As we reported last night, Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li held off a challenge to her leadership, winning a third term during a tense meeting at Cooper Union. The vote was 31 in favor of Li to 15 for challenger Chad Marlow. Four members were absent.
In the lead-up to the annual election, Marlow and a group of board members who rallied around him argued that Li had mishandled several high-profile controversies and that CB3 lacks transparency and inclusiveness in its leadership. In remarks before the vote, Li acknowledged that it’s been a tough year and promised to make changes.
After winning a coin toss, Marlow deferred to Li, who chose to speak first. “Together we have made Essex Crossing a reality, we fought back after Superstorm Sandy and we reclaimed public housing from an ill-conceived infill plan,” Li said in recounting some of the board’s major accomplishments in the past couple of years. But Li’s two-minute statement focused mostly on her personal story. “When my grandparents first arrived in New York City,” she noted, “my grandfather worked in a basement laundromat on Bayard Street and my grandmother worked in a garment factory.” Her dad’s family of six lived in a one-bedroom apartment on Bayard Street in Chinatown. Li lives in that same apartment today. “My immigrant story is like so many other immigrant stories,” Li told fellow board members, adding:
This community is my home. The hopes and dreams that my parents had for me are the same hopes and dreams that many of the residents in this community continue to strive for, and those are opportunity, access and equity. These are the same values I bring to you as a board chair and they are the same values I bring to work every day fighting for free, high quality after school programming throughout the City of New York (Li is director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition).
She closed by making a pledge:
This past year has been really challenging for us and, moving forward, I am committed to structural and leadership changes that I believe are the core issues. Time and time again over the past few years I have seen how this board and this community are better, stronger and more resilient when we fight the fight together and not apart.
During a brief question-and-answer period, Li addressed several issues raised by board members. Asked how she feels about term limits for committee chairs, Li acknowledged that CB3’s by-laws committee plans to look at the issue. But explaining that she is “committed to starting to develop a ladder of leadership,” Li advocated for “organic change” in the leadership of CB3’s committees, saying, “nurturing talent will be a natural way of implementing term limits.” In response to a question about the often controversial operations of the committee that weighs liquor licenses, Li said, “what needs to be done is that we have to foster a higher level of respect between both board members and each other in conversation but also how we interact with the community. That is something that we are currently working on.” Finally, responding to a question about lengthy and meandering meetings, Li promised to focus on making them run more smoothly and efficiently.
When it was Marlow’s turn, he made a blunt case for change. “I think unfortunately because, in large part how this board has been operated,” he said, “the community has lost a lot of faith in our board.” Referencing an endorsement by the Villager newspaper, Marlow asserted:
I think the community has been pretty loud and pretty uniform in expressing to us that they would like to see change in CB3, and I think they have been loud enough that we have to concede we’ve heard them. I think the question for tonight is, ‘what do we do in response?’ If we vote for change tonight, I think that’s a way of saying to the community that we are listening and it will go a long ways towards starting to heal that relationship. I think, on the other hand, if we vote for more of the same, I think it might confirm some of the worst reservations that the community has about our board.
Citing years of experience on other boards and a stint leading Village independent Democrats, a political club, Marlow said, “I am running for board chair to dramatically improve the efficiency of this board.” He concluded:
I understand there are a lot of controversial issues before this board, but tonight is really about one issue and that is who can better manage this board… I really believe we can change for the better, but I also believe you can’t change by doing the same thing.
This past spring, Ayo Harrington, an African-American board member, filed a complaint with the Manhattan Borough President, alleging discrimination in Community Board 3 leadership assignments. An investigation is ongoing. Last night, another board member, Val Jones, asked Marlow the following question. “I am an African-American female,” she said. “If during your tenure, I email you, which is probably what I would do, and say, listen, ‘I feel that you discriminated against me.’ I want to know your response.” Marlow replied, “my response would be to ask you to sit down so we could talk about what happened, what your concerns are… and, most importantly, is what I would not do. I would not pass judgment on your conclusion. What I would do is try to address what led to that concern and what we could do to make things better. ”
No other member of CB3’s executive committee faced a challenger last night. Herman Hewitt (first vice chair), Ricky Leung (second vice chair), Carlina Rivera (secretary), Jamie Rogers (assistant secretary) and Bill LoSasso (treasurer) were all unanimously re-elected.