Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Activists Vow to Continue Fight Against University Expansion

Activists Vow to Continue Fight Against University Expansion
By Mary Kohlmann

Despite the blow that the New York City Council’s approval of Columbia’s rezoning plan represents for those who challenge the University, activists have not given up hope.

Many members of Coalition to Preserve Community, an activist group that opposes the University’s expansion plan, and Columbia’s Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification view the decision as a mere roadblock, and are developing strategies for everything from political action to physical opposition.

“That approval is maybe celebrated in Low Library, but it is a completely illusory victory,” CPC member Tom Kappner, CC ’66, said.

In the past, the two groups have held protests and teach-ins. Over the coming months, they plan to inform the community further about the project and hope to influence the upcoming state review of Columbia’s plans. The state has the power to use eminent domain to transfer private commercial properties to Columbia.

“We have a two-pronged approach,” CPC leader Tom DeMott, CC ’80, said. “One is to keep informing the local community about the situation now that Columbia has gotten the plan approved. Two is to get that message out to the Columbia community.”SCEG member Victoria Ruiz, CC ’09, said there would be petitioning, busing to meetings, and protests.

Plans are also being considered to obstruct the construction physically. “We’ve all said that we’ll stand outside in front of the bulldozers,” DeMott said.

Other possible tactics are financial. CPC members have suggested contacting potential donors to the expansion and discouraging their participation. “Many Columbia alumni, thank God, see that this is not what they want their University to be,” Kappner said.

Columbia Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin disagreed, citing the University’s “deep ties” with the local community. “To the contrary,” he said, “University alumni are excited at the opportunities Manhattanville makes available for generations to come.

“There is widespread support for Columbia’s initiative as evidenced by the strong support of elected officials of Harlem and Washington Heights,” Kasdin added.

Most organizers do not consider formal discussion with the University useful. In November 2007, students on a hunger strike demanded that the University revoke its 197-c plan, but, upon meeting with administrators involved with the expansion, complained that they dismissed concerns.

Ruiz, who was one of the hunger strikers, said that meetings with administrators are only “symbolic. ... They don’t really result in meaningful information for either side.”

Activists are dissatisfied with their elected officials who supported the expansion. “Personally, I think that Robert Jackson and Scott Stringer—they’re finished in this community,” Kappner said. “If they stood for election today they wouldn’t have the votes to stay in office.”

But the frustration with local elected officials is not unanimous in the community, and in the wake of the 197-c vote, running for office on an anti-expansion platform is not constructive, as former CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc pointed out.

“The trouble is, it’s done, it’s finished,” he said. “I don’t like to waste my time on things that are finished.” Reyes-Montblanc has said he will run for City Council in 2009 for District 7, which comprises Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights.

Activists against Columbia’s plan have singled out New York State senator Bill Perkins as one of the only elected officials who supports them.

“I appreciate their opposition to the project,” Perkins said of the CPC, “And I have to have some conversations with them before I can say exactly how we’ll be involved. We support the cause.”
CB9 chair Pat Jones distinguished the board’s position from that of CPC, adding, “We can be supportive of ensuring that community members are safe and that their needs are met.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Negotiations force Columbia to increase bid


Negotiations force Columbia to increase bid
To win support for expansion from West Harlem community, university coughs up extra $50M

Raymond Carlson
Staff Reporter
Published Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Before Columbia University could break new ground on its planned expansion in West Harlem, the university had to meet the needs of the local community — to the tune of $150 million.
Prior to receiving the City Council’s approval for its expansion on Dec. 19, Columbia had to increase its initial monetary offer for the community-benefits package fivefold, from $30 million to $150 million, the News has learned. Negotiating the final figure required many months of dialogue between the university and community leaders in the West Harlem Local Development Corporation — but a decision to add the last $50 million of the buyout was made in only one night.

The ultimate $150-million sum — part of a community-benefit agreement — was settled on the night of Dec. 18, the day before the City Council was set to vote on the zoning proposal, which was seen as a go-ahead for Columbia’s expansion project. Going into negotiations that evening, the university had offered only $100 million. But after working with Columbia President Lee Bollinger and Senior Executive Vice President Robert Casden, community members bargained that number up to $150 million.

Citing the ongoing nature of the negotiations — which were confirmed by several city officials and university affiliates — Columbia officials declined to comment.

In a saga that may foreshadow Yale’s own expansion efforts down the road, Columbia has been pushing since 2003 for the construction of a 17-acre expansion in a part of West Harlem known as Manhattanville, just a few blocks from its main campus in Morningside Heights. Prior to receiving approval from the City Council, the university focused on winning support from members of the local community.

Locals, brought up in a history of frosty relations with the university, initially resisted the plan.

Columbia’s expansion would displace some residents, and there were concerns that it would completely change the makeup of the neighborhood, explained Susan Russell, chief of staff for City Council Member Robert Jackson, who represents most of the area into which Columbia plans to expand.

“The atmosphere around this possible development wasn’t a good one — the community was incensed about it,” she said.

Over time, local residents warmed to the expansion plan, thanks to efforts by the university to engage in dialogue with the community, said Warren Whitlock, Columbia’s director of construction coordination.

Still, the community’s local government representatives in Community Board 9 — which includes Morningside Heights, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights — had to claim an active role in the negotiations to ensure their constituents’ views were heard.

In order to increase direct communication between the community and Columbia, in the summer of 2005 the board passed a resolution creating a local development corporation, the LDC. The LDC was incorporated in either April or May of 2006, Russell said.

Because the corporation — which has 28 seats — includes nine locally elected officials, including members of Community Board 9, the corporation became the key link between the local community and Columbia throughout the expansion process.

“A community board is not empowered to negotiate,” said Sarah Morgridge, Jackson’s executive assistant. “The successor community voice was the West Harlem Local Development Corporation.”

Over the ensuing months, the LDC focused on a wide array of issues important to local residents — committees were formed to speak up for community members on transportation, the environment, housing and other issues surrounding the expansion.

One of the most important functions of the board was to negotiate the sum of money to be provided to the community through the community-benefit agreement.

Council member Jackson worked tirelessly to ensure that local residents were happy with the plan, and the LDC proved a key connection between the community and the university, Russell said.

Theodore Kovaleff, a former dean of Columbia Law School and former six-time chair of the LDC, said he believed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the Council needed to vote on the expansion by Dec. 19 in order to accommodate the Council’s winter break.

On the night of Dec. 18, final negotiations for the community-benefit agreement were underway. On that evening, the LDC’s executive committee told LDC members it had been able to negotiate an increase in the size of the buyout of over 225 percent.

“Columbia had first come up with an offer of about $30 million in terms of [the community benefits package],” Kovaleff said. “The executive committee did a significant amount of negotiations — they got Columbia up to $100 [million].”

At that stage, members of the LDC felt that the community should receive more money for the displacement the expansion would cause, he said. The city had also offered to provide funding to the community through the agreement, but the LDC risked pushing too far and not obtaining as much money as it could from the city. Kovaleff likened the situation to Russian roulette.

“Had we not come to an agreement, there was the potential that we would have ended up shortchanging our community,” he said.

It was then, after several hours of discussions, that Columbia agreed to pay $150 million to the community through a memorandum of understanding.

The following day, when the City Council voted on the expansion, the stretch of time during which the funds would be allocated remained unsettled, Kovaleff said. That morning, university and community negotiators agreed to cut down that timespan, he said.

Still, a few local residents believe the negotiation process has not been open enough to community members, said Tom DeMott, a former member of the FDC and leader of the Coalition to Preserve Community, which opposes Columbia’s expansion.

Russell said the CCU tried to dominate community dialogue on the expansion. The $150 million could have a significant positive impact on the area, she said.

“We’ve given ourselves money with which the community can do anything,” Russell said.
The money has the potential to the change the lives of local residents for generations, allowing them to become “totally self-sufficient” and to find their own American dream, she said.

