Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Government

Quinn Selected As New Speaker


05.012.25790

In an emotional speech in a crowded chamber, Councilmember Christine Quinn accepted her selection as the new Speaker of the City Council. Quinn is only the third person to hold the position since it was created and the council was overhauled by a 1989 charter revision. She is the first woman and first openly gay person to be named as speaker.

Quinn’s voice cracked as she thanked her father Lawrence and partner Kim. “I am incredibly proud that in the most diverse city in the world, diversity is seen as a strength – not an impediment,” she said as she she wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue and council members gave her a standing ovation.

Councilmember Leroy Comrie, who had been a candidate for the speaker position, hailed Quinn as a "tireless fighter for our most needy.” He cited her work on homelessness, services for senior citizens and pediatric health care.

“You have made us the tallest, proudest women in the City of New York, the State of New York,” said Councilmember Diana Reyna, referring to the 15 female council members besides Quinn.

The vote was largely a formality. Over the past couple of days, council members and Democratic county leaders from Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn negotiated behind the scenes before pledging support for Quinn and ensuring her victory.

The council approved Quinn by a vote of 50 to 0, with one absention. Councilmember Charles Barron disagreed, he said, not with the nomination of Quinn, but with what he saw as outside interference by county political organizations, businesses, organized labor and special interest groups.

“Speaker Quinn is a hard working, progressive council member who I intend to work productively with to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people of New York City,” Barron said. “Having said that, the process by which one becomes a speaker is flawed… It can not continue to be all about who gets what chairs and assignments to what committees... I hope that this is the last time the county chooses our leader.”

New Council Agenda

In her acceptance speech, Quinn did not present a detailed agenda for the next four years, but she did mention some broad issues that will be important in her term as speaker.

For recent immigrants, “we are a critical lifeline to needed services,” she said.

To address constituents’ problems, she suggested “using technology to find patterns of problems across the city,” which could help “direct economic development money to those communities that need it most.”

Quinn also said the council should focus on “a more rational budget process,” and commit to working on issues of public safety, education and housing.

And she pledged her support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new war on guns in the city, which reportedly often stream in from other states.

“Mr. Mayor, I will go anywhere you need to stop the flow of illegal guns into this city,” said Quinn.

New Members, Minority Leader and Other Appointments

Eight new members of the council were also officially sworn in: Rosie Mendez (district 2), Dan Garodnick (district 4), Jessica Lappin (district 5), Melissa Mark Viverito (district 8), Inez Dickens (district 9), James Vacca (district 13), Thomas White (district 28), and Darlene Mealy (district 41).

Councilmember James Oddo was once again named to the position of Minority Leader and will represent the three Republican members of the City Council.

“Give us a chance and you might be pleasantly surprised,” said Oddo, who recalled how he and Quinn began working as staff members at the council at the same time in 1992. “You may have distain for Republicans in Albany and Washington, but I think you will find we aren't your enemy, and many times, we can be your ally.”

The only committee assignments named at the meeting were for the Rules, Privileges, and Elections committee, which will be charged with making any changes to the rules and procedures that govern the council. Some members have called for more openness in the budget and legislative process, urging the new speaker to give up some power in order to create a more “democratic” legislative body.

The Rules, Privileges and Elections committee will be chaired by Leroy Comrie. Its members are: Christine Quinn, Joel Rivera, Lewis Fidler, Bill deBlasio, Inez Dickens, Melinda Katz, David Weprin, Maria Baez, Michael McMahon, James Oddo, Daniel Garodnick, and Diana Reyna.

Rule changes and other new committees will be announced and voted on at the next meeting, scheduled for January 18, 2005.

Campaign 2005 Primary Day: Guide for the Last Minute Voter


How do you make your decisions on Election Day?

Do you watch candidate debates and consider their positions on issues such as education, health care and housing -- or choose based on name recognition, ethnic pride, or "intuition"?

Do you read newspaper editorials, watch television ads, read campaign literature, listen to recommendations from your union, your sister, a friend?

Or, like most New Yorkers, do you not vote at all?

For those New Yorkers who plan to vote but still have many questions about this year's local election, Gotham Gazette offers the following guide to Primary Day, September 13, 2005. And on the night of the primary and in the days after, see Gotham Gazette's Election Results.

I. WHAT IS ON THE BALLOT

 

II. WHAT AFFECTS VOTER DECISIONS

 

III. WHAT TO DO ON ELECTION DAY

 

WHO IS RUNNING?

Mayor

Six Democrats are running for mayor this year. The four major candidates are Former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. Two less-known candidates - Christopher Brodeur and Arthur Piccolo - are also running. (Click here to learn more about the candidates running for mayor.)

Although Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seeking reelection, he does not face a primary because he was successful in knocking his Republican challenger Thomas Ognibene off the ballot.

Public Advocate

The public advocate is the second-highest official in the city, a "watchdog" over the mayor and the rest of city government. This year, five Democrats are challenging incumbent Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. Gotbaum's critics not only question the incumbent's record, but what public advocate is, what it should be, and if the job should exist at all. (Click here to learn more about the race.)

Manhattan Borough President

One of the most crowded races this year is for Manhattan Borough President, a position with little real power, but one that many politicians are still seeking. Nine Democrats are vying for the borough president seat in Manhattan. (Read more about the race.) However, there are NO party primaries for Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island Borough President.

City Council

Although all 51 City Council members must run for reelection this year, there are only 25 primary races on September 13 - all of them for the Democratic nomination. In the other 26 races the incumbent's name won't appear on the ballot until the General Election.

The most competitive races are for six open seats in which the incumbent must leave office because of term limits. (Click here for articles on the open seats and other competitive races.)

Manhattan District Attorney

Robert Morgenthau, at the age of 86, is seeking his ninth term as Manhattan's chief prosecutor. Former State Supreme Court Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder is trying to unseat him. (Click here to about the race.)

Brooklyn District Attorney

Current Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes faces three Democratic challengers this year - Arnie Kriss, Mark Peters, and John Sampson - who say Hynes has not done enough to root out corruption. (Click here to learn more about the race.)

Surrogate's Court

Surrogate's Court Judges oversee wills and estates and also consider adoptions in New York City. Earlier this year, Brooklyn Surrogate's Michael Feinberg was kicked off the bench for corruption, and three Democrats are now seeking the Brooklyn seat. In Manhattan, a sitting Surrogate's Court Judge has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, so two Democrats are seeking that seat.

Civil Court Judge

In Brooklyn, voters will have a chance to vote in a Democratic primary for Civil Court judge. One countywide seat and two seats in district 3 and 6 are vacant.

Political Party Positions

For many voters, the most confusing thing on Primary Election ballot is the long lists of candidates running for obscure political party positions. This year, Democrats and Republicans will be asked to vote for male and female district leaders, state committee members, and delegates to judicial conventions.

These are positions within the parties.

District leaders are chosen to head up the local party within an assembly district. They serve as a liaison to the political clubs and ensure that the party structure is operating on a local level. In Brooklyn, Democratic district leaders elect the powerful county leader and hire the paid inspectors that control polling sites on Election Day.

State committee representatives report to the State Democratic Party of New York and vote on party matters.

And judicial convention delegates are a group of party loyalists who attend a convention to approve candidates for judicial elections. However, these conventions are often just a formality, since the party leaders nominate the candidates they want. (Find out more about judgeships and judicial conventions in the Judges Game.)

It is difficult to find out any information about these candidates. Few of them actively campaign and information varies from district to district. Some local political clubs can give you information (although they will likely promote specific candidates.) The Board of Elections also has a full list of the people running (in .pdf format).

WHO IS RUNNING IN YOUR CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT?

To find who is running in your City Council district:

  1. Go to Gotham Gazette's Campaign 2005 section
  2. Go to "Find Your District" on the right hand side of the page.
  3. Type in your address and zip code.
  4. Click "Go."

 

On the district page, you will find a list of candidates running, information about their campaign contributions, candidate biographies, and an archive of news stories from the campaign trail.

You can also click on the link to the Campaign Finance Board's Voter Guide located on each district page for more information about the people running in your neighborhood.

WHICH CITY COUNCIL RACES ARE COMPETITIVE?

In New York City it is difficult to unseat an incumbent City Council member. They generally have more campaign contributions, more political support from clubs and unions, and better name recognition. Many do not even face opponents this year. For example, Councilmember Simcha Felder is running as a Democrat, Republican and Conservative in district 44. In Queens district 27, Leroy Comrie will appear on four party lines: Democrat, Republican, Independent, and Working Families.

However, there are seven open seats where the incumbent is leaving office this year.

On the Upper East Side, City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz is leaving her district 4 seat to run for Borough President, and four Democrats are hoping to succeed her.

In East Harlem, an actor, a former firefighter, a TV broadcaster, a union leader, and the head of a charter school are running for the district 8 seat where Phil Reed is barred from running again because of term limits.

In Central Brooklyn, 64-year-old former State Assemblymember William Boyland Sr. is coming out of retirement to try to keep the seat his daughter is vacating in the family. Nine Democrats are challenging the Boyland dynasty.

One of the most bizarre races is in Richmond Hill, Queens, where three Democrats are trying to unseat district 28 City Councilmember Allan Jennings, who was charged with sexually harassing his female employees. However, several of the challengers have also problematic backgrounds: one faces charges of corruption and another has been accused of physically assaulting another candidate.

For more competitive City Council races, see Campaign 2005.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?

The mayor and other officials who are elected to run the city government for the next four years face significant challenges.

On education: New York City has 1.1 million school children, but only about half graduate on time.

On housing: Nearly a quarter of renters pay more than 50 percent of their incomes for housing. And the city also has a record number of homeless people, about 35,000 people in the city's shelters, 25 percent more than four years ago.

And on transportation: The last new subway line opened in New York City nearly 65 years ago.

To highlight some of these issues that are - or are not - being discussed in the campaign, Gotham Gazette did a series of articles on the challenges facing the city over the next four years. Several of them also explain candidates' views or track record on the issue. Read our Campaign 2005 articles on:

Arts
Civil Rights
Crime
Education
Environment
Finance
Health
Housing
Immigrants
Land Use
Social Services
Transportation
Voting
Waterfront

WHAT ARE THE MAYORAL CANDIDATES SAYING?

In the race for mayor, the four major Democratic candidates - Fernando Ferrer, C. Virginia Fields, Gifford Miller, and Anthony Weiner - are challenging Mayor Michael Bloomberg's record and trying to convince voters that it is time for a change.

But how do they really differ on the issues? And how do their plans compare with the mayor's?

With Gotham Gazette's Mayoral Issue Grid, voters can compare the candidate's agenda on more than a dozen issues, including civil rights, education, housing, immigration, and transportation.

Those who want even more details on a specific topic can read the transcripts of debates and forums where candidates answered questions about poverty, parks, budget and taxes, gay and lesbian issues, and historic landmarks. (Click here for a complete list of debate transcripts.)

HOW DO VOTERS CHOOSE A CANDIDATE?

The question of how voters make their decisions is as old as democracy itself. Political scientists study voter behavior; pollsters try to predict it; and political consultants charge thousands of dollars for their experience.

But most experts agree that the most effective way to reach a voter is through personal contact by someone who is known or trusted by the voter.

"The degree to which voters think a candidate understands and responds to them are every bit as important as issues, " said John Mollenkopf, professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Political science professors and consultants say that in some cases television ads or campaign literature can also be valuable tools in reaching voters, gaining name recognition, and getting a message out to large numbers of people.

Debates can be a helpful way to see a candidate respond to questions or criticism, but not many voters actually watch them.

The reality is that most New Yorkers don't vote. In 2001, only 15 percent of all New Yorkers eligible to vote made Michael Bloomberg the mayor in 2001. And many City Council races draw just a few thousand voters out of the 150,000 people represented in each district.

WHO IS ENDORSING WHOM?

Some voters take their cues from others - unions, newspapers, civic organizations, or politicians - who choose to endorse certain candidates.

Some endorsements matter more than others.

"Union endorsements have a significant impact on what members do, less on their families and others," said Mollenkopf. "Newspaper editorials mostly help when they confirm what someone is thinking of doing anyway,"

See Gotham Gazette's Endorsement Grid.

ARE YOUR ELIGIBLE TO VOTE?

New Yorkers must be registered with either the Democratic or Republican party to vote in the September 13 primary of your party. If you did not register by the August 19 deadline, you are not eligible to vote.

WHERE DO YOU VOTE?

Registered voters should receive an orange post card in the mail with the address of their polling place. If you did not, try the Board of Elections' online poll site locator, which is new this year. You can also try calling the Board of Elections at 1-866-VOTE NYC.

Polls open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 9:00 p.m.

On their website, the Board of Elections also has instructions for how to work the voting machine.

