Night of Notable Firsts for CB4

New CB4 Chair, Dolores Rubin (center), presides over her first meeting in that position, on Jan. 6. Photo by Sean Egan.

New CB4 Chair, Delores Rubin (center), presides over her first meeting in that position, on Jan. 6. Photo by Sean Egan.

BY SEAN EGAN | For many, the new year is a time for change, as well as reflection on the past. Community Board 4 (CB4) is no exception, as their Wed., Jan. 6 full board meeting at Mount Sinai West Hospital (1000 10th Ave., btw. W. 58th & W. 59th Sts.), was not only their first of 2016, but the first to feature recently elected officers enacting their roles — including the new Chair, Delores Rubin.

The meeting’s first portion, however, was devoted to the aforementioned reflection, as those in attendance honored the service and achievements of outgoing Chair, Christine Berthet (who remains a member of CB4). 

A representative of City Comptroller Scott Stringer was the first to praise Berthet’s achievements, presenting her with a framed proclamation. Next, a rep from NY State Senator Brad Hoylman said that in her service to CB4 since 2006, Berthet was an “indispensible partner and ally” with an “infectious joie de vivre” behind her stern schoolmaster’s facade — and named Jan. 6, 2016 “Christine Berthet Appreciation Day” in New York’s 27th District.

City Councilmember Corey Johnson, through Chief of Staff Erik Bottcher, called Berthet “the most stylish of the CB Chairs” as well as the most effective. He recounted anecdotes, such as when she crawled inside the ceiling of the CB4 offices to update the computer system, how she won three Grammys from the jazz record label she co-founded, or the time she “arrested a bus for making an illegal turn.” Final words of praise came from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who commended her impressive work ethic, especially since she “runs on decaf” and occasionally M&Ms. In a secondary honor similar to the one Hoylman had bestowed, Brewer declared the day “Christine Berthet Appreciation Day” in Manhattan.

Berthet was visibly flattered with every testimonial and plaque presented in her honor. “Thank you all. This is very, very sweet,” she said with a smile, noting that the most important thing that came out of her tenure as CB4 Chair were the friends she made.

FLEA MARKET MAJOR TOPIC OF PUBLIC INTEREST

The public comment section was then opened by incoming First Vice Chair Burt Lazarin (who, like Rubin, was elected last December). The session was uncharacteristically brief, as only nine individuals had signed up to have their two-minute turn at the microphone. Most of them spoke about one particular topic: the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market (HKFM). 

The HKFM has, in recent weeks, been the source of some controversy in the media — primarily over the alleged behavior of management towards the vendors, and the way in which the business was running without the official endorsement of a functioning non-profit for a number of years after achieving profitability. These issues were addressed at the Dec. 7, 2015 Quality of Life (QOL) Committee meeting (see the article “CB4 Key to Flea Market’s Plea” at chelseanow.com). After a large showing of support for the manager, Alan Boss, from vendors, QOL voted to draft a letter in favor of the Market to SAPO (the governing body that approves the market), conditional under certain stipulations that would rectify the issues facing the Market.

Thus, at the Jan. 6 full board meeting, a number of vendors took the mike to express gratitude to for QOL’s sign of faith in helping keep the HKFM open, and to further encourage CB4. Four-year Market veteran Carol Cartman testified, “I made a living off this market and enjoy every minute of it.” Another 15-year vendor, Jeffery Frank said, “Alan Boss has been a terrific management person to us all,” and thanked CB4 for helping to keep the Market open.

A few more vendors expressed similar sentiments, and later on in the evening, the item pertaining to the full board ratifying the letter QOL drafted to SAPO passed with no discussion or controversy.

Another woman got up to read a letter she had penned to Medicare, following a series of unfortunate experiences with their system with regards to her ill mother. When she finished, Rubin directed her to speak with the representative from Councilmember Johnson’s office, in hopes of getting some help with her situation. Lisa Wager, from the Fashion Institute of Technology, closed out the public comment section by highlighting a number of the school’s upcoming events. She also addressed Rubin and Berthet about the newfound Chair status quo, with an old joke about boats: “They say the happiest day is when you get it, and when you sell it.”

REPORTS FROM ELECTEDS

Next, reports from elected officials saw the representatives who had testified to Berthet’s mettle taking the podium once again.

First up was a rep from Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who highlighted the proposed National Park he co-introduced to Congress — the first dedicated to LGBT civil rights history, to be located near Christopher Street’s Stonewall Inn (Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer introduced identical legislation in the Senate). Nadler’s rep also applauded the recently reauthorized 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which would provide assistance to first responders and survivors, as well as the Emergency Information Improvement Act, which would provide FEMA assistance to public broadcasters.

The rep from Manhattan Borough President Brewer’s office relayed that the BP believes the 25% rent increase on Clinton Towers is too steep, and reminded the crowd that her office is currently taking applications for federal grants. State Senator Hoylman’s rep spoke of the Senator’s commitment to ethics reform in Albany, and the need to fix the current laws pertaining to rent controlled tenants. He also expressed the Senator’s support of the recently announced redevelopment of Penn Station.

