(Map) See How Neighborhoods Voted in District 1 City Council Election

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Thanks to Jenny Ye from WNYC’s data news team, we have a map showing where City Council member Margaret Chin and challenger Christopher Marte performed best in the recent District 1 Council election.

In the Nov. 7 general election, Chin won a third term with 49.8% of the vote. Marte, running on the Independence Party line, had 36.9%, while Republican Bryan Jung had 8.75% and Liberal Party candidate Aaron Foldenauer had 4.4%.

As you can from the map, Chin was particularly strong in Battery Park City, the Financial District, Tribeca and in Chinatown. Marte dominated in Soho and the Village, where voters were angered by Margaret Chin’s support for building affordable housing on the Elizabeth Street Garden site. She also struggled on the Lower East Side. The ongoing controversy over several massive luxury housing developments in the Two Bridges area hurt her there. She also had trouble in the area north of Delancey Street, between Norfolk Street and the Bowery.

You can see an interactive version of the map here. The Board of Elections has not yet certified the general election results.

Follow-up: Margaret Chin Wins a Third Term in City Council District 1

Margaret Chin celebrated her victory in Chinatown Tuesday evening.

Margaret Chin celebrated her victory in Chinatown Tuesday evening.

Life in politics has never been easy for Margaret Chin. In 2009, she was finally elected to the City Council in Lower Manhattan on her fourth try. Four years ago, she endured a tough re-election battle in the Democratic Primary. And in Tuesday’s General Election, she emerged from a bruising battle for a third term — victorious but not unscathed.

Chin came in with 49.8% to 36.9% for Christopher Marte, a political newcomer who almost defeated the two-term Council member in the primary election a few weeks ago. When he decided to run a second time on the Independence Party line, Chin had another battle to wage. In the end, she prevailed, by a margin of almost 3,000 votes. During a victory celebration at Golden Unicorn, the East Broadway Chinese restaurant, she appeared exhausted — emotionally and physically — but very much relieved.

In her remarks on Tuesday evening, Chin thanked longtime supporters, as well as new ones, who rallied around her following the shocking result in the September primary. At the top of the list were Jenny Low, Justin Yu, Virginia Kee and Chung Seto, Chinatown activists who helped turn out the vote in an area critical to Chin’s political survival.

Chin said there’s a lot of work to do during the next four years. She alluded to one of the most controversial issues in the campaign: her support for developing low-income residential units on the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden. “We’ve got to make sure,” Chin asserted defiantly, “that our senior housing gets built on that Elizabeth Street site, with open space for everyone!” A statement put out by the campaign Tuesday evening said, “the voters have spoken” in support of Council member Chin’s vision of building new affordable housing, as well as for securing new money for seniors, parks and schools, and for storm protection.

Christopher Marte gathered with his supporters at Jing Fong, the dim sum restaurant just a couple blocks away from the Chin victory party. In a statement put out last night, he said, “Together we were able to shatter expectations and make political history… We created new opportunities to the voiceless by calling attention to the rapid over-development of the waterfront.” The 28-year-old Lower East Sider added, “This is not the end of our movement… It is the beginning of real political change in Lower Manhattan. It is the beginning of a new era of accountability for our elected officials.”

Christopher Marte announcing his decision to run in the general election.  Photo provided by the Marte campaign.

Christopher Marte announcing his decision to run in the general election. Photo provided by the Marte campaign.

The political experts said Marte would be hard-pressed to knock off an incumbent running on the Democratic Party line. He pulled in 8500 votes, easily surpassing both the Republican nominee, Bryan Jung, and Aaron Foldenauer, who ran on the Liberal Party line.

In the General Election, Chin may have benefited from Mayor de Blasio coattails (he coasted to a second term.) Many people simply vote the Democratic Party line. A review of vote totals in each precinct, however, reveals a divided district. Margaret Chin has a lot of support, but also many detractors, and she’s entering her third and final term as a polarizing figure across District 1.

Throughout much of this year, Council member Chin faced criticism from residents in the Two Bridges area, who felt she acted too slowly in response to three proposed mega-towers along the waterfront. In Tuesday’s election, the controversial redevelopment issue continued to hurt her standing on the Lower East Side. According to preliminary results from the Board of Elections, Chin narrowly lost six out of nine election districts in the Two Bridges area.

In other areas, however, a concerted effort by the Chin campaign to get out the vote made a big difference. Although Marte ran strong in the Grand Street cooperatives, Chin was victorious in all four large residential complexes. In Chinatown, she improved significantly on her performance in the Democratic Primary. At the huge Confucius Plaza apartment complex, she had 229 votes to 60 for Marte. In one election district on Park Row, Chin won 203 to 57. As the Broadsheet pointed out, Chin over-performed in three neighborhoods: Battery Park City, the Financial District and the South Street Seaport. “Taken together,” noted the Lower Manhattan newspaper,”  these communities (plus Tribeca) voted for Ms. Chin at a higher rate than the First District overall, with 53.7 percent supporting her…”

Slightly more than half of those residents taking part in Tuesday’s election voted against the incumbent.  She collected 11,468 votes, while 11,529 District 1 voters chose one of Chin’s rivals. In some ways, not much has changed from four years ago. Chin has always been unpopular in Soho and the Village. In this election, her longtime opponents in those neighborhoods united with people outraged by her stance on the Elizabeth Street Garden. They were highly motivated to work for Marte’s election. On the Lower East Side, rampant over-development galvanized many of the Council member’s old foes.

But this time around, Chin was forced to contend with a surprisingly formidable political opponent. Following the primary election, the Chin camp became more aggressive, exposing alleged voter fraud by one of Marte’s chief Chinatown backers and “fact checking” incendiary flyers distributed by campaign supporters in the Two Bridges area. On Election Day, a story surfaced in City & State which questioned the legality of Marte’s rent-free campaign headquarters.

Now another contentious election is over, and Margaret Chin has a decision to make: Will she choose to repair relations with her detractors in District 1? If history is any guide, she may make some concessions, but no one should expect Chin to back away from a fight on issues she believes in (such as building affordable housing). No one should expect her to stop telling constituents “no” when her vision doesn’t conform with theirs. In other words, you can look for more heated battles between Council member Chin and her local adversaries in the next four years. In a third term, however, she has no worries about the next election on the horizon. Chin will face term limits in the year 2021.

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Here’s Council Member Margaret Chin Record on Rivington House

Margaret Chin attended a rally at Rivington House in April of 2016.

Margaret Chin attended a rally at Rivington House in April of 2016.

The other day we mentioned a “fact check” in City Limits which examined several claims from a campaign flyer distributed by a group called “Lower East Siders for Christopher Marte.” Today we’re taking a closer look at one of those claims.

The organization falsely states in the flyer that, City Council member Margaret Chin, “refused to halt the sale of Rivington House, displacing AIDS patients in favor of luxury condos.”

As City Limits points out:

It was the De Blasio administration that permitted the sale of Rivington House to a condo developer, not Chin.

The story then cites our coverage of Rivington House:

The Lo-Down reports that during (2015)—when (the) Allure Group was duping the public—Chin played a large role “in efforts to keep the facility open under the ownership of a new nursing home operator.” Lower East Siders for Christopher Marte argues Chin should have used her influence to prevent the nonprofit from selling to Allure to begin with—but no one knew, at the time, that Allure would completely betray its word, and it was a private transaction, so she would have had limited control to begin with.