Absentee ballot applications can be obtained calling the Board of Elections at 1-866-VOTE-NYC, e-mailing a request to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Those who wish to vote by absentee ballot have two choices:

- Deliver by mail: To be counted, an absentee ballot must be postmarked by the day before Primary Day, September 12 and must reach the Board of Elections no more than seven days after the election. - Deliver in person: You can drop off an absentee ballot at one of the Board of Elections borough offices by 9:00 p.m. on Primary Day.

WHAT ARE YOUR VOTING RIGHTS?

The New York Voter's Bill of Rights guarantees the right to:

Vote: The right to vote includes voting for candidates and questions on the ballot.

Have Your Vote Count: Vote on a voting system that is in working condition and that will allow votes to be accurately counted.

Secrecy in Voting: Secrecy in voting will be preserved for all elections.

Freedom in Voting: Cast your vote, free from coercion or intimidation by poll workers or any other person.

Permanent Registration: Once registered to vote, you will continue to remain qualified to vote from an address within your county or city.

Accessible Elections: Non-discriminatory equal access to the election system for all voters, including the elderly, disabled, alternative language minorities, military and overseas citizens, as required by federal and state laws.

Assistance in Voting: You may ask for help in voting because of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write.

Instructions in Voting: You can view a sample ballot in this polling place prior to voting, and before entering the machine, you may request help in how to operate the machine.

Absentee Voting: If you will be out of your county of residence on Election Day, or are unable to go to your polling place due to illness or physical disability, you may cast an absentee ballot.

Affidavit Voting: Whenever your name does not appear in the official poll book, you will be offered an affidavit ballot.

WHAT DO FIRST TIME VOTERS NEED TO KNOW?

New voting regulations may cause confusion at the polls.

New Yorkers who registered to vote for the first time via mail after January 1, 2003, may be asked to provide identification, such as a driver's license, when they go to the polls.

Those without a driver's license can also offer a copy of one of the following:

  • a valid photo ID
  • a current utility bill
  • a bank statement
  • a government check or other government document that shows the voter's name and address.

 

Those who don't have any form of identification or refuse to supply one will be allowed to vote on paper ballot, not in the machines, according to the Board of Elections. Those votes will be counted if they are verified to match registration forms.

The new rule is part of the federal Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed after the turmoil in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

WHAT IF YOU ENCOUNTER PROBLEMS AT THE POLLS?

If a poll worker says you are not on the list, ask an inspector to verify that you are at the correct Election and Assembly District for your address. If you believe that you are eligible to vote, you can ask for a paper or affidavit ballot. After the election, the Board of Elections will check its records and your vote will be counted if you are deemed eligible to vote and were at the correct polling site.

The Board of Elections says that it has increased efforts to make polling places accessible for senior citizens and handicapped voters, but they admit that there are still problems at some sites. Voters who feel that their polling site is inaccessible should call the Voter Registration Unit of their local borough office for information.

If you encounter problems at the polls, call one of the following places:

- League of Women Voters Election Day Hotline: 212-725-3541
- New York Public Interest Research Group: 212-822-0282
- New York Civil Liberties Union: 212-344-3005

For assistance in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Hindi, Khmer and English, call the Asian American Legal Defense Fund at 800-966-5946.

HOW DO YOU FIND OUT WHO WON?

On the night of the Primary Election and in the days after, visit Gotham Gazette's Election Results.

 

9/11 And ''Inappropriate Art''


 

George Negroponte once met an ironworker who had helped dismantle the last remnants of the Twin Towers after the terrorist attack of September 11th, an experience that changed the man’s life in two main ways -– he suffered a disability, and he enrolled in art school. “He is now working full-time as an artist,” Negroponte said. “I’ve heard so many stories about so many people finding the need to have an artistic response.”

This was one reason why Negroponte wanted to be involved in what he calls “the intersection between culture and rebuilding” –- a reason why the Drawing Center, a small museum founded in 1977 of which Negroponte is the president, was one of more than 100 cultural institutions to apply to be part of the new World Trade Center site. The Drawing Center was one of four that was chosen some 18 months ago.

It is one of the two -- the other is the International Freedom Center -- that will probably be kicked out. They are being accused of wanting to exhibit work that is unpatriotic, unAmerican or...inappropriate.

INAPPROPRIATE

Judging from the many harsh words lately, September 11th has spawned a new art movement - Inappropriate Art:

  • The Drawing Center and the International Freedom Center are "inappropriate institutions for a site where so many have died."
  • "The International Freedom Center plans to host controversial debates and sponsor inappropriate programming involving the Tribeca Film Festival."
  • "So long as there is but one square inch housing dialogue, debates, artistic impressions, or exhibits about extraneous historical events, the International Freedom Center is inappropriate and a slap in the face to the victims, their families, and everyone affected by the Sept. 11th attacks"

All three comments are from the Web site for Take Back The Memorial , an organization created after a former lawyer and Court TV producer named Debra Burlingame, the sister of the pilot whose plane was crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal in June attacking the International Freedom Center, or IFC.

Their campaign -- aided by a drumbeat of blunt attacks from the tabloids (one Post editorial: "...anti-American activism of the sort implicitly embedded in the IFC and the Drawing Center is inappropriate at any memorial site") -- got results. The Drawing Center has announced it is looking at other options, and the International Freedom Center has been given a deadline of September 23rd in effect to satisfy its critics; since its critics only want exhibitions directly related to 9/11, it is difficult to see how the International Freedom Center can satisfy them.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who objected to the latest turn of events, nevertheless said: "The challenge for the curators is going to be: given the context of where these cultural institutions are, what's appropriate here?''

Whatever else this particular controversy has illustrated, it is just the latest trouble to visit the four cultural structures of the new World Trade Center site. One way or another, the future of all four of them -- the memorial, the memorial museum, the performing arts center, and the cultural building -- is unclear.

"It remains to be seen how it will play out,” says Petra Todorovich, senior planner and coordinator of Civic Alliance, the sponsors of the “Listening To The City” workshops that attracted nearly 5,000 people three years ago to participate in the initial planning for Ground Zero. They will soon hold two similar workshops for the public to react to the preliminary designs for the Memorial Museum.

9/11 AND THE USES OF ART

The arts have been part of September 11th from the beginning, when makeshift shrines and spontaneous walls of "Missing" posters sprouted all over the city.

There was some talk of "appropriate" art even then - Clear Channel Communications reportedly circulated a list of 150 songs deemed inappropriate for broadcast on their radio stations - but the urgency to create took precedence, and impressed many people, especially those professionally involved in the arts.

It taught art critic Arthur Danto, he says, that "even the most ordinary people respond to tragedy with art." Danto is the curator of "The Art of 9/11," an exhibition of a dozen well-known artists, at apexart, in Tribeca.

It helped Radhika Subramaniam see that "art is used as healing, and for memory, and for telling stories.” Subramaniam is the curator of "What Comes After: Cities, Art + Recovery", which through panel discussions, art exhibitions and performance pieces, looks at the role of art in cities affected by catastrophe around the world. There are times, she learned, when art can literally save somebody. During Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia, a painter named Vann Nath was put in a prison where nearly 20,000 inmates were killed; only seven survived. Vann Nath was one of the seven, because his guards, discovering his talent, kept him alive to paint portraits of the dictator. Art saved him again, in a different way, when the new government asked him to paint scenes from his prison experiences.

By the first anniversary of September 11th there were dozens of songs and theater pieces, hundreds of museum exhibitions , and countless memorials, many of them identified as temporary, but some of them permanent.

The urge of those affected by September 11th to create showed Kay Turner, a folklorist on the staff of the Brooklyn Arts Council, that “some people have a need to forget, but a lot of people have a need to process. Art casts things in light of metaphor, and becomes a source of understanding.”

At the third anniversary last year, Turner said, “I was very moved to see lots of new spontaneous memorials. It doesn’t happen when the tourists are there during the rest of the year. But it still happens on anniversaries."

Turner, moderator for "Art of Memory/Art of Memorial,” a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Historical Society on September 10th, wonders whether there will be a place for this kind of "spontaneous expression" in the rebuilt World Trade Center site.

But art as a palliative and outlet for tragedy is not its only intended use at Ground Zero. If, as the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s “Report on the Memorial Center and Cultural Complex” pointed out, “culture has the potential to infuse the redevelopment with hope and energy drawn from the human spirit,” it also offers the possibility of drawing visitors, and new residents, to Lower Manhattan. “A lot of people see the arts as an asset that is underutilized in Lower Manhattan,” said Petra Todovich, “that could be enhanced to revitalize the neighborhoods. If it becomes a cutting-edge place to experience arts and culture, it could bring people down to discover other assets."

THE STATE OF THE ARTS AT GROUND ZERO

If few New Yorkers know that there are four separate cultural structures planned for the World Trade Center site, even those who have been following carefully couldn’t say where they are and where they are going.

1. The Memorial

"Reflecting Absence" was selected in January, 2004 as the memorial to commemorate September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993 (the earlier terrorist attack at the World Trade Center), after the largest design competition in history, with proposals by 5,201 individuals from 63 nations and 49 states. The winner, a young architect named Michael Arad, who was working for the New York City Housing Authority, designed two sunken pools where the Twin Towers had stood, with an austere plaza in-between.

There were immediate objections. Some said that the design violated Daniel Libeskind's original conception, in which the memorial would be sunken rather than at ground level. Others said the site was too barren. Victims' families argued over whether the names of firefighters and other emergency workers should be placed separately from the others who died.

Within weeks, the plan had been revised , Arad paired with landscape architect Peter Walker to surround the pools with a lush garden of trees and plantings – “oak, sweetgum, grass, moss and groundcover,” Walker has explained.

Of all the projects on the site, the six-acre memorial probably attracts the least controversy now, though there remain some quibbles. Still, while the aim is for a groundbreaking at the end of 2006, there are many design issues to work out - " It's not a simple matter to design an underground facility that will have millions of visitors a year and have waterfalls that flow during the winter," one observer points out.

And there is the question of the cost. Initial estimate of planning, building and operating the memorial was put at over $350 million.

2. Memorial Museum

The World Trade Center Memorial Museum will be separate from the Reflecting Absence memorial in tone and, also (at least according to the latest plan) in physical space.

A recent article in the New York Times said that the museum “is beginning to take form.” But then the author explained what he meant: “There is no director, though a national search is under way. No artifacts have been chosen, though a three-volume catalog suggests how many there are to choose. Boundary skirmishes among the users of underground space on the trade center site are settled enough that officials can say the museum will have at least 110,000 square feet of floor area.”

As Petra Todorovich explains, “the museum consultants have put together preliminary ideas of what the story line of this museum might be -– for example, it will take you through the events of the day; there’ll be a contemplation room. The public will have the opportunity to review these ideas, discuss them in small groups, give their feedback.” That is the purpose for a presentation September 15th at the Center for Architecture and the workshops on September 19 and October 11th at the Woolworth Building.

Though Listening to the City attracted some 5,000 participants, the Civic Alliance is expecting only about 200 this time. “This is an opportunity to shape something that’s really still in formation,” Todorovich says.

3.Performing Arts Center

In June, 2004, four cultural institutions, out of 113 that applied, were selected to take up residence in the site of the World Trade Center. Two of them, the Joyce International Dance Center and the Signature Theater Company, were slated to occupy the Performing Arts Center, which would also present the Tribeca Film Festival. The Joyce (which has two other theaters in Manhattan, one in Chelsea, the other in Soho) would present 30 different dance companies from around the world. The Signature, which pioneered the presentation of the work of a single living playwright per season, would operate "three intimate theaters, a café, bookstore, studios for rehearsals and performances, and classrooms."

Once the two institutions were selected, the corporation hired Frank Gehry to design the building.

But in April, the corporation announced that the center would be excluded from the initial $500 million fundraising drive for the World Trade Center site. Wall Street Journal architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable declared this "the final betrayal" in what had been a continuing "downgrading and evisceration of the cultural components" of Daniel Libeskind's original plan -- thanks to those who lack "the courage, or conviction, to demand that the arts be restored to their proper place as one of the city's greatest strengths and a source of its spiritual continuity."

Just recently, LMDC chair John Whitehead announced that the organization would earmark $50 million specifically for the performing arts center. Nevertheless, the unofficial word is that the center is on hold.

Part of the problem is the realization that, because of the small "footprint" in which they have to build, the structure will have to be a tower -- not a typical home for a theater, and expensive to adapt.

But that is not the only reason, some say, there has been little visible progress. It would make sense to wait to see how the current controversies and challenges play out. After all, the Joyce and the Signature not only have nothing to do with September 11th, the Signature is a theater known for the high quality of its productions and its selections. If the Signature Theater produces, say, Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," which uses the Salem witch trials to attack modern-day groupthink and hysteria, will that be seen as unpatriotic or besmirching the memory of September 11th?

