The Reckoning for SoHo

“In politics stupidity is not a handicap.”

— Napoleon Bonaparte

Having written several articles about a newly popular political concept called Affordable Housing, I’d like to revisit the issue since it has become a cudgel for developers and politicians trying to justify the rewards they’ve received for having delivered the goods to their deep-pocketed business friends. I mean, where were these socially responsible City Planners when the 100,000 rent-regulated apartments were litigated off the table. Where were they when landlords were using the litigate to evict ploy like a couple of former dentists downtown? The newest case in point is the ongoing SoHo/NoHo Rezoning Plan. How many Affordable apartments are they going to provide compared to those losses?

The current state of this plan is that since May there have been meetings to move it along as quickly as possible. Currently, it has devolved into a mud-slinging contest apparently pitting the residents against the monied-interests being pushed by City Planning whose official role is:

“To be responsible for the conduct of planning relating to the orderly growth and development of the City, including adequate and appropriate resources for the housing, business, industry, transportation, distribution, recreation, culture, comfort, convenience, health and welfare of its population.”

Got that? Welfare of the population? Not the Welfare of the Mayor. So, who does he work for anyway? The residents who elected him as their servant? I don’t think so. Who do the Borough Presidents answer to who appoint the members of that commission? The voters?

So what we have here is a shell game. All of these characters are supposed to give fealty to us, the voters. But, it turns out that they don’t work for us at all. They work for the people who pay them — one way, or the other.

Supposedly, this is a plan that “the Mayor wants.” It reminds me of the Trump Soho project that “the Mayor,” Bloomberg at the time, wanted, and his City Council underling and Speaker Christine Quinn, who helped push through his third term as Mayor, fended off an investigation into the perks of office called Slushgate, and saved Trump SoHo. At the time, neither of them were antagonistic towards The Donald and his goonies from Kazakstan. It even saved The Villager publisher John Sutter from having to reverse the sale of some very profitable air rights to the likes of Felix Sater and his money-laundering friends. When I pointed this out to his editor Lincoln Anderson, he was instructed to produce a hit piece on me — as if Bob Clifford, the Joseph Goebbels of the now convicted D.A. Thomas Spota, who prosecuted me for writing about his corruption, wasn’t enough. After a number of media sales, the archives wound up with community leviathan Schneps Media.

But back to Afffordable Housing and SoHo. City Planning is now prosecuting this plan to add more commercial real estate, more gallery space (Art for the Masses?), more artist’s spaces, and, last but not least, more affordable housing. Okay, and just to add to the usual suspects, it’s not Edison or any of the other Masters of the Universe of Manhattan realty who have already spread around cash and are involved. It’s respected institutions like New York University that want this — for us and our children, mind you. Well, someone’s children, anyway — not anyone you know who resembles middle class lives in the neighborhood. That went out of style at NYU in the 1970’s unless you remained a cash-heavy Alumni. Even with corporate donations and a $4.4 Billion dollar endowment. Their current favorite rejection ploy is the “Wait List.” Believe me, I know, I earned three degrees at NYU. My children, however, have been wait listed numerous times along with multiple rejections for me for additional graduate degrees.

So, here’s how Affordable Housing really works. First comes approval for whatever the developer wants to build. Second, comes selling or renting new units to the public at market prices. Third, comes the lists of units that are earmarked as “Affordable.” No sales rep at the new buildings have any information about affordable units since they receive no commission for renting them. Like the development of 111 Varick Street which had “Affordable Housing” signs plastered all of the building, it wasn’t until I made a few phone calls did I discover that HPD — the very agency that is supposed to force landlords to comply with the rules regarding heat, hot water, deteriorating walls and ceilings — handled the affordable units on its very own website. They can’t get existing rent-regulated tenants heat and they cannot get you an affordable apartment.

I applied for an affordable apartment at HPD and never heard from anyone — not to mention the fact that no one at 111 Varick Street knew about or could even advise me about which apartments were affordable or how much they were. Oh, and there was no phone number to call at HPD. The 111 Varick Street rental office ($4000-6000 a month for market rate apartments), couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough.