Let’s review a bit more closely what’s actually in the public record.

July 2014: Rivington House owner VillageCare announced plans to close Rivington House.

August 2014: Council member Chin said she had begun conversations with VillageCare about the future of the building. Chin said she was opposed to any luxury redevelopment plan.

October 2014: Council member Chin said she was working to make sure Rivington House remained a skilled nursing facility. She had been made aware that deed changes would be necessary in order to permit the Allure Group to operate the facility as a for-profit nursing home.

February 2015: The Allure Group took over the facility.

June 2015: A public hearing was held to lift all deed restrictions, freeing the Allure Group of any obligation to operate the building as a community healthcare facility. Neither the City Council nor Community Board 3 was advised of the public hearing. Five months later, Allure paid the city $16 million and the deed restrictions were lifted.

December 2015: The Lo-Down reported exclusively that the deed restrictions were no longer in place and that neighbors had heard from Slate Property Group, which was planning a luxury conversion of the nursing home. Margaret Chin later said that this was the first time she heard about the deed change.

February 2016: News broke that Rivington House had been sold for $116 million. It later became known that the contract between Allure and Slate had been signed in May of 2015.

March 2016: NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer launched an investigation of the Rivington House matter, igniting one of the biggest scandals of the de Blasio administration.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s clear that elected officials on the Lower East Side, Margaret Chin among them, were in the dark about the deed changes until it was too late. She was well aware, however, that deed changes would eventually be required to allow Allure, a for-profit company to operate Rivington House in the long term. Lots of people, including the Council member, likely wish they’d asked more questions starting in mid-2015 about how those deed changes would be handled.  But there’s a big difference between saying that, perhaps, more questions should have been asked of city agencies and blaming the local Council member for something that was purposely concealed from her.

Christopher Marte announced his candidacy April 29 in front of Rivington House.

Christopher Marte announced his candidacy April 29 in front of Rivington House.

The local organization fighting for the return of Rivington House, issued a statement the other day. The missive from Neighbors to Save Rivington House, read, in part,  “It has been both egregious and infuriating that both of the men running against Margaret Chin (Marte and Aaron Foldenauer) have used the eviction of people living with AIDS and the taking of Rivington House from the neighborhood to opportunistically and falsely target the Councilwoman as the cause of its demise.” 

[It should be noted that one of the primary leaders of Neighbors to Save Rivington House, K Webster, is a strong Margaret Chin supporter.]

At a June town hall meeting on the Lower East Side, Council member Chin asked Mayor de Blasio to set up a meeting with China Vanke, one of the owners of the Rivington House building. “Maybe you can invite the people who purchased that building,” she suggested, “(to) come in and talk with us and see if we can build a model, 21st Century nursing facility for our seniors, with special needs.”

There has been no word from the administration about that meeting. Neighbors to Save Rivington House has started a postcard campaign, urging the mayor to “call the meeting.”

Meanwhile, Christopher Marte has questioned Council member Chin’s decision to endorse the mayor in December of 2016, when so many questions remained about his bungling of the Rivington House matter. He has, however, disavowed the flyer from Lower East Siders for Christopher Marte, saying it “doesn’t accurately represent his views.”

 

 

Dueling Flyers Mark a Nasty Turn in the District 1 City Council Campaign

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You can tell a city election is just a few days away. Our in-box is filling up with increasingly vitriolic missives in the heated campaign for District 1’s City Council seat.

In Tuesday’s general election, two-term City Council member Margaret Chin faces Republican Bryan Jung; Christopher Marte, running on the Independence Party line; and Liberal Party candidate Aaron Foldenauer. Marte, who nearly defeated Chin in the Democratic Primary, is mounting a serious campaign to unseat the incumbent.

Yesterday afternoon, Allen Roskoff of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club fired off a press release, denouncing Marte, “for running on a line shared exclusively by right-wing supporters of President Donald Trump.” Roskoff, a prominent gay rights activist, said:

People frequently note that you are often judged by the company you keep. That is why Chris Marte’s decision to embrace the Independence Party’s endorsement is so troubling. The Independence Party does not support Gay Rights or Abortion Rights, and has given its ballot line to candidates who do not share our values on issues such as immigration, health care, taxes, and social justice. Instead of actively seeking and accepting their ballot line, Marte should be repudiating it and standing up for progressive values.

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A short time later, a strongly worded response came from the Marte campaign. In a press release, Jeanne Wilcke, president of another political club, Downtown Independent Democrats (DID), said:

We all know Marte’s not affiliated with the Independence Party, and they’ve given him no support. It was a fluke that voters wrote him in on that line, voters who were likely tricked into thinking they were registering as Independent not Independence. But we’re happy he won it. The 54% of voters that went against the incumbent are now rallying behind the true progressive choice. Chin is having a hard time staving off the community’s groundswell of support for Marte. She’s flailing around, trying to find some way to attack him, but is coming up empty handed.”

The release from the Marte campaign carried the headline, “Lower Manhattan Progressives Unite Behind Marte: Fight Against Incumbent’s Track Record of Corruption and Overdevelopment (in) Lower Manhattan.” While no specifics were offered, activists within DID have a long record of opposing Chin on issues such as NYU’s expansion, the Elizabeth Street Garden and the SOHO BID. They have also blasted Chin, who benefited from third party spending by the Real Estate Board of New York in support of her 2013 campaign.

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Meanwhile, Marte is distancing himself from another flyer, which slams the incumbent on a range of controversial topics. City Limits yesterday posted a lengthy “fact check,” examining the claims in the flyer point-by-point.  In a Twitter message, Marte wrote, “These flyers are not endorsed by the campaign, have not been coordinated with myself and do not accurately represent my views.”

A group called, “Lower East Siders for Christopher Marte,” lists “Margaret Chin’s (alleged) crimes against our community.” Among other points, the group claims that Chin “worked with de Blasio to reject the Chinatown Working Group Rezoning Plan,” “helped create Bloomberg’s racist East Village rezoning plan in 2008,” and “encouraged Extell and other developers to build luxury high rises with our tax money through the 421-a program.”  According to City Limits, “Many of the charges appear overstated or include falsehoods, while the accuracy of others are subject to interpretation.” You can read the full article here.

There’s one topic in particular that caught our interest. The flyer alleges that Chin, refused to halt the sale of Rivington House, displacing AIDS patients in favor of luxury condos.”  In truth, Chin and other community leaders say they were kept in the dark as the city administration secretly lifted deed restrictions on Rivington House. We’ll have a separate story next week examining the Rivington House issue as it relates to the City Council campaign.

One Week to Go: Margaret Chin and Christopher Marte Battle For District 1 Council Seat

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There’s only a week plus one day remaining until Election Day in New York City. Here in Lower Manhattan, voters will be called on to decide whether City Council member Margaret Chin should represent District 1 for one more term.

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Chin faces three challengers, including Republican Bryan Jung; Christopher Marte, running on the Independence Party line; and Aaron Foldenauer, who’s running on the Liberal Party line. Most of the attention has been focused on Marte, a political newcomer who lost to Chin in the Democratic Primary by just 222 votes.

Here’s an update on where things stand in the contentious campaign.

