Manhattan Community Boards Get Injection of Young Blood

By Jill Colvin on April 4, 2012 7:47pm 

MANHATTAN — Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is hoping to add some youth and enthusiasm to stuffy community boards by adding 40 new members who are under 40.

Among them are an NYU student, a banquet cook at the Waldorf-Astoria and a filmmaker who's won an Emmy and a Sundance Film Festival award. One new member didn't even know community board existed until recently.

“I think they’re going to add a fresh perspective on living in the different neighborhoods of our city,” said Stringer, who made finding younger members “a recruitment priority” this year.

Stringer himself was just 16-years-old when he was appointed to serve on his community board in Washington Heights, where he fought to save the 'A' train, among other issues.

One of the youngest new members is 23-year old Alendi Vidal, who grew up in East Harlem and will serve on Community Board 11.

Vidal, who works as an intern at the Young Women’s Leadership Network and mentors young, Mexican-American women, said she first learned about community boards when she saw an ad to apply.

“I was like, that sounds pretty cool. I didn’t know that community boards even exist,” Vidal said.

Vidal said she hopes to help encourage Spanish-speaking people to participate in community meetings and plans to focus on education and land-use issues, like encouraging community gardens and new parks.

She said she also hopes her appointment will push other young people to get involved.

“I think it's important to have younger faces on the board, because East Harlem is a fast growing, new community now,” she said. “There are a lot of younger faces moving into the neighborhood.”

Many new members own small businesses, including Wilson Tang, 33, who runs the  90-year-old Chinatown fixture, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which has been in his family for decades.

Tang, who grew up in Chinatown, said that he first encountered the local community board when he submitted his application for a beer and wine license.

“I thought it was pretty cool that there was something like that,” he said of the panel that scrutinized his application. “That was pretty eye-opening.”

Tang said that he’s especially interested in working on issues affecting quality of life in Chinatown, where tons of new bars are opening up.

Other new members have already established themselves as community voices.

Linda Gerstman, who will be joining Community Board 1, first became involved as a vocal opponent of the Occupy Wall Street movement and a proposed methadone clinic Downtown.

Gersteman, 41, who lives in the Financial District, was one of the leading critics of OWS, frequently encouraging the board to take a more aggressive stance. And she butted heads with CB1 Chair Julie Menin, at one point accusing Menin of putting her political ambitions above the needs of the community.

But Gersteman, who also does other volunteering work in the community, said she hopes she can serve as a voice for other newcomers to the neighborhood, and tackle quality-of-life concerns.

“I think the nice part about the community board is that it’s a place for debate,’ she said.  “Finally being on the board, I’ll have a voice.”

Community boards play a key advisory role in many city issues, including proposed development projects, the approval of new liquor licenses, and events in city parks.

This year, Stringer’s office received 548 applications. He hopes the young people who've been appointed will use the position as a stepping stone to getting involved.

“It was exhilarating to sit in a quasi-legislative body taking votes on community issues,” said Stringer.

“It was pretty empowering," he said. "It obviously had a major impact on my life."

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