Volume 75, Number 46 | April 5 - 11 2006

In a first, Stringer fills board slots by April 1st

By Lincoln Anderson

New Borough President Scott Stringer kept his promise that all 12 Manhattan community boards would each have their full complement of 50 members by April 1. Over the weekend, Stringer released the names of new community board appointees, and on Monday he held a press conference to formally announce the appointments and to tout phase one of his community board reform initiative as a success.

New members on local Community Boards 2 and 3 are a diverse group, including a publisher of the city’s oldest black newspaper, a pollution migration researcher, a TV scriptwriter and a carpenter.

Stringer increased outreach efforts, resulting in 200 more applications than last year under his predecessor, C. Virginia Fields. The application forms were expanded and a section asking applicants to divulge conflicts of interest added. All the applications, including those from sitting members, were first screened by a new Community Board Reform Committee of individuals from good-government and civic groups assembled by Stringer. Seventy-four percent of the applicants then received one-on-one interviews at the borough president’s office.

“For the first time in years, we have zero vacancies on Manhattan community boards,” Stringer declared, noting he’ll fill any vacancies promptly as they arise

“From the beginning, I promised that this would be an open, depoliticized process, and I fell it was,” he added. “It wasn’t a backroom process. For the first time it was open and transparent.”

In another departure from Fields, Stringer did not name any nightlife industry types to C.B. 2, which covers Greenwich Village, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Hudson Square and part of Chinatown. Rather, the new individuals are a mix of activists and neighborhood residents, similar to the ones Stringer appointed to C.B. 3, which covers the East Village, Lower East Side and part of Chinatown.

New on board 2

On C.B. 2, Stringer reappointed Jo Hamilton, a leading Gansevoort Market preservationist who had been summarily removed from the board by Fields.

“I think she’s one of the finest community activists in the city and she should never have been removed,” Stringer said of Hamilton, adding, “she went through the [screening] process,” just like everyone else. During Stringer’s campaign, community board reform was one of his major platforms. He vowed to never make ad-hoc removals of board members to affect the outcome of board elections, something Fields was accused of.

In addition, Tobi Bergman, a Greenwich Village youth sports activist who led the effort to get the new sports fields on Pier 40, was reappointed to C.B. 2 by Councilmember Christine Quinn. The borough president appoints half of each board’s 50 members, while local councilmembers recommend the other half, with the borough president having final approval. The members are appointed to staggered two-year terms, with half the members coming up for renewal each year.

Stringer didn’t reappoint three members to C.B. 2: Ron Pasquale, Marc Rosenwasser and, most notably, Aubrey Lees, a former chairperson of the board who most recently led the push for the board to approve the Parks Department’s hotly debated renovation project for Washington Square Park.

Stringer’s other new Board 2 appointees include Sheelah Feinberg, Anne Vanrenterghem-Raven and Jason Mansfield.

Feinberg lives in the West Village, is director of advocacy for the Association for Neighborhood Development and a member of Village Independent Democrats. She was deputy associate director of presidential personnel for the Clinton administration.

Vanrenterghem-Raven has lived in Greenwich Village more than 20 years, has a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and is a research assistant professor at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn.

Mansfield, a West Villager, works for Prudential Douglas Elliman as a real estate sales associate, previously worked with Citibank as a personal banker working with the United Nations and is a member of Village Reform Democratic Club and Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats.

Councilmember Alan Gerson did not put anyone new on C.B. 2, keeping his current eight members in place.

Besides Bergman, Councilmember Quinn made five new appointments to Board 2, including Elizabeth Loeb, Christine Lindemann, Leonard Cecere, James Solomon and Elaine Young.

An attorney, Loeb is working toward a Ph.D. in law in society at New York University. A Villager who is lesbian, she has worked with Housing Works and Center for Constitutional Rights.

Lindemann lives in the central Village and is an assistant producer with Ogilvy and Mather, the advertising firm.

Solomon is a TV and film scriptwriter and leads GangGreene, a Soho community group that has fought to insure new construction projects on Soho’s open-air parking lots conform to Soho’s zoning.

Young lives near the Meat Market and has been active as a bar and nightclub watchdog in the booming new entertainment district.

Gerson said Quinn had “picked up Solomon,” who lives in Gerson’s district. Gerson noted that councilmembers frequently collaborate on their appointments, and that, in this case, Quinn helped him out by appointing Solomon, since Gerson didn’t have any open slots to fill and didn’t want to remove any of his appointees.