4. The Cultural Building

The Drawing Center, which has been in existence since 1977, and the International Freedom Center, which was conceived for the site, were also selected in June of 2004, to occupy the other building, which since has been designed by the Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta.

The troubles began a year after their selection, with the article by Debra Burlingame. They were compounded by articles and editorials in the Daily News that pointed to Drawing Center exhibitions from several years back that it depicted as "silly, self-important, half-baked pieces of 'political art'...You've made a mistake, Governor. Fix it, please. Show these people the door."

Shortly afterward, though he had said that these institutions would "reaffirm life in the wake of tragedy," Governor George Pataki did just that, demanding an "absolute guarantee" that the two institutions would proceed "with total respect for the sanctity of the site." What did this mean exactly? "We're not going to let it turn into something anti-American, anti-freedom or questioning the values of New York..."

INAPPROPRIATE ANNIVERSARY

Apparently flush from their success in protecting the World Trade Center from the possibility of inappropriate art -- and surely not because they felt egged on by the identical tough-guy approach of their competitor -- both the Daily News and the New York Post decided earlier this month to expand their protection and attack "A Knock At The Door," a group exhibition that promised to "explore the relationships between artists and authority in the post 9/11 world" and "raise public awareness of the current retreat of our most basic rights." It is one out of the two dozen or so art exhibitions that are part of "What Comes After: Cities, Art + Recovery" organized by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

"Appropriate - adj., suitable or proper. Inappropriate - adj. unsuitable or improper," a Daily News editorial began. "We repeat these words and definitions here today because the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council appears to be unaware of them." The exhibition was "puerile," "in questionable taste" and "simply inappropriate." Why inappropriate? Because it will be open during September 11th (It's running from September 8 to October 1), and, as an earlier Daily News article explained, is "8 blocks from Ground Zero" -- at the South Street Seaport Museum, to be precise, on the other side of town. A New York Post editorial had expressed much the same sentiments the day before, though stretching in their own way -- attempting (but failing) to demonstrate that the people in charge of the "Knock At The Door" exhibition "are some of the same people shaping" the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center.

Commenting on the likely expulsion of the Drawing Center and the International Freedom Center from the World Trade Center site, architecture critic Paul Goldberger told WNYC: "We like to think of New York as the nation's most cosmopolitan city, a place in which the independence and freedom and values of art and culture are not questioned by anybody, [as if] that debate is over. But that debate is never really over, and Ground Zero is the perfect way to bring that debate back to the fore, even in New York."

The Strength of This City is its Neighborhoods


The four Democratic candidates for mayor discussed issues of historic preservation at a series of forums hosted by coalition of groups, including Landmark West, the Historic Districts Council, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The following is an edited transcript of the candidate’s opening remarks from June 8,2005, and a sample of some of the questions from the audience.

 

Other Candidates Speeches
• C. Virginia Fields:Looking Beyond the Big Ticket Items
• Gifford Miller: Updating the Landmarks Law
• Anthony Weiner: Old New York as a Gateway to the new New York

Over the course of public life, I have been engaged, certainly in the Bronx, in saving and preserving a lot the things that are completely irreplaceable. I could list a record of them, but I don’t view them as a record. I view them as my opportunity to demonstrate some responsible custodianship of the irreplaceable treasures that I was trusted with as borough president for nearly 15 years.

For example, I don’t know how many of you have been to the Stanford White Hall of Fame complex at the old New York University campus at University Heights, now Bronx Community College. That complex has been restored and one of the joys I had as borough president was allocating the funds to restore the auditorium firebombed during the Vietnam War protest below the library. That auditorium was priceless. A real gem. And after the firebombing and the fire damage in the 1970s it was – NYU had done some really horrible fix up on it that lasted until the 90’s – well, it was restored not to its original appearance, because I really wanted it restored to the way it was when I was a freshman going in for orientation, but they did even better. This is a real living part of Bronx legacy.

What’s even more amazing is the report on the Daniel Moynihan train station, if it gets built in our lifetimes. The old post office – they are reserving a back portion of it for high-rise residential development. They are looking to take a piece of that, to cut into the soaring public space inside a newly redesigned station to accommodate this building. Now that’s the thing the landmarks commission was created for and that’s the thing that landmarks preservation movements were created for. To have that restored to a Penn Station, the kind of Penn Station that this city and region deserve, and then have that basically chopped into, just to make someone a few million dollars on the west side of Manhattan is absolutely horrible and must be stopped.

We share a mutual belief about preserving the physical heritage of this city. I believe in those things deeply. I’ve acted them out in my time in public office. And the evidence of that is not a press release, or a ribbon cutting, or a photo opportunity. It is the buildings that we have saved, and the fights that we have won, and some of the fights that we were not completely successful in. I consider it unfinished business to fix PS 31; to get the old Bronx borough courthouse out of private hands and put it back in public hands; to restore that extraordinarily beautiful beaux-arts courthouse structure and return it to community and civic use. Those are the things that governments do with that kind of heritage and that kind of opportunity.

In 2001, Mike Bloomberg spent $74 million of his own personal fortune to get elected. And he rationalized that by saying, I need this to let people know who I am. Well fair enough. I would like to think that the public record I have put together as a public servant over the course of 20 years is worth $74 million, but if he wants to put that kind of price tag on it, God bless.

In 2005, he says, I want to spend $100 million or more. Now I believe that’s to try to make you all forget who he has been in the last three and a half years. I think just that statement, that sentiment under-rates New Yorkers. I think you have seen that the mayor has turned his back nearly completely on the promises he has made about preserving historic New York and doing the things he needs to do as a custodian of this city. For example, convening a hearing. What is so difficult about this? It’s moving the machinery of government to protect something.

Let me talk for a second about 2 Columbus Circle. That’s a controversial building, a controversial design. Some people like it some people don’t. After more than 40 years, some people still like it, some people don’t. And then you are reminded on the streetscape of Fifth Avenue – what would our collective judgment have been, not seeing the building but just the design of the Guggenheim? Some people would have hollered, that just doesn’t fit on Fifth Avenue! And this is somebody’s egocentric expression of art deco fringe stuff? Others would have seen the building and said, how could this iconic example of someone’s creativity, a statement about that moment in our design history, not be on Fifth Avenue? I’m glad the latter attitude won out, because that’s what makes this city so very special. 2 Columbus Circle might not be everybody’s cup-of-tea, but that building is one of the things that makes this city special, and it should be preserved.

GOVERNORS ISLAND

Q: What would you do about Governors Island?

Ferrer: As mayor, I’d want to see what the restrictions for use are for it. If they restrict opportunities, we need to really develop that, and use it, for example, for residential and institutional use – by institutional, I mean higher education, if that is possible, but certainly residential. That would be a lovely place. There’s housing there already. It’s an extraordinary opportunity. When the governor and the mayor announced that they were moving forward on some planning for Governors Island, I was talking with some friends of mine and said, “Well, not unless they can plan an Olympic venue there.” And it turned out to be more true than not. If it didn’t have any interest for the Olympics, it fell to the back burner. By the way, if you look at every development decision in this city, if it had nothing to do with the Olympics, it didn’t get planned. The decision didn’t get made. It’s extraordinary what the threshold for making choices is in this city. In any case, I’d look at it for residential use. People don’t have enough places to live in this city already.

HISTORIC SCHOOLS

Q: The city has never done a survey of schools to find out which ones are historic, which ones are eligible for the national register. Will you press for that survey, order the survey, maintain our schools – the historic schools that we do have – and would you welcome a landmarks commissioner that presses the city to care for its own landmark property?

Ferrer: Well, as mayor, I’d just allocate the money and get the school rebuilt. Now, by the way, I’m astounded that the landmarks community has not beat this mayor up about this issue. He complains – he speaks sometimes movingly – about school overcrowding. PS 31 and PS 109 lay empty. How does he rationalize not fixing those two schools up, especially PS 31? It’s of extraordinary landmark importance. It is a designated landmark. You can ask anybody about that and they’ll say, “You know I’ll do it,” but this is a challenge, also, for the landmarks community, too – for the preservation community. It’s a challenge for the preservation community to hold this mayor’s feet to the fire. I mean, that the building has been empty for five or more years on Grand Concourse is a disgrace. An absolute disgrace.

THE NEXT LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION

Q: Will you promise to guarantee us a commission that will work in a partnership with the preservation community, here and everywhere?

Ferrer: That’s the way I’ve conducted my public life and my public service. I think you need to understand that this is part of a larger issue that I have with this mayor. We’re all employees of the wholly owned subsidiary of Bloomberg Inc. Decisions will be made top-down. It is amazing. You want to get things done, and I want to get things done, too. And I believe things aren’t necessarily top-down. Sometimes they bubble up from communities. That’s the way it ought to be working. He’s changed that way of looking at life in this city in the most subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Here we’re talking about a prime example of it, but we’re hitting the wrong target: the commission members and who he appoints. But it’s the mayor, it’s his attitude. How many of you, by the way, believe that’s a problem, that the landmarks commission will not hear these things because it’s all top-down? And how many of you are prepared to run this mayor back to his private business at the end of this year? If I don’t see the exact same set of hands here, there’s a problem here. There’s a disconnect.

Q: The chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission has said that, if you look at Manhattan, it has more protected landmarks than the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens combined. Do you believe that this unequal protection under the law is a crime? And what would you do to change and address the fact that some people who live in some neighborhoods get landmarking and other people don’t?

Ferrer: People who’ve worked with me to try to designate the Grand Concourse as a historic district, to protect the nature and quality of those art deco buildings – in fact, the largest collection of art deco facades anywhere, right there on the Grand Concourse – they’ll remember our efforts to try to do it and Rudy Giuliani’s successful efforts to prevent that. And there were others as well. Yankee Stadium would be a great place, well, for obvious reasons – although I’m angry at them for the last nine or ten games – to landmark. I’ve never believed they should leave that stadium. It’s a perfectly fine place to watch a baseball game. That should be part of our outlook on landmarking as well.

That Manhattan has many more designated landmarks than all the other boroughs is troubling, because – I presume you know – I know that communities outside of Manhattan have some extraordinary historic buildings that need to be preserved, that require the protection of our Landmarks Preservation Commission. The landmarks commission has done studies of all the boroughs. These studies are quite old. When I was borough president, I appointed a landmarks task force to review that study and begin to advance to the designation process. A lot of those structures required our help and it seemed that the landmarks commission was absolutely uninterested in doing that. I believe that’s got to change. The job of the landmarks commission is to designate and protect.

PRESERVING CHURCHES

Q: Over the coming years, the Catholic Church, obviously, is going to be closing many parishes and Protestant congregations are dwindling, but the historic church buildings are significant features of many of these neighborhoods. There is reluctance on the part of the commission to get involved in this. It is a very touchy issue. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Ferrer: Well, it’s a touchy issue. I understand it, because with designation and protection never came any grant money. That’s not right. You have not-for-profit institutions that have a building that has to be protected. They’d agree that it would, but they’d also agree that they haven’t got the ability to pay for it. Well, it is in the public interest to designate. It is in the public interest to protect. It is in the public interest to preserve – especially those beautiful buildings that cannot support their own preservation. I think what the preservation community did with St. Thomas Church in Harlem, for example, was extraordinary. And that church was going to be flattened.

FUNDING FOR LANDMARKS

Q: How can the Landmarks Preservation Commission that only has a $3 million budget really be potent in the face of these $100 million plans that developers are coming forward with?

Ferrer: There are two parts to this answer. The answer is they can’t. Not at that level of resources, certainly not at that level of commitment. I want to re-resource that agency and re-empower that agency, and I’m going to give you a challenge right now. Anybody who comes to this microphone in the future and anyone who has had anything to do with this city, ask them why they didn’t.

THE ROLE OF THE COMMUNITY

Q: What would you do as mayor to strengthen community-based planning and the ability of community boards to fulfill their planning capacity?

Ferrer: I’d start abiding by the city charter. Section 197A of the city charter is pretty clear to me. And my philosophy of governing is really very simple. I don’t think that things get done at their best top-down. I think the strength of this city is neighborhoods – and they’ve been doing this for quite some time – being active and equal participants in planning for their own destiny. That’s the way I approach planning in my own borough. When we developed the Melrose Commons plan collaboratively with the community, they made tough decisions with us around the same table – and it worked. It got national awards, and it was the right thing to do. Similarly it’s the right thing to do to abide by 197A plans. They are, and they represent, probably the best example of communities getting involved and planning for their own future.

