Wednesday, February 10, 2010

While Bridges are built between downtown communities, an eery silence from Community Board 3 leadership

SUNDAY, JANUARY 31, 2010 (orignal posting date) (recently updated with responses by Dominic Pisciotta, CB3 chair)

Community Board 3 's leadership in Manhattan remains deaf, blind and mute during the most important
issue facing lower Manhattan and Chinatown in decades.

While bridges have been built between communities to the south and west of Chinatown during the battle to relocate the terror trials out of Lower Manhattan, Community Board 3 which includes the Daniel Patrick Moynahan U.S. Federal Courthouse and Chinatown where the terror trials would have been held, has remained strangely silent.
CB1 Representatives Marc Ameruso and John Fratta, as well as Julie Menin (Chair of CB1), crossed community boundaries to work together with residents and businesses to convince local, state and federal agencies to remove a terror trial, thereby averting financial and residential lock down of several communities.
However, the conspicuous conspiracy of silence from Community Board 3's Dominic Pisciotta and district manager Susan Stetzer was deafening. This works in Mayor Bloomberg's favor when he makes statements referring to the use of Governor's Island as a possible location for the trials as "the dumbest idea" he has heard. Yes, silence from your community board in these times can be deadly.
The silence has not gone unnoticed. Several journalists and our local residents have asked me what Community Board 3 has said in response to holding the terror trials in our neighborhood, and when I tell them, "nothing" they are surprised. While we were waiting to go on air for the HUCKABEE national news show to discuss the 9/11 trials on Friday, Communitiy Board 1 Chair Julie Menin even said "Chinatown is not even in our district - have you heard from Dominic?" Sadly, no one has.
Community Board 3 leadership needs change. Our community and indeed all of Manhattan dodged a bullet in recent weeks. In these times, "with friends like these - who needs enemies?"
Jan Lee

Since this posting Dominic Pisciotta wrote to me, included in that note was this statement which is encouraging, since before this , there was no mention to anyone in the community that CB3 had any plans to acknowledge the CB1 resolution:

"FYI, we will be presenting and most likely adopting CB 1's resolution in our Executive Committee meeting this month. This is the typical process for how community boards work together. See my other comments in the response." - Dominic Pisciotta

the following is a response in full by Dominic Pisciotta , Chair of CB3 with comments by Jan Lee 2/8/10


Since Jan Lee seems to be playing very loose with facts, I feel the need to provide some.

Fact #1: The Court where the trials themselves were to be held is located in Community Board 1 (CB 1), not CB 3. A large chunk of the “soft-security zone” is located in CB 3.

Lee :
According to CB3’s map the court where the trial would be held (Moynihan Federal Court Building) is located inside the border of CB3, not CB1 .Mr. Pisciotta acknowledges a major portion of the affected area is in CB3, yet no statements have been made from CB3 leadership.

Fact #2: Mr. Lee posted this entry two days after he and I sat across the table from each other at a presentation given by Commissioner Kelly, which is the first time I have been given any details of the security plan.

Anyone with their eye on local politics, let alone our CB#3 leader, would have known way before the NYPD detailed their security plan on January 29, 2010 that a large part of CB#3 would be under severe military lockdown if the terror trials were held in Lower Manhattan. We first raised the alarm during the first Chinatown Working Group town hall meeting last June, 2009 before representatives of most of our elected leadership and community board, that we feared the terror trials were coming to
Lower Manhattan and that elected officials in other states were raising their objections. Again at a steering committee meeting last fall of 2009, a steering committee member of Chatham Towers raised this concern a second time. When the announcement became official in mid November, our community initiated mobilization, including a town hall, extensive news stories in the Downtown Express, Tribeca Trib( ) and a steady drum beat of protest letters began to saturate local community papers in early December. The Chinese media in particular gave this subject extensive coverage. For the leader of our community board to feign ignorance of these events until the NYPD Police Commissioner made a formal, detailed presentation confirming everyone's worst fears, does not speak well for CB3 where the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Federal Courthouse, the proposed trial site, and huge residential complexes lies within its jurisdiction.