After mostly ignoring attacks from her opponents in the primary campaign, Chin has been fighting back in recent weeks and trying to galvanize her supporters. Last week, she rallied with leaders from Planned Parenthood, and other backers, including City Council member Helen Rosenthal (co-chair of the City Council’s Women’s Caucus) and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Their message: Chin must be re-elected to continue advocating for progressive policies, especially in a year that will see fewer women holding seats in the City Council.

In a similar rally held Oct. 19, Chin was surrounded by Latino elected officials and community leaders, who touted her record of fighting for immigrants. Supporters at the City Hall rally included U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez and several Latino members of the City Council.

Margaret Chin held a fundraiser in Chinatown Oct. 17.

Margaret Chin held a fundraiser in Chinatown Oct. 17.

In an interview earlier this month, we talked with Chin about the surprisingly close primary vote. The two-term Council member said she was feeling optimistic about the general election, and focused on turning out the vote. “We have more opportunity to strengthen our district,” said Chin, when people turn out at the polls and participate in the political process.”

Asked why she believes the primary election was so competitive, Chin cited low turnout in a year in which there wasn’t much excitement at the top of the ticket (the mayor faced lackluster challengers). But she also argued that her opponents were spreading misinformation about her record. “They didn’t get the true facts,” said Chin of Lower Manhattan voters. “That’s not healthy (for District 1). My job now is to get the message out.”

During the campaign, Chin has been repeatedly criticized for her positions on two big development issues. One is her support for building senior affordable housing on the Elizabeth Street Garden site. The other is over-development in the Two Bridges area, where Chin has been attacked for acting two slowly and too timidly to stop three proposed mega-towers.

In an interview with NY1, Chin addressed the Elizabeth Street Garden development controversy, saying, “I was elected to make tough choices, and it might have cost me some votes – but it was the right thing to do.”  In speaking with us, she elaborated on the issue, explaining that someone contacts her office almost every day in search of an affordable apartment. “We have to commit to building more affordable housing on every site that is available,” said Chin. “There is such a great need.” Previously, the Chin campaign asserted that Marte was “under the influence” of “well-funded special interests” and that, in the case of the garden, he had taken, “the side of privileged people over the low-income seniors who are in desperate need of places to live.”

As for the looming towers in the Two Bridges area, Chin pointed to a zoning change she and the borough president are pushing to give the local community more control over what is eventually built. Asked about criticism that the strategy took too long to come together, Chin said it took time to research the legal options and to build support in the Council for the plan. “People don’t always see the work that goes into legislation,” she added. Referring to her political opponents, Chin added, “What have they done? It’s easy to criticize. I’m proud of the work that we have done.”

Christopher Marte spoke at a rally organized by tenants of 83 Bowery last month.

Christopher Marte spoke at a rally organized by tenants of 83-85 Bowery last month.

While Chin argues that she has repeatedly stood up for tenants against real estate developers, Marte has slammed her for allegedly failing to represent all parts of District 1. On Oct. 23, he offered support to residents of 83-85 Bowery, who have been tangling with their landlord in court.

Last week, his supporters in the Two Bridges area and in Chinatown marched through several neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, converging at Chatham Square in Chinatown. Marte told those gathered,“We are all here today because our future does not lie in the shadows of luxury developments. It lies in this movement here. Never before have we all come together, but we are setting a precedent that can’t be broken.” A big issue for many of those taking part in the march: Approval by the city of the full Chinatown Working Group Plan, a sweeping rezoning proposal. While the de Blasio administration rejected the proposal as too expansive, some local activists (and Marte) have blamed Chin for allegedly blocking the plan.

In a separate event, Marte rallied with Elizabeth Street Garden supporters Oct. 21, saying, “Our community is best served by alternate site proposals, a win-win grassroots solution that fulfills both the neighborhood’s dire need for open space, and the equally urgent need for affordable housing.”

Finally, the Villager newspaper weighed in with an enthusiastic endorsement of Marte last week, writing, “He always sides with the community and he always has the community’s back.” The newspaper, which also endorsed Marte before the Democratic Primary, said of the sitting Council member, “Too many times Chin has let down or actively worked against the communities in her district’s northern end.”

Since Marte received several write-in votes from the Independence Party, he was able to claim a spot on the general election ballot. But Marte told us some time ago he is accepting no assistance from the Independence Party, which is seen by local Democrats as aiding and abetting the State Republican Party.

Marte has also dismissed charges from the Chin campaign that he is condoning alleged voter fraud by a key Chinatown supporter. The supporter, Steven Wong, admitted to listing a Chinatown address on absentee voter forms, even though he doesn’t live in District 1.  The attack on Wong from the Chin team is one indication that the Council member is at least somewhat concerned about her support in Chinatown, where pro-Chin voters have historically turned out in big numbers. Council member Chin won the neighborhood in the primary, but Marte held his own.

Most political insiders believe Marte faces a huge challenge in the general election against an incumbent running as a Democrat. Out of 110.645 registered voters in District 1, nearly 69,000 are Democrats.  Marte, however, has the money to run a robust campaign. The most recent campaign finance filings show he has nearly $90,000 on hand, compared with close to $57,000 for the Chin campaign. Aaron Foldenauer has about $21,000 in his campaign account, while Republican Bryan Jung has just $100 at his disposal.

Click here if you would like to find your poll site and review sample ballots. The Manhattan Neighborhood Network has biographies and video statements for each candidate.

Chin Campaign Accuses Former Ally, Now a Christopher Marte Backer, of Voter Fraud (Updated)

Margaret Chin with supporters in Chinatown.

Margaret Chin with supporters in Chinatown. Photo by Chung Seto/Twitter.

Leading up to election day on Nov. 7, City Council member Margaret Chin is taking a more assertive approach in fending off opponents for her District 1 seat.

In the past week, her campaign sent a letter to New York City District Attorney Cy Vance, asking him to look into alleged voter fraud by Chinatown activist Steven Wong, an outspoken supporter of Christopher Marte, Chin’s main nemesis. The Chin campaign cited evidence that Wong and an associate, Poo Leon, illegally listed a Mott Street address on absentee voter forms. The address allegedly corresponds — not to a legitimate residence — but to the office of the Hotel Chinese Association, an organization Wong leads.

The complaint, and the Chin campaign’s decision to distribute the letter to reporters, is an indication that the two-term Council member has decided to go on the offensive. In last month’s Democratic Primary, she edged out Marte by just 222 votes. The results were not certified by the Board of Elections until two weeks after the election, when absentee and provisional ballots were counted. The close race surprised political insiders and prompted Marte to run against Chin in the general election (on the Independence Party line). During the primary campaign, Council member Chin mostly ignored a constant stream of attacks from her opponents. Many of Chin’s supporters have been urging a more aggressive stance in the general election campaign.

Wong is a well know figure in Chinatown. He was a leading operative in Chin’s 2009 campaign, but turned on her four years later, supporting candidate Jenifer Rajkumar. At a candidate debate we attended in the weeks leading up to this year’s primary, Wong was heckling Chin from the audience.  You may have seen (or heard) him in the days before the primary tooling around in this tricked out truck, which was blaring pro-Christopher Marte messages on a loudspeaker.

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A few days ago, we heard from Jake Dilemani, a political strategist with Mercury Public Affairs, which is advising Margaret Chin. He wanted to make sure we saw the complaint sent to the district attorney, as well as a press release that accused the Marte campaign of harassing and intimidating elderly Chinese voters (we previously reported details of these allegations here).

