community boards

Embattled Community Board Leader Steps Aside After Bias Case

Outgoing Manhattan Community Board 12 chair Richard Lewis, center, dropped his re-election bid.
Outgoing Manhattan Community Board 12 chair Richard Lewis, center, dropped his re-election bid. Photo: Rachel Holliday Smith/THE CITY

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The chair of a Manhattan community board accused of gender bias suddenly dropped his bid for re-election Tuesday night — just before a scheduled vote.

Richard Lewis had planned to run again to lead Community Board 12, which covers Inwood and Washington Heights. But he bowed out at the last minute.

“I don’t wish to be divisive,” he told the board. “I’m making that very, very clear. This is your board.”

The move followed an investigation by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office, reported by THE CITY last month, that found Lewis exhibited a pattern of gender bias against women on the volunteer board — including demoting and berating them.

The report rocked the uptown board, and several members ran for leadership positions promising to change the culture there. Two candidates — Tanya Bonner and Ayisha Ogilvie — were witnesses in the gender bias investigation.

Neither won in Tuesday’s board elections, and Bonner was skeptical about how much the new leaders could fix the board’s problems.

“I’m glad that he cleared field,” she said of Lewis, but added “this was always about more than just Richard.”

A Heated Meeting

Board members who spoke with THE CITY said the problems with Lewis underscored entrenched dysfunction at CB12. Shouting and disagreements punctuated Tuesday night’s meeting, even as a new slate of candidates was voted in.

At one point, longtime board member Elizabeth Lorris Ritter — who had pushed to bring the report on Lewis to light — claimed that local City Council representative Ydanis Rodriguez made calls to board members telling them to not support her for a leadership spot.

Rodriguez arrived at the meeting a short time later and vehemently denied the allegation, calling Ritter a liar. In response, she called him out and demanded an apology.

“He categorically denies the accusation,” said Evelin Collado, a Rodriguez spokesperson. “He has the utmost respect for the electoral process and wishes all candidates the best.”

The newly elected board leaders include Eleazar Bueno as chair, Katherine Diaz as first vice chair, Isidro Medina as second vice chair, Gerard Dengel as treasurer and Ritter — who ran unopposed — as secretary.

Bueno, a 21-year uptown resident and the owner of several Empanadas Monumental eateries, said he’s optimistic about the board’s future, despite its recent troubles.

“There are a lot of people who are willing and able to have a new beginning,” Bueno told THE CITY after the vote. “People are waiting to start with a clean slate.”

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