Volume 18, Number 2 | JUNE 3 - 9, 2005

Downtown Express file photos by Elisabeth Robert.

Many Community Board 1 members think Richard Kennedy and Julie Menin are the frontrunners to be the next chairperson.

Candidates battle to replace Madelyn Wils

By Ronda Kaysen

The candidates jockeying to fill the vacant Community Board 1 chairperson seat have three weeks left to distinguish themselves in an election that is proving to be as much about advocating for the community’s needs as it is a choice between the old guard and a new one.

Although there are four candidates remaining in the race – Marc Ameruso, Richard Kennedy, Julie Menin and Anthony Notaro—many board members agree the real contest is between Menin and Kennedy.

As the June 21 race heads for the home stretch, Menin has taken on the role of board reformer, while Kennedy—formerly Wils’ co-chairperson and now acting chairperson – is appealing to longstanding board members and those still reeling from Wils’ sudden removal last March by Borough President C. Virginia Fields.

“It’s Richard’s job to show that he is a strong leader and will stay the course. It’s Julie’s job to show that she’s a fresh, decisive voice, that she has her own strong opinions,” said board member Bruce Ehrmann. “Whoever shows that respective mandate the best will win the election, if all is fair.”

Other board members have suggested that “inner circle” board members are lining up behind Kennedy while newer members, along with those concerned with post-9/11 issues, have planted their stakes in Menin’s camp.

Menin, a 37-year-old Financial District resident who first joined the board in 2002, has been running an organized campaign with promises of including new voices in the decision-making process and leading a more “proactive” board. She hopes to create a focused list of board goals and lobby on behalf of them throughout the year so key issues do not fall through the cracks.

Menin has reached out to newer board members and members that generally take a backseat at the meetings. “Some of the newer [board] members think they’re not included in the decision making process,” said Menin, who plans to create several new committees and task forces, including ones meant to address quality of life concerns and construction mitigation issues. The Executive Committee, which is comprised of the committee chairs, should be more diverse, she added, indicating that the committee leadership might be in for a shakeup under her stewardship.

She also plans to establish a by-laws committee to examine the board’s rules, including the current two-year board chair term. “I actually spent some time looking at this and it appears that the majority of the boards in the city do have annual elections,” she said.

Menin worked as a regulatory lawyer in Washington D.C. for eight years before she moved to New York in 1995. She stopped practicing law in 1999 to open Vine Restaurant at 25 Broad St. with her husband, Bruce. After Sept. 11th, 2001, she launched Wall Street Rising, a non-profit organization intended to help Downtown businesses. If elected, Menin intends to leave her post at Wall Street Rising and work full time on the board. The restaurant closed earlier this year.

Kennedy joined the board 13 years ago and is the board’s interim chairperson and chairperson of the World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee. A senior director at Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm on Wall St., Kennedy, 58, moved to Hanover Sq. from Midtown five years ago. “I have a lot of institutional memory,” he said. “I helped run the board for Madelyn.”

Kennedy agrees with Menin that the board should be inclusive, although he did not offer any specific suggestions as to how he might make it so. “We need to examine lots of things and have open discussions,” he said, although he did not elaborate on how those discussions might happen.

The main issue facing the board, said Kennedy, is the mammoth construction schedule due to begin this summer and the impact it will have on the neighborhood’s infrastructure. “We need to evaluate the residential growth and look at our resources and see what the needs for parks and schools are,” he said.

Anthony Notaro, chairperson the Battery Park City Committee, has been running a quieter race than Menin and Kennedy, although he too is concerned with the internal governance of the board and the future of the neighborhood. Like Menin, he proposes creating a committee to examine the board’s bylaws, one that would report directly to the full board, unlike the subcommittee created last year by Wils that reported to the Executive Committee.

The neighborhood is transforming rapidly and the changes will impact every aspect of the community, said Notaro. Projects like Greenwich Street South will create an entire new community Downtown and the board should keep an eye on it, he said. Governors Island, he added, also deserves the attention of the board. “We need to take more of a leadership role,” he said.

