A high profile member of Community Board 3 has taken a job with District 1 City Councilmember Margaret Chin. Beginning this week, Gigi Li is deputy chief of staff and district office director for the Lower Manhattan representative.
From 2012-2016, Li served as chairperson of CB3. She has continued to serve on the board, leading two key panels — the Chinatown Neighborhood Planning Subcommittee and the Essex Crossing Taskforce. Li has resigned from CB3 effective immediately. It will be up to current Community Board 3 Chairperson Alysha Lewis-Coleman to pick new committee heads.
Li has been a longtime supporter of Councilmember Chin, having volunteered for her re-election campaign this past year. Chin is beginning her third and final term in the Council. Li unsuccessfully run for the State Assembly in 2016.
City Council member Margaret Chin was sworn in last Tuesday evening, 55 years to the day that she arrived in New York City as an immigrant from Hong Kong. During an inauguration ceremony, Chin recalled her humble beginnings in a tenement on Mulberry Street and looked ahead to a third and final term serving District 1. Among those rallying around the Lower Manhattan lawmaker was the new City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who made a point of defending Chin’s honor, saying she was “bullied” and “unfairly attacked” during a surprisingly competitive re-election campaign.
Hundreds of local activists from the Lower East Side, Chinatown and other downtown neighborhoods gathered in City Council Chambers to celebrate Chin’s inauguration. She was sworn in by State Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Oing, as her husband, Alan Tung, and other family members looked on. Former City Council member Rosie Mendez served as master of ceremonies.
In prepared remarks, Chin recounted her family’s arrival at Idlewild Airport (which later became JFK International Airport) on Jan. 9, 1963, when she was just 9 years old. “There was snow on the ground,” said Chin, “and we had no snow boots!” Even in that first apartment, located above an Italian butcher shop, she understood that, “this was the land of opportunity.” Five decades later, Chin added, “I stand before you as I was that first day in America, the proud daughter of two immigrants who dared to dream a better life.”
Chin doesn’t often tell her life story, emphasizing the challenges she faced as a trailblazer — the first Asian woman in the City Council. But during this speech, she did just that. “My journey to elected office,” said the Council member, “was not easy. As an Asian American woman and a first generation American, I saw an opportunity to represent my community (Chinatown) when we voted for a new city charter to increase the size of the City Council from 35 to 51. When I first ran for City Council in 1991, I lost. But I didn’t give up. I ran again –three more times before I won. “For me, it took almost 20 years, and I’m so proud to see so many of you who helped our community achieve that dream. Tonight is proof that when our diverse communities stand together our power is unstoppable.”
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at Margaret Chin’s inauguration.
Chin won the Democratic Primary this past September by just 222 votes, barely edging out political newcomer Christopher Marte. Political opponents angered by her campaign to build senior housing at the Elizabeth Street Garden, as well as other contentious issues, railed against the two-term office holder. After Marte chose to mount another challenge in the General Election, local activists as well as high-profile elected officials, including Johnson, closed ranks behind Chin. She was victorious with margin of victory of more than 3,000 votes out of nearly 24,000 votes cast.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Speaker Johnson said, “Margaret is a fierce fighter for her community, but she is also a lovely human being.” (Johnson called Chin a surrogate mother.) He said Chin has a long track record of, “fighting for the disenfranchised, (and) giving a voice to the voiceless” on issues like senior services, immigration and affordable housing.
Johnson then added, “I just want to tell you that Margaret has been unfairly attacked, for a long time. Margaret has been bullied and smeared and a lot of untrue things have been said about Margaret Chin.” He recalled a day during the campaign in which he was campaigning with Chin outside the Morton Williams Supermarket on La Guardia Place.
“…Because of all the smears that were leveled against her,” said Johnson, “people were coming over screaming at me and her. I was screaming back at them.” Johnson said Chin told him during that heated moment not to worry, that she was unfazed by the protesters. “She conducted herself,” said Johnson, “with grace, with dignity and with the temperament she has always carried in her eight years in the Council and in her 30 years fighting for New York City.”
Others took turns at the microphone, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James, who’s already been mentioned as a potential mayoral contender in four years. James made reference to Chin’s tough re-election fight, emphasizing her support and that of others in her political orbit for the embattled Council member. “As a result, I think of our efforts, Margaret Chin is securely in place for the next four years,” said James.
James also spoke of an issue that will likely dominate the next year or two — three controversial mega-towers that have been proposed in the Two Bridges area. “We stand with Margaret,” said James, “as she stands up against irresponsible development in Lower Manhattan, development that is out of character, inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood, a neighborhood which, unfortunately will no longer be a neighborhood if these tall, anonymous buildings are built.”
