Volume 20, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 15 - 21, 2010
Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer
C.B. 1 members Liz Williams and Catherine McVay Hughes stood with U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler at a press conference last week at 7 World Trade Center after the U.S. Senate declined to hear debate on the Zadroga 9/11 Health bill.
One member’s Perspective
Ro Sheffe was appointed to Community Board 1 in April 2003 and has been chairman of the Financial District Committee since March 2007.
Why did you decide to serve on the Community Board?
I was recruited in 2000, but I begged off. I run my own business, and I just couldn’t spare the time. About a year after 9/11, my business was in a shambles. But eloquent community leaders persuaded me that the consequences of the attack had potential to do more harm to the community than the attack itself. That realization made it seem irresponsible not to serve.
Did it prove to be what you expected?
No, I was staggered by the degree of involvement necessary to be an effective participant in the chaotic aftermath of 9/11, and the consequent time commitment. Meetings and obligations multiplied like rabbits. Democracy is a messy business, particularly for amateurs.
What do you think are C.B.1’s most significant accomplishments in the past two years?
I’d say that among the most significant are the opening of a new school and a new library in Battery Park City, and the sustained advocacy that resulted in funding for a new performing arts center and for increased financial aid to small local businesses.
What have been the biggest challenges and frustrations of serving on the Community Board?
There have been many challenges, but surprisingly few frustrations. One of the greatest challenges, to this small branch of extremely local city government, is to influence the policies of vastly larger and more powerful agencies of state and federal government. Little CB1 can’t change policies of agencies like the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation or the Port Authority or Homeland Security or the Justice Department, yet some of their decisions bear directly on the local community. So we must find ways to support our constituents by influence alone, which I think we’ve accomplished to a certain extent. I’d say the only real frustration was the appalling spectacle of a small, local community center becoming the focus of a pointless and divisive national debate.
What are you personally proudest of (or most pleased about) as you think about your service on C.B.1 over the past two years?
I’m proud that the Financial District committee’s unanimous vote on May 5 [on what was then called Cordoba House and is now called Park51] was supported by the full board and by nearly all elected officials to uphold the rights of citizens in our community to worship how and where they choose. I’m proud that we’ve played a significant role in expanding financial aid to distressed local merchants, and in warning against the adverse impact of trying accused terrorists in a local court. And I’m proud of our work to emphasize the critical needs of an exploding residential population east of Broadway that has grown 300 percent in 10 years, largely without the residential infrastructure that most urban neighborhoods take for granted.
Mostly, I’m proud and grateful to work with 49 other people so deeply dedicated to the welfare of this community. In this time and this place, I don’t think any of us could muster the strength to do what we’ve done without the support of our colleagues. In the past two years, as the nation divided sharply, we’ve come together as a winning team, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Community Boards seek new members
BY Terese Loeb Kreuzer
Do you wish some things in your neighborhood could be improved? Do you think no one with the authority to change anything cares about your opinions? If so, then think again.
New York City’s 59 Community Boards, each made up of 50 volunteers, are a grass-roots voice on issues that affect their respective communities — and they do make a difference. Now is the time to apply for Community Board membership for the coming year.
“We’ve done a lot to be proud of over the years,” said Community Board 1 member, Michael Connolly, reflecting on his eight years of community board service. Connolly mentioned the creation of historic districts in Tribeca, zoning concessions and the creation of schools. “I think we’ve had a significant impact on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site,” he added, “ensuring that the many competing voices were heard and that the thrust of redevelopment was forward-looking.”
Other members of C.B. 1 mentioned similar accomplishments plus some others.
Community board members serve two-year terms, and each year, half of the members must be reappointed or replaced. Half of the appointments are made unilaterally by the borough president — in Manhattan, that would be Scott Stringer — and half in consultation with the City Council member for each Community Board’s district. For returning members, applications are due in the borough president’s office by December 31, 2010 and for new members, by January 14, 2011. Appointments are announced by April 1.