Now, take the the history of the 100 Varick Street building which sought and received approval for an eight story rental building through Community Board #2. The developer proposed affordable units for the community and was approved — and then sold the entire project to a developer who explained that he was going to build a hotel and had “as of right” ability to build thirty or forty floors if he did not get approval for 20 floors of condo units — affordable units were not mentioned any longer. It made everyone crazy but before this developer could even get that approval he sold the project again to the current developer who bought it — and built Twin thirty story towers. (The zoning had changed while the deals took place) A few Community Board members made out well on that deal and we now have mega condo towers known as Renzo Piano two blocks from The Dominick, where Trump once was. None of the units in its last iteration claimed to be affordable. Games were played upon us with Trump Tower, 111 Varick, Renzo Piano — because that is how developers treat the community. And, City Planning plays ball along with the politicians. The idea that new studio space, affordable housing, the arts in SoHo, making it more attractive to tourists and enabling the educational interests of the community with the SoHo/NoHo Partnership — is pure bullshit. It is nothing but a real estate play.

As one resident confided about City Planning said, “Look no further than former DCP Director Carl Weisbrod. He’s in a perpetual revolving door, private – public – private -public – private…The DCP is in bed with big real estate and the organizations that support big real estate. Google the DCP team leader of Soho/Noho rezoning, Sylvia Li, she’s on boards of real estate ‘non-profits.’ It’s really incredible, they don’t even hide the corruption.”

Its a money play using one of the most convenient agencies in New York — City Planning. The members have been chosen by elected politicians who owe someone — from the developer’s ranks. Politicians like Margaret Chin, who sold out SoHo long ago, in order to sell out the community. SoHo does not need more tourists, more art galleries, or more condos and certainly does not need any more commercial space. The artists have been gone for thirty years. Where was the City then? Oh, I forgot, the artists brought the developers so it didn’t matter when they were forced to leave. You think they’ll come back to more tourists and traffic?

The tourists overwhelm our streets so that pedestrians are routinely hit or killed, stores are vacant and boarded up in SoHo and the Village. And we need more commercial space for whom?

Yes, for the developers. Who’ve paid for it.

Stay Tuned.

Turning a New Page on Justice.

“But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”

― Martin Luther King, Jr.

The recent election cycle was difficult and in some cases was contentious. Having known some of the candidates and having personally known a few of those who held the office of Manhattan District Attorney, this was an election that had added meaning. Morgy, or “The Boss,” as Robert Morgenthau was known among his employees was widely respected and served for decades. I remember interviewing him in his Hogan-era conference room after having been introduced to him by one of his trusted assistants, Julie Nadel, as he went on to describe his John Doe DNA concept — which protected victims from statute of limitations problems inherent in rape cases. It was a novel concept and it worked. I took some heat from his adversary but he won re-election. Even though Jim McManus, arguably one of the last of the powerful club leaders, supported a former judge by the name of Leslie Crocker-Snyder.

Cy Vance, Jr. ran for Morgenthau’s seat when, at age 90, Morgy decided to retire. Snyder ran against Vance and was defeated and Vance took over as District Attorney. Of course, while The SoHo Journal promoted the candidacy of both Morgenthau and Vance, I never expected the Spanish Inquisition. The issues in those Manhattan races were less explosive than the rampant corruption I was writing about in the Hamptons, which unfortunately destroyed my life and that of my family. Freedom of Speech, of course, does not guarantee Freedom from Retaliation. It was a classic case of prosecutorial malfeasance and the use of legal extortion to obtain convictions and D.A. Thomas Spota was well-versed in corruption and extortion. I took a plea to barely survive and was imprisoned for four years. Even my landlord joined the party and offered to help the criminal enterprise in order to get me out of my rent-stabilized apartment. How many poor, disadvantaged, minorities have been forced to choose between truth, innocence and prison by taking a plea in our society?

The issues of prosecutorial malfeasance and abuse, racial discrimination, criminal justice abuses and landlord harassment have all come out into the open now. Those elements have percolated to the top of the extortion racket used by District Attorneys like former Suffolk County D.A. Thomas Spota and his Assistant D.A.’s, who currently await sentencing for their convictions.

