Saturday, May 31, 2008


UP FRONT News May 14, 2008
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
"The paper that can't be bought and can't be sold."

By Tom Weiss

Although my decision to attend Community Board meetings in two New York City neighborhoods on consecutive evenings was not, at least on a conscious level, an act of political masochism, the experience turned out to be somewhat painful to someone, such as myself, who believes in true small "d" democracy. The reality is that the Community Board system, as currently constituted, is a sham. If the realities at Manhattan Community Board 3 (Lower East Side, East Village, Noho) and Community Board 1 (Staten Island North Shore) are indicative of the system as a whole citywide, it is clear that the Boards are little more than vehicles to legitimize the Mayor Michael Bloomberg/City Council Speaker Christine Quinn agenda of over-development, gentrification, economic displacement and, certainly in the case of Staten Island, environmental racism.

Community Board members are not, as they should be, elected by those whom they are supposed to represent. They are appointed by borough presidents, who, regardless of some sensitivities (e.g. in the case of the Manhattan BP Scott Stringer) to for example tenants rights and the rights of ethnic minorities and poor people, are a part of the real estate industry-dominated political establishment, which certainly includes much (but not all) of the New York City Council, whose members influence Community Board choices. And the ethnically diverse North Shore communiites of Staten Island are in particularly disenfranchised shape because the borough is run by a lily-white bi-partisan duopoly, essentially loyal to what I refer to as the Quinnberg Administration.

The system is undemocratic and self-perpetuating and the fact that a symbolic number of occasional dissidents, e.g. City Council wannabe Debi Rose from Staten Island, get appointed to the Board means little. In the case to be discussed here, when push came to shove, Ms. Rose folded to the powers that (for the time being) be.

As far as I am able to tell (outgoing) Staten Island CB 1 Chairman Sean Sweeney handles the non-Board member public less autocratically than Manhattan CB 3 Chairman David McWater, who is described by one experienced Lower East Side anti-gentrification activist as a "bully."

When I arrived early for the Manhattan CB 3 meeting on May 12 at P.S. 20 on Essex Street there was a large crowd of protesters, mostly from Chinatown, gathered outside, watched closely by several police officers. Many of the protesters attended the meeting to express their intense opposition to the NYC Department of City Planning rezoning proposal, which threatens to displace many low income residents of Chinatown. It seems that the Chinatown people are very aware of the fact that, under a series of real estate developer-friendly mayors of both major parties (and in Bloomberg's case, including the so-called Independence Party, once ruled by the racist Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. ideologue Lenora Fulani) over decades, the LES and the East Village are transforming into neighborhoods for the high rise rich and other condomaniacs.

The confrontation at CB 3 was immediate as McWaters attempted to arbitrarily veto the demand by community activist Wing Lam that there be interpreters (for Chinese and Spanish) to translate the report in English made by the DCP representative there. With hundreds of people shouting in unison, "We are not for sale!", there was a near early walk-out before McWaters (who has a streak of Dick Cheney/Hillary Clinton rigidity in him) relented and volunteer translators were recruited from the audience.

As the DCP guy, using a lot of zoning nomenclature unfamiliar to many in the audience, began talking about potential high rise development in the CB 3 district, the chorus of "We are not for sale!" resumed and most of those at the meeting walked out.

Among those at the meeting were people such as Rona Lu from the broad-based grass roots Coalition to Protect Chinatown. They brought with them what they said were petitions with many signatures opposing the DCP re-zoning plan. Perceiving that the CB was merely participating in a "done deal", they left with their petitions.

Also present was community activist Susan Howard of the Norfolk Street Block Association and an anti-gentrification and anti-bar proliferation veteran - along with (not at the meeting)
musician/activist Rebecca Moore of the Ludlow/Orchard Community Organization, aka LOCO and "Take It to the Bridge." It is apparent that the historically politically separated LES and Chinatown communities are getting together.

I spend much time in Lower Manhattan and am a former loft tenant, having lived in Soho, Noho, and Tribeca, now thoroughly gentrified thanks to developer greed and sellouts by self-appointed fifth column tenant "leaders" such as Mike ("The Knife") McKee and Chuck ("Ol' Loophole") Delaney and their "liberal" politician friends. CB 1 in Manhattan essentially rolled over and let the developers have their way to make Tribeca a neighborhood for the Robert DeNiros of this world.

