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January 6th, 2005

State Senator Martin Connor

by D. Clark MacPherson

What SoHo needs now

There were a number of issues that we wanted to discuss with the Senator. Among them were our problems with Traffic and the proliferation of billboards and overabundance of bars in SoHo, especially on West Broadway and Grand Street. He has been in office since 1978, and has a depth of knowledge about these issues which was refreshing.

Senator Connor’s district encompasses parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, as well as Tribeca, SoHo and part of Hudson Square. His territory also takes in Pier 40 on the waterfront. Essentially, he represents lower Manhattan on the East Side below 14th street and below Houston on the West Side.

Before we could even describe our list of issues, the Senator spontaneously voiced his concern about the overabundance of liquor licenses in SoHo. An initiative that he is considering would be an attempt to ban any new liquor licenses in areas like SoHo, across the board. He had expressed the view that similar problems have occurred on the Lower East Side as well as in Williamsburg-where nightclubs and bars have completely transformed neighborhoods, to the detriment of their communities. As the Senator pointed out, even with the most cooperative bar or club owners, the sheer number of late night habitu?s, who are drinking and celebrating, make the enforcement of many “quality of life” issues impossible.

He intends to study the feasibility of creating special zones where no new liquor licenses would be issued; in other words, a cap on how many licenses can exist in a specific area. He would seek to pass legislation that would ban new licenses for additional bars within 500 feet of existing establishments serving liquor (he is considering including this requirement for Beer and Wine licenses as well).

Senator Connor is sympathetic to the traffic and pollution created by the Verrazano toll dilemma, forced upon us by the Molinari Republican machine in Staten Island. His practical view is that we need more enforcement, in the form of Traffic Agents, to manage the gridlock in SoHo and Hudson Square, but that the Staten Island “environmentalists” simply shifted their traffic and pollution problem to lower Manhattan. Since Molinari “delivered” votes for the Giuliani and Bloomberg Republicans, this has now become more of a political issue than an environmental one.

He was extremely disturbed by the lack of illegal sign enforcement in SoHo and displeased by Commissioner Lancaster’s apparent lack of effectiveness (at the Department of Buildings) with respect to this issue. As a result, he proposed directing his office to focus on this problem and discussed initiatives to “turn up the heat.”

The Senator described changes in the day-to-day business of State politics that echo remarks made by others. As we saw in the presidential election, the atmosphere in Congress has become more hostile; cooperation between Republicans and Democrats has become rare and there is little bi-partisanship. As Bush has punished those who stray from strict Republican Party line voting, so has the State Senate languished under the control of Bruno and Pataki. Lawmakers used to socialize and try to accommodate one another for the sake of their respective districts, rather than be contentious and uncooperative. Now budgets for discretionary use in each member’s Senate district has dwindled from $75 million awarded to Republicans to only $5 million for all of its Democratic members. Capital Funds may reach $100 million for Republicans with nothing for Democrats. This is with a Senate having a 45/55 split, advantage Republicans.

As a sequel to his comments about the lack of cooperation among Senators on both sides of the aisle, Connor described his dedication to his constituency. He remembered how he and Shelly Silver (Assembly Speaker) and their staff members had carried food and water to the elderly and sick during the days after 9/11. FEMA had not known that there were actually people living in some spaces which they assumed were strictly commercial buildings. In fact, there were many loft and apartment dwellers that the government knew nothing about and would simply have ignored, had these two dedicated lower Manhattan politicians not done the job.

Senator Martin Connor’s re-election this past November is good news for us in lower Manhattan and he has promised that his office will keep us posted on developments as diverse as getting DEP agents to issue more tickets for car horn noise, finding traffic agents to give us room to cross the street, and help in getting the art back in SoHo. Bob Bolles, whose sculptures were unceremoniously ripped out of “Sunflower Park” (aka Bob Bolles Park), may yet be returned to us.

Stay tuned.

D. Clark MacPherson

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