Volume 79, Number 4 | July 1 - 7, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Lincoln Anderson

Borough President Scott Stringer, left, presented outgoing C.B. 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman with a proclamation declaring “Brad Hoylman Appreciation Day” on June 18.

When things got hairy, Hoylman used his humor

By Lincoln Anderson

Saying it was something he doesn’t take lightly and does rarely, Borough President Scott Stringer presented outgoing Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman with a special proclamation last month, declaring June 18 “Brad Hoylman Appreciation Day.”

“Let’s face it — it’s not easy being board chairperson in the Village. Village people are different,” Stringer told C.B. 2’s full board meeting.

The proclamation praised Hoylman — a C.B. 2 member for eight years and board chairperson the past two — for “working to preserve the neighborhood as a home for longtime residents and newcomers alike” through his work as board chairperson and, before that, chairperson of the board’s Traffic and Transportation and Street Fair Activities committees.

Stringer praised Hoylman’s poise under fire and light touch:

“Brad Hoylman has used a dangerous combination of great hair and sense of humor to diffuse many a difficult situation during community board meetings and public hearings, including his infallible leadership throughout the board’s discussion of St. Vincent’s proposal,” Stringer said.

Hoylman also played a key role in helping Stringer revamp the community boards, aiding him in creating a blue-ribbon panel and criteria to screen applicants.

Later on at the meeting, six new board officers were elected, including Jo Hamilton as the new chairperson. Following the tradition of an unofficial two-year term limit for chairperson, Hoylman stepped down. Showing the unity Hoylman fostered on the once bitterly divided board, there was no opposition to any of the candidates that had been reported out of the board’s nominating committee.

In his parting remarks as chairperson to his fellow members, Hoylman said, “I think we’ve shown that community boards can be effective, can be credible, can make a difference.”

He then rattled off a lengthy list of the board’s accomplishments during his tenure at the helm, as well as some things C.B. 2 tried to do, but didn’t quite achieve. In the first category were holding a special training session for board members on conflict of interest; and creating a new committee to examine street fairs and film permits — which reduced the number of the district’s street fairs by a dozen in the past two years, including one of the board’s own.

“It seemed common sensical to me that if the community and small businesses hate cookie-cutter street fairs — which we know they do — why should the community board sponsor not one, but two?” Hoylman stated.

Hoylman said the board has played a key role in “raising awareness about the need for additional school seats, holding packed public hearings and working with local parents in a way we have not done in recent memory, and offering specific proposals for new schools — most notably, helping create pressure to build a new elementary school at the Foundling Hospital location and campaigning to transform 75 Morton St. into a new middle school.”

C.B. 2 also created its first Chinatown Committee.

“This was important because [Chinatown’s] concerns have historically been overlooked,” Hoylman noted.

On several big projects, the board took the lead, he said. 

Hoylman cited the board’s reversal of its position on a liquor license it had granted for a planned burlesque club at 19 Kenmare St., after C.B. 2 found out the applicant “misrepresented himself to the community. I think this sent an important message from the start that this was not business as usual and we were in fact going to try to put the community first,” Hoylman said.

On Washington Square Park, the board worked with Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s Office in creating the Washington Square Park Task Force and “produced a report representing a consensus of changes to the design,” Hoylman said. “Thanks to all of the support from the speaker and elected officials, we jump-started this project and the first phase of the park opened earlier this month.”

As for the St. Vincent’s Hospital rebuilding project, C.B. 2 created a special Omnibus Committee, “which heard testimony from hundreds of people who would be impacted by the project,” Hoylman recalled.

“I think because we took a tough stance on the historic preservation issues, we may have ended up with a smaller hospital, better residential project, as well as some important amenities, such as the new school on 17th St. and open space at the triangle on Seventh Ave. South that is currently an underutilized viewing garden,” he pointed out.

Regarding Pier 40 at W. Houston St., Hoylman said, C.B. 2 worked with local activists “to support an alternative to a developer-driven plan that would have converted the pier from playing fields to a tourist mecca.” 

Traffic and transportation is an area, in his view, where C.B. 2 “has been a leader among community boards.”

“We were the first community board in the city to endorse congestion pricing,” he said. “We have also been leading other boards in creating new bicycle lanes, public spaces and experimental parking regulations.”

The outgoing chairperson added that the community board has improved relations with the neighborhood’s larger institutions. 

“With N.Y.U., working with the borough president, we helped create principles for new development that will protect our neighborhood — and I think we sensibly applied them to projects like the Provincetown Playhouse reconstruction and the new building at the Catholic Center site,” Hoylman noted. 

He also said the board proactively got involved on “the front of end” of discussions on The New School’s planned building at 14th St. and Fifth Ave.

