Last week, we reported that the upcoming election to lead Community Board 3 was shaping up as a two-way contest between current Chairperson Gigi Li and challenger Chad Marlow. That’s exactly the way it played out at this week’s full board meeting. The 50 members of CB3 will make their choice June 24.
Li, director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, was first elected to head CB3 in 2012. Marlow is a senior policy adviser at the New York City Department of Health. Prior to being appointed to CB3, he served on four other New York City boards and is a former president of Village Independent Democrats.
In a statement handed out to board members at Tuesday night’s meeting, Marlow wrote that his primary goal is “to ensure that (the) board operates in a manner that is democratic, transparent and inclusive.” Marlow added, “my sole function as Chair would be to improve the functioning of our board and restore its reputation with our community.” He pledged to “have an executive committee and committee chairpersons that reflect the diversity of the community board and the community it serves.” In the statement, Marlow also promised to “respect the autonomy of community groups to decide how they should conduct their own independent advocacy efforts and internal operations.”
In the past year, Marlow has been a leading critic of several decisions made by Gigi Li. Among them: the suspension of the LES Dwellers as a recognized community group and the handling of a proposal to co-name a section of Rivington Street “Beastie Boys Square.” Marlow is a leader of a group of like-minded community board members who have been meeting privately in recent months to discuss their dissatisfaction with the leadership of CB3.
Most recently, Li found herself under fire from another board member, Ayo Harrington, who filed a complaint with the Manhattan Borough President concerning a “failure to appoint any Black or Latino members” to chair CB3 committees.
During the meeting, City Council member Rosie Mendez took the unusual step of addressing the accusations of discrimination. “I just want to say I believe that Gigi Li did not intentionally discriminate against any minority group,” Mendez said. “I think maybe she made some mistakes on process and I have told her about that.” Referring to the investigation being conducted by the Borough President’s office, Mendez said she looked forward to reviewing the findings when the inquiry is complete.
Harrington, the African-American board member who filed the complaint, reacted immediately. “It’s really not helpful for an elected official to make that type of comment” before the investigation is complete, she complained.. But Mendez stood her ground, arguing that she was free to express an opinion on the matter and that her point of view has no bearing on the Borough President’s upcoming report.
Later in the meeting, Li also made remarks about the accusations and she addressed a late April letter from board member Vaylateena Jones, detailing several suggestions regarding appointments. Jones called for the establishment of term limits for committee chairs and a more transparent process for choosing chairpersons.
“While there is no one solution to address these issues,” Li said, “I firmly believe that improvements can always be made in how we conduct business.” She described a few initial steps to increase participation from a wider selection of board members. Among them: the publication of current assignments on a variety of community-wide advisory panels (such as the Lower East Side BID) and a call for more volunteers to serve within those groups. Li also said she’s asking all committees to discuss individually whether to appoint a vice chair and/or secretary. It could be a way, she suggested, to provide additional mentorship opportunities. Li said the ideas proposed by Jones would be taken up by CB3’s ethics, by-laws and procedures task force.
At the June 24th full board meeting, both Li and Marlow will make their individual cases to fellow members before a vote takes place. There will also be a short question-and-answer period.