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Volume 22, Number 11 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 24 - 30, 2009

Under Cover

Still in the race
Arthur Gregory, a City Council candidate, started a phone conversation with us recently by saying, “In case you heard the rumors, I did not drop out of the race.”

We actually hadn’t heard that rumor yet, but it quickly became clear why it had sprung up. Gregory waited until 10 minutes before the midnight deadline last Wednesday night to file his petitions with the Board of Elections, so other candidates figured he was a no-show. He also has not registered any campaign contributions with the city.

Gregory said he likes being the last person to do something — for example, he claims that he was the last person in Manhattan to vote for Obama on election night. As for the lack of campaign contributions, Gregory says he has about $35,000 in undeposited checks. He didn’t want to take people’s money until he was sure he would qualify for the ballot, he said.

Gregory admits that he was considering dropping out because he has to have surgery on his ankle, but that can wait until after the primary. If he had dropped out, he would have given his vote to incumbent Alan Gerson, he said.

The five-way race is still without a clear overall frontrunner this week — at least in terms of the candidates’ petition signatures and quarterly fundraising stats.

Margaret Chin is leading the way in fundraising, having brought in nearly $114,000 so far. But PJ Kim is close behind, with just over $91,000, and he has more money still in the bank than Chin, about $41,000 compared to her $37,000, their campaigns said. The city’s generous matching funds make small fundraising differences nearly irrelevant.

Gerson has raised $54,000 and his campaign manager would not say how much he has left. Another candidate, Pete Gleason, has raised $37,500 and has about $11,000 left, his campaign said.

None of the candidates challenged the others’ petition signatures, though many of them privately questioned each other’s numbers. Gerson indisputably came in with the most, a total of 7,100 and far more than the 900 needed. Kim said he had just under 5,500, Chin’s campaign said she had nearly 4,700, Gleason’s campaign said 4,500 and Gregory said he would up with nearly 1,600.

Threesome now a twosome
While the First District City Council battle rages on, a less well-known race got a little simpler this week when Adam Silvera stopped campaigning for Democratic district leader and endorsed fellow candidate Paul Newell.

Silvera has been district leader for 16 years, but he said he’s ready to try something new.

“It shouldn’t be a life term,” Silvera told UnderCover. “There should be movement, opening up the opportunity for other people.”

District leader is an unpaid position and doesn’t usually engender so much interest, but this year Silvera found himself facing not one but two opponents. First there was Avram Turkel, a strong advocate of incumbent Councilmember Alan Gerson. (Silvera supports Gerson challenger Pete Gleason.)

Then Newell joined the fray last month. Also a Gleason supporter, Newell had made an unsuccessful bid last year to topple Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver.

Silvera said he made the decision not to run while on the trail collecting petition signatures, and he said in some ways he felt relieved to be done.

Turkel and Newell, the remaining candidates, both shied away from criticizing each other in the press, but after Silvera challenged the signatures Turkel collected, Turkel is challenging Newell’s. Turkel said he collected just over 900 signatures and Newell said he got about 1,200. They each needed 500.

Vacant lot
Good news for the people who are tired of staring at the garbage-heaped vacant lot at Greenwich and W. Thames Sts.: It could soon be cleaned up and home to construction trailers.

Pat Moore, a Cedar St. resident, has been railing against the lot for months, calling it an eyesore totally out of keeping with the neighborhood just south of the World Trade Center site. A gap in the lot’s fence is wide enough for people to squeeze through, and the lot is filled with empty beer bottles, discarded fast-food wrappers and even some threadbare items of clothing.

The city was apparently having trouble getting the owner to fix up the lot, but now it looks like Bovis Lend Lease, which is managing the work at the Deutsche Bank building, wants to use the site for construction trailers. John De Libero, spokesperson for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., said Bovis is in negotiations to take over the site for the next six months.

When Moore heard, she was happy, but not thrilled. “So, it’ll be a trailer park,” she said.

Scaffolding sale
There are plenty of recession specials popping up at shops all around the city, but here’s one that was new to us: A value mart on Chambers St. is advertising a “Super Scaffolding Sale,” using signs dangling from said scaffolding to boast discounts of 25 percent or more.

