Volume 17, Number 52 | May 20 - 26, 2005

Under Cover

Race to the polls
Community Board 1’s upcoming election to replace Madelyn Wils is attracting a voice from the board’s past. Former chairperson Anne Compoccia showed up at Tuesday night’s board meeting to weigh in on the race, but the loquacious leader had few secrets of success to offer the long lineup of candidates. “I can’t give you any advice because in my 12 years I never had to worry about it,” said Compoccia, who usually ran unopposed. She did, however, have to worry about the law. Compoccia finally left her post on the board in 2000 after she pleaded guilty to taking about $85,000 in city rent money for the Mulberry St. Mall.

Chairperson hopeful Anthony Notaro is lagging in the polls behind frontrunners Julie Menin and Richard Kennedy and he knows why. It all comes down to name recognition, even when the constituency is less than 50 people. “People may know them better than they know me. I’m having to struggle with that,” he told UnderCover.

One chatty board member told UnderCover that Menin easily has 20 votes under her belt already. (If no candidate gets a majority of the votes, there will be a runoff election between the top two candidates.)

Repeat candidate Marc Ameruso has not started his campaign yet, but expects to fare well. “If the board members come around… don’t allow politics or any promises or any of these shenanigans to get in the way, I think I could win,” he said.

Notaro, however, is looking at the long haul. His first crack at a campaign may be more like a warm-up for next year’s race. “People ought to realize it’s only a one-year term. We’re going to do this again next year,” he said.

Some of the candidates are having difficulty thinking even about the short-term. Paul Hovitz pulled out of the race on Tuesday night before Nominating Committee chairperson Ray O’Keefe could even finish announcing the list of candidates.

Kennedy, meanwhile, has been so busy campaigning he’s breathless. UnderCover gave him a call this week to find out more about his platform. “That would be a 30-minute conversation,” he said, and promptly got off the phone.

Free the park
Fans of City Hall Park may be gearing up for one historic turf war. “It has a historical precedent of being used openly and freely by the people,” Michael Viggiano, State Senator Martin Connor’s acting chief of staff told UnderCover. These days, the park is sporting metal detectors at its entrances and cutting itself in half with security gates, which is no way for a public commons to behave.

The salamander-shaped sliver of land was once a public commons, known as the “Vlackte” (that would be Dutch for Flats) in the 17th century and used for such cheery public purposes as executions and burial of paupers and slaves. “I’ve found evidence that points to it being common land. It should still be common land,” said Viggiano. “These are legitimate concerns.”

The N.Y.P.D. apparently disagrees: they cordoned off much of the park immediately after 9/11 (and some of it before 9/11) and have kept it that way ever since, citing security concerns. Viggiano thinks Police Commissioner Ray Kelly might have a point and the security risk might overrule the commons law, but he’s going to investigate, citing a municipal case from the 1950s, which he hopes will support his claim, if only he can find it.

Some neighbors remember days when the park resembled a city of love free-for-all. “Kids used to play ball on the lawns, lovers would make out underneath the cherry blossoms,” Friends of City Hall Park president Skip Blumberg mused.

In 1999, the park received a $13.5 million renovation at the urging of Friends. “What a waste of money to do this fabulous renovation and then close more than half the park,” Blumberg said. This week, Community Board 1 threw their support behind the park and passed a resolution urging the city to open the gates.

The city, however, seems unwilling to entertain the idea. N.Y.P.D. did not return repeated calls for comment for this story and neither did the park’s re-designer, landscape architect George Vellonakis. He’s been busy fighting the losing battle to gate Washington Square Park.

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