Volume 17, Number 46 | April 8 — 14, 2005

Wils removed from C.B. 1 as Fields moves against Downtown leader

Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields announced on Wednesday that she took Madelyn Wils off Community Board 1.

In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, Fields wrote that her decision not to reappoint Wils, the board’s chairperson, was “two-fold,” citing that “it has always been my policy to give new people an opportunity to distinguish themselves” and that Wils’ presence on several high profile boards including the Hudson River Park Trust Foundation, to which Fields appointed Wils, “may adversely impact on her ability to adequately and fully participate as a Community Board member.”

Fields also cited Wils’ position on the boards of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Downtown Alliance. Her plan not to reappoint Wils was first reported in last week’s UnderCover column in Downtown Express.

Chairperson since 2000, Wils was elected by C.B. 1 members to serve another two-year term as leader last June, a month after Fields informed her that she would not be reappointed to the board this spring. Wils did not disclose during her campaign that her appointment was in question.

“I don’t understand what this conflict is between Virginia Fields and Madelyn [Wils],” said one board member who requested anonymity. Regardless, “when she ran to be re-elected for a two-year term in June she didn’t tell the community that it was going to expire nine months later.”

Less than two hours after Fields released her statement, Wils appeared at a C.B. 1 meeting on education. Wils chaired the meeting even though Charles Walker, a spokesperon for Fields, said her removal was effective as of March 31. The subject of her removal was not discussed while she was there and she declined to comment as she was leaving.

A letter-signing campaign to keep Wils on the board, steered by co-chairperson Richard Kennedy, was underway through early this week with Kennedy calling and visiting board members and garnering signatures in various hallways.

According to one board member, Kennedy had collected 28 signatures – comprising the majority of the board – by Tuesday.

“She was certainly the right leader at the right time,” said board member Tim Lannan, who added that additional efforts were made by various board members “collectively and individually” to keep Wils on the board, although he would not elaborate on what those efforts were. Lannan spoke before Fields released her statement.

“It seems harsh not to reappoint her during the last year that she can serve as chairperson,” said board member Bill Love, who worries that removing her mid-term would be disruptive for the board.

Wils’ term expired retroactively on March 31, according to Walker in Fields’ office. Walker added that the decision had been made last May, although as recently as Wednesday afternoon, he refused to tell UnderCover if Wils had been removed from the board. Kennedy will replace her as co-chairperson until an election can be held on June 20, said Walker. Kennedy is among the candidates for Wils’ job, Walker added.

Board member Julie Menin, a Financial District resident who founded Wall Street Rising after 9/11, Anthony Notaro, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Battery Park City Committee, and Marc Ameruso, a Tribecan who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Wils last year, are considered likely candidates. Menin and Notaro are considered the frontrunners by at least a few board observers.

A major player in the Downtown community, Wils has friends in high places, among them Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and Robert De Niro, her boss at the Tribeca Film Institute. Her appointments to other boards gives her an added cache when brokering Downtown projects.

Silver called the decision “unfortunate for the Lower Manhattan community” in a statement to UnderCover. “I am confident that Madelyn’s wisdom, dedication and commitment to our community will continue and I look forward to continuing to work with her.”

Silver said she “excelled” in each of her roles, but a few board members and community representatives have expressed concern in the recent past about the many hats she wears, wondering if her alliances are always clear.

In a February interview with Downtown Express, Wils insisted that C.B. 1 was a more effective board because of her prominent position in the community, not despite it.

“For the first time this board has someone who can actually negotiate for the people down there because they’re sitting not outside, but inside,” she said. “When you’re sitting inside the room, you get to speak about issues that are important to your constituents. When you’re sitting outside the room, those people don’t necessarily hear it and they
don’t hear it the same way.”

But the board was not entirely aligned behind Wils, and for all the board members who threw their support behind her there were many who did not. “Madelyn is a somewhat controversial person, there are people on the board who do not like her style of leadership,” Love, who signed the missive on Sunday night, said Tuesday.

Several reluctant board members found the harried effort to save Wils’ position alarming.

