Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Quinn and the BTM: Whither Her Community Legacy?

Chris Quinn is defined by her roots in the neighborhoods of Chelsea and Clinton. In the year 2000, when a proposal was floated to build three 150,000 sq. ft. Costcos (one on 23rd Street, one on 14th, and the other on 55th and 10th Avenue), Quinn jumped right into the middle of the fight.

At the time the Alliance had helped to cobble together a diverse community/business/labor coalition against the two stores, both of which were to be built without any parking facilities. Chris not only led all of the press conferences but, in addition, mobilized more community groups to join in our efforts. She also deputized her district leader, lawyer Arthur Schwartz, whose legal expertise was instrumental in eventually getting the developer (our friends at Related) to back down.

Make no mistake about it, this was no minor skirmish. In fact Costco had been working on a new urban concept called "Costco Fresh" and the NYC locations were to be the pioneers of this scaled-down city store idea. It was not to be and Christine Quinn was definitely a major factor.

What impressed us most at the time was how embedded Quinn was with the various community groups and how her opposition wasn't built simply on a knee-jerk NIMBY attitude. This was highlighted by her principled negative reaction to Costco's membership fee and refusal of the store to accept food stamps, effectively disenfranchising all of Quinn's poor constituents. To the councilmember this was simply unacceptable.

What remains to be determined, however, is the extent to which this ingrained feistiness and community-centeredness remains part of the new Speaker's repetoire. Her first big test will be the Gateway Mall and all of its well-documented problems. Chris Quinn will have the golden opportunity to send a clear message to the mayor that development must be accountable development and that the Council will be setting the parameters to define just what this concept means.

In addition, given yesterday's judicial highjacking of the City Council's statutory authority, Quinn needs to immediately make a statement that EDC's clever end-run of the Council's Charter mandates in the area of the leasing of city property aren't going to be accepted. The Council needs to void the eviction of the BTM merchants and should do so be sending the Gateway application down to defeat.