Activists Rally To Push Small Business Bill Through City Council

City Council members, community organizations and several candidates running in upcoming elections gathered on the steps of City Hall earlier today in support of the Small Business Survival Act. The bill, being considered by the City Council, would give small businesses the option of 10-year leases and the right to mediation if negotiations with landlords reach an impasse. The Bloomberg administration opposes the legislation, saying it would not be practical for the city to track every lease. Among the speakers, District 1 City Council candidate Margaret Chin:

Campaign Source: Referee Recommends Placing Gerson Back on the Ballot

NYCD1ELECTIONS_011 A source inside his campaign office tells The Lo-Down that a special referee has recommended putting City Council member Alan Gerson back on the September Primary ballot. The Board of Elections removed Gerson for failing to satisfy its concerns about altered petitions. Separately, candidate Pete Gleason sued Gerson in State Supreme Court, alleging fraud. Last week, the referee, Leslie Lowenstein, heard two days of testimony — and he has now forwarded a report to State Supreme Court Judge Edward Lehner. The judge has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow afternoon, in which he'll hear legal arguments from both sides – and decide whether to follow Lowenstein's recommendation. If Gerson gets back on the ballot tomorrow, the Gleason campaign is widely expected to appeal. See our previous coverage of Gleason vs. Gerson here and here.

Gerson’s Ballot Battle: Gleason Camp Weighs In

Images-2 Yesterday we reported on the hearing before a court appointed referee weighing whether City Council member Alan Gerson should get back on September's Primary ballot. Ray Dowd (pictured, left), representing candidate Pete Gleason, has now given us his take on what happened in the courtroom. Dowd called several witnesses to support his contention that the Gerson campaign engaged in fraud. He wants the court to uphold the Election Board's decision to kick Gerson off the ballot.

The trouble for Gerson began when the printer got his home address wrong on some petitions. Even though the campaign ordered corrected petitions, somehow (it's unclear how) the Truman Democratic Club didn't get the corrected version. The club collected signatures on behalf of Gerson and other candidates it decided to support. Dowd believes yesterday's testimony by one of the volunteers, Renee Abramowitz, is critical. On the stand, she acknowledged that someone had corrected the address and then written in her initials. Dowd says it's a clear case of forgery and, therefore, fraud. Dowd also pointed to the testimony of Jessica Loeser, president of the Truman Democratic Club. Loeser said that – after volunteers had collected signatures – she told them to change Gerson's address.

During cross-examination, Loeser said signature collectors were instructed to inform voters that they were being asked to sign a petition in support of placing Alan Gerson on the ballot. Councilman Gerson's attorney, Lawrence Mandelker, said there can be no fraud unless it's proven that voters were deliberately misled. Dowd called this argument "ridiculous." "Falsifying petitions is fraudulent behavior," he said. Dowd said that yesterday's testimony contradicted what Gerson himself has said — that the problems were caused by a printer's error. Dowd believes he proved it was the "fraudulent acts" of campaign surrogates that are to blame for Gerson's predicament.

Dowd told me he is troubled by the circumstances under which Abramowitz said she collected signatures A nurse for the United Jewish Council, she testified the petitions were left on her desk. When the petitions were completed, she handed them in to her boss at the UJC. Dowd says he questions why an employee, working for a non-profit organization receiving millions of dollars in government funding, was collecting signatures for a political campaign. Dowd acknowledged that this aspect of Abramowitz's testimony is not relevant to the allegations of election fraud. But he thinks it might be a campaign finance issue.

The referee, Leslie Lowenstein, is now preparing a report that will be forwarded to the State Supreme Court Judge who will decide the case next week.

Candidate Kim Says Rival Chin Wants to Be “Mayor of Chinatown”

City Council candidate Margret Chin's alleged voter fraud lawsuit against rival PJ Kim was back in court this morning. Following the hearing, Josh Ehrlich, Chin's attorney, conceded he probably did not present enough evidence to prove the fraud allegations. Only about a third of the subpoenaed witnesses showed up, seriously hampering Ehrlich's case (more on that in a moment).

The most striking development this morning occurred outside the courtroom, after the proceedings had been adjourned. Talking with reporters, PJ Kim said the lawsuit is evidence that Chin can't accept that there's another Asian candidate in the race. Kim (who's Korean) said he wanted to represent the First District on the City Council – he asserted that Chin (who is Chinese) wants to be "the mayor of Chinatown." It's fair to say these comments are not sitting well with the Chin campaign. They will be releasing a statement shortly – we'll have more on the Kim/Chin war of words later this afternoon.

