City Council Committee Assignments: Chin Heads Aging, Mendez Loses Public Housing Post

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. 

City Council Cash – How the LES Stacks UP

Borough President Scott Stringer spoke during the ribbon cutting at the LES Jewish Conservancy's Visitor's Center this past spring.

Earlier this week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer called on the City Council to reform the way it awards grants to community organizations.  The grants, known as “member items,” are seen by many as pork-barrel spending, tools elected officials use to repay political supporters. Others view the “discretionary” fund as an essential lifeline to the city’s many non-profit social service and cultural institutions.

Stringer released a report detailing which Council districts get the most money.  The unsurprising conclusion?

The analysis, the most comprehensive study to date, reveals deep inequities within the current system over the last four fiscal years and recommends that these taxpayer dollars—totaling $49.6 million in this year’s budget—should be transferred to mayoral agencies for distribution, to take politics out of the process… Under the current system, some districts receive more than four times the amount of discretionary member items than others. The Borough President’s report notes that the adoption of a uniform, across-the-board distribution of member items would have given added funding to 32 districts across the city.

Chin Holds Open House Friday

District 1 City Councilmember Margaret Chin is holding an open house this coming Friday, October 15th.  It’ll be from 1-6pm at her district office, 165 Park Row, Suite 11. The event should be a good opportunity to meet Chin’s staff and chat with her about what’s going on downtown. District 1 includes the Lower East Side (below Houston Street), Soho, Tribeca, the Financial District and Chinatown.

Councilmember Rosie Mendez’s 2011 Funding Choices

Yesterday, we posted the list of community-based projects City Councilmember Margaret Chin has decided to fund this year. Today, we’ll take a look at Councilmember Rosie Mendez’s funding choices. Last week,  the city’s $63 billion budget was approved, including about $50 million in “discretionary spending” controlled by individual Council members.

Councilmember Margaret Chin’s First Year Funding Choices

Last week the City Council approved Mayor Bloomberg’s $63 billion “austerity” budget, cutting funds for schools, libraries and social programs.  Included in the budget: about $165 million in discretionary spending controlled by the Council. Around a fifth of the discretionary fund is set aside for so-called “member items,” projects sponsored by individual Council members. This week we’re going to take a look at the funding choices made by Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez, our representatives at City Hall.

This Afternoon: Important City Council Hearing

City Councilmember Margaret Chin sent the following email out to supporters:

This coming Monday, the City Council will hold an important public hearing on the upcoming budget. With our city and state in fiscal crisis, many of our most essential services – from after school programs to bus lines, from libraries to senior centers – are threatened.

That’s why I urge you to come out this Monday, June 7th at 2pm (and on into the evening) at City Hall, and make your voice heard.

Chin Celebrates Historic Victory – Promises “Active Representation” of Community

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Sheldon Silver congratulating Margaret Chin

Margaret Chin made history last night, coasting to an easy win in the District 1 City Council race. She becomes the first Chinese councilmember to represent Manhattan's Chinatown, and the first Asian woman on the City Council. The victory party, in a cavernous banquet hall on Mott Street, was not only a celebration of Chin's accomplishment but also a celebration of Chinatown's new political clout.

Chin steamrolled her nominal Republican opponent, Irene Horvath, 86-percent (17.412) to 14-percent (2,834). She becomes one of at least 13 new members of the City Council, and one of five challengers to have knocked off incumbents. Together, those new members, are expected to counter-balance a newly elected, but weakened, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn. In September's Democratic Primary, Chin defeated two-term incumbent Alan Gerson, who backed Bloomberg and Quinn's maneuver to extend term limits. 

Preservation Groups Sponsor Upcoming City Council Debates

Two historic preservation organizations are sponsoring a series of forums featuring the candidates running for the New York City Council. The Democratic Primary takes place September 15th. The Historic Districts Council's League of Preservation Voters and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation are organizing the debates in Downtown Manhattan. According to a press release the forums are being held so voters can ask:

…questions specifically about preservation and development issues in (districts 1, 2 and 3). Both overdevelopment and the designation of new historic districts are key issues to the downtown community; each of these forums provides an opportunity for constituents to hear what the candidates have to say about these important topics.

The District 1 forum is coming up Friday at 6pm – at Memorial Judson Church, 239 Thompson Street (downstaors).  The eent is free and open to the public. Tickets will be distributed at the church beginning at 5pm on Friday.

