Volume 75, Number 46 | April 5 - 11 2006


Stringer’s phase one gets an A 1

In recent years, community board appointments — in Manhattan, at least — were rarely made on time. The process would drag for a month past the April 1 deadline, if not longer. On top of that, vacancies on local boards often went unfilled the rest of the year — sometimes seemingly left open intentionally in order to affect board dynamics and elections.

This has changed under the new Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer. Fulfilling his pledge that all Manhattan’s 12 community boards would be appointed with the full number of 50 members each by April 1, Stringer has done just that. That, in itself, was a major step forward.

It was no small feat. Stringer did extra outreach to attract new people to join the volunteer boards. He revamped and expanded the application form. And, perhaps most important, he created a Community Board Reform Committee, an independent blue-ribbon panel to screen and rate the applications based on a set of criteria, including applicants’ community service and goals on the community board. Board members seeking reappointment also had to go through this screening process — and, like new applicants, also underwent one-on-one interviews at the borough president’s office if they made the initial cut.

Stringer promised to depoliticize the appointment process, making it transparent. All of this has gone to produce what appears to be an excellent crop of new community board appointees on Boards 2 and 3. They range from people who are well known in their communities to new community activists who are starting to make a name for themselves and others who are new to their neighborhoods. They are environmentalists, scriptwriters, tenant association leaders, architects, advertising producers, lawyers, block association members. They are not nightlife industry types, which seems to be a move in the right direction, as Board 2, especially, was leaning too much in this direction under C. Virginia Fields, the former borough president.

Significantly, Stringer reappointed Jo Hamilton, a prominent Meat Market activist and preservationist, who was removed from C.B. 2 by Fields for no valid reason. In the same vein, Council Speaker Christine Quinn reappointed Tobi Bergman, a leading Village parks and youth sports advocate, who also was axed by Fields, to Board 2. Quinn tried to do so last year, but Fields blocked Bergman’s reappointment. Obviously, Stringer didn’t block it this time around. These members’ removals seemed to have had more to do with politics — on the board and perhaps beyond — than with what they were trying to do for their community.

Stringer has stated his opposition to “ad-hoc removals.”

Next, he intends to give board members the tools on land use and zoning issues so they can have an impact on the important planning issues affecting our communities. But phase one of Stringer’s reform plan earns our wholehearted approval for a job well done.

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