Community Boards seek new members


BY Terese Loeb Kreuzer

 Do you wish some things in your neighborhood could be improved? Do you think no one with the authority to change anything cares about your opinions? If so, then think again.

 New York City’s 59 Community Boards, each made up of 50 volunteers, are a grass-roots voice on issues that affect their respective communities — and they do make a difference. Now is the time to apply for Community Board membership for the coming year.

  “We’ve done a lot to be proud of over the years,” said Community Board 1 member, Michael Connolly, reflecting on his eight years of community board service. Connolly mentioned the creation of historic districts in Tribeca, zoning concessions and the creation of schools. “I think we’ve had a significant impact on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site,” he added, “ensuring that the many competing voices were heard and that the thrust of redevelopment was forward-looking.”

 Other members of C.B. 1 mentioned similar accomplishments plus some others.

 Community board members serve two-year terms, and each year, half of the members must be reappointed or replaced. Half of the appointments are made unilaterally by the borough president — in Manhattan, that would be Scott Stringer — and half in consultation with the City Council member for each Community Board’s district. For returning members, applications are due in the borough president’s office by December 31, 2010 and for new members, by January 14, 2011. Appointments are announced by April 1.

 According to the Manhattan Borough President’s website, “All Community Board members must be residents of New York City and must have a residence, business, professional or other significant interest in the district. In addition, the Manhattan Borough President’s office looks for applicants with histories of involvement in their communities, expertise and skill sets that are helpful to community boards, attendance at community board meetings, and knowledge of issues impacting their community.”

The members of New York City’s community boards are diverse in their backgrounds and interests. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, businessmen and women, accountants, writers, administrators and more.

Tricia Joyce, a photographers’ representative, is among the newer members of Community Board 1. After having been a public member ­for around a year, she became a full board member last year, asking to serve on the Youth and Education Committee because she wanted to take her commitment and responsibility “to the next level.” She added, “I am very proud of the work we have done on youth and education, given that, with this administration, we are under mayoral control.”

She feels C.B. 1 has accomplished a great deal in the last two years and mentioned specifically, “working alongside elected officials to get the September 11 trials moved out of Lower Manhattan, saving the last of the L.M.D.C. 9/11 funds originally charted for utilities so they could be allocated to Downtown arts and businesses grants instead and opening two new schools.”

Looking ahead to the challenges facing Lower Manhattan, Joyce said, “There are now more than double the amount of people living in this community district than before 9/11. With the incredible growth brings many more issues and many more points of view on those issues.”

Liz Williams is an artist who has served on C.B. 1 for two and a half years. She is a member of the Financial District and W.T.C. Redevelopment Committees. As a relative newcomer, she noted, “It takes time to become familiar and educated about certain issues. There are members who have been working on issues for years and to come in as a new member takes effort to try to learn the history.”

When asked what she thought C.B.1’s most significant accomplishments were in the past two years, Willliams mentioned the W.T.C. Committee’s “supporting and pushing for the reconciliation and agreement between the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein so they could move forward on the World Trade Center site.” She also mentioned “the Financial District Committee securing the increase in funds and more locations for the L.M.D.C. Small Firm Assistance Program. In both cases the chairs of those committees, Catherine McVay Hughes and Ro Sheffe, led the charge.”

For several months, Williams has been working with Hughes and other C.B.1 members trying to get the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed. On November 30, Williams and Hughes went to Washington D.C. for the opening of the New York City Police Museum’s ‘Artist as Witness’ show, when the shields of 29 N.Y.P.D. officers who died due to 9/11 illness were installed in the Capitol rotunda. After the Senate refused to hear debate on the Zadroga bill, Williams and Hughes were among the C.B. 1 members who stood outside 7 World Trade Center on December 10 under cold, louring skies with U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney at a press conference decrying the Senate vote and declaring that the fight for passage would continue. “Catherine has been a huge inspiration for me,” Williams said. “To see her dedication to issues like this, is remarkable. If this bill gets passed I think she and other C.B.1 members deserve a lot of credit.”

Bob Townley, director of Manhattan Youth and of the Downtown Community Center at 120 Warren Street, has served on C.B. 1 for around 20 years. He became chairman of the Waterfront Committee two years ago.

Townley said he decided to serve on the Community Board because, “As director of Manhattan Youth and as a resident, community affairs are critical for me.” He noted that he had spent a lot of his graduate education at Columbia University studying community organizing and planning and added,  “I was always interested in local control of resources in a world where decisions are being removed from local people.”

Townley considers the Community Board’s impact on Lower Manhattan Development Corporation funding, new school openings and work with New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office to have been among the Community Board’s most significant accomplishments of the past two years. In addition, he said, “Part of my personal pleasure comes from the friends I have made from being on the Community Board.”

Michael Connolly echoed that assessment. Despite the inevitable frustrations of community board service — the boards are simply advisory to what Connolly called “the real stakeholders — property owners, corporate interests, government authorities” — he said,  “I have profoundly benefited from my time on the board. Among other things, I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with many people of like mind. We have not always succeeded in what we have tried to accomplish but, together, we have been able to have a positive effect on our neighborhood.”

“I have made a number of lifelong friendships,” he said.

 People interested in serving on C.B. 1 can get additional information from the Manhattan Borough President’s website, www.mbpo.org and download an application.