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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED SEPT 24, 2013 | UPDATED SEPT. 26, 2013 | An oversize presence on Community Board 3 for more than a decade, David McWater announced his resignation at C.B. 3’s monthly full-board meeting on Tuesday evening, Sept. 24.
As first reported in a special online article in The Villager, McWater told the newspaper on Monday afternoon that he would resign the following day.
Speaking after the full-board’s public session on Tuesday, McWater gave a brief, 10-minute speech. He thanked former City Councilmember Margarita Lopez, who he said, “really salvaged me when I was a goof-off at 27, 28.” He thanked Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and former fellow board member Harvey Epstein for being “unsung heroes” on the East Village / Lower East Side rezoning and also, in Epstein’s case, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. McWater also thanked C.B. 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer and other fellow board members who were his allies in the initiatives he led, or who had mentored him when he first came on the board.
McWater said the decision to leave the board was his own, and that he wasn’t pressured out, that he had the support of the Manhattan borough president. He said his father died earlier this year, adding, “I had decided sometime ago not to reapply for reappointment in April.”
“Any of you in this room who may have mistreated me, I forgive you,” he said. “And if there are any of you who feel mistreated by me, I hope you’ll forgive me, too.”
Then he handed over the microphone for the last time and briskly walked up the aisle and out the door, and was gone down the sidewalk.
Before his remarks, board members — some probably already having learned the news by reading The Villager article — had come over to McWater to wish him well.
On Monday afternoon, McWater spoke to The Villager in two telephone interviews, during the latter of which he said he planned to resign from the board. During the second conversation, which was more than an hour long, he reflected on his C.B. 3 career and its high points, as well as his frustrations.
McWater said that on Monday afternoon he initially had considered only stepping down from the board’s State Liquor Authority Committee, but that a few hours later, after thinking it over, he decided to resign from the board completely.
‘Too tired, too frazzled’
“I’m just too tired, too frazzled and don’t have the time that I used to,” he said. “It’s very time-consuming and it’s very emotionally debilitating,” he said of serving on the board.
McWater, 47, chaired the East Village / Lower East Side community board for four consecutive one-year terms from June 2004 to June 2008.
A bar owner, he currently owns three bars, Doc Holliday’s and The Library, both on Avenue A, and Milano’s, on East Houston St. near Mulberry St. In the past, he owned more bars.
McWater said he is most proud of two major initiatives he shepherded through to approval, the 2008 East Village / Lower East Side rezoning — which added height caps for new construction for a 110-block area — and, more recently, the redevelopment plan for the long-dormant Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.
Last week, Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference to announce that developers had been selected for the massive $1.1 billion SPURA project, located at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge.
The first telephone conversation began with The Villager asking McWater about a tip the paper had received: that it seems he does not live in New York City anymore, which would bar him from being a community board member. McWater countered that what the paper should be calling him about is the recent selection of a developer for the SPURA project site.
He also took a shot at a certain Community Board 2 member, who he accused of having taken a free “three-year membership” from the Meatpacking District Soho House, who then turned around and opposed Soho House’s Ludlow St. liquor-license application. That’s another story The Villager should do, he countered.
Touts his triumphs
“I’ve done more than any community board member in the history of New York City,” McWater declared. “Nobody in the last 20 years did anything like the Lower East Side rezoning and SPURA. The community owes me a debt — nobody’s ever done what we’ve done. Nobody — nobody ever did anything like SPURA and the rezoning.
“The proudest moments in my life were the Lower East Side rezoning and SPURA,” he said. “With the Lower East Side rezoning we stopped N.Y.U. in their tracks at Third Ave.; except for a few areas, you can’t go over eight stories. We stopped the dorms, we stopped the hotels. It’s the greatest bulwark against gentrification the Lower East Side could ever have — and I believe, in my heart, we saved the homes of hundreds and possibly thousands of people, protecting them from being harassed out of their homes by landlords and developers to build buildings.
“When I started SPURA, people said, ‘You’ll never be able to do it,’ ” he continued. “All the votes on the Lower East Side zoning and SPURA — despite people wanting to make me a lightning rod — every committee vote, every full board vote, every City Planning vote, every Borough Board vote, City Council — unanimous.
“It was miraculous,” he said of SPURA. “We took one of the most fractious communities in Manhattan and we brought a consensus. It was remarkable, it was a lot of work. We got 500 affordable units, 3,400 construction jobs and 1,600 permanent jobs.”
