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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | Almost two years after she was appointed president of the Battery Park City Authority, Gayle Horwitz announced her resignation, effective Oct. 1. She has been appointed the new chief operating officer of Nardello & Co., an international firm that specializes in litigation support, business intelligence and fraud investigations.
William C. Thompson Jr. brought Horwitz in as president when he became chairman of the B.P.C.A. in March 2010. He had worked with her since 1996, when both of them were working at the city Board of Education. Subsequently, when Thompson became city comptroller, Horwitz became deputy comptroller and chief of staff. She served as first deputy comptroller from 2007 to 2010.
In her Sept. 12 letter of resignation addressed to B.P.C.A. Chair Dennis Mehiel, Horwitz cited some of her accomplishments at the B.P.C.A.
“We opened state-of-the art, multi-sport ball fields with lighting and synthetic turf as well as a newly treasured open space called the Terrace,” she wrote. “The entire length of Murray Street has been repaved with traffic calming measures and street lights, the South Quay has been restored, Wi-Fi has been installed in every park and West Thames Street Park was reopened.”
Horwitz also mentioned that construction on Pier A was moving along and that the B.P.C.A.’s part of it should be completed by December. The B.P.C.A.’s finances, she noted, are “on solid ground.”
“For the fiscal year that ended on Oct. 31, 2011,” she wrote, “we exceeded our excess revenue projections, returning an additional $12 million to the City of New York for a total of $124 million.” She referenced the ground rent negotiations for the South neighborhood that brought “predictability” and “affordability” to the residents, as well as new leases that had been negotiated with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Gigino Wagner Park and the B.P.C.A.’s own offices.
But Horwitz’s record was far from unblemished. She is credited with having scuttled an offer of $750,000 that would have funded artist Tom Otterness’s creation of bronze lions for outside the Battery Park City Library. Otterness’s career was severely damaged when the project was cancelled because of opposition against it. Animal rights activists argued that the sculptor could not be forgiven for a film he had made as a young man in which he killed a dog, and Horwitz apparently took their side in the controversy.
According to Tom Goodkind, a member of Community Board 1’s B.P.C. Committee, Horwitz’s legacy comes down to the banning of art. “Tom Otterness’s public art has delighted thousands of residents and passersby in Battery Park City for decades,” he said. “Those who remain at the B.P.C.A. should do all in their power to reverse Horwitz’s philistine decision.”
Causing even more of an outcry in the community was Horwitz’s summary firing last November of 19 long-term B.P.C.A. employees, some of whom were within a few months of retirement with full benefits. The day of the announcement, they were told they had less than two hours to clear out of their offices, that they would only be paid through the end of that day and that their health insurance would expire at the end of the month.
When members of C.B. 1 and others in the community said they were “sickened” by how this was handled, the B.P.C.A. Board of Directors enacted a retroactive policy that provided severance pay and health benefits for terminated employees.
The biggest source of controversy during the Horwitz regime, however, was undoubtedly the Asphalt Green community center. In her resignation letter, Horwitz wrote that construction of the long-awaited community center is complete and that final permits are being secured.
The community center is now almost a year behind its initially scheduled opening date of last November. Horwitz and others at the B.P.C.A. have attributed the delays to permitting problems with the city Fire Department and the Department of Buildings. As recently as Sept. 4, Horwitz’s assistant Anne Fenton and B.P.C.A. spokesperson Matthew Monahan maintained this position before C.B. 1’s B.P.C. Committee.
The audience at the meeting was full of disaffected residents who had paid for Asphalt Green memberships almost a year ago and wanted to know why the community center was not yet open.
One woman asked whether the problem was just about paperwork or whether the B.P.C.A. was trying to renegotiate the original agreement with Asphalt Green.
Fenton replied, “We’re not sure where that renegotiating with Asphalt Green – where that came from. This is speculation that started in the community, and we’re not going to address it.”
In the wake of Horwitz’s resignation, it turned out that there has, indeed, been a contractual problem with Asphalt Green. On Sept. 12, Mehiel issued a statement that said, “We have encountered difficulties in preparing to implement our contract with Asphalt Green, primarily because of the differing requirements for transparency and community participation B.P.C.A. must comply with in spending public money, as compared to a private organization.”
The statement continued, “We are actively pursuing a solution that will allow the center to open under terms and conditions that protect the assets we are charged with administering.”
Mehiel also confirmed that several months ago, the B.P.C.A. had hired consultant Randy Mastro to advise on how the contract could be amended.
Christina Klapper, a spokesperson for Asphalt Green, said, “With the new leadership of Dennis Mehiel, we remain focused on working together and look forward to serving as a member of the Battery Park City community.”