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September 25th, 2006

Viewpoint: What About Reform? Baby Steps towards political change downtown

by D. Clark MacPherson

While the political landscape hasn’t changed very much, there are a few bright spots for SoHo. We fully expect to see Deborah Glick re-elected to the Assembly. And, she has continued to be a community-oriented person who can be counted on to weigh in on the side of residents. So far she is not opposed and expected to continue in office. Look for her to direct more of her talented attention towards the residents of SoHo in the future.

It’s seems likely that Eliot Spitzer will be elected as the new Governor. Unfortunately, while he is a talented politician and a shrewd political operative, he is seen first and foremost as a prosecutor rather than someone who will govern well. A lot of old line political animals support his candidacy out of fear rather than enthusiasm. It dampens the thrill of finally having a Democrat in Albany.

Marty Connor, SoHo’s State Senator, clearly should be supported in his campaign for re-election to the State Senate. He has worked hard for SoHo and has been successful in lobbying Governor Pataki to change the configuration of the State Liquor Authority so that it is more responsive to the community. He was personally responsible for the appointment of Noreen Healey, a Democrat, who lives in New York City (Brooklyn Heights). She is a former prosecutor who is familiar with the problems facing neighborhoods that are adversely affected by the over saturation of bars.

Connor’s influence and friendship with Pataki has apparently paid off for us. Remember that and think about the fact that out of the last ten contested 500-foot-rule hearings, seven liquor licenses were denied by the newly reconfigured S.L.A. We need people like Marty Connor in SoHo.

The Community Board #2 election was a disappointment for local residents. Unfortunately, while we make up a substantial segment of Board #2’s area, SoHo is under-represented on Board #2 and has a minor share of the voting power. It was mostly vintage Greenwich Village members on the Board chose to re-elect Maria Derr as Board Chair, rather than David Reck, who is a reformer and Hudson Square resident. The old line Village members on the Board cling to the rose-colored Bill Passanante memory, akin (in their minds) to Kennedy and Camelot, and they voted Maria Passanante Derr in for another year in office. There was a plethora of dirty tricks and PR operatives like Allen Rosskoff of the Durham Group were supporting Derr. As a close personal friend of Derr’s and the main operative of a reported two-man shop, Rosskoff helped spread the negative word about Reck and other downtown activists who were hoping for reform of the Board. The old line remnants of the Village’s Passanante groupies, the Nightlife Association/Chamber of Commerce bar and restaurant crowd that still runs the Board, and especially Board members who were fearful of losing their positions on the Board–gave Derr a mandate. The fear tactics reach into some Board member’s pocket books, and the smears skewed the election so that the bar owners and their supporters could keep titular control for another year. Reform is still only a distant hope.

Reck’s message was that we need reform now. Derr’s message was that we all need to move on, put our differences aside and work together. Derr won. Then she immediately proceeded to remove Reck, her opponent, from his position as Chair of the Zoning Committee. So much for putting our differences aside and moving forward. Derr replaced Reck with Doris Diether as Chair of Zoning, someone whom Virginia Fields (the former Borough President) had already ruled had a conflict of interest as previous Chair of Zoning.

But this election’s real message was not about the fact that Community Board #2 members were afraid to vote any way except the way they are told by Maria Derr and her supporters–Bob Rinaolo, Roscia Sanz, John Maggio, Phil Mouquinho, Doris Diether, Arthur Schwartz and John Diaz. It was not about the fear of losing financial connections and Board status. It was not that the Board membership must now sit back for another year and wait perhaps for Brad Hoylman, or some other community-oriented candidate, to bring balance back to Community Board #2. And, it was not that the Nightlife/Chamber of Commerce contingent on the Board managed to threaten, smear, or distort their way into buying another year of control via Derr’s candidacy.

The real message gotten from this election was that the activists on the Board, along with newly appointed members, have forged a new alliance. There is now a new bloc of voters on Community Board #2 who see issues first and foremost from the perspective of the Community, not special interests. It was a portentous change that augurs well. That palpable change was also clearly evident at the Quality of Life forum, or “Summit,” held at the Puffin Room in June. Zella Jones of the NoHo Neighborhood Association, Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance, the new Commissioners of the SLA, the police brass and numerous elected officials and their representatives were all in attendance. Significantly, there were representatives of 26 community organizations from lower Manhattan at this meeting.

There is now a new working alliance that has been forged between members of Community Board #2, the community organizations and the political structure of City government to effectively deal with Quality of Life issues. Progress has clearly been made.

The new S.L.A (State Liquor Authority) had two of its three members at the Forum, Chairman Daniel Boyle and Noreen Healey. It was both congenial and respectful and there appears to be a clear path towards a working relationship in pursuing the quality of our lives–including problems with bar over saturation, pollution and traffic. Can illegal sign enforcement be very far away?*

Editor’s Note: Baby Steps was the book written by Dr. Leo , in the film “What About Bob.”

Doris DietherRoscia SanzArthur SchwartzBrad HolymanMaria Derr

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