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Exit Interview: State Senator Thomas K. Duane, East Village Advocate

Tom Duane with votersCourtesy Thomas K. Duane Tom Duane with voters, Nov. 29, 2011 at City Hall.

Thomas K. Duane announced this week that he won’t be seeking re-election, but the state senate’s first openly gay member is still railing against “malevolent” landlords. In an interview with The Local, the Democrat discussed his 14 years of representing the East Village as state senator, including his battles with landlords like Benjamin Shaoul, his preservation efforts for the proposed historic district and the now-demolished 35 Cooper Square, and his attempts at curbing an explosion of nightlife in the neighborhood.


You’ve been fighting for tenants’ rights during the 14 years you’ve served as Senator. How did that spill over into the East Village?


I really fought just a terrible landlord, Ben Shaoul. He wants to expand at 514-516 East Sixth Street and 329-335 East Ninth Street. We’ve been reaching out to both of the city housing agencies, the Department of Buildings and H.P.D. [Department of Housing Preservation and Development], and working with the tenants and the neighborhood activists to force him to comply with the law. Read more…

The East Village’s Missing Name

Four More Years?Susan Keyloun

What is it? The name that’s missing from the East Village?

Think. It’s a name you would expect to hear, but don’t. A name you would expect to encounter in cafes and bars, on street corners and buses, in parks and in shops, in the lobbies of movie theaters and the changing rooms of gyms, on subway platforms and in supermarket lines, and wherever else East Villagers congregate.

The name, still so visible on the Web and audible on TV and radio, has vanished from the neighborhood. Yet it is (surely) the most famous name in the world. It begins with an “o,” and it ends with an “a”: OBAMA! Once it was on everyone’s tongue. Now, it seems, tongues would rather utter any name but that one. The name has been replaced by silence, by the absence of a name. It is a void people no longer know what to do with except to circle around it cautiously while naming other names — Palin, Beck, Murdoch, Cantor, Tea Partiers — as if warding off an evil spell.

There are other people besides Obama you rarely hear discussed these days. For instance, Clinton, Geithner, Bernanke, Biden, Pelosi. The names of those who hold the highest offices in the land are spoken aloud almost as rarely as those of Party officials in a Communist dictatorship. It’s as if merely whispering their names were a crime. It isn’t, of course, but somehow it feels inappropriate.
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Aspiring Politicos Vie for County Seats

Natasha DillonMeghan Keneally. Natasha Dillon.

It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for New York politicians: the names Weiner and Kruger have recently been added to the list of elected officials who are associated with scandal.

But the roster of players on the state’s political scene is constantly replenishing, and this summer, a handful of aspiring East Village pols are among 90 Manhattanites running for positions at one of the lowest levels of the state’s political hierarchy, the New York County Democratic Committee.

You could be forgiven if you hadn’t heard of the county committee before — its workings are one of the more arcane aspects of state politics. County committees meet roughly once a year and one of their most significant roles is to step in during times of unexpected transition to choose nominees for special elections, such as the Sept. 13 contest to fill Mr. Weiner’s seat.

Natasha Dillon, 26, is one of local candidates running for a seat on the committee. Ms. Dillon has a growing familiarity with the city’s political scene — she recently became a member of Community Board 3 and has long been an activist in the gay and lesbian community — but she wasn’t completely aware of the role of the county committee.

“I know they have some sort of say in nominations of Democratic candidates of special elections, like the Queens County Committee is meeting about Weiner,” she said one recent afternoon before she headed out to petition for the required signatures in order to get her name on the ballot. “It’s a very small commitment.”
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… And the Yippies on St. Marks

P5300082Jesse FishThe Yippie movement started in the basement of this building at 30 St. Marks Place.

“New York is naturally fantastic — especially where I live — just one gigantic happening,” wrote the young 1960’s political activist, Abbie Hoffman, while living on Avenue C and 11th Street. Hoffman, the counterculture, anti-war advocate had recently arrived in the city divorced, jobless and estranged from his family in Worcester, Mass. Feeling free and ambitious, Hoffman promptly set out to organize political and spiritual movements which he believed would change the warring Western world.

