Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Borough President Who Wields a Big Broom

The City
In the Region
N.Y./Region Opinions
Manhattan Up Close

A Borough President Who Wields a Big Broom

Published: April 29, 2007

When members of Community Board 2 in Manhattan showed up for their monthly meeting April 19, they were ready to play hardball over zoning and liquor licenses, but found themselves also playing the name game. As they shuffled into an auditorium at St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan on West 12th Street, returning members had to meet no fewer than 11 new members, appointed by Borough President Scott Stringer in one of the largest reshufflings of a borough’s community boards in recent memory.

Not at the meeting was Patrick Munson, a board member whose appointment was not renewed. “I thought I did a good job,” he said, “and didn’t expect to be swept away.”

The City Charter directs that community board members serve two-year terms at the pleasure of the borough presidents. While the boards are mostly advisory, their decisions can influence city agencies, and borough presidents commonly replace some members to augment their own influence.

But the scope of Mr. Stringer’s changes has been eye-catching. Manhattan has 12 boards, each with 50 members, and like other borough presidents he generally selects half by himself and defers to local council members’ nominations for the other seats.

Before taking office last year, Mr. Stringer — himself a former teenage board member in Washington Heights — campaigned broadly for community board reform. “We wanted a merit-based process,” he said recently, “and we felt we needed to put fresh, energetic people on the boards.”

In March 2006, and again last month, about one-third of the members Mr. Stringer appointed were new to their boards. Because many of last year’s new members had been appointed to vacant seats, this year even more veteran board members were dropped.

Not surprisingly, the upheaval has ruffled feathers. “When you embark on this kind of change agenda, there is going to be some pushback,” Mr. Stringer said, acknowledging that his overhaul of the boards exceeded most. And some dumped members were left flummoxed.

“I was at every meeting, I had a great attendance record, I spoke a lot, I worked really hard,” said Anne Whitman, the owner of a moving and storage business, who was not reappointed to Community Board 9 in Morningside Heights. “They won’t give you a reason. They say they have a lot of applications and a lot of talented people and blah, blah, blah.”

Dr. Robert Schoor, a dentistry professor at New York University, was also surprised to be dropped from Community Board 6, serving the East Side. But he has since been appointed as a nonvoting public member of the board, he said, “so they must feel like I am some value to the community.”

In the opinion of Mr. Stringer’s predecessor, C. Virginia Fields, hurt feelings are inevitable when borough presidents tinker with the boards, but she understands the impulse. New officeholders, she pointed out, want their own people to work with. But when the new official attends a board meeting, she said, “the people you meet there have been appointed by the previous borough president.” DAVID SHAFTEL

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