Volume 74, Number 53 | May 11 - 17 , 2005

Fields gets grilled on Rinaolo conflict at forum

By Josh Rogers

Borough President C. Virginia Fields took flak from Downtown Democratic leaders Monday for waiting so long to act against a Village bar owner who headed the Community Board 2 committee that handles liquor licenses.

Jim Stratton, vice president of Downtown Independent Democrats and owner of Grassroots Tavern on St. Mark’s Pl., said when he used to be chairperson of Community Board 1, he always recused himself from decisions on liquor licenses. While questioning Fields during the D.I.D. mayoral candidates forum in Soho, Stratton said he was disturbed to hear that Fields had appointed so many bar owners and entertainment industry people to C.B. 2 and that she did not move quickly after learning of a Conflicts of Interest Board advisory opinion affecting a bar owner, Bob Rinaolo, who ran the board’s Business Committee, which makes recommendations on liquor license applications.

Fields stood with her legs crossed and looked uncomfortable as the questions turned to her Board 2 record.

She said she doesn’t look to appoint club owners, but she doesn’t rule them out either. “To exclude a person because they may happen to be a bar owner is not something we have done,” she said at the Puffin Room gallery on Broome St.

Another questioner, Puffin owner Carl Rosenstein, then asked Fields why she “basically ignored the ruling of the Conflicts of Interest Board” for a year and a half and did not reprimand Rinaolo or Board 2’s chairperson, Jim Smith.

“As I understand it, the board made the decision to appeal the decision of the Conflicts of Interest Board…,” Fields started to say before an audience member interrupted and said that Smith and Rinaolo decided to appeal without telling their colleagues on Board 2.

“The decision was appealed — how about that?” Fields responded. She said after the appeal was denied, she recommended Rinaolo step down as chairperson of the Business Committee.

The Conflicts Board ruled in mid-2003 that a liquor license owner, such as a bar owner or restaurateur, cannot chair a community board committee that considers liquor licenses. Smith did not appeal the ruling until the beginning of 2004 and the appeal was denied in August 2004. After The Villager began making inquiries about the ruling in December, Rinaolo said he would step down as committee chairperson and in the fallout from the disclosure of his conflict, he announced he would not proceed with his plan to run to succeed Smith as chairperson of the entire board.

Sean Sweeney, a C.B. 2 member and president of D.I.D., and David Reck, a district leader and C.B. 2 member, did not want to comment on Fields’ response to the questions.

Stratton later said Fields should have moved aggressively against Smith and Rinaolo and he called her answers at the forum “lame.”

As for the rest of the mayoral forum, one of the only policy differences between the four major Democratic candidates was over Fernando Ferrer’s call for a small tax on stock trades, with Congressmember Anthony Weiner saying the tax would hurt the city economy and be damaging in Lower Manhattan, in particular. Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Fields are also against the tax plan.

In response to questions from Rosenstein, several of the candidates expressed concern about police actions against the monthly Critical Mass ride that begins in Union Sq. Park and opposition to add a restaurant in the park. All four said they opposed adding tolls to East River bridges. Mayor Michael Bloomberg floated the toll idea soon after taking office in 2002 but then backed away in the face of strong opposition, particularly in the outer boroughs. The tolls are supported by some in Downtown Manhattan who argue that free bridges encourage people to drive into Manhattan rather than take the subway.

“I’m the candidate from Brooklyn and Queens,” said Weiner. “I ain’t supporting any bridge or tunnel tolls.”

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