Full Contact Politics: Setting the Record Straight

We've received an email from the president of the Downtown Independent Democrats, clarifying one of several bizarre incidents that occurred at the political club's June 2nd endorsement meeting. We previously reported that challenger Pete Gleason won the endorsement over City Councilman Alan Gerson. In the press release wrapping up the dramatic evening (more on that in a moment), Sweeney (a Gerson detractor) wrote:

Tensions ran very high throughout the evening.  In one
instance, Luke Henry, a ringer from Gerson's VRDC Executive Board,
attempted to vote, only to be discovered and have his ballot shredded
as he attempted to place it in the ballot box. 

In his email to us late last week, Sweeney explained there had been a misunderstanding:

some 124 voters there was a lot of confusion, and one of our members,
Luke Henry, asked if he could vote and I said, amidst all the turmoil:
"Certainly."  Someone then noted that Luke had voted at VRDC.  When we
brought this up to him, he readily admitted it and surrendered the
ballot when I informed him that DID has a rule that an individual can
only vote in one club.  I also made the erroneous assumption that Luke
was sent in by VRDC to vote for Gerson.  I later discovered that I was
incorrect in that assumption, an assumption made in haste and released
to the press in the wake of a tumultuous meeting.

The Lo-Down did not refer to the press release in our recounting of the meeting, but several days later, we mentioned an article in Tenant Planet.org that linked to it. Got that? Now on to the really surreal stuff.

For the past week, local political reporters have been trying to sort out a quote "physical showdown" between Councilman Gerson and Gil Horowitz, a 72-year old member of the club. According to the reports (City Hall News, Downtown Express), Gerson rushed over to defend his 84-year old mother Sophie, who was having an argument with Horowitz.

Horowitz said Gerson "grabbed me and hurled me about 20 feet away." Gerson has told reporters that there may have been some contact with Horowitz as he attempted to separate him from his mother, but there was certain;y no "physical altercation." At any rate, Horowitz threatened to call the cops – Gerson said something like "go ahead," and even handed Horowitz his cell phone. Horowitz was unamused: he threw the phone against a wall, with "all the force I could muster," he says. Amazingly, a lot of people at the meeting didn't even hear the incident. Just another routine night in the First District Council race, I guess.

Residents Brainstorm Ideas for Luther Gulick Park

Dave Bolotsky has a dream: he wants to see Luther Gulick Park at Delancey and Willett Streets transformed from an eyesore to an urban oasis. There’s no doubt most everyone in the neighborhood shares his dream. But It became apparent early during last night’s community meeting- which Bolotsky organized-  that reaching a consensus about the details will not be easy.

About 75 residents huddled around Parks official Bob Redmond, the subway rumbling across the Williamsburg Bridge. They took turns with a megaphone, speaking out about the future of a park, which has suffered from years of neglect. Many people in attendance remembered Luther Gullick’s glory days- a beautiful sitting area, a fountain that became an ice rink in the winter, chess tables, lush trees. Redmond explained that benches and tables were removed in the 1980’s, due to complaints from neighbors that the park had become a raucus cocktail lounge. Diseased trees were cut down about 10 years ago.

The meeting got off to a contentious start when one resident became agitated, complaining that adequate notice was not given about the meeting. Richard Ropiak of Community Board 3 shot back that information had been distrubuted several days ago. Redmond assured the man he would be happy to come back for another meeting, if anyone requested it. Another resident expressed concerns about late night noise in the park and smoke from barbeque grills that people set up on the weekends. The park borders the Hillman Housing Cooperative.

Redmond said no official planning would take place until the project is funded. He suggested the neighborhood lobby City Councilman Alan Gerson to make that happen. But Redmond was interested to hear ideas from the community, nonetheless. People in attendance said they wanted to see “lots of greenery and trees,” a wrought iron fence, bathrooms, a space for parents to play ball with their kids and an open design.  Right now the park is divided by an old chain link fence – handball courts bordering Delancey, a playground on one end, basketball courts in the middle and a desolate area where the benches and tables used to be. In order to walk from one end to the other, you have to go out on to Delancey Street.

