Volume 74, Number 3 | June 8- 14, 2005

Letters to the editor

Who cooked up pavilion change?

To The Editor:
Re “Reducing restaurant makes rehab plan go down easier” (news article, May 18):

I find it odd that even with a special section given over to Union Sq., you failed to uncover the real impetus for whatever revisions the Parks Department might be making to the north plaza redesign. At the same time, your article credits the very people who helped promote and support the original flawed plan.

Take Karen Shaw, for example. As executive director of the Union Square Partnership, she was the client who hired the architect of that design. Now, all of a sudden, she finds the changes “terrific.” Take the Union Square Community Coalition co-chairpersons Susan Kramer and Gail Fox, together with their fellow U.S.C.C. board member Aubrey Lees. They are “delighted” and think the changes are “great.” Yet they were so committed to the original plan that they continued to support it, despite the fact that the U.S.C.C. membership was on record twice as opposing the plan (at the annual membership meeting Oct. 20, 2004, and again, at a much larger special Union Sq. meeting on Dec. 7.)

So what is the real story? It’s a particularly interesting one, especially when contrasted with the more scattered approach adopted by diverse community groups involved with Washington Sq. Park. Concerned by the lack of activism on the part of the organization’s leadership, several Union Square Community Coalition members got together last fall and formed the Campaign to Save Union Square Park. Their campaign has been endorsed by a most impressive group of supporters: over 20 elected federal, state and city officials, including Representatives Maloney, Nadler and Rangel, Public Advocate Gotbaum, Speaker Miller, State Senators Duane and Krueger, Assemblymembers Glick, Sanders, Gottfried, Wright and Stringer, Councilmembers Lopez, Gerson, Quinn, Brewer and Moskowitz, as well as others. Other opponents of the Parks Department plan include the Flatiron Alliance, 55 block associations, several political clubs in Gramercy Park, Greenwich Village and Chelsea, plus a number of important citywide organizations, including The Women’s City Club, the Central Labor Council, the Fine Arts Federation, NYC Park Advocates, the Historic Districts Council, the Municipal Art Society and Place Matters. Many individuals, like Jack Taylor and some candidates for public and party office, have also been active in efforts to save the park.

Unlike Susan, Gail and Aubrey, who felt that in order to achieve even minimal playground improvements, it was necessary to compromise with Parks, the rest of us believed there was another way. Most significant was our philosophical difference over the issue of privatization. We strongly believe that it is entirely inappropriate to put an exclusive restaurant in a small (31/2-acre) heavily used park such as Union Sq. Most of the people and groups who are with the Save Union Square campaign not only took this position, but wrote strong, incisive letters to the mayor and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. They seek to maximize playground space, eliminate privatization and safeguard the north plaza so that it can maintain its traditional role as a site for rallies — the role that made the square a national historic landmark. The pavilion, incidentally, can contribute to these ends by being used as a bandstand, platform for rallies, theater site or sheltered recreation area.

Returning to The Villager article, one has to wonder what the Parks spokesperson meant when he said they had consulted with Susan and Gail regarding the changes. What do you think really influenced them to make revisions? The folks who were with them all along, or the prestigious group that opposed the plan? And what is the Parks Department’s problem that it fails to confer with the elected officials representing this area? If you find out, please let us know!

Carol Greitzer
Greitzer was a city councilmember representing much of Downtown Manhattan from 1969-’91

Union Sq. process still distasteful

To The Editor:
Re “Restaurant is reduced, so rehab goes down easier” (news article, May 25):

The Parks Department and the Union Square Partnership, authors of the original plan for the renovation of the north end of Union Sq. Park, have finally done the right thing in their new plan for children. Instead of a miserly 14 percent increase of the park’s playground space originally proposed, your article indicates that children will now have 100 percent of possible space on the south side of the pavilion. What a victory for our kids! However, the new plan, not yet released to the public, needs close scrutiny to ensure that its other provisions are in the public interest.

Ironically, the article credits the playground’s expansion to the very people who fought so hard against giving more space to the children! The Parks Department, the Partnership and Community Board 5, time and again, did not listen to the community’s opposition to the plan, which proposed a private, year-round, restaurant in the pavilion and in the outdoor space that our children so desperately need. These public officials now lavishly praise the co-chairpersons of the Union Square Community Coalition, Susan Kramer and Gail Fox, for their support. Fox and Kramer are “leaders” who continue to approve the Park Department’s and Partnership’s plans without regard to their membership’s views.

