Levine Shakes Up CB5: Ousts Slutzkin Who Was In Running for Chairman vs Lavingia

Borough president Mark Levine was apparently angry that CB5 first vice chair Craig Slutzkin–who announced he was running for chairman against the controversial interim chairman Samir Lavingia–was earlier behind a move questioning a Department of Education policy allowing transgender individuals to compete on girls athletic teams. Levine was said to have considered the move “transphobic.”

| 07 May 2024 | 04:17

The Manhattan Borough President, Mark Levine, has refused to reappoint a leading member of Community Board Five, even as he was running for board chair, apparently because as a member of a separate education council he supported a resolution challenging the school system’s policy of allowing transgender girls to play on female sports teams.

Levine was described as angry at that resolution, which has been denounced as “transphobic” by the LGBTQ+ community and numerous elected officials.

But at the same time Levine’s decision infuriated members of CB 5 because it derailed their effort to challenge their interim board chair, who many board members oppose because of his ties to a housing lobbying group.

”The Borough President’s decision to not reappoint me is incomprehensible and may be interference driven by political reasons,” Craig Slutzkin said in an email. “After the most tumultuous three months in recent history for this Board, the last thing Community Board 5 needs is further upheaval and controversy. This decision, in my opinion, only adds to that.”

The decision was revealed in an email to all fifty members of Community Board Five by the board’s nominating committee, which was finalizing plans for the board elections in June.

“We recently learned that Craig Slutzkin, a longstanding member of our board with over a decade of experience serving our community, has not been reappointed,” the committee wrote.

“Craig was only one of two candidates for the Chair position, and yet with three days before the nomination process was finalized, the Borough President has announced his decision to not reappoint Craig to our board.

“It is extremely rare for current members who are in good standing to not be reappointed, let alone one with the experience and leadership that Craig brings to our board.”

Slutzkin’s opponent for chair of CB 5 was Samir Lavingia, who was named interim chair earlier this year over objections that his day job is as an organizer for Open New York. Both Lavingia and Open New York are registered lobbyists to increase housing development.

Board members said they expected Slutzkin would have defeated Lavingia in the head to head race they were expecting before Levine intervened.

While Levine has been sympathetic to the goals of Open New York to expand housing supply, he told other officials that his decision to oust Slutzkin was driven not by his campaign against Lavingia but by his separate actions as a member of the Community Education Council of School District 2 on the East Side.

On March 20, Slutzkin, an openly gay single father, joined seven other members of the education council, an advisory body, in supporting a resolution demanding that the school system publicly review its policy of allowing transgender girls to play female sports. Three members of the council voted no.

Slutzkin told the Queens Chronicle at the time that the resolution was a response to families who felt left out from sports policy decisions. “The resolution passed by CECD2 asks just for that— giving families a safe forum to have respectful yet difficult conversations about how school sports are organized,” he told the newspaper.

The chronicle was covering calls for Slutzkin’s resignation as co-president and treasurer of the alumni association of his Queens High School, Townsend Harris.

“As members of the Townsend Harris community, we stand in full solidarity with transgender students and condemn Craig Slutzkin’s hateful targeting of them through this resolution,” said a letter from a fellow alumni, Aaron Fernando. “We demand that Craig Slutzkin resign or be removed from any and all leadership positions he holds in the Townsend Harris Alumni Association and elsewhere.”

He refused, insisting that the resolution called only for a conversation about the policy.

”The resolution calls for dialogue on the difficult topic of transgender children in sports,” Slutzkin said. “I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to engage in difficult conversations with honesty and integrity. I want to make it clear that I harbor no bias of any kind, whether it is based on race, creed, gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

The Education Council’s resolution called for the formation of a committee to consider “the impact on female athletes when the category of sex is replaced by gender identity.”

The proposed committee would include parents, female athletes, coaches, medical professionals and evolutionary biology experts.

The Department of Education rejected the proposal.

The nominating committee at CB 5 said It was mounting a last ditch effort to get Levine to reverse his decision. They asked for board members to sign a petition by the close of business Tuesday. The committee also wrote directly to Levine asking him to reverse himself.

Another member of the board, Mary Brosnahan, a well known advocate for the homeless, said she believed Levine was using the transgender issue as a “straw man” to assist Lavingia and Open New York secure leadership of the board.

“I could not be more ardently pro trans,” she said. “These kids need to be protected.”

But Levine’s motivation, she said, was to support Open New York and thereby build connections to the campaign funds available from the city’s real estate and development industry. “That’s the seminal through line behind this and always has been,” She said. “Follow the money.”

Other Board members said they had been told that Brosnahan, who had been running for first Vice Chair on a ticket with Slutzkin, was also being ousted from the board by Levine. But she said she had not heard anything directly from Levine’s deputy, although she has been trying to reach her.

Levine’s office did not immediately respond to repeated requests for comment.

“No matter who is on our board, our focus remains the same,” Lavingia said. “We will continue to represent the people of our district and tackling the issues they face every day”

Charles Ny, a board member, said he thought it was ironic that Levine had expressed concerns about a CB5 proposal to restrict voices on the board by limiting members of anyone group, such as Open New York, and then refused to reappoint Slutzkin.

“It’s really concerning,” said Ny. “Does that mean for example if I was affiliated with a group that didn’t align with the morals and values of whatever the Manhattan borough president office sees fit, that I wouldn’t be reappointed to a community board?”

The board has been sundered by dispute over the rise of Lavingia as chair and the realization that three other Open New York colleagues were also on the board. Opponents of Open New York and Lavingia have proposed resolutions, so far not adopted, to limit the number of members of any one group who could be on the board.

Slutzkin, according to board colleagues, was informed of his ouster by a Levine aide. The aide declined to explain the reasons, board members said.