Still, Maritta Dunn, a member of the LDC, said both groups went into the negotiation process hoping for different outcomes, and it was necessary for the two groups to settle on a figure that fit between each of their expectations.

“We at least were able to reach something that was acceptable,” she said. “I don’t think it was what they wanted. I don’t think it was what we wanted.”


Monday, December 31, 2007

Columbia Expansion Approved In NYC

Columbia Expansion Approved In NYC
Published On Thursday, January 03, 2008 10:03 PM
Crimson Staff Writer


Columbia University has won approval for a $7 billion, 25-year expansion of its Manhattan campus just as Harvard enters the first phase of its even more ambitious plan to enlarge the University’s presence in Allston.

The Columbia plan, approved by the New York City Council last month, offers ammunition to local critics who say that Harvard isn’t doing enough to provide benefits to the Allston community that will be affected by the expansion.

As part of a deal to build a state-of-the-art, four-building science complex in Allston, Harvard has pledged $25 million in benefits to the community. Meanwhile, Columbia’s entire 25-year plan is accompanied by a $150 million community benefits agreement including a new Columbia-assisted public secondary school.

“In the Columbia plan, there is no question of public or private—it is very clearly public space that is much more welcome to use,” said Harry Mattison, a member of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, which was created by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

In Harvard’s plan, Mattison said, “you put the walls on the outside and keep the nice grassy courtyard for people that are part of really only the Harvard community.”

Harvard officials say they are taking the Allston community’s concerns seriously. “There have been more than 70 community meetings both on the master plan and on the first science buildings,” said Lauren Marshall, a Harvard spokeswoman. “All of that discussion and dialogue goes to inform our planning as projects shape.”

Columbia’s project will rezone part of the Manhattanville manufacturing zone in West Harlem into a 17-acre addition to the university’s main campus. Plans call for it to include more than 6.8 million square feet of space for education, research, and cultural facilities.

Harvard’s Allston expansion, by comparison, will cover about 200 acres of Allston. “Universities all over America are now finding they have to plan expansion and growth, particularly in science,” said Kathy A. Spiegelman, Harvard’s chief Allston planner.

Despite its large benefits package, Columbia has also faced opposition from community groups as it lobbied New York for approval of its plan. Columbia says it will not use the power of eminent domain on residential properties but reserves the right to request the state to consider using eminent domain on commercial properties.

Mattison claimed that Columbia is making a more tangible investment in the community than Harvard is in its expansion. He said that the secondary school to be built by Columbia will enroll an equal number of children who live in the community and children whose parents are affiliated with Columbia. He also pointed out that Columbia’s Web site offers an explanation of the expansion in both English and Spanish, while Harvard’s does not. According to a 2007 survey by the Boston Public Health Commission, 8.5 percent of Allston/Brighton residents speak Spanish at home.

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at viswanat@fas.harvard.edu.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Moylan Tavern

The City

F. Y. I.
Going Up?
Published: December 30, 2007

George Drank Here

Q. George Carlin used to star in a television show set in a Manhattan bar called the Moylan Tavern. Was it real?

A. Yes, though it was a memory.
The Moylan Tavern, on Broadway between La Salle Street and Tiemann Place in Morningside Heights, was torn down several decades ago. Its name was kept alive on “The George Carlin Show,” a sitcom that ran in 1994 and 1995 on Fox. Mr. Carlin played George O’Grady, a sarcastic Irish-American cabdriver who hung out there with other misfits.

Mr. Carlin, who grew up on West 121st Street, spent a lot of time in the real Moylan Tavern.
Maitland McDonagh, a granddaughter of the bar’s founders, remembers some things about the tavern’s past. Her grandparents Winifred Tierney McDonagh (1899-2004) of County Clare and Francis McDonagh of County Sligo came to the United States in the 1920s, married and later opened the tavern, naming it after Moylan Green, a park across the street.

“When my grandfather died in 1962, my grandmother decided she didn’t want to run a bar alone and sold it, I believe to a bartender who’d worked there for years,” Ms. McDonagh wrote in an e-mail message. It “limped on as a real old-man bar” until the 1970s and then closed, she added.

The General Grant Houses, a public project, replaced Moylan Green.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Preparations Begin for Mansion Move in Harlem

Preparations Begin for Mansion Move in Harlem
Friday, December 28, 2007, by Lockhart

Preparations Begin for Mansion Move in Harlem
Friday, December 28, 2007, by Lockhart

The Friends of St. Nicholas Park (on the Hamilton Heights/Manhattanville border) email, "Should be interesting cutting a colonial home in half and moving it across the street." Uh, yeah? The move won't happen until this spring—and the resuscitated house won't open to the public until 2009—but it's not too soon to start getting excited about this. Right? (Okay, maybe.) They've just fenced off the area of the park where the house will move, and groundbreaking is slated for January 11. · Preparations for Hamilton Grange Move Begin [Friends of St. Nicholas Park]

Posted in Manhattan: Harlem/Morningside Heights, Manhattan: Inwood/Washington Heights, Real Estate Miscellany

Comments (7 extant)

Hasn't that house already been moved about five times?

Comment #1, left at 12/28/07 04:09 PM.
Zach's stats. Zach: 19 comments, 0 followers, 0 ignores.

Why would they intentionally move it into Harlem?

Comment #2, left at 12/28/07 04:24 PM.
Larry's stats. Larry: 10 comments, 0 followers, 0 ignores.
It already is in Harlem. It's being moved, basically, across the street.

Comment #3, left at 12/28/07 04:27 PM.

The house was moved once already - from it's original site in Harlem ("Hamilton Heights" to be exact) a few blocks from where it sits now. Hamilton owned the whole area, and it's new home in St. Nich park is actually part of his original estate.
Comment #4, left at 12/28/07 08:52 PM.

It's about time this landmark had some breathing room. Congrats!
Comment #5, left at 12:28 AM.


The park itself is actually full of historical sites. (I guess that is where the Friend's call it "Harlem's Historic Green." The north part where the Grange will be moving to is part of Hamilton's original estate. The southern part contains the "Point of Rocks" where Washington stood his ground over British troops before finally retreating upstate. I believe a monument to this event is in the planning stages as well.
Comment #6, left at 11:12 AM.

True enough, the Hamilton Grange was moved once before and when moved to St. Nicholas it will still be within the original land owned by Alexander Hamilton.

St. Nicholas Park is located within Hamilton Heights and on the border of WestSide Harlem and Central Harlem two disticnt and separate communities.

There is a great disconformity with the move as National Parks made agreements with the Community 1i 1995 regarding the relocation and the use of the vacated site and now are claiming not to have the funds to fulfill the 1995 Agreement and the orientation of the grange house within St. Nicholas is not as originally agreed and many community leaders are in disagreement with National Parks on that issue as well.

The 1995 agreement permitted the transfer of the St. Nicholas Park land from the City to the Federal Government for the relocation of the Grange.

Community Board 9 which covers all of WestSide Harlem has taken these issue with Congressman Charles B. Rangel who originally brokered the arrangement between National Parks and the Community and funded the project.

WestSide Harlem encompasess the three historical neighborhoods of Morningside Heghts, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights.

Sugar Hill, Vinegar Hill and Carmanville are sub-neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights.
Cathedral Heights and University Heights are sub-neighbohoods of Morningside Heights.
Manhattanville is also usually referred to as West Harlem.
Comment #7, left at 04:31 PM.
Reysmont's stats.

By the way I would not call the Grange House a Mansion even by today's standards and was most definitely not a Mansion when Alexander Hamilton and his wife lived in it in the late 1790's early 1800's. It was a confortable farm (grange) house.
Comment #8, left at 05:03 PM.
Reysmont's stats. Reysmont: 2 comments, 0 followers, 0 ignores.

Reysmont - what disconformity are you talking about? The whole community is excited about this project. The orientation debate is ridiculous. It has taken 17 years to get to this place and all you want to do is stop it. Congressman Rangel has fought hard to secure the funds to move this house. Its current place is beyond unacceptable. But you would rather stall this progress still than move it into an open area that it deserves. Unbelievable. As for the promises made in 1995 - THAT WAS 17 YEARS AGO. Things change - like National Parks budgets.