REZONING NEIGHBORHOODS

Q: What would you do, if elected, that would create something of a comprehensive plan for the city so that there aren’t these spot zonings, major neighborhood-wide rezonings that are surprises to communities that they have to respond to in the form of protest.

Ferrer: It’s happening all over the city, obviously. First of all, let’s take the Olympics as a case. I think it’s been pretty clear that it was right – the observation that any development decision that has nothing to do with the Olympics is not going to get made.

For example, the extension of the number seven subway line. Now, I think extending subway service to the far west side is a fabulous thing to do. It’s a great investment in the economic future of the city. And you intentionally bypass Penn Station? Even a novice transportation planner will laugh you out of their office. It makes no sense. One of the most important transportation hubs in this or any other region, and you bypass it? You bypass New Jersey transit, Amtrak, and Long Island Rail Road? It makes absolutely no sense. But when you look at it in terms of what they’re trying to plan for the Olympics – it will create the Olympic express.

And, of course, this is the mother of all real estate deals. Ah, then it makes perfect sense. It has nothing to do with transportation. It has nothing to do with the efficient, effective, and affordable moving of people around this city and around this region to enhance our economy. Now that’s a shame.

We should have some standards for planning. One of them: does it have a use for this city? I’m sure most of you would agree with me that, well, what city would not be proud to host the Olympics? It would be great. Can we manage to plan for facilities that have some opportunity for re-use after the two weeks of the Olympics are over? That won’t be costing us money simply to maintain and never use?

Can we use this as an opportunity to build great halls, great schools, and great recreation centers, rebuild our aging and falling apart armories that are historic buildings all over this city? I just think there’s a different and better way to approach this. Were I putting forward an Olympic plan for, well, maybe not 2012, but 2016, I’d want communities and public officials to be collaborating in this.

The worst thing that you could do is put forward a plan in secret. The mayor says, over a year ago, it’s a completely private deal, we have nothing to do with this. He said that. It’s a matter of the public record. Anybody remember that?

There’s something else that’s part of it that didn’t quite make the cut of letting the public know. They put the Bronx house of detention, a public building, in that development package. Wait a minute, this isn’t a completely private deal anymore. This is a public deal. Do you remember a council hearing on this issue? Any land use hearings? Any borough president hearings? Any community board hearings? Zero. This isn’t Dan Doctoroff’s personal real estate. It belongs to the city of New York.

People of this city have at least a right to participate in the planning of their own destiny, in being involved in public processes, in putting forward their own ideas for the future of their neighborhoods, and boroughs, and their city. I just see it coming from a different direction. And I think, from my direction these are sustainable plans. These are sustainable because people own them.

It isn’t owned by an unseen, unelected committee of high rollers. It’s owned by people right in the neighborhood. It’s owned by people who you trust, who you’ve elected to represent you in your own neighborhood. There’s accountability. There’s open process. There’s an opportunity to react to these plans. There’s an opportunity to change them, an opportunity to discuss and debate them. That’s as it should be. When we talk about this or any other problem of this city today, you’ve really got to ask yourself, who are these people?

THE REBUILDING OF LOWER MANHATTAN

Q: Could you say something about your strategy and your reflections on the future of lower Manhattan given the impasse over the last three and a half years? How would you envision moving ahead constructively in the best interest of the city in the redevelopment of lower Manhattan?

Ferrer: I remember vividly, after 9/11, everybody was rushing forward with their own plan, their own vision for the old World Trade Center site. I’d come from a planning background, so I’d come up with a different sort of planning framework which was, we’ve got to build there, we’ve got to restore this, and that’s a lot of office space, a lot of commercial space, and the centerpiece of a marketplace down there in lower Manhattan that is still yet to recover.

At the very same time, the people, the private businesses, the employees who occupied those 11 million feet of office space were about ready to walk out the door. We didn’t have enough swing space to accommodate them. I wanted to try to accommodate them in places like the far west side of Manhattan. I’d build class-A office space, keep them there while we proceeded rebuilding lower Manhattan, because we would require people not to make just a momentary commitment, but a generational commitment to lower Manhattan.

Places like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, we needed to get them around the table to stay for not five years or ten years, but for a generation and more to make this work. I think there was certainly the willingness to make that happen. Well, that’s what I purposed, and I got barbequed for it. I got barbequed for it, because I acknowledged that most financial services companies will not put every employee they have in one location. They’ve been dispersing for very interesting sets of reasons. Well, we’ve got to accommodate that as well. We want buildings that will make an important architectural statement, and a statement about us as people on that site, and we want to do that as promptly as we can, and as effectively and efficiently as we can. But we also want to create a healthy and realistic marketplace for everybody in which to survive and thrive. That’s the over-arching idea.

That not one brick has been laid on another in three and a half years has to amount to the worst failure of leadership I have ever seen. The worst. Everybody roles out a new plan, has a new press conference. God almighty. How many news articles have we read about trips to visit other Olympic venues? Come to Athens. The international Olympic committee is coming here. And we haven’t laid one brick on another at the old World Trade Center site? You talk about priorities. This is one of the most glaring examples I’ve seen as a citizen of this city of the kind of inertia on a public work so important, where there was such unanimity about what we needed to do. Extraordinary. Nobody agrees on anything in this city, and yet we agreed on that. We agreed on that, and nothing has been done. It’s extraordinary. We wasted three and a half years on a football stadium on the west side of Manhattan and on the rest of this stuff, and we ended up wasting everybody else’s time. Extraordinary.

Q: What are your plans for lower Manhattan?

Ferrer: I think we should rebuild the 11 million feet of office space. I think that’s important. The developers need to get very busy about pricing. Given that they are getting incentives that are extraordinary, they need to get busy about pricing and tenant it up. That 7 World Trade Center has no anchored tenants is bewildering to me. I think we’ve got to replace that office space.

Having agreed on the master plan developed by Libeskind, we should proceed. We really should. New Yorkers need to make that statement, at that place. And we need to do it promptly. If you are troubled by my not being more specific with you, let me tell you, it’s not my job to be more specific with you – whether it’s 11 million or 12 million feet of office space, who I want to tenant those buildings. Not our job. We’ve got to work very closely with the development community and with the Port Authority and with our state partners on that.

But that we haven’t even paid attention to it as a government in this city, that we haven’t been rolling it along, that everything seems to be an obsessive quest for a stadium and for where we’re going to host the Olympic javelin throw – that’s a monumental waste of our time and this city’s emotional commitment to rebuilding lower Manhattan.

I think what the mayor should do there is work with governors to make sure it gets done, to make sure everyday we’re doing the things that need to be done. Let me give you one other example, because it is a complex matter. When the Goldman Sachs project – now in a little bit of jeopardy – was first reported, it was reported that they objected to the tunnel that was placed under their building.

They’re going to pull out a $2 billion development for 6,000 to 8,000 employees; that was their generational commitment to lower Manhattan. Was no one paying attention to the issues that had developed with respect to the underpass under them? Well, let’s talk about the Freedom Tower for a second. It was reported again, that Police Commissioner Kelly had interposed these security concerns nearly 18 months ago.

WEST SIDE

Q: What would you do as mayor to change the plan for the West Side of Manhattan?

Ferrer: First of all, I wouldn’t waste my time on a West Side stadium, building a publicly funded private stadium that absolutely nobody will be able to get into. I would use those governmental and personal resources to get the World Trade Center rebuilt, and to do development on the west side as it should be done. There are some really strong opportunities there. The first few days of February, I called for all the evangelists of free and open market – I figured all the editorial boards on the right would love this one. Those thirteen or sixteen acres above the Hudson Yards? Have an open, competitive, national and international bid for them. Get everybody in here. Give the MTA maximum value for the last valuable publicly owned asset on this island: the yards. That helps our transit system so that we can fix tracks and switches, relays and stations. But also, it gives us the opportunity to create another city on the far west side of Manhattan, and to do it right. To build a community with housing, and people, and schools, and healthcare. And to do it with people, not in secret. You can’t build in secret. This isn’t a wholly owned subsidiary of Bloomberg, Incorporated. You can’t just swoop down with plans and say this is going to happen because I said it’s going to happen. This is a city where people have something to say about their neighborhoods and the contours of their lives.

CIVIC EDUCATION

Q: Preservation is not just a landmark commission issue, but an issue of the people that use the landmarks. Will you focus on some kind of educational program for the people, perhaps with some kind of agreement with the schools?

Ferrer: I’m not sure that I can get my arms around your entire question, but if you are talking about an aspect of our education in this city that should to relate to what is loosely called “civics” and that being part of it, yes.

But I’ve believed that for a long time. There was, some of you might recall, a sample curriculum developed some years ago for use in our public schools about landmarks in this city, about the city’s cultural heritage. I think that’s an important thing. Kids should grow up in our public school system knowing about this extraordinary city in which we live.

Just a quick story. As an undergraduate, I went to NYU at University Heights, when NYU used to be in a good neighborhood, in the Bronx. The reason I became fascinated with that school was – and it’s a very odd reason. Anybody remember at around 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock in the morning – this was a long time ago – on PBS they had something called sunrise semester? You’re now telling me how old you are, cause they don’t show that anymore. And do you remember the graphic that they had? It was the hall of fame. I was always fascinated by that place. I never knew where it was. When I found out it was in the Bronx, I made it my business to go.

2 COLUMBUS CIRCLE

Q: To turn the subject back to 2 Columbus Circle, I’m wondering – after you’ve saved the building from being renovated – what you plan on doing with it then.

Ferrer: I wouldn’t move the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau back in. There is opportunity to do some important things there. We’d take a look at it. The impulse is to give you an instant, off-the-cuff idea. I just don’t think that works. And I think we’ve got to do that in consultation with an awful lot of people, but it’s an extraordinary landmark. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for use of a building in that strategic part of Manhattan.

BALANCING COMPETING IDEAS

Q: Major institutions with important boards can get any special permits, variances, and certificate of appropriateness they want from the various agencies because of their power. I’d like your suggestions on balancing that.

Ferrer: Let me give you an example in the Bronx again. Anybody remember the Fordham radio tower that was right across the street from the Botanical Gardens? If you were standing behind the conservatory, you could see the thing stick right out of the dome.

The respected boards of Fordham and the garden were fighting, and that’s too bad, because there are good people on both boards. I think this was a bad decision, but they were good people – people who had an interest in not only staying in the Bronx, but making the Bronx better. I understood that.

The radio tower was bad. We had to take a stand on it, and I didn’t concern myself with people given contributions to me when I was borough president on one board or another.

You try to do what’s right. The essence of your question seems to assume that anybody will do anything for a campaign contribution. I want to help you with that. Hold your public officials accountable and tell them to take a stand. Nobody had to tell me to take a stand on that radio tower. I tried to do what was right, and, eventually – after a long, protracted, and expensive battle – they finally did what was right.

Other Candidates Speeches

• C. Virginia Fields:Looking Beyond the Big Ticket Items
• Gifford Miller: Updating the Landmarks Law
• Anthony Weiner: Old New York as a Gateway to the new New York

Looking Beyond the Big Ticket Items


The four Democratic candidates for mayor discussed issues of historic preservation at a series of forums sponsored by coalition of groups, including Landmark West, the Historic Districts Council, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The following is an edited transcript of the candidate’s opening remarks on June 22, 2005, and a sample of some of the questions from the audience.

 

Other Candidates Speeches
• Fernando Ferrer: The Irreplaceable Treasures of the Bronx
• Gifford Miller: Updating the Landmarks Law
• Anthony Weiner: Old New York as a Gateway to the new New York

As a strong supporter and proponent of historic preservation, I look forward to the dialogue and an opportunity to work with you even more on issues that remain open throughout this borough and indeed this city. I am a candidate for mayor running on the basis of my experience, my accomplishments, and my vision for this city.

As most of you know I am in my 16th year as an elected official in city government, having served eight years as a member of the New York City Council, and now in my eighth year as president of the borough of Manhattan. In addition, I served for 10 years as a member of a local community board, and two years as chair of that community board. The work that I have done informs my vision for the city of New York. And my vision for the city of New York is very different from the direction in which I see the city moving.

I want a city that is open, open in terms of opportunities for more, rather than a few. Where we work on the priorities that affect all of our daily lives, affordable housing, education, jobs, and so much more. We are a great city, but I think that we have limited our vision to the big tickets items whether it’s stadiums on the West Side of Manhattan, which I have always been opposed to, or now focusing on stadiums throughout other areas.

We have many challenges before us. How are we going to prepare the next generation so they are on a career path for jobs? How are we going to make it possible for people to live in New York City with the high cost of housing and now with one out of five New Yorkers having to pay more than 50 percent or more for their housing costs? How are we going to maintain communities with character that it makes it possible through preservation initiatives?

