Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Retiring CB9 Chairman Reflects on Tenure

Retiring CB9 Chairman Reflects on Tenure
By Melissa Repko

Reflecting on his four years as the chair of Community Board 9, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc likened himself to an orchestra conductor, leading area residents in a delicate West Side symphony.

But as anyone who’s been to a Community Board 9 meeting knows, the proceedings are often more like 7th grade band class than a concert at the Philharmonic, with Reyes-Montblanc presiding over a cacophony of differing opinions, aiming to help an eclectic group of neighborhood characters hit the right notes.

At the end of the month, Reyes-Montblanc will wrap up a chairmanship that followed Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion plan from its infancy, argued over the best ways to rezone 125th street, and revitalized the Harlem Piers, all amid hundreds of requests for sidewalk cafe licenses and street renamings.

As he eyes a run for city council, in the years to come Reyes-Montblanc will likely be remembered for getting the diverse, and often outspoken, members of the community board to complete the 197-a plan, which articulated the community’s preferred guidelines for development in West Harlem. A modified version of the plan was recently approved by the City Planning Commission in what many activists have seen as a watered down form, while still acknowledging the ways it has tapered down Columbia’s 197-c plan for expanding into the area.

CB9 board member Michael Palma commended Reyes-Montblanc’s determined way of dodging political and special interests and judging each issue on its merits. Palma described him as a “defender of community interests,” a chair who is short with those who “do nothing but B.S.,” a breath of fresh air among politicians who either run in circles or blatantly disregard the district’s wishes.

Reyes-Montblanc has unequivocally rejected the use of eminent domain by a private institution like Columbia, calling it “unconscionable, unconstitutional, and totally un-American” in a firm stance that Coalition to Preserve Community member Tom DeMott highlighted as a key example of community advocacy.

As a regular meeting attendant and a vocal activist against the 197-c plan, DeMott said Reyes-Montblanc has made sure meetings are inclusive, although “any number of times, we have had decidedly different opinions from Jordi about things.”

One point of contention between Reyes-Montblanc and activists like DeMott is that while members and district residents have stridently opposed Columbia’s 197-c plan, Reyes-Montblanc has tried to toe the line, criticizing Columbia but emphasizing the need for cool heads and compromise during divisive times.

With a possible twinge of irony, he said he counted Columbia’s Executive Vice President for Government and Community Affairs Maxine Griffith as “a good buddy.”

In the years since Columbia’s 197-c was laid out, Reyes-Montblanc has met with Griffith, University President Lee Bollinger, and Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin many times. Calling them “really decent human beings,” he said he blames the problems with their expansion plans on their ignorance rather than their character.

“Columbia expansion is not one of the things that should be stopped or needs to be stopped,” he said, rejecting the notion that the issue is black and white. “I have always welcomed expansion. In fact, most people in the community welcome expansion. The problem is that the plans that Columbia has not included the community needs.”

“They have done the job that they’re supposed to do and I have done the job that I am supposed to do,” he said. “But I have always warned Columbia that if they don’t do it right, 1968 will be the good old days.”

Despite all of the meetings Columbia has held with him and other local residents and representatives, Reyes-Montblanc said that the University continues to be its own worst enemy by staging a “dog and pony show”—talking up its commitment to the community only to ignore the suggestions of neighborhood residents.

The University has repeatedly emphasized its willingness to work with the community as the 197-c undergoes public review and moves forward, if passed by the City Council in January.
Reyes-Montblanc said he was pleased that his successor will be current second Vice Chair Patricia Jones, noting that she was one of the main contributors to the 197-a.

As for his next endeavor, Reyes-Montblanc is seriously considering a run for the seat of term-limited City Councilman Robert Jackson, D-West Harlem and Washington Heights, as either an Independent or a Republican. He said he would still be interested in serving on the community board­—if he is appointed again, that is.

“I will certainly miss all the press attention,” he admitted, adding that “the old chair should just fade away.”

An avid hunter, Reyes-Montblanc said he will probably spend much of his newfound free time in the woods. “When things get to me, I go up to Canada up north and kill something and feel better.”

Melissa Repko can be reached at

TAGS: community board 9, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, Manhattanville Expansion Plan
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Why does the Spectator keep on giving coverage to CB9? There's got to be so much more going on campus that CB9!
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) December 5th, 2007 @ 4:50pm


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