But, the success of Alvin Bragg as Manhattan District Attorney will now be able to address many of these issues for the benefit of all, not just SoHo residents. Hopefully, we can look forward to a new era of healing and appropriate criminal justice reform. Bragg has addressed this in his statement:

“I applaud all the candidates for their passion and ideas to transform the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, thank them for making me a better candidate and better prepared to lead the office, and look forward to working with them to bring the change that New York’s criminal justice system so desperately needs.”

“This has been a long journey that started in Harlem. And today, that 15-year old boy who was stopped numerous times at gunpoint by the police is the Democratic nominee to be Manhattan District Attorney.
We are one step closer to making history and transforming the District Attorney’s office to deliver safety and justice for all. One that ends racial disparities and mass incarceration. One that delivers justice for sexual assault survivors and holds police accountable. One that prosecutes landlords who harass tenants, employers who cheat their workers, and stands up to hate crimes. And one that stops the flow of guns onto our streets.
The road to reform will not be easy, but I promise that I will never stop working to deliver safety and justice for all.”

SoHo Alive!

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.”

— Hunter Thompson

Keeping in mind that most of what you read by journalists online or in newspapers these days is an alternate reality — whether from conspiracy-theory-addled conservatives or hypocritical liberals fleeing to the Hamptons. So here are some photos of the real current state of affairs in SoHo. The hotels have reopened, although several like The James are under different names and ownership. The Hampton Inn is now SoHo 54 on Watts Street and offers rooms with nothing — even WiFi and water costs extra. The restaurants and bars are serving again and the traffic is back with a vengeance. So here’s a look see so you can make up your own mind whether or not to visit.

Felix Restaurant
Broome Street Bar.
Crossing Broome Street.
West Broadway. Maybe leave the baby home.
Alain. Felix Restaurant owner.
SoHo developer Jay Schwimmer in his offshore hat making deals.

Decision Time for SoHo

“Vote early and vote often”

— Al Capone

For candidates that will work for SoHo and have a proven record of accomplishments, here are the issues and here are the right candidates:

  1. Developers looking to get fat off of the pillaging of our community, reject the recent push to provide so-called Affordable Housing — The SoHo-NoHo Development Plan. It has become a fake issue. Few, if any of us knows the game. As had been done with the 111 Varick development, the developer hires an expensive attorney, gets the Community Board to approve their building, agrees to put aside affordable units — and there is no follow up. Maybe HPD puts the affordable units on their site, maybe they don’t. There is never any assistance from the approved building’s rental office, no list to apply to, no follow-up from HPD when you inquire, and zero help from the Community Board. When I tried to initially get information, Community Board 2 wasn’t even aware that this particular project was in their catchment area. So, with a big push to develop SoHo, how are those “Affordable Housing” units going to be doled out? I’ve heard that a big-wig from Chinatown and Edison Parking, an aggressive real estate company from New Jersey are main factions behind this. Who’s from SoHo?
  2. Abuse and harassment continue to be used by landlords in order to evict tenants in SoHo. And this directly affects Affordable Housing — and something can be done about it. Laws need to be passed which prevent landlords in Holdover Actions from charging rent AND causing tenants to pay legal fees to defend themselves. THAT is how landlords force tenants out. It is abusive and tenants should not be bankrupted in order to keep their apartments. In my case, in order to keep my apartment for my family (while in prison for writing about the now-convicted corrupt Hamptons D.A. Thomas Spota) the landlord, created a fictitious problem and got us into Supreme Court for having done approved interior construction 30 years before. The bullshit case put us $500,000 in debt while we also were required to pay rent. Should this be permitted? Because the plan, which works, is to use high-priced lawyers to force tenants to pay rent AND pay a lawyer. Landlords must face fines of up to $50,000 and one year in jail for using this criminal ploy.
  3. No one has done anything about the traffic dangers downtown — especially around and near the Holland Tunnel as well as along Broome and Watts Street. Pedestrians have been hit by vehicles and Traffic Agents protect motorists and ignore pedestrians, even with baby carriages. I was hit by a car with no registration and no insurance — yet the police Detectives would not even investigate. No more talking. I’ve been complaining about this for 35 years. Time to act. Time to hand out moving violations for vehicles blocking crosswalks. Assign 10 agents permanently to write summonses. And, after a few summonses make it a criminal matter. Those without insurance or registration should be arrested around these specific routes. If people want to make money from SoHo — protect our residents!
  4. Here are a few comments about the so-called VCF, the Victims Compensation Fund. The arm of the World Trade Center entity that pays out claims to those of us who were impacted by the terrorist attack in 2001. Many of us have never received any award for our health impact. The Fund is incompetent and once they received the $10 Billion injection due to Jon Stewart’s media event, the money came in and they paid each other’s salaries. How’s 20 years from the event and 3 years from putting up with countless phone calls to find out what — if anything — they are doing? I was actually asked to provide a form that I’d submitted almost a year before. In the meantime they were doing nothing. But, even more important the program does not pay for any psychological or psychiatric damage caused by watching people jump out of the World Trade Center buildings, or the health damage from the burning fires, or watching the buildings collapse. No compensation for years of dealing with PTSD, an emotional rollercoaster existence, endless nightmares, distorted emotions and experiencing the deterioration of your health. That must change. The countless thousands of residents downtown need to be treated properly and compensated. When I complained to my lawyer about the fact that I could be dead from cancer by the time I see a check he said, “Oh, I have many dead clients waiting for a check.”