Councilmember Johnson’s office used their time to highlight his accomplishments over the past year, including getting seven of his bills passed, and his successful food bag campaign. NY State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried’s rep spoke of a meeting the assemblymember had to address concerns about the inter-city bus system, and also expressed Gottfried’s support for the Penn Station project. Comptroller Stringer’s office talked about the dire circumstances he discovered while auditing the Department of Homeless Services, and stressed the need to improve the homelessness problem in the coming year. Finally, a rep from Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal’s office discussed some of the assemblymember’s goals for the upcoming year, including passing a law that would eliminate taxes on tampons throughout the state.

Following the official adoption of the agenda was the District Manager Report, led by District Manager Jesse Bodine, who sped through a short list of highlights from the past month — singling out attending meetings with the Hudson River Park Trust and the superintendent of School District Two, while also noting that the QOL committee meeting would have a venue change — one with significantly more space than their previous HQ of the CB4 offices. Most warmly received was the fact that, with efforts from Councilmemeber Johnson’s office, there would now be overtime pay for trash pickup along Seventh through 10th Aves.

Complementing Bodine’s rundown, the Chair Report segment was similarly brief. “Considering I’ve only been Chair for a few days, I don’t have much to report,” Rubin joked, while highlighting a Construction Task Force meeting with BP Brewer, the Department of Buildings (DOB) declined to participate in. 

She also announced that, despite the outpouring of affection for Christine Berthet, she wouldn’t actually be leaving CB4 anytime soon. Indeed, she was announced to be the new co-chair of the Transportation Committee, along with Ernest Moderelli.

 “All of it is effective…now. Get to work,” she said with a laugh.

Outgoing CB4 Chair Christine Berthet (standing), and incoming Chair Delores Rubin (seated), at the final full board meeting of 2015. Photo by Winnie McCroy.

Outgoing CB4 Chair Christine Berthet (standing), and incoming Chair Delores Rubin (seated), at the final full board meeting of 2015. Photo by Winnie McCroy.

AGENDA ITEMS, DOB CONCERNS

And get to work they did — quickly and efficiently — as the board moved on to the docket of items they needed to vote on. First up were the items pertaining to the Business License and Permits committee (BLP), which set the tenor for much of the rest of the evening’s voting process. Stating they were going to “set a record,” Burt Lazarin proposed that all 10 BLP items be bundled for vote — which they then were, and were approved without issue.

Next up were the QOL items (including the HKFM letter), which were again approved quickly and with little fanfare. The items from the Transportation Committee warranted a little more discussion, but again were approved quickly. Brief discussion was had over some of the proper terminology in the letters, but all items were ultimately passed as well.

While still being a relatively quick process, the items on the Executive Committee generated a bit of spirited discussion. One of the topics that garnered the most interest was the Item 16, a letter to the DOB concerning the proposed (and since halted) demolition of 319–321 W. 38th St.

Joe Restuccia, a public member of CB4, explained the ins and out of the complicated situation, and the contents of the 19-page letter — which highlighted the intervention of electeds and the DOB, and recommended future courses of action for the site. Despite being acquired in an illegitimate way, being located in a Special Zoning District, and having false information present on forms submitted to the DOB, the building had been approved for demolition. Through the efforts of Restuccia and CB4, the situation was able to be rectified before it was too late, as the DOB issued a Stop Work Order.

“DOB, in the very rare occasion, have admitted they’re wrong,” Restuccia said to the crowd, which chuckled knowingly. This statement opened up a Pandora’s box of complaints about the DOB, though, including their lack of a centralized system, and lack of real consequences for individuals who submit fraudulent applications to the Department. Ernest Moderelli, another board member, proposed that the W. 38th St. buildings should be restored to how it was before the prep work (gutting the buildings) was conducted, in anticipation of what would have been an illegal demolition. Moderelli’s suggestion was warmly received by the CB4 board.

“Probably this year, we need to work on DOB,” Rubin said as the final word on the issue, before the item was passed.

The next item to pass was CB4’s revised Affordable Housing Plan, which Rubin described as a “living document” that would be regularly revised. Next was the Business Diversity Task Force Strategy Report, which Lazarin described as an effort for CB4 to help support and highlight small businesses in the area, which help make it special. There was a little contention over what would fall under the purview of “small business” and wording, but the item passed.

And with that — seeing as the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee, Waterfronts, Parks and Environment Committee, Housing, Health and Human Services Committee, and the Chelsea Land Use Committee all had no items to report on — the first CB4 meeting of 2016 drew to a close, just under two hours after it had started. The new Chair seemed a little surprised and amused by the swift conclusion of her first outing as the head of the board.

“We can sit here for 40 minutes, but we don’t have to,” Rubin said to the amusement of those present. “I could talk all night — but the meeting is adjourned.”

The next CB4 full board meeting will take place on Wed., Feb. 3, at 6:30 p.m., at the Fulton Auditorium (119 Ninth Ave., btw. W. 17th & W. 18th Sts.).

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