Iona College vs. City Hall
A WVOX Commentary
by William O’Shaughnessy, Editorial Director
March 8, 2017
This morning … a word about Iona, Iona College. In fact, I’ll offer several words on the subject, if you’ll allow me. First off: congratulations to the Gaels for making the NCAA Tournament. And you can be sure we’re cheering for Iona as they present themselves on the basketball court against the best in the country. So much for Sports this morning …
That’s an easy call. And we really do wish them well. Speaking of which: we’re capable of no such inclination concerning Iona’s zoning contretemps with the City of New Rochelle which has now resulted, as we’ve heard, in an ill-considered lawsuit filed by our own hometown college against our own City of New Rochelle.
In every telling and by every account, the Court filing unleashed by Iona has a mean-spirited odor to it in which Iona accuses the City of New Rochelle’s corporation counsel of violating ethical codes among other things.
Especially troublesome to admirers of the College – and we are among them – are reports that Iona has threatened during negotiations to “embarrass” City Hall staffers and put them in an “uncomfortable” position.
The legal strike against New Rochelle’s corporation counsel is really an attack on the stewardship of the present city manager and that gives us great concern. New Rochelle has one of the best city managers in America, Charles Bowman Strome. He is really the chief operating officer of our municipality.
We have considerable admiration for Chuck Strome as he is widely-known. We’ve watched him grow in wisdom and age for several decades. And thus please don’t hold it against him that he began his career in our city as the WVOX news director some 35 years ago.
Not only is Strome adept at the tedious and demanding minutiae of governance … the rules and regs and jargon of municipal government … he also has a keen understanding and sensitivity to the uniqueness of the many disparate neighborhoods in our City.
He is also skillful and adept at accommodating the egos of the present very “colorful” city council. It’s a tough job which also includes interpreting and sometimes “softening” the sharp-edged but often tone-deaf brilliance that cascades from the Mayor’s Office.
We’ve said it before: New Rochelle is sui generis which means it’s unique and able to be defined only in its own terms.
As we see it, this whole current dust-up between Iona and the City is really, at its core, a neighborhood preservation issue. That’s the bottom line. And we would urge Iona to take a deep breath and tone down the rhetoric in their attempt to merge, without any public input, those 11 lots which were once owned by the Christian Brothers.
The “conflict of interest” charge introduced by Iona is aimed at one Kathleen Gill who at various times worked for both the City and the College. She now serves as corporation counsel. And the College apparently had no objection to Gill’s presence in the negotiations until she indicated that Iona was not above the law of the land, in this case, the zoning requirements.
We believe a good case can be made that the lawsuit is baseless and without merit and is in effect an attempt to promulgate and continue the threatening tone and rough tactics which Iona has been accused of displaying during recent negotiations with the City.
We would surely welcome an opportunity to discuss this hot-button issue with college president – if he’s still the president – Joseph Nyre who is on a very “unusual” one-year “sabbatical” … and there are thus real questions abroad in the land about just who is running the show at Iona these days. Dr. Nyre was never shy, we understand, about making his wishes known in the confines of City Hall on any matter involving the college.
But “sabbatical” or not, he has not at all been heard from in this unseemly dispute. The chairman of the current board of trustees is a very successful businessman – a billionaire – named Jim Hynes – and the vice chairman is the well-known and estimable lawyer David McCabe of the Willkie Farr and Gallagher white shoe law firm in Manhattan, which, incidentally, was Mario Cuomo’s old law firm.
McCabe and Hynes are top-notch individuals and thus, one wonders, why they let this disagreement with the City escalate into personal attacks against the well-intentioned inhabitants of City Hall.
WVOX and the College go way back to the Brother Driscoll days and even before that. But for your community radio station, ladies and gentlemen, there would have been a strip mall where the Murphy Science Center now sits … if WVOX had not intervened with the city council of the day. That was long, long ago. But not so long ago that any of us should forget how much Iona means to New Rochelle. Thus we dislike – intensely – being on opposite sides of any proposition from the College which is an ornament and more than that – an icon – of our City.
This we know: there’s sure to be one hell of a ruckus in the City Council Chambers next Tuesday at 7:00PM when residents of Beechmont express their concern as well.
They’ll be singing the song of “Neighborhood Preservation.”
Theirs. And yours as well.
This is a lot more than a little backyard zoning issue.
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William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington. He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, the national charitable organization. He is also a longtime director and member of the Executive Committee of the Foundation. He has operated WVOX and WVIP, two of the last independent stations in the New York area, for 56 years as president and editorial director.
He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … and “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files,” released in January, 2011. He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, another anthology. He has also completed “Mario Cuomo: Remembrances of a Remarkable Man,” a tribute to his late friend Governor Mario M. Cuomo which has just been published.