Notaro, 53, a sales and marketing director for Peak Data, a data storage company, joined the board five years ago, a year after he moved to Battery Park City from Brooklyn. In early 2002, Wils appointed him to head the Battery Park City Committee to deal with the staggering impact the W.T.C. disaster had on the neighborhood. The committee simultaneously juggled practical questions about regaining access to the neighborhood and emotionally charged memorial issues, he said. The meetings, which he described as “very intense” helped him learn how to forge compromises amongst many different voices.

According to board member Arthur Gregory, Notaro has been lost in the shuffle mainly because he has been a low profile board member. “Unless you go to the Battery Park City Committee, you don’t see how good he is,” said Gregory, who nevertheless is debating whether to vote for Menin or Kennedy.

Notaro, who agrees that he is trailing, has taken a long-term view to the election. “This is only a one year term,” he said. “We’re going to do this again next year.”

The only board member with experience running for the position is Marc Ameruso, who ran two unsuccessful campaigns against Wils. Unlike the other candidates who are concerned with the construction and development issues facing the neighborhood, Ameruso, 39, is entirely focused on the inner workings of the board. “I did not vote for, speak in favor of, or author the Code of Conduct resolution,” he said, referring to a contentious resolution that came before the board in February. The resolution on permitted speech was passed by two committees but never came to a full board vote. “They can debate other issues all day. That’s all negotiable stuff. But if a board member was in favor of the Code of Conduct resolution—that’s different, that’s a core value. Their core values were to quell free speech of other board members.”

Ameruso, plans to have committee members appoint their own chairs. He also hopes to eradicate the “fiefdoms that have been created” by capping a chair’s tenure to two one-year terms. Currently, the chair of the board is eligible to run for up to three two-year terms.

Ameruso, a North Tribeca resident, joined the board seven years ago as a public member. Two years later, he was appointed as a full board member. An independent film producer and locations scout, Ameruso also volunteers as an E.M.T. in the Bronx. His work on film, he said, has prepared him to lead the board. “The thing about working on a feature film, you’re like the general, you’re controlling chaos,” he explained. “Working on a community board would be a piece of cake in terms of delegating, you’re only working with 50 people.”

Menin left C.B. 1 shortly after she joined in 2002 to serve as the city’s Commissioner of the Districting Commission, a Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointment.

Some board members have expressed reservations about Menin’s brief tenure on the board, wondering if she is prepared to steer the board through the start of massive construction process. “Frequently it takes fresh energy to make very important changes in an organization,” Menin said.

She was also a juror for the Sept. 11th Memorial design competition. “I have relationships with all the players Downtown,” she said.

The other candidates also insist they have ins with the big boys Downtown. “If I’m chair, there’s no reason for me to have a honeymoon period,” said Amreuso. “I have relationships with all the major players and players that aren’t in the spotlight. I don’t run around and toot my horn about it.”

Kennedy has worked Downtown for 23 years and insists his ties to Downtown business leaders will make him a strong candidate. “I’ve had a relationship with Charlie [Maikish] for more than 25 years,” said Kennedy, referring to the newly anointed Downtown construction czar.

One board member, who is supporting Menin and requested anonymity, raised concerns that Kennedy’s ties to Downtown real estate might create a conflict of interest for the board. “Is he going to recuse himself on every development issue? That sounds like conflict of interest all over the place to me,” she said.

Kennedy insists his profession has benefited the board over the years, not hurt it. Citing the development of Millennium High School as one of the board’s recent feats, Kennedy noted that the school opened on time and under budget. “The time I have been working and living down here has been a great help,” he said.

At this point, most board members agree the race is too close to call. “It’s a real toss up, I don’t know which way it’s going to go,” said Gregory. Whatever the outcome, he is certain of one thing, at least: “It’s going to be fun.”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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