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Manhattan: The Suburb


Freed moved to TriBeCa before enrolling at New York Law School: "We all lived illegally in these loft buildings. In 1975, I got involved with the Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants. I helped write the Loft Law, which granted residential rights to tenants in 1980."

Finally, she was elected to the City Council in 1991. It was Freed who made an unsuccessful bid to delay construction on the SoHo Grand Hotel, arguing that the community needed six months to catalogue and remove vulnerable artwork stored in an adjacent building. Demonstrators took to the streets wearing devil costumes and waving signs that called developer Emanuel Stern a devil. In front of the hotel, they chanted, "Go back to New Jersey, go back to New Jersey."

Eventually, Stern offered to donate 5,000 square feet of land on Grand Street to the community to install a park. But Freed and her supporters rejected the compromise. To their chagrin, the courts found that the proposed business met local zoning requirements. The SoHo Grand opened in 1996, and nobody got a park. Stern is now building a second hotel, in TriBeCa. And he hasn't heard any complaints. Yet.

Other matters are consuming Kathryn Freed these days. In Little Italy, residents grouped together last spring to form the Little Italy Neighbors Association. In October, the newly opened Café Habana had a liquor-license request turned down after the association said it objected to the owner. There was opposition from both the local community board and Councilwoman Freed.

Visual artist Sante Scardillo, one of the founders of the association, is now campaigning against the M&R Bar- Dining Room, which operates out of the building on Elizabeth Street that he lives in. Says Scardillo, "They have an outdoor garden. It's a sound trap, especially in the summer when people keep their windows open. I'm a lot more sensitive since I had this in my backyard." Since Scardillo's group began asserting itself, Community Board Two has adopted a policy opposing all restaurant gardens.

There's more. With the SoHo Alliance, a local organization founded with Freed's support in the early eighties, Freed has launched a vigorous campaign to clear the streets of the street-vending artists who have sold their wares in this part of town for more than twenty years -- undercutting the established, rent-paying businesses.

Gallery owners are angry at the food wholesalers who double-park delivery vans and stack produce outside. Freed wants existing laws that state the produce must be stacked inside to be enforced.

A 400-car parking lot has been proposed for the corner of Thompson and Broome Streets, and Freed is against it. "I can't imagine bringing more cars into that area," she says. With a group called Trees Not Trucks, she is agitating to remove commercial trucks from Broome Street.

She has also declared war on air pollution in her district: "My next big campaign, if I get around to it, is to sue the city or state government to improve the lousy air standards in SoHo and TriBeCa." And she's allied herself with the NoHo Neighborhood Association to strip the oversize billboards from Houston Street, Broome Street, and Hudson Square. "On Houston between Broadway and Crosby, there's one for cigarettes," she says. "It's the kind of billboard you see out in Middle America by the superhighways. They're all over New York now. Most are illegal."

Says attorney Norman Marcus, who considers himself a fan, "She argues like a longshoreman. She's very difficult, but she does a fabulous job." To many, she is a slightly eccentric local heroine; to others, her politics are less benign. "It's silly to be anti-commercial," says one local bar owner. "SoHo couldn't be cobblestoned, tree-lined, charming, if there weren't companies here that contribute and pay taxes."

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