Margaret Chin, in her speech, mentioned the fierce development battles in Lower Manhattan, saying, “We stood with the community to… protect vulnerable neighborhoods from the threat of luxury overdevelopment.” She concluded by telling friends and colleagues, “What we have built these past eight years is a movement, and while sometimes these decisions are difficult, as your Council member I am committed to doing whatever it takes to make this city our home – a better place for people of every generation.”
Last week, Johnson announced committee assignments, reappointing Chin to chair the Council’s aging committee. She has also named to the speaker’s leadership committee.
200 Allen St./Google Image.
The State Liquor Authority rejected an application today for a big new venue that had been in-the-works at 200 Allen St. In an unusual move, two elected officials — State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and City Council member Margaret Chin — both appeared in person to testify against the applicant.
The project, Dos Cientos, was the latest venture by real estate developer/nightlife operator Michael Shah (he’s behind Sons of Essex and Rochelle’s). It was meant to be a bi-level Mexican restaurant/bar for 200 patrons. The space, located near East Houston St., has been vacant since the demise of Preserve 24 in 2014.
Community Board 3 opposed the application in a May 2017 resolution. Kavanagh, Chin, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou backed it up with a letter to the liquor authority. Here’s part of the letter:
As detailed in the Community Board resolution, the applicants have a long history as bad actors in the communities where they operate. Community Board 3 has voiced their concern about Victor Jung. who the Board believes will have a lead role in the operations of this venue and who, in 2008, was convicted of a felony associated with his business operations, as outline in the May 2017 resolution. In addition, the resolution recalls that in 2014 the SLA found the applicants in violation for “improper conduct” and use of an “unauthorized trade name” in relation to another LLC known as 133 Essex Restaurant. In 2015, Manhattan Community Board 2 strongly called for the renewal of the applicants’ full on-premises liquor license to be denied for operating outside the Board’s stipulations.
Kavanagh and Chin, along with a representative from Niou’s office, communicated their concerns in person at a hearing in Manhattan today. It apparently helped sway the SLA, which voted against the application.
SLA.200 Allen Street 1-9-18 by The Lo-Down on Scribd
At a hearing held yesterday, members of the City Council raised serious concerns about the city’s plan to deal with the shutdown of the L Train in 2019. Local City Council member Margaret Chin said a part of the proposal – sending buses over the Williamsburg Bridge to the Lower East Side – seems like a recipe for disaster. Many of Chin’s constituents are already up-in-arms about congestion in the area around the bridge.
On Wednesday, the MTA and the city’s Department of Transportation released a plan for coping with the 15-month shutdown to repair the L Train tunnel under the East River. It includes stepped up service on other trains (including the J, M, Z), restricting usage of the Williamsburg Bridge to HOV-3 vehicles and deploying city buses over the bridge, among other measures.
The inner roadway of the bridge will be reserved for cars, while the outer roadway will be restricted to buses and trucks. There’s a possibility cars turning from the bridge onto Clinton Street would be allowed the use the outer roadway, as well. DOT has decided against a dedicated bus lane because the lanes of the bridge are too narrow.
During a hearing of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, Chin expressed deep skepticism about the practicality of moving so many buses over the East River crossing. “70 buses an hour? That’s more than one bus a minute,” said Chin. “I just can’t envision them coming down the Williamsburg Bridge.”
Earlier this month, residents packed a public meeting at the 7th Precinct, where DOT ‘s Manhattan Borough Commissioner Luis Sanchez addressed concerns about gridlock around the intersection of Clinton and Grand streets. The worsening conditions there are attributable to the heavy volume of traffic trying to access the bridge.
“You know that my constituents have been complaining about the congestion (in this area),” Chin added. “For them to see all these buses coming, especially during rush hour, and then making that turn where all those streets are so congested — it might work in a model, but in reality (the plan seems unrealistic).”
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg conceded that the plan will only work if automobile traffic is reduced on the bridge (4,000 cars now cross during peak periods). This is why, she said, it’s necessary to restrict the bridge to vehicles carrying three or more passengers during rush hour.
In response, Chin said, “I fully support HOV lanes. We should implement them now… There are too many cars coming in (to Manhattan) with just one person in them… (Implementing HOV lanes) could help minimize congestion we have already.” Chin also raised concerns about the MTA’s planning for more passengers on alternate subway routes. Specifically mentioning the J and F lines, Chin said, “MTA, are you prepared to accommodate more riders on those platforms.? It’s already extremely crowded.”