Cecere formerly worked in real estate and banking and has a degree in metropolitan studies from New York University. He is the son of Lucy Cecere, a founder of the Caring Community, a Village organization serving seniors, and Leonard Cecere Sr., who owns a post office box store at MacDougal and Houston Sts. Gerson said he also recommended Cecere for board membership.

Councilmember Rosie Mendez appointed Keen Berger, Greenwich Village female Democratic district leader and former local community school board member, and Carter Booth, a young Noho-area activist who is in sales and management, to Board 2.

In his report on community board reform issued during the borough president race last year, Stringer highlighted the problem with conflict of interest on the boards, noting it has been basically “unenforceable.” Stringer’s report mentioned The Villager’s coverage of the imbroglio at C.B. 2 where Bob Rinaolo continued as chairperson of the board’s Business Committee for 18 months after a ruling by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board stated that he should not.

However, Rinaolo remains on the board until 2007, when his two-year term expires.

“I was mindful about ad-hoc removal and I wanted to create a process that was fair and open,” Stringer told The Villager. “His day will come,” he said of Rinaolo. “He too will go through the process and have his Community Board Reform [Committee] review.”

‘Not antibusiness’

In response to The Villager’s observation that the new appointees don’t contain nightlife business owners, Stringer said, “We were not looking to say, ‘No business interests.’ ”

Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance who has been a leading critic of bar proliferation, said he was happy about the new appointments on C.B. 2, of which he is a member. He said he’d heard that among the new members were someone in public relations and a scientist at Brooklyn Polytechnic, “but definitely no nightlife people. That’s a relief,” he said.

Similarly, Don MacPherson, another Board 2 member who has criticized the growth of bars in Soho, called the appointments “good news.”

“That was the reason I supported him,” MacPherson said of Stringer. “He made it clear he was looking to make the community board more responsive to the community, rather than to special interests.”

Maria Passannante Derr, Board 2 chairperson, said she thought Stringer’s handling of the appointment process was fine.

On Community Board 3, Stringer appointed six new members: Rocky Chin, Elinor Tatum, Eden Lipson, David Silversmith, Nina Werman and Elizabeth Sgroi.

An attorney, Chin formerly worked for the city’s Human Rights Commission and ran for City Council in District 1 in 2001. Tatum, 35, is a lifelong East Villager and is publisher of the Amsterdam News. Lipson is the former New York Times children books editor and currently works in a library on the West Side. Silversmith is an accountant, new to the Lower East Side and a member of Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century, a group of young Democrats. Werman is also new to the Lower East Side, where she plans to open a retail store. A former dental hygienist, Sgroi lives in the East Village and is a carpenter.

Mendez put two new people on Board 3: Paul Bartlett and Aurora Guzman. Bartlett, who lives on Norfolk St., has a deep background in urban planning, having worked in the Koch and Dinkins administrations, and currently studies how pollution crosses environments. Guzman lives in the district and works at University Settlement where she does housing advocacy.

Gerson appointed two new members to C.B. 3: Guido Hartray and Alexander Gonzalez. Hartray is an architect who lives in the Seward Park Co-ops; and Gonzalez is the tenants association president at the Guild Houses, a federally subsidized Section 8 development on Grand St.

Tatum — who grew up in the shadow of the E. Third St. men’s shelter — said she was excited about becoming a member of C.B. 3.

“The East Village to me is one of the most eclectic parts of New York,” she said. “I want to maintain the diversity of the community.” But she also said she was concerned about social service institutions that cater to people “from outside the community,” as opposed to local residents.

Stringer added that phase two of his reform plan — setting up urban planning internships at community boards — is moving ahead. He said he expects to have graduate student interns at every community board “by September at the latest.”

“Community board members want to learn more about zoning and land use, 197a planning,” he said. “Neighborhood folks understand that as it relates to their communities, it’s zoning and rezoning. Some of these developers have $600-an-hour lawyers.” Stringer said his office, which has upgraded its land-use department, will offer board members the equivalent of “Land Use Zoning 101.”

“This is not punitive. Board members said they want to learn more about this,” he said, citing responses on a survey he sent board members earlier this year.

Said Mendez of Stringer’s efforts in office so far: “I think he’s giving a lot of thought to the appointments and the process and trying to carve out his own niche as borough president.”

“He selected people who were above the political fray,” Gerson said of Stringer’s process. “It was a diverse mix.”

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