Covering the housing beat for The Village Voice , the late Julie Lobbia was an expert at riding the snakes and ladders of city bureaucracy. For some landlords, she wielded the poison pen: “[She] made me look like a dirtbag,” complained one building owner whose illegal renovations Ms. Lobbia exposed. But for tenants on the verge of eviction, she was an angel of mercy, translating the tangled jargon of housing law and championing tenants’ rights in her weekly Towers and Tenements column.
And now supporters of Ms. Lobbia-who was also a bicycling enthusiast-wish to memorialize her in a manner they believe she would like: by naming a stretch of the Sixth Avenue bike lane, from 23rd Street to 57th Street, in her memory. But the route to dedicating a piece of city property is not without its twists and turns, they found out.
Following her death, The Village Voice was inundated with letters of condolence, including one from Alfred Garcia, one of Ms. Lobbia’s biking buddies, who came up with the idea to dedicate the bike lane. Next came an official letter to Community Board 5 from Councilwoman Christine Quinn, requesting that the issue be presented at its May 9 meeting.
During the public session, friends and family members lobbied the board and gave them a brief introduction to Ms. Lobbia’s legacy as a New Yorker committed to the well-being of her city. “She was the city’s finest housing journalist,” said Andrea Kannapell, a staff editor at The New York Times and friend of Ms. Lobbia. “She won numerous awards covering a beat that’s very difficult to do well.”
About her love of cycling, Ms. Lobbia’s husband, Joseph Jesselli, noted that biking was a “way of life” for his wife. “As a reporter, she would cycle everywhere,” he said. On average, the sprightly reporter would pedal 100 miles a week, clocking four 19-minute laps around Central Park before heading to the Voice offices downtown. Such was her love of cycling and reporting that Ms. Lobbia, who died last Thanksgiving at the age of 43, even requested to be buried in her bike shoes, a pen in hand.
But kind words and tributes for Ms. Lobbia had seemingly little effect on Board 5′s pragmatists. “The problem in midtown is that everyone wants to name something here,” said board chair Kyle Merker. “We once turned down a blade [sign-post] request for St. Francis of Assisi. The area [around Sixth Avenue in midtown] is already too visually congested.” Bryan Landeche, a member of the consents and variances committee, queried: “Doesn’t someone have to be dead at least five years before qualifying?” “I don’t know who she is. What paper did she write for?” asked board member Joyce Matz, obviously not a Village Voice reader.
Ironically, the arguments presented by the board that evening bore a strong resemblance to the tangles of red tape that Ms. Lobbia spent her days unraveling as a housing reporter. “Julie would be so at home here,” said Ms. Kannapell. “She’d fully understand what was going on.”
After discussing the proposal, the 10-member consents and variances committee reached a deadlocked vote. The proposal was then tossed back to the full board, where a board member introduced it once again … to the consents and variances committee. The board has requested a “comprehensive signage plan” from Ms. Lobbia’s supporters, and upon receipt of an acceptable plan, the committee will vote once more at Board 5′s June 13 meeting.
Despite the convoluted journey toward their goal, Ms. Lobbia’s friends and family contend that the mission itself is quite straightforward. “It’s not such a big deal,” Mr. Jesselli told The Observer . “We just want a simple commemoration of a person who was of service to a lot of people in this city.”
May 23: Board 2, New York University School of Law, 40 Washington Square South, Vanderbilt Hall, Room 110, 6:30 p.m., 979-2272.
May 28: Board 3, P.S. 20, 166 Essex Street, 6:30 p.m., 533-5300; Board 12, Columbia University, Alumni Auditorium, 650 West 168th Street,
7 p.m., 568-8500.