Scoopy’s Notebook

Obama drama: Former Senator Bob Kerrey, The New School’s president, got himself in hot water recently when, while in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to endorse Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary, he was asked about the qualifications of her top rivals, Barack Obama. His response, in the view of some, amounted to a backhanded compliment, at best, and an attack, at worst. “It’s probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim,” Kerrey told reporters. “There’s a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal.” In a subsequent CNN interview, Kerrey said, “I’ve watched the blogs try to say that you can’t trust [Obama] because he spent a little bit of time in a secular madrassa. I feel quite opposite. I think it’s a tremendous strength whether he’s in the United States Senate or whether he’s in the White House.” Kerrey acknowledged there is “a smear campaign going on” against Obama “and people are acting as if he’s an Islamic Manchurian candidate. He is a Christian,” Kerrey said. “But that connection to Indonesia and a billion Muslims on this Earth I think is a real strength and will add an awful lot of value in his foreign policy efforts.” Kerrey did fire off an apology to Obama that bordered on a virtual endorsement, were that possible: “After you and I met during your primary campaign for the Senate, I wrote a public letter in which I said that you were among the two or three most talented people I have ever met in politics,” Kerrey wrote. “Nothing in your performance in the Senate or your campaign for the Presidency has altered that view. … You are exceptionally qualified by experience and judgment to be President of the United States. … It is your capacity to inspire hope that is your greatest God-given talent. Without spending a dime of taxpayers’ money or changing a single law, your presence in the Oval Office will send a clear and compelling message to four groups of people who will be altered for good as a consequence. That was what I was trying to say… Again, I am sorry for the insult and wish you the best on January 3 and beyond.” In fact, what seemed to insult Obama most was not getting Kerrey’s endorsement. As for the “four groups” Kerrey referred to, we’re guessing he meant American blacks, Muslims, Africans and Indonesians.

‘Who knows?’ We bumped into former City Councilmember Kathryn Freed at voter-demographer guru Jerry Skurnik’s annual party at Josie Wood’s bar on Waverly Pl. last week. We just had to ask if she has any thoughts of running for her old Council District 1 seat, currently held by Alan Gerson, who will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2009. “Who knows?” said Freed. Once known as the hardest-working woman in politics, Freed, now a judge, is in her fourth year of a 10-year Municipal Court term. Will she finish out her time on the bench? “Who knows?” Freed repeated. Well, one thing’s for certain: Freed is excited she’s taking a trip soon to Egypt “to see the pyramids.”

‘Golden’ doesn’t pan out: Ray Cline of Village Reform Democratic Club told us he’d heard that someone named “Golden” in Assemblymember Speaker Sheldon Silver’s political club, the Truman Democrats, is thinking of running for the District 1 seat. But Cline said he didn’t know the mystery candidate’s first name. Jim Quent, Silver’s spokesperson, said Silver doesn’t know any Golden in the club and that, what’s more, Silver hasn’t endorsed in the race and is focused on working with the current councilmember, Gerson. Anyone with any more information — make that any information — about Golden, please let us know.

They’ll drink to that: After the sturm und drang over the Cooper Square Hotel’s liquor license and its use of its ground-floor garden space, the hotel developers finally caved and accepted Community Board 3’s tough terms for operating its outdoor areas. The resolution by the board’s S.L.A. Committee was tweaked slightly for the version passed by the full board on Dec. 18, but basically the hotel developers agreed to meet the board’s stipulations. But the board is advisory, and the State Liquor Authority will make the final determination on issuing the liquor license.

See you again — soon: There was much fanfare last week over Community Board 2’s full board meeting finally being held in Chinatown after a four-year hiatus from that part of its district. While appreciative of the meeting locale, Justin Yu, considered a shoo-in to replace Eric Ng as the next president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, cajoled the board to do better. “We’d like to see you in five months instead of five years!” he remarked with a smile.

Chinatown reality: At the C.B. 2 meeting, Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, gave a PowerPoint presentation illustrating that, contrary to the fact that, as he put it, “Most people think Chinatown is taking over the world,” the Chinese-American population in C.B. 2’s part of Chinatown held steady at 8,000 from 1990 to 2000, according to census figures. In fact, Manhattan’s Chinatown faces shrinkage by displacement through gentrification, while the Chinatowns in Flushing and Sunset Park are growing, he said. And traffic congestion remains a top concern, he said. “We need to restore the two-way balancing act [toll] on the Verrazano,” Chen said, prompting cheers. “With the next president, we can achieve this with an executive order,” he claimed.

Fountain and trees: Because of a bad stomach bug, Councilmember Gerson didn’t attend last Thursday’s C.B. 2 meeting, after having said he would give the final word there on whether the cost of moving the Washington Square Park’s fountain 20 feet to the east would indeed be negligible, as the Parks Department claims, or half a million dollars, as stated by a new study commissioned by the park renovation project’s opponents. However, Paul Nagle, Gerson’s aide, said an independent expert would be consulting with Gerson on Wed., Dec. 26, to get to the bottom of things on the fountain costs. Speaking of the bottom of things, Nagle later said, no one even knows exactly what the fountain’s foundation is made of. “It could be railroad ties…or wood,” he noted. As for concerns over the park’s trees, Nagle said, of the 16 trees originally slated for chainsawing as part of Phase I of the park’s renovation, two have gotten a reprieve based on an arborist’s determination. Of the 14 remaining trees, nine will definitely be removed — four of which arborists determined were not viable — while the five others are still being evaluated. Nagle said he doesn’t know where a New York Post article last week came up with the idea that 32 trees were being felled. He said it’s not known yet how many trees will be cut down in the renovation’s Phase II and Phase III work. … News flash: As we were going to press, we heard from Gerson, who gave us the scoop on the fountain situation. Having recovered from his stomach bug, Gerson, before speaking to us, had just presented a Council proclamation to Samuel Hinds, prime minister of Guyana, the Caribbean’s longest-serving P.M., at the next-door apartment of longtime family friend Audrey Thorn, a cousin of Hinds. “So you see, there is a Guyana-Greenwich Village connection,” the councilmember declared. … But back to the more pressing matter of the fountain: Gerson said Parks is saying that because its foundation is 80 years old, it actually would cost more to repair the fountain in place, since it would be tricky to thread all the needed new pipes into the rickety, old foundation for the fountain’s new water jets. It sounds like Gerson is leaning toward accepting Parks’ rationale — however, he’s not making an official statement just yet. “I think the process requires that I consult with an expert that is not part of either faction,” he stated, noting he’s a bit behind on the whole matter because of both the stomach bug and the holiday. Long story short, he’ll have the definitive answer on the fountain by next week, he told us.