Menin Fights: The Downtown Doyenne Who Took on Two Administrations—and Why Manhattan May Be Next

FOR NOW, Ms. Menin said she is content to run the community board, and has lots to do before she gives up the gavel in 2012, like closing for good the state’s Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a favorite punching bag on whose board she sits.

Ms. Menin likes to remind people that she wrote a resolution questioning the qualifications of John Galt for the job of deconstructing the Deutsche Bank Building on the edge of ground zero. The contractor is now on trial for the death of two firefighters following an August 2007 blaze. There is the fight against Con Ed, which threatened to raise rates if it was not given $200 million of the agency’s rebuilding funds, a fund Ms. Menin uncovered and has since gotten allocated to cultural projects.

“Right now, I remain focused downtown,” Ms. Menin said. “In terms of the future, we’ll see. I believe in public service–it’s a great, noble calling, if you believe in certain things and are willing to fight to make them happen.”

Yet she may be giving up her chairmanship at the perfect time. “Especially post-Bloomberg, when people are looking for independence, they will want someone who is not a politician,” Mr. Sheinkopf said. Ms. Menin is most chattered about as a potential Manhattan borough president or public advocate candidate, though there is some risks to a citywide run given her support for Park51, a lightning rod in certain corners of the outerboroughs.

George Arzt, another operative, likes her connections to incumbents like current Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Congressman Jerry Nadler (among the many pols she has donated to) and the Upper West Side’s Community Free Democrats, as well as her ties to the media. “She knows the editorial boards already,” Mr. Arzt said, “and the rule of thumb is The Times in Manhattan is worth 10 percent of the vote.”

Indeed, writing op-eds is Ms. Menin’s political weapon of choice. “Too many to count,” she said. It is where she launched her campaign against the Khalid Sheik Mohammed trials, in the Sunday Times, under the headline “Trial by Ferry.” It called for moving the proceedings to a secure facility on Governors Island. (Ms. Menin did write an earlier op-ed for another favored outlet, The Huffington Post, “Lower Manhattan is the Proper Place to Try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” but she argues that was before she knew the extent of the security apparatus the trials would require.)

“This went from when Bloomberg said this was the dumbest idea he’d ever heard, that’s the quote you can Google, ‘That’s the dumbest idea ever,’ and it will pop up,” Ms. Menin said. (Indeed, he did.) “I just find it ironic, he thought it was the dumbest idea ever, and now we’ve gotten the trial moved, and he is all for it. It’s an interesting political story how this thing came to be.”

Ms. Menin also takes a very active interest in her own press coverage. “She’s always been a role model to me, somebody who has figured out how to balance it all,” said Campbell Brown, a friend, former CNN anchor and an occasional guest on Give & Take, the public affairs show Ms. Menin hosts each weekend on WNBC’s New York Now channel. She was also one of a handful of people Ms. Menin actively encouraged The Observer to contact.

“I don’t have a sense of her as a very powerful person in New York City,” one editorial board member said. “I do have a sense of her as a very active local official, a very active community official, and somebody, who, by the nature of the community she represents, has gotten involved in a number of substantial issues.”

 

IT WAS NOT only the terror trial move that had Ms. Menin in the news last week. She asked the question of Cathie Black that prompted the doomed schools chancellor’s birth control gaffe, which got her interlocutor name-checked everywhere from The Times to the Post and The Villager.

“A lot of people say, ‘you can’t battle Con Ed, a lot of people said you can’t take on Washington about the trial, oh you can’t take on the mayor, you can’t take on Libby Pataki,'” Ms. Menin said. “Why not? That’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. And I should add Cathie Black to that list, too. If the chancellor is not doing the right thing, you have to do something about it.”

mchaban [at] observer.com | @mc_nyo