Today’s news:

Frustration over mural at city site

The temperature last week in the St. Benedict the Moor Roman Catholic Church was below 60, there was no amplification system, and members of Community Board 12 had become increasingly frustrated about their role in city government in recent months, particularly the commissioning of a mural for a public building.

The outcome was what District Manager Yvonne Reddick called the strangest meeting in the board's history when the board members voted not to hear the presentation of artist Ursula Von Rydingsvard, whom they had invited to speak.

Reddick attributed the board's decision not to hear the scheduled speaker to the cold room, the length of the meeting and the absence of a microphone.

Cathie Behrend, of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, came before the board to discuss a planned mural for the new Family Court building under construction at 150th Street and Jamaica Avenue.

"Family Court is one of the most stressful atmospheres. We wanted an artist who would somehow respond to the need of that," Behrend said.

Resident Ineze Patterson, who is not a board member, asked Behrend whether local businesses were being hired to help build the courthouse. Patterson later said she wanted the building's architect, Ian Bader, to answer her question, and never meant to assail the artist.

Immediately after Patterson's question, however, several board members spoke up, saying they were never informed of the $300,000 mural project and felt left out of the decision-making process.

Tempers flared and voices were raised as Von Rydingsvard sat stoically waiting to present her vision to the board, but she never got the chance.

Community Board 12 Chairman James Davis put a resolution not to hear the presentation before the board and while there were many abstentions, the majority voted against hearing from the artist. Davis later said it would have been unfair to the artist to have her present her work in what was becoming a hostile atmosphere.

Ruben Holder, chairman of the Land Use Committee, spoke out against the board's vote, saying there was no precedent to vote against hearing an item already on the agenda.

"The board had nothing against the artist," Holder said, adding that its reaction had nothing to do with the fact that the artist is white and most of the board members are black.

Holder said the art project is just the latest example of a city agency dictating to the board what it plans to do instead of asking for input during the planning process.

"These are very unfortunate circumstances," said Bader of Pei Cobb Freed, the firm designing the Family Court.

"Many minority participants were reviewed, the artist was selected purely on merit," Bader said. "We expected a hearing, we did get a hearing, but it was not the kind we wanted."

The Department of Culture Affairs did not comment on the incident.

Davis said the board was weighing what to do next and it was possible Von Rydingsvard would be invited back.

In other news, the board voted for American Airlines to renew its lease on the JFK terminal building and surrounding land when it runs out in 2116. The airline leases the terminal from the Port Authority, but Mayor Rudy Giuliani has frequently talked about having the city take over operations of the airport.

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