District 8
East Harlem, Upper West Side, Mott Haven

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District 8 - Philip Reed
105 East 116th Street, 10029
City Hall: (212) 788-6960
District: (212) 828-9800
Fax: (212) 722-6378

Committee Assignments:
Consumer Affairs, Chair
Cultural Affairs, Libraries & International Intergroup Relations, member
Governmental Operations, member
Health, member
Public Safety, member
Standards & Ethics, member

Corruption Is Not Dead At The Tweed Courthouse

By Philip Reed

The newly renovated Tweed Courthouse is a beautiful, old building that looms behind City Hall. With its stunning architecture and history as a symbol of old-fashioned city graft, one might be tempted to support former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's plan to make the Tweed Courthouse the new home for the Museum of the City of New York.

But strip away our former mayor's current cache and the glossy architectural renderings, and a different, very troubling picture of the project emerges. In reality, this grandiose scheme was developed below the public's radar, deliberately sidestepping the usual channels of oversight.

Five years ago, the cost for just the renovation of the Tweed Courthouse was budgeted at $36 million, but the final price tag has ballooned to nearly $90 million, a 150 percent increase. Now, if the proposed transfer of the Museum of the City of New York from its current home on upper Fifth Avenue to downtown is carried out, it will require an additional $50 million and the demolition of $10 million worth of just completed work, bringing the total cost to $140 million.

This is not a pretty picture, and it is illegal.

According to Giuliani's own hand-picked architect for the renovation, John Waite, this plan would violate the building's existing landmark status and destroy much of the history that the expensive renovation was supposed to have preserved.

With the city's coffers seriously strained, school buildings crumbling, homeless shelters overflowing, and the fear of unemployment growing, continuing with this extravagant and ill-conceived expenditure reminds me of the infamous words of Marie Antoinette: "Let them eat cake."

The backers of this plan argue that relocating the museum to the Tweed Courthouse will increase attendance at the museum and bolster economic development downtown. But even if attendance were a problem at the museum, the city should find ways of encouraging more people to head uptown, and to other culturally rich parts of the city besides the lower half of Manhattan, for their cultural enjoyment.

Furthermore, the small benefit that this plan affords the economy of Lower Manhattan ought to be weighed against the damage done uptown where residents of East Harlem would be left bereft of a beloved cultural institution and staring forlornly at the boarded-up windows of the abandoned museum.

Presently, the Museum of the City of New York constitutes one of the centerpieces of a burgeoning cultural hub in East Harlem. It is situated near the northern tip of Museum Mile, virtually next door to El Museo del Barrio and the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts, and a few blocks from where the Museum of African Art is planning to move.

The significance of cultural institutions like these goes far beyond just the experiences and knowledge they impart to their visitors. They also sustain, create, and transform the identities of their locales. They are gateways to economic development, attracting consumers and businesses. They provide direct services to the community, including youth programming, concerts, and employment opportunities. They are sources of pride to locals, acting as landmarks and memorials to their neighborhoods. Over time a cultural institution becomes just like a neighbor.

The museum defines its neighborhood -- the neighborhood, its museum.

Apart from the direct damage that will be done to East Harlem should the museum be snatched away, a disturbing policy precedent would be set for how this city is to be run. This plan promises nothing less than one community's future being sacrificed to benefit another's.

The underlying message to East Harlem residents is that our communities are expendable. What would people be saying if Giuliani had suggested that the New York Historical Society on West 77th Street and Central Park West move to the Tweed Courthouse?

The renovation has been completed -- however extravagant -- but the transfer of the museum has not. Our new city government -- the mayor, the comptroller, and the City Council -- has an ethical and a fiduciary obligation to stop this reckless proposal from going any further.

Within days of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's swearing-in, he said "no" to the plans to build new stadiums for the Yankees and the Mets because of our fiscal crisis.

We can find much more efficient and constructive use for the Tweed, including making it a library and a showcase for historic city documents or creating exhibitions to promote city attractions in all five boroughs. Proceeding with the moving of the museum flies in the face of the city's present fiscal reality and fosters the belief of many that all communities in this city are not treated equally.

Philip Reed represents City Council district 8. Posted March 18, 2002

Community Boards for District 8
(Bronx) Community Board No. 1
384 E. 149th St., Ste. 320, Bronx, NY 10455
(718) 585-7117
Mr. George Rodriguez, Chair
Mr. Cedric Lofton, District Manager
Community Board No. 7
250 W. 87th St., 2nd Fl., NY, NY 10024
(212) 362-4008
Mr. Larry Horowitz, Chair
Ms. Penny Ryan, District Manager
Community Board No. 11
55 E. 115th St., NY, NY 10029
(212) 831-8929/30
Mr. David Givens, Chair
Javier Llano, District Manager

Community Plans for District 8 (PDF format)
Transportation Plan - East 125th Street Enhancement Study (CIVITAS)

197-a plan - New Directions: East Harlem Triangle, Randall's and Wards Island (Manhattan Community Board 11)

197-a plan - The Village of Harlem (Community Board 10)

Waterfront Revitalization and Access Plan - Comprehensive Manhattan Waterfront Plan (Manhattan Borough President's Office)

Ethnic Makeup and Political Registration

Ethnic Makeup

Political Registration

Public Schools

Elementary Schools

Middle Schools

High Schools

To find out what school district you live in, call the Board of Education at 718-935-2000 or link to Public School Reports

Police Precincts

Although many precincts cover areas solely within one City Council district, there are many which overlap with other districts. In most cases the overlap of precincts among districts is no more than a few blocks. Wherever there is overlap, we have made sure to alert you.

City Parks
Click thumbnail for larger image of parks in this district

Learn more about the condition of the city parks in your district at the New Yorkers for Parks (PDF file).

Community Gardens

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Find out more about community gardens from
the Council on the Environment of New York City

Historic Districts and Landmarks
Learn more about the historic districts and landmarks in this area.

The Waterfront

map listing suggestions for use and improvement of the waterfront in this district from the Metropolitan Waterfront
Alliance. (pdf format only)