Volume 76, Number 6 | June 28 - July 4 2006

Derr romps; newbies may shift C.B. 2’s business policy

By Ed Gold

Villager file photo
Maria Passannante Derr was reelected as chairperson of Community Board 2.
Maria Passannante Derr scored a strong win for reelection Thursday as chairperson of Community Board 2, well ahead of her challenger, David Reck, the board’s Zoning Committee chairperson, by a vote of 28-15, after one of the most acrimonious campaigns in recent C.B. 2 history.

Although Derr — considered by many members to be the more pro-business candidate — won handily, new appointees to the board led a modest sea change on the board taking a more skeptical line on several business resolutions. A few resolutions were returned to the Business and Sidewalks Committees for reconsideration, and one committee decision to grant a sidewalk cafe was reversed by the full board.

In a development rarely seen on community boards, nine of the 10 new members, all appointed by Borough President Scott Stringer, have banded together, strengthening the hand of long-term members who have thought the board was too accommodating dealing with liquor and sidewalk café licenses. Last year, the board came under fire when it was disclosed that Bob Rinaolo, a restaurateur at the time, was told by the city Conflict of Interest Board that he should not have been chairperson of the Business Committee handling liquor licenses.

Also reelected in a tighter race was Rocio Sanz, the incumbent treasurer for the last three years, beating one of the newly appointed board members, Sheela Feinberg, 25-20. The election of officers for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was held  during C.B. 2’s regular monthly meeting in Cronin Auditorium, St. Vincent’s Hospital June 22.

In other contested election races, John Diaz, chairperson of the Business Committee and vice-chair of Sidewalks, won handily over Don MacPherson, a former vice-chair who failed last year to win the fight for board chair. Diaz won for second vice-chair on Thursday by a vote of 30-14.

Derr, Sanz and Diaz, all originally appointed by former Manhattan President C. Virginia Fields, were considered by some opponents to be part of a group particularly sympathetic to business interests. But in the race for secretary, Jo Hamilton, a Far West Village activist who had been dropped from the board by Fields and reappointed by Stringer, beat another Fields appointee, Dr. John Maggio, who chairs the Social Service Committee, 27-18.  The seat had been previously held by Rinaolo, considered by many to be the leader of the pro-business faction, who did not seek reelection.

In two uncontested elections, Brad Hoylman, who is also a Democratic district leader in the Village, was reelected as first vice-chair, and Susan Kent filled the open seat of assistant secretary, each receiving 41 votes.

[Full disclosure: This writer is a longtime member of C.B. 2 who voted for Derr, Hoylman, MacPherson, Hamilton, Kent and Feinberg.]

Key elements in the pre-election debate, carried on by letter, e-mail and phone, focused on an anonymous letter circulated among elected officials, which characterized two board members from Soho as unethical or worse, and was never criticized publicly by the board chair.

Another irritant was the failure of the board chair, Derr, to invite leading opponents to a “meet and greet” breakfast with the new board members. Councilmember Alan Gerson, a former C.B. 2 chairperson, cited both of these incidents in a critique sent to all board members and was sharply chastised by Rick Panson, Environment Committee chair, who is associated with the business group, for criticizing Derr. Arthur Schwartz, chair of the Parks and Waterfront Committee, who briefly thought of running for first vice-chair against Hoylman, strongly defended Derr with e-mails, noting her vigorous efforts on behalf of the board since the death of C.B. 2 district manager Arthur Strickler.

But on election night almost all of the candidates appeared to take to heart a statement issued by nine of the ten new   board members who informed their board colleagues that they favored a “spirit of civility, camaraderie and openness” in “decision-making that is transparent and accessible to all members,” greater  outreach to the community  and  “more  diversity within   committees.”

Derr in her election speech, stressed family ties to the community beginning with her grandfather and including her uncle, William Passannante, who represented the district in the state Assembly for 37 years. She noted that her goal last year was to overcome  “the spirit of negativity that had pervaded the board.” She argued that “part of the reason we work so well together as a board is that appointments to committees and chairships are made based on member interests, qualifications and experience, not for political considerations,”— a position not universally shared on the board.

Her opponent, Reck, who is a Democratic district leader, saw the situation quite differently, insisting that “Board 2 is in bad shape. Even the day-to-day operation has broken down and the board has lost track of its basic mission.” He questioned the board procedures in the selection of a new district manager, insisting that all board members should be allowed to sit in on applicant interviews.

Among other points, Reck called for more effective community outreach and greater balance on committees.

In the fairly tight treasurer race, Sanz noted her extensive family business experience in restaurants  and real estate, and asserted that “every member of the board is entitled to see the books and to know the state of the board’s financial record at any given time.” She added that when she became treasurer three years ago “the board’s books were essentially non-existent and the bookkeeping practices out of date,” a situation she says she has worked hard to improve.

“We need,” she concluded, “to elect a treasurer who has experience and knowledge of how the board functions,” a reminder to board members that her opponent had only recently  been appointed. Sanz was reappointed to the board this year by Stringer.

Her opponent, Feinberg, stressed she was “a very senior manager in her professional life” and promised “if elected I would make sure that every board member fully understands our balance sheets, ledger and full budget.”

In her winning bid for secretary, Hamilton noted her many activist roles in the West Village and  in particular the landmarking  of the Gansevoort Meat Market.

Striking a unity chord shared by almost all the candidates, Hamilton said she would like to be part of “the leadership that tries to heal old wounds and bring unity to the board.” Dr. Maggio noted his experience as secretary in a number of medical organizations and added that his entire medical career had been with St. Vincent’s.

In the contest for second vice-chair, Diaz stressed his desire to be even-handed in his committee chair responsibilities. One goal, he noted would be to “reduce adversarial conditions on the board.”

MacPherson, who has expressed strong feelings against what he considered the Chamber of Commerce influence on the board, was comparatively mellow. He said the board should be open to both residential and business interests, called for “going forward” after the election, and said there should be  “no outside interference” in board decision-making.

One example that demonstrated the interest in business decisions by the new board members was the rejection of an outdoor cafe, Jack, at 11th St. and University Place which had been approved by the Sidewalks Committee. Board members supported a substitute resolution by this writer which noted that “during the past 27 years residents have opposed the approval of any sidewalk cafe on University Place to protect the quality of life they preferred.” The advisory vote against the outdoor cafe was 26-15 with one abstention.

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