We asked Dilemani what led the Chin campaign to level the voter intimidation charge. “Several observers,” said Dilemani, “saw Marte volunteers misleading voters about” where they were supposed to vote. “They were also found to be generally menacing toward these voters,” he said, and Council member Chin was told directly by seniors that they had been harassed. He added, “A longtime Democratic District Leader from Chinatown has told us her volunteers, as well as Chin campaign volunteers, experienced various incidents of intimidation on Primary day, including Marte’s campaign staff screaming in front of poll sites, scaring off potential voters.”

Margaret Chin has always had her detractors in Chinatown, some of them going back decades to her time as a housing organizer. Wong is among a group of local activists who aligned against Chin this year, possibly hurting the Council member on her home political turf. Dilemani said of the former Chin loyalist, “Steven Wong does not represent a group of Chinatown activists – he represents himself and practices petty, personal politics.”

Wong did not respond to an email and phone call from The Lo-Down.

Christopher Marte last week announced his decision to run in the general election.  Photo provided by the Marte campaign.

Christopher Marte last week announced his decision to run in the general election. Photo provided by the Marte campaign.

In an interview, Christopher Marte called the intimidation accusations from the Chin campaign false. “We did not do any of the things they’re saying,” asserted Marte. “People know we are respectful of every candidate, and that we were out there in the streets every day encouraging everyone to come out and vote.” In a statement, he said, “Our campaign staff and volunteers, which included Chinese seniors, did not intimidate or harass any voters. They are people who care about their community, and we are grateful for their hard work on this local campaign.”

In the Nov. 7 general election, Chin will face Marte and Republican Bryan Jung, as well as Aaron Foldenauer, who’s running on the Liberal Party Line. Foldenauer also filed a complaint with the DA, claiming “the deceptive registration of voters at P.O. Boxes… fraudulent addresses in Margaret Chin’s stronghold (in Chinatown).”

Dilemani scoffed at Foldenauer’s claims, saying, “Republican Aaron Foldenauer’s entire campaign has consisted of baseless attacks. With zero support from the community, and zero chance of winning, it’s no surprise that he is now resorting to thinly veiled racist attacks against Chinese voters. Aaron Foldenauer and his fabrications have no place in public office, but he may want to try a career in creative writing.”

Foldenauer was registered as a Republican until last year.

UPDATE 8:49 p.m. Steven Wong returned our phone call this evening. In an interview, Wong conceded that he used a Chinatown office address on his absentee voter form, rather than his residential address. Wong lives uptown and is not a registered voter in District 1. Wong told us he has been using the Chinatown address, 98 Mott St., since 2009. Wong said he began listing the Chinatown address eight years ago at the urging of someone in Margaret Chin’s campaign, and has been using it ever since in multiple elections. He declined to say who allegedly told him to use the District 1 address on his voter forms.

We talked about his reasons for opposing Chin after strongly backing her eight years ago. Wong said there have been claims from the Chin team that he turned on the Council member because she refused to give him a staff job after winning the 2009 election. Wong called these claims ridiculous, saying there’s no way he could have supported his family on a City Council staff salary. Wong said he switched his allegiance to other candidates because he believes Chin did not deliver for the community. Wong cited the continued closure of Park Row following 9/11, saying that Chin simply didn’t fight hard enough on an issue of critical importance to the Chinatown small business community. Wong said he was excited to help elect a Chinese American to represent Chinatown, but became disenchanted over time with Chin’s advocacy for the neighborhood.

Wong said the Marte campaign did not harass or intimidate any voters in Chinatown. If anything, he claimed, Margaret Chin operatives at Confucius Plaza violated election rules by campaigning too close to poll sites.

UPDATE 10/10 As we reported last night, Steven Wong said someone in the 2009 Chin campaign told him to list the Mott Street address on his voter form. Today Chin campaign spokesperson Jake Dilemani responded, saying, “It is unequivocally false that someone from the 2009 Chin campaign told him to register fraudulently.” A separate statement from the campaign added, “(Christopher) Marte must either disavow Wong and Leon’s support given these disturbing allegations, or he must explain why he stands with them in solidarity despite evidence linking them to blatant voter fraud.”

Christopher Marte Plans to Run Against Council Member Chin in General Election

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Christopher Marte is planning to run against District 1 City Council member Margaret Chin in the general election, which takes place Nov. 7.

In the Sept. 12 Democratic Primary, Marte lost to the two-term incumbent by just 222 votes. Chin was not officially declared a winner until Sept. 26, after absentee and affidavit ballots were counted. Marte ran particularly strong in Soho and Greenwich Village, as well as in the Two Bridges neighborhood, and he held his own on the Lower East Side. Turnout was low, especially in Chinatown, Chin’s political base of support.

Marte will announce at a press conference at City Hall tomorrow that he’ll be running on the Independence Party line. In the primary, he received 5 write-in votes from Independence Party members. In a press release put out last night, Marte said, “We can’t give up the fight for the future of our District. Our community still has reason to hope for change.”

The primary results, said Marte, show that he, “has firm support from each neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.”  Chin finished up with 5.363 votes to 5141 votes for Marte. Two other candidates, Aaron Foldenauer and Dashia Imperiale pulled in 734 and 459 votes respectively. “54% of the community expressed their desire for change,” explained Marte, “and I see it as my obligation to that majority to continue to the general.”

According to the candidate list for the general election, Chin will be running as the nominee of the Democratic Party and also of the Working Families Party. Bryan Jung is the Republican Party nominee. Foldenauer is running on the Liberal Party line.

In a statement provided to the Daily News, a spokesperson for the Chin campaign said, “Councilwoman Chin is proud to be on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines this November. Democrats sent Councilwoman Chin to victory in the Democratic Primary Election based upon her strong record of preserving and expanding affordable housing and standing up for tenants.”

UPDATE 10/5 Aaron Foldenauer is out with a lengthy statement regarding Marte’s decision to run in the general election. It reads, in part:

Chris Marte will be no more independent of the current dysfunctional democratic leadership than Margaret Chin has been.  That’s precisely what led to the huge debacles in this District, such as Rivington House and the pending closure of the Elizabeth Street Garden… In contrast, I am running a truly independent campaign with the support of the Liberal Party, which has a history of backing candidates independent of the failed establishment… Chris Marte has already squandered a golden opportunity in the Democratic Primary.  Marte had unprecedented backing from establishment political clubs and organizations and had a tremendous amount of funding… That he was unable to capitalize on Chin’s immense unpopularity with all of those resources is stunning.  This does not bode well for Marte’s chances in the General Election.

 

 

 

Council member Chin Accuses Marte Campaign of Intimidating Elderly Chinese Voters

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City Council member Margaret Chin expects the Board of Elections to certify results from the Sept. 12 Democratic Primary today, handing her what she was denied on election night: a victory.

According to her campaign team, the two-term District 1 Council member edged out challenger Christopher Marte by 226 votes once absentee and affidavit ballots were counted. But Chin did not appear to be in a celebratory mood yesterday. Her campaign put out a press release that carried the headline, “Councilwoman Chin denounces voter harassment and intimidation by Marte campaign.”

