Politics and Passion – sobering thoughts about the year that has passed and the year to come
The end of 2012 was marked, for me, by death. Jessie Streich-Kest, the 22 year old activist/teacher daughter of a close friend, John Kest, was killed during Hurricane Sandy along with the son of a long time colleague, Larry Vogelman, when a tree fell on them. As the father of a 25 and 22 year old, I felt the loss even more, imagining with horror what it would be like if I lost them. Not long thereafter, John Kest himself, the City’s most profound community organizer, died himself, losing a brave battle with cancer. Again, it struck me, that as I approach 60, the reality of mortality is more profound. Then the Newtown massacre occurred, and again, on top of the horror I looked at my 7 and 9 year old kids, and felt more protective than ever and more scared about the world in which they are growing up.
I have been an activist and an activist lawyer for the better part of 45 years. Having children moved me from the battles of the anti-nuclear, anti-interventionist, and trade union movement, into fights for local parks and playgrounds and on to Community Board 2. In 1995, I ran for Democratic District Leader of the Village, as the gay community allied parent candidate. Politics was for me about my kids and the children of my friends and neighbors. It was the only way I could justify, in my mind, the sacrifice of time that local politics involved. I discussed whether I should run in public, in columns in The Villager, and I ran, and won, with the help of scores of parents who had never participated in electoral politics before. I gave up being District Leader after 10 years, rather than face a challenge during a year that my wife was pregnant, with a two year old at home, and a son preparing to leave for college.
My involvement in Hudson River Park, and my perspective, was always driven by the needs of children. My most favorite moments involved managing my son’s team in Little League games on top of Pier 40, knowing that I was part of an effort that had created those fields out of nothing. I continued my involvement in the park and pro-bono litigation about the needs of school children, because try as we might, obstacles continue to challenge those who try to raise healthy, educated kids in the City.
As I enter 2013, I have important choices to make, some of which involve the readers of this paper too. Although I am the elected Democratic State Committee member for the Village, SoHo, and Tribeca, I may run for District Leader again, now that Brad Hoylman has stepped up, because that position gives a better perch for community advocacy. In addition, I want to encourage what I will call “gadfly-ism.” We are nearing the end of a political era in local politics. Tom Duane stepped down from the Senate and Chris Quinn will no longer be our City Council Representative, Assembly Member Glick is the only holdover. We need smart, savvy, community leaders to step into their places, people who have successfully won fights and who think independently and out of the box. Brad Hoylman is a step in the right direction; I am waiting to see how independent he is. The City Council race will be enormous and will shape our community for years to come. I want to be a voice for the best – the best possible candidate for the job. Furthermore, we will be getting a new Mayor, a new Comptroller, a new Public Advocate, and a new Borough President. I want to make sure that we get the best for those jobs and then I want to make sure they beat the Republican, whether it be Joe Lhota or Cassametides. Our City – and our kids – need responsive grassroots and government after 12 years of emperor-like governance. Furthermore, we need politics to work in a way where real solutions are explored and the needs of residents are paramount.
However, I have to weigh that desire against time away from my family, time not spent with my little ones. After the events of last fall, time with them feels more precious, more fleeting. Perhaps the rest of the world can wait, like it did in 2005. Yet 2013 will be such a big year in the life of our community, one that will have a profound impact on the world into which my kids and your kids grow.
Your feedback is welcome. Should I run? Email me at email@example.com
Turmoil In Hudson River Park – May the Best Ideas Win
As this paper goes to press, Douglas Durst, the President of Friends of Hudson River Park, and one of the foremost environmentalists and real estate developers in the City of New York, has stepped down as President of Friends of Hudson River Park. According to reports, he did that because he is critical of the Park’s leadership, and feels that as President of Friends, which is now an arm of the Trust, he is limited in his ability to be critical at a time when critique is needed. (Seems like I predicted this about a year ago when I and all of the other activists were ousted from the Friends Board.) Douglas Durst’s departure is a real loss. His support was tangible. Besides contributing huge sums to Friends and getting his friends in the business world to do the same, he also single handedly financed the Friends’ litigation program, a program which got rid of most of the heliport and freed the Gansevoort Peninsula at 14th Street from the Sanitation Department (and acquired $3 million a year for the Trust, from Sanitation, until they leave).
Durst, and his Friends partner, Ben Korman, who had a lease for Pier 40 from 1996 through 2003, have been developing plans for Pier 40 which involve the re-use of the existing structure and no residential construction. Their proposals are well thought out and substantial. They need to be explored, just like the Pier 40 Champion’s plan for residential rental towers on the land side of Pier 40 needs to be explored. They will only be looked at if they are all made legal and serious developers crunch real numbers in a genuine effort to solve the Trust’s problems, which have only gotten worse because of Hurricane Sandy.
The choices are not moral. I have repeatedly said that a parking lot, or commercial office space, has no more of a reason to be in a park than residential buildings. Why is one more “environmentally” or “politically” correct than the other? The debate, which needs to be escalated given the $10million hit the Park took from the storm, needs to be grounded on economics – and on how much park space it opens up and creates.
I have stepped down from the CB 2 Waterfront Committee so that I can be a more vigorous advocate for this debate and feel freer to take a side. Rich Cacciapola, who was my co-chair, now takes over that ship. He is a smart, successful community activist, parent, and businessman, who is quickly learning the political ropes. The CB 2 side of this debate is in good hands.
- The Appellate Division Will Review the issue of whether the State violated our State Constitutional Right to health care when it provided no replacement for St. Vincent’s Hospital. The lower court judge didn’t disagree with the theory of out lawsuit, but held that the plaintiffs, the Tenants Association at the Fulton Houses Projects, might not have standing to bring the lawsuit. The issue is not dead and has become even more important in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and the potential closing of Interfaith Hospital in Queens.
- The NYU Faculty Mutiny voted that they have “no confidence” in NYU President John Sexton. It’s a gutsy vote and the leaders deserve a lot of credit for taking on a President who had blatantly ignored his faculty, the people who should be guiding the University. Sexton has been silent, but a similar vote forced our Bob Kerry at the New School.
- Occupy Wall Street Has Become Occupy Sandy and has provided a vehicle for hundreds of people to put physical labor into rebuilding the portions of the Rockaways and Staten Island decimated by Sandy, to collect clothing for displaced people, and to keep the public spotlight on their plight. Also a shout out to Naomi Rockwell, a local member of Act Now, who has been coordinating volunteer efforts to help both the rebuilding process and the process of putting pressure on politicians. Want to help? Sign the petition at www.change.org/rockaways, or contact Naomi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Finally, a happy and healthy new year’s wish for my wonderful neighbors in this wonderful part of town!
Arthur Schwartz is the Democratic State Committee member for the Village, Soho and Tribeca, has served on Community Board 2 since 1991, and Chairs the Hudson River Park Advisory Council. He is also Counsel for WestView News.