There were smaller things the board did that made a difference, too, he said, like helping get a new street light at a spot on Barrow St. were plagued by muggings.

A major accomplishment, though, was improved relations among community board members. Prior to Hoylman’s tenure, pro-business and resident factions had been at each other’s throats.

“If there is one thing that I am most pleased about over these last two years, it’s the collegiality, mutual respect and genuine sense of community this board has demonstrated,” Hoylman said. “Treating people with respect — that’s the golden rule of politics: Treat people like you would like to be treated.”

Hoylman gave credit to Stringer, who he said had “raised the professionalism of the office — so at C.B. 2, we had to keep up.” Stringer increased standards for membership on the board, Hoylman said.

In addition to Stringer, Hoylman said C.B. 2 — which covers Greenwich Village, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Hudson Square and the Meat Market — has “an embarrassment of riches” in the politicians who represent the area.

That sort of political overlay “really drives the board,” he said.

Hoylman, a Democratic district leader and past president of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, is seen as having political aspirations himself. At one point, he had been an expected front-runner for Quinn’s Council District 3 seat this year. He never declared his candidacy, though, and after term limits were extended last year, vowed he wouldn’t run against Quinn, saying she was doing a great job.

Hoylman added that a big help at C.B. 2 has been District Manager Bob Gormley, who runs the board’s office.

“He doesn’t favor one faction over the other,” Hoylman said of Gormley’s dealings with board members. “Arty [Strickler] was amazing, but Bob’s brought a fresh, hard-working perspective to the office. I think he’s as important as anyone in the board’s turnaround.”

A colorful figure, Strickler was seen by some as wielding excessive influence within the board.

Hamilton gave brief remarks about Hoylman at the meeting.

Jo Hamilton, left, new C.B. 2 chairperson, and Bo Riccobono, new first vice chairperson, used to be on opposing factions, but now are part of the community board’s new leadership.

She started by self-deprecatingly noting she would have been happy if Hoylman served a third term. She said she recently spoke to Ed Gold, a veteran C.B. 2 member who was recovering from gall bladder surgery, who ranked Hoylman among the board’s all-time top chairpersons. What makes a good chairperson? Hamilton said she asked him.

“A good chairperson runs a good meeting,” Gold said simply, she related.

Doris Diether, another veteran board member, later said of Hoylman, “I would rate him as pretty good. He doesn’t always agree with people, but he listens to people. Everybody doesn’t always agree with me anyway.”

As for C.B. 2’s new chairperson, while Hamilton noted she doesn’t possess Hoylman’s wit, her passion and energy are unmatched. In fact, everything she says is delivered with tremendous passion.

Setting her apart from most of her recent predecessors, Hamilton isn’t involved in local Democratic clubs and, in fact, appears uninterested in a political career. Simply put, she’s a community activist.

She’s a past president of the Jane St. Block Association, which she said she “re-energized.” Hamilton made her biggest mark in the Meat Market, co-leading the effort, with restaurateur Florent Morellet, to landmark the district in 2003. More recently, she was a steering committee member of the Greater Gansevoort Urban Improvement Project, which advocated for the new traffic-calming measures and increased pedestrian space in Gansevoort Plaza in the Meat Market. 

While reluctant to get into specifics of her “agenda” yet, Hamilton clearly is a big-picture thinker. For example, with the High Line park’s recent opening, and the Downtown Whitney Museum soon to follow, she said she can foresee the Meat Market transitioning from nightlife and entertainment to retail, though the process would take awhile, she told The Villager. But how to get shoppers to the area, which is inconvenient to mass transit? Hamilton ideally has a grand solution — extending the L train to 10th Ave.   “It already goes halfway under 14th St. between Eighth and Ninth Aves.,” she noted. The L could then be extended up into Chelsea, where at some point it could meet the extension of the 7 train, currently being built. There’s one issue, “gauge,” Hamilton noted, as in the two tracks are different widths — but riders could just transfer across a platform, she said.

Whether or not this ambitious plan ever becomes a reality, it shows Hamilton isn’t afraid to think outside the box. And with a unified board behind her, her chances of realizing her goals and those of the board are greatly improved.

Several years ago, Hamilton’s vocal opposition to liquor-license applications for new clubs in the Meat Market got her briefly tossed off the board back when nightlife interests held sway on C.B. 2 and their ally, C. Virginia Fields, was borough president. Now, Bo Riccobono, a member of the pro-business faction formerly aligned against Hamilton’s residents’ faction, is her first vice chairperson.

“We were once on opposite sides,” Hamilton marveled, as she and Riccobono stood beside each other at Artepasta on Greenwich Ave. at a board get-together after last month’s meeting. “I couldn’t have imagined us working together back then — but it’s happened.”

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