Here are he candidates that will most likely help us in SoHo, despite all of the rhetoric and campaigning. I’ve left out those candidates and offices which I can’t support.

D.A. — Alvin Bragg

Borough President — Brad Hoylman

Mayor — Maya Wiley (except for the police defunding)

City Council — Christopher Marte

Stay tuned for more in SoHo and the latest from the corruption in the Hamptons.

Crosswalks in SoHo

The Candidates. Vote!

The times is Now.

SoHo has specific requirements and it’s not always easy to figure out who will do what once they are in office. I can tell you that a lot of politicians on the local level have been an embarrassment. So, if I miss a couple of candidates interpret it any way you like.

Christopher Marte is our choice for City Council. The less said of his predecessor, the better. He is responsive and hopefully will continue to be so.

Its a crowded field for Mayor and only Maya Wiley stands out with intelligence and drive. I know a few of the others — so that’s why Maya is the choice. Defunding police, however, is NOT the route to take. Education, training and real community cooperation between the police and the community has to be a priority. In SoHo, we are served by the 1st Precinct and recently my contacts with them have presented officers who are polite and considerate as well as diverse.

None of the D.A. candidates are familiar. The campaign people were less than cooperative — across the board. While I knew Morgenthau and Vance, the choice is more a sense that we live in a changing world and Alvin Bragg seems to be the most in-tune with the issues of Mass Incarceration, equal justice, and the rising danger on the part of those who would destroy democracy using Reactionary politics. I can tell you personally, a District Attorney who uses his or her incredible power to destroy opponents (as Thomas Spota did in the Hamptons) is a dangerous politician. Alvin Bragg seems to be interested in protecting all of us while maintaining a sense of racial equanimity and prosecutorial sanity.

Brad Hoylman is fhe choice for Manhattan Borough President. He gets things done as he has shown in the State Senate and in a prior post here he outlined his views for changing the Community Board. While these are not his words, the Board needs to become genuinely responsive to the needs of those in the community — not become just a feather in the cap of those who bought their way into their position with political donations and fealty.

All of the candidates need to pay attention — not lip service — to the practical actions that will enable Affordable Housing, lest we become like California. Developers need to step up to the plate and actually support the community needs not simply hire expensive lawyers who are well-connected and then ignore any follow-through once they’ve gotten their building permit.

Housing Court and HPD need to focus on eliminating landlord abuse and harassment of New York City tenants. Tenants need REAL protections. Affordable Housing needs to be a real and concerted effort with deals that have teeth — or consequences if ignored.

The Candidates: Senator Brad Hoylman for Borough President

Brad Hoylman and his family

Of what appears to be six current candidates for the Borough President primary for Manhattan only one stands out. I’ve known Brad Hoylman personally for nearly twenty years. He’s a difficult opponent, as I found out in my Community Board days, and he knows the ropes. He’s shown us that in Albany. Few politicians Do as well as Talk about what they intend to accomplish. We should be impressed with the fact that before, during, and after the Shelly Silver imbroglio he managed to support rent-stabilized tenants and assist in putting teeth in the most recent attempt at holding landlords accountable for abuse and harassment. While Christine Quinn pushed that particular envelope, the ugly events of Bloomberg’s third term City Council ploy and her surreptitious approval of Trump SoHo overshadowed that meager attempt. Perhaps, we’ll cross that bridge again soon and put a few landlords in jail instead of tenants and journalists. But, don’t get me started. My own tenancy has been decades from Hell and no amount of arm-twisting got me anywhere. Except a judgment of $250,000 for losing a case in Supreme Court, Talk about tenant abuse! Try that on for size, folks! A legal bill for $500,000 just to stay in your apartment — while also being required to pay rent?