The District 2 forum is Thursday at 6pm – Parish Hall of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, at 131 East 10th Street between Second and Third Avenues. And the District 3 event will be held next Tuesday at the John Lovejoy Elliot Center at the Hudson Guild at 441 West 26th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

More information on the Historic District Council's web site.

Chinatown Debate: Chin Comes Out Swinging

CCD1 elections logo Even her opponents would have to concede it was Margaret Chin's night. A large crowd turned out in Chinatown last night to size up the four candidates running against incumbent City Council member Alan Gerson. In a lively, two hour forum, Gerson was under constant attack by Chin and another challenger, Pete Gleason. But Chin – a longtime Chinatown activist – on her home turf, took the lead.

It was the third major forum in advance of the Septhember 15th Democratic Primary. Chin's message was, essentially, "eight is enough." After two terms, she argued, it's time to give someone else a chance. Chin railed against Gerson's decision to side with the mayor in extending term limits. But she also strongly criticized his leadership. Taking issue with Gerson's argument in earlier debates that he has an "unparalleled record" of achievement, she claimed he only acts when prodded to do so by community activists (such as herself).

Gerson spent most of the night defending his eight years in office and highlighting his accomplishments. Enjoying a significant amount of support in the neighborhood, his responses were generally followed by fairly enthusiastic applause.  Meanwhile, PJ Kim refrained from criticizing his opponents, making the case that the time has come to move beyond divisive politics. Arthur Gregory positioned himself as the "truth teller," the only candidate who will truly confront the realities facing the district. Gleason, who has been Gerson's fiercest critic, kept up the pressure and pledged to "stand up to the powers that be" at City Hall and in Albany.

At the end of the night, the candidates had one thing in common: none of them was brave enough to reveal his or her favorite restaurant in Chinatown!

A short time ago, we posted the full audio recording of last night's forum. Below, are two video excerpts. The first clip, focusing on support for struggling small businesses, illustrates Chin's forceful criticism of Gerson. There's also an exchange on term limits. In the second clip, you'll hear portions of the candidates' closing statements.

Bike Advocates Challenge Gerson During Chinatown Rally

It was quite a scene on a sweltering street corner in Chinatown this afternoon. City Council member Alan Gerson rallied with Chinatown business owners and senior citizens, who are fed up with the Grand Street bike lane. While Gerson stressed his support for more bike lanes throughout the city, he said the configuration of the lanes along Grand Street is not working. He complained that the Department of Transportation has refused to meet with residents about their concerns.

Some of the speakers at the rally said the lanes had cut back on parking along the congested corridor, and hurt local businesses. Others said the shifting of the parking lanes to the middle of the street made Grand more dangerous for pedestrians. Gerson has introduced legislation in the City Council that would require the DOT to follow a "comprehensive community engagement process" before major changes are made to city streets.

One of Gerson's challengers in next month's Primary, Margaret Chin, released a strongly worded statement, following this afternoon's rally:

When the Grand Street bike lane was installed by the Mayor’s Department of Transportation, Councilmember Gerson did almost nothing to oppose it. There was limited community consultation, with only one major hearing and a vote by the Community Board. The hearing was poorly publicized and attended, and Gerson did little to make the debate over the bike lane public or engaged. The one tepid protest that Gerson managed to organize failed to prevent the construction of the bike lane, the entirety of which falls within Council District 1. Now that his prospects for election to a third term are in serious jeopardy, he has taken a position with the community, and against the bike lane. Combined with his changing stance on congestion pricing (he voted in favor in the Council, but now claims to oppose it) this position raises questions as to whether his positions on the issues are driven by principles or the desire to be returned to office for a third term.

The rally lasted for almost an hour. On Monday. we'll have extended excerpts from Gerson, as well as Chinatown residents. Below is a short exchange at the end of today's rally. As bicycle advocates grilled Gerson, he tried to reassure them by saying he was trying to prevent the scaling back of bike lanes in New York due to opposition from communities who feel they've been left out of the process. 

Kim Wins Citizens Union Endorsement

6a01127920a5dc28a40120a5582cf2970c-120pi The "good government" group, Citizens Union, has decided to endorse PJ Kim in the District 1 City Council Primary:

In the race to challenge incumbent Councilmember Alan Gerson, Citizens Union prefers Jin (P.J.) Kim because of his energy, fresh ideas, knowledge of the evolving needs of the district and his broad base of support. Margaret Chin is also a strong candidate with experience and meaningful ties working on tenant organizing issues, especially in the Chinatown portion of Council District 1. 

