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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | “Nobody has done more for Gateway tenants than Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,” said Glenn Plaskin, president of the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association. “For 20 years, he has been our strongest ally and a fierce supporter who believes in affordable housing.”
Plaskin was addressing an audience of Gateway tenants assembled in the auditorium of P.S./I.S. 276 on June 6 for the presentation to Speaker Silver of the first Gateway Plaza Tenants Association Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Battery Park City tenant group’s board voted unanimously six months ago to give a Lifetime Achievement Award to Silver. The award was based on the totality of his contribution to the quality of life for Gateway tenants, most notably his leading all rent stabilization negotiations.
Considering the recipient, there could not have been a more appropriate venue than the school at 55 Battery Place, which opened in 2010. Speaker Silver pushed the Department of Education to build the school and made it happen.
Several elected officials and community leaders who spoke about Silver that night noted this fact, among others.
“Since Speaker Silver has represented us, he has created four K-8 schools in Community Board 1 and we’re hoping we’ll get another one soon,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of Community Board 1.
“You’re right to give [Silver] a lifetime award today,” said U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, “although we hope that his life and service will go on for a long time.”
Nadler said he met Silver in 1975 and they had worked together ever since.
“Shelly has been the speaker for 20 years and I can tell you that he has been one of the leading protectors of everything that most people in this auditorium today would hold dear,” Nadler said. He mentioned Silver’s work on behalf of women’s rights, education funding and affordable housing. He specifically mentioned that Silver protected rent stabilization in opposition to the governor and the State Senate.
“The fact that we still have rent control and rent stabilization is, to a very large extent, because of Shelly Silver, regardless of whether he gets credit for it,” said Nadler. “So you have chosen well. He deserves this Lifetime Achievement Award.”
With a lawsuit over his handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment case hanging over him, Silver may have had a rough day before he arrived at the Battery Park City school, but the warm reception that greeted him should have made up for it.
The audience applauded him loudly and at length.
“Thank you for your friendship and for your support over the years,” Silver said.
Julie Menin, Community Board 1’s former chairperson, who is running for Manhattan Borough President, said, “No one has believed in our community more than Speaker Silver.
“There was a time after Sept. 11 where people doubted the tenacity and perseverance of our neighborhood. And Speaker Silver said that was wrong, that we would be able to rebuild our community.”
City Councilmember Margaret Chin spoke of Silver’s protection of affordable housing, and her opponent for reelection, Democratic District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar, spoke about how much she had learned from Silver about leadership.
For his part, Silver said, “Gateway Plaza and its residents have really been special to me.”
He said that it was at Gateway Plaza, which has 1,705 apartments and is the largest residential complex in Battery Park City, that he began the fight for affordable housing.
“It was 25 years ago, almost exactly, that the mandatory deregulation, rent stabilization ended at Gateway,” he said. “And here we are, 25 years later, still with a rent stabilization program — and it was a career just keeping it that way.”
Silver spoke about pressuring Richard LeFrak, chairperson and C.E.O. of the LeFrak Organization, which owns Gateway Plaza, to keep Gateway rent stabilized if he wanted to refinance the building. Long-time tenants of Gateway are still rent stabilized through 2020 although tenants who moved in after 2009 now pay market-rate rents.
Silver also referenced quality-of-life issues necessary to accommodate population growth in Lower Manhattan.
“We continue to push the Department of Education to build more schools for our rapidly growing community,” he said. “And likewise to accommodate that growth, we built new parks, we revamped recreational facilities such as the state-of-the-art ball fields just a few blocks from here.”
This is “a great place to live, and nobody thought it would be almost 12 years ago,” he said. “They figured people would flee Lower Manhattan and never return. We proved them wrong.“
He said that between the census of 2000 and 2010, Lower Manhattan and specifically his Assembly district, experienced larger population growth than any other community in New York City.
“Many of you were here on that dark day almost 12 years ago,” he said. “You stayed here. You helped rebuild because you believed in community. You believed in your neighbors and you believed in working together to ensure that Battery Park City continues to be one of the greatest places in our city to live, to work and to raise a family.”