Hoffman, along with Jerry Rubin, went on to establish the Yippie — short for Youth International Party — political group while residing in a basement apartment at 30 St. Marks Place, until recently home to the Japanese restaurant Go. In Hoffman’s mind, the Yippies would be an answer to the hippie movement, which he believed was aimless and too drug-centered to accomplish any real change in United States policy.

Hoffman once affirmed that a “Yippie is a hippie who’s been beaten up by the cops,” and thought that the neighborhood was the perfect launching pad for his alternative faction. Abbie spoke of the East Village as “the real hip underground, the successor to Greenwich Village as the heartland of bohemianism.”
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“Earthalujah!” Shouts Reverend Billy

Ian Duncan

With huge facial features, a mane of dyed blond hair and an immaculate white suit, Bill Talen looks every bit the televangelist. But he is not offering eternal salvation.

Mr. Talen is the leader of the Church of Earthalujah. Styling himself Reverend Billy , he delivers environmental rhetoric in the manner of a charismatic evangelical preacher.

Each Sunday through June, Mr. Talen will be lending his theatrical services at Theater 80 on St. Mark’s Place . Mr. Talen is supported by the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, who belt out songs Mr. Talen has written that relate to the church’s themes – the evils of capitalism, impending environmental disaster and the decline of neighborhoods.

That last will have particular resonance in the East Village. Read more…

Interview | Jimmy McMillan

Jimmy McMillan, Rent Is Too Damn High party founderSuzanne Rozdeba Jimmy McMillan.

Jimmy McMillan, the founder of the Rent Is Too Damn High party, may have failed in his bid for governor but that’s done little to quash his ambition – or his opinions.

Mr. McMillan, who’s 64, still has a broad and ambitious plan for change through his party, which includes banning bike lanes, cutting taxes and, of course, lowering rents. And then there is his most grand  – and quixotic – plan of all: a run for the White House in 2012.

“We have bird-brained economic leaders,” he told The Local in an interview. “People need money to spend. And it boils down to one thing: the rent is too damn high.”

Mr. McMillan spoke with The Local about his lingering ambitions, his plans for the future – he’s planning to hold a news conference in Tompkins Square Park next week to officially kick off his presidential bid – and his deep ties to the East Village.


What’s the first thing you’ll do for the East Village as president?


We need new leadership. The first thing I would do is meet with the governor and direct Cuomo to reduce the property taxes. Property taxes in the East Village are crazy.
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An Analysis Of East Village Elections

With just hours until the polls close in today’s general election, NYU Journalism’s Molly O’Toole and Clint Rainey offer an analysis of tonight’s likely winners and losers in races involving the East Village.

Interview | Kristin M. Davis

Kristin M. DavisAndrew Reid Kristin M. Davis.

Kristin M. Davis, the former escort service madam who is running for governor, is a constant source of one-liners – many of which are scarcely fit for publication. She tries to take the sting out of a gay slur by using it to underline her support of same-sex marriage. And her supporters are treated to a range of brothel humor on her Facebook page. But at the same time, Ms. Davis, who is also the former vice president of a hedge fund, says that she and her four-prong platform — legalize marijuana, prostitution, gay marriage and casino gambling — are no joke.

During the Eliot Spitzer scandal, the authorities shut down her escort service. Ms. Davis, 35, then spent four months on Rikers Island reading fellow libertarians Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises before mounting her bid backed by 50 Cent and California pot growers to run the Empire State. The Anti-Prohibition Party candidate chatted with The Local about learning from her past, living in the East Village and why she’s the only real “pro-freedom” candidate.


What do you like about the East Village? Have you ever visited?


I actually used to live in the East Village, when I first moved to New York, off First Avenue above Karma. It’s one of my favorite areas. If you’re into food, you can get anything and everything in the East Village. I used to spend a lot of time at Karma. I’m very disappointed that Waikiki Wally’s is no longer around. My friend, Eric, owns Lit. I used to go to Dolphin Fitness, off Fourth Street. Veselka is my favorite place for goulash — I call it stroganoff, but whatever.
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