Casino Plans Have People Buzzing Uptown, While New Judge Swears in Downtown

| 22 Jan 2024 | 04:12

Is there a casino in Manhattan’s future? Nobody knows. But more and more these days, it’s getting to be the talk of the town. Sometime early last year, I got an email from Hell’s Kitchen Democrats inviting the community to a West Side Casino Discussion. “Should a casino be coming to our neighborhood?,” would be among the topics and NY State Gaming Commissioner Jerry Skurnik would be the Special Guest Speaker. Skurnik has been active in New York politics since the Ed Koch days and before that when he began volunteering in a local Democratic club in the 60s.

In fact, when I zoomed in on the Hell’s Kitchen meeting, I thought I saw John LoCicero among the zoomers. Skurnick confirmed that, yes, it was LoCicero who, from the late 70s to 1990, was a Special Advisor to Mayor Koch, and before that was a District Leader in Greenwich Village. Contending locations for a casino in the Hell’s Kitchen part of Manhattan include Hudson Yards and Times Square. Since then, other competitors for a Manhattan license have been hyping their proposals which include Freedom Plaza, on E. 38th St & E. 41st St. between 1st Ave and the FDR Drive and the top three floors of Saks Fifth Avenue. While there are no assurances that there will be a casino license granted to a Manhattan location, [there are nine groups across the greater metro area competing for the three downstate licenses] that’s not stopping the community residents from letting it be known that they want no part of it.

In an Our Town article, Jack Ahern reported on the vociferous dissent of local residents at a Casino Town Hall on Jan. 11, hosted by State Senator Kristen Gonzalez at the NYU College of Dentistry. When Gonzalez took the mic, she emphasized the importance of the community’s participating in decision-making as it relates to what was being done in the community. Skurnik was there on behalf of the Gaming Commission and to explain the process for granting or denying a casino license. In addition to local residents, State Senator Liz Krueger and U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler’s district director Robert Gottheim were there. Comments made by Krueger and Gottheim were reported in Ahern’s article. Krueger’s comments were met with approval. Not so Gottheim’s.

I followed up with Gottheim who clarified Nadler’s position: ”The Congressman hasn’t taken a position on any of the five casinos proposed for his district. [There’s four outside his district: one in the Bronx, one at the Nassau Coliseum, another at Aqueduct Raceway and another at Yonkers Raceway.]

The town hall last week by Senator Gonzalez was to provide a forum and listen to the community regarding the proposal by the Soloviev Group for a casino on property they own south of the United Nations where they want to partner with Mohegan Sun. Congressman is not a supporter of casinos in general. [Emphasis in original.] As I mentioned in the town hall, they prey on some of our most vulnerable in our society. But unfortunately, casinos have been approved by the legislature and the citizens of New York by amending the NYS Constitution, and there are many proposals for casinos licenses in Manhattan. It is the job of the community and elected officials to discuss and scrutinize these various applications for casinos in Manhattan, because there will be a strong push by developers for a Manhattan casino.”

While Skurnik explained the process for how and to whom licenses were granted, he was met with resistance from the audience.

Less Fireworks This Time: Room 300, the Paul G. Feinman Ceremonial Courtroom, New York County Supreme Court, 60 Centre St., is the very courtroom where the civil fraud trial of former president Donald Trump is being tried before Justice Arthur Engoron. Happens that, on the day that Michael Cohen was testifying and a testy Trump stomped out of the courtroom, I was there and reported about it in my column in Our Town.

On January 11, I returned to the Room 300 courtroom for the induction of Lyle Frank as a Justice of the Supreme Court. Judge Frank was first elected to Civil Court in 2015. In 2018, he was appointed as an Acting Supreme Court Justice. And in November 2023, he was elected to a 14-year term as a Justice of the Supreme Court. It was a proud day for the judge and his wife, Elyssa Kates, an attorney, their two children, Gavin and Cathryn, the judge’s sister, Samantha Feldman, who stood with him as Justice Kathryn Freed administered the oath.

It was a rainy afternoon but the courtroom was filled with Justice Frank’s judicial colleagues, family, friends as well as colleagues from his years when he was a practicing attorney. Prior to his election to the bench, Frank had served as an attorney with the New York City Council since 2007. Hence, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito was among those who paid tribute to the judge. During his tenure at the City Council, he was promoted to the position of assistant deputy director of the Human Services Division in 2014.

Proudly welcoming Judge Frank to a full Supreme Court judgeship were justices Deborah Kaplan, who was appointed as deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City Courts, and Adam Silvera who was appointed Administrative Judge of the Civil Term of the New York County Supreme Court.

Justice Frank took it all in in stride and pride as his daughter Cathryn and son Gavin lauded their dad and shared some family fun.