In a statement, Chin said:

I am proud of my campaign, which in the face of unrelenting attacks, remained focused on my record of creating and preserving affordable housing, ensuring opportunities for our young people, and funding our schools and greenspaces. However, I cannot ignore the voter intimidation and harassment by the Marte campaign, which specifically targeted elderly Chinese American voters at several poll sites. Nor can I forget the fraudulent use of Planned Parenthood’s logo to indicate an endorsement of his campaign on mail sent just before Primary Day. I am calling on the New York City Board of Elections to investigate these incidents, as well as other irregularities at polling sites throughout my district… Despite running on a platform of reform and progressive values, the Marte campaign employed tactics straight out of the handbook of the corrupt political machine — including intimidating and misleading voters at the poll sites, distorting Councilwoman Chin’s long record of fighting for our communities, and fabricating Marte’s own endorsements.

The campaign was not specific about the alleged incidents of voter intimidation. We contacted Christopher Marte for his response to Council member Chin”s allegations. This is what he said:

Our campaign has been issue-based from its beginning. The statements we made about what has been going on in our community for the past 8 years have always been factual. We will not turn to the Council member’s tactics of this sort of slanderous speech. As our former First Lady said, “When they go low, we go high.” Our campaign staff and volunteers, which included Chinese seniors, did not intimidate or harass any voters. They are people who care about their community, and we are grateful for their hard work on this local campaign. We received a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood, and were emailed by their organization the logo to put on our materials. The changing of the poll sites overnight is suspicious, especially in the areas where I did well during my State Committee race last year… Our District is best served by those with the community’s interests at heart, and 54% of voters decided that was not represented by our current Councilperson. I am honored by the coalition of support across the District that my campaign received, and am discouraged to hear the Councilperson attempt to discredit this grassroots movement.
The statement from Chin asserted, “The rhetoric from Christopher Marte on several issues is indicative of his campaign being in the control of well-funded special interests. For example, his campaign has rallied around the future site of affordable housing on Elizabeth and Mott streets, taking the side of privileged people over the low-income seniors who are in desperate need of places to live.” A major issue in the campaign was Council member Chin’s support for affordable senior housing on the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden. Her stance has enraged garden activists and many other residents in the immediate area. Responding to the charge that well-heeled garden activists helped fund his campaign, Marte said:
Campaign finance is public record and I have not received any special interest money. Our track record of disagreement on Elizabeth Street Garden is well-documented. I believe the open space serves seniors, families, and people from all socio-economic backgrounds. My firsthand experience as a volunteer there is proof of this. There is a community-based plan to create more senior affordable housing at 388 Hudson St, which is currently a vacant gravel-filled lot, and not a community garden that is used for school programs and neighborhood gatherings.

As of this morning, unofficial election results still show Chin with 5220 votes (45.77%) and Marte with 5020 votes (44.02%). Aaron Foldenauer has 699 votes (6.13%) and Dashia Imperiale has 445 votes (3.90%). Foldenauer plans to run against Chin in the Nov. 7 general election. Marte has said a legal challenge to the Sept. 12 result is a possibility.

Chin said yesterday that her opponents have “divided and pitted our communities against each other.”

“Today,” she added, “our district is facing real problems that include a lack of affordable housing options, aggressive and greedy development, and looming funding cuts from Donald Trump. Our community must unite if we are to prevail. Together, we will fight for a better, brighter future for our community.”

After Final Votes Are Tallied, CM Margaret Chin Appears to Have Won Third Term

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Tonight it appears that Margaret Chin has eked out a narrow victory in the District 1 City Council race.

In this past Tuesday’s Democratic Primary, the two-term City Council member came in just 200 votes ahead of political newcomer Christopher Marte. Today the Board of Elections counted absentee and affidavit ballots. Both campaigns agree Chin picked up a small number of votes (anywhere between 6 and 26 votes depending on which side you believe). The board will likely not officially certify the results until next week; the BOE has not returned our emails and calls.

In the past week, Marte has talked about potential legal action to force a recount. His team has been looking at possible disenfranchisement of voters due to shifting locations of polling stations on election day. Tonight, Marte told The Lo-Down he’s consulting with his attorney about the next steps for the campaign. Marte said two other candidates, Aaron Foldenauer and Dashia Imperiale, also picked up some votes today.

The Board of Elections’ unofficial tally in District 1 has not changed since last Tuesday evening. It shows Chin with 5220 votes (45.77%) and Marte with 5020 votes (44.02%). The threshold for a recount is .05 of 1%.

The general election will be held Nov. 7. Foldenauer has vowed to run against Chin on the Liberal Party line.

We expect to have statements from both campaigns shortly.

UPDATE 8:42 p.m. Here’s a statement from Margaret Chin:

I am so grateful to everyone for their support. At its heart, this campaign has been about making our neighborhoods the best they possibly can be. It’s been about creating new homes for people in need while still preserving what makes those neighborhoods great. It’s about fostering hope rather than spreading fear. Together, we achieved an important victory – one that I hope will inspire more people to help their neighbors and get involved in the work to build stronger, more resilient communities.

UPDATE 9:43 p.m. Here’s a statement from the Marte campaign:

The Marte and Chin campaigns gathered today at the Board of Elections to count absentee and affidavit ballots. The final count, according to hand tallies from the campaign, resulted in a 207 vote lead by Chin. Christopher Marte and his team received broad support from affidavit voters, due to the abrupt poll site changes in his home neighborhood and the Two Bridges area. However absentee ballots, largely cast from nursing homes, went to Chin. This narrow margin still indicates the widespread dissatisfaction with the two-term Council member. The strong support for Marte came from neighborhoods who have most been affected by overdevelopment and displacement, such as the Two Bridges neighborhood and the Village. Marte has to meet with his legal team in order to discuss next steps, but he will continue to strengthen his coalition of supporters to bring positive and community-oriented change to the district.

(Map) See Which Areas of City Council District 1 Supported Chin, Marte

Map: WNYC Data News Team.

Map: WNYC Data News Team.

The Board of Elections is counting the affidavit and absentee ballots in the District 1 City Council race today. So, in theory, we should know the winner of the primary election in the next day or two. City Council member Margaret Chin leads challenger Christopher Marte by 200 votes.

Over the weekend, we detailed some of the neighborhood-level results in this race. Thanks to WNYC’s Data Team, here’s a map illustrating some of the points we were making. You can go to an interactive version here.

To recap, Marte won the vote in the Two Bridges neighborhood, where residents are up-in-arms over four large-scale towers (one just about to reach its full height of 80 stories, three more in the planning stages). Marte also ran strong along the Bowery and above Delancey Street, from Clinton Street over to Sara D. Roosevelt Park. His strongest area, as expected was in Soho, where Chin’s handling of NYU’s expansion plan several years ago and her backing of affordable housing on the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden have been widely unpopular. Chin enjoyed pockets of support on the Lower East Side, but her real strength was in Chinatown and in the Financial District.

 

Painstaking Vote Counting in District 1 City Council Race Drags On

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Board of Elections officials are still working to declare a winner in Tuesday’s District 1 City Council Election.

City Council member Margaret Chin has a 200 vote lead over Christopher Marte. The result in the Democratic Primary has not yet been certified because affidavit and absentee ballots must be taken into account. Voters are called on to fill out paper (affidavit) ballots when their names are missing from voter registration lists on hand at polling stations. Each affidavit needs to be verified. This is a process being overseen by the Board of Elections under the watchful eye of representatives from both campaigns. The BOE has finished a preliminary review to identify valid ballots. The actual counting will begin Monday, likely extending into Tuesday.

