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Jan Lee vs. CB3

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Jan Lee is not one to hold back. As the driving force behind one of Lower Manhattan’s most active neighborhood groups, the Civic Center Residents Coalition (CCRC), he is brash and outspoken.  In the past, he’s taken on New York City’s Transportation Department, the NYPD and even the Mayor. But now, Lee has a new target: Community Board 3.

In recent weeks, the CCRC has been on the forefront of the battle to get the 9/11 terror trials moved from the federal courthouse on Pearl Street. Long before elected officials lined up in opposition to the Obama Administration’s plan, the members of the group were speaking out against a decision they believed would make them prisoners in their own homes.

The tide turned when the group finally persuaded Community Board 1 to join the fight, and virtually all of downtown’s political leaders followed suit. But several days ago, on his web site, Lee asked a provocative question: “Where is CB3?”

While bridges have been built between communities to the south and west of Chinatown during the battle to relocate the terror trials out of Lower Manhattan, Community Board 3 which includes the Daniel Patrick Moynahan U.S. Federal Courthouse and Chinatown where the terror trials would have been held, has remained strangely silent. CB1 Representatives Marc Ameruso and John Fratta, as well as Julie Menin (Chair of CB1), crossed community boundaries to work together with residents and businesses to convince local, state and federal agencies to remove a terror trial, thereby averting financial and residential lock down of several communities. However, the conspicuous conspiracy of silence from Community Board 3’s Dominic Pisciotta and district manager Susan Stetzer was deafening… While we were waiting to go on air for the HUCKABEE national news show to discuss the 9/11 trials on Friday, Communitiy Board 1 Chair Julie Menin even said “Chinatown is not even in our district – have you heard from Dominic?” Sadly, no one has.
Not surprisingly, CB3’s Pisciotta did not take kindly to the accusations. He took the unusual step of responding to Lee in the comments section of the CCRC  blog. CB3 provided The Lo-Down with an expanded version of his comments:

Since Jan Lee seems to be playing very loose with facts, I feel the need to provide some.

Fact #1: The Court where the trials themselves were to be held is located in Community Board 1 (CB 1), not CB 3. A large chunk of the “soft-security zone” is located in CB 3.

Fact #2: Mr. Lee posted this entry two days after he and I sat across the table from each other at a presentation given by Commissioner Kelly, which is the first time I have been given any details of the security plan. Saying that I have been silent on this issue is completely false. I discussed the issue at Community Board 3’s Executive meetings in both December and January and the General Board meetings in January (https://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2010/01/community-board-3-highlights.html/trackback). However, Mr. Lee cannot be expected to know what is discussed at CB meetings since he does not attend these meetings. Maybe he should attend relevant meetings or at least do some research before reporting on what the Community Board is doing. Additionally, the only conspiring Susan Stetzer and I have done on this issue is coordinating the invites to multiple meetings and taskforces we have been asked to be a part of as well as our top concerns of impacts to the community that we feel need to be addressed. Two items of which I brought up with Commissioner Kelly after his presentation and which Mr. Lee and others from the CCRC heard as well.

Fact #3: Despite literally ZERO community residents coming to Community Board 3 with concerns over the trial, I have been concerned and have had discussions with Ms. Menin both in our December Borough Board meeting and since. CB 3, unlike CB 1, did not have residents attend a meeting and ask for a vote on the trials.  Despite what has been said in other forums, NO ONE has contacted the office either. In any case, we generally would not vote on an issue that is located mostly in CB 1 until after that board takes a position.  The only way that anyone has involved CB 3 is to include us in blast emails the last two weeks.

Fact #4: Ms. Menin has done a phenomenal job taking charge on this and I give her tremendous kudos for what she has helped to accomplish. This issue moved very quickly in the last two weeks and Ms. Menin gets a good amount of credit for it. In fact, the Borough President asked to get a better handle on the details before scheduling it for a full Borough Board (all CB’s in Manhattan) vote.

Fact #5: Ms. Menin and I determined that my calling an emergency Community Board 3 Executive and/or full board meeting to support the CB 1 resolution was probably not necessary. I will introduce it at our February Executive meeting and if passed, will be voted on by the full Board the next week. I certainly was ready to do this as an emergency measure. That’s not silence or inaction.

I do question the quote attributed to Ms. Menin in this post, especially since I know that Julie does recognize that CB 1, 2, and 3 all share part of Chinatown and her area include the most hardened zone. I will let her address that though.

Fact #6: Of course we scoffed in general discussion at the original comments by the Mayor and are happy that he has backtracked. But this gets to the point of how misinformed Mr. Lee is about how Community Boards work. Considering our limited resources, I would rather spend my own and the Board’s time focusing on responding to facts and details, so that we can make informed recommendations, not getting into a tit-for-tat with either the Mayor or Mr. Lee.

I would think that after Mr. Lee served on the Board’s Outreach Committee a few years ago that he would understand the process for engaging the Board by now. However, it is clear that he was more focused on his fiefdom than seeing all of the neighborhoods encompassed by CB 3 and did not pay attention to or have any interest in building anymore bridges than his own. In January I established an Outreach Taskforce that will be headed by Gigi Lee. It is my hope that community members will learn how to interact with the CB more and vice-versa. It was the mission of the Outreach Committee, when Mr. Lee was a member, to do this before, however, the Board did not meet that goal, so we’re trying again.

