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The Common Council at Work:
Mysterious "White Plains Toxic Avenger" illegally cordons off alleged contaminated site on hospital grounds day before SEQRA tour.
Hospital spokesman quotes Benjamin saying on tour "We had our unnamed accuser come in and mark these sites."
New York Hospital cadre marches into city hall and protests Sunday trespassing on their site, suspicions that Arnold & Porter had prior knowledge.
Harrington warns council: "We don't want this to happen again. We don't need this."
In other news -- Councilpersons Boykin and Malmud challenge Cappelli's assertion that EJ Conroy has no value.
Grand Central Terminal historical preservation design
planner hired by Council to evaluate height impact of Cappelli City Center
CityLine: June 20, 2001 -- City Hall
The Common Council received a surprise visit from New York Presbyterian Hospital Wednesday night during the scheduled work session.
They were apprised of a breach of hospital grounds by an unauthorized "White Plains Toxic Avenger."
The clandestine visit to hospital property was discovered during a scheduled SEQRA process walkthrough by an entourage of city and hospital and community activists Monday morning.
The SEQRA posse consisted of Michael Graessle, Rod Johnson and Susan
Habel of the City Planning Department, Councilperson Rita Malmud, Robert
Stackpole of the Planning Board, Barbara Benjamin, Mary Ann Keenan, former
Councilperson, Stephen Kass and David Paget representing New York Presbyterian
Hospital, as well as Geof Thompson, of Thompson & Bender, the hospital
public relations agency, and Constance Hildersley, the hospital Vice President
for Real Estate.
In private conversation with Harrington and Thompson and another reporter, Jim Benerofe, in the City Hall Mezzanine outside the Mayor's office, Thompson told WPCNR that Barbara Benjamin informed the stunned entourage as they encountered the yellow tape on site Monday morning: "We had our unnamed accuser come in and mark these sites."
Thursday, Benjamin confirmed making this statement to WPCNR.
Thompson also showed this reporter and Jim Benerofe blown-up pictures of what the entourage encountered on their tour Monday morning, a tour to which the media was not invited. The pictures can be viewed on the Monday evening edition of WHITE PLAINS WEEK (Channel 71 at 7 PM).
Shortly after our encounter in the City Hall mezzanine, the stylish litigator, William Harrington, seated himself at the long Mayor's conference table, his trademark red suspenders like bandoleers, his crisp blue striped shirt with white collar, red tie coolly in place and sleek gray sharp creased suit impeccable. His expression was troubled even hurt as he gravely addressed the Common Council.
(Mr. Harrington is the hospital attorney who delivered the "settle or go bankrupt" message to the Council in executive session in February that forced the Council to agree to refer the hospital Plan B in return for the hospital dropping its Article 78 proceeding.)
Three sites visited by the SEQRA party on the New York Presbyterian Hospital campus Monday had been secretly cordoned off with yellow tape similar to that used to mark crime scenes without the hospital authorization to do so, Harrington said.
The Council and the Mayor appeared shocked by this development.
Harrington also expressed to the council that it seemed Nelson Johnson had been tipped to where the sites were.
"A letter was held by Mr. Johnson. He seemed to know where to go (on the property) he did not seem truly surprised as the rest us all did. It is a startling experience to walk onto your property and see someone has been there and taped up large areas without your knowledge," Harrington said.
Harrington told the Council the Hospital is "tired of trying to prove a negative. I don't want this (a trespass) to happen again." He also said that the hospital would most likely have given permission for the taping if they had only been asked.
There is a reason why Mr. Johnson did not seem surprised.
WPCNR interviews with Barbara Benjamin and Alan Teck of Concerned Citizens for Open Space reveal that Nelson Johnson of Arnold & Porter, the city's environmental legal advisers had been contacted by the actual unnamed accuser, the WPCNR-dubbed "toxic avenger" who secretly "yellow-taped" the old oil pits and a third site.
