J’accuse! McCarthyism, Village politics and Pier 40


BY ARTHUR Z. SCHWARTZ | I was a child when McCarthyism reached its height. As a child I heard stories about this or that entertainer or celebrity being charged with being a communist, or knowing or consorting with communists. Careers and reputations were destroyed. Once I had a long conversation about it with Barney Josephson, whose famous Sheridan Square nightclub, Café Society, was destroyed by allegations that he and his brother, a New Jersey litigator, were communists. He chuckled and marveled how well they came out of it, but his eyes were pained as he spoke.

McCarthyism, at least as applied to communists, is dead and buried. But its tactics are not. And in liberal-minded communities like ours, sometimes words like “racist” or “homophobe” get thrown around in similar fashion — allegations, based on very little, designed to smear, not to engage in principled debate.

I don’t usually get to complain. I am a public figure, at times a controversial public figure, who is used to getting called names. I’ve learned to grin and bear it. And I certainly know how to dish it right back, although I rarely do.

But a line got crossed in The Villager a month ago that still leaves me angry, because it reflects an effort by some political forces in the Village to retain or regain power, and a lack of principle as they do that.

What was I called? I was labeled a “supporter of housing on Pier 40.” A whole page of ranting about this in a Scoopy column about the prearranged anointment of Jonathan Geballe to the Village district leader position. Tony Hoffmann, the Village Independent Democrats president, who himself was once the victim of smears decried by the late columnist Jack Newfield, announced that V.I.D. was running Geballe against me because I “supported housing on Pier 40.” Maria Passannante Derr, president of the Village Reform Democratic Club, who nominated me and then voted for Geballe, said the same thing: “Arthur supports housing on Pier 40.” But nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Unlike Geballe, who has never had a word to say about Pier 40 and has never lifted a finger to support it, I worked for Hudson River Park going back 17 years, when I filed a lawsuit for the Greenwich Village Little League and the Downtown United Soccer Club, which established the application of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) to Pier 40 and got the state to build a $2.5 million ball field on the roof. I helped draft and lobby for the Hudson River Park Act. I chaired the Community Board 2 Waterfront Committee for most of 15 years, and served as chairperson or vice chairperson of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council for most of that time.

In the course of that work I chaired two public task forces that looked at Pier 40 proposals, one in 2002-2003 and one in 2006-2007. And I was part of the Pier 40 Partnership, an independent effort in 2007 to find a solution for Pier 40. Those task forces and the Partnership included community leaders, elected officials, youth league reps and waterfront activists. Anyone who attended these meetings knows that I always took a nuanced approach, looking to build consensus and find solutions. Assemblymember Glick, former state Senator Duane and Council Speaker Quinn all signed on to the final task force recommendations both times, and generally supported the Partnership’s work.

There was NEVER a recommendation to consider housing.

Since December 2011 I have served on the latest Hudson River Park Trust Task Force looking for long-term solutions to for the park’s finances. Unlike the prior task forces, this one was chaired by the Trust’s president, Madelyn Wils. I chaired the C.B. 2 Waterfront Committee all of 2012, and the Hudson River Park Trust Advisory Council, and held numerous public hearings and meetings. No one who attended any of those meetings EVER heard me advocate for housing on Pier 40.

What I did do was publicly speak and write about building into the process, through legislation, some sort of safety valve to protect community input, which would be superior to ULURP. Some safety valve like the one that let Assembly Speaker Silver block a West Side stadium after it had passed ULURP. And, I advocated, once such a safety valve was in place, allowing all sorts of proposals to be made all over the park, even casino gambling on the pier that is now a tow pound (Pier 76). One position I stated repeatedly was opposition to condos in the park — no one should own a piece of the park. But I also question why renting a parking space to a car, or an office to a “tech firm” — both real estate transactions — was somehow preferable to renting an apartment to a family. I even dared to say that parking cars in the park was not a park-compatible use, but that I could live with it, with appropriate restrictions (mostly long-term parking spots that didn’t disrupt bikes, joggers, etc.)

But I NEVER said, “Build housing.”

But the modern-day McCarthyites decided they could not beat me in a district leader election without a smear campaign. Heaven knows what they will come up with now that housing is off the table.

