Downtown Independent Democrats Backs Rajkumar For City Council

margaret chin, jenifer rajkumar

In the past few weeks, Lower Manhattan’s political clubs have been weighing which candidates to support for citywide office. The Democratic Primary takes place September 10. Members of Downtown Independent Democrats (DID) made their choice last night, choosing newcomer Jenifer Rajkumar in the 1st District race over first-term City Council member Margaret Chin.

The vote was 39-16 in favor of Rajkumar. The result was no surprise since members of DID have been vocal for many months about their displeasure with Chin over two main issues – the NYU expansion plan and the Soho BID. The club’s president, Jeanne Wilcke, and Sean Sweeney, who’s treasurer, are among Rajkumar’s most ardent supporters.

The meting took place in the basement of St. Anthony Church on Sullivan Street. Critics of Chin said she has not fought hard enough against development proposals widely opposed by the communities she serves. District 1 covers most of Lower Manhattan below Houston Street, including the Lower East Side. One member said, “she’s a nice woman but a terrible negotiator… in her mind compromise is a golden word… (but) constantly over the past four years we have gotten screwed.” Another member said she feels Chin has not been clear with constituents about her positions on development issues. Rakjumar’s backers said she has been “standing with us” on many issues and is frequently at the forefront of rallies organized to protest Michael Bloomberg’s development agenda.

But Council member Chin also had her prominent supporters, including two downtown district leaders. Jean Grillo, a longtime Tribeca activist said, “there are rallies and there’s hard work… Margaret gets the job done.” She rattled off a list of accomplishments — from getting stop lights installed at dangerous intersections to fighting for subsidized housing as part of the NYU plan. West Side district leader Jon Scott agreed, acknowledging that there were concerns about “those two issues” (NYU and the Soho BID), but said “Margaret has been there in the schools, for parents and for seniors.” Another member praised Chin for winning 500 units of permanently affordable housing within the Seward park Development Project.

It is definitely possible to overstate the importance of political club endorsements. They matter because club members are key ‘foot soldiers” for candidates, helping to collect petition signatures and get out the vote. In 2009, the total numbers of people voting was small – about 11,000 – so support at every level matters. But Chin, in particular, has her own political infrastructure in Chinatown, where she was a community activist for decades. Four years ago, the DID backed candidate lost. As previously reported the Lower East Side political club, CoDA, decided not to make an endorsement in the 1st District campaign and Lower Manhattan democrats backed Chin. Village Independent Democrats is supporting Rajkumar.

In other races, DID last night decided to support John Liu for mayor, Daniel Squadron for Public Advocate, Julie Menin for Manhattan Borough President and Rosie Mendez for City Council in District 2.

Editorial note: Reporters were allowed to attend last night’s meeting with the understanding that speakers could not be identified by name unless they gave consent.