Volume 74, Number 51 | April 27 - May 03 , 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Brad Hoylman and Maria Passannante Derr at the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Dinner Dance last week.

C.B. 2 race is knockdown, drag-out, bar political fight

By Lincoln Anderson

The race for chairperson for Community Board 2 has turned into a bitter battle between Soho and Hudson Sq. activists, on one side, and a faction of the board led by Bob Rinaolo, former chairperson of the board’s Business Committee, on the other, over whether the two Downtown neighborhoods have too many bars and restaurants.

Meanwhile, Greenwich Village and Soho political club infighting and old Hudson River Park feuds are rearing their heads, threatening to set off a purge of committee chairpersons of the board’s key Parks, Landmarks and Zoning Committees, depending on who wins the election.

As reported last week in The Villager in Scoopy’s Notebook, Don MacPherson and Maria Passannante Derr are the two candidates now vying for leadership of Community Board 2, which covers Greenwich Village, Little Italy, Soho, Noho and Hudson Sq.

The community activists charge that the board’s Business Committee, which makes advisory recommendations to the State Liquor Authority on liquor licenses, lacks balance and needs more individuals without interests in bars or restaurants.

To this effect, MacPherson said that in a meeting with Rinaolo a couple of weeks ago, he told Rinaolo some community members from Hudson Sq. and Soho should be put on the Business Committee “to give equal representation.” MacPherson got the impression his idea was not accepted.

“The discussion ended with him telling me Maria Derr was running for chairperson,” MacPherson said.

“The remarks that have been made that this is a Village versus Downtown issue or business versus nonbusiness — I would hate to see those remarks believed. I’m not anti-business,” MacPherson said, downplaying any disagreement that may have occurred. However, he added, “There should be more balance on the Business Committee, and perhaps it should have representation by people who don’t own liquor licenses.”

ar-goers crowd sidewalks

Soho is oversaturated with liquor licenses, MacPherson said, noting that on Sundays walking on W. Broadway, one must zigzag around people smoking and drinking on the sidewalk in front of restaurants and bars.

In December of last year, Rinaolo told The Villager he planned to run for C.B. 2 chairperson. But his ambitions were derailed after it was revealed the Conflicts of Interest Board had issued an advisory opinion more than a year and a half earlier stating that a liquor license owner should not chair a community board committee making recommendations on liquor licenses. Rinaolo owns two Village bar/restaurants, The Garage and Senor Swanky’s.

Rinaolo and Jim Smith, C.B. 2 chairperson, kept the COIB ruling secret from the rest of the board until last December, when The Villager first reported that Rinaolo was stepping down as committee chairperson. Smith also had not informed the board that he wrote an appeal to COIB in January 2004 on Rinaolo’s behalf. The appeal was denied and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields ultimately told Smith that Rinaolo had to step down.

Derr replaced Rinaolo as Business Committee chairperson.

More recently, Brad Hoylman briefly considered running for chairperson — though he didn’t officially announce his candidacy. Two weeks ago, he dropped out of the race. Hoylman indicated to The Villager that he didn’t want to be involved in a potentially divisive election fight, adding, “There’s always next year or two years from now.” Hoylman lost to Smith in a close race for chairperson two years ago.

“I’m happy not to run and let the next chairperson make some changes to make the board more transparent and responsive to the community,” Hoylman said. “If we can institute some reforms on the board, I will have considered it a success.”

Hoylman said he agreed to drop out provided both MacPherson and Derr follow three reforms he is advocating. Hoylman is calling for full disclosure to the board of any correspondence between state or city agencies; that only a third of the Business Committee members be owners of liquor licenses or individuals in the nightlife industry; and that the 500.-ft hearing rule, or Padavan Law, be properly enforced for new liquor license applications.

(The 500-ft. rule states that no liquor license may be granted for any premises within 500 ft. of three or more existing licensed premises. The S.L.A. can grant an exception to the 500-ft. rule, provided the authority engages in consultation with the local community board, holds a hearing and determines that granting the license would be in the public interest.)

According to sources, Rinaolo was backing Hoylman against MacPherson before Hoylman decided not to run. Hoylman is now reportedly lobbying members to vote for Derr for chairperson.

Meanwhile, Smith — after staunchly defending Rinaolo for a year and a half against the conflict-of-interest ruling — is supporting MacPherson.

