Council member Chin’s Foes Take Legal Action Over Seized Flyers at Town Hall

City Council member Margaret Chin and Mayor de Blasio at last month's town hall. Photo: NYC Mayor's Office.

City Council member Margaret Chin and Mayor de Blasio at last month’s town hall. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office.

Here was the headline in the online version of the Daily News Friday evening: “Councilwoman Margaret Chin blasted over cops seizing leaflets from attendees at town hall in Chinatown.”

The article explained that attorney Pete Gleason had filed preliminary paperwork for a lawsuit against Chin. He’s acting on behalf of Jeanne Wilcke, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, a political club with a long history of opposing the District 1 Council member. Gleason is also a club member and a former contender for the Lower Manhattan Council seat. “If somebody doesn’t stand up and say, ‘Wait, this isn’t right,’ it will happen again,” Wilcke told the News. “And even if it doesn’t happen again, it shouldn’t be gotten away with that police are sitting there and taking people’s personal property.”

The June 21 town hall at the Chinatown YMCA was organized by the mayor’s office, in conjunction with Council member Chin and other elected officials. During the forum, Chin called on members of the audience to ask the mayor questions on a wide range of topics. It was quite a scene at the intersection of Bowery and East Houston Street, outside the auditorium, in the hours before the event got underway. Demonstrators carried signs, protesting a range of issues, from development plans at the Elizabeth Street Garden to the rezoning of Chinatown. Attendees, who were required to RSVP for the town hall, passed through metal detectors on the way inside. Police confiscated flyers before people were allowed entry.

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The lawsuit does not name the mayor or the NYPD. Chin is the sole target.

Wilcke is not alone in protesting the heavy-handed tactics. Norman Siegel, the well-known civil rights lawyer, has fired off a letter to the mayor and police commissioner, saying the city’s conduct at the town hall amounted to violations of the First and Fourth amendments. Siegel sent the letter, the News reported, on behalf of the SoHo Alliance (that group is headed by political activist Sean Sweeney, another leader of Downtown Independent Democrats and an outspoken Chin critic).  “I can’t think of any Constitutional reason why the government has a right to do what they did on June 21st, to confiscate political literature,” said Siegel.

A NYPD spokesperson said, “After several altercations outside of the town hall between different groups with different signage, the NYPD prohibited signage from the event to prevent another altercation between the groups.” The mayor’s office declined to comment, referring questions to the Law Department and to the police department.

A spokesperson for Council member Chin, Paul Leonard, said, “These allegations are baseless and absurd. The NYPD and Mayor’s police detail prohibited all campaign literature from being brought into the town hall facility, including literature from the Council Member’s own volunteers… Council Members have no control over the actions of the Mayor’s NYPD detail — a fact that someone with Norman Siegel’s extensive legal background knows full well.”

On June 29, DNAinfo reported that Aaron Foldenauer, who is challenging Chin in the upcoming Democratic Primary, filed a federal complaint against the mayor and the Council member. In the complaint, Foldenauer alleged that de Blasio and Chin ordered cops to seize the political materials.