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

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Honi Klein, executive director of the Village Alliance, and Bob Kerrey, New School University president, at the alliance’s annual meeting.

Kerrey talks on New School’s future, N.Y.U., squares

By Ed Gold

Speaking at the Village Alliance’s annual meeting, President Bob Kerrey of New School University assured the Greenwich Village community that his institution’s expansion program will not lead to “acquiring land or tearing down buildings.”

As New School moves to “a degree-based school,” it will need additional housing for its students and faculty, but would meet its requirements by leasing or buying “existing buildings,” Kerrey said. He preferred, he said, that full-time faculty members live in the community.

Kerrey was guest speaker at the annual meeting of the business improvement district, or BID, held June 9 at the King Carlos Center on Washington Sq. S.

In a relaxed and wide-ranging talk that ran over an hour, Kerrey covered a variety of subjects, including: the qualities he wanted stressed in his school; his views about New York University; how he feels as a New Yorker transplanted from Nebraska; his reaction to proposed changes in Washington Sq. and Union Sq. parks and his role as a political figure.

He made clear that he greatly admired his institutional neighbor to the south.

“I love John Sexton and John Brademas,” he said, referring to the current and a former president of N.Y.U.

“You really can’t compare my school with theirs. Their school is so much larger, with all their graduate schools,” he said. “They are trying to become the world’s greatest university. I believe they add greatly to the quality of life in the Village.”

Introduced by the writer, Tony Hiss, who has lived in the Village for 50 years, Kerrey noted he was a comparative newcomer who took about two years to adjust to his new surroundings. He mused that he had changed his mind several times about whether he should take the New School job, “something like I did when I briefly thought about running for mayor,” he quipped. He did not rule out, however, a future political run.

He said he was drawn to the New School position, despite his lack of a teaching background, by a personal reason — his fiancee lived here — and by the school’s history and mission to “religiously stay involved in serious debate,” and to help develop skills that enhance a democratic society.

He waxed euphoric about the Village neighborhood: “Actually, you get to know your neighbors here better than we did in Nebraska. That’s because you walk around a lot, and there are so many shops, and you get to know many of the shopkeepers.” He does a lot of listening, he says, and he finds the community response to his interests “transparent and honest.”

He added that “the streets are safe here, and that’s helped in the school’s recruiting effort.”

He also had kind words for New Yorker attitudes and the importance of the city: “New Yorkers,” he asserted, “are not jerks or rude, but a New Yorker will tell you you’re a jerk if you are a jerk.”

He applauded the city’s open spirit regarding aliens and praised former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for his humane approach to undocumented aliens: “A half million are here and maybe 5,000 will intentionally break the law. The rest help the city and Giuliani recognized that and the city didn’t pull up the welcome mat.”

He added that “9/11 made all of us feel better about our police officers and firefighters. We didn’t see them as strangers, and they made us feel patriotic.”

He finds the city exciting because “it is the world’s intelligence center. You just have to take a cab to find that out.” The Internet and cellphones have revolutionalized communications and enhanced the city’s importance, he said.

He discussed several local issues, some gingerly, admitting that he might take some positions not universally accepted.

On the West Side stadium, he thought Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver “might be right.” He did not think the project seemed fair, noting, “We weren’t looking for more cars in Manhattan.”

On his attitude about Washington Sq. Park where he and his family “go all the time,” he said he “probably wouldn’t put a fence around it.” But then he added: “Those dog people are some of the worst you’ve ever seen.” There was a palpable buzz in the audience.

As for Union Sq. Park, he felt it was O.K. to have a restaurant there “if it’s properly done.” He didn’t mind the commercial aspect because “the whole area is commercial already.”

In response to a question about the first-floor leasing at the previous Citibank location at Fifth Ave. and 13th St., he said it would be converted into an information center for the entire New School complex.

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