They represent no one but themselves when they support those plans. They certainly do not speak for the majority on the U.S.C.C. board, nor their members, who by questionnaire and a near-unanimous vote, rejected the original plan to limit play space and establish a private restaurant within the park. Yet your article perpetuates the pretense of their community leadership! Is the press being used to help the Parks Department and Partnership mend the tarnished reputations of such “leaders” as payback for help in betraying the wishes of their own members and the community?

Why was the community’s strong opposition to the original plan not described in your article? Our Campaign to Save Union Square Park was mounted to fill the leadership void needed to stand for a better plan. Despite statements to the contrary, the community of park users was not brought into the two-year planning process. Almost no one knew about its intentions for the playground and a restaurant. Unlike U.S.C.C., our volunteers have worked for seven months to inform the public and our elected officials.

To date, 900 people have signed our petition in opposition to the restaurant and privatization of the pavilion. Since last fall, dozens of residents spoke against the plan at meetings and hearings. Scores of letters opposing the original plan were written to our elected representatives by members of the community. In response to their respective constituencies, strongly worded letters of opposition to the plan were sent to the mayor, the Parks commissioner and other officials by 23 key federal, state and local elected officials and leaders of 15 prestigious citywide organizations. In the face of growing public and political opposition, the Parks Department and the Partnership were forced to give back to the children what never should have been taken from them to begin with: sufficient playground space.

Our Campaign to Save Union Square Park has been successful in rescuing that space for the kids. Unfortunately, the Parks Department and the Partnership still are not listening. Again, despite community opposition to privatization of the pavilion, the new plan, described in your article, would have it become a private seasonal restaurant —perhaps, even year-round. There also should be no reduction of the historic free-speech area of the north square. Renovation of Union Sq. N. is sorely needed and long overdue. To get it right, there should be a plan to restore and give it back to the public, not one that takes away from the many in order to serve the few. Until that happens, our campaign will continue; www.saveunionsquare.org posts news articles and the letters of support for our campaign issues.

Eadie Shanker
Shanker is coordinator, Campaign to Save Union Square Park; and a member, Union Sq. Community Coalition

Now I’ll read Koch column

To The Editor:
Re “Boycotts Villager because of Koch” (letter, by Carolynn Meinhardt, June 1):

I can understand Carolynn Meinhardt’s contention that the company you keep can define who you are as a person. If Ed Koch has chosen to support President Bush (someone who almost everybody I know didn’t vote for), that is his choice. If she dislikes him for it and refuses to read his column or buy The Villager, that’s her choice.

But for Meinhardt to say “I am sure” Koch’s endorsement of Bush is solely due to the president’s support for Israel and that “Koch ought to move to Israel if he supports it more than this country...” is just wrong. For years, those words have been used against Jews by anti-Semites throughout the world. I am saddened to see that kind of sentiment expressed on any level in my neighborhood.

And for now, I think I’ll be reading every movie review that Ed Koch writes for this paper.

Julie S. Nadel

‘Crash’ review a disaster

To The Editor:
Re “A serious look at racism” (arts article, May 25):

Your film “critic” totally misunderstood, misinterpreted and misinformed Villager readers about “Crash.”

“Crash is a poem.” A poem that takes a handful of assorted beads of human racism, prejudice, contradictions and lack of interpersonal communication and crochets them together with a singular thread into a beautifully crafted textural ball that can be held in one’s hands.

Leonard, “Crash” is a poem — a Pulitzer-quality poem — deserving of a Nobel Prize.

Benjamin W. O’Neals

Who to trust on trees?

To The Editor: 
Just as streets, sidewalks, public buildings and recreational facilities are a part of our community’s infrastructure, so are publicly-owned trees. In a city where the number of people far exceeds the number of trees, it is alarming that five of the latter were cut down in Gramercy Park two weeks ago. In January two additional trees were chopped down. One of these, the flowering black locust (located in the southeast corner of the park) was so strong that it actually broke the blade of the buzz saw. The reason given to justify its removal was “inner cavities;” yet arborists tell us that cavities are a natural characteristic of black locusts and therefore do not signal weakness. Should questionable decisions like these by the trustees of Gramercy Park go unquestioned by residents?

Trees stabilize the soil and control water pollution, yield advantageous effects that conserve energy and preserve and foster air quality by removing carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants. Each leaf on each tree is constantly at work cleaning air pollution. Trees create oxygen that is breathed by everyone. One single, mature tree creates enough oxygen annually for four people.

The financial and psychological benefits to preserving trees are often overlooked. Trees increase property values and enhance city dwellers psychological well-being by abating noise pollution and providing welcome shade. Hospital patients have been shown to recover from surgery more quickly when their hospital room offered a view of trees.

