Volume 77 / Number 40 - March 5 - 11, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Progress Report
A Special Villager Supplement

District Leader’s Roundup

Villager file photo

Keen Berger at a recent candlelight memorial service for Washington Square Park

New schools, new president, new parks and, pretty soon, new voting machines

By Keen Berger

From this Democratic district leader’s perspective, the past year was not great, but not horrible either. Many disasters were dodged or stalled. All is in process, nothing finished.

The best part is schools. The crowding in all our local public schools has finally reached the attention of the wider community. Hundreds came to a hearing sponsored by Community Board 2 at P.S. 3 in January, including Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senator Tom Duane, City Councilmember Robert Jackson and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum — all of whom can help give us a school.  Actually, we need three new schools: an elementary, a middle and a high school. Now that concerns have come to the fore, our community is looking for places. There are many: 75 Morton St., Pier 40, St. Vincents and several others. A hearing is scheduled on solutions. Thus, there is progress on this front — but it’s not done yet.

Progress is also evident on parks. Father Demo Square is revamped and finally open, Seravalli is on its way, and Minetta and Bleeker playgrounds should be better soon. Accessible and clean bathrooms are a major need in our playgrounds; we are working on that. We need more places for children to play and adults to meet. Soon, we will have them. 

There is bad news on parks, too — our long fight against the Washington Square Park renovation seems over. The Parks Department has erected tall chain-link fences, and they are digging up some bones of the 20,000 people buried there more than a century ago. They promise improvements but they may soon move and shrink the walkways and central plaza and build perimeter fences. Maybe the city’s budget will make Parks rethink, but that is unlikely.

At least in 2007 the community board rescinded prior approval of the redesign plans and the Washington Square Task Force had a City Hall hearing that led to a strong protest about the lack of information. One small victory last year was that the perimeter fence is slightly lower than originally planned. Accessible bathrooms are scheduled, and a new park may open by summer 2009.

Progress on voting machines is evident. We avoided installing the DRE machines that many other states bought and now are scrapping. We need voter-verifiable paper, machines we trust (optical scan would be the victory), and poll workers who care about democracy. Your district leaders are working on this, as are many others. November 2008 is the new target to start using the new voting machines.

We will elect a new president! Thousands of Villagers voted in the primary on Feb. 5 — our district set a new record in turnout. Stopping the Iraq War is my number one national issue. I am thrilled that we will finally be rid of Bush and his supporters. And I celebrate what didn’t happen — war with Iran. 

More low-income housing, and no new millionaire housing, is an ongoing goal. Like Iran, progress here is measured by what hasn’t happened. The Rudin tower (where St. Vincent’s current main hospital campus sits) is opposed by almost everyone in our community. I predict it will never be built as now proposed; it is far too high, too bulky, too selfish.

Finally, there is Pier 40. Again, the good news is what hasn’t happened. Because of strong opposition from the community and elected officials, and a brilliant counterproposal by the Pier 40 Partnership (local people), the Hudson River Park Trust ducked approval of the Cirque de Soleil entertainment complex, designed for rich people who drive to our waterfront. Here, we measure progress by lack of movement in the wrong direction.

It may seem as if our success is only stopping the worst. Some in city government say that our community has a “culture of opposition.” That applies not only to issues just mentioned above, but historically to our opposition to a road through Washington Square Park, to demolition of Jefferson Market Library, to the Vietnam War. 

I think, instead, we are a “culture of consideration.” We consider ideas, instead of passively accepting them; we consider the needs of each other, instead of being dazzled by money. This past year, opposition has been necessary and abundant. I hope for better days ahead. I am proud of our culture — opposition and consideration — and proud to be your district leader.

Berger is the female Democratic district leader for the 66th Assembly District, Part A

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