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July 1st, 2003

SoHo Politics

by D. Clark MacPherson

The most interesting Primary?Ǭ elections are the Judgeship races in lower Manhattan and the re-election campaign for Councilman Alan Gerson. The next two years promise to be more exciting due to the term limited candidacy of Boro President Virginia Fields. That race heats up next year for the 2005 election.

The most effective of the candidates for Civil Court Judge is Kathryn Freed, a tireless advocate for SoHo and our former Council Member. She is a leader of the D.I.D., our local Democratic political club which brought some fresh air into the bygone days of corrupt political dealmaking. She is an excellent choice for Civil Court Judge and will ensure that SoHo has an effective arbiter of the law.

This court post has a ten year term. It would assure us that we would have a judge that understands legal issues from several vantage points. She has drafted legislation, effected change as a City Council member, helped form community organizations (SoHo Alliance) and litigated in and for SoHo. She has worked tirelessly for the establishment of the SoHo Library which is currently being completed, was the first reform Democratic leader, and initiated the first voting rights act – while still a student in law school. Her view is that too few judges understand the impact of their decisions upon quality of life issues, and she wants to help change that. All judges, in her opinion, should be aware of the impact of their ruling on precedent. We agree. Vote for Kathryn Freed in the primary on September 9th. To help her campaign, contact rob@6group.org

In SoHo, Alan Gerson is gearing up his campaign for re-election and we think that it is a duty to make sure that your vote is cast for him. In his first term, he has worked tirelessly to support the Arts and establish guidelines ensuring that all current and future developments in our area include some benefit for the Arts and artists. He has even acted to “call up” any approved zoning variance or building permit that has not devoted some space for this purpose. In addition to this, he instituted a special Task Force for the advancement of the Arts (AASC) which currently advises the City Council in its efforts to create a much needed Municipal Arts Policy in lower Manhattan redevelopment. He has also entertained suggestions that SoHo be designated as a special Arts District and has been helpful in the initial discussions of possible future landmark status for SoHo.

His office has championed the war against illegal billboards and illegal or legal sign building covers which has gained momentum. Working with Carol Post of the Enforcement Unit of the Department of Buildings, he has developed a comprehensive listing of the most offensive billboards and assisted community activists in forming a plan of attack to rid us of these eyesores ?ɬ an offense to our artistic heritage. We think that Alan is assured of being re-elected in the Primary and in the November elections.

Carlos Manzano, a friend of SoHo and Manhattan’s West Side, is a Democratic State Committeeman, and someone to keep an eye on in coming elections. He is the President of the McManus Democratic Club, and while not yet as well known as the legendary and powerful Jim McManus, Carlos is a person whom we should get to know. West Side politics is a territorial matter and it not only shares similar waterfront issues with SoHo, but other serious concerns as well. Among these issues are billboard proliferation, diesel pollution from trucks and buses, and the dearth of affordable housing affecting our communities. These are only a few of the problems that affect the West Side of Manhattan and Carlos Manzano is a force for change that could help us as well. While the gossip is that Virginia Fields (who is leaving office due to term limits) is planning to seek Rangel’s congressional seat if he steps down, it is also a possibility that Manzano will win the Boro President slot. Keep your eyes on him and we will keep you posted.

Frank Nervo is another of the people whom we would like to see on the bench. He is seeking to be elected to the Civil Court in New York County. He shares many of the values that our community espouses and it’s time to get judicial representation in our courts in the form ofa Judge that understands quality of life issues. He is a member of the LGBT Rights Committee of the Bar, he’s a member of the Building Codes Committee of the Disabilities Network, and a member of the planning committee of the Lavender Law Conference to be held in October.

He has also been a member of the V.I.D. tenant clinic as volunteer counsel and a public member of Community Board #2. He’s devoted a great deal of his time to helping tenants and the rights of working people via pro bono representation. He is seeking to bring a genuine sense of respect for diversity in our court system and is an asset to our community. Give him your support in the Primary on September 9th.

In a contentious and hotly contested local election, Jim Smith was elected in June as our new Community Board Chair. He defeated his respected opponent Brad Hoylman for the new term. Smith has already been Chair of the Board and his even handed style will be a stabilizing influence on the sometimes conflicted politics of our community. While it is unusual for Community Board #2 to have had such active polliticking for an election of its Chair, it bodes well for the Full Board to see this kind of excitement. The outgoing Chair, Aubrey Lees, will remain on the Board and has decided to take on several issues that she has been unable to pursue because of time contraints. She is also a lawyer with her own practice in Greenwich Village.

The Waterfront has become a contentious area in lower Manhattan. Pier 40 has been slated for redevelopment by the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT), an agency established by Pataki for the purposes of coordinating commercial uses and income to pay for public use and park space. It is a worthy concept that has been mired down in divisive community politics.

Four plans were initially reviewed by the Community Board?Ǭ with a controversial decision, a big box store (Home Depot) was approved. Not only was the approval process flawed, to say the least, but some of the local politicians began to squabble about “conflict of interest,” and “political deals”. The entire approval process was delayed.

Fortunately the Community Board Chair, Aubrey Lees, took some heat and straightened out the matter. A new series of public hearings was held and revised plans were presented. While the CK/Durst organization won the support of the community, it remains to be seen what HRPT will eventually decide. The CK/Durst plan included ballfields, soccerfields, passive park space, restaurants, gardens, artist’s exhibition and performance space and television studios – as well as parking for nearly 2,000 cars.

The “River Green” plan would have supplanted the current parking/Fedex use on the 14-acre Pier 40 site at the foot of West Houston Street in Soho. And for the record, the Boro President reviewed the “conflict of interest” claims and they were found to be without merit. After all of the fireworks, the HRPT voted to reject all of the plans that were proposed. It is likely that the trust was uneasy about the $30 million gap (to be filled by public funds) which CK/Durst?Ǭ proposed to avoid a Home Depot type anchor. So after several years of controversy and struggle, nothing will be done at pier 40 for the forseeable future.

-D. Clark MacPherson

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