Columbia Foe Saved by Two Votes

Nick Sprayregen, a key opponent of Columbia University’s expansion plan, is still in the game.

Last night, he defeated, by two votes, an attempt by elected officials to oust him from the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, a panel negotiating a community benefits agreement with Columbia, because of an alleged conflict of interest.

The vote for the resolution calling for his removal was 12 to 8, but it failed because the bylaws of the group require a supermajority of 14, according to Jesse Masyr, an attorney representing the corporation.

Susan Russell, the representative of City Council Member Robert Jackson, had asked for the vote because Mr. Sprayregen owns property in the area where Columbia wants to build a new campus and has himself proposed rezoning his buildings. Six of the seven other representatives of elected officials on the 22-member board supported her. Linda Wood-Guy, an appointee of State Senator Bill Perkins, bucked the trend and voted in favor of retaining Mr. Sprayregen. Community members split their votes.

“Who stands to get harmed, who stands to benefit, if I am suddenly out of the picture?” Mr. Sprayregen said on Wednesday. “The community is significantly harmed because they have lost my voice and passion as well as my financial ability to fight the university in the courts of law, as well as my services to the community. This thing is such a blatant witch hunt to stifle me and discredit me.”

Mr. Sprayregen, who has retained a lobbyist and a lawyer to fight Columbia’s use of eminent domain to take five storage warehouses he owns, called the one-and-a-half hour meeting, which was closed to the public, “contentious.” Mr. Masyr, the lawyer, said, “I think it was frank and honest but it was not rude and there was not any yelling.”

Ms. Russell said that she had no plans to revive the issue.

“I think it’s a mistake,” she told The Observer. “I think another commercial property owner should be there and speak to the broader interests of commercial property owners in the area beyond Nick’s struggle to preserve his own interests.”