Zach van Schouwen reports on all the hooplah down at City Hall, as the Land Use Committee voted on Columbia’s Manhattanville plan.

At City Hall, the room is only about half-full for the first 20 minutes of the committee votes on the proposed expansion into Manhattanville. It could be because the temperature in the Council Room is a modest two hundred and fifty degrees, even with all the curtains shut. The more likely reason, though, is that this event is calendared, helpfully, as “Stated Council Meeting,” without any further explanation. “Can I get into the meeting?” I asked a security guard when I arrived – “No,” he said, “but you can probably take photos of everybody leaving.” I walk upstairs, where the chamber doors are wide open, and take one of dozens of available seats.

Of course, all this confusion hasn’t stopped Nick Sprayregen from rounding up the usual suspects, who can be seen circulating angry flyers and putting their bags through the metal detector in order to be allowed to shout slogans to a couple of straggler reporters on the steps. When they try to enter Council fifteen minuets later, a few security guards round up everyone with a sign, a “No Eminent Domain Abuse” button, or blond dreadlocks, and shunt them up to the secluded upstairs balcony. Sprayregen manages to evade them and makes it to a chair, where he reads the New York Times through the whole hearing.

After that, though, we’re off. In subcommittee, the measure is fairly quickly referred to the full Land Use committee vote. That’s when the show begins.


Robert Jackson and Inez Dickens, the two council members representing West Harlem, start off on the high road, with platitudes about the committee’s hard work—and plenty about themselves. Jackson praises his own leadership in giving Community Board 9 $200,000 to develop the 197(a) plan, which (apparently meaninglessly) passes unanimously in a vote that’s held at the same time as the one for 197(c). Even a confused Melinda Katz–chair of the Land Use committee–concedes that it doesn’t make sense to vote on both (a) and (c), since one supersedes the other.

As it happens, the average Columbia student should take heart in the fact that they know more about this issue than the average City Council member seems to, if you don’t count the handful who include their position on Manhattanville among the planks of their re-election platform. Incisive questions asked by councilors throughout the meeting include “Wait, which way did Community Board 9 vote?” and “What’s a 197(a) plan?

The stern hand of Katz discourages the hecklers from openly shouting, as they did in the first few minutes of the meeting. The determined few fall into coughing fits at key moments of the speeches – Katz sarcastically recommends a cough drop. Thirty minutes in, she looks fed up with the whole proceeding, and Charles Barron hasn’t even said anything yet.

But say something he does!  If you don’t know Barron, he’s a long-winded rabble-rouser who refers to himself during the meeting as “not down with the Founding Fathers.” He gets into shouting matches with multiple council members – to tremendous laughter, Councilman Felder demands that Barron be disciplined for interrupting his speech.  Barron: “Oh, sorry, I was talking to myself with the mic on.” If we must sum up Felder, we can do so in one quote: he says, “Columbia allows racism and anti-Semitism to flourish”, going on to add “But we should not punish the West Harlem community just because Columbia is horrible!”

Barron then proceeds to derail the entire meeting by moving to “not vote.” After a grey-haired parliamentarian clarifies the procedure, an hour of vitriolic speeches ensues; by now, the room is packed with shouting critics and more than a few familiar faces from CU. Inez Dickens makes a veiled snipe at Barron by referring to critics that “don’t live in the borough”, and mentions “faces coming out of the woodwork, who in fifty years in the West Harlem community, [she’d] never seen before.” Another council member points out that she’s only 39, and an audience member yells, “You cut a deal!” The security guys make the universal gesture for “I’m watching you,” and the other council members say their piece. Barron’s delaying motion eventually fails with only six aye
votes, but the audience is sweaty and jittery.

Despite all of this, the final Land Use committee vote is a tame affair, and speeches are kept to a minimum. The result is 18-3, with 3 abstentions. The full council vote is later today–a press person tells Bwog it’ll go down sometime in the next five hours.  ZvS bows out, Lydia DePillis steps up.  Bwog will keep you posted.