Battle of the Board

Written by Daniel Fitzsimmons on . Posted in News Our Town Downtown, Our Town Downtown.


Members to choose new leader for the L.E.S. & Chinatown community board on June 24

It’s somewhat rare to see a contested race in community board elections. Indeed, five of the six elected positions on Community Board 3 have only one nominee. But the position of chair is a two-way race between incumbent Gigi Li and newcomer Chad Marlow, who’s in his second year on the board. The race for the board’s highest position is indicative of the friction that has plagued it in recent months, which includes charges of mismanagement and racial insensitivity against Li.CB 3 Chair_OTDT

Li didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview. Board manager Susan Stetzer said she’s been quite busy navigating the non-profit she runs, the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, through budget season. Stetzer said that a community board chair normally would not discuss such business with a reporter before a vote.

Marlow, age 42, a senior policy advisor at the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, told Our Town Downtown that in the past year and a half, the board has “constantly struggled with its own mismanagement.”

“Because our full board meetings are so poorly run, they are excessively long and fail to use our time efficiently and effectively,” said Marlow. “Our community and many members of our board do not want another year like the one we just had, and the only way to avoid it is with new leadership at the top. The community wants change now.”

Other issues that have played out on the board were the suspension of a neighborhood group, the LES Dwellers, who are opposed to the proliferation of bars and clubs on the Lower East Side, and the handling of an initiative to co-name portions of Rivington Street “Beastie Boys Square.”

Marlow previously served two years on Community Board 2 and has experience on Community Board 1 and 4 in the Bronx in his time as a consultant for the New York Yankees. He heads a coalition of board members opposed to Li’s leadership, and said that while he has “quite a lot” of support on the board, he doesn’t know which way the vote will go.

“The vote is going to be very close, which alone is a powerful commentary on how the current chair has performed,” said Marlow. “I hope, in the end, the members of the board decide that it is wiser to give me a 12 month opportunity to show them how significantly I can improve the operation of our board than to endure another year of what we just experienced.”

But Li, age 32, still has significant support on the board and in the community. City Council member Rosie Mendez voiced her support for Li at a board meeting after Li was accused in a letter by board member Ayo Harrington of racial insensitivity in her committee chair appointments.

Our Town Downtown spoke with a former longtime member of CB3 who said Li was right to suspend the Dwellers in order to maintain the board’s autonomy.

“CB3 was ruled by private agenda, so-called activists throughout the 90s and it was a disaster. Nobody in the city took the board seriously and because of this we got zero extra services,” said the former board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Our movement in the next decade was to try and be adults and work seriously with the city; this netted us the Lower East Side rezoning and [the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area].”

Li and Marlow will each have a chance to address the board before the vote on June 24, which will include a short question and answer session.

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