I am pleased to have been a part of lobbying, advocating, and facilitating many of the historic districts such as Townsend Heights, Sugar Hill, NOHO, Murray Hill Historic District, Madison Square North, the African Burial Grounds, and Commons Historic District, just to name a few, as well as individual landmarks that include private buildings and public buildings such as schools, libraries, police precincts, firehouses, churches, and synagogues. And at the City Council, I was very pleased to have been a part and a leader in passing the Landmark Protection bill. This gave the landmarks commission the power to seek fines for violations of its regulations.

Like many of you, I came to New York because of the opportunities related to jobs, but I also wanted to be in a place that is historic in terms of buildings, as well as many other issues and contributions that have been advanced and made right here in New York City. So I realize that safeguarding our city’s historic and cultural heritage is important in helping to stabilize communities and I’m very pleased to have been a leader in fighting for so much of that.

I agree that we must do more and government must be a leader in making it happen. With respect to commitment to tax incentives to building owners for restoration work on historic properties, not only do I fully support the state and the federal proposed legislation but would actively lobby in Washington and Albany and work with our congressional and legislative leaders in Albany in an effort to get these tax incentive bills passed.

I also would endeavor to implement a municipal tax incentive program to complement the programs at the state and the federal levels. But further, I would consider a tax credit or subsidy based on need in order to rehabilitate and adapt vacant historic structures. There are vacant historic structures that are left to deteriorate because there are no funds. There are no tax incentive programs that would encourage the refurbishing of vacant historic buildings that may get lost due to total neglect. It would also revitalize public schools where the board of education might not be able to modernize the building or perhaps renovate the building because of costs. So that would be an additional incentive to get these vacant buildings also renovated and upgraded.

With respect to preservation of public buildings, especially historic school buildings, yes, we must do more because indeed they are anchors in city neighborhoods and unfortunately we have lost too many of those building for residential development, homeless shelters, social services programs.

As mayor, I would establish what I call the School Preservation Conservancy, which would be comprised of volunteers, but assigned staff would assist it. This body would be asked to identify schools buildings that need to be considered for historic preservation. We have to put them in a protective program first while decisions are being made. We can do that the very first year of my administration and therefore prevent further demolition or takeover of these buildings while the Landmarks Preservation Commission engages in terms of its review, deciding whether or not based on criteria these buildings are eligible for landmark destinations or the National Register.

Also in my first year, I would create an inventory of all the other historic buildings that we believe should also be evaluated because we’re losing the buildings by not protecting them or identifying them and not acting quickly to protect them.

With respect to funding an independent Landmarks Preservation Commission, I agree that the commission needs more money and the way that we do that is to allocate the necessary funds. It has pained me to see the reduction of dollars for the Landmarks Preservation Commission and a reduction in staff. This reduces the ability of that commission to do enforcement, to do follow up, to schedule the hearings, and move actively on a timely basis with respect to those hearings.

I would look to appoint someone to head up the commission who has relevant experience in the field of preservation, encourage input from communities, and create much more transparency so that all of us know what is happening within the commission. We will hold hearings on issues whether I think they are relevant, whether the commissioners think they’re relevant or not.

I also think that we need to strengthen our outreach and educational programs in the communities talking about landmarks. I certainly experienced this with a lot of churches in Harlem that were proposed to be landmarked. So I think it is important that we go back into the communities and do more of that. We also must increase staff in order to enforce the Landmark Protection bill. I recall in 1990 when I entered the council, that not only was the presence of the activists and the leaders in the landmark preservation community felt, but you played a very significant role in helping to shape policy, moving issues along, and enabling City Council as well as the mayor’s office to get so much more done.

And lastly with respect to zoning reform that reinforces and complements historic neighborhoods, this of course should be done as was done in Tribeca.

There is much more that a mayor can do. I am fully committed to restoring the power, the presence, the value, and strengthening the work of the Landmark Preservation Commission but including the larger preservation communities because I know that is how we will be able to get this done. With that I prepare to answer any questions or respond to issues one might have.

INTEGRATING PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT


“We cannot make the landmark law work if we don’t have the right leadership at the agency and the funding and the staffing to enforce it.”


Q: The borough president’s office appoints the borough historian and I have been privileged to work with your historian’s office. How do we integrate preservation and development?

Fields: As a matter of fact, based on the work of our historian, we will be releasing this week a brochure on all of the historic sites in Manhattan that relates to the African American communities: the churches, the museums, all of those have been identified and they have been put in a booklet.

As we look for ways at integrating preservation with overall land use, we have given thought to how we would incorporate that within the City Planning Commission. We have to consciously plan for preservation and make it a part of the review process by simply assigning staff to do it.

2 COLUMBUS CIRCLE AND ST. JOHN THE DIVINE

Q: Can you explain your position on two issues? First, your vote at the borough board to transfer 2 Columbus Circle to the museum automatically meant the façade would be destroyed because the museum has already said that they were planning to do this. Second, the landmark and development issues surrounding the Cathedral Church of St. John Divine.

Fields: With respect to 2 Columbus Circle, this was a project that had gone through public review for over a year and a half. This was the project that had been approved at the local community board level, it had been approved in terms of the plans for the museum and the vote that was taken had to do with the sale. I believe it was the right decision to make at that time.

On St. John the Divine, our position on that was that the entire land, the entire area should have been landmarked, but that the church should have an opportunity to build on it because it was also tied into their ability to address their financial needs. But by having the entire area landmarked, that also would require input and oversight by Landmark Preservation Commission in terms of what would get built on that site and we believe that that provided for the protection and in terms of making sure that. If a building was ever built there, it would be in context with the character of the area and there will be some controls.

THE WEST SIDE

Q: I wanted to ask about your vision for the development of the West Side midtown area. Now with the stadium seemingly out of the picture, I wonder about your thoughts on public access to the waterfront and generally development of the West Side.

Fields: I was, and continue to be, opposed to a stadium on the West Side. I think it was the wrong location, it never made sense, and it still certainly does not make sense. About four and a half years ago, my office commissioned a study for the West Side of Manhattan. It was a study conducted by a firm that reached out very broadly to talk with people throughout the community at every level: community boards, civic organizations, community organizations, business leaders, entrepreneurs, real state, all of the stakeholders.

What came out of that study is that we should expand the Javits convention center. It called for more of a north expansion with hotels at the northern part at 42nd Street. It called for hotels, small retail space, open spaces, but more affordable housing. Affordable housing at low-, medium-, and market-rate level. The site is large enough for all of that.

So specifically, our plan calls for housing on that site, and I think it was important at that time and I think that is still just as viable and important now that the stadium has seemingly been removed with respect to the West Side. So I take exception when it is stated that no one has looked at the West Side and no planning has been discussed. The problem was that this mayor came in with the view that he wanted the stadium on the West Side and nothing else got through in terms of those discussions.

Open space and access to the waterfront is extremely important. And that’s an area where we can also look to preservation and opportunities to integrate the land use approach in preservation.

WHO WILL YOU APPOINT TO THE LANDMARKS COMMISSION?

Q: One of the most important things the mayor will do for historical preservation is appoint a landmarks commission chair. Four years ago, candidate Bloomberg promised to appoint a landmarks chair who had a proven record in historic preservation and a knowledge base in historic preservation. He did not deliver on that promise. Will you commit here and now that the landmarks chair that you appoint if elected mayor will be someone with a proven record in historic preservation and a demonstrated commitment to enforcing the landmarks law?

Fields: I commit. I do think that it is important. I would fully commit to that because, as I said, we have to give this commission value again and we begin to do that with the person that heads it up. Whether it is integrating preservation more fully into the overall land use approach, whether it is focusing on how we protect the schools that are doing inventories and fast-tracking the scheduling of hearings so that decisions can be made in a timely manor so that we don’t continue to lose so many of those buildings.

We cannot make this work if we don’t have the right leadership at the agency and the funding and the staffing to enforce the laws, to give the support to those who are out there trying to really work in that system. We can do it. But it requires again, leadership, commitment, funding, working together and again a commitment and I’m there.

REFORMING LANDMARKS

Q: Can we look at some of the regulations that may really go against the spirit of historic preservation?

Fields: I think it is important to periodically review regulations. So, yes. Absolutely. And I think again that a commissioner who has the right kind of experience, the right kind of a focus, can take on these kinds of issues and make things happen. And that’s the difference here. It’s not just managing an agency to make sure that all the workers come in on time, but so it is looking at all areas more comprehensively that effects the work and regulations.

GOVERNORS ISLAND

Q: Have you given any thought to Governors Island and what can be done to make it come alive again?

Fields: Not only have I given thought to it, but I also worked on a task force about four and a half years ago and we came up with what I believe it is still a viable plan. It calls for a conference center, recreational facilities, and educational facilities. Now, having said that, I know that this mayor has said that he will be issuing a request for a proposal and I am resubmitting my plan of those ideas. It can become a destination port, especially for many conferences, small conferences, educational groups and forums.

HISTORIC SCHOOLS

Q: You know about P.S. 109, a historic school that sits on East 99th street. It was recently closed. Why in this day with a shortage of classroom space is this happening?

Fields: I have been part of trying to get that school reopened, keeping it as a historic site and the battle has been with the School Construction Authority and the administration, which believe that it must be torn down. We don’t want it to be torn down. We are fighting to keep it there and so all of this time it has not been used as a school. With respect to whether or not the School Construction Authority should have control over historic sites, that’s why I talked earlier about the idea for a school preservation conservancy so that we can get our arms around these schools and put them into a protective class and fight to get the funding - public funding as well as private funding. So I think by taking a different approach, we can get something, more efficiently and more effectively.

Other Candidates Speeches

• Fernando Ferrer: The Irreplaceable Treasures of the Bronx
• Gifford Miller: Updating the Landmarks Law
• Anthony Weiner: Old New York as a Gateway to the new New York

 

Updating the Landmarks Law


The four Democratic candidates for mayor discussed issues of historic preservation at a series of forums sponsored by coalition of groups, including Landmark West, the Historic Districts Council, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The following is an edited transcript of the candidate’s opening remarks on June 15, 2005, and a sample of some of the questions from the audience.

Other Candidates Speeches
• Fernando Ferrer: The Irreplaceable Treasures of the Bronx
• C. Virginia Fields:Looking Beyond the Big Ticket Items
• Anthony Weiner: Old New York as a Gateway to the new New York

Many of you, know my mother, who designed the Conservatory Garden, Bryant Park, Wagner Park, Madison Square Park, Herald and Union Park, New York Botanical Gardens, and gardens in Rockaway, Red Hook, and Staten Island. So she’s done a park in every borough which she completed before I decided to run. And my father served on the community board in East Harlem for the last 20 years. He served in the Johnson and Kennedy administrations. So I was raised as a boy with a deep love for New York City, and also a belief in the importance of public service.

After graduating from college, I went to work for Congresswoman Caroline Maloney because I wanted to be able to serve my city, as well, in the tradition that my parents had brought me up in.

Over the last 10 years that I’ve been in the New York City Council, I’ve loved what I’ve had the chance to do, to help change the course of our city’s future, to contribute something to the greatest city in the world. In particular, over the past four years as speaker of the council, I’ve had an even greater privilege, which is to fall in love with all of New York. I grew up in Manhattan. It was concerned an enormous liability when I ran for speaker, but I like to say nobody’s perfect. This is an extraordinary city, filled with unbelievably diverse and exciting different neighborhoods all over New York. And also filled with people that love New York and want to spend and give their time similarly to its future to preserve and to strengthen this greatest city in the world.

I’m running for mayor because I believe we need new leadership, new leadership for the city that has a sense of that whole city, of the challenges that we face, and of the opportunities that are presented, and of a vision of what we can accomplish that is better and great.

I think that landmarks and historic preservation is an example of the failure of leadership that we’ve had on the part of this mayor.

It’s not just that he hasn’t done a good job of administering our school system, or getting our fair share from Washington or Albany, or really figuring out how to deal with the structural problems. It’s that he doesn’t understand, to my mind, the opportunities that are presented and the responsibilities that are incumbent upon a mayor to provide real moral and political leadership on issues of tremendous concern to New Yorkers. On too many issues, what we get from this mayor are excuses about how things can’t be done, rather than examining innovative ways in which things can be done.

And again, it’s not just on schools, where we hear sort of a pat on the back for the fact that we’ve finally reached the point where half of our kids are failing in our schools, or on the fact that each year he rolls over for Washington and Albany and doesn’t go out and do something about the fact that we’re sending $24 billion more to Washington and Albany, or the notion that he has an economic development vision which seems to be centered solely on getting the Olympics or our goose is cooked.

It’s on issues like landmarks where over and over again, rather than figuring out ways in order to accomplish something, what we get are excuses about how difficult it will be to accomplish something, and, as a result, inaction.