Pisciotta :
Saying that I have been silent on this issue is completely false. I discussed the issue at Community Board 3’s Executive meetings in both December and January and the General Board meetings in January (

At Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s presentation of the Security Plan, which included Q&A, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver cautioned those present that “it’s not over, I don’t suggest we celebrate just yet”.Commissioner Kelly began the presentation with “This is the plan we hope we never have to use”.

Although CB3 Chairman Dominic Pisciotta did attend the meeting, he remained silent in front of the NYPD Commissioner when the floor was open for questions. It is unconscionable and a dereliction of duty that Mr. Pisciotta didn’t have a single question to ask on behalf of the CB3 community or the community board, so it is disappointing for Mr. Pisciotta to rewrite history and now claim that he spoke up.

The presentation which lasted over 30 min. outlined in extreme detail the security plan that would take effect for the Civic Center and Chinatown area should the trials proceed as planned. To describe this security plan as extreme would be an understatement. It was projected that Chinatown would be a militarized encampment for years. Representatives from the Chinatown community, ChathamTowers and Chatham Green, as well as Downtown Alliance, and Century21 department stores all made comments and questioned NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly

In the past Mr. Pisciotta was quick to write a letter to the editor of Downtown Express to publicly reprimand the highly esteemed community traffic engineer who was hired by CB3 to analyze and make recommendations regarding the proposed Chatham Square Reconstruction Chinatown ( We assume the Chair’s letter was NOT approved or vetted by a full community board vote, showing that indeed at times the Board Chair and District Manager do “go rogue” when they see it necessary to do so.

Additionally, the only conspiring Susan Stetzer and I have done on this issue is coordinating the invites to multiple meetings and task forces we have been asked to be a part of as well as our top concerns of impacts to the community that we feel need to be addressed. I brought up two of these items with Commissioner Kelly after his presentation and which Mr. Lee and others from the CCRC heard as well.

No one from CCRC is aware of any items brought forth by Dominic to Commissioner Kelly before , during or after the presentation.

Fact #3: Despite literally shockingly ZERO community residents coming to Community Board 3 with concerns over the trial, I have been concerned and have had discussions with Ms. Menin both in our December Borough Board meeting and since. In any case, we generally would not vote on an issue that is located mostly in CB 1 until after that board takes a position.


Whatever the reasons why “zero community residents” came to CB3 ( a claim which is patently false) with concerns over the trial, it remains troubling that the chair of a community board sits around and waits until someone brings to his attention the most threatening, most damaging, most severe state of “lock down” ever to be considered in any American city since 9/11/01 before he would act. Many residents and businesses were mobilizing since mid November 2009 and this had been covered in local newspapers. A CB1 board member, Marc Ameruso, read about Chatham Towers' and Chatham Green's Terror Trial Town Hall meeting in the press and drove through the neighborhood at night alerting residents to his board's next meeting, the following day.

Fact #4: Ms. Menin has done a phenomenal job taking charge on this and I give her tremendous kudos for what she has helped to move so quickly in the last two weeks. In fact, the Borough President asked to get a better handle on the details before scheduling it for a full Borough Board (all CB’s in Manhattan) vote.

Clearly all of CB1 deserves “kudos.” CB1 has distinguished itself as a community board who, after hearing testimony and being sometimes divided over this issue, came together to support the local citizens and businesspeople who live, work, and raise their families near the terror trial site which is largely in CB3. As Chair of a Community Board, a community expects a heightened sense of awareness, a desire to help, and a network from which to draw in times of crisis in the community. Mr. Pisciotta relies instead on a fellow Board Chair, rather than a tried and true network of dozens of community members and several Asian American Community Board members to which to turn to make decisions on the “emergency” nature of the matter at hand.

Fact #5: Ms. Menin and I determined that my calling an emergency Community Board 3 Executive and/or full board meeting to support the CB 1 resolution was probably not necessary. I will introduce it at our February Executive meeting and if passed, will be voted on by the full Board the next week. That’s not silence or inaction.

