Volume 79, Number 31 | January 6 -12, 2009

West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Thanks, Alan

After eight years in office serving Lower Manhattan, Alan Gerson is, as of this week, no longer the city councilmember for the First District. That honor now belongs to Margaret Chin, who defeated him in the primary election in the fall. Gerson voted to extend term limits without a voter referendum, the backlash over which undoubtedly partly contributed to his being unseated. Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn were able to weather that backlash, but Gerson could not.

We did strongly endorse Chin. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate all the work Gerson did for his district over the years.

In the Tribeca, Financial District and Municipal areas, Gerson had success in forcing the city to commit to agreements for new schools and community facilities, notably the Beekman School, the annex for P.S. 234 and the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center — the latter including a swimming pool, for which Gerson fought hard to ensure it was part of the project.

Concerned about construction impacts from the World Trade Center rebuilding, Gerson spearheaded Local Law 77, requiring construction vehicles to use ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, now a citywide regulation.

He was also was the co-leader of the City Council effort to revamp the city’s noise code.

He helped establish two housing funds with monies from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and also from developers seeking support for their projects. One fund — for the Lower East Side and Chinatown — is being used to assist Knickerbocker Village and Masaryk Towers, and is getting an infusion of $10 million to help keep neighborhood tenements affordable. The other fund is districtwide. Working right up to the end of his final term, Gerson recently helped broker an agreement to keep the Grand St. Guild Houses affordable.

Gerson took a particular interest in local cultural institutions, and many thrived thanks to his help. The Poets’ House is up and running in its new home; ABC No Rio — which received a significant allocation from Gerson and the Manhattan Council delegation — has all the financing for its phase-one reconstruction; and an agreement with a developer recently was made that could see a Chinatown performing arts center in the former Loew’s Canal St. Theater.

Also on education, Gerson was instrumental in creating the New York City Space and Science Education Center in the formerly troubled Middle School 56 building. Geared toward economically disadvantaged youth, this center is inspiring a future generation of engineers, and hopefully even astronauts. He also worked to help seniors, notably creating a program to install free bathtub grab bars for all seniors in his district.

One of Gerson’s skills was as a mediator, an ability he used in connection with a Lower East Side arts center, Clemente Soto Velez, to bring the divided building together. The other major mediation project, of course, was the Washington Square Park reconstruction, the end result of which — as seen in the completed phase one — Gerson today is extremely proud of. “Those were the two roughest mediations,” Gerson reflected.

On New Year’s Eve — as Gerson was packing up and moving out of his Council office — in his “last act,” he helped respond to a serious fire: Four apartments at 77 Monroe St. had to be vacated, and the tenants needed emergency housing; the building had no heat and a 90-year-old woman’s family were worried about her. Gerson called the Office of Emergency Management and sent his staff to the building to assist; the senior woman got temporary housing. “We made sure no one slipped through the cracks,” Gerson assured. We’re grateful for Gerson’s final act of concern — and, similarly, for all the positive work that he did in his eight years.

Gerson comes from a political family. His mother, Sophie, was president of the local school board, while his father, Herman, was a district leader. Alan quipped that politics for him may be a “genetic liability,” so we expect he’ll stay in public service in one form or another.

Gerson’s time in office certainly wasn’t perfect, but when we asked him what advice he would give to Chin, he said: “You do your best when you listen to people in the district and are open to ideas and input.” We think Gerson did endeavor to do that, and that he did try his best. And we thank him for it.

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