So, what we’ve seen over the last three and a half years is a real failure to exercise the sort of moral and political leadership to preserve communities that are under attack all over the city and the failure to expand and open up the landmark process to real public review and involvement and participation. That is another hallmark of this administration: an extremely closed process. This mayor doesn’t believe in listening to other people, and doesn’t believe that our problems can be solved by anyone outside of his own small cadre of administration.

As a result, what we’ve seen on issue after issue, and I think landmarks and historic preservation is a very good example of these kinds of issues, is a lack of imagination, a lack of political and moral leadership, and a closed process, which, in the end, leaves us more mystified at the end than we were in the beginning. I’m running for mayor because I want to change that, and I think if you look at my leadership of the City Council over the last three and a half years, you’ll see I have a very different model of leadership and a different proven record of accomplishment.

The City Council, for the first time, has held two public hearings on the processes of the landmarks commission, examining what the challenges are and trying to get people involved and recognize that openness and transparency are not a problem. They are the solution. We don’t have to, at the end, agree on every point and every decision that is made, but we ought to, in a democracy and in a proper administration, be able to agree that there’s a fair shake being given and that the process has been open and transparent and accountable.

That is the work that the City Council has been moving towards, and I think that there are very common sense things that can be done in order to improve that.

There ought to be adequate time given for the public to review applications for certificates and appropriates, including revisions to those applications.

There ought to be just a hearing room that has a sound system that you can hear what’s going on. There decisions about whether or not to hold hearings on items ought to be conducted in the open with clear and frank reasons given to why some things are given a hearing and why other things are not given a hearing.

We certainly need to expand the budget for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, because it is woefully underfunded. In the end, it doesn’t serve anybody well. There has to be enough staff to be able to respond swiftly to decisions and to matters that are timely and require a timely decision. There has to be enough money to be able to complete its mission. Otherwise, we shouldn’t pretend that it’s there to accomplish what it says it’s there to accomplish.

So we have work to do there, but that is certainly something that I support as speaker, and would support as mayor.

More broadly, I am proud of the work that the council has done, not just with regard to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (which had landmark status rejected by the council because it wanted to build apartment buildings on its grounds), but also with regard to the demolition-by-neglect legislation, which the council passed over the objections of an awful lot of people in the city.

Powerful interests in this city came together to object to this legislation, but, in the end, it was the right thing to do. It is wrong to allow owners of landmarked properties to allow their properties to become demolished by their neglect, and then to say, well now that it’s destroyed you don’t have to bother saving it. It doesn’t make any sense.

And this legislation that we passed in the council, for the first time, allows the city to do something about that. You know, we had cases in which owners would actually open up their roofs so that the building, the structure would become completely destroyed and then say, “I can’t save this structure because it’s destroyed, and so I have to tear it down.”

There was no legal method for handling that. We, as a result of my leadership and my colleagues in the council, for the first time now have the ability to attack that problem. The New York City Council cares deeply about this matter, that even when it’s not easy, and we’re going to take steps in order to try to protect our city.

I love this city, you love this city, and I’m running for mayor because I don’t believe in listening to all of the voices that tell me what I can’t do. You know, in government there’s always people that will tell you that you can’t do something that’s difficult to do.

They tell you “Look, you’re never going to fix the schools. You’re never going to get our fair share. You’ll never be able to create affordable housing. You’ll never be able to create jobs for every community.”

That’s why I’m running for mayor. We need a mayor that doesn’t listen to those voices. That looks at what can be done, rather than what can’t be done. That thinks about the possibilities for what kind of city we can be and should be, rather than just keeps going down the same road of where we are. And we do face real challenges. I know we’re going to have lots of questions about them. I look forward to working with you in this battle as well, because this is a battle that is worth fighting, that is worth waging, and, most importantly, worth winning. I thank you all for you spirit and optimism and faith in the future of our city.

SURVEY OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS


“Our landmarks law was a model when it was passed. But that was 40 years ago. Even models must be updated.”


Q: When [now State Senator] John Sabini was chairman of landmarks subcommittee, the City Council held a hearing on how the city is treating its historic public schools. At that time they asked the city to complete a survey of older building to see which ones would be eligible for listing on the national register. So my question is, as mayor would you insist that that survey be completed and would you treat historic public schools with the care and respect that they deserve as building that can serve out children today?

Miller: Yes, and let me just explain it briefly. The city does a pretty good job of certain landmarks, of restoring them, ones that are high profile, that for whatever reason somebody in city government has adopted it as a particular pet cause. The city does not do a good job in dealing with the comprehensive aspect of this problem.

We own a lot of land and a lot of property and a lot of historic structures. Nobody in this room is exactly sure of how comprehensive a list that is. There ought to be a full review of this. Then once we have that full review, there ought to be a report on a regular basis to the council, to the Landmark Preservation Commission, and to the public in general about where we are in terms of the preservation of these structures. If we are going to ask private landlords and property owners to take care of their structures we have to lead by example. There is a moral issue here and this is not a mayor that believes in moral leadership. In the end when you think about it, what are the moral issues that the mayor has provided real leadership on? I guess smoking and the Olympics. And that’s about it. There is an opportunity for the city to provide moral, as well as actual leadership in showing that we are going to be a property owner who will respect our own historic structures and do it in a comprehensive and open and transparent way, its not happening. As mayor I will make sure that it does.

WHO WOULD YOU APPOINT TO THE LANDMARKS COMMISSION?

Q: We are presently experiencing the cost of the lack of leadership at the helm of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Would you commit to appoint a chair to the Landmark Preservation Commission who has a proven track record and knowledge base in the subject that they are asked to control for the city of New York?

Miller: What I would commit to do is work with the people in this room to identify candidates for that position. Again, I have a different style of leadership than this mayor. I think in the end it’s a more effective style of leadership. I like to engage, rather than disengage. I believe in testing the power of my ideas against others. I believe in listening. I don’t think that makes me a less effective leader. I think it makes me a more effective leader. And if you look at my record as speaker of the City Council that’s the way that its worked. I have led a council that has had more independence. We have members that call press conferences about just about any subject at the drop of a dime. And I am not somebody who believes in closing that off. I believe in allowing that to flourish because I think in the end you accomplish more that way.

So the answer to your question is, is that I will certainly engage in an open and constructive dialogue with the people in this room about how and who to appoint to that position. I’ll make my judgment at the end about who I think would be best.

Q: Mayor Bloomberg, standing at this platform before the same crowd in 2001, made a similar statement to the one you just made. We would hope and expect that if you are elected we would have a better follow through than we had in the prior exercise with the same question and really the same answer.

Miller: How many of you have seen this cult movie right now called Napoleon Dynamite? A young man runs for president of the high school. The candidates are supposed to give speech about what they’ll do when they are elected president of the student body. And he asks his friend what he should say because he doesn’t know what to say, and the friend says, “Tell them that you will make all of their wildest dreams come true.” So we’re at the point of the campaign right now where candidates come before groups like this one and tell you that we are going to make all of your wildest dreams come true.

And that’s what happened four years ago when Mike Bloomberg came here, he told you what you wanted to hear. The challenge is to ask yourself - who is mostly likely to go out and actually live up to the pledges and the commitment that they have made? And I just suggest to you that I am the candidate that is most likely, because if you look at my character, if you look at my style of leadership, and you look at my proven record.

I mean look when the real estate and religious communities and other communities who are powerful in this city, all got together and said that they didn’t like the demolition by neglect legislation, there was a choice that had to get made by somebody in a real position with real power. Which way are you going to go? And a lot of people would have said you know what it’s stirring up to much of a hornets nest. And I proved that when push came to shove, we were going to go forward anyway when I thought it was the right thing to do.

So I am not going to commit to you specifically. But I would be very surprised if I were to choose someone to the Landmarks Preservation Commission who didn’t have landmarks experience. I can’t see a reason why I would choose somebody to run a landmarks commission who doesn’t have landmarking experience.

2 COLUMBUS CIRCLE

Q: 2 Columbus Circle has yet to receive a public hearing by this administration. Will you invite us down to City Hall to hold a “people’s landmark hearing,” since the Landmarks Preservation Commission under this mayor refuses to use the landmarks law to provide a public hearing for this worthy building?

Miller: I will seriously consider that request. My only concern is that I don’t want to misplace where the pressure should be. If it’s a “people’s hearing” it’s not a real hearing. A real hearing is what ought to happen. I agree with you. Given the extraordinary amount of discussion on this subject and the amount of concern about it, it is a case and point about the conduct and leadership of the Landmarks Preservation commission. People have different opinions about 2 Columbus Circle. But it certainly is a serious issue. The landmarks commission can say yes or no, but at least they should have to say why. What are the criteria by which a hearing is granted. This building is by a well-known architect. It is in a well known and important public space. If this isn’t a building that deserves a hearing, then I don’t know what it is.

Q: Can you explain your vote on 2 Columbus Circle at the borough board meeting supporting the transfer of the property to the museum, when everyone know they wanted to destroy the facade?

Miller: I think a museum use for that building is a good idea. There isn’t anything else on the table. It has the support of the local council member. But I don’t think that it negates the need for landmark consideration. The landmarks commission hasn’t done its job. We have to live within that reality.

OVERDEVELOPMENT

Q: In Staten Island and Queens one of the biggest issues is overdevelopment and tearing down existing buildings to build new ones. The mayor has a solution, which we call “landmarking by ambush.” He comes out to a public meeting where a developer has bought a building and plans to tear it down and the mayor pledges to have it landmarked. We have a proposal before the City Council (Intro 317) on delaying demolitions so there can be an orderly process and having a hearing for each building. Can you help us move that bill along? And what is your platform on overdevelopment and teardowns?

Miller: With regard to that bill, we are working very hard to see how we can move it forward. It’s a good concept. We need to look at what the resources are and it’s important for people to be able to build in this city. You are right, there is no orderly way to deal with these issues. The way it works now is that if you have community group that gets whipped up enough about a particular aspect in an area where the mayor feels it’s a good political issue, he will call a town meeting, arrive, and announce that all is well again.

More broadly, this is an area when we get a piece meal approach from the mayor. That is because of a lack of resources at the City Planning Commission. The City Council has worked hard to expand the planning commission’s budget. And there is a lack of political will. We need a comprehensive citywide review. Land values have distorted our process. The zoning process was fine for a long time because it did not make sense 10 years ago to tear down existing building and then build to the property lines. But now, it makes sense. People are paying so much for housing and property in this city. The response from this administration has been too slow. We need to make the zoning match what we want to accomplish.

REFORMING THE PROCESS

Q: You’ve talked about your record and the need for a comprehensive plan. But beyond these symbolic measures, can you initiative legislation to reform the Landmarks Preservation Commission? Other cities allow citizens to gather signatures and have access to the process.

Miller: Our landmarks law was a model when it was passed. But that was 40 years ago. Models need to be updated. There are issues that need to be addressed and I am open to hearing suggestions on how that could be done.

HISTORIC SCHOOLS

Q: Is it time for someone to do something about the school construction authority? Has it outlived its usefulness? Who is in charge in this city when it comes to our historic schools?

Miller: I don’t think its about the school construction authority, it’s about the person in charge – the mayor. The best thing the mayor has accomplished in 3 1/2 years is getting control of the schools. I supported it. If the mayor isn’t doing enough about historic schools, we have to hold him accountable.

GOVERNORS ISLAND

Q: What would you do with Governors Island?

Miller: I don’t have a plan for Governors Island. I have a lot of concern about the administration’s failure to come forward with a thoughtful proposal that re-imagines the island and builds on this extraordinary asset. The idea of having CUNY use it was good, but nothing has happened since. More broadly there has to be a process that helps us move forward and make the best choices for a city’s future.

PARKS ON THE RIVER

Q: On 69th Street and Hudson River, the parks department will be restoring the 1911 New York Central Railroad transfer bridge into a public pier and ferry and water taxi landing. The parks department needs another $1 million. Will you support it?

Miller: I will talk to the council members about it and I hope that I will be able to support it.

COMMUNITY BOARDS

Q: Do you have any plans to give resources to the community boards or community organizations in dealing with land use issues?

Miller: I believe in the work of community boards. Some elected officials try to control or compete with community boards, I don’t believe in that. Community boards make my life easier as an elected official because I don’t have to conduct my own public forum that I have to administer. I believe in community based planning and as speaker and have helped fund them. I would like to see them get more funding. The notion of community board as pure constituent provider is changing. Community boards ought to be more planning oriented.