“My support was contingent on Bob Rinaolo’s plans,” Smith said. “If Bob had run I would have supported him. If not, then I would support Don MacPherson. Bob didn’t run and Don has my enthusiastic support. Don has excellent executive talent and ability. He’ll make a great board chairperson.”

Smith can no longer be chairperson because of the board’s two-year term limit.

Last week, Derr issued a statement to board members saying she was running for chairperson. A niece of former Village Assemblymember Bill Passannante, Derr is an attorney and lifelong Villager, currently living near Fifth Ave. in the Central Village. She has been on the board two years, having chaired its Sidewalks and Business Committees for about nine months total between the two.

“If elected,” Derr said in her statement, “I intend to be both a unity chairperson that reaches out to everyone, and a reform chairperson that seeks to examine where we can do better.

“I believe in balanced committees that represent a cross-section of the community,” she continued, “where one interest, business or personal, does not dominate another. I believe in full disclosure in matters of concern, to all members of the board, and the public. As chairperson, I will insist that the S.L.A. hold 500-ft.-rule hearings in order to adhere to the law, and [will] strongly recommend mediation between liquor license applicants and the community groups, together with the input of elected officials. We should take a position on tax reform in a city where mega-developers are exempt from real estate taxes. The monitoring of the development of our vacant lots and our beloved waterfront should remain a priority.”

MacPherson, who has been on C.B. 2 four years, is also a lifelong area resident, having grown up in the Soho/Hudson Sq. neighborhood. He has chaired the board’s Waterfront Committee the past two years and is a vice chairperson of the board.

Agreement on reforms

Of Hoylman’s reform initiatives, MacPherson said, “I think they are constructive suggestions. They’re certainly in the right direction. I think that the community is entitled to know what’s going on — especially the correspondence between the board and state and city agencies.” MacPherson added he’d like the S.L.A. to clarify what it means when it finds at 500-ft.-rule hearings that granting a particular liquor license is “in the public interest.” MacPherson says, if elected, he’d work to combat air pollution in Lower Manhattan by seeing how the community board can help reverse the one-way toll on the Verrazano Bridge. Illegal billboards are another issue he would focus on.

Asked if he supported Hoylman’s recommendation that no more than one-third of Business Committee members be liquor license owners, Rinaolo — despite having earlier rebuffed MacPherson’s call for more nonliquor license owners to be put on the committee — told The Villager he agreed with it.

“I think that’s a good idea — sure,” he said. “I think it’s an excellent idea.”

Adding to the election intrigue, two community activists — Tobi Bergman and Jo Hamilton — were informed by Fields last week that they had not been reappointed to C.B. 2.
Despite several phone calls requesting an explanation, Fields’s press office did not offer an answer as to why Fields didn’t reappoint Bergman and Hamilton. Both were supporting MacPherson. They also are both supporting Miller, rather than Fields, for mayor. Hamilton recently hosted a Miller fundraiser at her house.

Quinn gets involved

Yet, Councilmember Christine Quinn is now reportedly trying to reappoint Bergman and possibly Hamilton, as well. Board sources say with Bergman and Hamilton’s two votes included, the race would be “neck and neck,” while without them, Derr holds an edge. But there’s speculation Fields may delay making the reappointments to keep Bergman and Hamilton from being able to vote in the June election, tilting the election toward the Derr/Rinaolo side. Two years ago, in the Smith-Hoylman race, Fields didn’t reappoint two Hoylman votes to the board — Ann Arlen and Arnold Goren — helping Smith win.

(Community board members serve two-year terms and are up for reappointment every other April. The borough president appoints all 50 members, though local councilmembers recommend half the appointments to the borough president.)

Rinaolo denied that, as some board members charge, Derr is his surrogate candidate. He said that because of health issues and other matters, he decided not to run for chairperson.

“I’ve got other plans,” Rinaolo said. “I just didn’t think I could fulfill what I wanted to do. But I’m certainly happy Maria’s running and I’m certainly supporting her.”

Asked why he’s not supporting MacPherson, Rinaolo said, “A vote for MacPherson is a vote for Reck and Sweeney.”

