New Face, Old Frustrations at CB4

Photo by Eileen Stukane Jesse Bodine receives the key to the CB4 office from former district manager Robert Benfatto.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
Jesse Bodine (left) receives the key to the CB4 office from former district manager Robert Benfatto.

BY EILEEN STUKANE | Jesse Bodine, an alumnus of the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, was installed as the new Community Board 4 (CB4) district manager at CB4’s full board meeting, held on Nov. 5th at Roosevelt Hospital. The search committee studied the resumes of over 40 applicants. Their criteria included experience in the areas of management, staff supervision, knowledge both of city government and key CB4 issues such as housing, skills in the field of communication and constituent services.

“Jesse was the one who had the widest match of skills we were looking for, and the deepest set of skills,” Christine Berthet said at the meeting. “He also had an extensive set of contacts in city offices, and knew a big portion of the neighborhood. With his Peace Corps management in the wilds of Africa, we had a feeling this wild CB4 area with all of its people would be right up his alley,” she added humorously. Bodine, who grew up on W. 60th St., spent the last six years working with Gale Brewer, initially as her director of constituent services and policy when she was a New York City Councilmember, and then as her director of community development (land use division) when Brewer was elected Manhattan Borough President.

In his past positions, Bodine said he had “witnessed how effective, organized, and productive CB4 is and how effective the district manager can be,” especially in  “solving some of the quality of life issues and working with city agencies” — aspects he is looking forward to undertaking. He was officially handed the key to the CB4 office by his predecessor Robert Benfatto, now executive director of the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Business Improvement District.

Quality of life took center stage at the meeting’s Public Session when 14 people who either live or work on W. 25th St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.) voiced ongoing concerns stemming from the Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC) at 127 W. 25th St.

A 200-bed homeless shelter, 96-bed homeless safe haven, 32-bed inpatient detox, and non-residential outpatient addiction treatment facility, BRC — according to the community members who spoke — houses heroin patients, sex offenders, and those who are mentally challenged. Men and women who spoke out reported that BRC residents openly harass women and children on the street, and spoke about witnessing deal drugs, pot smoking, vomiting, urination, and defecation on the block, during daylight hours. One visibly shaken woman, told the board about being sexually molested at the entrance to her building as she was returning to work after lunch: “His was a known face to me, someone I’d seen a thousand times before. The next day I saw him again outside the BRC.”

Recently, Chelsea Now reported that in mid-October the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) was assigned 24 “peace officers” to patrol the block in pairs every four hours from 8 a.m. until midnight to augment BRC security, which had agreed to patrol every two hours during that same timeframe. There was no mention that the peace officers had brought any improvement to the block. Brian Conroy, the father of ten-month-old twin sons, said that the DHS peace officers needed to spend more time walking the block and that in the long-term, the size of the shelter needed reduction. He also said that his female babysitter is regularly harassed and cat-called when entering and leaving his building (on the same block as the BRC).

A plea for reducing the shelter’s population was repeated by others. Maggie Gallagher, who lives on W. 25th St., formerly volunteered at a homeless shelter and she said that when she heard the BRC would house 400 people, she was aghast (the in-house capacity is 328 beds). “There’s no way that they can serve the needs of this immense and critical population of drug addicts and mentally ill.” She defined the BRC as a “homeless warehouse” and a “megashelter.” Carla Nordstrom, who started the West 25th Street Project to improve and beautify the block, stated that “BRC appears to be more interested in co-opting our efforts than in working with us.”

David Vanden-Eynden’s business is across the street from the BRC and he advises his staff members, who are mostly female, not to leave the office singly. David Riehl, owner of The City Quilter, when opening his business one morning, discovered two hypodermic needles in his storefront gate. The City Quilter, a 17-year-old business known worldwide, regularly welcomes visitors from foreign countries. Several months ago, one woman from New Zealand was assaulted and hit in the chest by a BRC resident when she was entering the store. Lee Berthelsen-Leon, general manager of the Four Points Hotel, said that hotel guests are harassed and men and women on staff will no longer walk down the block at night due to the loitering of BRC residents.

Photo by Eileen Stukane A W. 25th St. resident speaks about living near the Bowery Residents’ Committee facility.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
A W. 25th St. resident speaks about living near the Bowery Residents’ Committee facility.

Many told of how the street had improved from grittier days in the late 1980s only to be facing a downturn since the BRC was established in 2011. A poignant letter from Eddie Seda, the super at 110 W. 25th St., was read by Amy Salzman. Seda wrote about how the community had changed in the last two decades. “Everyone knew me. People would stop and talk. It was nice. Now people hurry past. The BRC people scare them.” He described how he now has to clean up human feces, cigarette butts, empty beer cans and other trash from the front of the building. “After twenty years I don’t like coming to work anymore since the BRC has opened. It’s disgusting and there’s no respect.”  Christine Berthet assured the speakers that CB4 would be looking into the issues presented.

