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Manhattan's Top Newsmakers of 2011

By Amy Zimmer | December 30, 2011 7:19am

By DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — Sure a hurricane and an earthquake shook up Manhattan in 2011, but the real stories that got people talking this past year took place in the city's neighborhoods.

DNAinfo pored through the archives to compile a list of the people and places that made news in the past 12 months. What turned up was an eclectic group that included everyone from a self-made superhero to a celebrity chef.

Aldon James

He’s been accused of running the National Arts Club like his personal fiefdom, allegedly doling out club apartments to friends and family for cheap rent, and hoarding junk that may have been bought with club money, according to an internal investigation. The board of the venerable arts institution is trying to evict him, claiming that the apartments that James, his twin brother, John James, and their friend, Steven Leitner, had stockpiled cost the club at least $1.5 million. He has vowed to "take back" the club from the current president, and apparently badmouthed her and other club board members. James says he has been the victim of harassment by the current board, and has sued for the right to return to the club.

Joseph Chetrit

The developer bought the iconic Hotel Chelsea, which had counted Arthur Miller, Bob Dylan and Sid Vicious among its former tenants, over the summer and then closed it to guests to renovate the famously shabby Bohemian space. Despite promises that no tenants would be evicted after the hotel was sold, its new owners filed motions to kick 10 residents out of their homes. The move came on the heels of a lawsuit by tenants who claimed the renovations have caused dangerous building conditions and have been harmful to their health. Chetrit has largely stayed mum throughout the controversy.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The hordes of crowds flocking to the Met’s Alexander McQueen show made it the museum’s eighth most popular exhibition ever. The late designer's works inspired rapturous reviews from museum-goers, and while it was a huge success with extended hours, the world famous institution struck a sour note during the last days of the show when it quietly reneged on its deal to let museum members skip ahead of the long lines into the gallery. The museum later sent a contrite letter apologizing for its actions.

Denise Darbeau and Rachel Edwards

The two women, who were beaten by cook Rayon McIntosh with a metal rod after they hopped the counter of a Greenwich Village McDonald's in October, went from being considered victims to being indicted on felony burglary charges. McIntosh had initially been charged with felony assault in the Oct. 13 beating that left Darbeau with a fractured skull, but a grand jury eventually dropped those charges, believing he acted in self-defense. That same grand jury then voted to indict the women on  burglary charges.

James Ramsey and Dan Barasch of the "Low Line" project

Barasch an Ramsey are letting New Yorkers dream about the possibility of turning a derelict underground trolley station on the Lower East Side into a subterranean park flooded with natural light. The project, called Delancey Underground, would create a lush “Low Line,” which would contrast the west side's High Line elevated park, in the nearly two-acre terminal beneath the Williamsburg Bridge off-ramp, complete with trees and other plants. Even the MTA has met with the duo, calling their vision “intriguing.” 

The Dark Guardian

He dresses up in a superhero outfit on his mission to keep the West Village safe and true to its freewheeling wacky spirit. The Dark Guardian, whose mild-mannered alter ego is Staten Island martial arts instructor Chris Pollak, 27, wears a homemade costume and bulletproof vest. He had been casing Washington Square Park for years to fight drug dealers, but more recently focused his efforts on Christopher Street, where residents have been worried about rising crime rates.

Joyce Ravitz

The Cooper Square Committee president started a local petition to save the beloved indie St. Mark’s Bookshop in light of the store’s rent woes with its landlord, Cooper Union. Ravitz's group collected more than 40,000 signatures, including those of author Salman Rushdie and other notables. In the end, the campaign was successful. The famed store on East Ninth Street and Third Avenue reached an agreement with Cooper Union that reduced its rent and cleared debt, allowing it to stay open.

Marcus Samuelsson

The celebrity chef has helped transform Harlem into a destination for its burgeoning restaurant scene. Now, neighborhood mainstays like Sylvia’s are no longer the only hotspots for tourists and politicians. Red Rooster became a go-to spot for President Barack Obama’s fundraising tours.  The Season Two winner of Bravo's "Top Chef Masters,” who has authored several cookbooks and prepared Obama's first state dinner, has also been expanding his Harlem restaurant and is eying the possibility of more locations in the neighborhood, possibly including the famed Lenox Lounge, which recently went up for lease.

Sheila Birnbaum

As the special master of the new $2.8 billion 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund, Birnbaum has held many town hall-style meetings with first responders and Downtown residents. She’s listened for hours to their concerns and responded individually to hundreds of people. She will decide on how the billions in the 9/11 fund will be distributed, and while she has said the process won’t be easy, she pledged to make it "fair" and "transparent." First responders have said her "heart and soul" are in the right place.