Stringer finds five to fill C.B. 1 on time


By Ronda Kaysen

New Borough President Scott Stringer appointed five new members to Community Board 1 this week, making good on a promise to infuse Manhattan’s 12 community boards with new blood and leave no vacancies.

Shortly after Stringer took office in January he announced he planned to revamp the community board appointment process by interviewing applicants, including sitting members, establishing a screening panel led by good-governments and civic groups, and requiring all applicants and sitting members to fill out a lengthy questionnaire.

“For the first time in years, we have zero vacancies on Manhattan community boards,” Stringer said at an April 3 press conference, noting that he will continue to fill vacancies as they arise.

Community boards are neighborhood advisory boards peopled by volunteers appointed to two-year terms. The borough president officially appoints all board members, although the local City Councilmembers recommends half of the members for the boards in their district. In past administrations, vacancies were often left open for lengthy periods of time and rarely did a borough president make all appointments by the April 1 annual deadlines. Stringer’s new policy breaks away from an old tradition, as he chose not to reappoint 22 percent of the members seeking reappointment this year and of the 600 board members borough-wide, 37 percent of them are new this year.

“From the beginning, I promised that this would be an open, de-politicized process, and I feel it was,” Stringer said at a press conference to announce the appointments – another rarity in city politics. “It wasn’t a backroom process. For the first time it was open and transparent.”

Stringer appointed five new members to C.B. 1, among them an event planner, a longtime Tribeca community activist and a longtime affordable housing advocate. He also chose not to reappoint two sitting members, Arthur Gregory and Michael Skidmore.

All five new appointees were made directly by Stringer, who also reappointed all 12 members whose terms had expired and who were recommended by City Councilmember Alan Gerson.

“It’s very exciting in that there were some very good appointments,” said C.B. 1 chairperson Julie Menin, who was not up for reappointment this year.

Like all the new members, Diane Lapson, an administrator in music management and publishing, was appointed on Saturday, April 1. Lapson has lived at Independence Plaza North, a large residential complex in Tribeca with 3,500 tenants, since 1974 and is the president of the complex’s tenants association.

“I figured I’d give it a whirl and see what I can contribute,” said Lapson, who has been an activist in the neighborhood for decades.

Lapson, 56, has been committed to making Tribeca livable since she arrived in the neighborhood 32 years ago. Eight years after she moved into the neighborhood, she collected “thousands of signatures” to get a grocery store to open in the neighborhood, eventually winning a Food Emporium on Greenwich St. It is still the only major grocery store in Tribeca. She worked to get the city to build a park in the neighborhood —Washington Market Park — and an elementary school, P.S. 234. And for 10 days after 9/11, she stayed at I.P.N. helping many of her elderly neighborhoods cope. “We didn’t have any assistance from anyone and we had to survive that ordeal with tenants running the show,” she said.

As a board member, she hopes to see the neighborhood rebuilt in a way that keeps Tribeca livable and affordable for longtime residents and young people. “People can’t afford to stay Downtown,” she said, “But there are all the Downtown kids. It would be great for them to be able to stay in the neighborhood that they grew up in.”

“I think Diane Lapson will be terrific,” said Menin. “It’s important to have good representation from I.P.N.”

Lapson is joined by two other Tribeca residents. Andrew Neale, originally from London, has lived in the neighborhood for eight years. He currently lives on West St. near Canal St. where he and his wife own Himalaya Trading Company, an import and export company.

Neale, 41, is especially concerned about a proposal fielded by the Jack Parker Corporation to rezone a swath of the North Tribeca Waterfront to make way for large residential developments there. “We need to develop a comprehensive plan to keep the neighborhood for the next generation and develop an alternative to an over developed area,” he said.

He has been a public member for the past year, sitting on the Tribeca Committee, Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Task Force. Public members are appointed by the community board chairperson and have limited voting rights.

New member Laura Braddock, a Tribeca resident who lives on Duane St., did not respond to E-mails seeking comment.

Peter Glazier, C.E.O. of the Glazier Group, a catering and event planning company, owns and operates several New York City venues including Bridgewaters at the Fulton Market building at the South Street Seaport, which he developed in 1985. “I’m very excited. My company and I have always been active in the community,” he said. “And I just decided that it was something that I should do for the community.”

Glazier, an Upper East Side resident, is the only new member who does not live in the district, but that has no bearing on his commitment to the neighborhood, he insists.

“I love Downtown, I love what’s happening there. It’s my area. I’ve been in the Seaport longer than anyone,” said Glazier, 63. Until three months ago, his company, which employees 700 people, was located on John St. It recently moved to Fifth Ave.

The Seaport’s economy is rapidly growing, said Glazier, and, as a community board member, he wants to make sure “the community integrates well with the future.” Developer Frank Sciame recently restored 14 historic buildings and sites into residential buildings and the Fulton Fish Market moved out of the area at the end of last year, paving the way for more development in the neighborhood.

Susan Cole, a Hanover Sq. resident, moved to the neighborhood from the Upper West Side a year ago. “My husband and I downsized,” she said. As for joining the board, “What the heck,” she said, “I decided to give it a shot.”

Cole, 61, has a long history in advocacy work. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years and is the Associate Director of the Settlement Housing Fund, an organization that develops and owns affordable rental apartments. Cole hopes to see affordable housing in the new plans for the neighborhood. “I hope to be able to use my skills to make the community a better place than it already is,” she said, adding that she would also like to see more retail, such as markets, in the neighborhood.

The changes on the board were not welcome news for the two members who were removed. Arthur Gregory, a bar owner who had been on the board for three years, was particularly disappointed that he did not make the cut. “I can’t figure this out at all. They were threatening to take these deadwoods off and they ended up taking off two business people,” he said. “I don’t know who could be more involved than me.”

Gregory suspects that Menin had a hand in the decisions, noting that he did not vote for her when she ran for chairperson last year. “Maybe Julie had a thing with me,” he said. “She’s pretty powerful.”

Menin dismissed Gregory’s speculations, insisting she played no role in the borough president’s decision. “That is absurd and quite honestly, it’s ridiculous,” she said, noting that he missed more than half of the meetings last year. “When you miss half of the meetings, one can question whether someone has the time to devote to the board.”

Gregory said he missed several meetings because of an injury, a detail he neglected to mention at his interview, he said.

Eric Pugatch, a spokesperson for Stringer, said that the borough president would not comment on why board members were not reappointed, adding that a board chairperson’s opinion “would not have played a factor” in the decision-making process.

Michael Skidmore, who was also not reappointed, was a board member for 10 years. “I have no clue as to why, but I am disappointed,” he said. Menin said she plans to appoint him as a public member of the board.

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson

WWW Downtown Express