The empty lot (so small it actually should be left vacant) should be a Hamilton Historic visitor and education center if anything.

If you are complaining about affordable housing - I can list you dozens of larger lots owned by churches that refuse to develop the land and rather leave it vacant.

Get real - be appreciative that we have someone like Charlie Rangel who finally has funded a plan to respect one of this country's founding fathers. And for once be happy about a positive thing in Harlem!
Comment #9, left at 12/29/07 09:52 PM.

when will they put some of the massive Harlem projects on wheels and move them away from the area???
That would be a story!!!!
Comment #10, left at 12/31/07 12:56 PM.

getridoftheprojects's stats. getridoftheprojects: 13 comments, 0 followers, 0 ignores.

Re Comment #9 - Dear Sir or Madam you must live a very sheltered life.

CB9M and I in particular, are very appreciative and proud of our Congreesman, Chairman Rangel.

The fact is that an agreement for a consideration was made signed seal and delivered, that makes it a contract and that contract between the community and National Parks is being broken by National Parks 13 years after it was made regardless of the funding obtained by Chairman Rangel.

What is objectionable is that breach that will leave a hole in the ground on Convent Avenue and as it belongs to the Federal Government the most that will happen is that it be seeded for a lawn without further care or attention.

Perhaps some developer will get that piece of land and the empty lost next to it and erect a towner on Convent Avenue for housing the homeless or turne it into another Condo take your pick.

I personally agree that the orientation of the house in the Park is a ridiculous fight not worth the effort, but those people who feel that way have a right to express their opinions and be heard and hopefully reason will prevail.

I respect your opinion but obviously in this case you are sorely short of information.
Comment #11, left at 12:52 PM.
Reysmont's stats


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Preparations for Hamilton Grange Move Begin
A chain link fence (photos below) has been installed around the construction perimeter of the park where the Hamilton Grange will be moved into St. Nicholas Park. Preparations of the area include taking down the large trees where the house will eventually be reconstructed. Ground breaking on the area for the foundation may take place on Alexander Hamilton's Birthday - January 11th.

The National Parks Service presented their plans to the Friends and Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro during a meeting in November and then once again during a public meeting in Shepard Hall at City College.

For the move, the Grange will be cut in half and transported from its current spot on Convent Avenue (between 141st and 142nd streets) to the area of St. Nicholas Park within the boundaries of Hamilton's original estate land.

The move will take place along Hamilton Terrace and across 141st street into St. Nicholas Park.

The house move is expected to take place in the spring of 2008. Street closures are expected along Convent, Hamilton Terrance and West 141st Street for 1-2 days. The house will be transported by backing it out of its current location down to Hamilton Terrace (where a few trees might need to be removed) and across the street into St. Nicholas Park.

Once the house is moved and secured, a renovation will take place where contractors will rebuild the original porches which had to be removed in order to fit the house in its current space (between St. Luke's Church and an Apartment Building).

Landscaping around the Grange's new home will include tree plantings, a stone wall and paths. The Grange will have security detail during the day and possible video monitoring during the evening hours.

Above is a rendering of the placement of the Grange in the park. (Click to make the image larger) On the right side is the Grove School of Engineering at CCNY.

The house is expected to open to the public in the Spring of 2009.

The Friends are hard at work trying to obtain some renderings to place on this site. Please check back for updates in the next few months. For up to date photos of the Grange's move please check our Hamilton Grange Flickr photo set.
Posted by William_Guffman at 10:24 AM

Friends of St. Nicholas Park said...
Please leave a question or comment on the Grange by filling out the comment box. During the Grange's move and reconstruction we will be fielding questions on this forum. Thank you!
12:32 PM

cadboy said...
Hello FriendsAt this time there is a proposal to "jack up" the house 20 feet and move it in one piece out onto Convent St. I have been given the job to "model' this move on 3D cad for there approval. This computer model will include all of the superstructure built to support the jacks, the rails to roll the house on as it is moved out to the street and the final placement of the house on the moving dollies. I will heep you all up-to-date as we procede.
10:27 AM

Anonymous said...
True enough, the Hamilton Grange was moved once before and when moved to St. Nicholas it will still be within the original land owned by Alexander Hamilton.St. Nicholas Park is located within Hamilton Heights and on the border of WestSide Harlem and Central Harlem two distinct and separate communities.

There is a great disconformity with the move as National Parks made agreements with the Community 1i 1995 regarding the relocation and the use of the vacated site and now are claiming not to have the funds to fulfill the 1995 Agreement and the orientation of the grange house within St. Nicholas is not as originally agreed and many community leaders are in disagreement with National Parks on that issue as well.

The 1995 agreement permitted the transfer of the St. Nicholas Park land from the City to the Federal Government for the relocation of the Grange.Community Board 9 which covers all of WestSide Harlem has taken these issue with Congressman Charles B. Rangel who originally brokered the arrangement between National Parks and the Community and funded the project.

WestSide Harlem encompasess the three historical neighborhoods of Morningside Heghts, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights.

Sugar Hill, Vinegar Hill and Carmanville are sub-neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights.

Cathedral Heights and University Heights are sub-neighbohoods of Morningside Heights.

Manhattanville is also usually referred to as West Harlem.
4:49 PM


EDC president to succeed Doctoroff

crain's new york business.com

EDC president to succeed Doctoroff
Robert Lieber, who was seen as a long shot for the post, will become Deputy Mayor for Economic Development on Jan. 8; Daniel Doctoroff resigned earlier this month.
December 27. 2007 3:34PMBy: Anne Michaud

Robert Lieber, president of the city’s Economic Development Corp., has been promoted to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, succeeding Daniel Doctoroff. Mr. Lieber, who was seen as a long shot for the post because he has been with the city for just a year, begins Jan. 8.

At the same time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that some of Mr. Doctoroff’s operational oversight duties will be taken over by Deputy Mayor for Administration Edward Skyler, who will take on the new title of deputy mayor for operations.

“As EDC president, Bob Lieber helped reshape our City with an unprecedented range of projects in all five boroughs,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. “His skills and experience in the private sector and in city government will serve him well as he fills some very big shoes here at City Hall.”

Mr. Doctoroff announced on Dec. 6 that he would leave City Hall after five years to become the president of Bloomberg LP, the financial news and information company founded by the mayor.

Mr. Lieber said he is “extremely thrilled about – and grateful for – the chance to come to City Hall at this exciting moment in the city’s history.”

Among other duties, he will lead the city’s economic development efforts and oversee and coordinate the operations of the Department of City Planning, EDC, the Department of Finance, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the Business Integrity Commission, the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation, the Department of Small Business Services, and the Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting.

Mr. Lieber will also serve as a liaison with city, state and federal and other agencies, including: NYC & Company, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp., the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Moynihan Station Development Corp., the Hudson Yards Development Corp., and the Coney Island Development Corp.

As deputy mayor, he will continue his work on the development of Moynihan Station, the river-to-river rezoning of 125th Street in Harlem, the transformation of the Kingsbridge Armory, and the development of the site of the former US Naval Homeport in Staten Island.

The mayor appointed Mr. Lieber to head the EDC in January 2007, after he led a team from Lehman Brothers that advised the city, pro bono, in its successful effort to renegotiate the World Trade Center site lease.

At the EDC, Mr. Lieber helped shepherd the Jamaica, Queens, rezoning to completion, in one of the largest rezonings that New York City has ever fashioned. He helped develop the comprehensive rezoning plan for Coney Island and helped steer the city’s efforts to create a new mixed-use neighborhood in Willets Point.

Nat Leventhal, chairman of the Mayor’s Committee on Appointments, is leading the search with Mr. Lieber for a new EDC president.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007



December 26, 2007 -- LAST week's vote by the City Council to rezone a large area in West Harlem (sometimes referred to as Manhattanville) was a good decision. For too long, this area has been subject to an antiquated designation as a manufacturing zone. Thanks to this rezoning, much of West Harlem can now smartly be revitalized into a vibrant mixed-use community. I believe most of West Harlem and Columbia University are in agreement on this zoning change.

