Scoopy’s Notebook, Jan. 18, 2018

Former City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, left, threw his support behind Harvey Epstein for Assembly this week.

Gotta harv Garodnick’s support: We still don’t know when the special election for the 74th Assembly District will be, but Harvey Epstein continues to rack up key endorsements in his bid to be the Democratic nominee. On Wednesday, Epstein won the support of former City Councilmember Dan Garodnick at a press conference outside Stuyvesant Town / Peter Cooper Village, home to more than 30,000 New Yorkers. The Assembly seat was vacated by Brian Kavanagh after he was elected to the state Senate to fill Daniel Squadron’s vacant seat. “I’ve known Harvey Epstein for years and have personally witnessed his leadership in fighting for tenants and seniors — especially his advocacy for Stuyvesant Town / Peter Cooper Village,” Garodnick said. “Not only was he responsible for supervising my office’s free tenant hotline over the past decade, but his work on the Rent Guidelines Board led to the historic two-year rent freeze. It is important that we have elected officials who understand the community’s needs and the government process and I am confident that Harvey will be a real asset in Albany.” Returning the compliment, Epstein said, “Dan Garodnick has long been a champion for the middle class and a leader in the fight to protect affordable housing for countless New Yorkers. I am both proud and honored to have his support for the state Assembly. Dan is someone who has stood by our community while spearheading key legislation and initiatives as a member of the New York City Council. I look forward to continuing to work with him to preserve and expand affordable housing in our community.” Some had thought Garodnick would seek the Assembly seat himself, but clearly not. Earlier last year he also explored the possibility of running for mayor but, like all the city’s other Democratic pols, decided not to challenge Bill de Blasio. Epstein already has the backing of former Councilmember Rosie Mendez, Councilmember Ben Kallos, Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried, Democratic District Leader Anthony Feliciano and Democratic Party State Committeeman Michael Farrin.

Siegel on the case: The Elizabeth Street Garden nonprofit organization recently announced that it has retained attorney Norman Siegel in its efforts to save the Little Italy green oasis from being redeveloped with an affordable senior housing project. E.S.G. was formed last year with the express intention of eventually suing the city to block the housing project. E.S.G. is now urging the city to rescind the request for proposals, or R.F.P., that recently resulted in a winning development team being announced for the site. The group that had previously programmed the garden, Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden, had refused to commit to being the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, so E.S.G. seized control of the space, which neighboring gallery owner Allan Reiver leases from the city on a month-to-month basis. That said, Allan’s son Joseph Reiver, who is a leader in the new E.S.G. group, told us it’s time for everyone now to come together to fight off the city’s unwanted plan. E.S.G. is planning to reach out to all the area’s politicians, as well as F.E.S.G. “We believe that two divided fronts — or lawsuits — is weaker than one,” he said. “We’re going to be reaching out to them and trying to put together a strong legal case. The preliminary legal work is on the table. We’ve done a lot of research. I personally thought we were going to file much sooner, but I’m learning.” As for Siegel, Reiver said, “I really like Norman. He has a good understanding of everything surrounding the garden. Norman demonstrated that he has experience with elected officials and the city and he knows his way around gardens. A legal solution goes hand in hand with a political solution.” Siegel told us, “I’m honored to be retained by the Elizabeth Street Garden.” Regarding the struggle, he said, “I think that the larger issue is open spaces versus development. The issue here is the need to preserve open spaces in densely populated urban areas like Soho and Little Italy. We cannot be forced to choose between open space and affordable housing.” Siegel said it sounds to him like the garden’s supporters have a very strong position and argument. “This is a good one because we’ve got at least half-a-dozen local elected officials — city, state, federal — in support of the garden,” he said. He said he will be reaching out to Terri Cude, the chairperson of Community Board 2, and of course F.E.S.G. “to try to form a common coalition. I’ve learned over the years that unity is essential,” Siegel said. The renowned attorney, who formerly headed the New York Civil Liberties Union, told us that, just the night before, he had just read The Villager’s May 4, 2017, editorial on the issue, “Must try suing,” in which we said we supported E.S.G. pushing to litigate — and taking over the garden if that was required in order to do it. Siegel said The Villager’s editorial nailed it. “There are environmental issues, ULURP issues,” Siegel said, referring to the city’s seven-month-long Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure — or public review — process that would be required to approve the housing scheme. “All these things will dictate the litigation strategy. I need all the players to come together and have a common strategy. And if there are differences on how the garden should be managed in the future — and I know there are — we’ll never get there if the garden isn’t saved.” Siegel said he planned to reach out to everyone within 30 days before deciding on his next course of action. As for F.E.S.G., Jeannine Kiely, the group’s founder, issued a statement, saying, “Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden has been actively consulting with attorneys and studying the legal situation for some time; and we have developed a strong case against the proposed development. Friends has a shared interest in preserving the garden and is eager to accomplish this in the best way possible. At this point, we have not yet spoken to Norman Siegel. Friends’ primary objective is to ensure that the garden is permanently saved as parkland and not destroyed for development when a viable alternative site can provide up to five times as much affordable senior housing.” Kiely was referring to the city-owned water-shaft lot at Hudson and Clarkson Sts. that C.B. 2 has identified as a site that could support up to five times as many affordable units. She also noted that the city’s claims that the winning R.F.P. design for the housing would preserve 7,600 square feet of open space from the current 20,000-square-foot garden is deceptive. “The city’s plan reduces open space to approximately 5,700 square feet by eliminating the entire Elizabeth St. side [of the garden], and inflates its open space figures 33 percent by including an indoor hallway and a building overhang. This falsely portrays the open space as a compromise rather than simply what is required under Special Little Italy District zoning.” She makes a very good point: To claim that a dark, paved-over passageway underneath a building that leads to a garden is equivalent to actual garden space is ridiculous!

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