Volume 20, Number 43 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN - MARCH 7 -- 13, 2008

Letters to the Editor

Proof is in Lola pudding

To The Editor:
Re “Lola’s journey to play music is still alive” (news article, Feb. 29 – March 6):

I found your well-written article on the liquor license ordeal of the Soho restaurant Lola to be quite distressing.  While I have seen many instances where members of the community have legitimately opposed liquor licenses for establishments that have proven to be a public nuisance, the situation with Lola is just the reverse.  Their experience demonstrates how the liquor license process can be abused by a small group of litigious activists to cause serious harm to a perfectly fine business that could be a real asset to the local community. 

I remember enjoying this restaurant at their former Chelsea location a number of years ago.  After reading your article, I visited them for dinner at the Watts St. location for the first time.  I found myself in a beautiful, upscale restaurant with an interesting and eclectic menu.  It was quite clear that a lot of money, effort and care have gone into the development of this business.  The meal I had was excellent, the service was attentive, and I had the opportunity to chat with the owners as well.

Given the restrictions that Lola has agreed to as described in your article, there is no reasonable basis not to allow this fine establishment to present live jazz, R&B and gospel artists as it has done in the past.  I hope that the State Liquor Authority will quickly move to correct its mistake and revoke the current ban on live music in the restaurant’s liquor license so that the business can achieve its full potential.
Bill Love

Bergtraum reactions

To The Editor:
Re “New fight near Bergtraum, as teachers cite school’s larger problems” (news article, Feb. 29 – Mar. 6):

I am a teacher at Murry Bergtraum High School and a 23-year resident of Lower Manhattan. 

Your article focused on problems at Murry Bergtraum. Yes, classes are overly large and yes, there are behavior problems. But your article presented one side of the story.

I teach approximately 150 students a day. With a few exceptions, my students are polite, conscientious, and engaged in learning. A large portion of the students are preparing for college. One of my students is headed to Harvard in the fall. Others have gone to Columbia and Dartmouth. The New York Times awarded a student one of its scholarships. The student’s and teacher’s names were posted in the Times.

I have third period hall duty. Yes, the halls are crowded with students trying to get to class on time. The majority arrives on time.

Yes, there are problems with students lingering after second bell; they do not represent the majority.

You witnessed a fight last Wednesday at the Fulton St. Burger King. You have not witnessed our student government decorating the halls for holidays and Black History Month. You have not seen students participating in the Y.W.C.A. after school activities like chess, yoga, dancing, fashion club, literary magazine, and other activities.  Many of our students intern at large business firms — some in the Downtown area. One of my students works at the World Financial Center. Our girls and boys basketball teams are some of the best in the city. 

Business classes have Wednesday Dress For Success Days. It is wonderful to see young men in suits and ties and young ladies in career dresses. 

It is a shame that the majority of good students never make the news. Our principal, Ms. Barbara Esmilla, works hard to develop and maintain a high school whose goals are to prepare students educationally and morally for the future.

Thank you for letting me present a side of Murry Bergtraum you have not seen.

Jennifer Cole

To The Editor:
As a longtime Tribeca resident and weekly reader of Downtown Express I was saddened by your choice of front-page photo in last week’s issue.

Though the article was balanced and well researched, the photo, which shows two young women, minors, in the throes of a fistfight, was highly insensitive.  Did Mr. Siegel feel compelled to step in perhaps?  Did he call the police?  Did he feel any moral obligation to generally break things up?  Both the front cover photo and the accompanying photo on page 13 are exploitive and unnecessary. Too oft we are presented with the sensational in the media and somehow I expected more from you.

Lisa Gilroy

To The Editor:
Your article on the problems at Murry Bergtraum high school by Julie Shapiro was a well-written and balanced piece that made the challenges of running a large urban high school quite clear.  I am a teacher at another Downtown high school (currently on a leave of absence), and my school faces many of the same problematic issues — a large population of students assigned to our school by the Dept. of Education computer system, academic disengagement, and a huge need for smaller classes to help struggling students. 

I was very upset to see that such a fine article also included an unfortunate cover photograph of two girls fighting while hundreds of students cheered them on.  I certainly realize that this photo was not staged in any way, but the decision to print and feature it on the cover is regrettable.  I know many students like those who were in the fight and those in the crowd that encouraged it.  Unfortunately, for these young people, the drama of a fight and the notoriety and temporary celebrity it will bring is just too alluring.  When these kids see themselves on the cover of a newspaper all around the neighborhood, it will bring them much more satisfaction than they currently get from paying attention in class, doing their homework and planning for college.  These are students who don’t see the value in all the good programs and teachers that I am sure Bergtraum still has to offer, because they are too caught up in the glamour of the present and too far removed from the long-term benefits of hard work.  Next time, maybe your editors will choose a picture of the kids on Bergtraum’s honor roll instead even if they only represent a hard-working minority, instead of those who may be causing trouble and are so much less deserving of notoriety.
Amy Strassler Goldstein
High School for Leadership & Public Service teacher and a Financial District resident

Editor’s Note: The decision to publish the photo of two girls fighting was not an easy one, and some of the concerns we had, are raised in these letters.

The article we published last week was largely written before the fight occurred and would have been on the cover regardless. We had previously reported about police reports of incidents and neighborhood complaints accusing Murry Bergtraum students of rowdy behavior. We were prompted to do a more in-depth feature when two teachers in leadership positions in the school went on the record acknowledging problems, thus supporting the previous neighborhood complaints.

