March 7, 1988
Landmarks Panelist Persists, to Supporters' Relief
David W. Dunlap

Anthony M. Tung's days as a New York City Landmarks Preservation Commissioner were numbered in January 1987. No one imagined then that the number would be 420—and counting.

To the relief of preservationists, some City Council members and an increasing number of Asian-American leaders, the Koch administration has yet to replace Mr. Tung on the landmarks panel, its avowed goal more than a year ago.

Part of City Hall's problem is that any potential replacement must fulfill two City Charter requirements at once: be a Staten Island resident and either a landscape architect or a city planner. That limits the number of possibilities.

Mayor Koch's first choice was Frances X. Paulo. She withdrew after her nomination last May, when it was disclosed that she had been involved in the unauthorized alteration of a landmark garden.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tung kept serving in the unpaid post, month after month.

Now, the Mayor has nominated Lee Weintraub, a landscape architect whose projects, particularly Washington Market Park in TriBeCa in Manhattan and Tiffany Plaza in the South Bronx, have won praise and awards.

''I would bring a different perspective, a rather unique perspective,'' Mr. Weintraub said. ''Certainly the sensitivity to open spaces is one that's required in New York, vis-à-vis the historic parks.''

Supporters of Mr. Tung have promised to keep fighting. They question how independent Mr. Weintraub can be, given that he used to work for the city's Housing Preservation and Development Department and that his firm, Weintraub & di Domenico, has a large number of city contracts.

'Always Been Independent'

Mr. Weintraub rejected the notion that his work for and with government might compromise him. ''I have always been independent,'' he said. ''It's a nonissue. If it ever became an issue or if there were ever any pressure exerted, then I don't think I'd be able to serve.''

However, Councilwoman Ruth W. Messinger of Manhattan, a supporter of Mr. Tung, said, ''We have before us yet another nominee about whom one can raise serious questions regarding both his expertise in the field and, even more important, his probable conflict of interest.''

As a practical matter, Mr. Tung's advocates have a chance of prevailing only if the City Council rejects the mayoral nominee. That would be an extraordinary and unlikely outcome.

Then again, almost nothing has been ordinary about the affair since its beginning in January 1987. That is when Mr. Tung, a mild-looking but tough-talking Staten Islander, suddenly became a cause celebre.

He drafted a resolution describing as ''absolutely untenable'' a proposal, favored by the Koch administration and powerful civic and business leaders, to build a large restaurant in Bryant Park, if that structure made it ''difficult to perceive'' the western facade of the New York Public Library. The park and the library are landmarks.

The commission joined him in a 7-to-0 vote on the resolution, but Mr. Tung took the matter further. He submitted an opinion piece to The New York Times. Although he withdrew the article before it could be considered, his action had a decisive effect.

The chairman of the commission, Gene A. Norman, told Mr. Tung that he would not be reappointed. Publicly, Mr. Norman said Mr. Tung's outspokenness had caused confusion in the public's mind as to who represented the commission and its official positions.

Others saw the administration's abandonment of Mr. Tung, an Asian-American, who had twice before won reappointments to three-year terms, as a means of silencing a dissenting voice within the government.

Why didn't Mr. Tung simply leave in January 1987, when it was made clear that he was unwanted by City Hall? ''That vote on Bryant Park was unanimous, yet I was singled out for banishment,'' he said. ''It seemed to me that that was a blatant act of political intimidation. If I had walked away quietly, I would have sanctioned it and left behind a chilling memory at the commission. That seemed very wrong.''

''All I could offer in response was a token act of resistance,'' he said. That was to announce what had happened to his fellow commissioners during a public meeting and then wait to see whether there would be any ripples of response.

The tidal wave that followed clearly surprised Mr. Tung.

Most recently, The Village Voice named Mr. Tung to its annual honor roll of ''Heroes and Heroines.'' And the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund has given him a ''Justice in Action'' Award.

On the other hand, The Times, in an editorial, has called for his replacement, saying that his ''single-minded interest'' makes him ''unfit for membership on a commission that needs balance, not zealotry.''

Christabel Gough, a private preservationist who has spent many hours as an observer at commission hearings, said Mr. Tung appealed to community leaders who had watched him in action.

''They saw him taking great pains, trying to give an objective review,'' she said. ''He didn't always agree. He didn't always do what they wanted. But he was sincere and they were impressed by him.''

Mr. Tung has learned some lessons, he said. ''The single most important safeguard for democracy,'' he said, ''is the participation of citizens. I look at the landmarks commission and think that the way citizens participated here can be a model.''

''If Lee gets confirmed,'' Mr. Tung said, ''I'll rest a bit, and then look around to see if there is someplace else I can do some good. I can't really see beyond that.''

For his part, Mr. Weintraub said: ''I just want to contribute. I don't want to be vilified. I don't want to be the man who replaced Tony Tung.''