SoHo Politics: Or, How I Learned to Love the Political Games.

There are a growing number of vacant storefronts in SoHo, primarily restaurants that have failed. Among them are Tresanti on Broome Street, South Houston on Grand Street, Via dei Mille on West Broadway, Ivo and Lulu on Broome Street and a number of other stores holding on by their fingernails.

The complaints from most of them are that there are zero governmental attempts (in other words, local politicians) that have attempted to help small businesses. With rents approaching $25,000 and higher, per month, there’s no surprises here. Attempting to negotiate with landlords is a no-win situation. History shows us that unless there is real pain for an extended period of time, there is no incentive to drop rents even for long-term tenants.
As we enter a double-dip recession and the Wall Street layoffs start to heat up, business, real estate sales AND rentals will start to head down again. Perhaps that will affect the beleaguered small stores and restaurants.
Political innovation in SoHo is greatly needed but no existing politicians or candidates for office have made any attempts to solve some of SoHo’s long-term problems.

There is no program to protect some of the historical guerilla art such as the Bob Bolles sculptures in “Sunflower Park.” For nearly a decade activists have tried to have the park renamed as Bob Bolles Park. Community Board #2, now under the Chairmanship of Brad Hoylman has done nothing to address this issue. Nor, have the many years of entreaties to CB2 to remove the illegal billboards had any effect. While there are laws on the books, no effort to diligently remove these eyesores has ever been attempted. The one exception is a Greenwich Village building sign that was erected near the home of Jo Hamilton, former Chair of the Community Board.

With a Mayor who derives campaign funds from the Sign Industry, the Buildings Department has been neutered and nothing has been done. In SoHo, we continue to live in political gridlock. While Margaret Chin is our relatively new City Councilmember, Chinatown has disproportionately benefited from her efforts. Even her heretofore-celebrated housing activist reputation appears to stop at Canal Street. For some, Alan Gerson, who lost the last election against Margaret Chin, is starting to look better.

Surprisingly, there has been some improvement in the Holland Tunnel traffic flow due to changes and hours attributed to the Midtown Task Force. However, the Traffic agents that keep pedestrians from being mauled by creeping drivers on their way to New Jersey– from Delancy Street to Varick Street along the Broome Street corridor– is inconsistent. West Broadway at Broome and Watts is mostly a nightmare of competing vehicles that leave snarling motorists who would hit a mother in her baby carriage rather than lose a space to move closer to Newark.

Only the fact that cars can only creep along saves what would otherwise be massive casualties in full view of bars and art galleries. Rome and the Gladiators come to mind.

Since the Commercialization of SoHo is a fait accompli, only the SoHo BID startles even the old-timers who genuinely were artists in their prime. The ploy, here, really has been akin to an old-fashion land grab. Only, now it’s done with leases, government fiat and the likes of BID’s (Business Improvement Districts).

Essentially, real estate interests and shills like Mary Balaban (uptown socialite) and consultant Barbara Cohen, move into an area and make deals with landlords that allows a little fiefdom to operate the “management” of a business area. In this case, the SoHo BID is seeking to take management control of Broadway from Houston Street to Canal Street.
Fees will be collected; assessments will assigned and so-called amenities will “improve” the area for increased business. SoHo gets kiosks, more street cleaning and a LOT more people to fill the BID’s till. The accounting process resembles that of a Hollywood movie and those damned expenses just seem to keep on rising.
None of the players in the gambit are SoHo people. It’s purely a real estate play, which raises fees to do business, increases real estate values, cleans the street more often, and creates a nice cash flow for the promoters. Maybe Department of Sanitation workers can get more side work. None of it does anything for residents of SoHo. Currently, since the fix is in, it has been “denied” by the Community Board, approved by City Planning’s Amanda Burden (Bloomberg’s puppet) – and sits in front of the City Council awaiting the right moment to pull the pin on SoHo residents.
It will no doubt be approved because this City is run by the Mayor and his Harvard clones who have their hands in the till, City Planning takes orders from the Mayor and companies like Newmark have bought and paid for this. Only the coming double-dip recession, which may become a Depression, will thwart these kinds of self-aggrandizing and obvious moves that run contrary to the will of the people who live in SoHo.  The loss of a few thousand bankers may do just that.

Meanwhile, no credible attempt at solving the affordable housing issue is now even seriously being considered. Only politicians like Borough President even mention the subject. Formerly Margaret Chin and Speaker Quinn championed this issue. Of late, nothing. Councilmember Jumaane Williams, head of the Investigations Committee was contacted about some serious conditions, for example, at 80 Varick Street – where 50 stabilized families have openly and notoriously been litigated out of their homes over the last decade – and there was absolutely no response. Nothing. Mark Ramer, Michael Saperstein and Cynthia Brea Rivera have systematically used the courts to deprive tenants of their rights and the sanctity of their homes simply to increase apartment income to market rents, by any means necessary. Perjury, baseless litigation to abuse and harass, and deprivation of services— nothing is too good for a stabilized tenant standing in the way of a market-rate rental.

The courts have been assaulted by expensive lawyers like Joe Burden and Brian Haberly, of Belkin Burden in the service of their clients who will commit fraud to evict a legitimate tenant. And, there have been no sanctions against these individuals. When frivolous evictions, attempting to evict a tenant by using huge legal costs that are unaffordable, become criminalized – this will stop.

Politicians like Julie Menin, however, who reportedly has the inside track for Stringer’s job as Borough President once his term is finished, has expressed a strong desire to tackle this issue. And, State Senator Daniel Squadron has demonstrated, with great effort, that he is committed to protecting tenant’s rights. Yetta Kurland, potential candidate for Speaker Quinn’s council seat, has expressed her concern and commitment to working for rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants in Manhattan as well as her strident speeches to bring a hospital back to Downtown.

Then, there is the issue of St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Despite the polemics, it is hard to tell whether the initial fight against the Rudins was the right move. In negotiations with an army of lawyers and, essentially, lobbyists who know ALL of the right people in the City administration. It’s possible that the first time around may have been the best time to make a deal. Rumors abound as to the potential fraud involved in the numbers that caused the hospital to close. In other words, was the hospital’s demise engineered?
The answer is irrelevant because downtown is now without a very necessary medic al facility. Time is the issue. Money is not the issue. There will be a resolution and the Rudins will reap a windfall. The question is, what will the residents get as a result of the corruption, which brought us to this point.
What is NOT helpful, however, was the white flag raised by an article in one of John Sutter’s publications, The Villager (July 2011) by Lincoln Anderson. In a piece called “Just across the Hudson, a model for the Village’s healthcare future” – almost as if were instructions on how to grease the chute for downtown residents, the Anderson article “shows us the way” of the future with “free-standing emergency department.”
While Anderson is a writer/reporter/Editor for The Villager, this entertaining piece seemed to have all of the earmarks of the Rudin PR department. Whether true or not, it is akin to pulling the rug out from under the feet of downtown residents who are fighting a death struggle with an assault on their health needs.

We need a hospital Downtown. Anything less than that is a surrender to real estate interests who have the same mantra a Gordon Gekko: Greed is Good.


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