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April 29th, 2003

SoHo Politics – Who You Should Know

by D. Clark MacPherson

What and who every resident should know, but doesn’t. You would think that we would all know who our political leaders are, and what offices they hold. Well, we have news for you, but it isn’t too good. Out of every ten people we asked, less than two knew their politicians. They knew even less about the Community Board, and practically nothing about the various committees and those who lead them.

For something about what you may want to know, here we go. Essentially, SoHo is part of of Community Board #2 (CB2), an area that runs from river to river and from 14th Street to Canal Street. CB2 is the bottom rung of genuine democracy. This is where the people meet the politicians, and where the people let the elected officials know what they want and need in their communities. Our Board has an office at 3 Washington Square Village (Tel. 212-979-2272) and the full board meets every third Thursday of the month. Everyone is invited, but it is up to you to find out if a particular subject is being discussed. There are numerous committees that review Environment,Traffic, Business (Liquor Licenses), and Zoning, to name a few. If you wish to speak to the Board, you are invited to come to a full board meeting, fill out a speaker’s card and say what you have to say for three minutes. One may become a Public Member and regularly attend committee meetings or seek to be appointed to the Board by inquiring at the CB2 Board office.

The current Chair, Aubrey Lees, is a dynamic attorney as well as Democratic District Leader who has injected new life into the spirit of the Board. She has spoken out on many controversial topics ranging from same sex marriage (she’s for it), to a review of the development process in the Village and SoHo (she wants it done intelligently with the residents’ priorities in mind). As an animal lover, she has supported a second, small dog run in Washington Square Park. But if there is one issue which she champions, that supersedes all others in the Board, it is the need for new and dynamic blood to join the Community Board. When we asked her about it, she would not rule out a run for political office in the future. It would be a positive move for her and good for the community if she did.

The Chair of the Zoning Committee, Jeanne Kazel Wilcke, is a real estate professional who has brought intelligence and thoughtfulness to the job of reviewing projects that are proposed for the Village and SoHo. While the meetings can sometimes be very heated, she has brought an even-handed style to the problems of weighing “as of right” development vs. the desires of our community to stop mindless expansionism. She is a hard worker whom we are lucky to have.

Brad Hoylman is a member of Community Board 2 and works at the New York City Partnership. He has recently become a judicial delegate as well. Brad, who is also President of the Gay & Lesbian Independent Democrats, helped organize a succesful campaign along with State Senator Tom Duane, Council member Christine Quinn and District Leader Arthur Schwartz, to nominate Rosalind Richter, an openly lesbian candidate who was duly elected as a State Supreme Court justice in November.

Larry Moss, a dignified, and experienced negotiator, is one of our Democratic Committee Members most recently re-elected. He is Chair of the Reform Caucus in State government and is currently a resident of NoHo. This position is one of our least understood political offices. The simplest explanation of what a Committee Member does is that he, or she, is responsible for selecting, negotiating, and approving the candidates who wish to run for statewide political office. It is an important, if not fully understood, political position in which the behind-the-scenes efficacy of the person we elect can ultimately help shape our future. He fought a difficult campaign this year, but was supported by Senators Clinton and Schumer and other highly regarded politicians, and, lest we forget, by the voters themselves. His dignified style and intelligent handling of the political process bodes well for our pressing issues in SoHo and lower Manhattan. When we spoke to him, he promised to keep his “ear to the ground” to keep even closer tabs on the needs of SoHo area residents.

The City Council, the legislative body representing New York City has two individuals from lower Manhattan. Our elected councilmembers are Alan Gerson and Christine Quinn. Gerson’s district pre- dominantly covers SoHo, while Quinn’s area is further West in Hudson Square (West of Avenue of the Americas).

Of great interest to many SoHo residents is Alan Gerson’s push to create an Art District in SoHo – a move that would obviate the need to pursue the long, tedious, and sometimes fruitless attempt to landmark an area that is in dire need of protection. Controlling the illegal advertising, getting more traffic enforcement, and eliminating the destruction of public art, would be the benefits of what could be accomplished by an Art District designation. East of West Broadway has landmark status, while West of West Broadway does not. This is the reason for the proliferation of ugly billboards and buildings sporting thirty, forty and even fifty foot high signs that are sexually suggestive and inappropriate. They are eyesores that companies like Van Wagner hope will never go away, while New Jersey commuters are stalled, staring at their signs, waiting for their turn through the Holland Tunnel.

Our highly popular State Senator is Tom Duane, a champion of gay rights and a tireless supporter of lower Manhattan. Prior to being elected as State Senator, he served for 7 years as the first openly gay, openly HIV positive member of the City Council. He has fought hard to reverse the harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws and has fought to relieve the oppressive conditions in prisons. As a result of the change in districting, however, Martin Connor is SoHo’s newest State Senator, while surrounding communities such as Hudson Square (east of 6th avenue), remains under Duane’s purview.