Guest speaker John Cnapich, director of paternity and outreach services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, NYC Human Resources Administration, told of avenues of help for child support that sometimes go unnoticed. For example, his office provides DNA testing in a paternity or support cases for $40 per person, mother, father, child, each being tested. That fee is less than half what most medical facilities charge. Cnapich noted that if there’s any question of paternity, a DNA test should always be undertaken since courts adhere to a deadline. Men come into his office seven or eight years after they had started paying child support and say that they have just learned they are not the biological fathers. The courts will not entertain removing a paternity issue after seven or eight years. For information about DNA testing, call 929-221-5008.

Among a number of helpful programs described by Cnapich was Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) which provides attorneys and legal interns for legal counseling and help with paperwork. In Manhattan, LIFT is located in the Family Courthouse, 60 Lafayette St., 1st floor. Call 212-343-1122 or visit LIFThotline.org.

U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s liaison, Jackie Blank, reported that the Congressman, along with Senator Charles Schumer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and City Councilmember Corey Johnson, wrote a letter to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julian Castro, to request the development of rules to allow reverse mortgages for people over age 62 who own co-ops. The law allowing reverse mortgages in co-ops was passed in 2008, but so far has not been given a structure in which it can be implemented.

Representing Public Advocate Letitia James, Ed Sullivan spoke of her interest in combatting sexual abuse on college campuses. James has introduced the NYC Campus Safety Act to increase resources, provide more information on support services and create a mobile app to report incidents of assault to law enforcement.

Reports from electeds can be found on the CB4 website (nyc.gov/mcb4). Scroll down on the home page to “November Elected Official Newsletters.”


CB4 chair Christine Berthet spoke in honor of deceased board member Kemraj Singh. “We have all been very shocked with the sudden death of our board member Kemraj Singh. This month has brought us his horrible death. I want you all to think about him and say goodbye,” said Berthet. This was a somber moment.

At some point in the future, the board will propose a new board member to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Berthet moderated as the board voted on the 28 agenda items. The necessity of CB4’s involvement in approving gyms, called “physical culture establishments” on agendas, led board member J.D. Noland to remark that the board had become involved “because of the bad old days of massage parlors.” However, he also said that male and female spas on Ninth and 10th Aves. were proliferating, that sex trafficking may be occurring in these settings, and perhaps CB4 should be involved in reviewing these establishments rather than gym franchises. It was decided that the matter should be explored between the Board of Standards and Appeals and the CB4 Land Use Committee.

Berthet noted that in the two days prior to the meeting, when the board’s letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) was made public with its described violations of the Highline Hotel’s approved plans, changes had been made. The hotel had removed the bar that was less than six feet in front of the historic building façade, two six-foot by 13-foot wooden booths and five eight-foot long banquettes. The letter expressed concern, however, that these items would be reintroduced during warmer weather. In a separate letter, however, the board commended the hotel for working with the Quality of Life Committee in reducing sound from rental activities in their venue “The Refectory.”

Among real estate/housing issues, the board approved Clinton Housing Development Company’s (CHDC) application to the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) for the renovation of the Terminal Hotel, 565 W. 23rd St., a four-story Single Room Occupancy (SRO) building with documented tenant harassment from 2004 to 2008. The building is proposed as a five-story of 24 permanently affordable one-bedroom and studio apartments, as well as SRO suites.  During the public session, David Glasser, a tenant in the building, spoke out against relocation, and the separate entrance for affordable tenants. Board member Barbara Davis explained that a condominium development next door allows funding for the Terminal Hotel renovation. Two separate buildings are being constructed. There is not a “poor door” but a separate building with its own entrance.

Davis also reported on progress securing amenities at 401 W. 31st St., the Brookfield Project — a 62-story 844-unit building, with 169 affordable apartments for families earning no more than 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). In the board’s letter to the HPD, Davis reported that negotiations with the developer had gained  certain amenities: lounges, a children’s playroom, library, game room, “crash pad,” laundry, would be available to affordable tenants at no charge; however, the large outdoor rooftop deck is not. The board will press for this inclusion.

Following the CB4 meeting, the board issued an important six-page “MCB4 Policy Regarding Concentration and Location of Alcohol-Serving Establishments,” developed as a result of the many quality of life concerns heard from community residents. The board makes its position known with this policy, which addresses the 500-Foot Rule, proposes the limitation of alcohol-serving establishments on narrow side streets, and more. Available online through nyc.gov/html/mancb4/downloads/pdf/October%202014/14%20Balanced%20Business%20Policy.pdf.



At the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center, 645 10th Ave. (at W. 46th St.) a number of events are occurring: Nov. 19th, information at the center for a day of National Diabetes Awareness; Nov. 20th, stop-smoking resources available for the National Great American Smokeout; Dec. 1, 12 noon to 5 p.m., World AIDS Day Health Fair, free HIV testing and other health screenings. For more information; call 212-265-4500 x 4819 or visit ryancenter.org.

Nov. 18, and on the second Tuesday of every following month, Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office will hold a Free Legal Housing Clinic Service. Housing attorneys will be offering free legal advice. District Office, 224 West 30th St., Suite 1206, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information; call 212-564-7757.

Board member Delores Rubin introduced Trees New York, which offers a City Pruner course to certify any New Yorker to legally prune and protect city trees. Visit treesny.org or call 212-227-1887.