Though corresponding with Board 1’s Chair is the obvious route in matters concerning a “lock down” and “frozen zones” affecting and existing in both community board jurisdictions, the Chair of CB3 Mr. Pisciotta decided that an emergency meeting was “probably not necessary”. After meeting with Ray Kelly and presented with the extreme measures that were planned to be taken for security for the terror trials, and the lock-down military style methods planned to be used and endured by local CB3 citizens – Dominic Pisciotta, after consulting only with the Chair of another Community Board, felt it was NOT an emergency.
While community members work hard over safety issues, as I have done in numerous occasions, I wonder exactly what it would take for Mr. Pisciotta to call an emergency meeting of the Board if not this?Have we become so inundated with “frozen zones” and “lockdowns”, sharpshooters and metal barricades that Mr. Pisciotta felt it unnecessary to move on the opportunity to bolster support to move the trials elsewhere? Why did he rely on the opinion of one person when he has over fifty members on the Community Board to call upon?
When presented with the choice of action (calling an emergency meeting) or silence, unfortunately Mr. Pisciotta made the wrong and irresponsible decision. As of this week, Whitehouse spokesman Gibbs has stated that “NYC is not off the table”. To me, this constitutes a state of emergency for Chinatown and the Civic Centerresidential and commercial area.

Fact #6: Considering the Board’s limited resources, I would rather spend my own and the Board’s time focusing on responding to facts and details, so that we can make informed recommendations, not getting into a tit-for-tat with either the Mayor or Mr. Lee.


The comments made by the Mayor were not considered “tit for tat” by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver :

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver lambasted the mayor's comments as close-minded and tactless. He, along with Congressman Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Councilmember Margaret Chin released a joint statement Friday in condemnation.
“We were extremely disappointed by Mayor Bloomberg’s callous dismissal yesterday of a potential alternative location for the upcoming trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," the statement read. "His comments in the Downtown Express ... [demonstrate] a lack of sensitivity and understanding for the significant toll the trial may exact on the residents and small businesses of Lower Manhattan.". By JENNIFER MILLMAN

…and I don’t presume to hold the same importance to Mr. Pisciotta as the Mayor does, but it is noteworthy that, while elected officials who represent the Chinatown constituents came out in force against the Mayor’s comment, both the chair and district manager of Community Board 3 chose to remain silent. Writing letters to the editors of local papers hardly exhausts “limited resources” in fact I would argue that silence is the root cause of “limited resources”. I refer again to the letter written about the traffic engineer who was slammed by the Chair in a letter to the editor, it’s sad that his “limited resources” were spent slamming the one engineer working on the side of the community.

I would think that after Mr. Lee served on the Board’s Outreach Committee a few years ago that he would understand the process for engaging the Board by now.

Mr. Pisciotta’s correct in that I do understand the process, both from working as an advocate for transportation issues and street safety and working successfully to abolish the illegal practice of placard parking abuse in my area. I also learned from a previous chairman that when faced with a deficit of local opinions on any given subject he would reach out and interact immediately. It was another Chair and another time, when a “call to action” was motivating. Sadly there is no call to action from this Chair, only a call for silence.

However, it is clear that he was more focused on his fiefdom than including all of the neighborhoods encompassed by CB 3 and did not pay attention to or have any interest in building anymore bridges than his own.

It is interesting that Mr. Pisciotta paints me as a person building a fiefdom, yet he has no evidence to back up this claim, nor can he point to any end to my supposed means. I have no army, I have no followers, and I don’t’ aspire to be anything more than a citizen and an advocate for the neighborhood I live in and love.

In January I established an Outreach Taskforce that will be headed by Gigi Lee. It is my hope that community members will learn how to interact with the CB more and vice-versa. It was the mission of the Outreach Committee, when Mr. Lee was a member, to do this before, however, the Board did not meet that goal, so we’re trying again.

Mr. Pisciotta again is correct that the Board did not meet its goal in providing outreach to the community as evidenced by the need to for the Chinatown Working Group. CWG was formed as a direct result of CB3’s lack of outreach in the zoning issue, however the success of the outreach for transportation related issues, of which I was, along with several other well known volunteers, responsible for reaching tens of thousands of people in Chinatown through town halls, newsletters, and two video documentaries I worked on.

