Chaos at CB5: Boro Pres Levine Refuses to Reverse Decision Ousting 2 Longtime Board Members

Two board members, Craig Slutzkin and Mary Brosnahan, were bounced from Community Board 5 by Borough President Mark Levine. He addressed CB5 by zoom on May 9, defending the move and refusing to reverse the ousters as the tangled controversies involving transgender rights and real estate development continued to swirl.

| 21 May 2024 | 07:50

So why did Borough President Mark Levine dump two long-serving members from Community Board five, one just as he was running for chair?

When he first ousted Craig Slutzkin, the candidate for chair, and Mary Brosnahan, a well-known advocate for the homeless, Levine said he would not discuss individual appointment decisions.

But then with 33 of the 50-member board demanding he reverse himself, Levine, attending the board’s meeting by zoom on May 9 delivered a fierce defense of his actions and a stern warning to the board—and what amounted to an acknowledgement that his actions ticked two very separate political boxes: protecting transgender rights and encouraging housing development.

Levine condemned as “reprehensible” a resolution supported by Slutzkin in his separate role as a member of the Community Advisory Council of School District 2, whose boundaries overlap with Community Board five.

That resolution, approved 8-to-3, asked the schools chancellor to review the system’s decision to let transgender girls play on female sports teams.

“Let’s be honest, this was not about youth sports. These are not people who care about youth sports standing up for youth sports. If that were the case, then maybe they would have addressed the fact there are some schools in [their district] that don’t have a gymnasium.”

Slutzkin, who is a gay single dad with a son in the local schools, said the resolution was merely a way to engage families in a difficult conversation. But Levine said the resolution was about “striking a blow in a national culture war.”

That might explain why he refused to renew Slutzkin’s term, even as he was running for chair against the interim chair, Samir Lavingia, a lobbyist for housing development.

But his critics demanded to know why he had also removed Mary Brosnahan, the homeless advocate, who had nothing to do with the transgender resolution.

“The one thing they have in common is that they have both vocally opposed the infiltration of special interests onto community boards and, in particular, on cb 5,” the board ‘s legendary former chair, Vikkie Barber told the meeting.

This was an unmistakable reference to Lavingia’s organization, Open New York, which is registered to lobby in Albany to reduce restrictions on housing construction and in general promote housing development.

Levine has now appointed five members of Open New York to CB 5, producing a strong backlash from other members.

Visibly annoyed, Levine said that he wanted to appoint members that roll up their sleeves and don’t spend all their time “fighting other members.” Adding: “We have pressing issues. We need work done.”

High on this list, Levine said, is Mayor Adam’s “City of Yes” for housing development, which is coming before Community Boards for discussion in the next few months.

“Addressing the worst housing affordability crisis in this city” is essential, Levine said, “and it is tough. There are tough decisions to make.”

Levine stressed that “appointment to a community board is a privilege.”

“That doesn’t mean we are looking for unanimity of opinion. As I said when I spoke to you last month, I value debates...but we do have standards. High standards. We weigh every appointment heavily. We consider this process in detail. We are looking for members who believe in the equality of every person in this borough and every child in this borough, especially vulnerable children,” Levine added.

But his statement did not seem to calm the rancor on the board. With 12 new board members watching in some mix of bafflement and horror, a procession of board members took the microphone to protest the ouster of Slutzkin and Brosnahan

“It has been horrifying to me to see how Craig Slutzkin, a long serving colleague of our board has been treated this week,” said a fellow board member, Janice Yong. “Craig Slutzkin and Mary Brosnahan are victims of a larger political game. And I support both their longtime service to the LGBTIQ and homeless populations, respectively, as well as to the larger community.”

Many board members made clear they did not support Lavingia as chair. A vote will be held next month. Lavingia, who became interim chair earlier this year, nominated himself for that vote for a full term. But many board members instead endorsed another board member, Bradley Sherburne, an architect, to replace Slutzkin as a candidate to unseat Lavingia.

Both Brosnahan and Slutzkin addressed the meeting, not as board members but simply as members of the public. They had been told their removal took effect immediately.

Brosnahan called Levine’s statement “misinformation.” She stressed that she was “pro-trans,” and that transgender girls should be allowed to play on teams that match their gender identity. She also said, however, that she was “proud” to have served alongside Craig Slutzkin.

Brosnahan described Open NY a “contamination” of the “governance within CB5.”

Slutzkin was defiant. “I challenge anybody to give me a time on this board when I’ve acted dishonorably,” he said. “We are learning a lesson.

“Free speech and discussion, as long as it conforms to the narrative of the politician. Don’t toe the line? Don’t pass a resolution they tell you to? They will get rid of you! Don’t support their candidates? they will get rid of you!”

Levine was using the transgender resolution as an excuse, Slutzkin said. “Let’s be honest, he said. “It’s not about that. Otherwise miss Brosnahan, a legend, legend of homeless advocacy, would still be sitting at the table.”

But transgender activists rallied around Levine. Melissa Skarz, described as the first transgender person ever appointed to a NYC community board, said that she was “very grateful to Mark Levine for standing up for underserved transgender communities.”

Skarz expressed fear about the ripple effects of the transgender resolution Slutzkin had supported. “A seed has been planted that has gone so far beyond this neighborhood...and it is already getting unnecessary, unwanted media coverage for a problem that does not exist.”

Emilia Decaudin, a Queens Democratic district leader and transgender activist, called into the meeting to criticize the benign portrayal of the school sports resolution by Slutzkin and his supporters: ”The perspective of just asking questions or just opening a space up to debate has been used throughout history to undermine the rights of marginalized people. And trans people are just the latest group of marginalized people on the chopping block for this issue. I question the judgement of someone who claims to be an advocate for LBGTQ people who doesn’t understand this.”