Chin Prepares For Re-Election Campaign; Downtown Activist Weighs Challenge

Margaret Chin with other elected officials and community activists at City Hall last week.

The 2012 election season is barely behind us, but next year’s City Council races are already starting to heat up.   This week City Council member Margaret Chin kicked off a series of casual fundraising events at neighborhood restaurants. We stopped by a gathering at the Cowgirl Sea-Horse, one of many Seaport District restaurants devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  This particular event was populated by mostly young supporters; other fundraisers are planned in Chinatown and in the Financial District.  Chin plans a formal announcement that she’s running for a second term shortly after the new year.

In her first term, Chin has faced a variety of difficult issues — from two hurricanes to controversial rezoning fights to battles over two business improvement districts and historic preservation issues.   District 1, which Chin represents, covers the Lower East Side, Chinatown, the Financial District, Tribeca, Soho and sections of Greenwich Village. 

For some time now, there’s been talk that Chin could face a challenge next year from a relative political newcomer, downtown district leader Jenifer Rajkumar, who lives in Battery Park City.  Today in the Villager Chin made mention of the possible primary challenge from Rajkumar.  Some members of political clubs in Soho and the Village have been hoping someone would step forward to take on the first-term Council person.   Their dissatisfaction with Chin is based primarily on her handling of the contentious NYU rezoning plan and the proposed Soho BID.

In a recent interview, Sean Sweeney of Downtown Independent Democrats conceded it wouldn’t be easy to defeat Chin, since she enjoys a very strong base of support in Chinatown and will have plenty of campaign cash at her disposal.   But arguing that Chin has disregarded the wishes of many constituents and has behaved in a high-handed manner, Sweeney said, “sometimes you have to take on the schoolyard bully even though you know you’re going to get beat up, because it’s important to send a message.”

Many Lower Manhattan residents, however, believe Chin has performed admirably during her first term. Just today, New York Press named her “Downtowner of the Year,” praising Chin for getting “down in the trenches” during and after Hurricane Sandy.  A longtime political activist, Victor Papa of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, believes her support remains strong on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown, in spite of differences in the past three years over the creation of the Chinatown BID and advocacy of affordable housing.  Papa, who has had his differences of opinion with Chin, said, “I think she takes a strong position and isn’t afraid to tell people she disagrees with them; sometimes you make enemies that way.”

One downtown activist, District Leader Paul Newell,  shares the view that Chin could be more effective, but he does not plan to run for City Council.  Instead, Newell told us this afternoon (and the Villager) he may run for State Senator Daniel Squadron’s seat in Albany in 2014.  Squadron is launching a campaign to run for public advocate. Newell unsuccessfully challenged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in 2008.