So, knowing that Brad is an openly gay politician with a great family and a husband in the film business (he was the director of the film about Valerie Plame) I decided to just ask him a couple of questions. Since he has a brilliant education I’ve always avoided picking fight with him. But, I must say — among all of the politicians in Manhattan — he was the only one who responded to one of my letters as I was rotting in prison for writing about the Truth in my articles and blogs. (Hamptons D.A. Thomas Spota will be sentenced next month). He has a phenomenal education and intellect which includeed being an Oxford scholar, if I’m not mistaken.

I already knew he did a great job on the Community Board and outshone most of the people in Albany that were supposed to be fighting for us. He was, and is, sharp and is a politician worth keeping an eye on. So, I asked him about his focus for the BP office and his plans for the Community Boards. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Borough President’s role, that individual oversees all of Boards in his or her borough. 

Hoylman on the BP: “I see the Borough President as the planner-in-chief, and my focus will be to create a community-led planning effort. The City can’t delay on studying and implementing a comprehensive city-wide plan. This administration has sent communities half-baked rezonings that create division. We need a city-wide, equitable and community-led planning process within the first 100 days of a new administration. All development should be guided by community plans, instead of by developers. I plan to implement a Manhattan Marshall Plan, instituting community-led plans (197a) with every single community board within the first year of my office. We need to build more affordable and supporting housing to tackle our affordability and homelessness crisis, and we need to do it in a way that doesn’t displace communities and small businesses in order to line the pockets of developers.”  

Hoylman on the Community Boards: “We need to further reform community boards to make them more diverse, more accessible, and fair. First, we need to remove elected official staff and lobbyists for community boards. Second, we need to ensure community board meetings are accessible to people with disabilities. And third, we should invest in training for our community board members, on conflict of interest avoidance, land use, etc. as well as diversity and inclusion and leadership, to get them up to speed quickly and ensure they’re equipped to tackle challenges facing their communities. And I think it’s more important than ever that our neighborhoods have a say in their needs. The Borough President has a huge capital budget, and I’m proposing what I call Community Board Budgeting. I want to divest the Borough President’s broad discretion over capital dollars by delegating substantial authority for capital funding to local community boards.”

Stay Tuned. And Vote in the upcoming Primary

The Candidates: Alvin Bragg

For those of you interested in the candidates for District Attorney:

 SATURDAY: Elected and Community Leaders to Rally for Alvin Bragg with One Month until Primary Day

Marking exactly one month before Primary Day, Alvin Bragg to receive endorsements from elected and community leaders and rally supporters to spread his message. He will hold rallies on the Upper West Side and in Harlem.

UPPER WEST SIDE:Congressman Jerry Nadler Corruption fighter Zephyr Teachout and others: Verdi Square 72nd & Broadway Saturday, May 22nd, 10:30 AM 
HARLEM:Former Congressman Charlie Rangel Former Governor David Paterson State Senator Robert Jackson and many more: Harlem State Office Building163 West 125th Street Saturday, May 22, 1:00 PM 

The Candidates: Christopher Marte

In the final series of candidate articles leading up to the Primary and early voting, here’s a letter from a SoHo resident describing her experiences with Chris, who is running for City Council. It’s a crowded field so pay attention to who is out there. Here’s a letter describing her experiences. Take a look and make up your own mind.

“Why Chris Marte is the best candidate for NY City Council District 1 Chris has long been a vested member of the downtown community.

He has deep connections with residents and businesses in each of the very diverse neighborhoods that make up District 1. Long before he sought elected office, he was involved in and fought for causes that he and the neighborhood were passionate about.

