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Chinatown Working Group in Limbo

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A few weeks ago it looked like a community planning organization was at long last poised to finalize a comprehensive proposal for Chinatown’s future. But following a dispute about the hiring of planning consultant, it appears the Chinatown Working Group (CWG) is going to be in limbo at least until next month.

Earlier this week, CWG Co-chair Jim Solomon told members of the organization he felt major decisions should be put on hold until October 4th, when new chairs are scheduled to be elected. Last month, several members objected to the process for screening applicants for the planning consultant job because the NYC Economic Development Corp. would have controlled the selection committee. Solomon has been working on an alternative, which could resolve the conflict. But at this past Tuesday’s steering committee meeting he argued it would make little sense to move forward until the CWG’s new leadership is in place.

For the past two years, Solomon and Thomas Yu have served as co-chairs. Yu has indicated he will not be a candidate when nominations are made at the organization’s next full board meeting on September 20th. Solomon has not publicly announced whether he would be willing to serve another term as co-chair.

During the meeting, CWG member Josephine Lee proposed a change in the way the organization is run. Suggesting more people should be helping to lead, she would like to see a larger group (perhaps 10) rotating chairs, who would take turns running meetings and who would assume specific (but more narrowly focused) responsibilities. Working with another member, Danny Chen, Lee will refine the proposal in the next couple of weeks, before formally presenting the concept to the full board.

Lee is one of the leaders of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, an organization that only recently joined the Chinatown Working Group. They were vocal critics of the selection procedure for the planning consultant, and have complained that CWG leaders do not take their suggestions seriously. A couple of weeks ago, they held a news conference to unveil a zoning proposal that would curtail development in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

One other note. At Tuesday’s meeting Solomon referenced the fact that he’s spent $15,000 of his own money to pay CWG administrative costs. He hoped the money would eventually be reimbursed from a grant State Senator Daniel Squadron had awarded to the CWG. But the grant has not yet materialized, meaning Solomon may not get his money back. Meanwhile, there are no funds available to continue paying an administrator who had been working with the organization. CWG members said there’s an “urgent need” to conduct a fund raising drive.

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