Martin Connor, the Democratic Minority Leader of the State Senate was first elected in 1978. His primary concerns are efforts to affect reforms in the State government and reforms in the electoral process.

Our State Assemblyperson is Deborah Glick. She is the first openly lesbian or gay member of the State Legislature. Among her concerns have been women’s rights, reproductive freedom and changes in the rape statutes. Her Women’s Health and Wellness Act culminated in passage of important legislation in June of 2002. Of particular concern to residents of SoHo should be the passage of a bill providing for a law that drivers yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, no matter what side of the roadway the pedestrian is on. This is an important, and critical matter for tourist and commuter-heavy areas such as ours. Perhaps she will enable us to also get the traffic police to carefully monitor the congestion at West Broadway and Broome, at 6th Avenue and Watts, and at the Holland Tunnel entrance (Watts and Varick) once this law is passed. Up until now, the police have poorly enforced the blocking of crosswalks in SoHo. We truly hope Ms. Glick is successful with this issue.

She also has weighed in heavily on Park issues, especially, when Art is involved. She is taking interest in the Duarte Square project currently under review by the Community Board and we also hope she will revisit the Bob Bolles Park (a/k/a Sunflower Park) fiasco which has left SoHo without much of its artistic heritage. Her aggressive position on billboard proliferation also gives us hope that she will aggressively work to ban advertising on sheds, the media companies’ most recent attempts to cover over SoHo with advertising.

Our representative in Congress is Jerry Nadler, one of the few national politicians who pursued the issue of air quality in lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the WTC disaster. When no one was paying any attention to the post-9/11 air quality disaster (as distinct from 9/11 itself), Nadler raised his voice and really pressured the EPA and FEMA.

Our Mayor, the only Republican in this mix, is of course Bloomberg. The most relevant message that we can send to our Mayor is that he needs to fulfill a pledge that he made. He put out the message locally shortly after being elected, that he wanted the Community Boards to have real power. So far, he has gone the way of Rudy. The only difference between him and Rudy is that he already has money. But, we will reserve our opinion for a short while longer.

We now have four major political clubs in lower Manhattan, and they rule the area. They are the legacy of the post-Tammany Hall era ?ɬ VRDC (Village Reform Democratic Club), VID (Village Independent Democrats), DID (Downtown Independent Democrats) and GLID (Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats). While they can, and do, sometimes work together, they also are often divisive. And, rangers, when you add the Republican stronghold of Staten Island to the mix, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Bloomberg, welcome to City Hall. It is also a testament to the power of the Molinari Republicans of Staten Island that we have a one-way toll coming from the Verrazano Bridge, bringing unending diesel fumes as fast as their triple axles will allow them. Trucks, but more especially buses, enter Manhattan free, and leave, free through the Holland Tunnel. Mr. Molinari created a piece of legislation that requires a Congressional act to reverse this little piece of polluting legislation. So far, with two democratic New York Senators, we have not been able to overcome this legislative gem polluting lower Manhattan. Oh, and by the way, guess who gets to be the swing votes for Mayor? Yes, Staten Island.

It has been observed by some that the downtown political scene is driven by the rift between gay/straight politics. In other words, that candidates are chosen or backed, based upon their sexual affinities. While it is true that GLID has a power base that is hard to ignore ?ɬ State Senator Tom Duane, Councilmember Christine Quinn, Assembly member Deborah Glick — it is unconvincing that this is the deciding factor. It is much more complicated and yet much simpler than that. The fact is, as one insider confessed, some of the older, intractable members of one of the older lower Manhattan Democratic clubs, need to die off. It isn’t that this melange of diversity can’t strike a deal and amicably float a candidate it is that some older members will not negotiate, period.

So, we lose some votes in an important primary and then we lose some Democrats who are infuriated over the lack of focus and cohesion in their own party. As arrogant as Mark Green reportedly was, for example, we could have at least had a Democrat for Mayor. And the results of that would have been a Community Board that was more powerful, a recycling law that was left intact, and a feeling that the residents and businesses could work together to solve some of our seemingly mundane community problems. As it stands now, Giuliani became a hero for simply doing his job during the WTC disaster (he was despised by many lower Manhattan New Yorkers as well as the police and firefighters before 9/11, and most people are simply afraid to voice that opinion now) and Bloomberg would rather fly to Bermuda than be seen recycling his plastic in SoHo. So Giuliani and his woman buy a $5 million dollar coop uptown after hitting pay dirt with this heroism thing (speaking engagements), Bloomberg counts his $4 Billion on platform shoes, and we figure out how to make our votes count.

The message to the political clubs in lower Manhattan is this: appoint a task force to review cooperation and start cleaning house. We are losing control of our town in a critical era in our nation’s history, through incompetence and lack of focus, not lack of votes. Go to work, together!

-D. Clark MacPherson

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