Friday, November 11, 2011

The SoHo Power Structure

“Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects.”
-- Lester Pearson

The levels of political power in SoHo, for the uninitiated, rest with elected politicians. Margaret Chin is the City Council member – having unseated Alan Gerson. And, in the Western section of SoHo, Speaker Quinn is the designated City Council representative covering the area from Thompson Street to the Hudson River as well as Hell's Kitchen. SoHo's boundaries arguably run as far West as Hudson Street, depending upon whose view you rely upon.
Gerson was ousted partly over his support for Bloomberg’s third term and partly because he thumbed his nose at Sean Sweeney – then, the President of Downtown Independent Democrats. Alan was a nice guy, a much used phrase that connotes friendliness but not political acumen.

Chin was elected over Gerson and competitor Pete Gleason, drawing heavy support from Chinatown. She was known as a housing activist and a Communist (in a former life), which only added to her persona as a supporter of the people. Lots of energy and drive characterizes her political approach to most things, but her bona fides as a strong SoHo supporter are giving way to the main concern of activists in SoHo – provincialism. The strong support of housing issues in SoHo and local issues such as the SoHo BID, leave a question mark about her fealty. Hopefully, that will change. However, rumors have surfaced, that Quinn will support a redistricting that takes SoHo away from Chin's Council seat.

Daniel Squadron, the State Senator, has been a pleasant surprise. He has done a great deal of work on housing issues and has been supportive of SoHo issues. The only criticism of Squadron is that trying to have a conversation with him, after having defeated Marty Connor – is like sitting down with a moving cyclone. In a previous conversation, we discussed Traffic danger, Housing, Billboards and Art preservation in SoHo. Those issues should be revisited. In addition, Quinn’s last legislation, which sanctions abuse and harassment against landlords – is inadequate and unenforceable. Squadron has a better understanding.

Quinn is a force to be reckoned with and despite the fact that she supported the DSNY garage she still has traction in SoHo. While she is often criticized for the Trump SoHo debacle, however, she did force Bayrock/Sapir, the developer, to accept a Restrictive Declaration -- which restricted continuous occupancy to 29 days in a row and only 120 days max per year. This effectively made it a hotel, not a condo. Few people will invest millions in an apartment that they cannot truly live in. And, successful lawsuits have resulted from buyers/tenants who realized that if you cannot live there and that if the developer was misinforming you about the number of sales -- you may want out. If Quinn becomes truly disentangled from Bloomberg, the fact that the Staten Island politicians are saying not unpleasant things about her – could pave the way for a more community-minded Mayor. A Democrat in office, for a change would be welcomed. Both Bloomberg and Giuliani won because of Staten Island support. This may neutralize the threat of success from Ray Kelly, the presumed Republican candidate for Mayor.

But, the real political power rests with the Downtown Independent Democrats. While only a few political clubs have maintained their presence, it is one of the exceptions to the generally waning power of clubs in Manhattan.
The hierarchy that really decides who runs for office – and who wins – rests with a few people. The President of the club is Jeanne Wilcke, Paul Newell is a District Leader, Adam Silvera is Vice President, Jim Stratton is also Vice President and Sean Sweeney is Treasurer. While they have several other elected leaders, some are newly elected.

The political decisions, candidate selection and interviews are primarily handled by Wilcke, Newell, Silvera, Stratton and Sweeney. Wilcke is the public face and leader of the club (keeping the troops in line), Silvera’s expertise is in judicial selection, Stratton is the political guru,
Newell is a strategist and Sweeney is in charge of the smoke-filled back room. Together they manage D.I.D.
As JFK once said, “Politics is the only game for adults.” And,apparently, they play well together.

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