SOHO POLITICS

Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles.
— George Jean Nathan (1882 - 1958)
 
The pace of construction has slowed Downtown. The new projects that are moving forward are primarily hotels. In part, this is due to the fact that little community review is needed when building as-of-right structures in a manufacturing zone. The Trump SoHo project is nearly completed and both the Tunnel Garage and Moondance Diner sites are in final stages of construction. The condo project at 350 West Broadway is also nearly completed. Rumors abound as to the success of any of these projects due to the dearth of financing for construction and, in the case of Trump SoHo, 350 West Broadway and the Tunnel Garage condo development– the truth about sales is hard to come by. The fact that there is a vacant lot for rent at 100 Varick Street where approval for an eight story rental building had been approved – followed by rumors of yet another hotel – tells the story of commercial real estate and development.
 
 
HOUSING
 
For the tenants of Stuyvesant Town the decision from the Court of Appeals is the big story. Tishman-Speyer gambled and lost. Why any company would believe that thousands of rent-stabilized tenants could be forced out of their homes is a serious misunderstanding of a city that is built on landlord-tenant litigation.
 
Essentially, those landlords who benefited from J-51 tax abatements are now precluded from using the luxury decontrol option to force stabilized tenants from their homes. 
 
This was a ploy used by many aggressive operators to abuse tenants with the help of the city. 
 
In one case, two real estate newcomers former dentists euphcmistally known as (“Mitch & Murry”, Glengarry, Glenross) at 80 Varick Street in SoHo (actually Hudson Square) have been using this method for many years. Among the many other dubious methods to harass stabilized tenants out of their homes, luxury decontrol has been the method of choice by these characters— with the willing cooperation afforded by DHCR and Department of Buildings. These denuded agencies allow illegally operated buildings to use the courts in furthering landlord plans. The Mayor has intentionally weakened both of these agencies in order to evict legal tenants and further development in Manhattan.
 
Recent laws regarding harassment and abuse are seldom enforced requiring huge legal fees to be paid by tenants. The $5,000 fines for such behavior enacted by the City Council is not only a joke, but is rarely imposed. In reality, tenant protection is a figment of the City Council’s imagination, in spite of the laudable efforts by Speaker Quinn. If you, as a tenant, pay legal fees and cannot pay rent at the same time– you lose one way or the other. 
 
The Court of Appeals ruling, however, recently eliminated luxury decontrol in any building that was afforded J-51 tax relief for the landlord. Further, current market rate tenants who live in apartments, which formerly were stabilized– and were previously converted to market rate– may now be restored to stabilization. This is true regardless of whether the current market rate tenant occupied the apartment at the time it was converted from a stabilized status. In addition, any rent paid which was higher than what was once the registered stabilized rent—may be retrieved from the landlord (with treble damages) by the tenant.
 
POLITICS
 
Making a smooth transition from one band of thieves to another, Goldman Sachs bankers are reportedly applying for gun permits to protect themselves from an enraged populace. And its not surprising that there is some anger associated with playing the game of politics.  As JFK once said, “Politics is the only game for adults.”  The game has evolved into a stage from which to pontificate upon “The Truth,” whatever that is.  The trial of Joe Bruno, former leader of the State Senate, for example, showed us that retribution is usually the order of the day—a tragic-comedy replete with rumors of rogue State Police units, political payoffs and favors. While New York City seems downright tame by comparison to the dance card in Suffolk County (Hamptons territory), few should be deluded into believing that there aren’t bodies or political victims buried in our own backyard.  For example, no fewer than three current time or former ranking politicians are being prosecuted in the Hamptons. Christine Quinn, Speaker of the City Council and other Council Members have been under investigation for years. 
 
It seems that if you haven’t been indicted, investigated or prosecuted, you don’t count politically.
 
But, what about the game within the game?  What about the casino of supporting a politician in hopes of currying favor at some future time? And, what about the obverse of asking for support in order to get elected in the first place?
 
It’s like the Emperor ’s New Clothes.  Few will talk about it on record and those who do, give a stock answer that “You should support and vote for the best candidate, period.  That is its own reward.  Expect nothing in return.  The best person winning, your candidate, is the success you should want – and nothing more.”
 
Okay, that sounds good. It has a good ring to it.
 
And, in fact, sometimes the success of a particular candidate really is so important that it’s close to the truth. Downtown, the success of Margaret Chin as City Council Member, and the unexpected victory by Cy Vance as D.A. were two notable examples of people who were critical to a progressive agenda for SoHo and sister communities – as well as Manhattan, in general.
 
Bloomberg is still a cipher to some– because his skills have been overshadowed by a seemingly dictatorial manner of governing that were only reemphasized by the term-limits fiasco.  However, he is an intelligent and able administrator, who seems more in tune with Aeschylus than Downtown residents. Trump SoHo, the DSNY garage on Spring Street, the overdevelopment, the neutering of the Department of Buildings (no landlord scrutiny and no tenant support), the dangerous and over-the-top bike lanes in SoHo and the failure to reign in billboard proliferation– are just a few examples of resident dissatisfaction with his Imperial style.
 
There is no doubt that his friendship will further empower Frank McKay, noted political genius of the Hamptons who heads the Independence Party.  That friendship will now be a lot closer since Thompson clearly would have won the election without McKay’s support, in spite of the $120 million Bloomberg spent.
 
For others who ran, for those who did not pay enough attention to their base of support, it was a bleak lesson.  Alan Gerson, thought of as a “nice guy” (he actually is) counted on Greenwich Village voters but burned his bridges with the Downtown Independent Democrats (SoHo’s powerful political club)— and was turned out of office.  Rumors have it that Gerson angered the President of D.I.D., Sean Sweeney and other important members, by claiming that he no longer needed the club’s support.  He was warned by Sweeney that such a point of view would cost him the next election.  Despite being an incumbent and having broad community support, as a result of his rejection of D.I.D., Gerson lost his bid for re-election. Activists were so antagonistic towards Gerson that they went so far as to create a website with the slogan ABG – anyone but Gerson. The lesson should not be lost on others.
 
But, as Monty Python’s famous line goes: “No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Once elected, many politicians have brushed off their former supporters. It is a familiar gripe.
 
The recent defection by David Reck, Bill Love and Linda Belfer in a bid to form a new political club, followed on he heels of the Gerson loss.  Described by Sweeney as the Downtown United Democrats (DUDS), the success of this has completed the regeneration of D.I.D.  After having foiled an attempted coup by Reck and Community Board #1 Chair Julie Menin to take over the club, the exit of members who opposed Sweeney will now be complete.  He described it as excising a malignant tumor without having to operate.  However, there are new rumors that Reck’s club will benefit from Menin’s considerable cash and members of community board #1 who have strongly been urged to join. Is a battle of the clubs in the offing?
 
With 200 members, D.I.D. is now poised to become THE downtown political club.  The transitional period is underway and new leadership will be reinforcing its image. Jeanne Wilcke, Adam Sivera, Jim Stratton and Pete Gleason will be joining Sweeney.
 
In this game, politicians need to pay more attention to the desires of leaders who DO speak for the community.  Those who work tirelessly for the benefit of others— as well as themselves— must now start making the needs of the community much clearer– and holding candidates accountable for their promises AFTER they are elected.
 
Thus far, that has been conveniently forgotten.
 

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