David Reck is president of the Friends of Hudson Sq. and Sean Sweeney is director of the Soho Alliance and president of Downtown Independent Democrats. They have both been outspoken critics of the granting of liquor licenses in their neighborhoods that the board’s Business Committee has approved despite strong community opposition.

Rinaolo didn’t say what his problem is with Reck, other than that he feels both Reck and Sweeney “have been totally erratic.” As for Sweeney, he said, “He’s the only one that seems to be disappointed about the way that committee [the Business Committee] was going.”

Specifically, Rinaolo said Sweeney has drawn a line in the sand at Besito, a new bar/restaurant on W. Broadway that Soho activists fought, but which the Business Committee supported.

“Suddenly, everything comes down to this one location on W. Broadway,” Rinaolo said. “I don’t know why this one was too much — and why the ones three or four bars ago weren’t too much. He’s now decided the liquor license committee has run amok.”

Saying he can’t understand the community’s opposition, Rinaolo added that the owner of Besito seems like a good operator and has a family.

Lofts vs. bars

“The fact is there are 35 liquor licenses within 500 ft.” of Besito, Sweeney said. “ ‘The guy’s got a family…’ ” he scoffed, told of Rinaolo’s comment. “And I’ve got a $2 million loft and I don’t want my property values to go down. I’ve got families [living] across the street.”

Sweeney fumed that local residents, including many Italian-American old-timers, had turned out in numbers at Business Committee meetings to oppose four liquor licenses in Soho — Lola, Besito and applications for 76 Wooster St. and 54 Crosby St. — but the committee approved three out of four.

“We have 100 licensed premises in Soho for 7,000 residents,” Sweeney said. “If they don’t see a problem with that…. I think it boils down to the Business Committee is not doing its duty. The Business Committee is here to serve the community — not the restaurant community.”

Although the full C.B. 2 board overturned the Business Committee’s resolution in favor of Lola, a new live-music venue on Watts St., the S.L.A. approved the license last month. Last week, the Soho Alliance sued the S.L.A. seeking to annul the license for the club.

“Nowhere in its decision does the Authority address the threshold question of why this block and this neighborhood needs another drinking and party venue,” states the lawsuit, filed by attorney Barry Mallin. The suit notes the location was a problem when it was occupied by Club Chaos, and that in reviewing Lola’s former location, Zagat’s Web site said, “The volume is way too loud…I would hate to live over this place.” State Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Shafer has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the S.L.A. from issuing the license pending a May 12 hearing.

Sweeney added he felt the Business Committee had been “corrupted,” noting how Rinaolo, when he was the committee’s chairperson, openly lobbied against a former business partner’s liquor license application, then listed his own liquor license application for a rooftop cafe at The Garage on the committee’s meeting agenda four months in a row, each time postponing the item at the last minute.

“It’s an attempt to break the will of the community,” Sweeney said of the postponements. “It’s very hard to get people to come out for these meetings.”

More questions were raised about the Business Committee when, under Derr as chairperson, it voted last month against the expansion of the Village Alliance business improvement district, although no one from the community voiced opposition to the plan.

Asked why Rinaolo has it in for him, Reck declined comment.

Payback and purge

As the liquor license battle flares, a political battle is also going on in the background. According to a source, Democratic District Leader Arthur Schwartz, is trying to be the “kingmaker,” and is pushing for a so-called “unity slate” with Derr as chairperson, Hoylman as first vice chairperson and MacPherson as second vice chairperson.

If Derr becomes chairperson, it’s said, then Schwartz’s political enemies would all get axed as committee chairpersons: Reck — who is a district leader in the 66th Assembly District, Part B — would no longer be Zoning Committee chairperson; Sweeney — D.I.D. president — would be out as Landmarks Committee chairperson; and Lees — who Schwartz frequently clashed with when she was his co-district leader in the 66th A.D., Part A — would be dumped as the board’s Parks Committee chairperson.

The speculation is that, if Derr wins, Schwartz might ask her to appoint him chairperson of the Waterfront Committee again — Lees, the board's former chairperson removed Schwartz as Waterfront Committee chairperson two years ago during the aborted Pier 40 redevelopment process — or possibly chairperson of the Parks Committee.

Asked if he’s trying to negotiate a Derr win and housecleaning of chairpersons on key committees, Schwartz said, “What I’m trying to do is kind of delicate. I’m not trying to do this through the press.”

