The Community Needs a Voice in Redevelopment

Over recent weeks, I have heard from parents, teachers, tenants and other activists who are concerned about two sets of redevelopment proposals that could have a significant and potentially harmful impact on our Upper West Side neighborhoods.

The NYC Department of Education (along with two related government agencies, the NYC School Construction Authority and the NYC Educational Construction Fund, NYC DOE) solicited and is now reviewing proposals to completely demolish P.S.191 on West 61st Street and P.S. 199 on West 70th Street, with an eye toward building residential towers with replacement public schools located in the base.

Similarly, the New York City Housing Authority (―NYCHA‖) has a plan to invite developers to build high-rise apartment towers within existing public housing projects. On the Upper West Side, the proposal is to construct four luxury high-rise towers at the Frederick Douglass Houses on Amsterdam Avenue.

The NYC DOE and NYCHA proposals have a great deal in common. Both agencies are under great financial strain – NYC DOE has lost critical funding to meet student needs, while NYCHA lacks the resources to complete routine repairs, let alone addressing critical infrastructure needs. Both agencies are seeking to address these financial strains by ―monetizing‖ the value of publicly-owned real estate assets through long-term agreements with private developers.

Unfortunately, NYC DOE and NYCHA have something else in common. Both agencies’ proposals are exempt from the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which means that the voices of residents, neighbors, parents, teachers, students and others are discounted or disregarded.

The purpose of ULURP was to establish a standardized procedure for public review of applications affecting the land use of the city, especially development projects of some magnitude and projects which involve the sale or lease of public assets. However, neither NYC DOE nor NYCHA is legally required to submit these proposals to ULURP.

Both agencies are exploiting municipal ULURP exceptions that should not apply to these proposals. ULURP exceptions should apply only to projects that are within the normal scope of an agency’s activities, such as NYC DOE building a school, or NYCHA building more public housing. Our elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal and Council Member Gale Brewer, have expressed concerns about the lack of public review and input for the NYC DOE proposals.

I call upon both NYC DOE and NYCHA to submit these proposals through ULURP, to provide for a full analysis of the environmental impact of each proposal, and to abide by any ULURP determinations. These proposed developments are likely to increase traffic, create additional demand for seats in already-overcrowded local schools, and impact the character of the neighborhood. Both proposals will inevitably reduce open and green spaces. Some sites may require environmental remediation; the NYC DOE projects also require finding safe, convenient temporary school locations so that educational activities are not disturbed – which will be next to impossible to find!

Going forward, we must ensure that any future proposals of this type and magnitude are required to be subject to ULURP, so that the general public, community boards and elected officials can do their jobs by having a full and fair opportunity to review, comment upon and approve or disapprove of future proposals.

New City Council Maps

The nearly final New York City Council lines have been released. This once-a-decade process of redistricting has brought some significant changes to our community. Residents west of Broadway or south of 96th Street will be in the 6th Council District, currently held by Gale Brewer (term limited and running for Borough President). Residents that live north of 96th Street and east of Broadway have now been moved into the 7th Council District, currently held by Robert Jackson (also term limited and running for Borough President).

You can view the new maps here: http://209.156.236.68/dist/nycdistricting20130206.html

2013 is a Big Year for Upper West Side Politics

Due to term limits we are going to have an unprecedented turnover in our city’s leadership. In 2013 we will be electing a new Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, and potentially up to half of the City Council’s 51 seats are open due to term limits.

As Upper West Siders we shouldn’t be shocked to hear that we are good voters. We’re not just good voters, we are great voters, fantastic voters… we turn out in droves. Our Assembly District has one of the largest voter turnouts in the entire state. Because of our civic engagement we are used to seeing candidates in our community. But this year is shaping up to go beyond the normal level of campaigning. We have no local candidate running for Mayor, and only one for Public Advocate, and both races have well funded multi-candidate fields. Candidates are going to be practically tripping over each other to collect votes in our neighborhood. It very well may be that the winners of these races will be determined by our community.

Be on the look-out for the traditional Mayoral forum that the Community Free Democrats will be organizing. This event, most likely happening in late April or early May, will be a great opportunity to hear – and question – our city’s next leader.

When referencing the Mayor and Public Advocate you may have noticed that I skipped over Comptroller, the third city-wide position. This is because favorite son, Borough President Scott Stringer, appears to be running completely un-opposed for this critical position. We are both active and passionate supporters of the Borough President and look forward to having him in this office.

