Volume 17, Number 47 | April 15 — 21, 2005

Wils bids farewell to C.B. 1

By Ronda Kaysen

It was a bittersweet farewell for Madelyn Wils, the recently dethroned Community Board 1 chairperson, at the board’s monthly meeting this week.

Board members, residents and community leaders voiced their dismay at their Madame chair’s unceremonious departure from the board at the hand of Borough President C. Virginia Fields at the end of last month. In an unusually long public session, speakers lamented the sudden loss of their chairperson and directed their rage at the borough president, who just so happens to be running for mayor.

“No matter how hard you work, you can be plucked from your seat and people will find out about it from an unflattering article in the Downtown Express,” Battery Park City resident Gwen Bey said at the April 19 meeting. Bey attended a Fields mayoral fundraiser last fall, but withdrew her support for the borough president because of the Wils decision.

Bey is not alone in her decision to take her opinions to the ballot box. “It wreaks of Tammany politics,” B.P.C. resident Martha Gallo told the board. “As of next November, I know who this female Democrat will not be voting for.”

Fields announced in a statement on April 6 that she would not re-appoint Wils, an 18-year board member and chair since 2000, to C.B. 1, retroactive March 31. Wils sits on several Downtown boards including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the Battery Conservancy and the Hudson River Park Trust that “may adversely impact on her ability to adequately and fully participate as a Community Board member,” Fields wrote.

Fields has not responded to press questions and never contacted the 49 other board members about her decision to oust their chair in the middle of her final two-year term, a move that angered many board members, several of whom learned about Wils’ fate from reports in this paper.

“To me it shows how out of touch the borough president is with the Downtown community… we should be condemning her,” said board member Michael Connolly, adding that he also would not vote for Fields for mayor.

Board member Jeff Galloway suggested that Fields defied the city charter by appointing Wils to a one-year term last spring and removing her without appointing an immediate replacement. “She is still in her full glory, Madelyn was not disgraced,” he said.

Wils made a brief appearance at the meeting, decked out in a low-cut black dress for the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival, of which she helps organize as president and C.E.O. of the Tribeca Film Institute. A standing ovation from the audience brought the deposed chair to tears. “I never had any other agenda other than a love of this community and the people in it,” she said in her first public statement since Fields removed her.

With her hand still very much in the community, Wils will in all likelihood remain a vocal presence Downtown. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said, noting the various positions she still holds. “You have my word that I will be working alongside you.”

The board passed a resolution thanking Wils for her years of service and citing her achievements including making the B.P.C. ballfields permanent, gaining a new community center for B.P.C., creating Millennium High School and negotiating a new K-8 school on Beekman St.

“Immediately after 9/11, when I couldn’t reach my wife, I called Madelyn,” said board member Bruce Ehrmann. “It’s beyond me how this could have happened.”

Not all board members shared Ehrmann’s awe, however.

“Since you’re making accusations, I think you need to ask [Fields] to come before the board. You need to ask her directly,” said board member Una Perkins, who abstained from voting for the resloution, along with two other members. “I have a different understanding of what happened.”


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