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February 6th, 2007

SoHo Interview: Julie Nadel

by D. Clark MacPherson

julie-nadel.jpgOf the thirteen members who comprise the Hudson River Park Trust, Julie Nadel is arguably the most forthright and outspoken. While she was appointed to this body for her knowledge and dedication to improving the Manhattan waterfront, she is still an activist at heart. Despite her position of importance, she tells people exactly what she thinks.

Her political activism began when she moved to New York in the early 1980’s when she became involved with Westway, a project that drew tremendous community fire and took almost 10 years to defeat. She was hired by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried as his Chief of Staff and became familiar with many of the waterfront committees and advocates on Community Boards 1, 2, 4 and 7 through her job. At this point, she also became involved with the Hudson River Alliance, community precursor to the Hudson River Park Trust, an organization created by Al Butzel (the influential head of Friends of Hudson River Park). Her involvement with the Alliance lasted from 1994 until 1998 when the Hudson River Park Act was written and enacted. Borough President C. Virginia Fields appointed Nadel to the new Trust Board–and she was recently re-appointed by Democrat Scott Stringer, the new Manhattan Borough President. Currently, she is also Chair of Community Board #1 Waterfront Committee.

In addition to her involvement with waterfront issues, she has worked on D.A. Bob Morgenthau’s campaigns for nearly 20 years. As a consultant to the District Attorney, she has helped his office with fundraising and community support. Her involvement with grassroots activism has enabled the D.A.’s office to maintain a connection with the community, as well as relevant issues on the waterfront.

Her activism has also helped support the efforts of several non-profit and worthwhile for-profit organizations. Among them are the Downtown Boathouse, The River Project, and Pier 63 Maritime, all of which are waterfront initiatives, and take tremendous financial risks for the benefit of the community. She has also personally been involved in Tug Pegasus, the Lilac Preservation Project and Sloop Clearwater, of Pete Seeger fame.

Julie’s philosophy is that we should support grassroots activism and private efforts to improve our community, our environment, and certainly our waterfront. Government cannot do all that needs to be done, and we need to evaluate private efforts and encourage them, if they make sense.

We have not encouraged these efforts sufficiently with public funds, she believes, because government is unable to totally control private efforts and initiatives.

According to Julie, government needs to recognize that it serves the people. Even employees of the Hudson River Park Trust, a creation of the Hudson River Park Act which Governor Pataki penned in 1998, needs to be cognizant of the fact that their salaries are paid by the taxpayers. While sometimes controversial, Nadel is adamant about the fact that no body of the State or City should be making policy decisions without involving the community in the process. Even though she is a member of the Trust, she feels that the Trust “has closed a lot of its doors” to the public. Until recently, she says, the Hudson River Park Trust has been run by Albany, not New York City. While her forthrightness has not always made her an “insider” on Trust matters, she feels that she has a “duty to speak openly” and she adds that, “There should be no secrets in Public Policy.”

As for the future of Downtown, she feels strongly about the need to protect residents from the rapid pace of development and the unabated level of pollution due to traffic congestion.

While she recognizes that the rapid pace of real estate development will continue, she has concerns about efforts that try to force out residents who have helped to build our City–the artists and creative people who have made Downtown a place where people now want to live. And she is concerned about problems like the unsupervised construction debris that prevents parents with children, or the disabled, from walking safely down the street.

She also mentioned her amazement that for over 12 years now the horrendous traffic jams and pollution caused by cars and trucks on Broome and Watts Streets have continued. This is due to the fact that the Verrazano Bridge toll was reversed many years ago–allowing those exiting from Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel a free commute.

With respect to the waterfront and its future, she would like to see its development be more “people friendly,” and not “like Disney World.”

She points to the “sterile Granite” design, which has no place for a boat to tie-up between Houston and Gansevoort in Segment 4 of the Park.

The connection between the water and the park and the people, she feels, is being lost in the way that the Hudson River Park is being developed.

While Julie Nadel is appreciated as a true activist by some and irritated by those who would prefer more secrecy and separation from the community, she is not going to fade into the sunset. She is here to stay and she has strong opinions about what our elected leaders should be doing and how bureaucrats should be acting. We should all be appreciative that someone, anyone, especially the tirelessly brave Julie Nadel is out there fighting for all of us.

Filed Under: Articles | Community | Interview | New York | Politics

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