There are conflicting accounts on the numbers of ballots left to be counted. According to the Chin campaign, there are about 100 valid affidavits and 250 absentee ballots. The Marte campaign concurs on the number of absentee ballots but believes there are many more valid affidavits (perhaps as many as 600).

As a point of comparison, there were 436 absentee ballots in the 2013 Democratic primary and 249 affidavit ballots. In the past week, Marte has pointed to potential irregularities on election day (some polling stations were moved). A recount will occur if the margin between the candidates is less than .05 of 1%. Marte has said a legal challenge is a possibility if the Board of Elections certifies Chin as the victor.

NY1 filed a report yesterday on the District 1 campaign. In the story, Marte noted that he did very well in the area around the Elizabeth Street Garden, speculating that Chin’s support for building senior affordable housing there was the reason why. In the report, Chin said other factors came into play, including the controversy in the Two Bridges neighborhood over three proposed mega-towers. Chin has come under attack from opponents who say she didn’t make a strong stand early on against the projects, which are widely unpopular.

We have been taking a look at the election results in each polling station on the Lower East Side and Chinatown. Here’s what we found.

First off. voter participation was incredibly low. Out of nearly 69,000 registered Democrats in District 1 (which includes almost all of Lower Manhattan), just 11,404 cast ballots. As of today, Chin has 5220 votes to Marte’s 5020.

–In Two Bridges, Marte ran strong, edging out Chin 503-479.

–On Grand Street (east of Essex Street), Chin prevailed but Marte attracted a good deal of support. The tally was 742-582. Chin was endorsed by the Truman Democratic Club, which for decades delivered the Grand Street cooperatives to former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver and his allies. On Tuesday, the club suffered a major setback when district leader and county committee candidates put up by a new club, Grand Street Dems, prevailed.

–In Chinatown, Margaret Chin’s stronghold, she faced tough competition, as well. She defeated Marte 170-45 at the huge Confucius Plaza housing complex, but struggled elsewhere. Turnout was especially low in some Chinatown polling locations. At P.S. 126 on Catherine Street, for example, each candidate had just 40 votes.

As the NY1 report noted, Chin also faces a challenge from candidate Aaron Foldenauer, who pulled in 699 votes on election day. Foldenauer has filed complaints with the Board of Elections, alleging that voters in Chinatown were illegally registered, using P.O. boxes. Chin told reporter Zack Fink, “He is trying to intimidate the Chinese American vote and that is unacceptable.” Board of Elections’ reps said they’re focused right now on certifying Tuesday’s result, not on looking into allegations of fraud. 

District 1 City Council Forum Takes Place Sept. 5 on the Lower East Side

(Counter clockwise from upper left) Christopher Marte, Margaret Chin, Aaron Folsenauer, Dashia Imperiale.

(Counter clockwise from upper left) Christopher Marte, Margaret Chin, Aaron Foldenauer, Dashia Imperiale.

In the waning days of the campaign, there will be one last chance to evaluate the candidates competing in the upcoming Democratic Primary for the City Council seat in District 1.

We just heard from Henry Street Settlement that a forum will be held Tuesday, Sept. 5, 7-9 p.m. It’s sponsored by all of the Lower East Side’s settlement houses, along with the neighborhood coalition TUFF-LES, and will be held at the Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadway. The primary takes place Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Incumbent Margaret Chin faces three challengers. They are: Dashia Imperiale, Christopher Marte and Aaron Foldenauer. The district includes most of Lower Manhattan, including the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

The candidates will also take part in a forum this coming Thursday evening, Aug. 31, at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South. It begins at 7 p.m. and is sponsored by the Villager.

Two Bridges Mega Towers: City Council Politics Influences Development Debate

A rally was held in the Two Bridges neighborhood on July 21.

A rally was held in the Two Bridges neighborhood on July 21.

A Democratic primary in New York City is just about six weeks away, which means there’s more bluster than usual surrounding many big community issues. Election-year politics definitely played a major role July 21 at a rally in the Two Bridges neighborhood.

We already reported on the rally, in which City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced they’re prepared to sue if the City Planning Commission approves three huge development projects in the Two Bridges area. Today we’re taking a closer look at the politics around the contentious debate.

The city is now evaluating the proposals, which would add around 2,000 mostly market rate apartments along the East River. The projects include JDS Development Group’s tower at 247 Cherry St.; 62 ad 69 story towers from L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group at 260 South St.; and a 62-story building by the Starrett Group at 259 Clinton St. A final decision from the city is not expected until well after election day.

In this story, we’re looking at several accusations levied against Council member Chin by her political rivals, and claims made by Chin and Brewer about the developers.

Claim #1: Council member Chin should have prevented the expiration of the Two Bridges Urban Renewal Area

City Council candidate Christopher Marte said in a statement released before the rally, “Our Council member knew when the protective zoning was expiring, and she did not renew it.” Does he have a point?

The Two Bridges Urban Renewal Area extended from Market Street to Montgomery Street along the East River. When the plan expired in 2007, limits on the size of new buildings were lifted. The expiration was apparently not on anyone’s radar at the time, although there was anxiety (and even a boisterous rally) about the possibility of a luxury tower replacing the Cherry Street Pathmark store. While Margaret Chin was a longtime community activist in Chinatown, she was not elected to the City Council until November of 2009. The expiration of the urban renewal area occurred during Council member Alan Gerson’s watch two years earlier.

End of story? Not quite, at least not as far as Chin’s opponents are concerned. While he concedes that Chin was not in office when the urban renewal area expired, Marte says she could have acted to put protective zoning in place at any point in the past seven-and–a-half years. In 2012, Pathmark carried through with its threats to close the store, and developer Gary Barnett purchased the site for $150 million. At about the same time, the HealthCare Chaplaincy was pitching the community board on its plans for a large residential and nursing facility on another parcel in the Two Bridges area. The development pressures in the neighborhood, Marte argues, were apparent to everyone, yet no strategy was put in place to fight the looming development frenzy.

Chin’s supporters note that there were no concrete development plans, only rumors. Earlier this year, Council member Chin introduced legislation that would require the city to notify communities when urban renewal areas are about to expire. “Though we cannot turn back time to prevent the expiration of the Two Bridges URA,” Chin said at the time, “this legislation is integral to my mission to keep similar situations from happening again, and to carry on the fight by continuing to demand a full public review, including an up-or-down City Council vote, on the mega-towers at Two Bridges.”

Margaret Chin addressed Chinatown Working Group members shortly after her election in 2009.

Margaret Chin addressed Chinatown Working Group members in 2010.

Claim #2: Enactment of the full Chinatown Working Group Plan could have saved Two Bridges from over-development

Challengers in District 1, especially candidate Dashia Imperiale, have hit Chin hard over the notion that she has refused to support the full Chinatown Working Group Plan, which called for a rezoning across a large swathe of Lower Manhattan.

