Volume 22, Number 32 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 18 - 24, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky
Julie Menin, left, announcing she will step down as chairperson of Community Board 1. Menin is backing Catherine McVay Hughes to replace her. Hughes, at left in construction photo, stood next to Judy Rapfogel, chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and W.T.C. developer Larry Silverstein, at a groundbreaking ceremony three weeks ago.
Menin bidding goodbye to C.B. 1 for TV pastures
By Julie Shapiro
Julie Menin will leave Community Board 1 in June, after chairing the board for five years.
“This was a very difficult personal decision for me,” Menin said as she made the announcement at Tuesday night’s monthly board meeting. “I can’t tell you how much I love this board. This has been such a huge part of my life.”
Menin, 42, said chairing the board is a full-time job, and she no longer has the time it demands. Menin launched a cable TV interview show earlier this year, and she said she also wants to spend time with her three young sons.
“In all fairness, the right thing to do is to have someone who can commit themselves full-time to the board,” Menin said. “I can’t do that at this time.”
Menin will stay on as chair until her term expires in June, but she announced her decision early because many board members were asking her about her plans. Menin has been edging out of local politics over the past year, since she decided not to run for City Council, and speculation was growing that she would not run again for chairperson. Her board membership term ends in April, but she said Borough President Scott Stringer has agreed to keep her on C.B. 1 for the end of her leadership term.
As Menin spent less time representing the community board at press conferences and City Council hearings recently, Vice Chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes stepped into Menin’s shoes. Now, Hughes looks like Menin’s likely successor.
Hughes confirmed that she will run for chairperson, and she already has Menin’s support. Hughes said she hopes to continue the work that Menin started.
“There are a lot of major issues facing Lower Manhattan and a lot of projects that need to be completed,” Hughes said. “There are a lot of promises that have been made that we need to make sure are being kept.”
Menin, a Financial District resident, joined the community board in 2001 and soon became active on post-9/11 issues. She founded the nonprofit Wall Street Rising and also served on the World Trade Center memorial jury.
Menin was the youngest member of the board when she was elected chairperson in 2005. She succeeded Madelyn Wils, whose term ended abruptly when former Borough President C. Virginia Fields did not reappoint her to the board.
Pat Moore, one of Menin’s supporters, credited Menin with getting rid of the board’s cliques and uniting everyone after Wils’ departure.
Over the next few years, Menin led the board in securing new school seats, fighting for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to release promised grant money and pushing for environmental health improvements. Although she won reelection several times unopposed, Menin, like most community board leaders, had her critics. Some board members privately said that they didn’t always trust her, citing the time she promised to support Marc Ameruso in an assistant secretary race but changed her mind before the vote.
By the fall of 2008, Menin was positioning herself to run for City Council and made City Hall newspaper’s list of “40 under 40” rising stars in local politics. But then the Council voted to extend term limits and incumbent Councilmember Alan Gerson announced that he would run for a third term. Menin chose not to challenge him.
Since then, Menin has all but disappeared from Downtown politics and focused her energy on “Give and Take,” an interview show on NBC’s New York Nonstop channel. One perk of her show’s flexible filming schedule is that she’s able to spend more time with her 6-year-old son and 4-year-old twins, Menin said.
While many board members had expected Menin not to run for chairperson again, some seemed surprised that she would leave the board altogether.
“I don’t want to be a board member who misses meetings,” Menin said Tuesday night, explaining her decision. She said she would become a public member, which has no attendance requirements, and would still attend some meetings.
In addition to stepping down from C.B. 1, Menin will also give up her seat on the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. board and the Downtown Alliance board, so that another C.B. 1 member can replace her. She will remain on the board of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
So far, Hughes is the only person who has entered the race to replace Menin, and she appears to be gaining support.
“She’s committed, she’s effective and she’s knowledgeable,” said Harold Reed, a board member. “She’d be a shoo-in.”
Anthony Notaro, who ran against Menin in 2005 but received only one vote, said he would consider running again.
One of Menin’s biggest supporters on the board is Barry Skolnick, who first pushed her to run for chairperson and later for City Council. After Tuesday’s meeting, Skolnick took Menin aside and told her she ought to consider running for mayor, which just made her laugh.
“Julie was a wonderful leader,” Skolnick said, insisting that she take him seriously. “She is a wonderful person who really cares about the community.”