown to Chin.
It’s difficult to make a prediction but the latest technical difficulty on Gerson’s part is the fact that the Board of Election has removed him from the ballot for the upcoming Primary due to questionable signatures. It is likely that these are just technical problems that will be overcome but it indicates, if nothing else, a certain lack of attention to details.

Gleason lost no time in making comments on the situation.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Political Reflections

Don't ask me nothin' about nothin', I just might tell you the truth.
-- Bob Dylan, "Outlaw Blues," 1965

The races which are generating the most heat are City Council districts one and three, District Attorney, and Mayor.
Tony Avella and Bill Thompson are both running against the proverbial 1000 lb. gorilla – Michael ($20 Billion) Bloomberg.

While there is a lot to say, term-limits and cash, carry most of the weight in terms of who wins. Avella has come out on the right side of many community issues and has manned the barricades with activists. Thompson has waged a tireless and consistent campaign to make a difference between a city government that takes residents for granted and a populist style of governing. An upset victory is NOT impossible.

The District Attorney race has Leslie Crocker Snyder on one side of the fence – a conservative who previously supported the death sentence but who now rejects it. She is running based upon her experience as a judge. Running against her is Cyrus Vance, Jr. and Richard Aborn, a liberal and a progressive candidate.

While this race is over a very powerful position, thus far it has not generated the kind of enthusiasm one would have expected. They may soon change, however.

Jim McManus, recently split with Carlos Manzano on ideological grounds, heavily supports Snyder – to the chagrin of Bob Morgenthau, the current D.A. Morgenthau is believed to support Vance and is miffed about McManus’s endorsement. But, politics is both practical and ideological. Remember, McManus supported Suozzi over Spitzer and enjoyed the last laugh when he abdicated.
Aborn has gotten the support of downtown’s D.I.D., which came out strongly in favor of his candidacy – twice the vote earned by either Snyder or Vance. Yet, Vance has recently begun to make his voice heard in a barrage of press releases.

The City Council races are a study in pure political gamesmanship. A great deal of animosity still follows Chris Quinn around over what is perceived as her rejection of the community – over such issues as the term-limits debacle, Trump SoHo and the Sanitation Garage. While she is a superb politician, the danger is that she may be viewed as narcissistically self-involved rather than the shrewd operative whose expertise inures to the interests of the community. A little better PR and a few overtures in a less defensive way would, without doubt, give her the race. Right now, Yetta Kurland is pulling up strongly behind her and has a vociferous following.

McManus supports Quinn partly because he handed her the Speakership, and partly because he thinks she will be the winner. D.I.D. chose Kurland – but originally chose Quinn, only to lose to Kurland in a second vote. Kurland’s second vote support came from cross endorsements from other candidates (notably Derr) who could not win and threw their support to her.

The real danger here, for Quinn, is that losing popular support while winning most of the clubs is a tricky road to success. Kurland is seen as inexperienced while Quinn is seen as aloof within her own district.

The Gerson, Gleason, Chin race is another kind of race entirely.

The incumbent, Alan Gerson, has been seen as coasting for the last 8 years, having frittered away the opportunity to benefit from the 9-11 momentum for downtown, and having learned to rally forces only when faced with the prospect of being out of a job. Even his support of term-limits has not earned him the benefit of a Bloomberg windfall. After nearly losing his own club’s endorsement, he managed to lose the D.I.D. endorsement to Pete Gleason, a former firefighter, police officer and attorney.
Between pushing and shoving, charges of an absentee performance, numerous ploys that allegedly involved stacking D.I.D. and rumors of helping to arrange shills to split the primary vote – Gerson’s re-election attempt is generating more heat than anyone expected.
As of this point, Margaret Chin (who has been suspiciously thwarted in getting media coverage in lower Manhattan weeklies) claims to already have several thousand votes and is already over the top with regard to qualifying for matching funds. With an expected turnout of less than 15,000 voters, a woman with strong community support and growing non-Asian interest is potentially formidable.
Pete Gleason has pulled up strongly and generated new support in the Village, SoHo and Tribeca, which formerly went to Gerson. Interesting letters have been popping up like crossed swords in the campaign controversy over qualifications and background – ergo suitability for this job. The Downtown Express published a missive from Mr. Love (scroll to bottom of link page), a Gerson supporter and Jeanne Wilcke as well as others, have answered it.

We’re in for a hot summer!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Changing of the Guard

If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going.
-- Professor Irwin Corey (1914 - )

Last month Community Board #2 held an election for its new leadership. Brad Hoylman relinquished his post as Chair of the Board and mostly new leadership has taken over. Actually, a few existing members of the Board simply move over a seat and increase their visibility as well as their stature. There were no floor fights and the slate was elected without a negative murmur. It’s a far cry from some of the contentious, dirty tricks, anonymous-letter, days of the past at CB2. While it’s probably a good thing, it does take just a little of the excitement out of community politics. But, so be it.
The slate is as follows:

Jo Hamilton - Chair

Bo Riccobono - First Vice-chair

Sheelah Feinberg - Second Vice-chair

Susan Kent - Secretary

Elaine Young - Assistant Secretary

Amanda Kahn Fried – Treasurer

All are qualified and well-intentioned members of the community and will no doubt do an excellent job. At one point, Jo Hamilton had stated that she was committed to carrying on the work that Hoylman had been doing. Nothing she has said recently has indicated anything different in her attitude.
To the extent that Community Boards are relevant to the wishes and needs of the community’s residents – and, not simply a political reward for knowing the right people – we can hope that CB2 moves in the direction of greater cooperation with Boards #1, #3 and #4 on a number of issues – not the least of which is greater protection from pollution, removal of unwanted billboards, protection from traffic in our crosswalks, better control over Con Ed and maintenance repairs during evening hours, and a more assertive stance to protect tenants from landlord harassment. Not only do rent controlled and stabilized tenants suffer – but, market-rate tenants suffer a great deal as well. When you have a two-year lease and pay high rent and yet you cannot complain about such things as lack of heat or mold growing in your bedroom, the fear of not having your lease renewed is a serious problem. The silent tenant is often an abused tenant. And, abuse of tenants is a growing problem in New York City.

The Community Boards need to recognize that there are problems that they need to solve by working together.