Thursday, September 15, 2005


task force newark ave.

If you haven't read
my report from last night's City Council meeting, please do so now. In case I didn't make it clear in that piece, I do not think that anything happened at the meeting that could possibly be interpreted as favorable to the cause of lifting restrictions on Newark Avenue's Restaurant Row. Sorry, guys. The creation of a task force on which everybody and his aunt will sit places a major bureaucratic obstruction between the first and second readings of the ordinance to relax regulations. In fact, it would have been better for their cause if the ordinance had been rejected outright. I was totally mystified by the applause that came from the right side of the chamber, and could only conclude that the people clapping were complete political neophytes.

But then that makes them no worse than our Councilman, who (hopefully) learned two hard lessons last night. Lesson number one is that any politician goes over the heads of the Downtown Neighborhood Associations at his own risk. Steve Fulop tried to sneak this ordinance past the DCNA, and learned that the Association presidents have a hotline to the Mayor and Council President Vega. He'll be serving on the task force with all of these guys; presumably, he'll be sitting toward the end of the table. Lesson number two is that nobody enjoys being embarrassed in the newspaper. When Fulop spoke to Jarrett Renshaw of the Journal without first clearing it with those who support the ordinance, he broke the cardinal rule of political courtesy: don't throw your colleagues on the defensive the night before a vote. Nothing makes an infuriated opposition coalesce faster.

In case you're about to write to argue that Vega's task force is some sort of a productive compromise, let's review who will be sitting on this committee:

Mayor Healy. If anybody still thinks Jerramiah Healy cares about bar hours on Newark Avenue, they haven't been paying attention. If his police officers and his community leaders tell him that extended hours on Newark Avenue aren't a good idea, then there won't be extended hours on Newark Avenue. He doesn't fuck around; that's why we elected him.

Councilpeople Mariano Vega and Steven Fulop. This is Fulop's ordinance and Fulop's district, so barring a complete chickenshit maneuver, he'll continue to back it. In his interview with me, Fulop said that if he couldn't make the transformation of Newark Avenue happen in his four-year term, then he would have failed as a public official. Council President Vega is nominally in favor of some kind of transformation. But Vega always proceeds with the same objective in mind: genteel, inoffensive compromise. If his constituents (and Downtowners are still his constituents, although he is five years removed from Ward E) are upset about something, he's going to do his best to placate their worries. Which brings us to:

The Coalition of Downtown Neighborhood Associations. They don't want this. They're afraid of drugs, parties, litter rowdiness, the Hobokenization of Newark Avenue, and anything else that could potentially damage property values in the districts they've worked so hard to designate historic. Moreover, they are angry with Fulop for completely disregarding their wishes. The DCNA is on the wrong side of history here: with land values as high as they are, there is no way to prevent the invisible hand from giving Newark Avenue a proper shake sooner or later. But the presence of neighborhood association members on the task force ought to be enough to throw cold water on the dreams of LITM even if they didn't have to cope with....

The cops. Okay, let's do this one quickly. Do you think the police would prefer longer hours for bars, or shorter hours for bars? Right, kids.

The Downtown SID. This is the organization that has stuck the restrictions on Newark Avenue in the first place, and who benefit the most from the historic designation of Restaurant Row. The businessmen of the Special Improvement District may believe it is time for a change. But whatever change they approve, you can be certain they'll want it to be their change, and not one instigated by those looking to radically change the tenor of the neighborhood. The SID felt that they already had a good plan for Newark Avenue moving glacially through the normal municipal channels. They believe this is their territory, and they're going to want to punish interlopers.

Add it all up, and what do you get? A coalition of Downtown businessmen, the police, neighborhood politicians, a mayor who has better things to do than worry about a bar fight, and a Council president congenitally predisposed toward compromise vs. a freshman Councilman who just pissed everybody off. Never mind that it'll be December 2077 before that task force actually assembles; if they ever did harmonize their schedules and met, it would definitely not be good news for those who'd like to see a little more action around here.

It just now occurs to me that this piece should have been posted to the Tris McCall Report, and the impressions of the meeting should have been posted here. Ah, well, maybe I'll switch 'em sometime.

Just an outstanding analysis, Tris, and, you're right, the two posts should probably be switched.

Homeowners in a situation like this are as conservative as a man with a 14 year old daughter. But they will pay for this down the road.

Your worries about Mr. Fulop seem to be bearing out.
--Your worries about Mr. Fulop seem to be bearing out.--

one good sign last night -- he was definitely engaged throughout the meeting. i got the sense that the rest of the councilpeople thought he was being a little motormouth, but i hate it when councilpeople just sit up there and say nothing. mary spinello, for instance, looked like she'd rather be anyplace else, and i think willie flood was sleeping with her eyes open, like a fish. i don't go to those meetings to hear people moan about their water bills; i go to hear what the elected officials have to say about what they're going to *do* about the water bills. and other stuff, too.
You have a great blog here! I will be sure to book mark you. I have a restaurant review site. It pretty much covers restaurant review related stuff. Check it out if you get time :-)
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