By Melissa Repko
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 19, 2007
Community Board 9 members clashed over views of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation and political stances on Columbia’s expansion at a meeting held Thursday evening.
Many members echoed sentiments of past meetings, telling political representatives to reveal their true stance on Columbia’s expansion into Manhattanville rather than skirting the issue.
Simeon Banister, representative for the office of Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, suggested that members should make private calls to him and declined to reveal the office’s opinion on Columbia expansion.
The audience was unreceptive. “I’m a country boy,” board member Walter South said. “ If you sit on a fence too long, you might find out it’s barbed wire.”
During the public forum, anger surfaced toward Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer who recently voted in favor Columbia’s expansion plan despite community opposition, after the University agreed to provide funds for affordable housing and parks.
Tom Kappner, a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community, said that he felt Stringer sold out the community and was disingenuous with CB9 all along. “I would not say that we’re dismayed,” Kappner said. “We’re angry as hell for his disrespect of the democratic will of this community. ... We feel betrayed.”
Tom DeMott of the Coalition to Preserve Community caused a stir earlier when he distributed an anti-Stringer cartoon at the meeting, depicting Stringer as a dog catering to the whims of University President Lee Bollinger. District Manager Lawrence McClean said that cartoons would not be permitted, which some objected to, saying that attempting to prevent the distribution of the cartoon would violate the free speech rights of the distributors. Later in the meeting, he suggested that Columbia and Stringer worked out their deal in secret meetings.
“Is the rug going to get pulled out from under us by some secret meeting here? That’s the question and I think the Stringer thing has set a precedent for some very ugly kind of finagling,” DeMott said.
Maritta Dunn, a former board member and member of the LDC, the body negotiating a community benefits agreement with Columbia, responded to board members’ accusations that politicians have co-opted the LDC and that CB9 representatives have not fought to be heard since the group’s creation.
“The LDC is the only game in town,” Dunn said, adding that it only helps Columbia when board members are divided over the LDC. “We need to stop knocking it,” she added.
“I never have blind faith,” community board member Norma Ramos said. “I’m never going to surrender my right to raise any issues and I‘ve been consistently raising the issue of the lack of Latino representation on the LDC and I’m not going to be silenced about that by being told that I am against the interest of the community.”
The board also passed a resolution to send a letter urging the chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission to seriously consider all applications after various board members voiced concerns that their landmarking requests were being ignored.
Melissa Repko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.