NY Post Op-Ed: Get a spine, (Christine) Quinn

Christine Quinn 2009 Ribbon Cutting Ceremony WSP Phase I

An Op-Ed worth reading in today’s New York Post by Michael Goodwin on Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker, her run for Mayor 2013 (fingers crossed that Mike Bloomberg will be ready to vacate the office by then!), and the lack of oversight by the City Council under her watch:

The council speaker is trying desperately to be all things to all people. She believes she can become the next mayor by splitting all the babies in half.

Stop-and-frisk, wage mandates, economic development, education, union power, taxing and spending — she tries always to thread the needle between competing interests. Only on gay rights is she consistently principled, although her overreach in trying to close down the Chick-fil-A store at NYU revealed a militant streak.

As unappealing as her behavior in that incident was, her approach to other policies isn’t much better. Quinn is no Bill Clinton when it comes to triangulating. Her “third way” is mostly a ham-handed effort to simultaneously pander to opposites.

Thus, she wants the business community to believe she shares its concerns about wage and sick-leave laws, while telling the unions her heart is with them on the same issues. She collected money from both sides, and both now demand their piece of flesh.

Whatever she decides, her formula for governing is doomed to fail because there is no clear guiding principle. If she were to use that calculating, transactional approach as mayor, City Hall would resemble an auction house, with all bidders assuming they would get something for their money. Prosecutors and newspapers would have a field day.

Quinn has been able to get by up to now because she is hiding under the wings of Mayor Bloomberg. His power and money shelter her, and she has repaid him by acting more as a deputy mayor than the head of the legislative branch. He owes her for that, and for organizing the votes that allowed them both a third term.

It is worth noting that, of the big scandals involving Bloomberg’s contracts on technology and other private vendors, none was uncovered by the City Council. Agency oversight has rarely been strong in the council, but under Quinn, it is an oxymoron.

At heart, Quinn is not a reformer. She is a creature of the clubhouse and advocacy worlds, with taxpayer cash and special-interest logrolling the coins of her realm.

If you missed the recent New York Times piece on Ms. Quinn’s home life on weekends in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, it’s worth reading more for its puff piece quality than anything else. (I’ll add link in later.)

Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of Washington Square Park Redesign Project As Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks

Amended sign- Completion Date: "Or whenever... zzz"

On September 29th, I wrote about how construction on the SouthWest Quadrant/Chess Plaza at Washington Square Park had been stopped for about 3 weeks. 5 weeks passed with no movement or signs of life on this last piece of long overdue Redesign: Phase II work. At this point, delays in the project do not surprise me. Why this is happening is due to a dispute between the Parks Department and the contractor (more on that later).

What does surprise me is the lack of oversight by just about everyone you’d expect to be monitoring this project.

Let’s review the players —

Washington Square Park Task Force

There IS a Washington Square Park Task Force – although you’d never know it – this body seemed to dissolve once City Council Member Alan Gerson left office – replacement Margaret Chin has been totally MIA on the project. Community Board 2 has pretended that the Task Force doesn’t exist and Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not prompted it to keep going. The body was part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement,” created for the express purpose of giving the community an opportunity to provide oversight on the project and monitor work on the park’s redesign. In March of 2010, I wrote a piece about how the only way the Task Force would function properly is if it was separated from Community Board 2. Clearly, that remains accurate.

Community Board 2

Trees are dying, work is stopped, project is months behind schedule, budget continues ballooning, something is wrong with the Fountain … and yet Community Board 2 has only chimed in – with regards to WSP in the last year – when they sent out Bob Gormley to talk to the media about the bathroom hours being cut.

Brad Hoylman is back after a 2 year hiatus as Chair of the Board (CB2 chairs only serve 2 year terms). Some may have mixed feelings on his role in the negotiations for the park’s redesign years prior, and he does, after all, work for pro-Bloomberg entity, Partnership for New York City. My experience was that he was pretty decent at moving things along and bringing up and addressing issues during the period I first became involved (2008).

However, since Hoylman returned in June of this year, there’s been no progress or spotlight on the park by the board. He’s left Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman in charge. As I’ve mentioned, Bergman is a former Parks Department employee who doesn’t take a very hard look at anything related to the Parks Department (in fact, his current job is somewhat dependent on the city agency).