I've been to a number of Manhattan CB 3 meetings and have seen how people such as Ms. Howard and Ms. Moore, even when they are allowed to exercize their constitutional rights, have been marginalized.

It may however be more difficult to marginalize a politically aroused Chinatown.

On Tuesday May 13 I attended a meeting of Staten Island CB 1 at the All Saints Episcopal Church at 2329 Victory Blvd. in the Willowbrook neighborhood. I recently also attended a meeting of the Board's Land Use Committee, chaired by Christopher Rooney. That meeting, held at the Board's offices at 1 Edgewater Plaza in Clifton, featured a presentation by the Mayor's people of a major project for St. George for the construction of a new courthouse - and a mega-garage for up to 600 hundred cars.

At the Land Use Committee hearing, during the public comment section, I expressed the view that there is absolutely no reason for a garage of that size in an area easily accessed by mass transit, including the ferry, the train, and a plethora of buses. I reminded the people there that garages attract motorized vehicles, that motorized vehicles cause air pollution and that air pollution causes cancer and other diseases.

One of the presenters, Scott Sigal, agreed that I had made a good point but added that the garage proposal had already received what he vaguely referred to as "community" support.
I later learned that among a modest number of groups (representing how many people?)
supporting the garage were the St. George Civic Association and the Ancient Order of Hiber-nians. (I don't know if that is the same group as the Hibernians who organize the Manhattan St. Patrick's Day Parade. If it is, then taking into account the Hibernian's refusal to permit gays to march in their parade, perhaps gay politicians such as the otherwise human rights-hostile Quinn and her pal State Assemblyman Matthew Titone - aka "the worst state legislator in 'the worst state legislature in the country'" - should refuse to park in the garage out of protest.)

Community outreach in Staten Island, as it turns out, is as selective as it is in Lower Man- hattan. Garage defenders suggest that the Staten Island Advance has publicized garage-re- lated meetings. So what? The reality is that the Staten Island Advance (a property of an apparently human rights and First Amendment-hostile billionaire media mogul named Donald Newhouse) is the most politically censored daily paper in New York. It is not widely read in Staten Island's communities of color (except maybe for its supemarket ads which, I must confess, are of Pulitzer Prize quality) and is understandably regarded in very negative terms by much of the African-American community, much of which lives in North Shore, including my neighborhood of Stapleton, within easy breathing distance of the planned garage.

I am a member of the largely African-American First Central Baptist Church in Stapleton.
The Pastor, Rev. Demetrius Carolina, although he lives in New Jersey, spends much of his time at his jobs at the church in Staten Island and as a college teacher in Lower Manhattan.
In his pastorial capacity he could probably write a biblical book to follow Lamentations and
call it "Inhalations." In my brief discussion with him on the garage matter he immediately concurred with my views as regards "environmental racism", which involve the willful concen- tration of pollution-generating facilities in communities of color. Indeed the current issue of the New York Press has a front page article headlined, "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Choking", about the devastating health consequences of environmental racism in the
South Bronx.

I got a lot of applause in response to my statement before a very well attended Staten Is-
land CB 1 meeting. On my way to the meeting by coincidence I shared the Bus #62 ride with First Central Baptist Church member Marilyn Averett, who is also a member of the CB. For some reason she was under the impression that the garage had already been built. At the very least Ms. Averett, a St. George resident who seemed most concerned that she would have a parking space, needs to do her CB research. I told her that I think that a much smaller garage should take into account the needs of community residents, merchants and delivery people. The judges, lawyers, politicians (including those appearing as charged offenders) and jury people can take mass transit.

During my perhaps two minute presentation, as I mentioned the relevance of the environ-mental racism aspect, I noticed African-American activist Debi Rose nodding in agreement. When, however, it came to speaking up as Mr. Rooney's Land (Ab)Use Committee was about the railroad through the garage endorsement (sort of like a Land Use committee in Beijing in connection perhaps with the Olympic Games, an enterprise that has led to the displacements of a reported 2 million people, or one in Lhasa relocating Tibetans out of their land), both Ms. Rose and Ms. Averett were silent.

At this point, as far as I am aware, none of the governmental environmental agencies, federal, state, or city, have conducted an impact examination.

The proposed St. George Courthouse garage is an example of environmental racism in the service of the comforts of some judges and high fee lawers. It needs to be significantly downsized.
And the Community Boards need to be democratized.
No inhalation without representation!
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