Audacity (and thanks) in the Village in a new era

Photo by Lincoln Anderson Arthur Schwartz, left, and John Scott, Tribeca’s district leader, at Bill de Blasio’s “Hospitals Not Condos” campaign rally last month across the street from the site of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital.
Photo by Lincoln Anderson
Arthur Schwartz, left, and John Scott, Tribeca’s district leader, at Bill de Blasio’s “Hospitals Not Condos” campaign rally last month across the street from the site of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital.

BY ARTHUR Z. SCHWARTZ  |  We live in a magnificent part of a magical city. It’s not just the smaller scale, or the trees, or the narrow streets. It’s the people. My neighbors are what makes our neighborhood magical.

Twenty-three years ago, at age 37, I got involved in the affairs of this neighborhood after sitting on the sidelines for the previous decade. I haven’t stopped since then. I have worked hard to make it a better place to live. I get to walk around and see things I have had a hand in — the ball fields at Pier 40, the Village section of Hudson River Park, renovations at Bleecker Playground and J.J. Walker Park, the Y on 14th St., which got built instead of Costco, the Abingdon Square Greenmarket, the community garden (Artie Strickler Triangle) in front of 99 Bank St., the preservation of many landmarked buildings — and I get a good feeling. And on Sept. 10, you, my neighbors, said “THANKS!” when you elected me again (by a margin of 2,900 to 2,100) to be the Village’s Democratic district leader.

It was one of life’s best moments. I called home and told my 8-year-old daughter Devin and my 10-year-old daughter Jordyn, who had handed out fliers with me at subways and supermarkets, that I won, and they were very happy. So were my older children, Jacob and Rebecca, who had helped me when I was first elected district leader in 1995. And my wife,

Kelly, who endured my being sent out to pasture eight years ago by Tom Duane and Chris

Quinn, and who knew how much it meant to me to be in a position to give some aggressive leadership around issues which threaten our community.

Thank you, Greenwich Village, for that wonderful moment on Sept. 10.

Sept. 10 was a watershed moment in our community, as important, I think, as the victory for the Village Independent Democrats and young Ed Koch over Tammany Hall in the 1960s. Sept. 10 marked the near end of an era which began in 1990 with the election of Deborah Glick to the Assembly and the 1991 election of Tom Duane to the City Council. Those two actually ended the era of the original V.I.D., with Carol Greitzer stepping down from the Council and Bill Passanante stepping aside from the Assembly rather than taking on Glick. Duane, with whom I was very close, moved “up” to the state Senate in 1998 and was succeeded by his former chief of staff, Chris Quinn. These three have dominated Village politics since 1991, sometimes together, sometimes with conflict.

Duane stepped down in 2012 to help get Quinn elected mayor. Glick made Quinn’s election a major priority after Quinn agreed to block residential development on or near Pier 40, Glick’s principal legislative goal in 2011 and 2012. Chris Quinn got thumped, not only in the city but in our community, her district and Glick’s district. Chris Quinn got 25 percent to 30 percent of the vote in the Village, and Bill de Blasio got more than 55 percent. Exit polls say that despite support from Glick and Duane, and our current gay state Senator Brad Hoylman,  and the East Village’s Rosie Mendez, Quinn even lost the gay vote.

Quinn and Duane and Glick had lost connection with the heart of the community they served. There was a lot of promise when they took control in the early 1990s as the new reformers, but they failed. As I spelled out earlier this year in The Villager’s Progress Report, our neighborhood has become maybe the most expensive in the city. The artists and musicians, and most of the gay population, has left. Our census numbers show that we are 98 percent white. We lost St. Vincent’s Hospital with barely a whimper, our schools don’t have enough seats, and Pier 40 is falling apart with no solution, except the barely limited sale of air rights allowed by a Glick-sponsored bill — air rights that could lead to a new spate of high-rise development on West St. Glick hangs on as a staunch defender of Sheldon Silver and his cover-ups of sexual misconduct by other assemblymembers. I predict that with her views having been rejected — including by my election as district leader — she too will soon be gone.

