Under Cover

Chinatown fighter-ship

The Chinatown Partnership doesn’t have many partners in the neighborhood.

The Local Development Corporation was supposed to help businesses, but several community leaders told UnderCover that it hasn’t been doing much. One knocked a project earlier this year in which Pace students documented the neighborhood’s long-standing street problems.

“Now you have a lovely set of photographs of the potholes that never get fixed,” he said.

A former Partnership employee told UnderCover: “I’m not sure if they are doing enough outreach…. The community doesn’t know them.”

Jan Lee, who owns a Mott St. furniture store, said there are six large retail vacancies near him and he doesn’t see the Partnership using its Lower Manhattan Development Corp. money well. He’s worried the C.P. will move to become a Business Improvement District (yes, that’s lefty irony) when the L.M.D.C. gravy trains stops running, and he said he and other neighborhood property owners will not be able to afford the added taxes of a BID.

Crain’s New York reported that the man who started the effort to create the Partnership, Chris Kui, was not reappointed to the City Planning Commission by Mayor Bloomberg because the mayor wasn’t happy with the Partnership’s work. A city official dismissed the Planning theory, but did tell UnderCover that the city has noted the dissatisfaction with the Partnership.

John Gallagher, a Bloomberg spokesperson and former L.M.D.C. staffer, said the city was grateful for Kui’s service and the appointment decision was a “routine matter.” A coy Kui, who heads Asian Americans for Equality, did not comment.

A Partnership source said the slight may be payback because Kui fought hard to keep former Councilmember Margarita Lopez off the board of the new Chinatown Empire Zone. Lopez declared her love for Bloomberg last year and crossed party lines to endorse him.

This source also said: a BID is a possibility, the city has not even hinted at unhappiness, and the local criticisms are old turf wars resurfacing.

For his part, Lee, who has battled the city over illegal police parking, agrees with other leaders who say the mayor has been doing a better job in Chinatown since he brought in Lolita Jackson to run the Manhattan Community Assistance Unit. Lee said Jackson is no ingénue and was upset when the Partnership did not give enough notice about a meeting on its progress.

David Louie, the Partnership’s chairperson, said the group has delivered cleaner streets, free Peking opera and has continued to run the tourist information kiosk and the Taste of Chinatown. “We’ve gotten lots of compliments saying Chinatown has never been cleaner,” he said.

How’re they doing?

A chipper Ed Koch, recovering from his hernia operation, told us he still likes President Bush, but he is backing Sen. Hillary Clinton for president in 2008. He predicted the Democratic ticket will be Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama for vice president against Republicans Sen. John McCain and running mate Rudy Giuliani. “Whichever one wins, we’ll be well off,” Koch assured.

He thinks history will judge W. to be among the “second tier” of presidents, among the likes of Harry Truman, who, like Bush, was on the ropes at the end of his term in his office. The “first tier” (which is apparently safe from W.) includes Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and F.D.R., Koch said. Yes, but Bush’s popularity is at an all-time low of 30 percent. “Who cares?” Koch said. “Superb leaders don’t care about popularity — they care about leading the public and keeping them safe and allowing historians to make the ultimate decision.”

Soprano sings for a cause

On Dec. 2, Soho’s Housing Works Used Book Cafe (126 Crosby St.) hosted the debut of a chanteuse with a conscience. Actress Kristen Cerelli plays a recurring role on “The Sopranos” and has long been a staple of the Downtown theater scene, earning lead roles in such productions as “Beaver” and “Spring Storm.”

The party marked her official coming-out as a singer-songwriter. With plentiful wine and baked goods on hand, Cerelli released her first CD, “Tongue Tied Heart,” and performed a set of tunes from the album. The mix of femme-powered pop and haunting ballads showcased Cerelli’s skills as a performer and lyricist, but her dedication to those less fortunate proved to be even more captivating.

Performing on the evening after World AIDS Day, Cerelli chose to donate proceeds from the night’s CD sales and raffles to Housing Works, a non-profit that helps homeless people with H.I.V. and AIDS. Cerelli also volunteers at the café.

Her next performance? A breast cancer benefit, naturally. Cerelli will sing in “Covers for the Cure,” at Joe’s Pub (425 Lafayette St.) on Jan. 27. The concert will feature New York City musicians covering tunes by Sheryl Crow, Olivia Newton John, Carly Simon and other singers who have battled breast cancer.

Silverstein slams insurers

Forget finger-pointing. PowerPoint appears to be the latest tool in the Silverstein Properties fight to force truculent World Trade Center insurance companies to pay up.

During a presentation to Community Board 1 about plans for Towers 2, 3 and 4, a string of pleasant renderings came to a screeching halt with a photo of angry protestors, followed by shots of the C.E.O.s of foreign insurance companies Allianz and Royal. As Silverstein’s Janno Lieber explained, the community is growing restless over the insurers’ refusal to pay a combined $809 million in W.T.C. claims — despite having lost a lawsuit in the case.

The companies are currently fighting payment on new grounds, claiming that by turning the Freedom Tower over to the Port Authority, Silverstein is violating the original insurance terms.

Which sounds confusing, until you hear Lieber explain it: “It’s really very naughty. It’s as if two people were married and you wouldn’t allow one spouse to collect on the policy.”

Though the marriage between the Port and Silverstein has been rocky at times, Lieber said that the parties have come together in the past year. All that stands in the way are those pesky insurance payments, which Silverstein needs in order to secure the Liberty Bond loans that will finance the rest of the project.

“That’s where the rubber hits the road,” Lieber said.

Spy novel sushi at W.F.C.

Perhaps eager to test the theory, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” the Itsu sushi restaurant opened its first New York City branch in the World Financial Center this week.

Itsu had its name unwittingly etched into history last month as the opening scene in London’s real-life Russian spy novel. On Nov. 1, the day he began to feel ill, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko met with associates at the Itsu in Piccadilly Circus. Later, traces of the rare radioactive poison polonium 210 were found at the restaurant.

The U.K.-based chain specializes in rapid takeout versions of udon soup and bento boxes, including several low-cal and low-carb options (radioactive isotopes not included). The W.F.C. location has also applied for a liquor license, so look for sake sometime in the near future.