SoHo Politics: Who's Who in SoHo?
The Downtown Political Intelligentsia
Elections come and go and the results sometimes actually change things. We now have bike lanes in SoHo and almost everyone from out of town is now happy. The billboard people are happy despite years of complaints and lobbying the politicians in office, we have more of them. And, real estate people are also happy. Original art, affordable housing, including rent control stabilization and development rights, have all inured to their best interests. The art and artists are nearly gone; stabilization and affordable housing and controlling 45 story buildings, is an ephemeral dream; and the fight to protect SoHo from even further debasement in the form of the SoHo BID, is all but over.
So, apart from the occasional piece of guerilla art, like the few Bob Bolles sculptures implanted in Sunflower Park (at Thompson, Watts and Broome), what’s left for SoHo? Who are the people who serve as the permanent government, that don’t run for office but look out for the welfare of the SoHo spirit—the essence of SoHo as an arts mecca; the protectors of the SoHo heritage; the people who matter.
There aren’t many who fit that bill. And, they don’t all necessarily live on West Broadway, SoHo’smain street. While they do not “run things” they do understand how things work. They know wherein real changes need to be made, or, where to STOP changes that are not in the best interest of SoHo residents.
Sean Sweeney is a member of Community Board #2, Executive Director of the SoHo Alliance, and, currently is Treasurer of the Downtown Independent Democrats. He’s resourceful, knowledgeable and politically astute. If you want to understand the dynamics of confronting a problem in SoHo, you should speak to him first. Although he has a well deserved reputation as a part-time curmudgeon, he’ll talk to you if you’re rational (sometimes even if you’re not)—and he won’t charge you for his time.
Of course, as Don Ameche said, “things change.”
His wealth of political, architectural and zoning knowledge, in addition to his Community Board involvement has made him an invaluable source for residents and activists. Whether you’re seeking a liquor license in SoHo or are a developer wishing to understand how your plan will be received by the community, it would do you well to contact him. He and his organization, the SoHo Alliance, have successfully blocked many undesirable developments, frustrated many nightclub applications, and have sued for many unpopular forays protecting the heart of SoHo.
Jeanne Wilcke is the President of the Downtown Independent Democrats, a political club that has grown much stronger over the past several years. Wilcke is a real estate professional but has nevertheless come out in favor of the kind of controlled development that is supported by SoHo residents. In her role as president of the D.I.D. she has supported strong candidates that fight for the Downtown community and has stood behind the fight against the SoHo BID, a real estate ploy that is no more than a craven land grab to increase tourist influx and install a non-resident political power structure. She previously was Chair of the Zoning Committee at Community Board #2 and is a shrewd but charming politician.
Pete Gleason is a local attorney who currently has been involved professionally with claims related to 9/11. He is also highly knowledgeable about the political infrastructure of Downtown, and while he is not a sanguine interpreter of political motives, he CAN tell you whether any changes will likely take place if one candidate or the other wins an election.
He was a candidate for City Council previously, but has been too preoccupied with his law practice as of late. He prefers to comment from the sidelines and has effectively criticized the media when they stepped out of line. He has added his expertise in the political arena, and, of the many observers, he probably can give you the most incisive view of election contests and the best prognosis for change based upon the outcomes. Contact him if you want a good dose of reality.
Adam Silvera is an attorney who has worked with the SoHo and Downtown communities for the last couple of decades. He is one of the most sophisticated political observers currently residing in the neighborhood, and has also been a member of the Downtown Independent Democrats. He is an ardent supporter of the arts and stands behind the need for ‘self-determination’ of SoHo residents. He is widely expected to succeed and take office in the new year as an elected judge in Manhattan. A better choice could not be found.
Tobi Bergman is also a member of the Community Board. His area of specialization has been park and land use. He has been Chair of the Community Board Parks Committee during several different administrations. And, he has been very involved in programs for young people, especially at Pier 40 where, due in part to his efforts, ballfields were improved for the children of Downtown residents. His P3—Park, Pier and Playground—organization is a vital, functioning asset for our community. His calm, rational, deliberate style in the midst of cacophony has been appreciated by many politicians.