“It was huge pressure,” said one board member who requested anonymity and received numerous phone calls and e-mails in the last week, including one from Kennedy who insisted only a “verbal signature” was necessary to sign the epistle that he dictated over the phone.

Also feeling the pressure from Kennedy and others, board member Tom Goodkind called Fields’ office for advice after Kennedy called and tried to go to his midtown office. A spokesperson in Fields’ office urged Goodkind not to sign the memo, indicating a statement would be released Wednesday.

Kennedy did not return repeated calls for comment about the letter.

But Fields’ motives might be less about over-booked daily planners than they are about politics. Fields, who is climbing up in the polls in her race to unseat Mayor Bloomberg, is not the first borough president to give an outspoken board member the axe during a mayoral bid.

The borough president might be taking cues from her chief opponent: Freddy Ferrer. In 1996, while he was Bronx Borough President and a mayoral hopeful against Rudy Giuliani, Ferrer ousted longtime Bronx Community Board 10 member Arthur Taub in a move that was regarded as politically motivated.

Ferrer never did pull ahead of Ruth Messinger, the Manhattan Borough President most eager to lose to Giuliani.

E.P.A. delay
The E.P.A. World Trade Center Expert Technical Review Panel meeting, set for April 11, has been cancelled, leaving community members to wonder when – if ever – the 17-member panel will meet again.

“If only once out of five months you have a meeting, what’s happening to the momentum of the program?” said Catherine McVay Hughes, the panel’s community liaison.

Since the panel’s chair Paul Gilman resigned on Nov. 30, the typically monthly meetings to determine the extent of W.T.C. dust contamination and what to do about it have ceased almost entirely. Since last November, here has only been one meeting — in February — led by interim chair Tim Oppelt.

On Tuesday, Senator Hillary Clinton who called for the creation of the panel in 2003 with U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, met with E.P.A. administrator hopeful Steven Johnson to throw her support behind the forsaken panel. “I urge you to reschedule the meeting to occur no later than May,” she penned in a missive to the nominee, who is awaiting senate confirmation this week.

But the E.P.A. says not to worry; the panel is toiling away at a draft sampling plan and will reschedule in a few weeks. “We needed those meetings to determine what the plan should look like,” spokesperson Michael Brown said of the monthly meetings that are no longer. “Now we have a very clear picture of what the plan should look like.”
At least someone has a clear picture of what is going on.

Shelly & Mad Dog
During an interview on WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog show Wednesday, Met fan Shelly Silver, a.k.a. the speaker of the state Assembly, offered “my condolences on Mariano blowing another save.” After Chris “Mad Dog” Russo said he was a Mets Fan, Silver said “I know. I was offering them to Mike.” Yank fans were relieved that Derek Jeter bailed out the closer with a walk-off homer Tuesday. The speaker also spoke about the proposed Jets stadium saying Cablevision looked to have a strong case against the M.T.A. He repeated his concerns about the stadium and said there was no reason to decide anything before we know if the city will get the Olympic Games in 2012. “You know, I told the mayor, when he went to Athens for the Olympics this past summer… I told him, ‘mayor, do you know what occupied your seat the week before you entered the stadium?’ He said ‘No.’ I told him, ‘a WET PAINT sign.’ They had just built the stadium.”

Pier Repair
The deal may not be sealed on Pier A, the Victorian wonder at the edge of Battery Park, but the construction crew is already sinking anchor. Later this month, workers will arrive to shore up the siding, bringing an end to an era of unsightly scaffolding that hid the silver and green berth beneath. They’ll also start laying floors and begin other interior work, said Paul Samulski, creative director for William B. Wachtel, one of the property’s managing partners who also recently laid his hands on a piece of New York Waterway, a floundering ferry company.

No landlord Resnick
Developer Scott Resnick will not be fielding phone calls about leaky faucets and drafty windows when the 260 apartments at Site 5C hit the market. He’s forgoing the lucrative Liberty Bonds and selling the units off as condos, a move that has some community folks fretting about even more crowding at nearby P.S. 234, since condos often bring with them more long term residents, a.k.a. families.

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