However, the basic disagreement between those parties remains open - that of Columbia's threatened use of eminent domain and forced relocation in order to achieve its stated goal of a total takeover of the entire area.

For more than three years, Columbia has been effectively muscling small property owners, businesses, residents and even churches out of Manhattanville. Its means of coercion: the threat that hangs over every independent's head that he or she will be forced to move in the near future, by the state power of eminent domain - a power that Columbia has always insisted is necessary to its expansion plan.

I've seen first hand how many owners, believing that they had only two choices - sell their property to Columbia now, or risk condemnation and a forced sale at a court-determined rate - have "voluntarily" sold. It's no wonder that the school already owns about 70 percent of the property.

If Columbia is successful with its "we must have it all" expansion plan, the entire West Harlem community from 125th to 134th Streets and from Broadway to 12th Avenue will be wiped out - forever.

A community with a long history - which is actually already experiencing an economic rejuvenation without the "help" of Columbia - will be eliminated. This is wrong.

I expect that the Empire State Development Corp. (the state agency empowered to use eminent domain) will soon declare this part of West Harlem "blighted" - the first necessary step to condemnation. It will do so in order to take private property from one owner and give it to another private owner - Columbia.

For the last three years, in fact, Columbia has given a blank check to the ESDC - agreeing to reimburse the agency for all costs expended in this endeavor. In effect, the state agency has allowed itself to become a "hired gun" for Columbia. This, too, is wrong.

I remain steadfast that Columbia has met its match in me. I will not back down; I'll do everything I can to show the ESDC and the courts why eminent domain should not be used here. If need be, I will litigate this matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Columbia needs to learn what every well-adjusted child learns at a very early age: The fact that want something doesn't give you the right to just take it. If Columbia's administrators continue to refuse to voluntarily learn this, then they must be "taught" it.

Nick Sprayregen is the president of Tuck-It-Away Associates, L.P., a West Harlem commercial business.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Deals that lead to lost property taxes

From: MDDWhite
Date: Tue, 25 Dec 2007 23:03:15 EST
Subject: Fwd: another way city losing property taxes
To: reysmont@yahoo.com

You are probably aware of this by now but- (Nice to get your own personal coverage like today- Always scary about how much the press will get right though.)

Michael D. D. White

Deals that lead to lost property taxes
Thursday, December 20th 2007, 4:00 AM

New York City lost more than $100 million in property taxes last year because of privately negotiated deals with some of the world's richest companies.

The companies - including behemoths like JPMorgan Chase, Pfizer and NBC - have paid a fraction of their normal property tax bill for years through these little-known deals, commonly called PILOTs (Payments in Lieu of Taxes).

An internal Bloomberg administration report obtained by the Daily News shows:
The giant American International Group paid nothing in PILOTs for fiscal 2007, saving $4.1 million on its annual property tax bill.

The American Stock Exchange, that symbol of the free market, paid a mere $1,070 in PILOTs - far less than a South Bronx homeowner would pay in taxes. The exchange's tax break from City Hall saved it nearly $1.5 million.

JPMorgan Chase paid just $1.9million in PILOTs, 20% of the $9.6 million in property taxes it normally would be assessed.

Most New Yorkers are aware of the outrageous $10 million property tax exemption Madison Square Garden has enjoyed for decades, courtesy of the state Legislature.

So why haven't we heard much about these other tax giveaways in, say, the liberal New York Times? Maybe because the newspaper of record is feeding at the same trough.

The Times paid $219,000 in PILOTs last year for its new printing plant in College Point, Queens, the report said. That's a paltry 13% of the $1.7 million assessed tax on the Times plant.

The undisputed king of PILOTs is real estate developer Bruce Ratner. His Forest City/Ratner firm paid the city $9.7 million last year for half a dozen commercial buildings the company owns in downtown Brooklyn. That sounds like a lot of money - until you realize it's only one-third of the company's actual $26.3 million property tax bill.

That doesn't even count PILOTs that have yet to kick in for Forest City's Atlantic Yards mega-project.

Forest City spokesman Loren Riegelhaupt defended the company's success at landing PILOT subsidies.

"A lot of those buildings in MetroTech were constructed when downtown Brooklyn was not what it was today," Riegelhaupt said. "Many businesses were fleeing to New Jersey in the 1990s, and we were willing to invest in that area when others wouldn't."

City Hall has routinely doled out these PILOT deals for decades, usually as part of a larger incentive package to get companies to stay in town or expand their business.

Government watchdog groups say the absence of uniform standards makes the whole PILOT program open to abuse, because each company gets to negotiate its own private deal. In addition, companies that fail to meet their original job creation promises rarely get penalized.

Until recently, no one knew exactly how much the tax breaks were costing the city. Then in 2005, after city Controller William Thompson released an audit blasting the city's poor monitoring of PILOTs, the City Council passed a law requiring the mayor's office to supply the Council speaker with a report of all PILOT revenues and expenditures.

The News recently obtained copies of those reports, which are sent quarterly from the city Office of Management and Budget to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

They reveal that some 300 companies and nonprofit groups enjoy long-term PILOT deals. A few of those deals date back to the Koch and Dinkins eras, but most were arranged under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Bloomberg.

Last year, discounted PILOTs amounted to $107 million in lost revenue to the city, with abatements averaging a whopping 60% per company.

It should come as no surprise that some of the city's powerhouse companies landed the juiciest deals. Just 15 companies enjoyed more than two-thirds of the total tax savings in fiscal 2007, the report shows.

Besides Forest City, AIG, Chase and The Times, top beneficiaries include Morgan Stanley, Bear Stearns, NBC, Pfizer, McGraw-Hill and the Hearst Corp. In NBC's case, the company has received three separate PILOT deals over the past 20 years from Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg.


"New York City lost more than $100 million in property taxes last year because of privately negotiated deals with some of the world's richest companies.";

Discuss this Article
10 comments so far. Add your comment below!. [Discussion Guidelines]

To post comments, REGISTER or LOG IN

JTDietrich Dec 20, 2007 6:38:39 AM Report Offensive Post I think a lot of cities across the country give property tax breaks to businesses - especially wealthy businesses - because it gives the business an incentive to stay, form jobs, keep talented money-making people local, and ultimately enhances the NY City tax income. If JP Morgan stays in NYC because of a tax break, then the story in NY should be "thank God." But leave it to a liberal city like NY to see it no other way than "tax cuts for the wealthy." You need those jobs to stay local. JT, Fargo, ND

lefty58 Dec 20, 2007 10:30:07 AM Report Offensive Post You have to take what Juan Gonzalez writes with a grain of salt. If it were up to him, we would be all living in a Socialist State like Cuba. Don't know why he is still employed by the NEWS, he's a waste!

Frunkus Dec 20, 2007 10:44:35 AM Report Offensive Post Wow, what a waste of internet space, Juan doesn't factor in that these companies also pay some of the highest rent in the WORLD, these breaks are an incentive to stay in the city instead of taking all their jobs to Jersey. Juan is a idiot.

Kewylewy Dec 20, 2007 12:25:59 PM Report Offensive Post If JTDetrich was paying attention they would know that Jpmorganchase outsourced more than half that company starting two years ago so the People of NY are not reaping the benefits of them staying here. Most of that company is in Ohio and Chicago remember they merged Mr. Dimon is the CEO now. (BAnk One) Alot of long time Chase/Chemical/Jpmorgan/ employees lost their jobs. You see they do not even have 2CMP anymore. Layed off and moved a whole building. Try their site at 1985 Marcus in LI. Whole site wiped out including the cafeteria. So all Jpmorgan in NY is mostly branches. No major operations. Mr. Dimon does not even live here. All they hire is part timers and consultants. How does that help NY?

