A tenacious Parisian in Manhattan is refusing to bow down to Andrew Cuomo — or his successor — when it comes to fighting plans to transform the area around Madison Square Garden into a forest of skyscrapers.
Layla Law-Gisiko, who was born in Paris and is a 26-year resident of Manhattan, has been a Community Board 5 member for 16 years and is the current chair of its Land Use committee.
But is wasn’t until she went up against Gov. Cuomo’s powerful state agency, Empire Station Development Corp. (ESD) — and its “disastrous” multi-billion plan to build 10 skyscrapers at Penn Station as part of a leveraged deal to renovate the transit hub — that the 50-year-old decided she needed a bigger political platform.
“The best way to fight is by having a seat in Albany,” Law-Gisiko said. “It’s going to give me more power to take this on.”
She will formally announce her candidacy for the Assembly District seat 75 Thursday at afternoon in front of the grand old Hotel Pennsylvania across from Madison Square Garden, one of the sites slated for demolition around Penn Station.
Law-Gisiko became a thorn in the side of the ESD (which declined to comment for this story) earlier this year when she became increasingly vocal about how state officials — and their partners at Vornado Realty — managed to bypass the city and move ahead with what she called a “disastrous” plan without any municipal oversight. Vornado chief Steve Roth was a major campaign donor to Gov. Cuomo.
“There’s no reason to build all those skyscrapers right down the street from Hudson Yards which is already a white elephant,” she told The Post. “It’s a disastrous plan that will take all the sunlight out of the area and displace hundreds of residents and thousands of businesses.”
ESD officials tried for months to block her from participating in a community panel formed to give feedback about the Penn station project, she said. She was eventually allowed to attend only under pressure from her board leadership.
Law-Gisiko was further incensed last month Gov. Kathy Hochul announced plans to move forward with Cuomo’s project, while claiming to have adjusted the plan to satisfy community concerns. Eight blocks around Penn Station will still be bulldozed under Hochul’s plan.
“We were surprised and hugely disappointed the board was not consulted before she made her announcement,” Law-Gisiko said. “Gov. Hochul took ownership of what she called a scaled-down version but which is essentially Gov. Cuomo’s same project. It would have been so much better had she talked to us and gotten feedback before she went to the podium. Now that it’s public it’s harder to take back.”
Law-Gisiko said she was first made aware of how an unattractive building — in her case the notorious Tour Montparnasse, known as “Paris’ ugliest skyscraper” —can negatively impact a city aesthetically and economically.
“I still have PTSD from the Tour Montparnasse,” Law-Gisiko told The Post, adding that her Parisian education and culture inform both her persistence to fight for what she thinks is right, as well as her sense of taste and style.
“French people tend to have a very analytical mind. We don’t take things at face value. We question things, in the great tradition of French philosopher Descartes. It’s part of the civics education we get in French public schools,” she said. “I was blessed to be born in a city with a strong understanding of urban planning.”
Law-Gisiko has been called a troublemaker but her supporters say that’s a good trait, at least in this case.
“She’s stirring up good trouble and she has a tireless commitment to getting the details right,” Sam Turvey, chairperson of Rethink NYC, which also opposes the so-called “Empire Station Complex” told The Post.
“Sometimes troublemaker are inflammatory without substance. She is passionate with facts and substance,” Turvey added. “This Penn station project is going to destroy New York City and pretty much everyone is sitting on their hands letting it happen. Not Layla. To channel John Lewis, she makes ‘good trouble.’”
Law-Gisiko, who is married with two sons, ages 18 and 19, had a prior career as a journalist, author and documentary filmmaker. She said she is also running to work on other issues including homelessness, education and affordable housing.
And she is not against all city development projects. She and Community Board 5, Law-Gisiko said, have worked well with developers who plan to demolish the current Grand Hyatt Hotel and erect a new supertall building while upgrading Grand Central Station.