downtownexpress.com

Volume 19 • Issue 19 | September 22 - 28, 2006

Paul Goldstein, Downtown’s district manager, steps down

By Ronda Kaysen

Paul Goldstein, Community Board 1’s longtime district manager, announced his resignation Tuesday, sending a ripple of anxiety through the community board.

Goldstein, 51, has been the board’s chief staff member for 23 years, shepherding Lower Manhattan through periods of vast and dramatic change — from the evolution of Tribeca and Battery Park City into bona fide neighborhoods to the horrific World Trade Center disaster and through the long, arduous recovery effort that followed. For many board members, his departure signals the end of an era for the community board, which represents the neighborhoods south of Canal St. to the tip of the island.

“Paul has been incredible — he’s sort of like a neighborhood treasure,” said board member Marc Donnenfeld. “I don’t think he will be easily replaced.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hired Goldstein to direct his Manhattan district office in Lower Manhattan. Goldstein’s last day as district manager will be on Oct. 6. In his new position, he will be the speaker’s liaison for C.B. 1, so he will still have some interaction with the board.

“The change will be good for Paul, but it will not be good for the community board — you’re not going to find another Paul,” said Bob Townley, a longtime C.B. 1 member whom Goldstein hired more than 20 years ago to start up youth programs in the district. Townley went on to start Manhattan Youth, an after-school nonprofit organization Downtown, with some prodding from Goldstein.

Goldstein, a soft-spoken, even-keeled man, is as much a constituent as he is the neighborhood’s district manager. He’s lived in the district—at Southbridge Towers in the South Street Seaport—for nearly as long as he’s worked at the board. One of his daughters went to P.S. 234 in Tribeca, a school that was built during his tenure.

As district manager, he handled the behind-the-scenes operations for the board, drafting endless resolutions, fielding complaints and concerns from residents, overseeing the board’s tiny paid staff and advocating on behalf of the community.

“Paul is great. Intelligent,” said Judy Duffy, who was C.B.1’s assistant district manager under Goldstein for more than 11 years. “He was great to work with. He taught me a lot about city government. Shelly Silver’s real lucky to be getting him.”

Goldstein received a standing ovation from the board’s 50 volunteer members when he announced his resignation at the monthly meeting on Tuesday night. “You’ll be missed!” shouted someone in the audience. C.B. 1 chairperson Julie Menin handed him a plaque commending him for his years of service.

“I was stunned. I didn’t know. I think virtually no one knew,” said C.B. 1 member Bruce Ehrmann. “I’m really very sad about it. I really am.”

Goldstein’s resignation comes on the heels of Duffy’s departure for a job at New York City Transit. Duffy left the board seven months ago after an 11-year tenure. For a board with only four paid employees, the departure of the two most senior staffers in such a short succession has raised eyebrows.

“It’s not a good omen for the board. To use ‘Star Wars’ terminology, there’s a disturbance in the force,” said Donnenfeld.

“Surely it’s no coincidence that Judy left and then Paul left,” said one longtime board member who, like many board members, would only speak about the reasons for Goldstein’s departure on the condition of anonymity. “The two of them made it through the five years after 9/11, which was an extremely stressful period. And now they’re leaving? Clearly something is wrong.”

Some members, including a few who have supported Menin, point to her as the reason Goldstein is leaving. Menin was elected to lead the board in June 2005 after Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields removed her predecessor.

Several board members described a tense atmosphere that has developed since Menin assumed her post, with many longtime committee chairs losing their posts to members who some characterize as closer to Menin. Others spoke of friction between Goldstein and Menin that made his work environment untenable.

“I don’t think Paul’s been comfortable for quite a while,” said one board member who also requested anonymity. “There’s still a tremendous civil war on the board.”

Under former chairperson Madelyn Wils’ leadership, many board members voiced frustration with what they described as an impenetrable inner circle that left them out in the cold. During Menin’s tenure, a similar situation appears to be unfolding, with a different set of players left on the sidelines. Some say those tensions have spread to the fulltime staff members, who have in the past dodged the political wrangling of the appointed members.

“When you’re working on a community board, there are tendencies to disagree and to bicker,” Goldstein told Downtown Express on Wednesday. “In the last couple of years, we’ve gotten a little more of that than we’ve had in prior years. I’m not happy about that and I think it’s counterproductive for the community, for the board. It turns people off.”

Goldstein recalled years when “we had such a collegiate group” and the community board managed to avoid some of the pitfalls of other boards.

The nature of the community board has certainly changed in the past five years. The World Trade Center disaster leveled 16 acres of the district’s vital center, and the board has gone from handling the mundane — liquor license applications, land use procedure, landmarks issues — to rebuilding its community after sustaining the worst attack in the nation’s history.

“I don’t think it’s hard working for Julie,” said Townley. “I think it’s hard working for this community board. We’re dealing with some of the biggest issues in the city, if not the world. Because of that spotlight, working together is hard... People start biting at each other. I feel guilty that Paul had to move on. It’s all of our faults.”

Menin insists her relationship with Goldstein has always been amicable. “I have a lot of respect for Paul. I think he’s incredibly smart. I think he has incredible knowledge of Lower Manhattan and has achieved incredible victories in all the years he’s worked on the board,” she said. She is beginning the process of finding Goldtein’s replacement.

Rumors that she played some role in his departure “are simply untrue,” she said.

Although Menin agreed that losing Goldstein is losing an institutional memory, she added that she had faith in the 50 members, who are appointed by the borough president, half with input from the local City Councilmember. “Our board members have incredible institutional knowledge as well,” she said. “We have one of the best boards in the city, we have unbelievable talent on the board.”

Some board members echoed Menin’s sentiment. “There are still many of us on the community board that have institutional memory, we’re not brain dead,” said board member Rick Landman, whom Menin appointed to lead the Tribeca Committee earlier this year. “Many of the things [that Goldstein knows] are written on resolutions and I’m sure Paul has a telephone.”

Goldstein worries about the loss of longtime staffers and board members, even with a paper trail of resolutions. “I do have a lot of knowledge of how we resolved things and what’s behind the resolutions that were passed,” he said. “Losing Judy [Duffy], who was so knowledgeable about so many aspects of C.B. 1 just a few months ago — she was here for such a long time. Even some of the chairs of committees have left or are no longer there. That is something that probably will be missed a bit.”

“It’s a huge loss for the community. It pretty well creates a void in the institutional memory,” said Wils, who chaired the board for five years and was a member for 20 years until Fields removed her in 2005. “Without an institutional memory of past board initiatives, it is very difficult to understand the long term needs of the community.”

During Goldstein’s time working for C.B. 1, the neighborhood built its first library and a handful of schools. It built new parks and improved existing ones. The Fulton Fish Market left after more than 170 years, ushering in a new era for the Seaport. Tribeca transformed from a lonely pocket of Manhattan into a vibrant neighborhood with a population exploding at a mind boggling pace. Although the community board has often resisted some of the more dramatic developments Downtown, even those have had their benefits.

“Sometimes some of the worst issues that face the community board are, in reality, our greatest opportunities to get things done,” said Goldstein. “That’s the way we’ve gotten schools and libraries and parks and ball fields — by negotiating with the city and developers. We never got a school or park or library built through the normal budget process, not once. Every time we did it, it was through a creative negotiation process. At least down here that’s the way to get things done.”


With reporting by ERNEST SCHEYDER



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