The CWG coalition, at one point boasting more than 50 member groups, began meeting in 2008 to create a master plan for protecting Chinatown from over-development and gentrification. Along the way, members dropped out, there were fierce battles among rival organizations and many starts-and-stops. Finally, in January of 2014, the Chinatown Working Group came out with a proposal that called for rezoning the historic core of Chinatown, but also the Two Bridges area and large sections of the Lower East Side. In February of 2015, the plan was rejected by the Department of City Planning, which called the proposal too expansive. City officials criticized its, “aggressive across-the-board height limits,” while leaving the door slightly open to a more limited rezoning. Two years later, Community Board 3 has finally convened a new subcommittee to resume work on the proposal. It has the support of Council member Chin.

All elected officials, not only Chin, steered clear of the Chinatown Working Group while members were debating their plan, on the theory that would have been inappropriate to intervene in a community-driven process. Once the deliberations ended, however, longtime opponents of Council member Chin unloaded on her, calling attempts to focus on smaller areas of Chinatown for rezoning racist and exclusionary. Chin was supportive of a piecemeal approach, suggesting that an “all-or-nothing” strategy was unrealistic and counter-productive.

Supporters of Council member Chin point out that any proposal floated over the years to focus on one section of the neighborhood, such as Two Bridges, has been denounced in the strongest terms by some local activists. So while in theory the Chinatown Working Group Plan could have led to a downzoning along the waterfront, the Chin team argues, city opposition and the refusal within the community to compromise, made it impossible. They also emphasize the Council member’s responsibility as an elected representative to get what she can for her community, even if it frustrates some constituents who want more.

The Council member’s opponents believe, however, that she almost always acquiesces to city officials and developers too easily, and that Chin should have fought harder for the full plan.

Rendering of proposed tower at 247 Cherry St., SHoP Architects.

Rendering of proposed tower at 247 Cherry St., SHoP Architects.

Claim #3: Developers have failed to provide adequate information about the displacement of senior residents during construction

A press release from Council member Chin and Borough President Brewer renewed criticism of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Settlement Housing Fund for, “attempting to reach a secret agreement with HUD to displace seniors (at 80 Rutgers Slip) to clear the way for luxury development.” At the rally, Chin said, “Today we still don’t know how many of them will have to be relocated or where they will even go if one of the proposed towers is built on top of them.” Brewer added, “We keep asking, and asking, and asking,” yet there are no answers. 

The two not-for-profit groups operate the senior building and sold a development parcel and air rights to JDS Development Group. Early this year, The Lo-Down obtained correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act request, showing the organizations’ preliminary plan. It stated that the new project, to be built over the senior complex, could lead to the displacement of up to 19 residents. The elected officials say they were completely in the dark about the groups’ overtures to HUD.

Following the rally, representatives of the development team and Two Bridges Neighborhood Council told us that they’re not trying to conceal anything from the elected officials or the community. They say the construction plan has not been finalized and they do not yet know exactly how many tenants will be displaced. A firm has been hired, they note, to work directly with residents, and any changes at 80 Rutgers Slip must go through a rigorous regulatory process, mandated by HUD.

Months after we published the letters to and from HUD, this much is clear: the revelations created an atmosphere of mistrust between the development team and local elected officials, and convinced many in the community that the process is totally lacking in transparency.

Two Bridges environmental review meeting, Jan. 18.

Two Bridges environmental review meeting, Jan. 18.

Claim #4: A community task force disintegrated because the development teams walked way from the table

Last summer, the City Planning Commission rejected Council member Chin’s request for a full land use review (ULURP), which would have required approval of development plans by the City Council. The consolation prize was an “enhanced environmental review (EIS),” essentially four public meetings to discuss the impact of the new buildings on mass transit, roads, schools, etc. As we reported last December, Chin and Brewer assembled a community task force, which included resident leaders and representatives from the development teams. At last month’s rally, Brewer said of the community engagement efforts, “We gave it a chance, we worked with the wonderful tenant leaders, we worked with the task force. It broke down when the developers refused to meet with the task force following a difficult community meeting.”

No doubt about it: that January 18 meeting was heated, and it ultimately led the developers to rethink their participation in the “enhanced EIS.” But the development partners say they never wavered from engaging with the community.

As the meeting got underway, residents rose from their chairs, protest signs in hand, and denounced the projects and the community engagement process. They demanded a delay in the proceedings to give resident leaders more time for meaningful community outreach (the developers later rejected that request). Many people walked out of the room, refusing to take part in small group brainstorming sessions organized by Karp Strategies, a planning firm working for the developers.

The development teams have pointed out that their involvement in the public meetings, as well as the task force, was voluntary. While they decided against attending future task force meetings, developer representatives have continued to meet with residents to talk through various issues, and intend to hold more meetings in the future. They also went ahead with two scheduled public meetings in March and June. Questions and answers from all of the public sessions have been posted online.  Detailed reports from Karp Strategies included comments from locals intent on stopping the plans from going forward.

The task force meetings were closed to the public, so we have no direct knowledge of what transpired. We did, however, speak with a number of participants, all of whom concede the deliberations were fraught. Margaret Chin and Gale Brewer were listed on task force membership rosters as co-chairs. Residents tell us they unsuccessfully lobbied for top leadership roles within the group. Karp Strategies played a major role in shaping the meetings, residents say, and this was a point of contention. Ultimately, tenant leaders came to believe that the meetings were designed to fast-track the proposals, and that there was no real opportunity for the community to change the development plans in any meaningful way. Making matters worse was the fact that tenant representatives were not always in agreement on strategy.  At the city’s official EIS scoping hearing in May, the task force failed to deliver a joint statement detailing the community’s priorities.

So when Brewer says the task force broke down because the developers walked away, she is partially correct. It’s tough to have a negotiation with a party who is not at the table. In the end, some participants concluded that the development teams were unprepared to cope with the messiness of a community process, in an environment they could not control. At the same time, however, the group was clearly dysfunctional, and members were dealing with their own organizational issues that had nothing to do with the developers.

Maureen Koetz and Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors held a media event on Cherry Street  May 11.

Maureen Koetz and Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors held a media event on Cherry Street May 11.

Claim #5: Elected officials waited too long to make a strong stand

At the rally, Chin and Brewer called on the Department of City Planning to reject the development plans in their current form and to order a ULURP in the Two Bridges area. If these things don’t happen, the elected officials say they’re prepared to file a lawsuit to block the projects.

Back in May, a new group called Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON) talked about suing the city. In a press statement following the July rally, the LESON group blasted Chin, Brewer and Mayor de Blasio, writing, “We know this is an election year (and) that’s why they are putting on a show. We have seen these tactics many times in the past where they divert attention away from real community-led solutions.”

What “community-led solutions” do they have in mind? In an interview just this morning, LESON’s attorney, Maureen Koetz, told us she’s not contemplating a suit right now. Koetz’s priority is making sure city agencies follow the law. City officials contend no new waivers or special permits are required for the mega-towers. Koetz believes they are wrong. She says no new building can occur in the Two Bridges LSRD (a large-scale development area) unless the city shows there will be no negative impacts on the existing community.

The elected officials have been vague about a potential lawsuit. The City Planning Commission is not likely to vote on the projects until late this year. The plan, being developed with not-for-profit legal groups, is to file an Article 78 challenge, which is a means of fighting official decisions from government agencies.  It’s an argument that obviously can only be made after the final environmental review is published and the planning commission makes its decision.  Koetz may have been first to discuss in public a challenge to City Planning’s interpretation of the zoning code, but it’s also an argument advanced by Community Board 3 in its comments at the May scoping meeting.