Redmond said the job would cost about $2 million and take two years to design and complete. A represenantive from Councilman Gerson’s office was optimistic about the project. She urged residents and, especially their kids, to write to Gerson in support of finding the money spruce up the park.

Bolotsky and other organizers are now coming up with a strategy to find common ground in the neighborhood and convince officials to allocate the money needed for the refurbishing.

Anyone interested in joining the Luther Gulick park campaign can email Dave Bolotsky: david@uncommongoods.com.

To reach Alan Gerson’s office, call 212-788-7722.

Followup: Gerson’s Re-election Battle

Yesterday morning, we reported City Councilman Alan Gerson lost the endorsement of the Downtown Independent Democrats to Pete Gleason. Today the Downtown Express is out with more details. Reporter Josh Rogers called the defeat a "body blow" to Gerson's re-election efforts. Explaining the influential club's vote, Rogers wrote, "Gerson has lost the support of some Downtown political leaders who previously helped him get elected."

Gerson supporter Bob Townley said his candidate is facing more opposition in this election, in part,  because voters were expecting new blood in District 1. Gerson would have been prevented from running due to term limits, but he supported Michael Bloomberg's campaign to extend the limits for the mayor and the Council. Townley said Gerson should be re-elected due to his experience and track record helping Lower Manhattan. But a former Gerson supporter Julie Nadel says while she likes him personally she beieves he's "totally disorganized." For Gerson's part, he noted that he won most of the other club endorsements and that the DID "does not represent the district."

Gerson's other opponents are Margaret Chin, PJ Kim and Arthur Gregory. Chin's campaign manager, Jake Itzkowitz, told us she directed her supporters to vote for Gleason so Gerson would not win the endorsement. Itzkowitz says it was a demonstration of Chin's organizational prowess. Incidentally, we'll be interviewing Chin next week. During the campaign, we hope to conduct Q & A sessions with all of the candidates and to cover the 1st District race extensively.

Wednesday News Links

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver tells the New York Times he has doubts about Governor Paterson's ethics reform proposals. Senate leader Malcolm Smith, who backs the legislation, took a shot at Silver yesterday, saying legislative leaders should not have outside incomes. Silver, an attorney, has resisted calls for him to disclose his client list. Silver's spokesman says he continues to believe in a citizen legislature.

As we reported earlier, City Councilman Alan Gerson lost the endorsement of the Downtown Independent Democrats last night to Pete Gleason. The blog, Soho Politics, says Gleason only won by two votes in the first round. But after a recount, his lead widened 64-52. Meanwhile, another influential club, the Stonewall Democrats, endorsed Gerson, even though they chose to stay out of other races in which incumbents are "under siege." The Daily News says Gerson is poised to lose the upcoming endorsement of the Working Families Party.

EV Grieve has details of the community meeting last night to discuss complaints about late night noise and other problems from the Cooper Square Hotel. It appears to have been a rough replay of the contentious meeting last week concerning noise at the Thompson LES Hotel. There was one difference. Jeremiah's Vanishing New York reports people attending the meeting walked outside to witness a lavish private party at the hotel to celebrate the unveiling of the new Astin Martin.

Senator Charles Schumer's office says the Grand Street Settlement is one of 13 New York organizations to receive grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Grand Street will get $260,000 to hire 40 AmeriCorps members to "help New York City students to improve their education."

Tuesday News Links

Black and Latino students are making big gains in state math test scores. But the statistics released yesterday are being hotly debated. Joel Klein, head of NYC's public schools, says it's a big victory. Other education experts contend there may be less to cheer about than you might think.

From the New York Post's police blotter, a shop owner on Henry Street (near Catherine) was beaten by two suspects who smashed him with a chair on Friday. The victim said he'd broken up a fight the day before between the suspects and another man.

The influential Downtown Independent Democrats meet tonight to endorse candidates running in September's primary election. Some observers think challenger Pete Gleason could steal the endorsement away from Councilman Alan Gerson in the first district race. We plan to post the results late tonight.