NY City Council

No involvement at all. Council Member Margaret Chin’s office completely unresponsive. Council Speaker Christine Quinn – who was a huge part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” – is hands off at this point but, then, she’s not being pushed to be involved by the bodies that ought to be doing so – the Community Board and Task Force.

We know that the Parks Department is a dysfunctional agency, and so, at this point, this is a project run amok.

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An Overview:

Phase II Original completion date: Fall 2010. Work was split into two parts earlier this year — Phase II-A (eastern end) opened June 2nd. Budget for all three phases of the park’s elaborate redesign was $16 Million – that figure has now doubled.

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Previously on WSP Blog: Has Phase II just stopped? September 29, 2011

Lulietta From Downtown Manhattan Needs a Home Now – at NYC Animal Care & Control Shelter

Lulietta is a sweet grey and white female kitty who had been part of someone’s home in downtown Manhattan for seven years. Her guardians dropped her off at NYC’s Animal Care & Control apparently because someone in the home had developed allergies, perhaps not realizing that her chances would be slim there for survival.

13,000 animals were killed at the city shelter system, Animal Care & Control(ACC), in 2009. It is a high kill shelter, and, because of that, it’s close to the last option to bring an animal. Lulietta came from zip code 10003 which includes First to Fifth Avenues, 20th Street to Wash Square South (also includes a bit further south to the Bowery).

The Manhattan ACC shelter is at 110th Street and 1st Avenue. Try calling first, and visit this independent Facebook page and let them know you’d like to rescue her. Her time is running out! Lulietta is currently on the ACC “Death Row.” Her Animal ID # is A891546.

Manhattan ACC: 326 East 110th Street (between 1st & 2nd Avenues)
Shelter Hours: 8:00am to 8:00pm, 7 Days a Week; Adoption Hours: Noon to 7:00pm, 7 Days a Week; ‘6’ train to 110th Street; Walk 2½ blocks east (on the south side of the street between 1st and 2nd Avenues).

Phone #’s: ACC Manhattan: 212/722-4939 Press 0 and keep trying until you get a live person. Alternate #: #212/442-2076

Note: the Manhattan and Brooklyn (in East New York) shelters are both in areas that are not easily accessible for most. First thing to help animals, the shelters need to be relocated.

If Lulietta isn’t available, please consider rescuing another animal! This is something each of us needs to be a part of – helping New York City’s animals. The ACC’s budget should not be cut further as Mayor Bloomberg’s Administration is doing — hurting the marginal chance for a future good life for animals already having a hard time.

The ACC — a not independent “non-profit” with the majority of directors on its board also the heads of city agencies, including NYC Parks Dept. Commissioner Adrian Benepe — is in need of total reform and attention from our elected officials. Animals should not be discarded this way.

– Background information:

* Recent Letter from Shelter Reform Action Committee to NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn here.

* Previous WSP Blog Post: How the New York City Shelter System – ACC – is Broken

Alan Gerson Loses NYC Council Democratic Primary in District 1 (covers Washington Square Park); Christine Quinn Prevails, but Barely Maintains Majority against Challengers

Updated

It was much stated during the NY City Council term limits hearings that one reason to limit New York City elected officials’ terms is that incumbents are re-elected 98% of the time.

Apparently; however, if you cross the voters on term limits (and perhaps other things), you may not be.

And so the big news of the morning is that Alan Gerson did indeed lose the Democratic primary held yesterday in District 1 (which covers Washington Square Park) to Margaret Chin. (In the district, people didn’t expect him to win but he was the incumbent so you had to wonder…)

From today’s New York Times’ story, “Voters Reject 3 Council Members Backing Longer Term Limits:”

At least three veteran City Council members were ousted by angry voters Tuesday, the greatest repudiation of incumbents in a generation. All three had voted last year to change term limits, allowing them to run again.

Until Tuesday, council members were more likely to lose their seats by being convicted of a felony than by being defeated in an election. Voters more than evened those odds. They rejected Alan J. Gerson of Manhattan, Kendall Stewart of Brooklyn and Helen Sears of Queens in a rare rebuff to incumbency.

Also:

This was the voters’ first opportunity to register their disapproval, and a record number of candidates took advantage of the backlash by mounting challenges in the primary.

The groundswell may be a bad sign for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who was instrumental in persuading the Council to grant the extension so that he, too, could seek a third term.