According to the Manhattan Borough President’s website, “All Community Board members must be residents of New York City and must have a residence, business, professional or other significant interest in the district. In addition, the Manhattan Borough President’s office looks for applicants with histories of involvement in their communities, expertise and skill sets that are helpful to community boards, attendance at community board meetings, and knowledge of issues impacting their community.”
The members of New York City’s community boards are diverse in their backgrounds and interests. They are lawyers, teachers, artists, businessmen and women, accountants, writers, administrators and more.
Tricia Joyce, a photographers’ representative, is among the newer members of Community Board 1. After having been a public member for around a year, she became a full board member last year, asking to serve on the Youth and Education Committee because she wanted to take her commitment and responsibility “to the next level.” She added, “I am very proud of the work we have done on youth and education, given that, with this administration, we are under mayoral control.”
She feels C.B. 1 has accomplished a great deal in the last two years and mentioned specifically, “working alongside elected officials to get the September 11 trials moved out of Lower Manhattan, saving the last of the L.M.D.C. 9/11 funds originally charted for utilities so they could be allocated to Downtown arts and businesses grants instead and opening two new schools.”
Looking ahead to the challenges facing Lower Manhattan, Joyce said, “There are now more than double the amount of people living in this community district than before 9/11. With the incredible growth brings many more issues and many more points of view on those issues.”
Liz Williams is an artist who has served on C.B. 1 for two and a half years. She is a member of the Financial District and W.T.C. Redevelopment Committees. As a relative newcomer, she noted, “It takes time to become familiar and educated about certain issues. There are members who have been working on issues for years and to come in as a new member takes effort to try to learn the history.”
When asked what she thought C.B.1’s most significant accomplishments were in the past two years, Willliams mentioned the W.T.C. Committee’s “supporting and pushing for the reconciliation and agreement between the Port Authority and Larry Silverstein so they could move forward on the World Trade Center site.” She also mentioned “the Financial District Committee securing the increase in funds and more locations for the L.M.D.C. Small Firm Assistance Program. In both cases the chairs of those committees, Catherine McVay Hughes and Ro Sheffe, led the charge.”
For several months, Williams has been working with Hughes and other C.B.1 members trying to get the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed. On November 30, Williams and Hughes went to Washington D.C. for the opening of the New York City Police Museum’s ‘Artist as Witness’ show, when the shields of 29 N.Y.P.D. officers who died due to 9/11 illness were installed in the Capitol rotunda. After the Senate refused to hear debate on the Zadroga bill, Williams and Hughes were among the C.B. 1 members who stood outside 7 World Trade Center on December 10 under cold, louring skies with U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney at a press conference decrying the Senate vote and declaring that the fight for passage would continue. “Catherine has been a huge inspiration for me,” Williams said. “To see her dedication to issues like this, is remarkable. If this bill gets passed I think she and other C.B.1 members deserve a lot of credit.”
Bob Townley, director of Manhattan Youth and of the Downtown Community Center at 120 Warren Street, has served on C.B. 1 for around 20 years. He became chairman of the Waterfront Committee two years ago.
Townley said he decided to serve on the Community Board because, “As director of Manhattan Youth and as a resident, community affairs are critical for me.” He noted that he had spent a lot of his graduate education at Columbia University studying community organizing and planning and added, “I was always interested in local control of resources in a world where decisions are being removed from local people.”
Townley considers the Community Board’s impact on Lower Manhattan Development Corporation funding, new school openings and work with New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office to have been among the Community Board’s most significant accomplishments of the past two years. In addition, he said, “Part of my personal pleasure comes from the friends I have made from being on the Community Board.”
Michael Connolly echoed that assessment. Despite the inevitable frustrations of community board service — the boards are simply advisory to what Connolly called “the real stakeholders — property owners, corporate interests, government authorities” — he said, “I have profoundly benefited from my time on the board. Among other things, I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with many people of like mind. We have not always succeeded in what we have tried to accomplish but, together, we have been able to have a positive effect on our neighborhood.”
“I have made a number of lifelong friendships,” he said.
People interested in serving on C.B. 1 can get additional information from the Manhattan Borough President’s website, www.mbpo.org and download an application.
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