A nice new feature on NYC.GOV makes it easy to find bike racks throughout the city.

The Chinatown Working Group held a town hall meeting last night. We'll have a a report on that later today.

Thursday News Links

The push to oppose the city's plan to revamp Chatham Square is picking up momentum. Yesterday City Councilman Alan Gerson, NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson and community organizers rallied and delivered petitions to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. They're demanding the LMDC withhold funding due to community opposition to the plan.

In the New York Post, columnist Jacob Gershman speculates about Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's reasons for supporting mayoral control of NYC's schools. He theorizes that, since Governor Paterson is practically on political life support, Silver is, essentially, the state's de facto governor. And, he says, some people believe this has inspired him to "adopt less combative and more statesman-like style."

Also in the Post, an analysis shows that about $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money is already being spent in New York. Among the projects underway: $23 million to reconstruct a portion of East Houston Street.

Tuesday News Links

According to the New York Post, the NYPD is dealing with a big increase in assaults downtown, the "city's party mecca." In the Lower East Side, there have been 43 assaults so far in 2009, up 30-percent from 2008. But the The Village (both East and West) topped the LES in violent crimes. The NYPD blames the big late night bar crowds downtown but the article does not explain what might have caused the increases this year.

District 1 City Councilman Alan Gerson barely squeaked out a victory last night in an endorsement meeting of the Village Reform Democratic Club. Gerson was expected to have an easier time – he used to be the president of the club. Gerson's weak attendance record and vote against term limits may have hurt his standing with the VRDC. Challenger Pete Gleason came in second.

Rent Board head Marvin Markus lays out his proposal for "a rent increase exemption," that would allow people who can't afford rent increases to apply for relief.

Saxelby Cheesmongers in the Essex Market trumpets the arrival of handmade corn tortillas from Hot Bread Kitchen. They're made from pure ground corn. Hot Bread Kitchen provides job training and English classes to women who have immigrated from Mexico, Bangladesh, the Phillipines,
Ecuador, Mali, and Afghanistan.

Gerson Challenger Sees Early Fundraising Success

Pj_about City Hall News reports City Council Candidate P.J. Kim has surprised the political establishment, raising $70,000 in two weeks. Kim just joined a crowded field taking on Councilman Alan Gerson in District 1, which includes much of the Lower East Side. He's just 30 years old. Kim is vice president of Single Stop USA. which helps the poor access government services. According to City hall News, Gerson said Kim's early fundraising success did not surprise him. He said it did not make up for a lack of experience in government. We'll take an in-depth look at all of the candidates running in District 1 in the weeks ahead.

Residents Battle Chinatown Buses and NYC Red Tape

As early as 6 o’clock in the morning, the long tour buses pull up to Albert Chan’s apartment on Pike Street, idling, attracting swarming crowds and snarling traffic. There’s so much congestion MTA buses often can’t stop at the curb. The booming Chinatown bus business has been a boon to consumers, who can travel to Washington, D.C., Boston and other cities for around 20 bucks. But for Chan and his neighbors, the daily scene at their doorstep has become a nightmare.

Tonight, he’ll go before a committee of Community Board 3, asking members to support his request to revoke the bus company’s permit for 3 Pike Street, the residential building next door. For weeks, Chan has been going back and forth with the mayor’s  community liaison and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office. Silver has written a letter to the NYC Dept. of Transportation in support of revoking (or at least re-evaluating) the permit.

Here’s the rub: it’s hardly an isolated problem. Since 1998 when the city first started allowing the discount buses to load and unload passengers curbside, they have become a mini-phenomenon. No one knows for sure, but it’s apparent more private interstate buses roll through Chinatown every day than depart the Port Authority. With no central pick-up or drop off location, they fan out all over downtown, parking wherever they can.

City Councilman Alan Gerson is calling on the DOT to come up with a master plan for private buses in the city. When the agency tried to develop a temporary solution in 2007, parking the buses on Pike Street near the FDR Drive, community groups rebelled. It’s a classic case of NIMBY- “not in my back yard.”  The representative from the mayor’s office actually asked Chan is he had any ideas where the buses could be moved.