I think voters had issues with Alan Gerson other than term limits and this tipped the scale.  Under a stronger City Council member, what transpired at Washington Square Park would never have happened and would have played out much differently.  Under wishy washy Alan Gerson, Mayor Bloomberg’s Administration persevered in their quest to change the nature of the Park, repeatedly ignoring and bypassing Washington Square Park users and community input. This was done hand-in-hand with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  (It’s time for her to go too.)  No word yet on #’s for District 3, Quinn’s district (tho’ Quinn prevailed against Yetta Kurland and Maria Passannante-Derr) but the Times did say in this article:  “Even Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, barely mustered a majority against two challengers.”

Updated: #’s for District 3 from the Downtown Express:
Quinn won with 6,868 votes (52 percent), versus Kurland’s 4,108 votes (31 percent) and Derr’s 2,117 votes (16 percent).

The general election, including the offices of Mayor, City Council, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, will be held on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009.

(Above image from The New York Times)

Blog Musings…

There are many things I would have liked to have covered over the summer here on the Washington Square Park Blog, but, alas, could not … such as:

*the unnecessary and cruel killing of the resident Canadian geese (and Mayor Bloomberg‘s role in it) rounded up from many parks across New York City;

*the Mayor’s re-election campaign for that third term and his spending on it – many interesting articles on this;

*NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who has some spirited challengers for her re-election campaign as City Council Member in Yetta Kurland and Maria Passannente- Derr, and who, uh, won’t commit to support the Democratic candidate for Mayor (which is code for … how can she not support Mayor Michael Bloomberg with whom she has a co-dependent relationship …? they need each other at this point. The other option being discussed is that she just won’t take a position on endorsement vs. backing him.) and Council Member Alan Gerson also running for re-election (and, whose name, last I checked, didn’t make it on the primary ballot because of an error on his petitions)*;

*The High Line Park opening ;

*The sad demise of many Central Park trees because of an intense storm a couple of weeks ago.  (There were some interesting comments in articles from NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe who, on the one hand, has such an attachment to trees, but, on the other, is so quick to chop them down if he has some fancy design plan in mind that might raise his profile…)

I had to focus a bit less on this blog and a bit more on some other life things so these things were not covered here on the blog.

And what about Washington Square Park…?

I will definitely write when I find out more about plans for Phase II – which unfortunately, to date, the Parks Department Press Department has been less than forthcoming about.  What DID that accepted bid come in at for Phase II? Rumor is work will begin around mid-September. I still strongly believe the work should be done in two parts so that the Eastern side of the park and the Southwestern portion are not unnecessarily gated off all at once, closed to all.

Next blog post Wednesday, September 9th!  See you then!

** Check back for this post to be Updated later this week because I’ll try to add other links and sources for you to find out more about all of the above. **

* To read more about Alan Gerson and Christine Quinn’s roles in the redesign of Washington Square Park, scroll down to Categories on the right sidebar and click “Gerson-Quinn.”

Last Call, Bohemia?

Greenwich Village, 1960

Will New York City recognize the importance of “Bohemia” in societies, including its own?

In a July ’08 Vanity Fair article titled “Last Call, Bohemia”, Christopher Hitchens observes how London, Paris and San Francisco — renowned for neighborhoods which foster climates of creativity and culture, havens for “the artists, exiles and misfits” — have “learned” and adopted a hands off policy towards building un-affordable, big box monstrosities in these areas.

What will it take for real-estate-obsessed New York City to do the same?

Hitchens’ focuses on these havens as places for people who “regenerate the culture.”  He targets the St. Vincents/Rudin Management “plan” to remake a large swath of the West Village for “luxury housing” and a new medical building as exactly the type development that should be stopped. He explores what it means not just the Village, but for the City at large.

Hitchens writes:

It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals.

This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran.

In her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argued for the need for “the old” amidst “the new.”  She wrote:

To be sure, city areas with flourishing diversity sprout strange and unpredictable uses and scenes. But this is not a drawback of diversity. This is the point, or part of it. That this should happen is in keeping with one of the missions of cities.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, there is the homogenization factor going on in our city… certainly our bland Mayor doesn’t get that “mission” that Jacobs refers to.  And our NY City Council, led by Speaker Christine Quinn, just falls in line with her friend and benefactor, thereby eliminating any protection or preservation of the unique in our city.

