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April 1st, 2004

Politicians Vie for SoHo Support

by D. Clark MacPherson

Election results for SoHo were a big success. Alan Gerson was re-elected after a late entry tried to garner his seat and the effort failed spectacularly. Apparently, the maturing of his office is gaining momentum and the results are obvious. Among other achievements, an important test of wills occurred between development forces and community activists and as a result the special text amendment change proposed by City Planning was modified. SoHo will have fewer new locations that allow late night restaurants and bars that could become lounges or nightclubs. Successful efforts to eventually close down places like Club NV on Hudson and Spring Streets and the former horror known as Magnum on West Broadway near Broome, are reminder enough of what risks this poses for our community. To hear shots fired in the middle of the night and watch people running down the street at 3:00 a.m. is not what comes to mind when we think of SoHo and the Arts. Gerson’s efforts, with the help of Sean Sweeney (SoHo Alliance) and David Reck (Friends of Hudson Square), along with the cooperation of Melinda Katz of the City Council Land Use Committee, have paid off. And Barry Mallin, SoHo’s Attorney Extraordinaire, has successfully prevented the bar/nightclub at 76 Wooster Street from getting a liquor license.

Kathryn Freed was elected Judge of the Civil Court. All of the people who supported her attended the very warm induction ceremony and she took office in January. From Downtown political activist to head of D.I.D. (Downtown Independent Democrats) to City Council member who left office because of term limits, to Civil Court Judge – is quite a successful trip. We in SoHo can thank her for having introduced the Loft Law that still protects many of us downtown and there is no doubt that we can look forward to representation in the Courts by a Judge that understands the community she now serves. Her term is for 10 years but we can be sure that she will either quickly rise to the New York Supreme Court or return to government before this term has expired. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is being challenged in his bid for another term in office. While he is in his 80’s, few people would think of criticizing his age with any other point in mind than to compliment his sagacity and effectiveness. The role of District Attorney is a critical and sometimes controversial one. The power of the prosecutor can be a useful tool in maintaining law and order or it can be an instrument of abuse. Morgenthau has used power well. The defeat of former Suffolk County District Attorney Catterson, who had a staff of corrupt Assistant District Attorneys that punished political rivals and indicted innocent people as favors for his cronies-is a case in point. The effectiveness and independence of Morgenthau’s tenure is undisputed. While he faces a real challenge this year, political insiders believe he will win easily. The fundraiser and cocktail party held at the Ear Inn on Spring Street was a big success and thanks to Julie Nadel’s efforts (Hudson River Park Trust Board Member), many of the SoHo people had an opportunity to talk directly to District Attorney Bob Morgenthau. Looking into the future, the Borough President race is starting to heat up even though that primary is not until September of 2005. The field is already quite full as there are nine candidates that appear on that distant horizon. Since C. Virginia Fields is leaving as a result of term limits, rumors abound that Eva Moskowitz, Scott Stringer (Assemblyman), and Carlos Manzano (Committeeman and President of the powerful McManus Democratic Club) are the strong early contenders in this race. Manzano is an attractive citywide candidate. Madeleine Wils (Chair of Community Board #1) is also rumored to be testing the waters but hasn’t committed. She is known as the Queen of lower Manhattan due to her influence.

The Mayoral election will also probably mean more to us in SoHo than the Presidential election. And, there are a number of announced and unannounced possibilities. The first candidate, of course, is the reclusive billionaire who visits New York when he’s not in Bermuda. By the way, for those of you who are out-of-towners, our current cross to bear is republican Mayor (media mogul) Bloomberg. Taking aim at Mr. Bloomberg may be C. Virginia Fields, the current Borough President who is pondering the run and there is no doubt that Fernando Ferrer will be getting back into circulation. There is also word that Gifford Miller, the current Speaker of the City Council is also considering making the trip to that particular podium. But, we have time to see how this plays out over the remainder of this year.

The race for Governor has not yet taken shape but the word is already out that Eliot Spitzer, the current Attorney General, is the man to beat. There is no doubt about his high profile stewardship in office, a real departure from prior Attorneys General. It will make him a formidable candidate-should Pataki decide to run for another term. While Pataki is popular in New York State, he has taken care of friends and cronies to the detriment of New York City in general, and downtown in particular. We’ll keep a close eye on this one.

To return the focus on the local level, Community Board #2 has already benefited from the work being done by Jim Smith (Chair), an experienced politician who knows how to get things done. And while the Community Board is only an advisory body, its positions on various issues are reviewed and considered by many City agencies that affect our quality of life. This is true when there is a question involving granting liquor licenses, changing parking rules and regulations, agreeing with the Parks Department on designs for our area, addressing zoning change requests in our neighborhoods – as well as other important community decisions. Jim Smith’s long political arm and his many friends in government have allowed us to benefit from his connections in getting things done.

The political controversy on our waterfront has continued to play out through the respective Boards (The Board of the Hudson River Park Trust a/k/a HRPT, as well as Community Boards #1, #2, and #4)-with high levels of frustration for our residents. While politicians focus on “process,” and organizations wishing to influence its development, lobby – our waterfront goes begging. Begging, that is, for completion. Deborah Glick (Assembly-D), for example, and watchdog group Friends of Hudson River Park have been the most visible critics of the HRPT, requiring that there be strict interpretations of the Hudson River Park Act. The “Act” authorizes the HRPT vis a vis the legislation, to redevelop of the waterfront. “Friends” and Glick have voiced opposition to such recent proposals as the skating rink to be located just south of Pier 40 on the Park. The community, most especially parents and their children, lost this free skating rink (it was a $2.5 million grant from LMDC), because HRPT failed to give the community sufficient notice or review time (the “process” objection). Also because some objected to the proposed chain-link fence and narrow walkway around the rink. For the record, the HRPT did reconfigure the plans to adjust the walkway width and remove the fence-but the skating rink has been shelved.

However, there has been new cooperation among the fractious parties involved in lower Manhattan politics and the Interim Plans for Pier 40 may now go forward-this is on the heels of the failed permanent plan, which the HRPT rejected this past summer. While Glick, “Friends” and other organizations and politicians previously have been critical of this Interim plan, they have rallied around the current proposal which gives the community ball fields on the ground floor and a mix of sports field and “passive” space on it upper level in addition to the 2500 car public parking concession. This plan, which was recently passed by Community Board #2, should be ready by this September. Everyone seems to be on the same page, for the moment.

We have to congratulate Connie Fishman, former Vice President of Hudson River Park Trust, in her new position as President. Rob Balachandran, Governor Pataki’s right hand man and political insider who got the HRPT moving, goes on to Bear, Sterns, & Co., as an investment banker-and the Chair of Hudson River Park Trust, Trip Dorkey, spoke glowingly of Balachandran’s work. The fact that they’re a couple of connected Republicans shouldn’t be held against them in this case. They play to a tough audience.

The Presidential race is now upon us and it will be interesting to see how Bush and his Secret Service treat New Yorkers. It is no secret that New York is a Democratic town and it is also no secret that the law and order agenda under Nixon was “pussycats fighting-in-the-sandbox” compared to Ashcroft and his Patriot Act. All the same, we must give respect where it is due, if not earned, and treat everyone as if it is a level playing field. It will be interesting to see how protestors and the average New Yorker is treated with the anticipated heavy focus on “security,” and whether we can ever expect our fair share of the financial support for New York City, which was emotionally promised after 9-11. Chances are, we will have to work very hard to elect our candidate John Kerry and get out the vote-as C. Virginia Fields has been stressing upon us-in order to create an overwhelming plurality at the polls. The only one who needs to stay home is Ralph Nader.

-D. Clark MacPherson

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