Shame on you, Tony Hoffmann, and shame on V.I.D. if it adopts such tactics, tactics which belie its history.

And to The Villager: Do a little fact-checking next time, even for your gossip column.

Housing at Pier 40 appears to be a dead item. Let’s hope that McCarthyism in 2013 doesn’t rear its ugly head again.

Schwartz is vice chairperson of the Hudson River Park Trust Advisory Council and Democratic State Committee member for the 66th Assembly District

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10 Responses to J’accuse! McCarthyism, Village politics and Pier 40

  1. PleaseMakeItStop

    Why does Schwartz get a whole Villager column to write what anyone else would have to write in a letter to the editor? Next time he should try (an dbe force to try) something like this: "To the editor: Your recent reporting suggested that I was or am a supporter of housing on Pier 40. I have never taken such a position. The Villager and those it quotes would be better served to do some fact checking before making such accusations." There. Short and sweet. The rest is just Schwartz babbling about himself as if he was far more important than he is. Honestly, other than Schwartz, I don't think anyone is all that interested in reading his Talking Points. Please spare us and make this the last one!!!

  2. But do you now know, or have you ever known, anyone who supports housing at Pier 40?

    • I support it wholeheartedly. Least invasive option on the table – but I'm sure the lame politicians around here will just raise taxes or bring in retail. yeah, thats great for the park.

  3. Touche', Tobi. But, if he says you, will he be labeled a Communist or a Capitalist?

    Now let's all get together and put together a publicly owned and publicly traded, professionally run sports team corporation, started with capital from this community, build a little (15K and 40% footprint?) soccer arena for men's and women's teams, create jobs and permanent park space for this community, get Pier 40 done, save the leagues, make heroes of you all, and then get back to preservation, the real fight.

    This community has lawyers, organized sports, capital, and diversity. A modest soccer arena in Manhattan would attract money FAST. This is possible. Can we please have a meeting just to see what people think? There are no other ideas. Why must one that has passion and possibility behind it be ignored. Hatchets are buried, let's move on to the next thing.

  4. p.s. to pleasemakeitstop.

    I find Schwartz's articles informative, and he's as entitled as the next guy to defend his positions. Maybe next time put your name on it. Anonymity. The bane of blogs. Anonymity is for sources, not for people with opinions. Putting your name on things these days is an act of simple courage.

  5. Worth a look regarding forming a public sports corp. rather than the usual public to private giveaway:

  6. Every time I write in the Villager, an anonymous person says that what I write is not interesting and says that no one agrees with me. But the critic has clearly read what i write and is moved to continue the dialogue.Anonymous complaints were another feature of McCarthyism. I won't bite you Ms. or Mr. Anonymous COME OUT OF THE SHADOWS AND SAY WHO YOU ARE!.

    • Seems to me all the person wrote (and I agree) is that you took 1000+ words to write what you could have accomplished in 100 [and (s)he even does you the favor of showing how it could have been done with equal effectiveness]. That doesn't sound like a personal attack, and your defense of it as such just suggests you don't want to address the statement on it merits.

  7. Why isn't he entitled to elaborate on his record? I think this is perfectly legitimate. I'm looking back over this entire thread in earlier issues, and the fact is, (and I remember commenting on it many months ago when it became clear) that what appears to be his being fed up (as we all should be) with the Pier 40 situation has been misconstrued as support of housing. He never went that far, and 1.) because he is in the middle of a campaign, and 2.) because he has been falsely accused of something extremely important to this community, it, and he, deserve a thorough vetting. He writes it, we check his facts, we don't comment on his style or the length of his expression, the facts are what matter. Yet another faceless, nameless poster decided to make it personal, as if everyone else must adhere to their preferred style of posting. That's a personal comment, plain and simple. This, and many similar petty gestures, are why the unified community of the Bronx just announced a successful redevelopment agreement for the Kingsbridge Armory, with community priorities in place, and Pier 40 is still threatened. Anonymous bloggers, what do you think of a small soccer arena idea, or of an opportunity to let me put together a group to stand up and pitch it to the community?

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