Other Candidates Speeches

• Fernando Ferrer: The Irreplaceable Treasures of the Bronx
• C. Virginia Fields:Looking Beyond the Big Ticket Items
• Anthony Weiner: Old New York as a Gateway to the new New York

 

Old New York as a Gateway to the New New York


The four Democratic candidates for mayor discussed issues of historic preservation at a series of forums sponsored by coalition of groups, including Landmark West, the Historic Districts Council, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The following is an edited transcript of the candidate’s opening remarks and a sample of some of the questions from the audience. Anthony Weiner spoke on June 1, 2005. 

Other Candidates Speeches
• Fernando Ferrer: The Irreplaceable Treasures of the Bronx
• C. Virginia Fields:Looking Beyond the Big Ticket Items
• Gifford Miller: Updating the Landmarks Law

The issues surrounding preservation and the landmarks, to me, provide the perfect metaphor for what I argue is the problem with the Bloomberg administration. It really comes down to three fundamental things that I talk about everywhere on the campaign trail. First of all, I believe that we have somehow internalized this notion that the only way to run New York City is to put blinders on when you’re at City Hall, put your head down, and barrel into problems, consulting as few people as possible. I think Rudy Giuliani instilled that in us with his notion that in order to make an omelet, you’ve gotta break a lot of eggs. And Mike Bloomberg has continued the tradition of eschewing democratic - with a small “d” - institutions as a way of making decisions.

In New York, we have the most creative land use planners, the most creative architects, and the most creative urban planners. If we took the 50 most brilliant New Yorkers in those fields, put them in a room and said “We have a couple dozen acres on the west side of Manhattan, with unobstructed four-directional views. Come up with the most creative, most beneficial use of that land.” Do any of us think that they would have emerged with a stadium as an idea for that land? It never would have happened.

It’s not just a matter of process. If you think about it, it’s a matter of real dollars and cents. Mayor Bloomberg, when he constructed this effort to by-pass public input, he suggested that we get $100 million for the land over the Hudson rail yards. Some people literally believe it is worth about $1 billion. How does Mayor Bloomberg explain why he was prepared to sell something for $100 million that is actually worth closer to $1 billion?

His apparent sense that these democratic institutions are not helpful also can be seen in education policy. He didn’t consult teachers, didn’t consult principals, and didn’t consult other elected officials when reorganizing the school system. And almost to a person, teachers say the system is worse off, and some of the best, most senior teachers are being driven from the system.

You see the exact same thing when it comes to landmarks decisions, when it comes to preservation decisions. There are decisions that are being made without even public hearings. Public hearings are messy, they’re contentious, and they may slow things down. But they make them more New York. We are a city that should not eschew those democratic processes. We should embrace them.

A second thing that his approach to landmarks shows is that Mike Bloomberg believes that passive is better than active and aggressive when you’re the mayor of the city of New York. The most important example of this is how we get rolled by Albany, rolled by Washington because the mayor has adopted this philosophy that I’m going to raise money for my Republican friends, I’m going to throw a large convention for my Republican friends, and just hope for good things to happen.

And is there better evidence of that philosophy than lower Manhattan? You know, Mike Bloomberg essentially, and he doesn’t even deny it all that much anymore, made this deal. He said to Governor Pataki, let me develop the far west side of Manhattan, let me pursue my Olympic dream, and you, Governor Pataki, you take care of lower Manhattan. Any New Yorker, any resident of New York City that doesn’t realize it’s a mistake to entrust Governor Pataki with anything to do with New York City honestly doesn’t deserve to be a public official in New York City.

I mean, when was the last time Governor Pataki got up in the morning, dressed and looked in the mirror, and said “I’m going do something good for New York City this morning?” It never happens.


“I drive by the far West Side and I see that giant glass thing they are building there and I’m sure someone thinks it’s very attractive, and Sean Penn will be very happy living there I’m sure, but you know the real Greenwich Village is not that.”


So, this notion that you just sit back and hope that good things happen might be the ethos that works in the business community that Mayor Bloomberg thrived in, but it doesn’t work when it comes for advocating for New York City.

And if you think that it’s just a matter of style over substance, think about this: imagine, for a moment, if Mike Bloomberg stood up at the Republican National Convention and said “Come to our hotels, our fine restaurants, visit out cultural institutions, and oh, by the way, it’s an outrage that we’ve been short-changed $1.7 billion in the No Child Left Behind Act. It’s a crime the way you’re playing immigrants against one another in order to get votes. And the way you’ve short-changed us on anti-terrorism money is a sin.” What would it have done? Visualize that for a moment. It would have elevated those issues, not just to the front page of New York City newspapers. It would have been all of the talk of the country for the next three or four days. President Bush would have had to insert a line in his speech about how we’re going try to make it up to New York in the future. You would have had delegates scrambling around, how do we respond to this?

Active is better than passive, and the same is true when you’re trying to preserve the fundamental beauty of New York City. You cannot simply sit back and say make these decisions based on the next bid for the next building. We’re going to wait to see what type of community uprising leads to the next preservation movement. Preservation and planning has to be an active endeavor. You cannot simply sit back. By it’s very nature, preservation fails if you are reacting rather than being proactive.

The third argument I’m going to make throughout this campaign - and I’m going to make it in the context of land use decisions and everything else - is that we need, we, as Democrats in particular, but I think all of us in this city, are entitled to have a campaign based on the notion that ideas matter.

What you’re going to do for the next four years matters. I’ve put out a book of 50 new ideas. We put it out about four months ago. I’ve given nine policy speeches. The New York Times called me the “wonk” of the campaign, although that was probably something that would get me beaten up growing up in Brooklyn, being called the “wonk,” but it’s something I take great pride in. On that issue after issue, I have said what the next four years are going to be about. And I don’t know how many of you speak Spanish, I don’t speak it very well, but the ads he’s been running in Spanish has a tag line which is something like “The best is yet to come.”

I have yet to hear Mike Bloomberg articulate his vision for the next four years in this city. Does it include changes to the education system? What are his development initiatives that he’s going to put forth beyond the Olympic games? What is his vision?

In my first speech about economic development in all five boroughs, I said that I believe it is time for a comprehensive rezoning of the city of New York. It’s required every 40 years or so, history tells us. The last time was 1961 when we did a comprehensive rezoning. It is a gut-wrenching, painful, agonizing, controversial thing, but it’s necessary. We are, right now, allowing the most fundamental decisions about the character of our communities to be made in the most ad hoc of basis. I don’t think that’s the way to do things.

I think we have to make some fundamental decisions, not just about how we preserve the fundamental nature of communities. I represent neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens where the landscape is changing day-by-day, by default.

We have homes in Manhattan Beach, for example, completely according to the contextual zoning, and people are building on their front lawns. It’s not prohibited, but who ever would have imagined you’d want to? Whoever imagined that this bungalow community of 30 years ago would now have homes selling for $1 million? Who would imagine that the land is so valuable in Douglaston, or in Sheepshead Bay, or in Staten Island that people would raze these beautiful homes and build on every square inch these most ugly, boxy McMansions?

In order for us to deal with these things, we can’t just say “Ocean Parkway needs a rezoning, let’s go do it“ or “Douglaston needs a preservation movement, let’s go do it” or “the west side has beautiful buildings that are now being consumed by the sky-rocketing property values.” I believe part of leadership in this city is saying we have specific ideas going forward and, even if they’re difficult, we have to pursue them.

One of the things that I will be doing after I’m elected is appoint a commission to start the task of rezoning the city, and looking at where we want light manufacturing to exist or where maybe housing should be permitted to go, where the heavy manufacturing zones are. Do a comprehensive analysis of where the brownfields are, and how we, as the city, state, and federal government can help make those lands useful again. We have to start taking a look at the west side of Manhattan. We have to take a look at things like the community here and 2 Columbus Circle, and say at the very least, let’s have a hearing, let’s see what people have to say, and let’s have a discussion about the outcomes.

One of the things that I would hope all New Yorkers would demand in this election, not only from those of us who are challenging Michael Bloomberg, but from the mayor himself, is to ask: What is your vision going forward? Does it include closed-loop insider decision-making? Does it include back-on-your-heels, sit-back-and-see-what-happens types of decisions, rather than being active and aggressive? What are your specific plans?

I think we need to change the way we’ve done things on all three levels.

ARE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTS WORTH ANYTHING?

Q: When any major development is undertaken in New York, as you know, there needs to be an Environmental Impact Statement produced to assess among other thing the historic resources in the area of development. But these statements seem to be coming up with fewer and fewer historic resources. In the case of Williamsburg/Greenpoint, the impact statement came up with 18 historic resources, 11 of which were already designated as historic landmarks. The Municipal Art Society went out with the help of Columbia University students and identified 55 resources and 2 historic districts. So my question to you is, what do you think the root of this problem is? And where do you think the responsibility lies for doing better ones and how would you go about making that happen?

Weiner: That’s a great question. I think over the course of time, Environmental Impact Statements have become more and more tools of development rather than what they were intended to be, which is kind of a stopgap to make sure that questions were raised and addressed. How I would address this problem is fundamentally providing much more transparency throughout these processes and using technology and public input to be able to do a lot more of these things.

I’ll give you an example. If an Environmental Impact Statement was constructed for the West Side of Manhattan or for Williamsburg that invited people to submit historic locations, landmark locations, perhaps “undiscovered jewel” locations in our communities and that public document became completely transparent, it would put pressure on those who produce the statement to either justify or reject them for some good reason.

I think that kind of public input would help. But I’ll tell you, this is the tip of a larger problem. Overall, I would argue that government in recent years has gotten less and less and less transparent, despite the idea that technology makes it easier to be more and more and more transparent. And one of my greatest disappointments with Mike Bloomberg is, putting party affiliation aside, he seemed to be a reform guy. He was self-funded. He wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican and he wasn’t really from the institutional machines. He seems like he would be the perfect type of agent to truly reform and open up government, give us more input and give institutions like this greater say, not necessarily have your way all the time, but greater say.

I would argue that this administration has become more closed with information than ever before, and doesn’t make the use of technology that would be the most valuable. You know he brags, Mike Bloomberg does, about the 311 system. You know if I had a business and I opened up a complaint box that got 5 million complaints every year, I’m not sure I’d be bragging about it. But at the very least, perhaps what he should do is take the 311 line and make some of the reports more public, maybe that would be a good indicator to the rest of us about whether things are going as well as he suggested. But one of the things that I would do on Environmental Impact Statement is to make the process more open to community input. If you are a resident in the community or a historian in the community and you know of locations, you report them to us, give us the historical significance and then as part of the statement we should have to respond to that.

REFORMING THE LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION

Q: What reforms of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, their rules, or even reform of the law itself do you propose?

Weiner: At a very fundamental level, these decisions are subjective decisions, based on people’s creative inputs, based on viewpoint, and two people can look at a building or an area and they come to two completely different decisions about how it should be treated. Which is why government at the very least should provide hearings for these things. I see no harm that comes to having that packed room of people saying different things and having different conclusions and presenting different evidence. I fully believe that the Bloomberg administration has certain contempt for just that discussion; they think that that’s untidy and they don’t want to do that. I am not going to commit to you now in terms of a specific reform, but one thing I will say to you is that I fundamentally believe that better outcomes come from people mixing it up on these issues.

When I’m mayor of the City of New York, I’ll come to this exact spot, and I’ll talk to you about how we are doing in the administration. We’ll talk a little about what your views are, we’ll do this and this isn’t just in the confines of communities like this that get animated around the global issue of landmarking. You have to realize that preservation of our communities has become a rallying cry in communities all throughout the city right now.

This has become a fundamental issue in the campaign that I think the mayor is ignoring. How is he dealing with these fires? By putting them out one by one based on, what I would say, is a political map. I mean if you really look at it that’s what it looks like he’s doing. What my administration would be committed to is at least having a broader discussion, having hearings, allowing the media to view them, allowing experts to take a look at them, allowing experts around the city, allowing amateurs around the city to express their views. I do not feel offended that having open hearings is going to muck up the works.

Will I say to you that I want 20 council members or 3 community boards being able to nominate something? No, I won’t say that specifically now, but I am open to the idea of having a process that at least gets hearings to happen on a more regular basis. To not even having a hearing on 2 Columbus Circle is mind-boggling.

FUNDING LANDMARKS

Q: What would you do about funding and the level of staffing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission?

Weiner: Well one thing is for sure, we have the Buildings Department with hundreds and hundreds of employees and they can’t seem to get anything right. In Manhattan Beach, you know we had this long period of time where Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay had laid fallow for a bunch of reasons, the economy went south, and the Lundy estate was fighting over different properties. I remember when I was in the City Council we were trying to revive the waterfront and from all around the world literally people were saying why don’t you just reopen Lundy’s. And I remember when we were in discussions about how to get someone to come in, we had a lot of property speculators who came in and said we’ll come in but if the building is going to be landmarked we’re not going to touch it, and we want no part of it. But as it turned out in retrospect, the fact that Lundy’s was preserved and the Spanish colonial architecture and the stain glass and everything, turned out to be the very thing that inspired more people to invest in Emmons Avenue. That inspired more people to want to come visit, that inspired people when they came back to New York to go back to their childhood experiences in Lundy’s, which by the way isn’t as good as it was.