Now back to the proceedings before Leslie Lowenstein, the court appointed referee, this morning. About 10 witnesses were called to testify, all signature collectors for the Kim campaign. While there were some irregularities, Ehrlich was not able to establish a pattern of illegally altered petitions. He noted that 18 witnesses were "no shows." A spokesman for the Chin campaign has suggested that the Kim campaign encouraged witnesses to ignore the subpoenas.

Lowenstein will prepare a report early next week for State Supreme Court Judge Edward Lehner, who has scheduled a hearing on election matters Wednesday afternoon.

City Council Candidate Margaret Chin Sues Rival, Elections Board

The District 1 City Council race is taking more twists and turns this morning. Once again, there is controversy surrounding the petitions candidates must submit to the city's Board of Elections to get on the ballot. Candidate PJ Kim tells The Lo-Down he is being sued by another candidate in the race, Margaret Chin. According to the Downtown Express, two initial complaints filed with the Board of Elections against Kim's petitions, by individuals with ties to Chin's campaign manager, were dropped. But now, Kim says he was served with court papers Wednesday evening, while attending a "meet the candidate" event at a supporter's home. A check of the New York State Supreme Court's online records confirms that Chin has, in fact, filed suit against Kim and the Board of Elections.

A statement from Kim's campaign theorizes that Chin may have decided to mount the legal challenge after incumbent City Council candidate Alan Gerson was knocked off the ballot due to a technical error because she is "worried by the changing calculus of this race." Gerson is appealing the decision before the Elections Board next Wednesday.  The election rules specify that signatures candidates gather must come from registered voters who live in the district. Supporters of other candidates have alleged that Kim's petitions contain a large number of signatures from outside the district, and are therefore invalid. Another Gerson challenger, Arthur Gregory, also faces a petition challenge – we'll have more on that later today.

Meanwhile, the Downtown Express wades into a discussion that has been percolating online regarding Kim's political past. When Kim was 17, he interned for Republican Bill Frist, the senator from his home state of Tennessee. In 2001, he registered as a Republican in New York. But the newspaper notes he has volunteered for numerous Democratic candidates, including Howard Dean, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.When he moved to Massachusetts to attend Harvard, Kim registered as a Democrat and, when he returned to New York, he changed his registration here. Kim, who's 30 years old, told us how his political perspective has changed in the last decade:

…more life experience, particularly living in New York City after growing up in Tennessee and Louisiana, and my continuing education and exposure have shaped my views about social justice and market failure, balancing equity and efficiency, and the value of inclusiveness over divisiveness – all values that I am proud to advance as a volunteer on numerous campaigns, as a social entrepreneur who has worked in both business and the nonprofit sector, and now, as a candidate for City Council.

There are five candidates running in the 1st District, including Gerson, Chin, Kim, Pete Gleason and Arthur Gregory. We have reached out to Chin's campaign and the Elections Board. More later.

TLD Interview: City Councilman Alan Gerson

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This is the fourth installment of our series of interviews with the candidates running for the 1st District City Council seat. The District includes the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Soho, Wall Street and Tribeca. We have already heard from Margaret Chin, Pete Gleason and PJ Kim. Today, it’s the incumbent’s turn.

We talked with Councilman Alan Gerson at his campaign headquarters, a quirky setup in the back of the Silver Spurs restaurant, on La Guradia Place in Soho. Gerson is able to run for a third term thanks to the City Council’s decision to extend term limits — a move he helped spearhead. We asked him about that controversial term limits decision, the fate of the former SPURA site, the future of Chatham Square and several other issues. Gerson is just now getting back into the swing of things, after overcoming a bout with the swine flu.

In these interviews, we want the candidates to be able to lay out their positions fully. For that reason, editing was kept to a minimum. We removed extraneous comments that were repetitious or not directly related to the question asked, and streamlined questions. For more information on the campaign, including our interviews with Chin, Gleason and Kim, see below. The full interview with Alan Gerson can be found after the jump.