Schwartz claimed he’s not necessarily trying to demote Lees, Sweeney and Reck.

“It’s not that kind of a condition,” he said, adding, “If I’m promoting unity, why would I take out everyone on one side?…. I never had a conflict with Reck. He’s the district leader for Part B; I’m the district leader for Part A.” On the other hand, Schwartz noted he hasn’t spoken to Lees since February 2003 — when she removed him as Waterfront Committee chairperson.

MacPherson confirmed Schwartz called him a week ago claiming he controlled eight to 12 undecided votes on the board and proposing the “unity slate” with Derr as chairperson and Hoylman and MacPherson as vice chairpersons.

“I told him my reason for running is to be chairperson — not to be the same position as I hold now,” MacPherson said.

Hoylman said he’s not part of any agreement and that he doesn’t think Sweeney and Reck should lose their chairpersonships.

“I think any kind of wholesale expulsion of committee chairs looks bad — especially people who are doing a good job,” he said. Asked about Lees, he was lukewarm, saying, “That’s another call…. That’s a question mark.”

Sweeney said he’d heard talk of the plan allegedly being masterminded to strip him, Reck and Lees of their committee leaderships.

“Schwartz got his reputation as a community activist who made his name in parks and Little League,” Sweeney said. “Now he’s teaming up with people who are antithetical to the community’s interests.”

“I’m not saying who I’m supporting,” Schwartz said, adding he thinks either Derr or MacPherson could lead the board ably.

Lees said she’d heard about Schwartz’s unity-slate plan and how she’d be out as Parks Committee chairperson if it succeeds. “People are making deals,” she said.

As for Derr’s candidacy, Lees said, “She’s Bob Rinaolo in a skirt. The only reason Maria’s running is because Bob’s been discredited…. He doesn’t feel he can run for whatever reason…. I’m a Don supporter,” she added.

Rinaolo brushed off Lees’s remarks, saying, “As far as Aubrey saying Maria is just me in a skirt, Aubrey is just getting desperate that she’s going to lose her Parks Committee and she’ll say anything to try to avert that.”

Beefed-up business

Lees complained that the board under Fields has become stacked with business owners. Lees noted while she’s a business owner herself — she’s an attorney with an office in the Village — and a member of the Chamber of Commerce, she feels the board currently lacks balance.

“Now it’s just way too much — overboard,” Lees said. “There are very few people from the West Village on the board. It’s all liquor license and restaurant-type people. At one time it seemed like there weren’t any [businesspeople] on the board. Now it’s dominated by nightlife industry people.”

Indeed, before Lisa LaFrieda’s death last summer, four of six members of the board’s leadership were in some way affiliated with the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce: LaFrieda, a C.B. 2 vice chairperson, was a Chamber board of directors member; Rocio Sanz, the community board’s treasurer, is the Chamber’s vice president; Rinaolo, C.B. 2 secretary, is the Chamber’s former chairperson; and Marc Rosenwasser, the board’s assistant secretary, is an attorney who represents Sanz.

At the Chamber’s Annual Dinner Dance last week, Fields presented Sanz with the Chamber’s Member of the Year Award. Sanz has fundraised for Fields’s mayoral campaign and in presenting Sanz with the honor, Fields called her “a friend.” Fields also presented the award at the Chamber’s dinner last year, when the honoree was realtor Norman Buchbinder.

Ray Cline, president of Village Reform Democratic Club, is said to be involved in some of the behind-the-scenes machinations. Cline isn’t on C.B. 2, but a number of V.R.D.C. members are and could potentially vote as a bloc for either candidate.

Cline said he’s trying to help Reck and Lees remain committee chairpersons. But he said he can’t do much for Sweeney, indicating he may have gone out on a limb by going on the warpath against Rinaolo.

“I told Sean that I wanted to protect David and Aubrey,” Cline said. “He’s on his own — I’m not going to overplay what little hand I’ve got.”

Of the board’s liquor license feud, Cline said, seemingly without irony, “I think that both sides should sit down, have a drink and work it out.”

Trying to decipher exactly what’s going on in the election and everyone’s motives isn’t easy, Cline agreed.

“It’s like an onion. There are so many layers,” he mused. On second thought, he said, “It’s like a three-ring circus. You can look at all three rings — or just one of them.”

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