Volume 74, Number 41 | February 16 - 22, 2005

After Kerry campaign, district leader thinks locally

Keen Berger

By Ed Gold

Bloody but unbowed, Democratic District Leader Keen Berger returned from Ohio to her home turf, caught her breath, examined the Village scene and took positions on housing, sex shops, Union Sq., the Gansevoort Peninsula, West Side development and educational philosophy, among other items of interest to her and the community.

She insists her November experience, leading a contingent of 25 who signed up at Village Independent Democrats club to work for Kerry, was a positive one.

She recalls that her group with others who did canvassing brought thousands to the polls, while adding that “the other side did too, and did an even more effective job.”

She doesn’t buy “the red and blue states” concept. “They’re all purple, which stands for passion, and that’s what you have to engender,” she says. She’s impressed with the fact that several of her colleagues in Ohio who had no club affiliation before making the trip came home enthused, decided to remain actively in politics and joined V.I.D.

On her community agenda she makes these points:

* Housing: She sees the continued building of luxury housing, in the West Village in particular, and insists affordable housing for low- and middle-income families must be included. “The city must insure that a percentage of apartments in each of these luxury buildings is set aside to meet the demand for affordable housing.”

* Sex shops: The current formula requiring a ratio of 60 percent non-sex-related materials to 40 percent prurient inventory doesn’t work, she contends. She suspects the non-sex items are just a cover for customers who come from outside the neighborhood — which brings unwanted traffic into the Village — to stock up on the sex materials.

She thinks permits should only be issued to shops if at least 60 percent of their sales are from the non-sex inventory, and is confident that would sharply reduce the number of sex outlets in the community.

* Union Sq.: She focuses on the restaurant issue, deploring the mayor’s desire to have a permanent eatery in the park. The restaurant now there should relinquish its space, which should be converted into a children’s playground, she argues.

* Gansevoort Peninsula: First, the Sanitation trucks must go, as is required in the Hudson River Park Act, which the city and state governments are obligated to follow. She is also troubled by the mayor’s proposal to turn part of the area into a marine-transfer station for recyclables, saying it would create both a noise and garbage problem for the community. “We should have a park on Gansevoort, as was intended,” she says. “The city should go back to the drawing board.”

* West Side development: Her position on the proposed stadium is a no-brainer for Berger: “It would generate too much traffic. And anyway we don’t need it.”

* Educational philosophy: Berger, a former president of Community School Board 2, Manhattan, and a professor at Bronx Community College, finds the mayor’s view that “one size fits all” all wrong. She supports local control, as she has in the past, noting that P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 “are both great schools but are very different.”

She doesn’t like so-called “gates” on promotion, particularly when based on a single test, stating that education “is an ongoing process.”

She has a few thoughts on where the national Democratic Party should be going. “We probably have to reframe some issues,” she suggests, and uses abortion as an example. “Democrats should make clear that almost no one wants or likes abortions, but that a woman has a right to choose.” She says abortions are up during the Bush years, and feels that most abortions are related to poverty and poor healthcare.

“We should campaign to reduce abortions by fighting for legislation that will reduce poverty and improve healthcare,” she states.

She also talks about the importance of “people-to-people connections,” linking that concept to her party’s policy attitudes. “If mothers choose to stay home with young children we should approve that decision,” she notes. “Similarly, we should support gays who decide to get married. These are examples of people connecting with each other.”

Finally, on one local political decision, she fudges a bit. She says she would welcome District Leader Arthur Schwartz back into V.I.D. if he decided to rejoin. On the question of endorsing him for re-election she says: “I’ll have to take that issue up with the club membership.”

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