He understands the diverse community he would be representing having grown up in the LES with immigrant parents, studied in China, so he can bridge the communication gap that some Chinatown residents face. He has shown up, taken meetings with and listened to anyone who has asked for his support and assistance, truly developing a deep understanding of the challenges faced by all. He has worked in finance, so understands the economic landscape of our city.

His parents and sibling have started and own small businesses in NYC, so he is familiar with the challenges they face, but also understands their intrinsic contributions small businesses make to their neighborhoods and the city.
Chris has not relied on campaign contributions from any large special interest groups, but instead has hit all of his campaign finance goals.

  • He’s helped local, small businesses apply for PPP loans, and navigate the rent forgiveness policies during COVID shutdown.
  • Joined SoHo residents in the fight against big box retail in SoHo, successfully maintaining restrictions that protect the future sustainability of the neighborhood.
  • Stands with residents and small businesses in SoHo, NoHo, Chinatown and Little Italy against the current administrations deeply flawed, destabilizing up-zoning of SoHo/Noho, which falsely claims to provide more affordable housing, but does not guarantee a single unit of affordable housing, while undermining the landmark protections of the only cast iron building district in the world. Chris recognizes that the city’s plan jeopardizes the existing businesses and residents of the neighborhood and its success as an art and design destination from around the world. Like many in the community, he knows that the de Blasio’s upzoning plan will create frenzied real estate speculation that will pressure current occupants of the district to leave, while enriching a handful of self-dealing, influential, wealthy property owners who have contributed heavily to the campaigns of the current administration.
  • Chris instead supports the community developed Alternative Plan, which protects the hundreds of existing residents, including rent stabilized and regulated tenants of the, seniors aging in place, while adding entirely affordable housing. It also provides a path to legalized residential and retail occupancy currently not allowed in many SoHo/NoHo buildings.
  • He held multiple town halls to better understand and inform residents regarding the proposed up-zoning. Spoke forcefully at a recent press rally on behalf of Chinatown residents and small businesses afraid being displaced due to the City’s plan.
  • Chris has been a fierce advocate for vulnerable tenants. He helped low-income Bowery tenants organize, be heard and get back into their homes, after being evicted without notice, leaving all their belongings behind during sub-freezing
  • He has been a supporter along with the community for the preservation of the Elizabeth Street Garden since its future was first jeopardized. He supports the alternative location for development of entirely affordable housing, versus the
    currently proposed housing that would provide 3 times more luxury housing than affordable housing.
  • What Chris promises to do once he is in office:
    • Implement the Community Alternative Plan for SoHo/NoHo
    • Preserve the Elizabeth Street Garden
    • Enact a comprehensive sanitation plan that he has developed to reduce waste and expand street cleanings.
    • Advocates for composting via retrofit of current trash bins on sidewalks.
    • Holds entities large and small to their community promises.
  • I give my strongest endorsement to Chris Marte as candidate for City Council.
  • Michele Varian
    resident 496 Broadway
    SoHo small business owner (recently relocated to Brooklyn)
    retailer, manufacturer, designer, tech start-up founder
    (As a 30 year resident, I started and grew my widely respected (business delegations from Germany, Brazil, Japan, Beverly Hills and elsewhere have visited my shop annually for multiple years running) business of 20+ years in SoHo. I have employed many dozens over the years and have showcased and sold the work of many hundreds of local design and manufacturing businesses over the years, in addition to product lines that I have designed and manufactured locally.
    My husband is a certified artist, and he and I live in a rent-stabilized, JLWQA loft for 20+ years, which has allowed us to build and sustain our businesses here in the city.
    Many other residents and business owners, especially creative, have been forced to leave the neighborhood and even the city due to ever increasing rent and overhead expenses.
    I hope that with the responsible stewardship of City Council Member Chris Marte, the current and future NYC will be able to attract and support a diverse and inclusive pool or ambitious dreamers and that others, like myself, will find the opportunities that I did and not be forced to leave.)”

SoHo Alive

“Life must be lived as play.”


It’s been a while, has it not? While there are doubts about the wisdom of opening up, in light of the continuing disasters in India, Pakistan and Brazil, that seems not to be on the mind of SoHo diners. To the delight of restauranteurs and store owners, on West Broadway at least, the sidewalks and interiors of many establishments were crowded this weekend. Even a few vendors were out.