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July 6th, 2005

Community Focus: Interview with Melinda Katz

by D. Clark MacPherson

It is rare for a member of the City Council to take time out and meet with someone that is not part of his or her constituency. But Melinda Katz took the time to talk with us about SoHo as well as the initiatives that she hopes will work for the entire city, including all 5 boroughs, as well as her own district in Queens. And, clearly, she is a supporter of the efforts we have expended in SoHo to curb developments that threaten our community. In our discussions she was also interested and concerned with preserving our Arts heritage, the problems with obliterating illegal billboards, our dangerous traffic problems, and the oversaturation of bars.

As Chair of the Land Use Committee of the City Council, Melinda Katz worked with our Councilmember Alan Gerson and several key activists in SoHo to craft a law that is crucial for us. The special text amendment that affects the review process for vacant lots in SoHo and NoHo were a direct result of this cooperative effort. She listened to testimony and met with activists like Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance–and she acted–and acted positively. She supported SoHo’s efforts and gave us a tool in our fight to protect the way in which our community can be developed.

Ms. Katz hails from a family that has been very involved in community work. Her father founded the Queens Symphony Orchestra and her mother started the Queens Council on the Arts. Her artistic heritage was evident in the interest she voiced in preserving the remaining public art in SoHo and how she can help in providing the impetus to new art initiatives in our community. She was also sympathetic to the unceremonious removal of the Bob Bolles sculptures by the Parks Department–a wrong that has only just been righted by Commissioners Castro and Benepe.

Councilmember Katz is a vibrant young woman who graduated from University of Massachusetts with honors and has a law degree from St. John’s. She worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office (Organized Crime Unit) and for U.S. District Court Judge Mukasey before working at Weil, Gotshal & Manges where she reportedly had a six-figure income. She gave that up to make a run for New York State Assembly but later decided she would be more effective in the City Council.

In the City Council, in addition to being Chair of the Land Use Committee, she is a member of Housing & Buildings, Public Safety, Rules, Privileges & Elections, Standards & Ethics and Zoning & Franchises. She is also a member of the Advisory Council to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. So, clearly she has experience.

And, just as clearly, in helping SoHo lock in the City Planning special text amendment (74-712) which more closely regulates how vacant lots can be developed–she has helped us limit lounges and late night bars while helping us control the process of developments that threaten to obliterate our community with huge buildings.

Why do we discuss a young, attractive, smart lawyer–who’s in the City Council?

For one thing, we need more dedicated politicians who have an interest in SoHo. As the world’s pre-eminent arts community, we are besieged with horrendous illegal billboards, our public art is being destroyed by city agencies, and the traffic and pollution we endure is made worse by the fact that we have no enforcement to protect our children. SoHo is blighted by a decay of political interest. We have lots of bars and tourists drinking on the sidewalks–but precious little Will and Effort directed towards a new Artistic infrastructure as well as protection for our families and children.

We think that Melinda Katz has the credentials, the intelligence and the energy to be the next Speaker of the City Council. We need someone who will fight for SoHo and the downtown community as she has already done. She has already proven herself as far as downtown is concerned. Let’s help to put her where she belongs–in the office of Speaker of the City Council.

While constituents of the community, which each Councilmember represents, decide regular elections for City Council the election process for Speaker is more delicate, and less direct.

In effect, the election or selection among the members of the City Council is a bit more arcane and for the most part is an internal process. But, you certainly can, and should, express your opinion on the matter.

To contact Melinda Katz or to reach her office and learn about her views on issues that affect the downtown community, call 212-788-6981 or e-mail her at

Filed Under: Articles | Interview | New York | Politics





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