The situation grew even more vexing last month when the city was forced to scrub plans to move 18 buses to Tribeca. They’re now joining a much larger cluster of buses along the East River, delaying construction of the new esplanade.

We’ll see what CB3’s transportation committee decides to do. The meeting takes place at 630pm, at 308 East 1st Avenue.


Thursday News Links

Streetsblog took note of our coverage of Councilman Gerson's transportation town hall Monday night, saying "the session successfully gathered up ideas from ill-informed cranks."  They concluded:

A quick CrashStat check reveals
that, contrary to Mr. Jacob's (LES resident who said there had only been one fatality in the area) gut assertion, several people have been
killed by autos while walking on Grand Street in recent years. Co-op
Village, like many other housing developments in the area, is home to a
big senior population. Those pedestrian refuges make Grand Street safer to cross and less intimidating to older New Yorkers.
Rolling back critical safety improvements that improve seniors' quality
of life — is that really the kind of "community input" that Gerson
wants to align himself with?

The Villager's take on the town hall is now online. Harold Jacob gets a starring role in their write-up, as well:

 Jacob recalled that Margaret Forgione, D.O.T. Manhattan borough
commissioner, told a Lower East Side forum earlier this year that the
Grand St. median island was intended to avoid pedestrian deaths on a
section of Grand St. where there had been three fatalities. Jacob said
he obtained records through a Freedom of Information Law request and
found that there were no fatalities at that location, but that there
had been one death on Clinton St. after a safety island had been
installed at an intersection.

The Villager also has more on the New York Housing Authority's new pet policy, banning pit bulls and other breeds.

The Tenement Museum's blog has a few interesting posts on the groundbreaking artists who told the stories of immigrant life on the Lower East Side.

Just in time for Mother's Day, Metromix profiles a dynamic duo: Roni-Sue of Roni-Sue's Chocolates in the Essex Street Market and her son Corwin Kave of Fatty Crab.

City Officials Hear Residents Vent About Transportation Concerns

Lower East Side residents, undeterred by the continuing downpour, filed into P.S. 134 tonight to tell city transportation officials just how unhappy they are with several recent decisions impacting streets in the neighborhood. The forum was a town hall meeting organized by City Councilman Alan Gerson.

City Transportation Commissioner Luis Sanchez and Gerry Bogacz of the New York Metro Transportation Council mostly listened quietly as people in the community sounded off on the "arrogance" of installing center islands and bike lanes on Grand Street, the unresponsiveness of the city to problems with street signs along Rutgers Street, the behavior of bicyclists and several other issues.

Councilman Gerson said there's a widespread belief among his constituents that their concerns fall on deaf ears. He called on greater accountability and stepped up efforts to involve the community in the decision making process. One resident blasted Mayor Bloomberg for the changes on Grand Street, saying they are "a disgrace to this community."

Tomorrow we'll have much more on the issues addressed at the town hall, street by street. We'll also hit the streets ourselves with video camera in hand to illustrate some of the tensions and problems that were on display tonight. A consistent theme throughout the town hall: bicyclists are a menace in the neighborhood — ignoring traffic laws, going the wrong way in bike lanes, riding on sidewalks. We'll also have more on that, including the response from cycling activists (it's bike month, afterall).

Monday News Links

According a New York Post "source" State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is weighing the idea of delaying some of the MTA's capital projects until the economy improves.

Speaking of Shelly, he provided a grant to make possible the Alliance for Downtown's free bike program. You can borrow a set of wheels for 2.5 hours – free.

City Council members Gerson and Liu host a Lower East Side "transportation issues" Town Hall tonight at P.S. 134 at 630pm. See the details here.

Daniel Boulud's new restaurant on the Bowery will be a "little french, a little American." New York Magazine details the menu.

Some people in Chinatown felt Nic Cage and the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" crew overstayed their welcome on Eldridge Street. Now he's moved on to terrorizing Midtown. Last night in Times Square, a chase scene went awry, a ferrari jumped a sidewalk on 7th Avenue and two people were injured before the car took out a Sbarro restaurant.