TLD Interview: Margaret Chin
TLD Interview: Pete Gleason
TLD Interview: PJ Kim
Gotham Gazette’s District 1 Profile
City Hall News Primer – District 1 Race


First District Council Race: Ballot Bingo

The last few days we've been following the utterly bizarre hazing ritual candidates for public office must go through in order to qualify for the New York City ballot. A few (emphasis on "few") Lo-Down readers left us comments suggesting that City Council candidate PJ Kim was somehow circumventing the rules. Last Friday, Kim said he submitted petitions with about 5500 signatures to get on the September Primary ballot. One guy alleged that Kim had "loads of signatures from the boroughs and upper Manhattan."  When I asked what evidence he had, the poster (DowntownGuy) responded:


A
neighbor who went to the Board of Elections told me that he saw many
signatures outside the district, many more than the other candidates
had. Pages and pages, in fact. A few are normal, but not 'pages and
pages'. If you have the time, I respectfully suggest you go to the Board and check it out to get to the bottom.

I took DowntownGuy up on that challenge yesterday. Shuttling between two Elections Board offices on Lower Broadway, I had a look at Pj Kim's petitions. While it's true that there were some signatures from outside the district (not allowed), there were certainly not "loads" of them- not enough to disqualify a candidate submitting more than five times the required number of signatures.

While I was there, I decided to take a look at the objections that had been filed against District 1 Council candidates. Only PJ Kim and Arthur Gregory's petitions appear to face challenges. Interestingly, it seems that at least one of the objections may be tied to operatives from another First District campaign. We'll know more next Monday, when objectors must file  detailed documentation.

As City Hall News explained yesterday, this is politics as usual in New York City: "Some candidate, usually for political
gain (though insisting that the move is simply standing up for
principle), finds a staffer or friend to stand in on a challenge to the
signatures.

For his part Pj Kim told supporters via Facebook and Twitter, that he had "decided not to challenge the nominating
petitions of any other candidates for this seat. We want our campaign
to be focused on the issues and not on the usual personal political
games
."

Stay tuned.

District 1 City Council Race: Getting on the Ballot

The other day, we reported on the petitioning deadline for the candidates competing to represent District 1 on the New York City Council.  One candidate, PJ Kim, held a brief “press conference” outside the Board of Elections office on lower Broadway, heralding the 5500 signatures his campaign collected to get on the September Primary Election ballot. A few Lo-Down readers are obviously not PJ Kim fans. “DowntownGuy” alleged that some of Kim’s signatures came from people who don’t live in the district. “Dadude,” who also apparently runs the “Get Rid of Gerson” blog, claimed Kim used “non-registered democrats” to collect signatures. There were also comments from supporters of Kim. “Taosing@gmail.com” said, “he was out there, 7 days a week, from 8AM until 10PM meeting voters and listening to their concerns.”

This discussion probably tells us more about the city’s byzantine petitioning law than it does PJ Kim. To get on the ballot, City Council candidates must collect 900 signatures, but to protect against challenges, they usually gather about five times that number. This morning, City Hall News pointed out the lunacy of a system in which the Elections Board does very little to review the validity of petitions, unless there’s a challenge:

Some challenges are done with devious intentions, meant to propel underhanded political ends. True, there are regularly legitimate questions to be raised. But the greatest problem is with the Board of Elections’ officially blasé attitude to the paperwork received unless a complaint is raised. Everyone involved should be ashamed of a system that does not force the Board to check every signature on every ballot petition received—rudimentary computer programs would make this incredibly simple—and then automatically determine who has qualified for the ballot and who has not. There would not be much to argue about, except in cases where, perhaps, some handwriting was unclear.

But, in the current system, there’s plenty to argue about – and in a city in which politics is a contact sport, the outcome is predictable:

…some candidate, usually for political gain (though insisting that the move is simply standing up for principle), finds a staffer or friend to stand in on a challenge to the signatures. The connections are very quickly raised, and no matter what happens, the candidate responsible for the challenging draws the ire of reform groups and all but forfeits the chances of getting endorsed by
the New York Times. In other words, ulterior motive or not, a person who forces the Board of Elections to perform what should be a standard review risks severe political consequences. And no one can reasonably claim that this is how a proper system of government should operate.

The deadline to file complaints is midnight tonight. We’ll be following the intrigue, as the District 1 race takes more twists and turns.