I invite Mr. Lee to come back to the open Executive and Full Board meetings to reacquaint himself with how to bring issues to the board and to contact me and/or the office regarding his concerns. Why he has taken the time to write this blog entry instead of picking up the phone and reaching out to me for the first time since we have met is beyond me. It doesn’t seem productive or even the proper representation CCRC needs in this “bridge building” effort. I think the answer probably lays more in the fact that he is seeking to emulate Tea Party activism by fabricating an issue to get his way rather than to work with a completely sympathetic Board. He just needs to make the effort himself.

In a lengthy rebuttal (you can read it verbatim here), Lee disputed many of Pisciotta’s points.  In summary, he asserted that CB3 could and should have played a more active role, rather than waiting for residents to come forward with concerns. Responding to Pisciotta’s contention that he appeared  “focused on his fiefdom”, Lee said,  “I have no army, I have no followers, and I don’t’ aspire to be anything more than a citizen and an advocate for the neighborhood I live in and love.” Lee concluded:
To have relied on one person (CB1 Chair), as he said he did, is an misuse of his position. I sense that Mr. Pisciotta probably thought he was doing the right thing in asking for advice from another Board Chair, unfortunately he stopped short of reaching out to the actual community that would be under siege. If that community was in a state of panic, and rallying it’s own “troops” to the front line of the debate, then Mr. Pisciotta’s role was not to lay back but to motivate his own Board to action.
In a phone interview this afternoon, CB1’s Julie Menin said she does not recall asking “where’s Dominic?”  Menin said she talked with Pisciotta before a meeting she had requested with NYPD officials. She said Pisciotta asked if CB3 could be part of that meeting, and she agreed.
Menin said she encouarged all of the community boards to support CB1’s resolution calling for the trials to be moved. She confirmed what Pisciotta had indicated, that the “Borough President asked to get a better handle on the details before scheduling it for a full Borough Board (all CB’s in Manhattan) vote.”
Lee is not the only Chinatown resident who has expressed concerns. We also heard from Avi Turkel, who was an aide to former Councilmember Alan Gerson. A resident of Chatham Towers, the building next door to the federal courthouse, Turkel said the following (via email):
Residents and businesses of the Civic Center had to go outside of their own community board, to CB1, just to gain a forum to voice very real concerns over residential, commercial and municipal disruptions that are the inevitable consequence of the security apparatus attendant to the proposed 9/11 terror  trials.  CB3’s silence leaves the impression that it doesn’t care about the severe muti-year military-like lockdown the proposed trials would bring and what that would mean in terms of the human, and not just the financial, cost of security. Street closures will snarl traffic and limit critical automotive and pedestrian access both north and south of Worth Street; security checkpoints will scare people away from our tourist and in-and-out lunch crowd dependent neighborhood economies. Snipers on the roof of residential buildings surrounding the courts make everyone in those buildings rightfully unnerved. CB3 constituents will go where they must to make their voices heard, but they really shouldn’t have had to go anywhere else at all.
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2 COMMENTS

  1. I spent an hour checking maps today, as to whether or not the Federal Courthouse at 500 Pearl Street, where the terror trials are currently planned to be held, was located in Community Board 1 or Community Board 3. As best as I can determine, the Federal Courthouse is actually located in CB3 where Dominic Pisciotta is Board Chair and Susan Stetzer is District Manager!

    Dominic Pisciotta is either unaware of his own community’s board’s boundaries or he is consciously stating a falsehood – neither of these conditions are good for CB3’s constituents.

    There is no excuse for the leadership of CB3 to be AWOL regarding the terror trials. Led by community activists like Jeanie Chin of Civic Center Residents Coalition, the community’s protest against the trials location downtown in CB3 has been in the media since November and Jan Lee was even on national TV, Fox 5, speaking about it with Julie Menin a couple weeks ago. Many electeds in recent weeks have stated publicly and collectively that they oppose the location of the terror trials. You would have to be living in a vacuum to not be aware of continuous protest against the terror trials’ location in CB3 since November 2009.

    Post 9/11, the neighborhoods downtown, including Chinatown which is located in CB3, suffered deep and prolonged tribulations of loss of safety due to parking placard abuse, huge economic loss, and psychological and spiritual tolls that still exist today. The Security Plan that Ray Kelly has to secure the area around the Federal Courthouse for the terror trials would turn the surrounding area (within CB3’s boundary) into an extreme 24/7 militarized zone with sharpshooters on roofs, bomb sniffing dogs, both random and regular bag checks and I.D. checks, no cars, and checking ALL deliveries in and out of the neighborhood. This is way beyond what we went through post-9/11, and our neighborhoods have not even recovered from that ordeal yet!! It is shocking to hear that CB3 Board Chair Pisciotta, after hearing Ray Kelly describe the above security plan, kept his mouth shut when Kelly opened the floor to questions from the community members in that room!

  2. Why should downtown residents be held prisoners in their own neighborhood? That’s what would happen if the terror trials take place at 500 Pearl Street. I called CB3 and asked Susan Stetzer why the glaring absence of CB3 at the numerous press conferences and demonstrations against the terror trials. Her answer was “No one notified us.” Amazing! I told her CB3 should have jumped on the issue back in November when Attorney General Holder first announced the plan.Like the saying goes,”Better late than never.” Let’s see some action from CB3.

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