It also wouldn’t hurt to have the mayor every once in a while not celebrating some glitzy glass stadium, but celebrating some corner of the city that reflects the true community. For example, you know I drive by the far West Side and I see that giant glass thing they are building there and I’m sure someone thinks it’s very attractive, and Sean Penn will be very happy living there I’m sure, but you know the real Greenwich Village is not that. The real Greenwich Village is a completely different thing.

And part of what I think we need to do from the highest levels of government is start to talk about preserving the city, not just as a political imperative to assuage Staten Island, not just as something we do in the context of the budget, but to start talking about these hearings and discussions and have the mayor, say “This is the 215th anniversary of this building, and here is a little about the history of this and come visit New York and take a look at this.”

I think it would go a long way to kind of restore where we are as a city that thinks about these things. And it also confirms for me one other thing that I don’t point out much about Mike Bloomberg, but I believe it makes a difference whether you’re from New York.

I don’t think he understands that being in New York means celebrating the communities, preserving the communities, seeing the old New York as a gateway to the new New York, and kind of seeing the connection. You know when I look at the, we have one picture of my great grandfather Wolf Weiner (you thought Anthony Weiner was a funny name) standing in front of this fur shop where he was a cutter. He was the first generation that was here, my great grandfather, and while it’s fascinating looking at my great grandfather and my great grandmother, Anna, in that picture, what’s also fascinating is to see the building of the Lower East Side and the tenements in the background.

God willing, someday I’m going to be able to bring my grandkids to that street, hold the picture, look at the building and say this is the connection that New York has and what makes it great. Anthony Weiner is going to remember that when he is mayor. And it’s more than just a government. It’s more than just a budget. It’s more than just a hearing. It’s a sense deep in us that this is an important of part of New York going forward. And that is something I’m not going to forget.

WILL YOU KEEP YOUR PROMISES?

Q: The annual budget for the New York City Landmarks Commission is $3 million. When he was here as a candidate, Michael Bloomberg said that that was ridiculous, that it was ridiculous that there was only one inspector in the landmarks commission for all of the two and a half percent of the city’s real estate that is landmarked. And he committed himself to do something about it.

Weiner: Look, I am committed to an increase in the budget. I’m not going to say significant, I’m not going to say a lot, I’m not going to say a doubling, but I am committed to the idea of reviewing the suggestion that my former constituent made about having a certain stop gap requirement that inspections happen of certain types of buildings, which I believe that if I drop you a letter and say I support that will require an increase in the budget of the agency, just to be able to fulfill that.

2 COLUMBUS CIRCLE

Q: When my committee approached you for a letter on 2 Columbus Circle to the Landmarks Preservation Committee, you wrote a beautiful letter.

Weiner: In fairness it wasn’t actually an “approach.” it was more like a bludgeoning.

GOVERNORS ISLAND

Q: Have you given any thought to Governors Island?

Weiner: We put together a little committee. Perhaps we can ask a member of your group to be on the committee. We’re giving some thought to it now, we wanted to give a speech on it and come up with a proposal two months ago, and like everything else with Governors Island the more we peel the onion, the more complex the discussion got.

One thing I say is this, it’s another example, and I can think of three or four right of the top of my head, that if we devoted a fraction of the thought, of the energy, of the money, of the resources, to Governors Island, to developing the area around DUMBO, the waterfront in Brooklyn, that we did to the Olympics, we would be so much better off.

The answer is I’ve given the some thought to it, but I’m reluctant now kind of in the middle of the process to say what I would propose. I’m open to ideas.

Not only have there been a lot of thoughtful studies on Governors Island, but there’s a memorandum of understanding that was signed by all the principle parties, including the city. Right now Daniel Doctoroff seems to be intent on reopening that, which does not give us much comfort.

Other Candidates Speeches

• Fernando Ferrer: The Irreplaceable Treasures of the Bronx
• C. Virginia Fields:Looking Beyond the Big Ticket Items
• Gifford Miller: Updating the Landmarks Law

 

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The First Campaign Finance Reports; Also, Preview Of 2006


We are now in 2005, a local election year in New York City, and one that promises to be a busy one, with a noisy and expensive mayoral primary coming in September, and several open races: There are already nine candidates, for example, for the open seat for Manhattan borough president (The current occupant, C. Virginia Fields, is ineligible to run for re-election because of the term limits law, and is instead a candidate for mayor). January is usually the month in a city election year when the rumors and speculation and huffy bravado begin with particular intensity, making it difficult to discern which challengers really have a chance in a town whose electoral process still so decisively favors incumbents.

This month, the candidates for city office have released their first real campaign finance reports, detailing financial activity over the past six months, and political observers traditionally have used these first reports as an indicator of who is really in the race -- and who is in denial.

The mayor's race

The current mayor, Republican Michael Bloomberg, is seeking re-election to a second term. There is no shortage of those who would like the chance to challenge him on the Democratic ticket.

In assessing who has a realistic chance by looking at their fundraising activity, there are two numbers in the campaign finance reports that are useful. The first is the total raised in the most recent period, the past six months, which tells you what sort of momentum the candidate is displaying, and the speed with which he or she can put together the big dollars. The second number is the amount the candidate has actually sitting in their bank account, also known as cash on hand, which shows the fiscal strength of the campaign, how good of a job they have done at hanging on to the money they have raised so far, and how well they have been able to sustain their support over a longer period of time

The first number is interesting, and the second number is ultimately more important in predicting the ability of a candidate to be fully funded.

In this most recent period, Fernando Ferrer raised the most money, $1.2 million. The former Bronx Borough President, who has run for mayor twice before, is often seen in published polls to have a lead over Bloomberg, although the most recent poll showed the two candidates in a statistical tie. The numbers showing him in the lead during the past six months no doubt greatly contributed to his fundraising success. One of the problems with relying heavily on polling data to demonstrate your viability is the fact that polling data can change. If they do, Ferrer may find it a challenge to dismiss as unreliable the numbers that he once used to scoop up checks.

Ferrer was closely trailed in his fundraising efforts by City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Congressman Anthony Weiner, each of whom raised about one million dollars to add to their war chests.

Although Ferrer pulled ahead in dollars raised during this period, he trails Miller in cash on hand. Miller has $4.3 million in the bank, while Ferrer has slightly more than half that amount. Weiner, even after transferring money from his federal campaign account, falls even further behind.

Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields raised significantly less than these three. She brought in $215,000 over the past six months, and has raised a total of just over a million dollars so far.

Ultimately, all four candidates will likely qualify for the city's matching funds, which provide additional funds to candidates up to a maximum threshold. In effect, all of them will probably be on equal footing when it comes to dollars available to be spent.

But it doesn't feel equal to the candidates themselves, who have a short amount of time to prove themselves to city Democrats, which is why they conventionally use this first show of financial strength as a way of convincing the party establishment of their viability.

One bracing fact, though, should serve as a warning: During the last mayoral election, the candidate who started out with the most money, Alan Hevesi, wound up eight months later getting the least votes in the primary.

Manhattan District Attorney

In most of his last eight elections, long-time Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, now 85 years old, has received the endorsement of both the Republican and Democratic parties without any primary challenge. This year, from the look of the campaign finance reports, he is going to have a real challenger for a change.

Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former State Supreme Court justice, has raised $890,000 over the past year and $340,000 in the last six months. This is a sizeable sum, considering she has never run for office before and she is seeking to challenge a man who has been in the office for half her life.

But Morgenthau is not going anywhere yet, and by no means gently. He has raised over a million dollars and has been courting political endorsements.

One of the biggest challenges both will face is not taking on each other, but making their voices heard over the din that will be the other contested Democratic primary elections.

Snyder and Morgenthau will have to be fully-funded and creative to get the attention of overloaded primary voters in the waning days of summer.

Preview of 2006

Several races are already taking shape for the 2006 election cycle, with New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announcing a run for governor, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. publicly mulling an interest in trying to succeed Spitzer as Attorney General. Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Andrew Cuomo, has also expressed an interest in the seat.

There has also occurred the equivalent of a leap-year eclipse: an open seat in the House of Representatives representing New York City.

One of the 13 members of the Congressional delegation from New York, Major Owens from the 11th Congressional district in Brooklyn, has announced that his latest two-year term, his 11th term in office, will be his last. The jockeying to replace him at the end of 2006 is already well under way.

His son, Chris Owens, recently announced his intention to run. But the Crown Heights resident isn't going to get a clear shot at the Democratic nomination. An open Congressional seat is too good a treat to pass up, especially in New York where Democratic machines and a cost prohibitive media market make it especially tough for challengers.

Chris Owens can expect to face a number of rivals, including two who took on his father in what they hoped would be a pre-emptive strike during the 2004 campaign. City Councilmembers Yvette D. Clarke and Tracy L. Boyland both ran unsuccessfully last year, and both are being mentioned as probable candidates to run again. And there are others.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

311, Noise, and Community Boards


When Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans earlier this month to overhaul the city's noise code for the first time in over 30 years, the proposal was at least partly thanks to 311. By analyzing the complaints to the 311 hotline, city officials have gained a better understanding of the magnitude of the city's noise problem.

In many ways, 311, a non-emergency number for information and services, has become the digital pulse of the city, a barometer of our problems and priorities. Bloomberg's proposal illustrates how 311 can be used to solve city problems.

The hotline has received more than 7.5 million calls since it was launched in March 2003, an average of 30,000 calls per day. Officials say they expect to get 12 million calls during the next year.

There is no question that 311 has been a success. The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunicationshas met a daunting challenge, managing to integrate the majority of the city's 120 agencies and 40 specialized hotlines into the current system. The service operates 24-hours a day, is staffed by live operators, answers 94 percent of calls within 30 seconds and is capable of handling calls in 170 languages.

But while 311 has been a boon for the city in terms of streamlining calls, it has also had some unintended effects in individual communities. In some cases, it has decreased the number of complaints lodged directly to community boards. According toAnthony Borelli, district manager of Manhattan's Community Board 4, Community Board 4 receives less complaint calls today than it did before 311 was launched. Since then, the overall number of monthly complaints has dropped by about a third.

This would not matter if these calls were directed back to the community boards. But they are not.

I have had personal experience in enlisting my community board in the fight against noise - in my case, an East Village bar in the courtyard of my apartment building that kept me awake until 4 a.m. Monday through Sunday for an entire season. There was no 311 then, but I did call the city's "Silent Night" hotline on an almost nightly basis to dispatch the police. Finally, I turned to Community Board 3.

I attended a community board meeting, and learned that I was not the only one suffering through the nightly midnight serenades. A sizable group of similarly disgruntled neighbors showed up to air their complaints. We found that solving the noise problem was going to be a complex task involving a number of city agencies including those in charge of environmental issues and building codes, not to mention the State Liquor Authority.

In then end -- as a direct result of repetitive complaints and testimony at meetings by area residents -- the establishment was forced to comply with city noise and building codes and the community board decided that it would not approve any more liquor licenses on the problematic block. The severity of the noise has lessened significantly since then, although it will never be the peaceful courtyard that it was when I moved in nine years ago.

Now, community boards are seeking access to more detailed 311 data so that they can better understand local problems, just as Bloomberg has done with the city's noise complaints. To this end, the City Council has proposed a lawrequiring DoITT to make periodic reports of the 311 data available to the public on the city's Web Site, and to share with community boards any information essential for solving local issues ..

The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications has a strong history of working with community boards to improve their technological capacity. Last year, the agency gave the boards computers, free high-speed Internet access and technology support for their offices. However, the community boards' desire for greater access to 311 data raises a number of technological and logistical challenges.

First, the city often lacks the names and addresses of the 311 callers since they are not required to disclose it for reasons of privacy. Second, even when they do collect such information, the rigorous 311 privacy policy prevents them from sharing it. (However, when applicable, they do collect location information about the problem or service needed for the service calls, which amount to 17 percent of all calls). Third, a number of city agencies are using different databases to track problems that are referred to them through 311.

But the community boards and their supporters see any obstacles as worth overcoming.

"The advent of the 311 system is an incredible opportunity for New Yorkers and New York's communities," says Micaela Birmingham, director of the Municipal Art Society Planning Center, which has been working with community board members in every borough to map local problems and complaints. "The city now must seize this opportunity to fully leverage the power of the 311 system, by effectively linking it [to community boards] ... Having the ability to also make use of the data collected by 311 would greatly enhance the decision making process for local communities."

Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.



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