Volume 22, Number 06 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 26 - July 2, 2009.
Open & shut
After Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a private campaign stop in Chinatown last Friday, the mayor’s staff and the residents he met with had very different accounts of what happened.
Justin Yu, president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, said Bloomberg made a groundbreaking promise to help the community reopen Park Row, closed to traffic after 9/11 because it runs beneath One Police Plaza.
Bloomberg told Chinatown leaders that the decision to reopen Park Row is not his alone, and Bloomberg suggested that residents lobby the federal government, which also has a say, Yu said.
“His hand is pretty limited,” Yu said. But if Yu and others contact federal agencies about reopening the street, “He will in some way back us up,” Yu said.
Chinatown residents who have been fighting for years to reopen the street were surprised to hear of Bloomberg’s commitment — and, as it turned out, so was Bloomberg’s staff.
“That’s not at all what he said about Park Row,” said Marc La Vorgna, spokesperson for the mayor. “The city’s position is that it is a security concern due to the location of the Police Dept. We don’t have a change of position. We’re not advocating for the reopening of Park Row.”
Yu did not back off his account, but he clammed up after we called the mayor’s office, referring all questions back to Bloomberg’s press office.
The dinner took place at a small restaurant on Bayard St. called the New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe Restaurant. Yu said Bloomberg also chatted with the other patrons, and the cooks rushed out of the kitchen to catch a glimpse.
“The mayor said the food tasted very well,” Yu said, “and next time he would bring his girlfriend, just to eat.”
Margaret Chin was the first City Council candidate to produce a statement based on our report last week that the city wanted to build school seats in 26 Broadway (though she managed not to credit us, even while she referred to quotes from our article).
But another Council candidate, Arthur Gregory, may have been the first person to think up the idea of using the former Sports Museum of America space for a school. Gregory, a member of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s school overcrowding taskforce, first mentioned the idea to us a couple of months ago, and he told Silver’s office about the space as well.
“I’m not taking any credit,” Gregory told UnderCover this week. “They (Silver’s office) did the work.”
Gregory said he got the idea as soon as he heard in February that the Sports Museum was closing.
“I’d been in the space, and I said perfect — all the infrastructure was there already,” Gregory said. “It made sense.”
The Dept. of Education still hasn’t signed a lease on the space, which will provide an additional 1,000 seats to Lower Manhattan, but spokesperson Will Havemann assured us last week that a deal is near.
Though the D.O.E. is looking to carve up the Sports Museum space, Philip Schwalb, the museum’s founder, hasn’t given up on reopening. Schwalb said the city was only looking to lease one of the museum’s floors, a 45,000-square-foot raw space that Schwalb used to host private events. The 45,000-square-foot exhibit space and 10,000-square-foot ground-floor space would remain intact, and could still be used as a museum, Schwalb said.
Schwalb has an uphill battle to convince a new operator to take over the museum, since it went bankrupt earlier this year. But although the artifacts have been returned to athletes and other museums, all of the museum’s technology and infrastructure is still in place, which could make it attractive to a buyer, Schwalb said.
Schwalb guessed that The Chetrit Group, which owns the building, could be looking to reopen the museum, because Chetrit bought the gift shop memorabilia in a bankruptcy auction. Schwalb is also contacting the big names who initially supported the venture, like Donald Trump.
Showdown with Dodge
Councilmember Rosie Mendez does not have a strong primary challenger, but she is nevertheless starting to gear up for the race, or at least we think she is since we got a “test” email from her Wednesday with a “reelectrosie” handle (we’ll try to save her from a little spam by not giving a free plug to her internet service provider).
Mendez faces 18-year-old high school student Dodge Landesman in the Democratic primary. A few weeks ago she joked to us that she was looking into whether Landesman is permitted to simultaneously hold office in York Preparatory Academy’s student government and sit in the City Council.
At the end of this week, Mike Murphy is leaving his job at the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to join Comptroller Bill Thompson’s campaign for mayor. Murphy has worked as spokesperson for the L.M.D.C. for a year and a half, and he said it was time for something new.
“He’s a great guy,” Murphy said of Thompson. “He’s what the city needs right now.”
The L.M.D.C. has not picked a replacement, but John De Libero, an L.M.D.C. project manager, will take over Murphy’s role for now.
Congratulations are in order for Elan Halpern, 10, the Downtown Little Leaguer who was profiled in our cover article last week: The star pitcher was just picked up for the league’s summer tournament team. We also hear that last week’s story made quite an impression on Elan’s coaches — her mother tells us that eight of them asked her to autograph a copy of the paper.