Desiderata Dec 20, 2007 8:19:19 PM Report Offensive Post Right and they probably lost twice that much in handouts to Illegals

BigJake Dec 20, 2007 8:24:45 PM Report Offensive Post To put the tax breaks in perspective, this columnist or the NYC City Council need to compare the tax dollars lost through PILOTs with the revenues gained through city income taxes on the job either created or saved by the tax breaks. Kewylewy says that half the jobs at one company were outsourced. That does not answer the question about current revenue for NYC from the remaining jobs. Whoever is negotiating these tax breaks should balance them against related revenue streams & factor the amount of the break against the alternative income tax revenue.

marceloalexi Dec 21, 2007 12:25:54 AM Report Offensive Post first of all there is no way in God's green earth that JPMorgan is going to Iowa! The jobs they create are almost worthless to the city because most of their employees live outside the city(NJ,LI,Westchester) These companies make more than enough and should have to pay their fair share. Private homeowners should not be paying more property tax than fortune 500 companies. This is exactly the kind of corporate robbery that will continue to take place with businessmen posing as politicians(Mr. Bloomberg). You look down on socialized Cuba but at least they care enough about their citizens to provide health care. Or maybe you enjoy paying more for the MTA. Give me a break this is wrong. Kudos to Mr. Gonzalez and the news for reporting it and allowing it to be printed!

marceloalexi Dec 21, 2007 12:38:03 AM Report Offensive Post just wondering what does this have to do with immigrants? Or are they also to blame for the Knicks, Jets, and the fare hike. Hey let's go all the way with it and blame everything on illegal immigrants. It's funny how nobody complains about illegals that cook your food in every restaurant you go to. These kind of crooks are the reason you have illegal immigrants. This is an outrage!

Desiderata Dec 21, 2007 7:25:50 AM Report Offensive Post To Marcel... Who the " H " do you think cooked our food before those illegals swam, waded, across the river, or took a truck acrosss the desert ? To listen to you illegal supporters, you'd think we Americans were all sitting on our hands waiting for you to come here and rescue us , from our siestas. Where did the Industrial Revolution start , in Mexico ? Who invented the cotton Gin, Pancho Villa ? Did Vincente' Fox put the first Airplane, or car together ? Get real. They're not undocumented workers. They're illegal. They'r felons and they're breaking the law. They are committing crimes, stealing , causing car accidents, raping , and commiting drug related crimes. Plus bringing in illegal drugs... When they clean up their act, and when Mexico cleans up all the corruption down there, and creates it's own jobs and pays a living wage, we will all live a lot better, and be a lot happier.

mrbeachy Dec 21, 2007 9:35:43 AM Report Offensive Post Kewylewy you are completely correct; I know of 3 jp morgan/chase employees who lost their jobs. One is still unemployed after close to two years;the second went to work at a credit union for much lower pay;and the third is now attending graduate school. If i had my way, unless a company keeps a certain amount of its employees and its operations in nyc,they should lose the tax exemptions and any other deals as well.

Click Here to see all comments or to Report Abuse

Christmas at Arlington

Arlington at Christmas
Rest easy, sleep well my brothers.

Know the line has held, your job is done.

Rest easy, sleep well.

Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held.

Peace, peace, and farewell...

Readers may be interested to know that these wreaths -- some 5,000 -- are donated by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington , Maine The owner, Merri ll Worcester, not only provides the wreaths, but covers the trucking expense as well. He's done this since 1992. A wonderful guy.

Also, most years, groups of Maine school kids combine an educational trip to DC with this event to help out. Making this even more remarkable is the fact that Harrington is in one the poorest parts of the state.Please share this with everyone on your address list. You hear too much about the bad things people do. Everyone should hear about this.

Monday, December 24, 2007



A colorful leader in West Harlem lost a major development fight last week - but says it only reinvigorated his appetite for public life. > By Sarah N. Lynch

City Limits WEEKLY #619

At a City Council hearing earlier this month, Community Board 9 Chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc and Pat Jones spoke for tempering the impact of Columbia's West Harlem development plans.
Photo by Richard Caplan

Jordi Reyes-Montblanc testifies at a City Council committee hearing on the Columbia proposal in mid-December. Photos by Richard Caplan
West Harlem resident Jordi Reyes-Montblanc was reading a book on the subway headed home one day nearly 20 years ago when he overheard a conversation and was launched into community activism.

“I’ll never forget the date: May 3, 1988,” recalled Reyes-Montblanc, now the chairman of West Harlem’s Community Board 9. “I was in the Number 1 coming up and there were three guys talking … They were talking about a building that they were going to take over as of the first of June.”

He put the conversation behind him as he departed the train, never guessing they were talking about the city-owned building on 136th Street where he, his relatives and other Cuban emigres lived. But when he got home, the same men stood in his lobby announcing the sale of the building to private owners. Reyes-Montblanc felt he had to stop it. And with the help of other tenants, he did.

Thus began Reyes-Montblanc’s immersion in public life. He’s been a member of Community Board 9 – which covers the Morningside Heights, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods of western Manhattan, from 135th to 155th Street – since 1994. He was elected chairman in 2003, the same year Columbia University announced its plan to redevelop 17 acres of Manhattanville and expand the campus into the predominantly black and Latino neighborhood. CB9 took exception to many aspects of the plan, and the ensuing struggle against the powerful institution landed Reyes-Montblanc squarely in the political spotlight.

On Wednesday, following a series of hearings this fall, City Council approved Columbia’s expansion plan, to the dismay of much of the community. And on Dec. 31, Reyes-Montblanc’s term as chairman ends (though he’ll stay on as a member). With years of fighting the Columbia-led transformation now past, another community board member will become chair – most likely second vice-chair Patricia Jones – and lead the district into years of dealing with it.

Reyes-Montblanc, who was in attendance in Council chambers on Dec. 19 when the members voted – 35 in favor, 5 against (Tony Avella, Charles Barron, Lewis Fidler, Vincent Ignizio, Leticia James), with 6 abstentions (Helen Foster, Eric Gioia, Rosie Mendez, Hiram Monserrate, Peter Vallone Jr., Thomas White Jr.) – does not consider it a defeat.

“You can only be defeated if you surrender, and we never give up,” Reyes-Montblanc said the day after. He’d been considering a run for the City Council seat that Robert Jackson, a Democrat representing Harlem since 2001, will leave empty because of term limits in 2009. But the Council vote made him sure he’ll run.

“I’m starting right now. I have no party affiliation, I have no money, no staff and no volunteers” – but he does have determination to make City Council start heeding the will of community boards. “Once I’m there I’ll be the biggest pain they’ve ever seen in City Council,” Reyes-Montblanc said.

From Cuba to the Columbia campus

In late October, several of CB9’s 49 members arrived at Reyes-Montblanc’s office to preview a video they hoped to show to City Council and eventually air on public access television. The movie, prosaically titled “Community Board 9 Manhattan 197-a Plan,” was the board’s latest offensive in fighting certain elements of Columbia’s rezoning request and touting the alternate vision expressed in its “197-a” plan.

That plan, whose completion Reyes-Montblanc considers a highlight of his chairmanship, lays out recommendations for the district’s future development. In a move some consider paradoxical, Council also approved that on Dec. 19 (though in a modified form).

Tall and burly, the 64-year-old spoke out against Columbia’s plans over the months, publicly criticizing what he considers the university’s “patronizing attitude” toward the community. He fears some aspects of the expansion are incompatible with residents’ vision for the neighborhood, and worries that Columbia will resort to eminent domain to acquire some of the properties in the area. He says he doesn’t want to see residents forced out.

Reyes-Montblanc at City Hall.“I’m looking for reasonable settlement with Columbia,” Reyes-Montblanc said the week before Council’s vote. “I can see lots of benefits of the expansion, but I don’t go into them because I’m not fighting for Columbia. ... I’m fighting for the community, so I have to emphasize the negatives and try to correct those negatives.”

