New-York News

Community Board 5 official who posed challenge to new chairman is pushed out

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A Manhattan Community Board 5 official nominated to replace the chairman elected in a boardroom brawl two months ago has left the influential Midtown neighborhood group.

Craig Slutzkin departed yesterday, effective immediately, after he wasn’t reappointed for another term by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. Levine acted after Slutzkin, as a member of another board, supported a resolution challenging a Department of Education policy allowing transgender girls to play on female sports teams.

His exit could pave the way for the re-election next month of Chairman Samir Lavingia, 29, who was elected CB5 chairman in a close vote in March and is campaign coordinator at Open New York, a Silicon Valley-backed housing-development advocacy group with a lobbying arm

CB5’s nominating committee opposes the ouster of Slutzkin, who had been the board’s second vice chair and was voted by the full board to run an emergency meeting last month after Lavingia’s contentious election. 

“We all determined that no one on our entire community board is more qualified than Craig to serve as the chair,” the panel said in a letter to Levine dated yesterday. “The failure to reappoint Craig compels the nominating committee to endorse a candidate other than the one that we believe is best.”

A second letter to Levine today, signed by 26 of CB5’s 50 members, described Slutzkin as an “invaluable asset” and said “failing to re-appoint such a respected, reliable, and experienced person as him to our Community Board is unprecedented and outrageous.”

Levine had no immediate comment on either letter.

However, Assembly member Tony Simone said he was pleased that Slutzkin was pushed out, describing Slutzkin’s March vote on the Community Education Council for District 2 as transphobic. The controversial measure was in front of the council that covers Midtown, most of Lower Manhattan, and the Upper East Side.

“Slutzkin’s decision to vote for a hateful and prejudiced resolution like #248 renders him unfit to serve on a Community Board,” Simone said in a statement Wednesday.

Invited to speak at last night’s CB5 executive-committee meeting, Slutzkin said “I have nothing to say,” and walked out of the room with board secretary Mary Brosnahan, who also left CB5. Neither replied to requests for comment.  

CB5 is the most important of the city’s many community boards, with a district reaching between Eighth and Lexington avenues and from 14th to 59th streets. The 50-member group gives Midtown residents a seat at the table when city or state authorities are tackling big issues, such as the redevelopment of the Penn Station district or the rezoning of East Midtown. CB5’s recommendations aren’t binding, but they are often sought by developers seeking to build in the area and closely watched by elected officials.

The exits of Slutzkin and Brosnahan are the latest in a wave of departures that began in February with the resignation of CB5’s chair of 15 years, Vikki Barbero, a former administrator at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In March her successor, residential real estate broker Nick Athanail, left and so did the longtime head of the board’s powerful land use committee, Layla Law-Gisiko. Departed officials criticized the four Open New York members on CB5 for creating a divisive environment and for not disclosing their affiliation before joining the volunteer board.

Community board members are nominated by City Council members and appointed by borough presidents to two-year terms. Some Open New York members see the boards as beholden to NIMBYs reflexively opposed to housing development. In a January message on Slack shared with Crain’s, Lavingia urged Open New York members to get involved on CB5.

“We are taking it on by the horns,” he wrote.

Four of the CB5’s six officer positions are vacant and are to be filled at a meeting next month in which Lavingia stands for re-election. Meanwhile, the board has been restocked and 12 new voting members will join the monthly meeting Thursday, Lavingia said last night. One member asked how many of the newcomers belong to or work for Open New York; Lavingia said he didn’t know. 

Now that Slutzkin is out of the picture, a person familiar with the matter said the nominating committee will meet over the next two days to try to find a second candidate by Thursday’s meeting. 

“It’s back to square one,” the person said.

Lavingia told Crain’s it would be healthy for CB5 if another contender emerges for the chairman’s role and there is a contested election. He added: “No matter who is on our board, our focus remains the same. We will continue to represent the people of our district and tackle the issues they face every day.”

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Aaron Elstein , 2024-05-08 21:29:02

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