During a June 21 town hall meeting on the Lower East Side, the mayor said he sees no way to stop the proposed towers, because his administration has concluded that they are legally permissible. Council member Chin challenged him about that, saying,  “We’ve got to find a way (to stop or change the projects).”  Even if there are long odds in court, at least some tenant leaders are relieved that the elected officials are now taking a more forceful stand. They wish more had been done earlier, but are mostly hopeful that something can be done now to stop, or at least reduce the scale, of the projects. Chin’s supporters say her new approach is not a case of, “too little, too late.” Once the city rejected her ULURP request and developers agreed to the expanded environmental review, elected officials were obligated to give the process a chance. That’s now run it’s course, they argue, clearing the way for a more assertive stance.

So this story ends where it began. Margaret Chin’s supporters say she is fully committed to working with the community, but also focused on attainable results in the Two Bridges neighborhood. Chin’s detractors, meanwhile, insist her advocacy for the community has been far too tepid. This is the debate that will be front-and center during the six weeks that remain before the Democratic Primary in District 1.

 

(Opinion) City Council District 1 Needs Participatory Budgeting

Image from Christopher Marte's Instagram feed.

Image from Christopher Marte’s Instagram feed.

The following op/ed was written by Christopher Marte, a candidate for City Council in District 1 (the seat currently held by Margaret Chin) The Lo-Down welcomes Lower East Side-relevant submissions from members of our community. We review submissions from candidates for political office on a case-by-case basis. Editorials on this website represent the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint of The Lo-Down.  Submissions may be sent to: tips@thelodownny.com.

These are contentious times that require unity. As our values are challenged on a national scale, we are required to mobilize within our own neighborhoods. We have heard it at the rallies: the people united will never be defeated.

In 31 City Council Districts across New York, the people are given an opportunity to unite as a base like no other. Anyone older than 14, regardless of citizenship, can propose and then vote on how at least $1 million of their taxes are spent by their councilmember. In this process, an otherwise voiceless group of residents are politically empowered. Participatory Budgeting projects range from installing clean energy, to renovating parks, to improving technology, to fixing the infrastructure of schools, to strengthening public safety. The people are given an opportunity to spend their own tax dollars, councilmembers are able to fund popular community initiatives with transparent funding, and everyone enjoys the benefits of the programs enacted.

Except for those who live in districts where their councilmember chose not to opt into participatory budgeting. Districts like Lower Manhattan (District 1), where political transparency has become the stuff of legends. The diversity of the district and the lack of community engagement creates an environment in which neighbor is pitted against neighbor, demographic against demographic, and any sense of community is immediately dissipated by confusion as to how much the city can provide. Too many residents are led to believe that whether it’s for funding or services, they must compete with each other. However with proper budgeting, and the assistance of participatory budgeting, there is enough to go around. This false perception of division in the district allows participatory budgeting to be dismissed before it is even attempted. But our community must unite to demand this program, to demand transparency, and to demand an active voice in the Council.

Participatory budgeting should not be a point of debate, or painted as a controversial issue. Residents young and old are given a direct voice in government, and anyone who stands against this is standing against democracy in action. Just north of us in City Council District 3, the councilmember fully funded the top 5 proposals voted on by his constituents. People who never engaged in the political process before had their concerns heard and addressed. Now the entire district will have new trees, new AV equipment will be installed in an elementary school, new air conditioning in a library, new arrival times at bus stops, and a new library at a middle school. All needs that the community expressed, all that might have otherwise been overlooked, and all that will serve not only residents of District 3, but anyone who works or visits there.

The major critique of PB is that it requires a lot of extra work for a city councilmember and their office. Since the program is not mandatory, our representative sees it as a choice. For a district that has been riddled by corrupt leaders like  Sheldon Silver and scandals like Rivington House, a clear path to transparency and good governance isn’t an option. It is a necessity.

As we are forced to sit back and watch communities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island deliberate and enact participatory budgeting initiatives, I ask my friends and neighbors to take stock of the difference between them and us. Is it because our district is so divided, or is it because we have a representative that divides us?

Council Member Chin Focuses on Fundraising as Political Season Heats Up

City Council member Margaret Chin was surrounded by supporters at a recent fundraiser in Chinatown.

City Council member Margaret Chin was surrounded by supporters at a recent fundraiser in Chinatown.

City Council member Margaret Chin is stepping up her fundraising in advance of an upcoming primary challenge. The two-term district 1 representative looks to be facing at least three opponents in the district 1 race.

Chin was first elected to serve Lower Manhattan, including the Lower East Side, in 2009. In September’s Democratic Primary, the two-term Council member will be fending off challenges from lifelong LES-residents Christopher Marte and Dashia Imperiale, as well as Financial District resident Aaron Foldenauer.

One evening last week, supporters of Council member Chin hosted a fundraiser at a restaurant on Centre Street, raking in about $12,000 for her latest campaign. The organizers were Gigi Li, former assembly candidate and Community Board 3 chairperson; Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership; and neighborhood activist Jacky Wong. Those in attendance included local district leader Justin Yu; Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality; and Su Zhen Chen, the mother of Private Danny Chen, the young man who tragically took his own life in Afghanistan in 2011. 

Su Zhen Chen, Danny Chen's mother, speaks during the fundraiser.

Su Zhen Chen, Danny Chen’s mother, speaks during the fundraiser.

During brief remarks, Chin reminisced about immigrating to this country from China 54 years ago, and settling in an apartment on Mulberry Street with her parents and grandparents. “I love my job,” said Chin. “Imagine being able to represent a district in the City Council that I grew up in.” She recalled both “happy and heart-wrenching moments” during her eight years in office, specifically referencing a lengthy advocacy campaign to seek justice for Danny Chen, the victim of racial taunting and hazing in the military.

The Council member also spoke of her role in pushing for permanent affordable housing at Essex Crossing, and pledged to keep fighting for more senior housing. She mentioned a new site for low-income seniors on Pike Street, which the mayor has offered up to diffuse his administration’s bungling of Rivington House. Chin also brought up the Elizabeth Street Garden, where she is at odds with local residents determined to fight the city’s development plans. “The site on Elizabeth Street, which a lot of you are supportive of, we’re going to build senior housing there, along with a public open park,” said Chin.

Christopher Marte, left, at a Downtown Independent Democrats fundraiser this past weekend. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer was the featured speaker.

Christopher Marte was among those in attendance at a Downtown Independent Democrats fundraiser this past weekend. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer was the featured speaker.

Among Chin’s opponents, Christopher Marte appears to be running particularly strong. In last month’s campaign finance filing, he’d matched the sitting Council member’s donations (they both collected around $50,000), and Marte had more cash in the bank.

He has been endorsed by Village Independent Democrats. He’s almost certain to pick up another endorsement from Downtown Independent Democrats later in the spring. Marte will host a campaign kickoff in front of the former Rivington House nursing home on Saturday.

Chin, however, has some major built-in advantages, including the backing of the Chinatown establishment. The neighborhood’s only political club, United Democratic Organization (UDO), his endorsed her. The same goes for the Truman Democratic Club on the Lower East Side.

During the recent fundraiser, Chin told her supporters, “We’re going to win it and we’re going to win it big to show that community power means everything!”