C.B. 3 problems loom large in chairperson race
BY ANNE JOHNSON | This letter is being written to clear up some inaccuracies and omissions in a couple of your articles regarding Community Board 3, and to ask some questions.
First, a bit of history. When Scott Stringer became Manhattan borough president, he set out to make the appointments on the community boards more representative of the areas they covered. As a result, C.B. 3 became more culturally diverse. However, although the board has become more culturally diverse, the committee chairpersons — who are appointed solely by the board chairperson and make up a good portion of the Executive Committee — still are not.
Currently, C.B. 3 has two Asian-American committee chairpersons and the rest are white. This fact — and it is definitely a fact, no denying it — was pointed out to the current C.B. 3 chairperson, Ms. Gigi Li, on several occasions, and she did nothing.
In addition, when a committee chairpersonship became vacant, two different, eminently qualified African-American women asked to be appointed, and were turned down. One had asked to be a co-chairperson along with another person, and one had asked to be the chairperson by herself. The two who asked to be co-chairpersons were turned down because, Ms. Li told them, according to the bylaws, co-chairpersons were not allowed. The other woman was turned down because Ms. Li claimed that she had not been on the board long enough.
So what does Ms. Li do? She appoints two white men to be committee co-chairpersons, one of whom had been on C.B. 3 for the same amount of time as the African-American woman she turned down due to her short tenure on C.B. 3.
Ms. Li’s appointments resulted in one of the two white males becoming chairperson of four committees, simultaneously, and he was not the only white or Asian appointed by Ms. Li to hold multiple committee chairperson positions.
Now, is that racism or is it what we called in the 1960s a “white blind spot,” where a racist omission isn’t even seen as racism? Or is it possible that there is another reason — specifically that the Svengali who really runs C.B. 3 didn’t want these three people to sit on the Executive Committee, where they might really ask some questions about how the board has been improperly run in the last several years? It could be a bit of all three.
The community should know that many members of C.B. 3 have been very concerned about how the board has been run for the past several years. A lot needs changing. Our board has a terrible reputation. Three times in the past eight months alone, two Manhattan borough presidents have had to step in to question the actions of our chairperson.
Has the current chairperson been willing to make some necessary changes to ensure that all of the C.B. 3 members and the community we represent get fair treatment? Not at all. With that being the case, is it then time for a change, to elect someone who will run the board more fairly, not as a dictatorship but as a collaboration among all its members? Seems to me, it is time.
Now, the big question as C.B. 3 approaches its June election is whether its members will vote for chairperson based on each candidate’s record and merits. I hope so.
But one concern I have is that those who do not vote for change will take this position because they do not want to cast a vote against Ms. Li that might be viewed as a condemnation of her as a racist. I think that is a false concern. The accusations about Ms. Li’s actions are currently being investigated by Borough President Gale Brewer’s Office, which will make that determination.
C.B. 3’s vote is about who will do the best job running our board for the next year — that’s it. But to those who are still concerned about the racial implications of the June vote, I would ask them to consider this:
Would not a vote in favor of Ms. Li have negative implications for the African-American and Latino members of our board?
Would not a vote to reward Ms. Li with another term be seen as a statement that most members of our board do not see the exclusion of two “racial” groups from chairing C.B. 3 committees for two full years to be a big deal?
Would not a vote re-electing Ms. Li spread blame for her exclusionary policies from her alone to the full board?
Might her re-election cause a racial rift on our board that could spill over to the community at large?
A lot to consider.
Anne K. Johnson
Johnson is a member and former chairperson, Community Board 3