By Daniel Amzallag
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 23
A Community Board 9 meeting was especially heated Thursday night, as board members and neighborhood residents confronted elected officials in light of Columbia’s recently-approved Manhattanville expansion plan.
The meeting followed a City Council vote on Wednesday in which the Council came down in favor of the plan to rezone 36 acres of Manhattanville, an action that will enable the University to build a 17-acre campus. As part of the mandatory public review process, CB9 voted on the plan and rejected it almost unanimously.
Many board members have served as voices of opposition throughout the entire review process, questioning aspects of Columbia’s plan and harshly criticizing the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, a body of neighborhood representatives selected to negotiate a community benefits agreement with Columbia. On Wednesday morning, the LDC and Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding for a community benefits agreement of $150 million after nearly a year of negotiations.
At Thursday’s meeting, attendees expressed frustration with the LDC’s alleged lack of responsiveness to the community at large. CB9 member Norma Ramos said the LDC has not sufficiently presented information to the community, adding that because of its inaction, “Columbia has basically gotten everything that they wanted and are doing so with paying very little to the community.”
But incoming CB9 chair and LDC officer Pat Jones said election to the LDC is “a very public process,” and members have to report to their constituent groups. “At just sheer dollars, I don’t think that’s necessarily the barometer or the sole barometer—it’s the results of whatever you do,” she said.
City Councilman Robert Jackson, D-Manhattanville and Washington Heights, stood by his vote in favor of Columbia’s plan, saying he believes it to be in the community’s best interests. “You have a right not to vote for me and not to elect me—if you don’t like how your elected representatives represent you, vote them out of office,” he said.
Jackson faced criticism from board member Walter South and local resident Tom DeMott, CC ’80 and leader of the anti-expansion Coalition to Preserve Community. They accused Jackson of “pre-selling” his Council vote by helping negotiate the community benefits agreement Wednesday morning before he voted.
Jackson responded that he “was trying to assist wherever I could to resolve an outstanding issue,” rather than participating in the negotiations. Jackson’s chief of staff, Susan Russell, is an officer of the LDC.
Nellie Bailey, local resident and a member of the CPC, said Jackson had been “deliberately misleading” in justifying a Wednesday City Council vote, which many have said was rushed.
“People wanted to wrap up business before the winter break, and it was ready to happen, and it did happen,” Jackson responded, adding that there had never been guarantee that the vote would take place Wednesday.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who voted in favor of Columbia’s 197-c rezoning plan as part of the review process, also spoke at the meeting. He said his goal “has always been that “Columbia coexists with the community without overrunning it.”
Bailey questioned Stringer as to his allegedly inconsistent statements regarding the use of eminent domain in Columbia’s expansion, allegations which Stringer denied.
Stringer and Jackson were met with applause as well as loud but isolated boos and shouts as they were each introduced to speak to the crowd. Local resident Michael Henry Adams, also a Harlem historian, shouted, “Sellout! Uncle Tom sellout!” as they spoke. CB9 District Manager Lawrence McClean asked Adams to leave the meeting, and upon refusal threatened him with arrest by two on duty police officers. Adams was allowed to stay after a ten minute altercation, though he left before the meeting ended.
“Take your medication,” Stringer said to Adams’ out-of-turn shouts that Stringer was “destroying this city” and “destroying our community.”
But the hostility towards elected officials is not shared by all members of the community, Jones said. “It’s one of those cases where you’ve got very vocal passionate individuals, and you’ve got a silent majority out there,” she said. “There was some very obnoxious behavior, but if you did a count, the majority of people did not have that response or reaction.”
“It’s disgusting,” outgoing CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc said of several members’ behavior. “The disrespect doesn’t touch Robert Jackson or Scott Stringer—the disrespect is to me, and that offends me, and I cannot allow it.”
At the end of Thursday's meeting, the board held elections for next year's officers. Jones was unanimously elected next year's chair. Assistant treasurer Yvonne Stennett will be next year's 2nd vice chair, and board member Anthony Fletcher will be next year's treasurer. 1st vice chair Carolyn Thompson and secretary Theodore Kovaleff will keep their positions next year.
View Comments ( 2)Post a Comment
I could not agree more with the previous comments. As a member of the silent community supporting Columbia's plans (with personal reservations about eminent domain and a desire to see more affordable housing within the expansion) the disrespect and bullying by the "opposition" caused me to stop attending public meetings and submit written testimony instead.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) December 24th, 2007 @ 10:52am
look at the way they make a mockery of the meetings with no discipline and irrational statements. How can we take these activists seriously when they act like hooligans and cannot work in a respectful manner.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) December 24th, 2007 @ 3:48am
1. I ordered the District Manager to call the Police and remove Mr. Adams after he had been strongly advised to behave. Mr. Adams is a talented historian but a boorish twit that can be very disruptive and has a history of such behaviour. CM Jackson and MBP Stringer asked me not to do it, but I did and was about to have him arrested when a number of Board Members asked me not to do that in order to avoid Mr. Adams further embrarrasment and I agreed not to have him arrested provided he behaved and be quiet, which he did. Other hecklers paid attention to my instructions for quiet and were not in any way threatened with arrest.
As Chairman I am responsible for the proper conduct of any meeting and the disrespect is much more towards the chairman when the public ignores and defies the Chair's directions, and that will never happen at a CB9M meeting ever again I swore after the infamous Dinkins shout-down.
J. Reyes-Montblanc, Chairman
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) December 24th, 2007 @ 11:51am