The scaffolding covering the RHX Super Value, and much of its block on Chambers St. between Church St. and Broadway, went up a couple months ago, partially hiding the store from view. Sale specials at the store include bottled water for 19 cents and rolling suitcases for $19.99.

Key St. James performance
This year’s July 25 celebration of the Feast of St. James won’t be limited to a feast for the appetite; locally renowned organist Jonathan B. Hall will perform in Lower Manhattan for the day’s ceremonies.

Hall, who was a former dean of the American Guild of Organists and is one of the premier organists in the metropolitan area, will play a special concert at 8 p.m. that day in honor of the holiday. He will also play the 11 a.m. Mass the next day. He will be joined by saxophonist William Powers.

The performances will take place at St. James Church, located at 32 James St. Sunday’s festivities will also include other musical performances, a flea market and food, available on James St., which will be closed to traffic.

“You work hard, you get dirty, you know it’s worth it,” she said, grinning.

Ridley, 32, said she doesn’t mind being one of the only women on the site, and the men she works with don’t seem to mind either.

“If I’m not as strong as they are physically, I’m willing to work hard to get it done, just like anyone else,” she said.

Ridley initially worked as a secretary and a receptionist after high school, unaware that construction was even an option. Women are funneled into college, the military or low-paying, unrewarding jobs like home healthcare, she said, when the building trades might be a better fit.

Ridley may never have broken into construction at all, but two years ago she heard about a Chelsea group called Nontraditional Employment for Women.

NEW runs six-week training programs designed to launch women into careers in construction and other building, transportation and energy trades. Participants brush up on math skills, learn to read blueprints and practice toting 63-pound buckets up flights of stairs. NEW trained nearly 500 women last year, most of them lower-income minorities, and has been encouraging women to work in construction since 1978. Ridley did the program in 2007 and said it gave her the skills she needed to get a union job.

“Things are changing,” said Kathleen Culhane, vice president of programs at NEW. “Doors are opening like never before… . Today, it’s not such a rarity to see not only one woman but a handful of women on a job site, working in construction.”

On a Friday afternoon last month, NEW held a graduation for 12 women who had just completed the six-week program. The brief but boisterously heartfelt ceremony took place on the third floor of NEW’s W. 20th St. building, beneath posters reading “Celebrate Men Working With Women” and images of NEW’s logo, which looks like the symbol for “female” with a hammer instead of the “T.”

As each woman’s name was called to receive a completion certificate, the others cheered, making up for the lack of friends and family members in the very small audience.

(Before the ceremony started, one of the NEW leaders asked if any of the women were waiting on a guest. “It’s just us,” one of the students replied. Pointing to her fellow graduates, she added, “My guest is right here.”)

After impromptu speeches that left nearly everyone in tears, the graduates ate pizza and reflected on the demanding six weeks behind them and their plans for the future.

Taja Brown, 28, hopes to join a union so she can continue working in construction but get paid better wages. When she was 19, she helped her father fix up a house, and she fell in love with the work. Since then, she’s been getting jobs wherever she can.

“I like the looks I get in Home Depot,” Brown said, especially when she’s picking out an unusual tool or material. “People stare, like, ‘What do you know about that?’”

Brown once picked up a customer that way — a man saw her looking at tools in the tiling section, and she wound up tiling his entire basement. Brown has gotten some tiling jobs partly because she’s female, since customers expect her to be more detailed and precise, she said.

“But a lot of people assume I can’t do it,” Brown added. “I like to show them and prove them wrong.”

There is no typical NEW student. Other members of the graduating class included Cerise Bunch, a freckled 40-year-old woman from the Bronx, and Ruth Zuniga, a 20-year-old from Spanish Harlem. Bunch has an engineering degree but can’t find a job, so she decided to give the blue-collar industry a shot. She hopes to work for Con Edison or the Fire Dept. Zuniga had to complete her G.E.D. so she could apply to NEW, and now she wants to work as a bricklayer.

One of the only parents to attend the graduation was Stephanie Spencer, whose daughter Rashida Johnson, 26, had just completed the program. Johnson graduated collage and had worked in public relations but was laid off, her mother said.

“It’s wonderful that she’s getting a chance to go out there in the world and compete with guys,” Spencer said. “Women coming into construction, electrical, plumbing work — this is the last frontier, so good for them.”




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