By Arthur Z. Schwartz
As I finish my 34th year as a resident of the West Village, I remain amazed at what a close-knit, vibrant community we live in, even as we grow and change in so many ways. 2015 was the year I was arrested for disconnecting surveillance cameras — cameras a greedy landlord had installed to harass a 92-year-old woman living in a rent controlled apartment in a luxury building. The outpouring of support from my neighbors was heartening. Despite all the publicity, it was a hard experience to deal with, and continues to be. But all over the Village, and in Soho, and Downtown, people I don’t even know have come up to me and patted me on the back. Our radical neighborhood lawyer, Ron Kuby, told the Villager that I was his “hero.” Thank you neighbors! You have inspired me to run for the State Assembly! (No better place to announce than in WestView.)
Although I think of myself first as a dad and husband, then as a lawyer, and third as a political leader, I have decided to run, in large part, because I am sick of political corruption. I got into local politics in order to expand park and playground opportunities for my kids and their friends. Never did I expect to see so much corruption around me. (One Assemblyman stole money from his local Little League!) To have the Speaker of the State Assembly (Sheldon Silver) and the past three Senate Majority Leaders (Dean Skelos, John Sampson and Malcolm Smith) all convicted in one year is astounding. If you plug “American Politicians convicted of crimes 2010-2015” into Wikipedia, New York dwarfs every other state: 10 State Senators, 5 Assembly Members and 2 NYC Councilmen.
And then there are all the others who take huge sums from interested parties as “campaign contributions.” I am disgusted by it all. Political office holders should be beholden to no one but those who elected them; that’s why I support Bernie Sanders for President (and am inspired by what he is doing) and that’s why I am running, and that’s why when I win I will make creation of a NYC-like campaign finance system statewide a top priority (I have even contemplated a hunger strike over the issue.)
I still like Mayor de Blasio, but he clearly is doing something wrong. He has a fundamentally strong underlying message, addressed to the creation of affordable housing, expanding spending on education, reducing the gap between the police and our minority communities, and making New York a more equitable City. But he isn’t communicating well with New Yorkers. Somehow even Andrew Cuomo—an un-loveable, mean spirited politician who came close to losing re-election last year — makes de Blasio look bad. His most recent plan, to broadly change City-wide zoning rules so that buildings can be built taller if they provide “affordable housing,” has been flatly rejected by every community board in the City; no one wants more density.
While there may be economic logic behind these proposals, local residents worry about overcrowded schools, strains on mass transit, overstretched medical facilities, and creeping gentrification. What the City lacks is an effective masterplan to coordinate growth that local leaders are on board with. It might change how communities, and the Mayor, look at things. And the Mayor has to show people that he cares about what local folks think.
Speaking about local projects, I see the proposed project involving the St Johns Building and Pier 40 as one of the most important fights we will have in our community since West Village Houses was built. The project will be a chance to transform a blighted corner of our community in a rational way, bring some affordable and senior housing to our neighborhood, bring affordable shopping to our neighborhood, expand medical facilities in our neighborhood, and rebuild Pier 40 so that it will stop falling down and can serve as an expanded recreational Mecca for the whole Lower West Side.
I know that this issue will be a defining issue in my race with Deborah Glick, with roots going back to her vote in 1998 against building Hudson River Park. A recent NY Times piece about the new Sanitation garage on Spring and West Street, and the new salt-shed at the same location, which hailed the architecture of both, pointed out that community vigilance was key to getting a wonderful result. And the article did not mention that the opening of that facility will mean the beginning of the construction of a magnificent park on the Gansevoort Peninsula, a multi-acre park which will redefine the Northwest Village even more than the High Line. The St. Johns development, and the stabilization of Pier 40 (which I helped turn into an athletic center) will be another step in realizing a 30 year dream to take back the Hudson River waterfront
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village.