‘Third-largest rezoning EVER’
Regarding the East Village / Lower East Side rezoning, he said, “It’s the third-largest rezoning in the history of Manhattan. The only people who did anything bigger were Bloomberg on the Hudson Yards and a big rezoning by Robert Moses. It was a very big deal.
“I defy anybody to find two accomplishments by any other community board member like that. Find just one,” McWater declared. “SPURA never would have happened if we didn’t do the Lower East Side rezoning — it taught people that we could do it.
“I’m proud of my legacy,” he stated.
However, at the same time, he said, “I’m tired of fighting over State Liquor Authority issues.”
After stepping down as the board’s chairperson in June 2008, McWater has been chairperson of C.B. 3’s Land Use, Zoning, Public and Private Housing Committee, and also a member of the board’s S.L.A. Committee, which weighs in on liquor license applications.
Anti-bar resident groups have recently gained momentum following the denial of a liquor license at 106 Rivington St. both by C.B. 3 and the S.L.A. Often, C.B. 3 recommends denial of a liquor license for a nightlife establishment, only to have the S.L.A. approve it. But in the case of 106 Rivington, the authority supported the community board, which opposed the application last October.
Clash caught on video
Things recently came to head on Mon., Sept. 16, at the board’s S.L.A. Committee meeting over an application for a new licensed establishment at 120 Orchard St. by a group calling itself Pure 120. Neighborhood opponents said they don’t want another nightclub there.
McWater arrived at the meeting late because he had been at an earlier meeting with officials from the city’s Economic Development Corporation regarding SPURA, for which the mayor would announce the developers two days later. When McWater got to the S.L.A. Committee meeting, Sara Romanoski, an Orchard St. resident, who also happens to be the executive director of the East Village Community Coalition, accused him of only attending so he could vote on the 120 Orchard St. application.
The much bigger McWater lost his cool and got in the smaller woman’s face in an incident that was captured on several videos and went viral. He was subsequently publicly chided by the committee’s chairperson, Alexandra Militano, that as a board member he has to hold himself to “a higher standard” of behavior and not act like that.
“She said I had showed up at the meeting just for that one issue,” McWater said of Romanoski. “All I said is, ‘You have no right to talk to me that way.’
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “The S.L.A. stories always get framed in the context of me being a bar owner.”
The LES Dwellers group was the driving force behind the defeat of the 106 Rivington application, and they have also been fighting a liquor license application for Soho House on Ludlow St. in what’s known as “Hell Square” by residential neighbors.
On Soho House opposition
As for Soho House, McWater said, “It’s not on my radar. I couldn’t care less about it.” However, he added, “I think the Dwellers were crazy not to make a deal with Soho House. Soho House owns the building — they will get a hotel license.”
In general, he said, all the sturm und drang over liquor licenses, in the end, accomplishes little, since nine times out of 10, the S.L.A. approves the application no matter what.
“It’s just song and dance, it’s just theater,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the community board votes yes or no.”
On the other hand, he said, the stipulations for the bars’ operating hours, noise-abatement measures and so forth that the community board adds to its resolutions do matter.
Basically, he said, LES Dwellers and E.V.C.C. want “No” votes on all liquor license applications in the areas that they cover.
Blasting these two as overly narrowly focused groups, McWater said, “I don’t think one-issue people should be on community boards, and I don’t think one-issue groups should be given credence. Crusaders don’t make the best community board members,” he added. “Crusaders don’t reach consensus.
“People want to organize, they want to attack me,” he said. “Yeah, the Dwellers are like a million groups — they want to organize. I just don’t want to go through it again.”
Questions about residency
In addition, McWater was being dogged by questions about whether he currently lives in New York City. Community board members can live outside of the district for the board on which they serve if, for example, they have a business or work on an organization within that district. But, according to the City Charter, if a person resides outside of New York City, he or she is prohibited from serving on a New York City community board.
According to information obtained by The Villager, it appears that McWater’s legal residence, in fact, may be in Lambertville, N.J. A Lexis search of court filings shows that the State of New York has issued at least 11 warrants for back taxes — a couple for as much as $47,000 and $25,000, others for four-figure amounts — owed by McWater. In each case, the address these warrants were sent to was in Lambertville, N.J. Ten of these state tax warrants are dated April 23, 2013, and one is dated earlier, May 24, 2011.
