The campaign to co-name a Lower East Side street corner in honor of the Beastie Boys will get another shot before Community Board 3’s transportation committee next month. Yesterday afternoon, CB3 Chairperson Gigi Li told The Lo-Down she made the decision to place the issue on the March meeting agenda.
At last month’s full board meeting, 24 members voted against the proposal to designate the intersection of Rivington and Ludlow streets “Beastie Boys Square.” One member, Chad Marlow, voted yes (another member abstained). Co-naming applications are normally not reheard by the board for five years. In explaining their opposition, several members cited CB3 policy, which places a high priority on community involvement and dedication. The Brooklyn man proposing the designation, LeRoy McCarthy chose the LES intersection because it was depicted on the cover of the legendary hip hop group’s 1989 album, Paul’s Boutique.
McCarthy and other supporters of the idea appeared before CB3’s transportation committee earlier in the month. An original draft of the committee’s resolution stated, that McCarthy had been asked to “temporarily withdraw the application and continue to collect petition signatures to demonstrate there is substantial support from the local community.” The resolution noted that the board provides exceptions to its normal criteria “when there is exceptional and highly acclaimed accomplishment or involvement linked to Manhattan Community Board 3.”
McCarthy was not present at the full board meeting, since he was under the impression that he’d be returning to the transportation committee at a later date with more signatures (17 residents on the block signed the original petition). Following the full board vote, Marlow sent a letter to CB3 Chairperson Gigi Li and members of the transportation committee arguing that the board’s own procedures had been violated since McCarthy voluntarily withdrew with the understanding that the committee would eventually vote “yes” or “no” on his proposal. He asked Li to send the application back to the transportation panel, adding, “I am focused on making sure every group that seeks to appear before our board or one of its committees is provided adequate due process and given a full opportunity to be heard.” The letter was also sent to the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
In a phone interview, Li said there had been some confusion about the status of the application (meaning it was unclear whether it had been formally withdrawn). If an official withdrawal had occurred, she noted, there would have been no need for a vote. Now, it’s back to the drawing board. “Community Board 3 wants to make sure there’s a clear, equitable process and that this applicant has an opportunity to present his proposal to the transportation committee,” Li said. She said there is no clear policy as to whether it’s appropriate for the full board to vote on an issue in the absence of a committee hearing (she hopes the board will establish a policy in the near future). In the past, Li has said she allowed the full membership to expedite the decision since there was overwhelming opposition to the application. At the committee, McCarthy was left with the impression that his proposal would be approved if he gathered enough signatures. Since board members opposed the application for other reasons, Li suggested, it seemed unfair to give McCarthy false hope.
So what role did the borough president play? In a notably non-specific statement, a spokesperson for her office told us, “We’ve reached out to the parties involved and are hopeful for a resolution.” Li acknowledged that Brewer’s office contacted the community board about the issue, but said she and Crane had already decided to invite McCarthy to return to the committee in March.
Marlow said he’s pleased Li changed course. He does not believe there was any ambiguity about the withdrawal, and asserted that the community board is ill-served by “making these kind of self-serving technical distinctions” (regarding the status of various applications from community members).
“The community board’s job is to listen to the community,” Marlow said. “In the last six months, two different borough presidents have had to intervene (in CB3’s affairs),” he said. While conceding that he has no idea whether the borough president pressured Li to change her mind, Marlow argued, “the fact that she has to involve herself at all is troubling.” Last year, Brewer’s predecessor, Scott Stringer, publicly chastised CB3 for its handling of a local neighborhood group, the LES Dwellers. Marlow has been a central figure in both controversies and has emerged as an outspoken critic of the current community board leadership.
Decisions about street co-namings are up to the City Council, but the advisory opinions from local community boards are important. It’s still very much an uphill battle for McCarthy, but it should be noted that there was barely a quorum at last month’s full board. So it’s a little hard to predict the outcome of next month’s new vote.