The City Council races on the Upper West Side are just as important. District 6 and 7 have hard-working, multi-candidate fields. Borough President is going to be another interesting and close race, with four candidates competing, including the Upper West Side’s Coucilmember Gail Brewer. But all of these races deserve their own posts at a later date.

Remember Newtown

The Upper West Side recoiled in shock after the unspeakably horrific mass-shooting in Newtown, CT. Within days of the atrocity we had organized, sponsored, and supported multiple efforts expressing the need for national laws to help reduce gun violence. For us, and we suspect for many UWS activists, these activities were more than just a critique of national policy. They served as a way to come together as a community in a moment of tragedy, to grieve for those that were lost, and to channel the anger that we felt towards productive ends.

It didn’t take long for change to come. Governor Cuomo deftly ushered the country’s strongest gun control measures through the State Legislature and President Obama just released a significant array of gun regulations and mental health provisions, some of which will have to pass Congress.

After the shooting, it was only a matter of hours before CFD had organized a candlelight vigil to end gun violence. Led by Marc Landis, we organized speakers, set ourselves up in front of the multi-faith Church of Saint Paul & Saint Andrews , and turned out more than 100 sad and angry Upper West Siders. After the vigil, Marc was featured on CNN Headline News about the tragedy and the purpose behind the vigil.

Next, we sponsored a petition calling for the restoration of the assault weapons ban, to close the gun show loophole, to mandate background checks on gun purchasers, and to increase funding for public health approaches to reduce gun violence. We look forward to continuing our advocacy, harnessing our decades of expertise in organizing our neighborhood, and being a force for positive change in how we regulate our guns.

If there is any tiny sliver of redemption that can come from this event, it is the national awakening we are seeing on gun issues. For much of the last twenty years there has not been a serious national discussion on firearms that didn’t involve making them easier to obtain. But today, the NRA is in an increasingly weak and indefensible position. They have degenerated to the point of holding video games responsible and recommending the placement of armed guards in our schools. Truly there can be no more pathetic and morally bankrupt response than this. Hopefully, in the aftermath of this mass shooting and the dozens that have come before it, we are finally at the tipping point where sensible regulations can triumph.

CFD and the City; Poised for 2013

CFD has had such a tremendously successful 2012, and I am proud to be a part of such a hard-working, progressive, unified team as we enter 2013. We should all be ecstatic for the CFD renaissance that we have all helped bring about.

Membership is growing. Our Obama Headquarters was superb. We had 500+ volunteers and made more than 30,000 phone calls. Our three petitioning seasons were all conducted effectively, with members collecting many 1000s of signatures in support of our endorsed federal, state, and local candidates.

2013 is shaping up to be an amazing year for our club. First, and foremost, we have one of the most important city-level election cycles in years. Our city will have a new Mayor, Comptroller, and Public Advocate. Both City Council Districts that include significant portions of the Upper West Side will have new leaders as Gale Brewer and Robert Jackson are term limited.

We are poised for a new New York City Council that will be radically reshaped almost overnight. Nearly half of the City Council will be new, allowing for significant – and positive – changes to occur in how our city is governed.

CFD is going to have some great candidates to consider in these city races next year, two of them die-hard Upper West Side activists and CFD leaders. Our long-time champion and progressive workhorse, Borough President Scott Stringer, has only just announced his candidacy for City Comptroller. He has immediately become the overwhelming favorite to win that race and bring some Upper West Side values to this critical city-wide position.

For City Council, among the five candidates currently announced, we have our own District Leader Marc Landis running to replace Gale Brewer in the 6th Council District. A progressive Democrat, with 25 years of activism and community leadership under his belt, Marc is uniquely poised to be productive right from the beginning and to be part of the new leadership class in our next City Council.

There is more on the ballot this year than just municipal elections. It is also a Democratic Party leadership re-election year. When we petition for our endorsed candidates, we will also be petitioning for ourselves. In addition to a slew of judges, we will also have our full County Committee and District Leader slate to get on the ballot.

Amazingly, depending on what happens in Albany, petitioning for all of these candidates could be as soon as March! As of now the primary election is still scheduled for September, meaning we would be petitioning in the normal time over the summer. But rumors are swirling and the primary may be moved into the summer. It is certainly an exciting time to be an Upper West Side Democrat.