In a statement, Dick Dadey, Citizens Union executive director, said:

CU felt the need to make recommendations that encourage voters to retire a number of  two-term incumbents and support new faces who will breathe fresh air into the city council. And where appropriate, we are encouraging the return of effective members who do a good job of serving their constituents and meeting the public interest of New Yorkers." 

Gerson, a two term incumbent, is facing a strong challenge from four rivals, including Kim, Margaret Chin, Pete Gleason and Arthur Gregory. His vote to extend term limits, has been a major issue in the campaign.

Citizens Union asked candidates to fill out detailed questionnaires. You can see their responses to a range of "good government" questions here

City Council Debate: Gleason Sharply Critical of Gerson Tenure

IMG_0340 The five candidates competing to represent District 1 (including the LES) on the City Council debated the issues Monday night at a forum sponsored by The Villager and Downtown Express newspapers. The evening was marked by an aggressive attack on incumbent Alan Gerson by challenger Pete Gleason. By the end of the forum, held at Pace University, the contours of the race began to take shape. In the absence of major disagreements on the issues, the voters will likely make their choice in September's Democratic Primary based on differences in personal styles and backgrounds. Gerson vigorously defended his tenure, trumpeting a record of "unparalleled accomplishments." Gleason positioned himself as the outspoken fighter against the status quo at City Hall. Chin portrayed herself as the champion of affordable housing and education who would brings decades of experience as a community organizer to the Council. Kim touted his fresh approach to issues and an ability to build consensus. And Gregory presented himself as the affable, shoot from the hip businessman and activist, who wouldn't be afraid to speak his mind.

Postal Union Endorses Gleason

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The New York Metro Area Postal Union announced it is endorsing Pete Gleason in the First District City Council race. Gleason is one of four candidates trying to knock off two-term City Council member Alan Gerson in next month's Primary.

In a statement, Union President Clarice Torrence said, "We have endorsed Pete Gleason because we are working people, union people, who live and work in New York City .  Pete has been one of us and understands our plight. He also understands the impact of post office closings on a community. We look to Pete Gleason to be a voice for all working people on the city council in this time of crisis.”

Gleason, now an attorney, served a New York City police officer and firefighter. In the statement, he said, "Post Offices are a focal point of our communities.  The Pitt Street post office on the Lower East Side and the Battery Park City Retail Post Office on Rector Street are essential parts of our neighborhoods.  We cannot afford to lose them.” 

See our coverage of the fight to save the Pitt Station Post Office here and here.

The Race Debate

NYCD1ELECTIONS_011 Last week we reported about a dust-up between the two Asian candidates running in the First District City Council race. Margaret Chin's campaign accused rival PJ Kim of using "racially charged language," when he asserted that Chin was running to become the "Mayor of Chinatown."  A couple of Lo-Down readers took note of those stories – and were displeased that we had not also reported another story with racial overtones, involving Chin's campaign manager.

Fair point. Last week's episode (both Kim's remarks and Chin's response) have opened the door to a discussion about race in the District 1 campaign. So, here's the story. Last month, Chin's campaign manager, Jake Itzkowitz, wrote on his personal Twitter account:

“@CityHallNews Politicians should be able to use the 'N' word in
attacking ignorance & racism. Aren't we a mature enough culture for
that?”

The tweet was apparently a response to a City Hall News interview with Carolyn Maloney:

There is Carolyn Maloney, ripping into Kirsten Gillibrand broad and
hard for voting against the two stimulus bills and for changing her
positions on several core Democratic issues, sounding out her case on
the fly as, “It’s the NRA, it’s immigration, it’s all these other
things. In fact, I got a call from someone from Puerto Rico, said
[Gillibrand] went to Puerto Rico and came out for English-only
[education]. And he said, ‘It was like saying n—r to a Puerto Rican,’”
she said, using the full racial slur. “I don’t know—I don’t know if
that’s true or not. I just called. I’m just throwing that out.
All of
her—well, what does she stand for?”

Maloney later apologized for using the word. Itzkowitz sent a written statement to a political blogger: 

I'm not saying it should be used w/o thought, but I think in the context of chastising ignorant statements/ppl, it is valid. When I worked for the Obama campaign, some volunteers believed it was appropriate
& valid to use the N-word in a sentence criticizing those who
opposed his campaign on racial grounds. I obviously don't have the racial background to speak from experience on the N-word in particular, but as a member of a minority w/ it's own derogatory terminology, I do think there is a place for the use of language in deconstructing stereotypes. I would love to hear your opinion.

There you have it. Ultimately voters in the First District can decide whether either "race issue" is relevant to their decision- which candidate is best suited to represent their interests on the New York City Council.