WPCNR checked with Barbara Benjamin today by telephone and she confirmed that she had been contacted by this unnamed person Sunday night who told her that he had tape-marked both the sites of the cleaned-up oil pits and a third site where he remembers the hospital dumping wastes.
Benjamin said she did not have the home number of Nelson Johnson to inform him of this before meeting him for the Monday morning tour of the pits. Benjamin said she knew no more about this person, who has been mysteriously contacting the CCOS for years, to the point where CCOS has given him a nickname, "Dr. Pink." She says he is afraid to reveal his name because "he is afraid of the hospital."
Alan Teck, President of Concerned Citizens for Open Space, provided further information about our "White Plains Toxic Avenger." Teck said he was contacted by phone by this man 2 to 3 weeks ago who said he had information about dumping of asbestos and paint on a site 40 years ago because he had lived with his family on the hospital grounds. Teck said the man wanted to help, but did not want to reveal his name because his mother still receives a pension from New York Presbyterian Hospital. Teck said the man fears reprisals by the hospital against his mother's pension. Mr. Teck said he suggested the caller contact Ms. Benjamin.
On two separate telephone calls, Barbara Benjamin told WPCNR that she was contacted by this "unnamed accuser" (Ms. Benjamin's words), who wanted to provide his recollections of where the hospital had dumped toxic materials on their property four decades ago. She said she suggested the caller contact Arnold & Porter and provided Nelson Johnson's telephone number.
Ms. Benjamin told us what happened next. She told us the caller contacted Mr. Johnson and Mr. Johnson asked the unidentified caller to provide maps or other information about the allegedly contaminated sites he knew about. "He was never asked to go on the property and mark the site," Benjamin said. Further, Mr. Johnson invited the informant to go along with him on the SEQR walk scheduled for Monday. She also said the man declined because he did not want to identify himself. Ms. Benjamin said she did not have the informant's number nor his identity. Mr. Johnson, reached by WPCNR said "I don't want to talk about it."
Councilpersons were hard to find Thursday.
Asked if he felt the Common Council should direct the police to find the "White Plains Toxic Avenger," who illegally tape-marked the property, Councilman and Mayoral candidate Robert Greer said he did not think so, that it was up to the hospital to prosecute and they did not wish to:
"I don't know what we can do, John. It's done. It's over. I can't see going on a witch hunt (for the trespasser) over it."
The New York Presbyterian Hospital spokesman, Geof Thompson confirmed to WPCNR today that the hospital would not ask the police to investigate, but they did not want this to happen again. He said the matter was now closed.
Thompson also said there was a rumor the council had not shared correspondence with the Mayor. Rita Malmud, City Council President, informed WPCNR there was one letter from Nelson Johnson that the Mayor had not been carboned on, and this letter was simply the invitation to Mary Ann Keenan, dated June 6, 2001, confirming the 10 AM Monday SEQRA walk. Malmud, though said that since Department heads Graessle, Habel, Rod Johnson and Edward Dunphy had been carboned that she assumed the Mayor would have found out (about the walk) from them. Barbara Benjamin also received this letter as did, Robert Stackpole, according to Malmud.
Malmud also said there was one other correspondence she could not remember, but that the only document of instruction to Nelson Johnson, the Arnold & Porter lawyer, that could legally guide him was the actual Scoping Document.
She also said she had not given him any verbal instructions to Arnold and Porter, either, but did not know if any other councilpersons had given verbal instructions because she could not speak for them. Mr. Boykin and Mr. Delgado were out of town and could not be reached today. Mr. King and Ms. Oliva have not been contacted yet by WPCNR.
WPCNR asked Ms. Malmud if this illegal trespass shouldn't be prosecuted by the city and wasn't it an embarrassment to the city. She replied in support of the mystery perpetrator: "I don't think it's an embarrassment." She also asked, "How has the hospital been hurt by this? What gross damage was done to the hospital? His (the trespasser's) transgression is small rather than large. His attempt to help was large rather than small."