(On a personal note, I know that Ms. Glick says that such statements make me a “sore winner.” She has been calling me names since 1998 when I helped organize community support that overcame her opposition to the creation of Hudson River Park. The Villager recently called me her “personal piñata.” She has called me a homophobe, a misogynist and the “Village’s Bloomberg.” I finally had enough this year when she swept aside the efforts of hundreds of parents to collectively design a solution to Hudson River Park’s funding problems, and then sponsored passage of a secret bill that allowed minimally regulated sale of the park’s air rights. I haven’t called her a name, I just think that after 22 years she is out of touch with her constituents and it is time for her to let someone new try the job. In city government we have voted to limit office holders to eight years.)

As for the new era, Corey Johnson last week won the Democratic primary to succeed Quinn. He was reluctantly supported by Glick and Duane (who tried to find another candidate up until the spring) and ignored (to his benefit) by Quinn. I supported Corey’s opponent in the election and I raised questions about his qualifications, but he proved himself in his campaign as a genuine leader. He knocked on hundreds of doors, made thousands of phone calls, and worked tirelessly. His grasp of issues grew, and he actually won over some support which had been Yetta Kurland’s as a result. Corey is only 31 and has lots of room to grow. All of us should look forward to working with him.

And then there is Brad Hoylman, who was groomed since 2001 as the next leader by Quinn, Duane and Glick. Brad (who was NOT SLAPPED by George Capsis — Capsis just flicked his hand on his chin because he wasn’t looking at him) is an enormously smart, though overly cautious man. During the recent election he was also out of step with his constituents, touting Quinn and attacking Bill de Blasio until the very end, and pushing Jessica Lappin (Quinn’s choice) for borough president. But Brad is a rookie, and he has paid his debt to Quinn and Duane, and they can’t control him anymore. I am waiting for the real Brad — the one I supported for City Council in 2001— to come forward.

What do I hope to accomplish?

My first goal is to get Bill de Blasio and Letitia James elected as mayor and public advocate. I have been a friend and supporter of both of them for some time. They are smart, thinking, principled people. Letitia needs to win because women and people of color need to have representation in our city’s executive leadership. Bill needs to win because he has a vision of tackling the inequality and racial discrimination that is tearing our city apart. And because we need a mayor who will listen to the citizenry.

Goal 2 is to figure out how to bring the hundreds of people who worked on Barack Obama’s campaigns, and young people inspired by Occupy Wall Street, back into the political arena on an ongoing, organized basis. Our existing political clubs in the Village — which must merge and get rid of their existing ineffective leadership if they are to have any ongoing meaning — have failed to address this task.

Goal 3 is to reopen the debate about how to solve the crumbling structural problems at Pier 40 and address the fiscal instability of Hudson River Park. I know that the vote for me was, in part, a protest against the cavalier and demagogic manner in which the work of the Pier 40 Champions and the Greenwich Village Little League and the Downtown United Soccer Club was tossed aside, and a protest against the open-ended sale of air rights that was offered in its place.

Goal 4 is to pursue the effort to attract a hospital, even a small one, to the Lower West Side. This is an enormous task, but one that could be aided by a Mayor de Blasio. I don’t say this glibly — attracting the medical team and he capital, and finding a location outside the flood zone is a daunting task.

Goal 5 is to stop the marine waste-transfer station being planned for Gansevoort Peninsula, which was only sited there because Chris Quinn was running for mayor; it is 100 yards from a major playground on Pier 54 and cannot be built.

Goal 6 is to stop the Spectra gas pipeline that is planned to run under Gansevoort, which will expose our neighborhood to dangerous gases.

Goal 7 is to work with East Village school activists to add more classroom space, including pre-K space, east of Broadway, just as has occurred west of Broadway; and I’m not talking about Eva Moskowitz-controlled charter school seats.

It’s an ambitious agenda. Maybe an audacious one — a word I have loved since introduced to it by Barack Obama. In fact, I may call my effort “Audacity 66” — my district is the 66th.

But we will get nowhere unless there is better communication and coordination among activists, and a unity of purpose. I invite all people with progressive ideas, and open minds, to join with me. Help elect Mayor de Blasio and then let’s heal and energize our community as the mayor works to heal and energize this city.

Schwartz is Democratic district Leader for Greenwich Village and state Democratic Committee member for the Lower West Side