 

Deadline Day: City Council Candidates Submit Petitions

Yesterday was the deadline for City Council candidates to turn in their petitions to get on the September Primary Election ballot. Each candidate is required to submit 900 signatures, but they usually turn in a lot more than that in case there are challenges. We heard from three of the challengers (taking on Councilman Alan Gerson) in the District 1 race. Margaret Chin and Pete Gleason’s campaigns both said they submitted about 5-thousand signatures, while Councilman Gerson collected over 7-thousand signatures. PJ Kim made a mini-media event out of his filing late yesterday afternoon.  Here’s what he had to say moments before handing in his petitions, containing 5500 signatures, at the city’s Board of Elections office :

TLD Interview: City Council Candidate PJ Kim

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Today we have the third installment of our series of interviews with the candidates running for the 1st District City Council seat currently held by Alan Gerson. The District includes the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Soho, Wall Street
and Tribeca. We have already heard from Margaret Chin and Pete Gleason, two of the candidates hoping to deny Gerson a third term. Today, it’s PJ’s Kim’s chance to talk about the issues impacting the District.

Kim was vice president of Single Stop USA, a company that helps low income families access government services such as food programs and health care. He also worked as Director of Income Policy for FoodChange, now part of the Food Bank of New York.  Kim graduated from Princeton in 2001, and moved to New York to work for McKinsey, the management consulting firm.  He served on Community Board 1 for two years.

In these interviews, we want the candidates to be able to lay out their positions fully. For that reason, editing was kept to a minimum. We removed extraneous comments that were repetitious or not directly related to the question asked, and streamlined questions. For more information on the campaign, including our interviews with Chin and Gleason, see below. The full interview with PJ Kim can be found after the jump.

TLD Interview: Margaret Chin
TLD Interview: Pete Gleason
PJ Kim’s web site
Gotham Gazette’s Profile of District 1
City Hall News primer on District 1 race

TLD Interview: City Council Candidate Pete Gleason

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Today we continue our series of interviews with the candidates running for the District 1 City Council seat currently held by Alan Gerson. The District includes the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Soho, Wall Street and Tribeca. Last week we heard from Margaret Chin, one of four challengers Gerson

faces in September’s primary election. Today it’s Pete Gleason’s turn.

Gleason is an attorney, as well as a former New York City police officer and firefighter. He ran against Gerson unsuccessfully in 2003. Recently, he won the endorsement of an influential political club, the Downtown Independent Democrats. Gleason has been an outspoken critic of the lack of progress redeveloping the World Trade Center site.

In these interviews, we want the candidates to be able to lay out their positions fully. For that reason, editing was kept to a minimum. We removed extraneous comments that were repetitious or not directly related to the question asked, and streamlined questions. For more information on the campaign, see below. The full interview with Pete Gleason can be found after the jump.

TLD Interview: Margaret Chin

Pete Gleason’s web site

Gotham Gazette’s profile of District 1

City Hall News primer on District 1 race

Friday News Links

Despite the fact that the city faces a $5 billion loss in revenues and has decided to layoff 2-thousand employees, the City Council has not reduced pork barrel spending one cent. Next year's budget includes more than $48 million in "discretionary spending." Most of this money goes to worthy non-profits, but a lot of people see the "discretionary" pot as a political slush fund – and it's been plagued by scandal this year. LES Council Member Alan Gerson is not the worst offender. He's in the middle of the pack, with 30 discretionary items. This year's champion: Inez Dickens (149 items).  The Council votes on the budget this afternoon.

The city reports that major crimes (such as murder, rape and robbery) declined 9-percent in the public schools in the past year.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn (with Mayor Bloomberg's support), wants to relax certain city regulations to help ease the financial burden's on small businesses. The Daily News likes the idea. So does the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, but not surprisingly, they want to see more steps taken.

Curbed has new details about the hotel ("Stories_NY") going up at 163 Orchard, which may or may not be in compliance with the LES's new zoning rules. The hotel apparently includes a "lot-through outdoor terrace with a bar on the second floor."  Make you nervous?

Tomorrow at noon, at the Bowery Poetry Club, "The Bowery: Past, Present & Future." The presentation and discussion is a fundraiser ($6 minimum) for the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors.

TLD Interview: City Council Candidate Margaret Chin

Today we kick off a series of interviews with the candidates running to represent the 1st District in the New York City Council.  The District includes the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Soho, Tribeca and Wall Street. There are four candidates seeking to unseat Councilman Alan Gerson, who was only able to run for a third term after the Council voted to extend term limits this year. Gerson supported Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial campaign to extend the limits.

