Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer presented his State of the Borough Address at City Hall Monday evening, calling his vote for Columbia's campus expansion plan the most important decision he has made in the past year.
Stringer endorsed the University's plan last September, after working on the development proposal since January 2006. He collaborated closely with various Columbia officials to refine their vision for a transformed Manhattanville, and held numerous public hearings to incorporate community input.
"At stake was nothing less than the future of tens of thousands of people, and the shape of the community for decades to come," Stringer said. "It's about race and money and power. It's about the Ivy League and the Cotton Club."
But Stringer has been criticized harshly by local activists who oppose Columbia's plan, such as members of the Coalition to Preserve Community, who accused the Borough President of making a "back door deal" with the University.
"A controversial decision? Politically charged? How could it not be?" Stringer asked. He went on to assert his commitment to the residents and small business owners of West Harlem, saying his decision to endorse the expansion plan was guided by what he considered the greatest good for local families.
He added that time will tell whether he met this promise.
After stressing his role as an intermediary for all parties throughout the Manhattanville planning process, Stringer pulled aside Columbia Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin, saying, "You were a major part of my life this year."
Kasdin said that Stringer "has shown leadership and sustained commitment to do what's right for his constituents. I respect and admire him."
Stringer's assertions about sustaining vibrant neighborhood flair, not only in West Harlem but throughout Manhattan, were paired with his philosophy that "in 2008, there's no way to lead effectively by just thinking small."
In his address, he expressed the inherent tension between empowering local residents and enhancing Manhattan's national and worldwide influence as an economic, artistic, and intellectual capital. According to Stringer, the city has never set so many major development projects in motion at once—projects which have all fueled intense debate.
Along with his comments on city development, he introduced plans for Civic Channel TV, which will stream online videos of community board meetings.
"Just imagine it. By this time next year, you won't have to worry about making plans for Saturday night," he said. "You can just curl up on your couch with some popcorn and Twizzlers."
In response to attacks that Columbia's collaboration with the neighborhood lacked transparency, Kasdin said that he himself would like to watch Civic Channel TV—though it might be difficult since he has three kids.