I invite Mr. Lee to come back to the open Executive and Full Board meetings to reacquaint himself with how to bring issues to the board and to contact me and/or the office regarding his concerns. Why he has taken the time to write this blog entry instead of picking up the phone and reaching out to me for the first time since we have met is beyond me.

Mr. Pisciotta is either mistaken or conveniently forgetting that for the first two years serving as chair he and I met on numerous occasions while I worked on, among other things, a special task force for the Chatham Square Reconstruction Project and related construction projects such as the Brooklyn Bridge rehab. affecting Chinatowntransportation.

Though Mr. Pisciotta has entrusted Gigi Lee with a task force of her own, she too has followed suit and failed to interact with the community (despite being one of the very few , if not the only Board member who lives in Chinatown) even after weekly press coverage in the Chinese press.

Mr. Pisciotta’s outreach task force with Gigi at the helm must do what local activists have been doing to gain traction in the community: go door to door and inform, educate and advocate for the community. So far both Gigi and the task force he speaks of is unknown in Chinatown.

It doesn’t seem productive or even the proper representation CCRC needs in this “bridge building” effort. I think the answer probably lays more in the fact that he is seeking to emulate Tea Party activism by fabricating an issue to get his way rather than to work with a completely sympathetic Board. He just needs to make the effort himself.

If Mr. Pisciotta regards my comments about himself and District Manager as isolated and self motivated then he should listen more to his own Board, his community, and his elected officials when they all were asking “Where was Communitiy Board 3

The suggestion that I am the sole voice who is commenting on this silence speaks to the Chair’s naiveté. No one is fabricating an issue if community Board 3 is completely absent from any and all public discourse with regard to the Terror Trials. To this day the Chair has made no public comment either way on this issue. This is not a fabrication.

In contrast to what Mr. Pisciotta thinks, I would argue that this has been tremendously productive, in that the Chair of Community Board 3 has finally spoken, and that one would assume through his newly formed task force, this platform has given this new vehicle the needed publicity it needs for its launch into Chinatown.

In light of the Chair’s recent announcement via email, “FYI, we will be presenting and most likely adopting CB 1's resolution in our Executive Committee meeting this month. This is the typical process for how community boards work together.” -  Dominic Pisciotta, it stands to reason that even with “literally shockingly ZERO community residents coming to Community Board 3 with concerns over the trial” Mr. Pisciotta can still in some way bring support to Board 1’s resolution as he says he is doing this month. 
The question remains, if he can do it this month with still zero community input as he claims,  why then could he not have called an emergency meeting of the full board two months ago with the same alleged “literally shockingly ZERO” community input and adopt the resolution in conjunction with Board 1 weeks ago?
In response to Mr. Pisciotta saying Jan Lee “just need to make an effort” I believe that contributing to a dozen news articles, a national T.V. appearance, countless volunteer hours of planning press conferences and rallies more than qualifies for “making in effort” I am disappointed that Mr. Pisciotta sees otherwise. 
I am in agreement with Mr. Pisciotta, all community boards rely on interaction from the community. One way to ensure that interaction takes place is to reach out to well established networks within the community by the Board’s leadership. A Chair need not posit an opinion, but one should at the very least rally his community, his board, and himself to respond when matters of national and international proportions face tens of thousands of residents and businesses in the district he serves.

To have relied on one person (CB1 Chair), as he said he did, is an misuse of his position. I sense that Mr. Pisciotta probably thought he was doing the right thing in asking for advice from another Board Chair, unfortunately he stopped short of reaching out to the actual community that would be under siege. If that community was in a state of panic, and rallying it’s own “troops” to the front line of the debate, then Mr. Pisciotta’s role was not to lay back but to motivate his own Board to action.

With the city Council about to hear a resolution coauthored by Councilperson Margaret Chin on February 10th at 1:pm, it is my hope that myself and Mr. Pisciotta, along with many Board members who have worked on so many Chinatown issues can indeed work together on supporting this resolution (with some modification) , along with Community Board 1’s resolution against the terror trials in NYC, so that we can ensure a safe and vibrant community in which we can continue to live. I urge Mr. Pisciotta to speak up and join the effort NOW to ensure that the trials will be moved from lower Manhattan.

–Jan Lee

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