Outspoken critic of Li’s leadership of C.B. 3 is booted from E.V. board | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Outspoken critic of Li’s leadership of C.B. 3 is booted from E.V. board

Ayo Harrington, who sharply criticized Gigi Li’s appointments on C.B. 3, found out last week that she was not reappointed to the East Village board.

Ayo Harrington, who sharply criticized Gigi Li’s appointments on C.B. 3, found out last week that she was not reappointed to the East Village board.

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN  |  In harshly worded language, recently ousted Community Board 3 board member Ayo Harrington lashed out Tuesday night against Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, charging that Brewer’s refusal to reappoint her as a member of the board was “shameful and disappointing.”

Harrington’s comments were made before the full board at its meeting at P.S. 20 on Essex St. just a few days after Harrington — a fierce critic of C.B. 3 Chairperson Gigi Li — was informed by the Borough President’s Office that she would not be reappointed to the East Village community board.

Li was not present at the meeting because she was reportedly on vacation.

Harrington, an African-American, had charged that Li “consistently and regularly failed to appoint any black or Latino members of our community board as the chairperson of a committee, subcommittee or task force,” a charge that Li strongly denied.

As first reported in this newspaper in January, an Equal Employment Opportunity investigation into these allegations by the Borough President’s Office determined that the charge was “unsubstantiated,” and that Li — the first woman of Chinese descent to lead a New York City community board — had not chaired C.B. 3 long enough (one year) nor made enough appointments (six) to have established a “consistent pattern” of failing to appoint qualified blacks and Latinos.

The final report on the matter, which this paper obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, did, however, find that Li and the board’s leadership “failed to sufficiently emphasize the value of diversity and inclusion.”

Harrington, who was passed over by Li last year to head the board’s Human Services and Education Committee, was not the only board member to make the complaint. Li has come under heavy criticism in the past year from a group of board members who were also displeased with several of her key appointments.

Harrington, however, became the loudest voice calling for reform and had incurred the wrath of Li, although in past months the two of them seemed to be getting along quite well at board meetings.

In her remarks at Tuesday night’s board meeting, which drew loud applause — but few voices of support from other board members — Harrington said she had decided as a matter of principle to “speak out about issues like race that made other people uncomfortable. I am the kind of person who is not afraid to speak out, and I’m also unstoppable,” she said.

In her statement, Harrington, who was the interim chairperson of the board’s Health, Seniors and Human Services / Youth, Education and Human Rights Committee, went on to say that she had received broad support from board members and community residents alike for speaking out about the issue of race and inclusion on C.B. 3.

“That’s why I’m so ashamed and totally disappointed by this outcome,” she said. “But I also know, without a shred of doubt, that my raising of this issue contributed to the recent appointment of three black and Latino people to positions of leadership on this board.”

Harrington, who directed her remarks to Lucille Songhai, a spokesperson for the Manhattan borough president, had just finished giving a report to the board on Brewer’s community-related activities. Harrington said the borough president’s action in not reappointing her — after having served the minimum one two-year term — was “an embarrassment for this community, which claims to be so progressive. It’s a shameful outcome.

“As a result of all this, my voice in speaking out about issues of racism, inclusion and transparency has gotten much stronger, and my voice will get much louder,” Harrington vowed.

Songhai, asked after the meeting for her reaction to Harrington’s remarks, said she had “no comment” and referred questions to the borough president’s press office.

The Villager last week tried to find out exactly why Brewer had decided not to reappoint Harrington, only to receive the response: “The Manhattan Borough President’s Office does not comment on the specifics of individual community board appointments.”

For her part, Harrington last week told The Villager that the B.P.’s office only told her she wasn’t put back on C.B. 3 because the board had so many applications — more than for any other Manhattan board. Her term officially ends on April 30.

Earlier in Tuesday evening’s meeting, only two board members spoke out in support of Harrington. One of them was Vaylateena Jones, a member of Harrington’s committee.

“As an African-American, I was very saddened by the news of her non-reappointment,” she said. “This  was an African-American woman who used her voice to say something about racial conditions on this board. It sends a message to young African-American females that they should not speak up about racial matters.”

Anne Johnson, a former C.B. 3 chairperson, added, “What kind of signal is it that people are appointed to the board but not allowed to speak up? What message does it send when someone like Ayo is censored for speaking out? This is a despicable action and must be rectified.”

Asked after the meeting why so few board members spoke out in support of Harrington, a board member who requested anonymity said there was a “climate of fear” on the board.

“People don’t want to alienate their political sponsors who might be in support of Gigi,” he said. “There’s a lot of hypocrisy on this board.”

In other board business, a proposal in support of making Lunar New Year a city Department of Education holiday was delayed and sent back to committee. Several board members said that while they favored a school holiday marking the Chinese New Year, not enough consideration had been given to the problem of more and more school days off and its effect on working parents who cannot get or afford childcare.

Board member Chad Marlow, echoing the concerns of other members, said that while he had the “utmost respect” for this holiday, the proliferation of school holidays puts pressure on working families to find childcare or else they will have to miss work.

He said that a better approach was to “let each school choose what best fits their peoples’ needs. Holidays should work both for children and the parents of those children.”

With reporting
by Lincoln Anderson