But while he has gone head-to-head with Columbia officials in his capacity as chair, even figures such as Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin, who guides the expansion project, have acknowledged Reyes-Montblanc to be an “effective advocate” for the neighborhood.

Kasdin said in a statement, "Although we have at times disagreed on specific issues, we have shared a love of our community and commitment to its future."

At CB9 and, he hopes, on City Council, Reyes-Montblanc plans to keep up that commitment. While it remains to be seen if he’d even have a chance of winning an election in this predominantly Democratic neighborhood – where Democratic Assemblyman Denny Farrell is favored for the seat – the fact that Council “ignored” CB9, in Reyes-Montblanc’s own description, hasn’t necessarily tarnished his reputation.

“It’s been very good to have Mr. Reyes-Montblanc’s leadership through all this,” Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Manhattanville, said Thursday. Kooperkamp has been a public Columbia-plan critic, and sat next to Reyes-Montblanc at the Council vote. “Quite frankly, I think he deserves a very long vacation after this. He’s left the community board in a good place.”

“This was never a level playing field,” Kooperkamp said of the battle between community activists and an Ivy League university with a $6 billion endowment. “I’m amazed it went as well as it did.”

Another local pastor, Rev. John L. Scott of Saint John Baptist Church on 152nd Street, who once served on a local police coalition with Reyes-Montblanc, says “He’s brave – you’ve got to be brave when you’ve got such an establishment like Columbia that you have to go up against.”
But Reyes-Montblanc knows a thing or two about fighting.

He fled his native Cuba as a teenager after stray .50-caliber bullets from an anti-Batista rebel attacking a nearby police station riddled his grandmother’s house. He arrived in Miami on a Pan American flight on the morning of July 25, 1958 where he joined his exiled parents. He can still remember watching the executions of people he knew in Cuba on television.

Reyes-Montblanc said he served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1960s and then arranged to attend the University of Zaragoza in Spain so he could complete the credits for his bachelor’s degree and pursue another degree in international law. (His distinctive name is Catalan, he says.)

But the 24-year-old never made it to law school. With his trip to Spain six months away, he headed to New York City for a vacation. The price of New York living, however, forced him to get a job and he found work in the mailroom of a shipping company. Within two years, he became a general manager in the division. It was there that he met his wife Kathleen, and today he still works as an international shipping consultant, providing advice to companies on everything from customs and regulatory problems to actually chartering ships.

A little chutzpah

And then came that fateful day in May of 1988. It is a story well-documented in the photo albums Reyes-Montblanc keeps at the building where he still resides on 136th Street, and his eyes light up to tell it. He points to the images depicting his younger self sitting with other tenants around a table as they executed plans to save their building, known as the Saxonia.

The day he found out about the city’s plans, he discovered a city program that allowed tenants' associations to convert their city-owned buildings into cooperatives. Within just four days of the sale announcement, he and the others launched a massive letter-writing campaign and formed an association. "We the Tenants..." his new charter began. The original copy is also in the album, along with photos of older residents who lived there, some of whom are now gone.

The city’s housing department "was in fear of us,” Reyes-Montblanc said. “My eyes were opened at the time. I said a little organization and effort and chutzpah goes a long way.”

In less than a month, he managed to convince the city to sell the building to the tenants. For the next five years, he saw to it that the city performed major repair work on the building before the deal was sealed. When they finally purchased the building on May 7, 1993, the photos in the album get cheerier. They show smiling faces of mostly seniors sitting in a bus the tenants rented to take them down to the city’s housing office for a celebration of their newfound homeownership.

His success led him to form the Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) Council – an advocacy organization which to this day still helps tenants create, organize and manage co-ops. Soon, people in the community were coming to him with housing questions.

“He’s the guru on housing,” says Diane Wilson, a fellow CB9 member who served on the community board’s housing committee with Reyes-Montblanc and frequently comes to him with landlord-tenant questions. “He knows it all …He’s fought in the trenches.”

A voracious reader, Reyes-Montblanc can recite Shakespeare and even the old Castilian lines of the famous Spanish epic poem “El Cid.” His admiration for the adventures of the 11th century Spanish nobleman and conqueror El Cid, a picture of whom hangs in his office, has an echo of sorts in his own life. In his early 30s, he traveled to Arizona with a few friends to search for a hidden treasure of gold which, according to lore, is untouched somewhere inside the Superstition Mountains. During the trip, the trio of men experienced everything from dehydration to getting shot at, possibly by rival treasure hunters.

“We were deep in the desert ... and we were shot at,” he recalled. “I carried an M1 Carbine that belonged to another of the guys who had never used it. I was the only one with experience with firearms, so I shot back.” He and his friends returned to New York empty-handed.

Over the years, between his housing activism, shipping work, and his love of history and literature, Reyes-Montblanc has amassed a wealth of knowledge that impresses many of his friends and acquaintances. He’s known for bombarding people with all kinds of e-mail, whether it pertains to a West Harlem issue or an interesting news story.

“He sends little bits on history,” said Robert J. Titus, who met Reyes-Montblanc more than two decades ago through the shipping business and now works as a ship broker with a small company in Tarrytown. “It’s not the type of e-mails you get from everyone else where all the jokes are passed around.”

Broad interests, knowledge and activism helped Reyes-Montblanc land a recommendation for an appointment to the community board in 1994 by then-City Councilman Stanley Michels. Since then, he’s only taken one year off from public service.

Although the Columbia issue has been the most prominent one during his years as chair, it’s not been the only major development in the district. In 2005, Reyes-Montblanc stood by as Mayor Bloomberg and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel broke ground on the $18.7 million dollar West Harlem Piers project which will connect West Harlem to the rest of the Manhattan waterfront greenway. That project is now close to completion, Reyes-Montblanc said.

Michel’s former housing specialist, Martin Smith, who today serves as Councilman Robert Jackson’s director of constituency services, has known Reyes-Montblanc since his early days in housing work. More than a decade later, Smith said Reyes-Montblanc’s style has not changed at all.

“He’s just as forceful, aggressive, to some obnoxious, to others, the very strong and clear-minded person he’s always been,” Smith said. “He’s no-nonsense. He’ll tell you exactly what he thinks. You may not like it, but that’s his position and he’ll lay it out in as respectful a way as you’ve earned it.”

“If he’s not feeling you, he will let you have it,” Smith added.

Solo efforts

Throughout the Columbia fight, Smith said Reyes-Montblanc has often found himself in the difficult position of trying to remain neutral and objective while still expressing his concerns about Columbia. At times, that struggle to keep emotions from bubbling over worked against him, with some saying he should have been more forceful, Smith said. But overall, most people appear satisfied with his approach.

“He probably at times could have been a little more lenient with people’s needs to vent. He doesn’t have a lot of patience for hyperbole and bull," he said. “Sometimes I think he could have handled a couple situations a little better, but as a whole in the face of a lot of adversity, he did a pretty damn good job.”

But Reyes-Montblanc’s public involvement has come at the expense of his personal life – a life he keeps to himself. His office in the Saxonia, which is a separate unit from his co-op, does not reveal much of his private life. A few framed proclamations and certificates of appreciation hang on the wall as well as some Christmas lights on permanent display. Since the 1980s, he has commuted between West Harlem and Virginia Beach where his wife and son Jeffrey, 30, reside.

Those trips have become less frequent as the increasing demands of his civic life keep him anchored at his office. He's been married 35 years, but wears no wedding ring. A photo of him with his two grandkids on his lap adorns the screen of the computer where he creates his blog. His wife knows little about his civic activities, he said.

Titus said Reyes-Montblanc first moved to Virginia when his shipping company transferred him, but he later returned to New York after the Virginia office closed. At that point, Reyes-Montblanc and his wife had already purchased a house in Virginia Beach.

“He just stayed up here for the longest time,” Titus said. “He grew to live here, she grew to live there.”

Reyes-Montblanc says he leads a compartmentalized life, and he likes it that way. Even some fellow CB9 members know little of his family life.

