UnderCover, week of July 2, 2015: Seaport tower drop & Capsouto returns

How low will it go?

We’re not ready to sit down at the poker table with Howard Hughes Corp.’s Chris Curry (unless of course he doesn’t play much, in which case we’re all in), but we think we might have read some clues as to how big the firm is going to reduce the size of its much-criticized “mixed use building” proposed for South Street Seaport.

It looks like it’ll be months before it is public how much they’ll lop off  from the proposed 500-foot tower, but a building of “10 to 12 stories” high might be a good guess.

Those were the numbers Roger Byrom, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee, kept using at a board meeting last week attended by Curry.

At one point, Byrom said it would be an acceptable size to him, as he rattled the phrase off three times in a minute. We were curious to see Curry’s reaction.

The first time Curry smirked before he quickly whipped his head over to look at the project’s architect, Gregg Pasquarelli, who had no reaction. The second time, Curry kept a straight face, and the third time he went back to the smirk or silent chuckle.

We know enough to know we don’t know, and perhaps the new size has not yet been finalized, so we’re not going to bet the house, but it’s hard to imagine why Curry would care so much about Pasquarelli’s reaction if Byrom wasn’t in the ballpark.


Capsouto returns 

We were happy to get a call last week from Jacques Capsouto, an old friend of Tribeca who ran Capsouto Frères French restaurant with his brothers for 32 years.

The Brothers Capsouto — who successfully resisted “Tribeca trendy” in favor of good food with great service and atmosphere — were sadly forced to close down their Washington St. spot after damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

You may well have recently spotted Jacques, who still lives part of the year in Tribeca.  Capsouto, who turned many of his former customers onto Israeli wines, has just started selling his Côtes de Galilée Villages from his vineyard in Northern Israel.

He tells us it is available for sale in several neighborhood wine stores and it’s also served at City Winery.

The first two varieties, a rosé and white, are called Cuvée Eva, after his late mother, who was part of the restaurant’s charm. A variety to come will be named for the late frère, Albert Capsouto, the former Community Board 1 member and neighborhood leader who died in 2010.

(He says the third brother, Sammy, is doing well but is not involved in the wine venture.)

Jacques lives across the street from the old restaurant, and still owns the space, now called China Blue.

“They’re getting a lot better their second year,” he said of China Blue. “They did nice work redesigning the place, and the cuisine is much more together.”

He gave us a “no comment” when we wondered if it was hard seeing someone else running the kitchen.

His vineyard is six miles from the Lebanese border controlled by Hezbollah, but he joked that given the hurricane damage he suffered in Tribeca and Fire Island, “it’s safer there.”


Chin’s new hire

Paul Leonard has just joined Councilmember Margaret Chin’s staff as the new communications director.

Leonard told us he’s excited, and called the new job  “an incredible opportunity to serve the diverse collection of neighborhoods that make up Downtown – a place that’s near and dear to my heart.”

Leonard comes to Chin from the communications office of the Nassau County D.A., before which he worked for Councilmember James Gennaro.  More importantly, we do admire and respect his love for single malt Scotch, which he revealed to Twitter.

Leonard is Chin’s fourth spokesperson in just over two years, and though her critics might say she must be tough to work for, the evidence suggests it’s more likely that she hires talented people who are tough to retain.

Leonard replaces Sam Spokony, a former Downtown Express reporter who just took a job with Marathon Strategies, the high-powered political P.R. firm which has worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“I’m really proud to have worked for Margaret, and I’ll always be grateful to her,” Spokony said. “‘I’m really excited to be here so I can meet some new people and take on some new challenges.”

Marathon has also employed Kelly Magee, a former Chin staffer who is now a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corp.

Magee was succeeded in Chin’s office by Amy Varghese, who is now a spokesperson for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.


Terror Bill

State Sen. Daniel Squadron last month blasted colleagues including some Democrats for passing a bill that would have prevented the N.Y.P.D. from better protecting Lower Manhattan from terrorist attacks.

“The idea that I have to stand up and say that the New York Police Department must be protected in its authority to take care of a neighborhood in my district is really strange,” Squadron, a Democrat, said on the floor June 17.

The bill would have blocked the police department from spending any money on security connected to terrorism trials.

Squadron’s district includes the Southern District’s courthouse in Lower Manhattan and is just outside Brooklyn’s Eastern District, both of which have tried and convicted many terrorists.

The controversy is an outgrowth of the uproar that occurred in 2009 when PresidentObama and Attorney General Eric Holder proposed trying 9/11 “mastermind”Khalid Sheik Mohammed in Lower Manhattan.

In the face of opposition from the local to federal levels, the administration moved the trial to Guantanamo Bay, but in the meanwhile, lower-profile trials of accused terrorists still occur Downtown, as Squadron pointed out last week.

The essentially anti-Obama bill passed 42-21 with a surprising number of Democrats voting in favor including Sens. Ruben Diaz, Sr., Tony Avella, Simcha Felder andJeffery Klein.

Perhaps they viewed it as a harmless vote since the Assembly didn’t even take up the bill. We would have also said Gov. Andrew Cuomo would never sign such a bill, but now that Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed back so hard against Cuomo, maybe anything restricting de Blasio would be all too tempting.

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