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May 26th, 2008

PURE GOLD: MARIE PASSANNANTE-DERR AND THE RACE FOR QUINN’S SEAT.

by Ed Gold


Marie Passannante-Derr.

The early entry of Marie Passannante-Derr into the contest to fill the 3rd Councilman seat–which will be vacated by Speaker Christine Quinn in ’09–complicates a race that already had highly contentious implications.

Derr, the niece of the late liberal assemblyman Bill Passannante, became conspicuously enamored with the family name when she ran successfully for chair of Community Board Two several years ago, possibly feeling the first pangs of political ambition.

She faces an invigorating experience since her likely primary opponents are making news almost every week as community activist leaders.

That would be Andrew Berman, the everywhere executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and Brad Hoylman, who doubles as Democratic district leader and current chair of CB2.

Derr came into prominence during the C. Virginia Fields reign, along with a host of other appointees to CB2 who considered the board unfriendly to business, particularly in dealing with community over-saturation of liquor licenses. In some quarters, this group, then headed by restaurant owner and realtor Bob Rinaelo and with Derr as a key aide, became known as the C of C group.

During her campaign for the CB2 chair, Derr and her colleagues joined the Village Reform Democratic Club (VRDC), picked up strength from some of the CB2 members in that club, and assured Derr’s victory.

Derr, a lawyer and hard worker, made a mistake early on, playing political hardball. Calling for a meeting with new board members, she neglected to invite several board veterans who did not take her slight lightly. She rationalized that this was her private party but that did not wash too well. The blacklist included David Reck, a zoning maven and district leader out of Downtown Independent Democrats(DID), Sean Sweeney, who heads the Landmarks Committee, spearheads the SoHo Alliance and is president of DID; Larry Goldberg, named by the current Borough President Scott Stringer as a member of the Hudson River Park Trust; Don MacPherson, who runs a magazine and at one point had challenged Derr in the CB2 race for chair; and Anne Hearn, a most independent member of VRDC.

It is probably safe to say that none of those slighted will likely make contributions to the Derr campaign.

In fairness, it should be noted that Derr mellowed in her second term as chair, although on occasion she used the chair as bully pulpit for her personal positions, which is a no-no under Robert’s Rules. It also became clear to her that the new borough president had different ideas about board personnel than his predecessor; in two years he would change CB2 membership by 40 per cent.

While Derr remains active at CB2, her like-minded colleagues are mostly gone—which may well have prompted her early entry into the race.

While neither Berman or Hoylman have officially joined the fray, it would surprise almost everyone if they remained on the sidelines, as Quinn tries for a new address at City Hall.

Berman, the preservationist and best friend of landmarking who wants to maintain the Village ambiance, has been dogged in dealing with institutional construction, whether by NYU, St. Vincent’s Hospital or the New School. Not to mention his heavy activity against Donald Trump and conspicuous efforts in the Meat Market district.

On occasion, he has taken actions that appear to have political implications. For instance, he has suggested that a CB2 hearing at P.S. 41 on the St. Vincent’s expansion was undemocratic. Coincidentally, Hoylman ran the meeting and allowed 130 people to speak, which hardly seemed like threatening the First Amendment.

Like Berman, Hoylman has made a lot of friends during this very heavy construction period, drawing hundreds of residents to large community meetings, sharing credit on wins before the Landmarks Commission and winning laurels for commitments on additional educational facilities from NYU, as well as St. Vincent’s and its real estate partner, the Rudin Family.

Each of the candidates will have respectable assets in the coming race. Derr runs out of VRDC and should also get help from the Stonewall Democrats, which has strong VRDC connections. She should have avid supporters in the Chamber of Commerce as well as operators in the nightlife industry.

Hoylman comes out of Village Independent Democrats (VID) and has also been president of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats. He has also been working closely with the Stringer Administration on a wide range of projects. He has brought real assets to CB2, including a sense of humor, a Rhodes Scholar’s intelligence, and an even-handedness that sits well with an independent-minded board.

Berman is the best known of the candidates, turning out e-mail messages almost daily, leading protest marches and speaking before every group that invites him. He gets high marks from all community preservationists. He and Hoylman will both be popular in the gay community. He was chief of staff to State Senator Tom Duane, which might lead to an endorsement down the road.

Then there are the intangibles. State Committeeman Arthur Schwartz has formed a slick political consulting firm with Ray Cline, the savviest pol at VRDC, and Allen Roskoff, who helped Schwartz win the state committee race, and who has worked for both Mark Green and Andrew Cuomo.

Roskoff has signed up as a consultant for Derr, who can also count on Cline. Schwartz remains uncommitted; the trio has a judicial client in Manhattan and a Congressional client in Brooklyn. Schwartz had been district leader and appeared unopposed when two of his formerly close political allies, Duane and Quinn, joined forces with VID’s Assemblymember Deborah Glick (she holds the old Passannante seat) in choosing Hoylman over Schwartz.

In one respect, Schwartz owes Derr. When she chaired CB2, she combined two important committees, Parks and Waterfront, and named Schwartz chair. Schwartz can be politically useful. He has a high IQ, still has a yen for politics, and is adept at raising large campaign funds–as he proved in the state committee race.

So what will Duane do? Or Schwartz? And how about Quinn, although she may want to concentrate on her own contest? It’s just the beginning. Stay tuned.

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