May 22, 1987
Koch Opts for a Staten Island Hatchet Woman
Sydney H. Schanberg

MAYOR EDWARD KOCH wants to put on the Landmarks Preservation Commission a person who, two years ago, flouted the commission and disfigured a city landmark. This Koch nominee, representing a private foundation that was installing a statue of her late father, ripped up and removed formal shrubbery and a tree from a little English garden in Staten Island and also completely rearranged the garden's stone walkways to have them focus on the statue.

Her name is Frances Paulo. And the mayor has picked her to fill the Staten Island seat on the Landmarks Commission. That seat is now held by Anthony Tung, who is being dumped by Koch because he has been too independent and outspoken.

To replace someone who by all accounts has been possibly the most conscientious and committed member of a public body with someone who has shown a contempt for the work of that body has to been seen as a clarion message from Koch. The message is that anyone who seeks, in good faith, to use his own judgment and make his own decisions is not wanted and will not be tolerated in this city government.

For this mayor has now so confused the cult of personality with good government that any honest difference of opinion with him, if expressed aloud, will find its author purged.

Anthony Tung, a design consultant who holds an architecture degree, made his mistake by not only opposing Koch's plan to build in Bryant Park an upscale restaurant that would obscure the striking Beaux Arts rear facade of the New York Public Library but, more crucially, by expressing this dissent in public. He has also raised other questions in the past about projects sought by some of the major real estate developers who are so dear to the mayor and to his campaign coffers.

So, after eight years of unsalaried service that has been praised for its quality even by some of those he has disagreed with, Tung was branded a pariah and the recommendation that he be renamed to another three-year term was withdrawn.

Frances Paulo is the mayor's choice to replace him. She has a degree in landscape architecture, and her history suggests that too often she gets more pleasure from tearing old things down than from preserving them.

The formal garden she tore up in 1985 was the courtyard shared by Staten Island's borough hall and county courthouse. Both buildings and the courtyard were designated as landmarks in 1982. Frances Paulo entered the picture at about this time. Her father, Frank Paulo, had died the year before after serving for 27 years as a judge in Staten Island. He was respected and well-liked, and a private foundation was formed—the Frank D. Paulo Memorial Foundation—to raise money for the honoring of his memory. A statue was decided upon, and the site chosen was the courtyard that his chambers overlooked—this courtyard of six London plane trees and English yew shrubs planted in a geometric pattern.

The Paulo Foundation put forth some grand plans, such as a large memorial amphitheater that would have required the destruction of much of the stone balustrade that frames the garden and would have created a wide stone staircase to the street. Both the Landmarks Commission and the Department of General Services rejected these ideas as destructive of the garden. They agreed to a single modification—the removal of one plane tree. The Paulo statue would stand in its stead.

Frances Paulo, as a member of the foundation, proceeded to hire a landscape contractor, who was paid by the foundation and followed her instructions—which were to remove all the shrubs, chop down a second plane tree to afford a better view of the statue from the street and uproot and change all the stone paths. Her explanation for this trespass is lame and unconvincing.

She acknowledges she proceeded "without {government} authorization" but says the foundation committee believed that a larger renovation of the courtyard was in the offing and that all they were doing was "cleaning up" the space in anticipation of this. She said she took her instructions from the committee: "I was given some directives. I wasn't doing this as an individual. I didn't know there was any problem." To summarize, she was just carrying out orders.

But even a dutiful order-follower knows, without ever having heard of Joyce Kilmer, that you can't cut down a tree—whether in hamlet or village or town or city—without first getting permission.

By choosing Paulo as his Staten Island nominee, it's almost as though the mayor is thumbing his nose at the landmark process—as she did—and in the bargain showing disdain for the City Council, whose ratification is needed for such appointments.

Koch may have miscalculated this time. The community support for Anthony Tung, the landmarks commissioner Koch wants replaced by Paulo, is swelling, and a fight seems certain in the council.

The Paulo nomination, along with several others for city posts, will come before the council's Rules Committee on June 5, and already there are three votes against Paulo—the two council members from Staten Island itself, Susan Molinari and Jerome O'Donovan, and Robert Dryfoos from Manhattan. Others seem to be leaning in that direction. And it will take only five votes in the committee to block the nomination.

The City Council, under Majority Leader Peter Vallone, has been insisting it wants to carve out a more independent role for itself and thus shed its image as the mayor's rubber stamp. What better opportunity could this body ask for than an occasion when the mayor has asked it to approve the appointment of someone who has been so scornful of government rules as to destroy a landmark and then apply for a position on the Landmarks Commission?