Volume 74, Number 45 | March 16 - 22, 2005

Letters to the editor

Villager didn’t back Smith or Fields

To The Editor:
“Fields’s and C.B. 2 chair’s stories conflict about a conflict of interest” and “C.B. 2 leaders and Fields disserved the community by flouting conflict ruling” (news article and editorial, respectively, March 2) were nothing more than a political hatchet job on individuals that The Villager has historically not endorsed and/or supported.

It’s curious that The Villager failed to disclose in either its article or editorial the fact that it actively supported Jim Smith’s opponent in the race for C.B. 2 chairperson in 2003 as well as the fact it supported Virginia Fields’s opponent in the 1998 race for borough president. Ms. Fields is one of four candidates running in this fall’s Democratic primary and is an African-American woman with a long and distinguished record of public service. Why doesn’t The Villager just have the nerve to come out and endorse one of her opponents, instead of trashing her on bogus issues?

For the record, my disclosures are as follows: I support Ms. Fields for mayor and have contributed, according to The Villager, $400 to her campaign; I am a friend and longtime supporter of Mr. Smith as well as Bob Rinalao, another one of your “evildoers,” and, finally, I appointed Mr. Rinaolo chairperson of the Business Committee when I was chairperson of the board, several years ago.

Smith and Rinaolo, both of whom volunteer their time to serve on the community board, as well as Fields, deserve better than being the subjects of petty, political haranguing that The Villager offers up as serious reporting.

Aubrey Lees
Lees is a Community Board 2 member

C.B. 2 exposé a ‘public service’

To The Editor:
Re “Fields’s and C.B. 2 chair’s stories conflict on a conflict of interest” (news article, March 2) and “C.B. 2 leaders and Fields disserved the community by flouting conflict ruling”(editorial, March 2):

The Villager’s coverage of Community Board 2’s unfortunate manipulations following the Conflicts of Interest Board’s ruling against restaurateur Bob Rinaolo’s continued chairmanship of its Business Committee should be recognized by all New York residents as an important public service. No less appreciated should be your pointed and powerful editorial citing Manhattan Borough President Fields’s role (as she who must be obeyed!) in these seedy events and the doubt this casts on her qualifications to be New York’s next mayor. Your efforts and those of the Greenwich Village Block Associations to shed light on these events are to be admired.

As a former C.B. 2 resident who served for several years as a public member of both the Business and Sidewalks Committees, I must tell you that at the very inception of Mr. Rinaolo’s C.B. 2 board membership in early 1999, I and others wrote alarm-raising letters to the borough president and all other key elected officials strongly suggesting that there were certain committee assignments that would be wholly inappropriate for someone with his background as a leader of the restaurant community as well as a lobbyist for it through his then-leadership of the local Chamber of Commerce. All our efforts to make officials see sense failed, as he received appointments to both the Business and Sidewalks Committees, recommending on liquor licenses and sidewalk cafes, respectively, and then rose to the post of Business chairperson. Making matters worse, both committees became increasingly populated with other persons having an unmistakable personal interest in improving the local business climate for restaurants and bars, including those they owned, managed or sold goods to.

When approached, the borough president’s office claimed that to influence committee appointments and chairmanships would be to “micromanage” the community boards and this was something she did not wish to do. In effect, this means that anyone appointed to any community board can place himself or herself in a position, through committee assignment, to tilt the balance between business ambitions and residents’ rights, with the borough president’s full approval.

Over all these years many of us have wondered aloud whether strong personal friendships involving board Chairperson Jim Smith, Mr. Rinaolo and professional staff in the C.B. 2 office have united to block the scrutiny you now seem to be giving this important issue with its citywide ramifications. Certainly, these questions will only become louder given the exceedingly protective stance Smith has taken toward Bob Rinaolo in deeming the COIB 2003 ruling “advisory” rather than binding and, with Rinaolo’s full concurrence, keeping it from public knowledge for so long. Only the members of C.B. 2 can decide what impact these lowball ethics will have on Rinaolo’s efforts to be elected new C.B. 2 chairperson as summer approaches, and we must hope that as they vote they will realize that their commitment to establishing a fair, transparent and accountable Board 2 will be judged as sharply as any candidate’s qualifications. The Villager can certainly help by not taking its eye off the ball. Thank you for what you’ve already done.

Mary K. Doris

Put ‘community’ back in Board 2

To The Editor: 
Thank you. Your article in the March 2 issue of The Villager “Fields’s and C.B. 2 chair’s stories conflict on a conflict of interest” is a breath of fresh air.

Being a community activist can be discouraging. The majority of C.B. 2 is bar/restaurant owners who tend to side with other bar/restaurant owners. They give each other admission and special treatment; they court each other. It’s a hard board to talk to if you happen to be against another bar/restaurant opening.