“I don’t remember him speaking about his son until the birth of the grandbaby,” recalled Patricia Jones, the up-and-coming chair of the board. “I guess it doesn’t occur to him to tell you [about the family], but with the …first grandson, he was so excited he didn’t want to keep it to himself.”

But spending less time with his family has not been his only sacrifice. His business as a shipping consultant has also suffered.

“Being the chair these four years has cost me dearly,” he said. “People don’t realize the amount of time and effort you have to put into it, and that when you work by yourself and when you depend on one-time-only type of contracts and you are not able to take them, eventually those people … don’t offer you them anymore.”

Forty years after he gave up his ambitions to study law to pursue a shipping career, he has now abandoned shipping for what appears to be his true love – life in the public realm. Between the buildings he’s helped convert to low income co-ops, and the fight to preserve his neighborhood's character, it appears Reyes-Montblanc has made as much of an impression on West Harlem as it has left on him. - Sarah N. Lynch


NB - I thank CityLimits and Sarah Lynch for the beautiful and flattering article, but must clarify a few points:

1. Community District 9 goes from 110th Street to 155th Street from roughly St. Nicholas Ave/Morningside Ave/Manhattan Ave to the Hudson River. Hamilton Heights goes from 135th Street to 155th St. Manhatanville from 135th to 122nd St. and Mornigside Heights from 122nd down to 110th Street.

2. Although the completion of the 197-a Plan was possibly the highest achievement of my 4 terms as Chairman, it was the hard work and dedication of Patricia Jones, Walter South, and so many others, board members and residents like Tom DeMott, Tom Kappner, Ruth Eisenberg, and so many others, that made it possible, I'll take credit for appointing them to the task but the accomplishment is theirs exclusively.

3. The fight for saving The Saxonia for the residents was not mine alone but fully shared my friends, my New York family - so to speak, William and Michael Palma, Cecilia Calderon, Lorraine Latuf, Daniel Paulino, William Morales, Silvi Cevallos, the late Mike Latuf, Alida Palma, my uncle Tito and my aunt Yrma and all of our partners of The Saxonia for their sweat, hard work, confidence, dedication and patience.

4. The opinions of my good friends is biased by ther affection for me and they see more than the reality.

5. The WestSide Harlem community has given me the opportunity to be of some small service and for that I am grateful. My Commitment is to the West Harlem community and my District. I hope that past confidence will translate into efforts to help me get into City Council to represent their interest as best as I might be able to do. - JRM

Cuban Revolution - Yoani Sánchez fights tropical totalitarianism, one blog post at a time

Cuban Revolution
Yoani Sánchez fights tropical totalitarianism, one blog post at a time.
December 22, 2007; Page A1
Havana, Cuba

On a recent morning, Yoani Sánchez took a deep breath and gathered her nerve for an undercover mission: posting an Internet chronicle about life in Fidel Castro's Cuba.

To get around Cuba's restrictions on Web access, the waif-like 32-year-old posed as a tourist to slip into an Internet cafe in one of the city's luxury hotels, which normally bar Cubans. Dressed in gray surf shorts, T-shirt and lime-green espadrilles, she strode toward a guard at the hotel's threshold and flashed a wide smile. The guard, a towering man with a shaved head, stepped aside.

"I think I'm able to do this because I look so harmless," says Ms. Sánchez, who says she is sometimes mistaken for a teenager. Once inside the cafe, she attached a flash memory drive to the hotel computer and, in quick, intense movements, uploaded her material. Time matters: The $3 she paid for a half-hour is nearly a week's wage for many Cubans.

Ms. Sánchez has done this cloak-and-dagger routine since April, publishing essays that capture the privation, irony and even humor of Cuba's tropical Communism -- "Stalinism with conga drums," as she and her husband jokingly call it. From writing about the book fair that blacklisted her favorite authors to the schoolyard where parents smuggle food to their hungry children, Ms. Sánchez paints an unflinching, and deeply personal, portrait of the Cuban experience.

While there are plenty of bloggers who dish out harsh opinions on Mr. Castro, most do so from the cozy confines of Miami. Ms. Sánchez is one of the few who do so from Havana.
For seven months, Yoani Sanchez has been publishing an often highly critical blog about Cuba -- from Havana. And her writing has become important for those trying to understand Cuba in Castro's twilight years.

"What makes her so special is that she is fresh, observant and on-the-scene," says Philip Peters, a former Latin America official at the State Department who now studies Cuba at the Lexington Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. "Almost all of the Cuba blogs are written by people who travel there occasionally, or by people who haven't seen the island in 40 years, if ever," he says.

Not only does she write from Cuba, she even signs her name and posts a photo of herself on her Web site. Most Havana bloggers are anonymous. "Once you experience the flavor of saying what you think, of publishing it and signing it with your name, well, there's no turning back," she says. "One of the first things we have to do, a great way to begin to change, is to be more honest about saying what you think."

The problem is, saying what you think in Cuba can be dangerous. In 2002, Cuba imprisoned dozens of journalists who declared themselves dissidents and published criticisms of the regime -- many are still there. Most Cubans are so afraid of being labeled a critic that they are reluctant to utter the words "Fidel Castro" in public. Instead, they silently pantomime stroking a beard when referring to their leader.
Direct Writing

Ms. Sánchez's writing is direct. On Oct. 5, she wrote about Mr. Castro's regular newspaper editorials, which usually focus on international politics rather than the problems of Cuba.

"The sensation of losing fear, of risking, is a sensation that is normally irreversible. After you cross certain lines, there is no way back." Read more from the interview with Ms. Sanchez.

"The latest reflections of Fidel Castro have ended my patience," she wrote. "To try to evade or distance oneself from our problems and theorize about things that occurred thousands of kilometers away, or many years ago, is to multiply by zero the demands of a population that is tired, disenchanted and in need today of measures that alleviate its precariousness."

The fact that Ms. Sánchez has avoided jail is a source of great intrigue for global Cuba watchers and the Cuban exile community in Miami. Some experts say it signals new tolerance by Raúl Castro, who has taken over day-to-day leadership from his brother because of Fidel's deteriorating health. Since taking temporary power in July 2006, Raúl Castro has called for an "open debate" on the country's economic policies, and promised agricultural reforms to bolster the food supply. Cuba experts debate whether Raúl's promises suggest a true re-examination of Cuba's economic model, or are simply rhetoric.

Others, especially the exile community, can't quite believe Ms. Sánchez gets away with what she does. They wonder if she is an unwitting dupe -- or a complicit agent -- in a campaign to make Raúl Castro appear more tolerant as he seeks greater foreign aid.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want her blog to be legitimate and be the seed that grows into something in Cuba," says Val Prieto, a 42-year-old Miami-based architect who edits an anti-Castro blog called Babalu. "The reason the exile community is wary is that we've been bamboozled time and time again. You never can tell when it comes to Castro."

There may be a simpler explanation. Some experts say Cuban authorities are mainly concerned about what people on the island think, and since the vast majority of Cubans don't have Internet access, the government is less alarmed by a Web site available primarily to outsiders.
Taken Aback

Ms. Sánchez seems surprised by the debate. "It's funny, but it seems that the only way some people will believe I am authentic is if I am thrown in jail," she says. "I'm not sure I want to provide that kind of proof."

It's easy to see why Ms. Sánchez is such a mystery. In a place known for bombastic gesticulation, she makes her points with subtle wit. She is passionate about Cuban culture, but doesn't care for signature elements like baseball and cigars. Though a critic of the government, she hasn't affiliated with the island's official political opposition. Perhaps most surprising on an island that many risk their lives to flee, she left Cuba in 2002, only to return two years later.

Her blog is called Generación Y (www.desdecuba.com/generaciony). The title refers to a fad for names starting with "Y" that began in the 1960s. Cuba's boxing team, for instance, has members named Yoandry, Yuciel, Yampier and Yordenis. Roughly between 25 and 40 today, people in this generation are the offspring of the revolutionaries. Weaned on Soviet cartoons and Communist slogans about a "luminous future," they came of age amid shortages of food, clothing and soap as the economy crumbled.