The tax liens are filed for entitites identified on the court filings as, among others, “NGE,” probably referring to Nice Guy Eddie’s, a former McWater bar on Avenue A, as well as “Lower East Side Entities LLC” and “Preserve Milanos Inc.”
McWater told The Villager on Monday that he acquired the historic Milano’s bar around 2006 “when they were going to tear down the place and turn it into a hipster lounge for kids.”
He said that, when he was starting out, he learned the ropes of the bar business working at Milano’s, and so felt obligated to preserve it.
B.P. was on the case
The borough president appoints and has the power to remove community board members, all of whom are unsalaried volunteers.
Asked last week if McWater is a New York City resident, a spokesperson for Borough President Scott Stringer responded on Monday, “This matter is currently under review.”
McWater said he lives on First Ave. between E. Third and Fourth Sts., and even invited The Villager over to verify that he lives there.
“You’re welcome to come over and have a drink with me at my home,” he said.
He said he’s lived at four places in the East Village and Lower East Side since 1989, including E. 11th, Stanton and E. 12th Sts., as well as on First Ave.
As for the Lambertville address, he said, “I do have an address out there — I have a summer home out there.” He added that he has had a summer home since 1996, though not always in Lambertville.
‘I live in the city’
However, McWater wasn’t comfortable with the line of questioning. He also blasted “the blogs.”
“This is the new age of TMZ and all that bulls—,” he said with annoyance. “I live in the city.”
Asked point blank by The Villager where he files his taxes, he said, “I’m not answering any more questions about this. I can’t believe you’re stooping this low.”
A bit later, he said his taxes are “very complicated.”
Asked how often each week he’s at the Lambertville address, he again said, “I’m not answering any more questions about this.”
The first phone conversation ended.
McWater then e-mailed The Villager back a bit later saying to call him. It was during this second conversation that he said he planned to resign.
Built up baseball team
In addition to his work with C.B. 3 on SPURA and the E.V. / L.E.S. rezoning, McWater, wearing another hat — a red baseball cap — has always been immensely proud of his work with the L.E.S. Gauchos youth baseball program.
“At our peak we had eight teams on the field, 150 kids coached by two former big leaguers, all free,” he said. “I didn’t just run it, I coached it. I coached eight seasons on the field. We went to three N.A.B.F. World Series. One of our players, Jonathan Gonzalez, played in the minor leagues for two years.”
Stomach problems forced McWater to the bench a few years ago and he’s been less active with the team.
A brief stint as a movie producer didn’t turn out as successfully.
As for what’s next for him, his love of sports will be in the mix again. He said he’ll be “managing some fighters — on the Eastern Seaboard, Philly, Atlantic City.” In the early 1990s he also managed boxers, but that was around when his bars were starting to do well, so he got out of the sport.
Blasts ‘single-issue people’
Though not on the community board, he’ll still be around, he assured.
“I’m not going to retire — I’m not that old,” he said. “It’s not like I’m leaving. I’m involved in my community. I’m not like these single-issue people.”
But it was the single-issue people who, in the end, helped him reach his decision.
“This last controversy is the end,” he said of the flare-up at the Sept. 16 S.L.A. Committee meeting. “I mean, SPURA’s done,” he added.
Originally from Oklahoma, McWater attended New York University, where he studied Third World politics.
“I wanted to be a revolutionary and save the world,” he recalled.
Inspired by Lopez campaign
He has very fond memories of working to help get Margarita Lopez elected to the City Council in 1997, which he said sparked the birth of his own community activism. Back then, he introduced the candidate around to his many friends — “I knew a lot of people,” he said — to build support for her.
“That was a grassroots campaign. We were in people’s kitchens,” he recalled. “The neighborhood was in such flux, the neighborhood could have gone either way.
“Margarita awakened the best part of me — the service part,” he said. “This is the thing I was good at.”
McWater was subsequently appointed by then-Borough President C. Virginia Fields to a special committee to study New York City nightlife, which ultimately led to his getting appointed to C.B. 3 in 2000.
“I’m probably a mediocre businessman. This will probably be the biggest accomplishment of my life — I mean, SPURA was a $1 billion deal. I’ll never equal that in another realm. I don’t even know how I would. I’m not going to coach big league baseball.
“I like making things happen,” he said. “I like having a vision. It’s like the Gauchos — we were a national power for a few years there, and definitely a city power.”