The idea of Bob Rinaolo heading C.B. 2 is another difficult issue. He was removed as chairperson of the Business Committee, which advises on liquor licenses, and he seemed in the meetings to be partial to other bar/restaurant owners getting liquor licenses.

Is it not advisable for the community board leader to be impartial for the good of the community? “Community” and “community board leader” have the word “community” in common, the first and most important word.
Ivy Jeanne Brown

Chairs for sale, cheap

To The Editor:
Re “Fields’s and C.B. 2 chair’s stories conflict on a conflict of interest” (news article, March 2):

Let me get this straight.

According to last week’s Villager, contributors to Virginia Fields’s campaign get a seat on the community board for as little as a couple of hundred of dollars.

She is also running for mayor of the greatest city in the world. Is that correct?

Kate O’Brien

Park fence idea isn’t new

To The Editor:
Re “Villagers hit a wall over park fence plan” (news article, March 9):

I read about the recent heated C.B. 2 Parks Committee meeting concerning renovation plans for Washington Sq. Park — especially the conflict about installing a higher fence — with a rueful recollection of my involvement in such goings-on about 20 years ago. At the time, I headed the parents group Washington Square Park Council, which had formed in September 1981. I became president that following summer, and led the group for the many years until both park playgrounds were finally and fully renovated. Although our initial concerns focused on the playgrounds, we gradually became involved in the park’s more comprehensive issues.

How astonishing to hear that some Villagers are now fighting AGAINST a more substantial fence! During our day, the misuse and abuse of the park and legitimate park users led us to fight for a high fence that could be locked at night. Our only opposition then was the Parks Department! We finally achieved a partial victory — the pipe-rail fence was put in, and barriers were placed across the park entryways after closing time. It took years more to get a real fence around the northeast playground and achieve the renovated, enlarged playground within. In fact, it took so many years to win Parks Department agreement for the necessary playground improvements and then progress through the design and construction that my kids had outgrown the playground years before it was finally a reality.

The reality is that our park becomes vulnerable late at night, and enclosing it is protective. How anyone can call an adequate fence “a danger to the elderly and infirm” is beyond me. “Psychological entrapment,” “a device to confine political protest,” etc. — that is playing games with words that don’t bear on reality. An aesthetically appropriate fence serves a need without offending the eye. It will enable us to take proper care of our park, and those who enjoy it.

Sheila Sperber Haas

Hip to a restored square

To The Editor:
I wholeheartedly support the Parks Department’s Washington Sq. revised renovation plan. It is time to restore the park to a beautiful, inviting and peaceful place for everyone!

Eugenia Zukerman

Lower fence, and perfect

To The Editor:
At the Feb. 16 meeting to discuss plans for the major renovation of Washington Sq. Park, several people expressed the wish that things be left pretty much the way they are and that only minor changes be made. Although this sounds like a quicker and much less expensive way to beautify the park, perhaps the park’s present condition is the result of far too many “quick fix” schemes over the years. It’s beginning to resemble an old auto tire with worn tread and covered with patches.

What the park needs is a complete overhaul with a unified design; and an aesthetically pleasing plan, both user and viewer friendly, has been devised by George Vellonakis. We’re extremely lucky to have such a talented designer for this project.

While some people raised an objection to the idea for a new fence, and I, too, feel that a fence 4 ft. high would compromise the open feeling of the park, perhaps a modification could be achieved by lowering the height to around 3 ft. The new design for the fence is quite attractive and certainly more appropriate for this historic park than the existing pipe-rail fence.

There were also negative comments made about relocating the fountain into alignment with the Arch. Although the lack of alignment may not be obvious to those already in the park, creating a beautiful vista down Fifth Ave. is a wonderful way to welcome visitors to the Village. Many tourists experience their first impressions of the neighborhood when they ask their cab driver to “take them to Washington Sq.,” and even though most cabbies can’t find diddly in the Village, they can usually spot the Arch and safely deliver their passengers.

A valid note of caution was raised by several attendees as to the Parks Department’s ability to complete the project within the projected time frame — a point well taken considering the long “lapse” in activity that occurred with the recent Washington Sq. Arch renovation. While nothing can guarantee what future ups and downs the New York City economy will experience, one sure way to guarantee that the city stays financially healthy is to promote tourism, our largest industry. People come to New York precisely because it doesn’t look like their hometown, and they come to the Village for its beauty and its rich cultural heritage. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to do our part to bolster New York City’s appeal by ensuring that the Village loses none of what has endeared it to so many visitors and residents alike. That means no more out-of-scale, stylistically unsuitable buildings hulking over the park, no overpowering residential structures along the Hudson River waterfront and promoting, as the only sure way to achieve all this, landmark protection for the entire Village.

Marilyn Stults
Stults leads Street Smarts historic walking tours of the Village

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