Lower East Side Development Spells Decline of Old Jewish Power Brokers

Seward Park Project Signals End of Era in Old Neighborhood

Location, Location: The development of an unimpressive looking stretch of the lower East Side after decades of delay signals a political changing of the guard in the fast gentrifying area of Manhattan.
ari jankelowitz
Location, Location: The development of an unimpressive looking stretch of the lower East Side after decades of delay signals a political changing of the guard in the fast gentrifying area of Manhattan.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published March 04, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
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Observers see Silver in particular having a hand in the in the multidecade-long delay. Tom Robbins, a veteran investigative reporter for the Village Voice, explicitly blamed him in a 2008 story for that paper. Other articles have made similar claims.

In an emailed statement, Silver said: “From the beginning, I have been very supportive of an open, community-driven process for developing a plan for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.”

Jacob, for his part, has been the most vocal opponent of low-income housing on the Seward Park site. “Why target the Lower East Side for more low-income units?” he asked the New York Times in 1994, in opposing an earlier version of the plan. “We have enough of that type of housing already.”

Yet Willy, Heshy, and Shelly’s Grand Street isn’t what it used to be. Fifteen years ago, the co-ops changed their rules, lifting price restrictions and, in effect, allowing apartments to be sold at market prices. New post-gentrification arrivals came without the decades-old anxieties and grudges. All at once, the land started shifting under the old guard.

“If an apartment opens up today who moves in? Yuppies, and they’re paying a fortune,” said Jacob.

Michael Tumminia, an accountant, moved into the Seward Park Cooperative in 2004. He isn’t Jewish, but his wife is. Tumminia was elected president of the building complex’s co-op board in 2009. That year, the majority of co-op board members elected were not Jewish — a shock in a building once predominantly Jewish.

Tumminia and his allies backed the redevelopment. The new arrivals wanted more stores in the neighborhood. There are signs of gentrification in the immediate area of the co-ops, like a high-end pediatrician’s office and a fancy donut shop. But the trendy explosion on the other side of Delancey has eluded this part of the neighborhood. Some basics are missing, too, like a movie theater.

Upon his election, Tumminia told a local blog called The Lo Down that he hoped to push for development of the Seward Park site. Soon after, he got a call from Jacob.


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