Learning from the Primary, Preparing for the General

Despite significant challenges caused by redistricting, poll site changes, election district renumbering, long shifts and overheated gymnasiums, the Primary Election was conducted largely successfully by very hard-working, underpaid Upper West Siders. But will we be ready for the hordes of voters on November 6th?

As anyone who went to the polls this past September 13th will know, we as a club can help ensure a smoother General Election. We’re working for a huge turnout of people who are eager to vote for President Obama and Congressman Nadler, but we don’t want their patience to wear thin because of preventable snags in the process.

CFD District Leaders cover approximately a dozen poll sites between West 80th and West 100th Street. On Primary Day, your District Leaders made the rounds to all of our sites to help where we could and catch problems before they got out of control. In observing our sites and talking with our approximately 200 poll workers, we picked up on a lot of things we can do now to help improve the experience for our voters in November.

We heard of numerous instances of people not knowing that they now vote at a new location. For example, after 8:30 p.m., at PS 166 on West 89th between Columbus and Amsterdam, Joan witnessed a woman come into the poll site, only to be told that her ED had been moved to West End and 86th! With briefcase and oversized handbag in tow, the exhausted businesswoman was going to try to race six long and dark blocks to cast her vote. Soon after, a mother with two young kids and a baby in a stroller came in the door. Having just encountered the previous voter, she was panicked about where her poll site was. Fortunately, although her ED number had changed, she still had a chance to vote there, at her old site, before 9.

So, compounding the change in poll sites, most of us have new Election District numbers, which means that even when you are at the right site, you have to be sure that you are at the right table. Help the workers deal with the crush by knowing where you’re going ahead of time.
Likewise, part of our job at CFD is to make sure that our neighbors are also well-informed. This year is going to be especially important to have a good communication effort. We want everyone to be well-informed about location and procedures beforehand. As incomprehensible as it may seem to us political activists, many people haven’t voted in four years, when we were using the old machines!

First, when you talk to your neighbors, remind them that things have changed because of the once-a-decade redistricting.

Second, we need your help posting “Hall Cards” to inform voters precisely where their poll site is. We want to cover as many buildings of the hundreds in our territory as we can. Anyone who has a printer at home can help. Just contact District Leader Nick Prigo at nprigo@gmail.com and we’ll make sure you get a customized document you can print and put in the right locations in your building.

Third, suggest that they visit the newly-designed (finally) Board of Elections website, http://vote.nyc.ny.us/. There, they can look up the status of their registration, which election district they live in, where they vote, and thanks to Councilmember Gale Brewer, they can now view their ballot ahead of time.

Nick Prigo is the 69th AD’s Newest District Leader

Thank you all for endorsing and electing me to the position of Male District Leader for the 69th Assembly District, Part B. It is a privilege and an honor to join the CFD leadership team and to represent the almost 18,000 Democrats in my district. I want to also thank my co-District Leader Joan Paylo for being so supportive and for helping me through the process.

As I have been reflecting on what it means to be a CFD District Leader and what I need to do to help continue the CFD reform tradition, I keep coming back to two things. One is a challenge that we face, the other is the possibilities that lie before us.

The challenge is the continually changing nature of the Upper West Side. Matching national social trends, new Upper West Siders tend to switch jobs more often, move more often, work longer hours to meet high costs of living, get married later, have children later, and so on, and so on.

The impact of these trends is that our newest neighbors are going to have less commitment to their community and less time to be engaged in civic and political issues. Finding creative and meaningful ways to engage these Upper West Siders is going to be an important task for our club going forward, and something I look forward to working on.

With this challenge in mind, I also think of the possibilities that lie before us. 2012 and 2013 are going to be critical, difficult, and wonderful years for CFD. As we go all-out to re-elect President Obama we will also be laying the foundation for our work in 2013, where we will be playing a central role in electing progressive Upper West Siders to multiple levels of city government.

I look forward to being a part of the CFD leadership team that tackles challenges head-on and helps us achieve the possibilities that lie before us. When we put in the hours and carry our progressive message to our neighbors we make a real and lasting difference in people’s lives.

We should all feel a strong sense of pride that the work we do here at the community level can spread far beyond our own borders. Our Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – the head of a presidential task force on mortgage banking abuses – is but the most recent example of how our club’s legacy of hard work continues to have a meaningful impact on the lives of Americans all across our country.

I look forward to continuing that CFD tradition.