As we reported, police were on the fight scene and broke it up almost immediately. Our photographer, Jefferson Siegel, could very well have been arrested had he tried to intervene. Had there been no police present, it would have been unsafe for him to jump into a large crowd to try and break up the fight by himself.

The scene occurred on a public street and related directly to the subject we were covering. Our graphics department initially suggested cropping the photo tighter. That would have made the picture more visually interesting, but we felt would have been too sensational particularly since minors were involved. We blurred the faces some as well.

We have made attempts to make an appointment to tour and photograph the school in recent months and have not been granted permission. We would have also published photos of students in class, had we been allowed. We will continue to make attempts to visit the school and do hope to see a “side of Murry Bergtraum” we have not seen.

No sale

To The Editor:
The residents of Southbridge Towers will be voting next week on a resolution which will authorize Southbridge to sell a parcel of its property, to New York City, for use as a park. Although the City of New York is offering a whole lot of money; $5,570,950, which would be a very welcome addition to any treasury, and whatever construction or alterations take place on the parcel of land in question, would be a much needed correction to, both an esthetic eyesore, and, a potentially hazardous condition, due to the steadily sinking patch of land in question. 

As a board member at Southbridge for the last 12 years, I am very familiar with the infrastructure of the property.  No doubt, this piece of land needs immediate attention. 

But, after reading Downtown Express last week, in which the front page actually chronicled an after-school street fight smack dab in front of the piece of property that is being voted on, I have to go on the record as still being against the sale of this piece of Southbridge’s property.  Now, no matter what school these gangs of loud, discourteous, rowdy kids are coming from, they are making it their business to congregate and wreak havoc on the residents of Southbridge Towers. A young mother; a resident of Building 8, was assaulted by one of these hoodlums, while ordering some food for her daughter in Burger King.  Seniors are forced to stand clear of this “war zone.”

Fire Engine # 6 and ambulances from New York Downtown Hospital, as well as lots and lots of traffic, use the left turn going south on Gold St., turning East on Fulton St., as a major egress.  Add all of this to the construction that seems to be going nowhere...slowly.  Do we want this mess for another year or so? 

Joseph A. Morrone

Board reform

To The Editor:
Re “Board fires first shot on shop sizes in North Tribeca” (news article Feb.29 – March 6):

Community Board 1’s unique and non-comprehensive approach to planning and preparing zoning resolutions was clearly evident at the last full board meeting. Unlike in the other 58 community boards, land-use concerns do not go to a board-wide committee that develops expertise in the subject, but instead go to four provincial geographical committees. However, other subjects such as landmarks, youth and waterfront issues do go to subject matter board-wide committees. They have discussions with members from all over the board and further their expertise in those subject areas. That was the main reason I did not seek re-appointment to C.B. 1; it was a protest to this biased planning process.

I had hoped that the newly created Planning Committee would work equally with these geographic committees. But the Planning Committee had no vote in the committee resolutions for 50 West St.’s luxury high rise and is being shut out of the Seaport’s General Growth plans. The geographical committees are the antithesis of “comprehensive board-wide planning” and debate time is so limited because liquor licenses, public toilets, etc. are also on the agendas. A small group of very interested people can dominate a committee meeting and then draft a resolution (with board staff assistance) and then, in a rushed vote, get the full board to pass it.

How can we ever have a board-wide discussion on issues such as where are proper locations for affordable housing, if each NIMBY geographical committee only looks out for its concept of the perfect quiet luxury residential neighborhood?

I remember when a vocal segment of the Tribeca Committee would not even discuss the possibility of inclusionary zoning for affordable housing on the Jack Parker site. So the area was upzoned and C.B. 1 received no affordable housing benefits in the process. I am still waiting to see the 16 sites that were mentioned in their last resolution for affordable housing units near the rotary. Ironically, it was the same small vocal group that adamantly opposed the zoning provisions for Tribeca South Special District Zoning in 1994 that they are now proposing for the north. At the time, they wanted to keep the M1-5 manufacturing provisions (á la Trump Hotel on Varick St.) for Tribeca.

The whole structure must be changed and politics should take a back seat to a more democratic way. I am very proud of the hard work that the board does and will miss working with most members. I hope the chair and her appointed Executive Committee will look to what is best for the entire community in the long run.

Rick Landman
American Institute Certified Planner

Close to home

To The Editor:
Two pivotal words have entered our vocabulary: “change,” used in the presidential campaign 2008, and “information,” used by the privatizers in flyers distributed on the occasion of Southbridge Towers’ last referendum favoring the writing of a Black Book prospectus.

The privatizers won. By using that word “information,” they piqued people’s curiosity.

I leave the word “change” to the political pundits to wrestle with.

More words come from the elected officials, telling us what we already know we need. In the Feb. 22nd issue of the Downtown Express, in an advertisement on page 10, there are quotes from both Gov. Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Silver about the need for “Affordable Housing.”  

Our appeal to you, Gov. Spitzer and Speaker Silver, is for you to come visit Southbridge Towers Mitchell-Lama Cooperative and see for yourself our comfortable way of life. It is being threatened by those who seem to believe that by going private, they are entitled to large of sums of money simply because they live here and plan to sell their apartments for six-digit sums of money.

Is this a way of preserving “Affordable Housing?”

Geraldine Lipschutz





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