The City’s redesign plans for Washington Square Park further illustrate no understanding or acknowledgment (perhaps, indeed purposefully) of the “strange” (Jacobs’ term for something worth preserving) or the unique, bohemia or diversity.  The design, by landscape designer George Vellonakis, seems to purposefully gloss over – almost sneers at – what made the Park unique.

Instead of Mayor Mike’s emphasis on protecting Wall Street, real estate interests and tourism, wouldn’t we like to live in a place where the historical buildings throughout the West and East Village that NYU has subsumed would be off limits to being altered … forever

Hitchens concludes:

Those who don’t live in such threatened districts nonetheless have a stake in this quarrel and some skin in this game, because on the day when everywhere looks like everywhere else we shall all be very much impoverished, and not only that but-more impoverishingly still-we will be unable to express or even understand or depict what we have lost.

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*This is a revised and edited version of a post first published on June 18th, 2008.*

Photo: Ed Yourdon

Part II: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Sq Park May 28, 2009: ReportBack

Updated

It’s hard to know where to begin to describe last Thursday’s (May 28th) Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Square Park which marked the “official” ceremony celebrating the reopening of the long-under-construction NW Quadrant and Fountain Plaza. It was a well planned event with food and drinks and music and speeches by elected officials and other community and business association members. But … who knew there were Parks Department flags, trucks, suitcases, tents? Parks Department flags lined the entire Plaza around the Fountain. Clearly, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wanted to make certain without a doubt that, at the end of the day, they were happy with what they accomplished – despite a muddled and often questionable “process” along the way.

I almost titled this blog entry: “Spin. Spin. Spin.” Because the overarching theme of each person’s speech was that everyone in the end worked together and the Fountain Plaza has been consistently packed since the Opening Day the week prior therefore the whole project is … a success! And not that it isn’t … (I think there are good things with the redesign and questionable things..) but there’s so much more to the story that the fact that there was such an intentional emphasis on this one repeated theme felt unnecessary and uncomfortable to me.

Let’s just be honest. At this point, can’t the Parks Department concede a point or two? But that that was not to be was apparent with my reading pre-ceremony of the Parks Department press release titled, “Community Celebrates Re-Opening of Washington Square Park.” Yes, there were community members there but it was really more about the elected officials citing how they and “the community” worked together to help smooth over any disgruntlement (apparently, according to one speaker, to reach “consensus”) and … basically… we were all the better for it.

But back to this notion that a packed Fountain Plaza equates that the “renovation” (i.e., redesign) of Washington Square Park is a success. Other than the gray day that appeared on the day of the ribbon cutting, the previous week had been quite been stunning weather-wiseWhy wouldn’t people want to be gathering on a plaza in Greenwich Village around a (famous) Fountain…? Is that so unusual? (We live in a city with 8 million people and who knows how many tourists coming through at one time…)

I sat there one day the week the Park opened with my computer (no WiFi … but I actually don’t think there should be WiFi in Parks although it would be nice at times and it certainly would make my life easier…) around the Fountain and I really enjoyed sitting there. Do I still have concerns about the design…? Yes.

Some comments made at the ceremony:

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe:

This is a special park and a special celebration today.

George Vellonakis spent a lot of time in the park. The project had to be explained again and again.

Along the way, there were some lawsuits. You don’t do anything in New York without a lawsuit.

The park is 20% greener now… we took a lot of the paving out.

Most of the mail we get isn’t positive. [then reads two positive letters received about the park]

NY City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

All the yelling was worthwhile… made the park more beautiful, more usable.

Always designed with the community in mind.

We have to thank NYU who has been a great partner in this.

NY City Council Member Alan Gerson

In my lifetime this is the third renovation I’ve lived through. Striking the right balance is essential. Everyone who argued, everyone who screamed, everyone who took part… [all led to this moment].

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer

Adrian Benepe is a piece of work. … He’s done an amazing job as Parks Commissioner. With community collaboration, great things can happen.

Pennies In The Fountain

Pennies In The Fountain

Village Alliance (local Business Improvement District) President Honi Klein

7 1/2 years ago started planning for the [renovation of the] park.

I was here Tuesday – Opening day. Washington Square Park is iconic … known for everything and anything goes. On Tuesday, there were more people here than you could possibly imagine.

