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January 10th, 2006

SOHO Politics: Beyond The Fall

by D. Clark MacPherson

Political observers are watching out for a few races that will have meaning further down the line for Downtown. The contest for Speaker of the City Council is now heating up and the two main contenders are Christine Quinn of Manhattan and Melinda Katz of Queens. While it is thought that Katz has more money in the bank, it is also widely rumored that it’s time that deserving talent from the outer boroughs have a chance at the slot–Manhattanite Gifford Miller had his time at bat. Tom Manton, a powerful political presence from Queens has observed that Katz is a respected and capable Councilmember–a comment that states his case and deserves some reflection.

Alan Gerson was re-elected for another four year term as the City Councilmember representing SoHo and we expect that he will continue to work on some of the important issues affecting us, such as efforts to preserve our Arts heritage, affordable housing and the rebuilding effort post-9/11. Rumors have already begun circulating about his seat after his term expires in four years. Among the names being mentioned are Peter Gleason, an attorney and former firefighter, and Julie Menin, current Chair of Community Board #1. While we are a long way from that particular election, the line is already forming. Unless, of course, the Council votes to extend everyone’s term.

Christine Quinn, who we have heard would like to be Speaker of the City Council and then Mayor, may also be out of a job in four years. Potential candidates like Brad Hoylman, the darling of G.L.I.D. and State Senator Tom Duane, are already optioning Quinn’s City Council seat. Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation (GVSHP) is another potential candidate who has a lot of loyal community support due to the stellar job he’s done in rolling back heavy development in the Far West Village. Berman is a bulldog and no friend of the developers, but is clearly a favorite in the community.

Hoylman recently unseated Arthur Schwartz as District Leader, a former supporter of his and Tom Duane’s–with the approval of both Duane and Quinn. Schwartz’s removal was both unceremonious and acrimonious and a tad insensitive considering Schwartz’s considerable past financial support. But, while Schwartz may have been down, he is clearly not out. After the recent coup by the nightlife people in taking over Community Board #2 (CB2), Schwartz lined up some support at the new Board and is now Chair of the merged Parks and Waterfront Committees. This new super-committee assignment will no doubt enhance his once shrinking power base.

C. Virginia Fields, in her zeal to become Mayor, wrote a proverbial blank check to the nightlife people seeking to take over CB2. City Council appointments were blocked, Board seats were left vacant, and favors were called in during a successful effort to elect Maria Derr, a supporter who had held numerous fundraisers for Fields’ unsuccessful mayoral campaign. Derr, related to the Passanante political family in Greenwich Village, reportedly already has her eye on future office, ergo the reason for playing hardball to become Chair of CB2. So far Derr herself hasn’t indicated which actual seat interests her most. Last year she denied a press report that she planned to run against Assembly member Deborah Glick (who is running for re-election in 2006). Most recently, however, Derr is rumored to desire Quinn’s seat when her term ends. Of course, this would pit Derr, Chair of CB2, against Brad Hoylman, Vice-Chair of CB2, in seeking the same seat. You can just feel the political heat.

The new Community Board #2 power elite includes restaurant and real estate owners Roscia Sanz and her attorney Mark Rosenwasser, Bob Rinaolo, owner of several restaurants/bars, considerable real estate and is de facto behind-the-scenes Chair of CB2–and Rick Panson, former owner of the Duplex. Board members Phil Mouquinho, a restaurant owner and Ron Pasquale, real estate owner/developer and investor–are also closely aligned with the new Board leadership. District Leader Brad Hoylman, who is Vice Chair of CB2, is more community oriented and independent-minded but is part of the Executive Committee. During the process of taking control of the Board, one of the lower Manhattan political clubs (The?Ǭ Village Reform Democratic Club) appears to have been usurped by the nightlife group with the help of its leader, Ray Cline. Except for Hoylman, who is President of G.L.I.D., Community activists from SoHo and Hudson Square who aren’t bar or restaurant owners, are in for a hell of ride.

Community Board #1 had its own problems with Fields. Madeleine Wils, the former Chair of Board #1 had apparently made some disparaging remarks about the Borough President in public about a year ago and it created a permanent rift with Mayoral candidate Fields. The subsequent deal was that Wils would resign at a specific future date rather than be removed. When time to walk away this past spring, Wils balked.?Ǭ The result was pandemonium and confusion among Board #1 members. An unscheduled election was set with both Wils supporters and antagonists on the Board alike trying to figure out what had happened.

Currently, Julie Menin, the Wall Street Rising founder and new Community Board #1 Chair, seems to be doing a good job. Wils is still a Trust Board member (Hudson River Park Trust) and a very savvy politician.

The bright light at the end of the tunnel, for those who want to reclaim our community from wall to wall bars and restaurants, may be Eliot Spitzer–or will it be Tom Suozzi??Ǭ Many are hoping that the race for Governor in 2006 will be a ray of light shown on the insensitivity and ignorance–if not outright unethical behavior–of the State Liquor Authority’s prolific issuance of liquor licenses. The S.L.A. needs to be removed and replaced with members of the community if we are to be able to sleep at night and not have to stumble upon drunks urinating in our doorways.

Keep your eyes on Tom Suozzi (Democrat-Nassau) as well as Eliot Spitzer; Suffolk and Nassau counties as well as upstate have a better history of getting people out to vote. Manhattan is notorious for its modest election turnoutwhich could be a problem for Spitzer and his pro-death penalty stance could cost him votes. The “Fix Albany” campaign may not have endeared Suozzi to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, but in a race for Governor, the vote could be surprising. Suozzi also fared well in his recent campaign and was overwhelmingly re-elected as Nassau County Executive.

And, finally, SoHo voters should be happy to know that the largest turnout downtown in the Borough President’s race was attributable to the hard work of activists like David Reck and Sean Sweeney–two major, verbal, political players from SoHo and Hudson Square. They are among the several powerful people behind the Downtown Independent Democrats, located in SoHo. Among other major Stringer supporters were Julie Nadel, HRPT Board member and lawyer/activist Lawrence Goldberg. It is no secret that Scott Stringer appreciated their hard work and we can look forward to the new Borough President’s interest in issues affecting us. Stringer is already rumored to be a wise community-oriented choice for future positions like Public Advocate and Mayor. His knowledgeable positions on parents and families, Billboard and Liquor license over-saturation, affordable housing and Community Board problems (especially in Board #2) are what got him elected.

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