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Trinity Church Goes to the Polls Amid Controversy Over Leadership

By Serena Solomon | April 11, 2012 12:35pm
The Rev. James Cooper, rector of Trinity Church.
The Rev. James Cooper, rector of Trinity Church.
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Trinity Wall Street

By Serena Solomon and Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Staff

LOWER MANHATTAN — Congregants at Downtown's troubled Trinity Church slammed the church's leadership Tuesday as they cast ballots for a new vestry, or board of directors.

Congregants criticized the Rev. James Cooper, the church's rector, for lavishly overspending on music programs while neglecting the poor, and some accused the church of rigging the annual election to quash a grassroots push for change.

Tom Mazza, a member of the 314-year-old Episcopal church for nearly five decades, called the election undemocratic and said he voted against the slate of 22 vestry members because they were chosen at a closed-door meeting and are largely loyal to Cooper.

A recent service at Trinity Church, a 314-year-old congregation in Lower Manhattan.
A recent service at Trinity Church, a 314-year-old congregation in Lower Manhattan.
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"I wanted to send a message that you shouldn't rig elections," said Mazza, a retired lawyer and West Village resident.

Despite Mazza and others' complaints, Trinity announced Tuesday evening that the slate of vestry members had been confirmed by a majority vote. The vestry is now about evenly split between veterans and the newcomers who replaced the 10 former vestry members who resigned in protest of Cooper's leadership over the past eight months.

Jeremy Bates, past president of Trinity's Congregational Council, also voted "no" to all 22 of the vestry candidates.

"The [vestry] nomination process is broken," Bates said. "The nominations may not reflect the larger opinion of the congregation."

Last month, Bates led a push for a competitive election of vestry members, which would have given the congregation a choice between candidates.

But Trinity's leaders said there was not enough time to pick additional candidates before the April 10 election.

A Trinity spokeswoman said Tuesday that the church would consider holding a competitive election next year.

Another church member who voted Tuesday afternoon at the church's 74 Trinity Pl. headquarters said he wanted to see a louder voice for the congregation and an increased focus on the poor.

"If the vestry is enlarged it would be more of a safeguard," said the member, who declined to give his name.

Trinity's vestry is charged with overseeing Trinity's three-part mission as a Lower Manhattan community church; a major real estate company managing 6 million square feet in Hudson Square; and a philanthropic organization donating millions of dollars to projects across the globe each year.

Bates and other critics have slammed Cooper for overspending $800,000 on the church's music programs last year while reducing services for the homeless and devoting just $2.7 million a year on international philanthropy.

Kate Basquin, a retired journalist and member of the church for the past seven years, voiced one hope for Trinity's future as she cast her ballot.  

"The more we give to the poor, the better off we are," she said.