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Gigi Li Re-elected CB3 Chair, Promises “Structural and Leadership Changes”

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Chad Marlow; Enrique Cruz, member of nominating committee; Gigi Li.
Chad Marlow; Enrique Cruz, member of nominating committee; Gigi Li.

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.

cb3 meeting

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.

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  1. CB3 disappoints again! But are we shocked that Gigi Li and her merry band of insiders were relectected: Herman Hewitt (first vice chair), Ricky Leung (second vice chair), Carlina Rivera (secretary), Jamie Rogers (assistant secretary) and Bill LoSasso (treasurer)? Hmmm who among her merry band of insiders wii be jockeying for power to replace her next year?

    In the end, the herd fell into line–Chad Marlow and residents didn’t stand a chance against corruption, cronyism and the politicos.

    Change can’t happen until MBP Brewer does what MBP Stringer did for CB2 (not reappoint 12 longtime members). Until this happens, residents living here will continue to be unrepresented and ignored.

    Gigi Li’s mushy, flowery speech about building “ladders of leadership” and being the child of immigrants falls on deaf ears of a community desperately in need of substance and change.

    Gigi Li wins and we lose (again)!

  2. It’s probably a good guess that many are inclined to agree with these MAD sentiments.

    It would however be far better to hold Gigi Li to her so-called mushy words as well as Gale Brewer and Margaret Chin. Setting aside the actual issues for a moment, we need to demand more from CB3 in terms of their engagement with the community. What passes for community outreach currently is far too often a token effort or an absolute farce. These folks operate in a bubble and give manifest short-shrift to engaging the community.

    Change is not good just for change sake, rather in this context it would be good if only to send a message that if you fail to be responsive to the community the community will respond to you (and not so kindly I might add). That being said at least a challenge was mounted. But we in the community have to put some more fuel behind such challenges in the future if Gigi Li ultimately fails to deliver on her promises to effect change. But beyond that we have to be prepared for a sustained effort to be agents of change until we get the representation we want and deserve. That is our responsibility and obligation in a adversarial and participant-driven democracy such as ours.

    We cannot sit back, through our hands up and complain that we’ve lost, particularly if “we” haven’t really mounted a fight. Many of us in the broader community are guilty of turning a blind eye until the actions of these folks have a direct impact upon us. But by then of course it is usually too late.

    We on the Lower East Side need to all consider setting aside some time to wag a little civil war (with civility of course) in our own community, because there’s lots of stuff about to happen and these folks at CB3 are cut-off from significant numbers of us on the LES.

  3. What are some of the issues you feel have gone unaddressed in the past year? Just curious what change you would propose and how it would work? Thanks.

  4. Now there’s a good question in search of a good answer. I’m not sure that I’m up to the task and considering it will take the community to properly inform a thorough response I’ll address it generally?

    CB3 has not engaged the Two Bridges waterfront community very effectively where we have the East River Esplanade, Extell Development, Healthcare Chaplaincy Network, Intercity Bus Law and related issues undergoing significant change. There are segments of the community who feel that their input is not sought as plans and visioning of our community being made do not include us.

    They’ve taken away our supermarket and in its place they’re going to put condominiums in a 68-story luxury building ranging from $800k to $3M; that’s not for us. We get a separate 10-story affordable 80/20 building which isn’t affordable in every sense and hardly adequate to address the need. The community resource Assemblyman Silver won for us on pier 35/36 was ultimately given to a “for profit” Basketball City by CB3 in an RFP process that didn’t include true community criteria. Granted this wasn’t in the last year, but we’ve seen more recently Billybay already renting out space on the dock behind Basketball City, while at the same time the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance had 1 meeting a few months ago to determine what the community wanted.

    If there’s one entity I can think of that should know the mind of the community and should have our interests at heart when these folks come peddling their plan, I would think it would be CB3. But that hardly seems to be the case, when you see from this story that CB3 questions itself.

    An instructive way to look at is form an optimal end state.

    People want to be able to continue to afford where they live; raise their children in a safe environment where there are things to do, good schools, affordable after-school, daycare and summer camp. We want a community that has the resources, amenities and infrastructure that cater to its current inhabitants, not one that seeks to supplant them.

    Over the past year, we’ve incrementally seen our environment become just a little more hostile to our optimal end state.

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