The English elm in the center of the park is one of the newly condemned trees. This magnificent entity was probably the second-oldest tree in Lower Manhattan, after the “Hanging Tree” in Washington Sq. The tree was famous, not only because of its age but because it was the subject of a feature story in Life magazine in the 1960s and it’s storybook trunk has been an inspiration to parkgoers for generations. Ten years ago the trustees put it on a death list, but when Stephen Garmey, the archivist of Gramercy Park, protested, the English elm’s life was spared. When Garmey moved away there was no one to protect it, it returned to the city’s removal list and was chopped down just over a week ago.

These trees are irreplaceable. It takes years for trees to reach the level of maturity where we can appreciate them and reap their benefits. If action is not taken how many more of Gramercy Park’s treasured trees will be taken?
Aldon James
James is president, the National Arts Club

BID’s bad on landmarking

To The Editor:
How can one write a history of Union Sq., even in an article as brief as Catherine Shu’s “175 years of making history at Downtown crossroads,” in The Villager’s May 25 issue, without once mentioning that Union Sq. is a national historic landmark and is ringed by nine individually designated buildings and two designated historic districts? It speaks volumes about her source material, largely that of Karl Michaels Emyrs, who is employed as a tour guide by the Union Square Partnership, the local business improvement district.

Whatever its virtues over the years, the Partnership cannot claim historic preservation and landmarking as one of its goals for Union Sq. From 1986 to the present it has never supported any of the federal or municipal designations, seven of which are actually pictured in the article, that have played a commanding role in the rejuvenation of the square and its surroundings.

Jack Taylor
Taylor is a board of directors member of the Union Square Community Coalition, of which he is chairperson of the Historic Preservation Committee

We’re shocked, shocked

To The Editor:
Re “No to Jo; No(bi) to Tobi” (Scoopy’s Notebook, June 1):

To read that Virginia Fields has failed to reappoint to Community Board 2 a member who held a meet-and-greet for Gifford Miller…. Can it be she’s following in the steps of — yes! — the same Gifford Miller who refused to reappoint activist Peter Doukas to Community Board 6 when Doukas had the temerity to oppose Eva Moskowitz (who is definitely not supporting Miller for mayor) in a primary for City Council?

Can’t be right: We mean, who could imagine politicians acting like that?

Carol Rinzler
Perry Luntz

Kitty kind and cat cadavers

To The Editor:
Re “Former Villager cat rescuer had 200 dead ones in yard” (news article, May 25):

I am writing in support of Marlene Kess. I have volunteered and fostered hundreds of cats for her organization, Kitty Kind, since 1996 and have worked closely with Marlene during this time. I know that Marlene is guided only by compassion for animals and that the cats who died in her care received the best care possible.

It is unfortunate that the media has focused on a situation that grew out of the best intentions; it would be far more productive if they had vilified the vast numbers of people who create the overpopulation of animals by taking in cute puppies and kittens and then throwing them outside when they mature or “setting them free,” as one person said to me. The practice of tens of thousands of people in this city who do not neuter their animals and dispose of them when they become an inconvenience is far crueler than Marlene’s attempts to give them food, medical attention and good homes.

I wish that they could have publicized Marlene’s success stories, which number in the thousands, and the great service she has done for the human and animal community by saving cats and kittens from the streets, from almost certain death at the Center for Animal Care and Control in Manhattan and from individuals who have merely grown tired of their pets.

It should be clarified that the number of plastic bags was exaggerated in the press. There were 16 bags, four of which contained trash. The remaining 12 bags contained four to five cats per bag. It should also be made clear that Marlene had recently taken in many cats who were extremely sick from other individuals.

Of course, the situation at her house was terrible. Marlene knows that she made a very serious mistake to both her neighbors and the rescue community. To us her failure is an indication of how much more support and assistance she should receive for doing the good work that she does.

Those of us who know and have worked with Marlene are chiding ourselves for not having done more to help her and of doing only a fraction of what she does every day to save animals.

Kathleen Goward

Sings article’s praises

To The Editor:
Re “Singer’s on a high note after Italian program picks her” (news article, May 25):

Thanks for the wonderful article on Denise! You just did a terrific job — the perfect  tone, of warmth and community feel, with all that good, hard info. Last Friday a.m., I encountered Abe, Denise’s dad, on the corner of Hudson and Barrow, with a pile of Villagers under his arm, handing them out to all and any. He can be a pretty stoic, stern fellow, but he was just bursting with pride. As he should be! Thanks again, to Albert Amateau and The Villager, for a great job!

