Volume 75, Number 5 | June 22- 28, 2005

Villager photo by Clayton Patterson

At FEVA City Council candidates forum, from left, Rebecca Moore asking a question, moderator Kevin Duggan, Michael Lopez, Darren Bloch, Manuel Cavaco, Chris Papajohn, Rosie Mendez, Brian Kavanagh and Gur Tsabar.

Candidates’ forum shows artists really aren’t so different after all

By Lincoln Anderson

A City Council candidates forum intended to focus on the future of arts and artists on the Lower East Side last Thursday, in fact, focused on the same core issues raised at previous candidates’ forums — proliferation of bars, development and gentrification — showing that these issues, as much as any others, are the ones on artists’ minds.

The forum was sponsored by the Federation of East Village Artists at the Pioneer Theater on Avenue A and E. Third St. and was attended by seven of the 11 Democratic candidates now vying for City Council in the Second District, which stretches from Murray Hill to the Lower East Side.
The seat is currently held by Margarita Lopez, who will be term-limited out of office at year’s end and is running for borough president.

Manuel Cavaco, who recently entered the race, livened up the forum, but his answers were not always what the audience of about 50 artists wanted to hear.

“I’m very much into tourism. I want to bring in tourist dollars,” Cavaco, an artist and drummer in hardcore bands (Crack Sex and Black Car Nation) who lives on Avenue A, told the crowd.

Michael Lopez won applause with his remarks on overdevelopment and the loss of local arts centers, like the former CHARAS/El Bohio on E. Ninth St.

“Step onto Avenue A and look south at that building towering over the Lower East Side,” he said of the new Avalon Chrystie building on E. Houston St. “And then look at CHARAS, it’s gone — and then look for the community gardens. Washington has nothing to do with what is going on on the Lower East Side. It has more to do with the [local] politicians who are allowing this to happen,” he said.

Noting she has been a longtime housing activist, Lopez’s former chief of staff, Rosie Mendez, vowed, if elected, to continue working for affordable housing. She noted one of the more memorable victories she was involved in, helping Section 8 tenants on Stanton St. win a 15-year lease renewal.

“I will be your housing advocate,” Mendez promised. “That is what I’ve spent my life doing — working for housing and working for tenants.”

Musician Rebecca Moore of Ludlow-Orchard Community Coalition, or L.O.C.O., in asking her question of the candidates, prefaced it by saying she feels it’s important for artists “not to compartmentalize our struggle from that of other, struggling poor people.” Moore said she hasn’t been getting as much help from Community Board 3 addressing quality of life issues as she’d like — or, as she put, “I feel like I’ve been hitting my head against a wall.”

Brian Kavanagh, who is also seeking the seat, noted that a community board’s recommendations are only advisory. “The best thing that can come out of any community board is a dialogue with elected officials,” he said.

Moore also expressed concern about how long it would take to enact new zoning to protect the Lower East Side from overdevelopment.

“Yes, we need zoning,” she said. “But by the time we get that zoning we’re going to have luxury condos down here. We have to act now.”

“As your councilmember, I’m going to go out there and stop it [overdevelopment],” Lopez said boldly.

Gur Tsabar, another hopeful, called for contextual zoning on the Lower East Side, in which building heights and appearances would have to fit in with their surroundings.

“I don’t know why we don’t have this,” he said. “The Lower East Side would be a perfect place for contextual zoning.”

Lopez suggested engaging in “a media battle” to ratchet up opposition to the projects and drive developers to other neighborhoods.

Mendez said she would push for inclusionary zoning for affordable units in any new buildings.

Deanna Zandt, who has worked with the HOWL! festival and Bowery Poetry Club, told the candidates, “The bars are overrunning our neighborhood. I might be able to afford my apartment — but I might not want to live here anymore. What are you going to do?”

“I think the market mechanism should determine how many bars are in the neighborhood,” Cavaco said, bringing sarcastic rejoinders from the audience of, “The tourists can drink there,” and “You’re out of here.”

Kavanagh said a fast police response to problem bars is needed and he reiterated his earlier call for city control over liquor establishments, as opposed to the State Liquor Authority.

Noting he lives on Avenue C, where the bar scene has now spread, Lopez said, “I get up at 5 a.m. On Thursday night at 2 a.m., I fully expect to be woken up by people leaving bars and clubs.”

“There are more bars here than in any other district in the city,” echoed Chris Papajohn, another candidate. “There has to be a limit to the number of bars.” Told that the Ninth Precinct has only a few sound meters to check bar noise levels, Papajohn shot back, “That’s ridiculous. They should have 10 sound meters.”

Darren Bloch said he’s supporting zoning changes to limit the number of taverns in a given area.

Daniel Nauke, an artist who recently won a 23-year court battle to keep his storefront studio space on E. 11th St., said only bars can afford the prohibitively high rents of from $4,000 to $8,000 now being sought by landlords.

“How many kids can you have walking down the streets at 4 a.m.?” he asked, regarding the nightly deluge of bargoers.

“Almost any storefront that becomes available on the Lower East Side has a bar in it shortly after,” Kavanagh concurred.

Mendez recalled that 20 years ago, she fought for commercial rent control. But she said it’s now clear those protections won’t ever happen. She noted, however, that zoning and micro-enterprise loans to “deserving businesses” can help, and that community support can save a place.

“We saved Ray’s newspaper stand on Avenue A,” she said. “If it is a vital community resource, like Ray’s, we will tell the landlord, ‘You can’t take this gem.’ ” (Mendez later clarified her remarks, telling The Villager that when the landlord of Ray’s four years ago was threatening not to renew the store’s lease, members of the community circulated fliers, helping put pressure on the landlord.)

Summing up the sentiment in the room, a young member of the audience asked bluntly, “How can we alienate yuppie interest in the East Village?”

In his closing remarks, Phil Hartman, founder and director of FEVA and the HOWL! festival — to be held Aug. 21-28 in Tompkins Sq. and around the East Village — said the artists have the power to sway the election.

“For 150 years, this has been a community of rabble rousers,” he said. “There are 1,500 artists in FEVA and 100,000 visitors will be at HOWL. We have the power in the arts community to make a big difference in who gets elected. Let’s keep the pressure on them and make sure our voices are heard.”

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