This group will play a critical role in forging a new Cuba once Mr. Castro is gone. Many expect a showdown between Ms. Sánchez's broadly disillusioned generation and an older group of hard-liners who will try to keep a version of the Castro model going after he dies. Her writing has become required reading for Cuba experts seeking insight into the psychology of this group. Her blog received a half-million hits in October.

The blog reads like her interior monologue as she goes through her routine in Havana: Collecting the daily ration of bread (one bun per person per day), taking her son to school, and running errands -- often trekking on foot to avoid riding the "camel," a bus pulled by a soot-belching tractor-trailer cab.

Rundown Houses

Walking through the city on a recent day, she became lost in thought looking at graffiti and later at a market stall where oil and vinegar are sold in plastic bags. She noticed growing numbers of canine police on Havana's streets, and concluded crime is rising, though statistics are seldom reported. Away from the brightly painted tourist center of "old Havana," Ms. Sánchez walked along streets where once-impressive homes lie in disrepair. She commented on how few new buildings have been built since the 1959 revolution.

Born at the height of the revolution, she was a "pioneer" -- Cuba's answer to the Scouts -- and recited its pledge: "I am a pioneer for Communism, We will be like Ché."
"The homes in this city speak for themselves," she said. "They are the best example of how things have functioned in reality, despite all the political propaganda."

A recurring feature is her 12-year-old son's school. Recently, he participated in a military shooting exercise there. Her son enjoyed playing soldier, but she was outraged. In another entry, she described how parents congregate at the schoolyard at lunchtime to secretly pass food to their children who don't get enough to eat. She described her sadness at seeing children whose parents who don't turn up and will go hungry.

An Oct. 22 entry talked about how her son's teacher told the class that one student had been secretly designated an informer -- charged with keeping a list of good and bad kids that the teacher could use to mete out punishment.

"So young, and these children experience the paralysis generated by the feeling of being watched," she wrote. "I look around me and confirm that the successive irrigations of paranoia have worked. Our fears are populated by CIA agents and members of the secret police."

Fear and Paranoia

Ms. Sánchez believes fear and paranoia are key elements in the Castro government playbook to stay in power. Fear of Cuba's own secret police and fear of an imminent U.S. invasion are perennials. Fear leads Cubans to restrict what they say and do, Ms. Sánchez says. For instance, while Cuba's hotels and resorts are for tourists only, there is no law that a Cuban citizen can't walk into a hotel and use the Internet cafe. Hotels, however, generally bar Cubans from entering, to avoid running afoul of authorities.

Writing her blog is one way to shed her "internal policeman," Ms. Sánchez says. "I am trying to push the limits, to find the line where the internal limits end and the real limits begin." She thinks more Cubans are pushing nowadays too. Lately, in bread lines and other informal gatherings, she's witnessed Cubans publicly complaining about things like corruption, low wages, or the decaying health system.

She recounts how eight strangers in a pre-1959 taxi began to talk freely of their discontent. But the complicity ended abruptly when the taxi arrived at its destination.

"Perhaps it's just wishful thinking that things are changing that has me noting a certain tendency toward collective catharsis," she wrote on Sept. 30. "Whereas once there were shrugged shoulders and turned faces, I now see fingers pointing out the problems, and mouths emanating inconformity."

The reason people feel more confident about openly complaining is economic, she says. The downturn of the early 1990s forced Cuba to allow some private enterprise, such as letting people open small restaurants in their living rooms or rent out rooms. That, plus cash transfers from Cuban exiles, has made locals less reliant on the government for jobs. A measure of economic independence has brought a measure of political independence, she says.

But there are limits. In a May 22 entry, she recounts how eight strangers in the anonymity of a pre-1959 Chevrolet taxi began to talk freely of their discontent. But the complicity ended abruptly when the taxi arrived at its destination. The passengers departed, ignoring each other and resuming their public silence.

Ms. Sánchez grew up in Havana, the daughter of a railroad worker and a housewife. As a girl, the egalitarian future of economic equity envisioned by the revolutionary Ché Guevara seemed in reach. She was a "pioneer" -- Cuba's answer to the Scouts -- and recited its pledge: "I am a pioneer for Communism, We will be like Ché."

The family was plunged into poverty by the collapse of Cuba's economic sponsor, the Soviet Union. In 1991, Mr. Castro declared a "special period" of drastic reductions in food and other rations. Average daily caloric intake fell by 40%. Eventually, optic neuritis, a rare eye disease caused by poor nutrition, swept the island.

When friends got together during those times, Ms. Sánchez recalls, a single topic dominated conversation: food. To stave off hunger pangs, Ms. Sánchez gobbled spoonfuls of sugar. Scarcity of soap, shampoo and sanitary napkins added to the trauma for an adolescent becoming aware of her body. Many basics were scarce.

"You wanted to go out, but you had no shoes," she says.

The special period transformed Ms. Sánchez from true believer to cynic. She recalls witnessing her parents fall into despair -- a shared experience for many in her generation.

"It was a deep psychological blow for our parents, because they'd given their best years to the revolution and things weren't as they'd imagined," she says, "My parents suffered the desperation and panic of not being able to give their children enough to eat."

Ms. Sánchez attended one of Cuba's revolutionary rural high schools, created to forge a new generation in the atmosphere of farm life. The school was named for the Socialist Republic of Romania -- even though Romania's socialist government had fallen by the time Ms. Sánchez arrived in 1990. At school, students hoarded scraps of food under their mattresses, attracting rats to the bunks at night, she says.

Ms. Sánchez says she was eventually admitted to the University of Havana's Faculty of Philology -- the study of language and literature -- where she nurtured a love for Latin American writers. But her thesis topic -- dictatorships in Latin American literature -- caused a scandal. Her academic career ended before it began.

"The thesis wasn't overly critical, but the mere act of defining what a dictatorship is in an academic paper made people really nervous, because the definition was a portrait of Cuba," she says.

She met and fell in love with Reinaldo Escobar, a Cuban journalist nearly three decades her senior. In the 1980s, he was forced out of journalism after trying to publish a few critical articles. He began a new career teaching Spanish to tourists, and developed a network of friends in Germany and Switzerland. Ms. Sánchez and Mr. Escobar had a son in 1995.

In 2002, Ms. Sánchez obtained government permission to leave and moved to Switzerland, thinking she'd never return. She was later joined by her son and husband. Cuba allows some people to leave the country each year.

But the family decided to return to Cuba in 2004, after Ms. Sánchez's husband, who recently turned 60, had trouble finding work. "It's much easier for someone my age to start over," she says. "I didn't want to condemn him to a life of informal labor at that age, and breaking up the family was unacceptable."

Returning to Cuba was a difficult decision says Ms. Sánchez. What made it possible, she says, is a deep attraction to the beauty of the island and the energy of its people. "I came to some kind of internal understanding that I am going to go back, but I am not going to accept things as they are," she says. "I am going to try to do something."

In addition to publishing her blog, she talks freely about taboo subjects. She tells neighbors that she doesn't vote, a shocking admission in Cuba. She isn't a member of any of Cuba's quasi-compulsory political organizations.

"There are many ways to pretend in Cuba: you can say things that you don't believe, or you can stay quiet about the things you don't like," she says. "I have the tranquility of being able to look at my son and he knows that I don't fake it."

At the same time, she tries not to cross a line that will give the government a reason to shut her blog down. She uses only public Internet sites, instead of trying to set up an illegal Internet link from home, as some Cubans do. The family lives on between $20 and $60 a month, she says, earned from working with tourists. She confines her writing to the Web. Critiques published on paper are considered propaganda, while the Internet is a gray area.

Still, there is no guarantee that Ms. Sánchez's activities won't land her in legal trouble. Even if jailed, Ms. Sánchez says she would find ways to publish her blog. "You have to believe that you are free and try to act like it," she says. "Little by little, acting as though you are free can be contagious."

Write to the Online Journal's editors at newseditors@wsj.com