Our first interview is with Margaret Chin, a community organizer, affordable housing advocate and former teacher. This is the fourth time she’s run for the City Council. We discussed a range of issues last week in her modest campaign headquarters in Chinatown. She shared her views on Chinatown development, the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, a variety of transportation issues and how she feels about Councilman Gerson’s unexpected decision to jump into the race.

We want the candidates to be able to discuss the issues important in the 1st District fully. For this reason, the interview is largely unedited – we have simply removed extraneous phrases and streamlined the questions.  Read the entire Q & A after the jump. For more information on Chin and the 1st District, see:

Margaret Chin’s web site
Gotham Gazette’s profile of District 1
City Hall News primer on District 1 race

Full Contact Politics: Setting the Record Straight

We've received an email from the president of the Downtown Independent Democrats, clarifying one of several bizarre incidents that occurred at the political club's June 2nd endorsement meeting. We previously reported that challenger Pete Gleason won the endorsement over City Councilman Alan Gerson. In the press release wrapping up the dramatic evening (more on that in a moment), Sweeney (a Gerson detractor) wrote:

Tensions ran very high throughout the evening.  In one
instance, Luke Henry, a ringer from Gerson's VRDC Executive Board,
attempted to vote, only to be discovered and have his ballot shredded
as he attempted to place it in the ballot box. 

In his email to us late last week, Sweeney explained there had been a misunderstanding:

With
some 124 voters there was a lot of confusion, and one of our members,
Luke Henry, asked if he could vote and I said, amidst all the turmoil:
"Certainly."  Someone then noted that Luke had voted at VRDC.  When we
brought this up to him, he readily admitted it and surrendered the
ballot when I informed him that DID has a rule that an individual can
only vote in one club.  I also made the erroneous assumption that Luke
was sent in by VRDC to vote for Gerson.  I later discovered that I was
incorrect in that assumption, an assumption made in haste and released
to the press in the wake of a tumultuous meeting.

The Lo-Down did not refer to the press release in our recounting of the meeting, but several days later, we mentioned an article in Tenant Planet.org that linked to it. Got that? Now on to the really surreal stuff.

For the past week, local political reporters have been trying to sort out a quote "physical showdown" between Councilman Gerson and Gil Horowitz, a 72-year old member of the club. According to the reports (City Hall News, Downtown Express), Gerson rushed over to defend his 84-year old mother Sophie, who was having an argument with Horowitz.

Horowitz said Gerson "grabbed me and hurled me about 20 feet away." Gerson has told reporters that there may have been some contact with Horowitz as he attempted to separate him from his mother, but there was certain;y no "physical altercation." At any rate, Horowitz threatened to call the cops – Gerson said something like "go ahead," and even handed Horowitz his cell phone. Horowitz was unamused: he threw the phone against a wall, with "all the force I could muster," he says. Amazingly, a lot of people at the meeting didn't even hear the incident. Just another routine night in the First District Council race, I guess.

Followup: Gerson’s Re-election Battle

Yesterday morning, we reported City Councilman Alan Gerson lost the endorsement of the Downtown Independent Democrats to Pete Gleason. Today the Downtown Express is out with more details. Reporter Josh Rogers called the defeat a "body blow" to Gerson's re-election efforts. Explaining the influential club's vote, Rogers wrote, "Gerson has lost the support of some Downtown political leaders who previously helped him get elected."

Gerson supporter Bob Townley said his candidate is facing more opposition in this election, in part,  because voters were expecting new blood in District 1. Gerson would have been prevented from running due to term limits, but he supported Michael Bloomberg's campaign to extend the limits for the mayor and the Council. Townley said Gerson should be re-elected due to his experience and track record helping Lower Manhattan. But a former Gerson supporter Julie Nadel says while she likes him personally she beieves he's "totally disorganized." For Gerson's part, he noted that he won most of the other club endorsements and that the DID "does not represent the district."

Gerson's other opponents are Margaret Chin, PJ Kim and Arthur Gregory. Chin's campaign manager, Jake Itzkowitz, told us she directed her supporters to vote for Gleason so Gerson would not win the endorsement. Itzkowitz says it was a demonstration of Chin's organizational prowess. Incidentally, we'll be interviewing Chin next week. During the campaign, we hope to conduct Q & A sessions with all of the candidates and to cover the 1st District race extensively.