Ms. Malmud felt the person simply wanted to help share his knowledge of possible contaminated sites.
In other action on this sultry night...
The Common Council tonight in a heated Executive Session, agreed to hire the renowned design consultants who oversaw the refurbishing of Grand Central Terminal to review the impact of Louis Cappelli's City Center "skyrise" apartment buildings and the design of his project effects on what was described as the city's historic downtown buildings.
Susan Habel, upon emerging from the 40-minute "loud" executive session, told reporters on the scene that the firm hired was Beyer, Blinder & Belle who are specialists in historic preservation, and oversaw the Grand Central Terminal cleaning and renovation recently.
However, the Executive Session had its loud moments, where Mayor Delfino's voice could be heard saying at one point "It'll never be enough. There'll always be another study," he was heard saying sharply, warning according to another source that "the (Cappelli) window is closing."
According to sources, Mr.Cappelli will pay for the trendy consulting firm study, but we do not have an indication yet when the study will be completed, or its cost.
Ms. Habel, asked to name what buildings in the downtown were historic named the Greenpoint Bank Building, City Hall, the Westchester Arts Council Building, 199 Main Street. (However, it should be noted the most historic building was the RKO Keiths, a majestic theater this reporter remembers well that was gutted and turned into a discount merchandise store. The shell still stands next to Grace Church.)
There was also indication that the Cappelli and the Council romance may be going sour:
During the regular work session, Mr.Cappelli spelled out his PILOT program in detail. Councilpersons Malmud and Boykin questioned his assertion that the cost of a Community Theater and a Fine Arts theater he has agreed to build for $2.9 million in the City Center compensated the city adequately for the turning over of EJ Conroy Drive to Mr. Cappelli.
In a sharp exchange, Ms. Malmud indicated that EJ Conroy might be worth more to Cappelli since he was going to build parking under the closed road. Mr. Cappelli, in a rare show of steely ire, said "It has no value to the city. The value to the city is ZERO."
Mr Boykin felt the council should have the value of the street accessed. The Mayor assured him that was being done.
Mr. Cappelli hastily smoothed over his moment of candor and said of course the city should determine the value to their satisfaction, and he whirled confidently out of the Mayor's conference room, affable as ever.
On the mezzanine on his way out, WPCNR asked Mr. Cappelli how his negotiations to acquire Citibank, the Main Street Bookstore and Deli were going, since he said he had a handshake agreement on WHITE PLAINS WEEK last week. Cappelli, said land values around the City Center were "rising as we speak." Asked if this meant he was now in a bidding war with Ridgemour Developers over the property, Cappelli hesitated and said, "prices are rising as we speak."
He also said he had not received approvals yet for his July 10 demolition start date for the Macy's dismantling.
It's business as usual for another year of the Slater Center:
In the final major development Wednesday night, the Common Council agreed to direct Eileen Earl to send out Requests for Proposals from firms for an Accounting Management Plan and long-term Strategic Plan for the financially troubled Thomas Slater Center.
We learned in the ensuing discussion that the Slater Center is two weeks away from running out of funding since the Council needs to approve $195,000 in funding by July 2 without a financial plan in place.
In October, a Budget Committee headed by Robert Greer and Larry Delgado in its 2001-2002 report sharply criticized Thomas Slater Center management for being unable to account for funds, raise funds, and for soaring operation costs. Twice the Common Council had to vote money last year to keep the Center running.
The Budget Committee report examined by WPCNR stops just short of accusing Slater management of gross financial negligence. However, with just two weeks left to fund the program for another year, it appears too late to put accounting and management controls into place over the new year, though the Budget Committee had made the recommendations to hire consultants to aid the center nine months ago.
In a final development, the Common Council approved purchase of a used senior citizen bus (with only 12,000 miles on it) for seniors that is a curb level, step-on bus with no steps for seniors to climb up. The bus will be purchased for $80,000, though new the bus is worth $150,000. It is the first bus of its kind in the county.
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