Leslie Sharpe

The war on drinks

To The Editor:
Re “Don’t make bars a scapegoat” (letter, by Harold Kramer, May 18):

I read with both interest and sadness, Harold Kramer’s letter about bars on the Lower East Side. Obviously, Mr. Kramer feels that substituting one addiction for another (so long as he can make a profit), is justification for the existence of his business. His logic is somewhat akin to the illogical assumption: man can swim, fish can swim, therefore man is a fish.

As I said in my letter (“Mountain men and the bars,” May 18), I have no objection to the existence of bars. The issue is one of where, and the over-proliferation that occurs. Applying Mr. Kramer’s idea (a brilliant method of solving the drug problem), perhaps we should take the street spots occupied by drug dealers and chisel out some bricks from the residential buildings there, create a 20-foot-by-50-foot store at that place, then put a bar in, and thus solve the problem of drug selling at that location.

The “neighborhood vitality” Kramer boasts of is best typified by the fights and drunken shenanigans of the patrons as they exit from the bars at night.

Mr. Kramer, continue your role as an activist, but please, stop using smoke and mirrors like a hack politician, to shift away from the truth of the real damage a bar does in a residential community. No amount of toys and goodies can change the evil effects that alcohol has on people. Get real, Harold. Talk and Web sites are cheap. For a change, cut the rhetoric and go after the “bad” bars you say pollute the community.
Allen Bortnick

Double Dutch correction

To The Editor:
Re “Yoops” (Scoopy’s Notebook, May 25) in which you report that Joep de Koning requested a correction of the spelling of the name of the first immigrant to New York, Jan Rodrigues (“S” not a “Z”). He apparently, however, held to 1624 as the date that Rodrigues arrived.

According to two sources I’ve checked, he arrived in 1613. Graham Russell Hodges in his book “Root & Branch: African American in New York & East Jersey 1613-1863” (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) and Edwin G. Burrows & Mike Wallace in “Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898” (Oxford University Press, 1999) give this date. Burrows and Wallace indicate that he was left here by Adrian Block. (The authors’ method of citation make it difficult to discern the source of this statement).

Dr. Hodges, professor of early American history at Colgate University, begins his book with an account of Rodrigues being deposited here by Captain Thijs Volchertz Mossel, an experienced Dutch explorer who anchored his vessel, the Jonge Tobias, in the Hudson River. “When Mossel and his ship sailed away from Manhattan in May or June 1613, he left behind one crew member, Jan Rodrigues,” writes Hodges. “Apparently their parting was caused by a dispute, although Rodrigues received wages of eighty hatchets, some knives, a musket and a sword. While these commodities suggest that he had past experiences as a soldier, they may have been an advance on future services because it was common for sea captains to leave a man behind on new territories to sustain land claims. . . . A month or so later, in August 1613, a second vessel, the Fortuyn, captained by Hendrick Christiansen, landed on Manhattan Island. On shore he encountered Rodrigues, who informed Christiansen that he was ‘a free man.’ Rodrigues than entered Christiansen’s service as an interpreter with local Rockaway Indians and facilitated a trade agreement between the Indians and Christiansen. In April, the Jonge Tobias returned. Angry with Rodrigues’s disloyalty, Captain Mossel called him a ‘black rascal.’ A fight ensued in which Mossel’s crew wounded Rodrigues, but Christiansen’s crew was able to save him from further harm. After the two vessels departed, Rodrigues remained behind and fathered several children with Rockaway Indian women.”

Hodges cites as sources for this account Simon Hart, “The Prehistory of the New Netherlands Company: Amsterdam Notarial Records of the First Dutch Voyages of the Hudson” (City of Amsterdam Press, 1959) and Jacob Eelkens, “Agreement With Indians,” Mss. 14164, New York Colonial Documents, New York State Archives.

By 1622, according to Burroughs and Wallace, the Dutch West India Company established a plantation in Manhattan with settlers from the homeland.

The lecture by de Koning was hard to follow, in part because of its rapid-fire delivery. Despite formidable hurdles, Albert Amateau produced an interesting, comprehensive and comprehensible report of the event.

Hilda Regier

For the (historical) record

To The Editor:
Re “Yoops” (Scoopy’s Notebook, May 25):

Jan Rodrigues was a resident in 1613 on Governors Island, not 1624. It is all on the Web site www.tolerancepark.org! Sorry to be picky. But history is already mostly a heap of misinformation.

Joep de Koning

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