Scott Stringer’s College Try: Can the Borough President Thread the NYU Needle and Win City Hall Along the Way?

Meds and eds, with a healthy dose of tech, have come to typify the post-bust, who-needs-Wall-Street economy flogged endlessly by the Bloomberg administration. And so the political perils of voting against NYU can be quite high, even if neighborhood opposition is equally pressing.

The borough president would prefer to anger neither. “I’m hoping NYU will live up to the planning principles we developed with the community in the last five years and come to the table with an expansion plan that balances the needs of the university with that of the community,” Mr. Stringer told The Times two weeks ago. His office declined interview requests, citing the ongoing discussions about the plan.

Still, NYU has shown a certain intransigence, and given the huge well of support for the project outside the neighborhood, it seems at times like there is no need to budge. Many locals, preservationists and nostalgists wholly reject the plan, but support from neighborhood businesses, the real estate lobby, construction unions and, most formidably, editorial boards has been overwhelming. Just two days after The Times reported late last month that Mr. Stringer was leaning on NYU to reduce the size of its project, the Gray Lady, one of the most important gets in all of city politics, published a strongly worded editorial condemning NYU’s critics and urging Mr. Stringer to support the plan. “If he wants the Times’s endorsement next year, which he very much does, I don’t see any way he can vote against this now,” one political insider said.

And yet it also bespeaks a certain anxiety on NYU’s part. The university had hoped, according to sources, to wait out for a supportive Times editorial until closer to the decisive vote at the City Council. To get the editorial now—alongside ones from the Daily News, the Post and this newspaper calling on Mr. Stringer to support the plan—shows the very real fear that the borough president could vote against the project. The university also hired former council members Ed Wallace and Melinda Katz, now high-powered attorneys, to help lobby for the project. Mr. Wallace was instrumental in shaping the Columbia and Fordham deals with Mr. Stringer, and the two are friendly.

The question is how far Mr. Stringer is willing to go. An avowed land-use wonk, he likes to roll up his sleeves and work out a deal all sides can congratulate themselves on. “I really think he wants to support the university, and he’s trying to figure out how he can do that while addressing the concerns of the community,” Kathyrn Wilde, president of the pro-business Partnership for New York, said.

A vote against NYU’s plan could have benefits beyond the neighborhood going into next year’s mayoral election. One of Mr. Stringer’s chief rivals, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, is seen in some quarters as the candidate of big business and real estate, Bloomberg Lite. Should Mr. Stringer vote against the project, he might cast himself as the little guy going up against her. “There’s no real difference between him and Quinn, so if he can cast her in that light, it may work to his favor,” Hank Sheinkopf, the long-time Democratic consultant, said. Coming off three terms of the development-at-any-cost Bloomberg administration, voters may well be ready for a little restraint.

Whether he could successfully pin this project on the speaker remains to be seen. While it is squarely in the backyard of her Village district, the project is technically in Councilwoman Margaret Chin’s district (to whom the speaker has been deferring comment on the story). But political insiders all agree, when it comes time to steer the project to a final vote, it will almost certainly be Speaker Quinn calling the shots, wielding backroom power while maintaing public political cover.