Washington Square Association President Anne-Marie Sumner

There are natural tensions between the Parks Department and the Community [but we have a] magnificent result. A painters’ paradise.

Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman

I think we reached the best conclusion for the space.

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* Part I: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Phase I Opening in Photos June 1, 2009

Since Parks are being scaled back left and right (according to a story last week in the New York Post) due to budgetary concerns, will Washington Square Park be next?

Photos: Cat

Part I: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Washington Sq Park May 28, 2009: Photos

ThePlazaFromAfar052809

Part II: Report-Back on the May 28th Washington Square Park Ribbon Cutting Event

Photos: Cat
Except Davis/Vellonakis: Tim Newman

Washington Sq Park “Official” Opening Ceremony Thursday, May 28th 1:30 p.m. At the Fountain

Oh my… The moment we’ve all been waiting for… (Well, maybe just me…? but still…) Do you think Mayor Bloomberg will show up?

From NY City Council Member Alan Gerson:

DEAR NEIGHBOR:

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and I cordially invite you to join us and other folks in the area to celebrate the opening of Washington Square Park and the completion of Phase I of the renovation. We look forward to seeing you on Thursday, May 28th at 1:30 pm at the fountain.

Very truly yours,
Alan J. Gerson
Council Member, District 1

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Additional thoughts on “New” Washington Square follow in post below …

NYC Parks Department Presentation on Next Phases of WSP Redesign — Reportback from December 3rd Meeting (Part I of II)

Last Washington Square Park Task Force Meeting that occurred (in July), I reported back with an 8 part series. I’m going to stick to the most important and pressing points in reporting back on this meeting which occurred Wednesday, December 3rd.

This meeting of the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2 Parks Committee was chaired by Community Board 2 Chair (and WSP Task Force co-chair) Brad Hoylman.

Featuring a Parks Department presentation by George Vellonakis (the landscape designer responsible for the “plan” for WSP being put forward), it also included a few words interspersed from Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro, WSP Administrator Rebecca Ferguson, and Chris Crowley (whose title I am not certain of) who is overseeing the playground renovation.

The most important aspects revealed were:

* Cost of Project

The projected cost of the Washington Square Park Redesign project is now nowhere near its initial budgeted $16 Million but is looming large at $27 Million.

Phase I (currently being completed) is costing $14 Million (originally projected at $6 Million); Phase II is now projected at $8 Million, and Phase III (sometimes referred as Phase IIB which contains the bathrooms and Parks offices) is now projected at $5 Million. Of course, the future phases II and II are most likely under-estimated at this point so it’s likely we can expect the total project to be at least $35 Million.

* “Gerson-Quinn” Agreement … Not really An Agreement

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Council Member Alan Gerson (WSP falls in his district) like to talk about an “agreement” (the so-called “Gerson-Quinn Agreement) they have with NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe which allegedly resolves “the outstanding major issues” the community had with the Washington Square Park redesign plan. (Note: it never really did but it’s nice to have some illusion of someone working to resolve the issues and it seemingly made a few gains.)

But, that bubble was burst when the Parks Department admitted at the meeting that it thinks no such agreement exists.

Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro informed me when I asked why the new fencing contains “decorative spears” in direct violation of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” (which stipulated that there BE no decorative spears), that “there is no agreement.”

News to anyone who has listened to Gerson and Quinn’s rhetoric about this in the context of all the gains they “won” for the community. Representatives for Council Members Gerson and Quinn – present at the meeting – were silent.

* Artificial Turf Appears Anywhere Commissioner Benepe can find a spot for it

Parks Commissioner Benepe continues to sadly advocate for artificial turf (more on that tomorrow).

* Grand Reduction in Public Space No Myth

The public space is being dramatically reduced and not just around the fountain which gets a 25% reduction but around the chess tables… around the north east corner and, on the edges of the park, with the removal (currently planned but which hopefully will be reversed) of the wonderful seating alcoves currently on the north east, eastern, and southeast sides. (Note: I am advocating for all of the above to be reversed.)

* When Will Phase I (NorthWest Quadrant) Open?

The redesigned northwest quadrant — which includes the Fountain area — will open “sometime in the new year” – fairly vague.

More on this tomorrow when Part II appears.