During the hearing, MTA and DOT officials acknowledged the issues raised by Council members, but they said the L Train shutdown poses many difficult transportation challenges. No matter how much planning takes place, they suggested, commuters are going to feel the pain. They pledged to continue a dialogue with Council members and to reach out to local community boards to solicit feedback.
Click here to watch the video from yesterday’s hearing.
One Manhattan Square towers over the Two Bridges neighborhood.
The New York City Council yesterday approved a bill sponsored by local Council member Margaret Chin to require the city to notify communities when urban renewal areas are set to expire.
The legislation was prompted by the development frenzy in the Two Bridges neighborhood, including the construction of Extell’s 80-story One Manhattan Square and three additional mega-towers now in the planning stages. Just last week, another bill sponsored by Chin — aimed at fast tracking certain land use applications — became law.
The Two Bridges Urban Renewal Area expired in 2007, three years before Chin took office. In the recent City Council election, she faced criticism for reacting too slowly to out-of-scale development projects in the neighborhood. Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are trying to push through a zoning text amendment to require a full ULURP for the new towers.
In a statement, Chin said:
The lack of public access to urban renewal plans has left too many communities in the dark about their impact on neighborhood preservation. When these plans expire, it can open the door for enormous development to threaten vulnerable neighborhoods. We see this happening in Two Bridges, where I am actively working with residents to create tools to fight back against out-of-scale luxury development. By requiring public notification for expiring urban renewal areas and a publicly accessible website with information about currently and formerly designated urban renewal areas, this legislation would empower more communities to take action to protect their neighborhoods.
More than 150 urban renewal areas have been established in New York City since 1949. The plans are not available online and cannot be publicly accessed without a special request. At a public hearing this past summer in which the bill was discussed, Chin and her Council colleagues grilled city planning officials about their approval of numerous large-scale luxury projects. They argued that the city’s land use approval process obviously needs to be reformed, since large development plans can be implemented without any real role for communities in the decision-making process.
There are no remaining urban renewal areas on the Lower East Side, so the legislation, if allowed to become law by the mayor, won’t be applicable in this neighborhood.
UPDATE 12/14: In this story, we noted that there are no more active urban renewal areas on the Lower East Side. Paula Segal of the Urban Justice Center yesterday sent us a link to Urban Reviewer, a website she helped develop. According to the site, there is one active URA in this neighborhood. It’s the “Lower East Side I Urban Renewal Area,” which covers a small section of the LES bordering East Houston Street, Delancey Street, Forsyth Street and Allen Street. It was adopted in 1983 and expires in the year 2023.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Margaret Chin with campaign workers on election day. Photo via @teammargaretchin/Instagram.
The Board of Elections has now posted certified results from the Sept. 12 Democratic Primary. They show that City Council member Margaret Chin narrowly won re-election to a third term in District 1, which includes the Lower East Side. The margin between Chin and her nearest challenger, Christopher Marte, was so close on election night that a winner could not be declared until absentee and affidavit ballots were counted.
Here are the final results:
Margaret Chin: 5363 votes
Christopher Marte: 5141 votes
Aaron Foldenauer: 734 votes
Dashia Imperiale: 459 votes
So in the end, Chin won by 222 votes (the margin on election night was 200 votes). There were 262 absentee ballots and 65 valid affidavit ballots.
Marte has talked about possibly filing a lawsuit to contest the election results. Foldenauer says he plans to run against Chin on the Liberal Party line in the general election, which takes place Nov. 7. If she prevails, Margaret Chin will go on to serve a third and final term in the City Council.
Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.
It looks like the battle over three new large-scale towers on the waterfront in the Two Bridges area is escalating.
We just received a press advisory from the office of City Council member Margaret Chin announcing a rally in the neighborhood tomorrow morning. The headline reads, “Council member Chin and Manhattan Borough President Brewer to announce next chapter in fight against Two Bridges mega-towers.” According to the advisory, the city administration will be urged, “to reject all three applications and commit to a transparent and thorough public review.”
The projects include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 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. They’re currently undergoing a joint environmental review. Here’s more from the press advisory:
Tomorrow at 10 a.m., Council Member Margaret S. Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will join tenant leaders and community advocates to publicly pressure the City Planning Commission to deny the applications in Two Bridges when they vote later this year. The announcement will be made at 80 Rutgers Slip, a senior building upon which one of the proposed towers would build, forcing an unknown numbers of seniors to relocate. Elected officials will reaffirm their position that these towers are not a done deal and call for a thorough and transparent public review of the proposed projects.
Others joining the press event include tenant leaders from Two Bridges Tower and Lands End I, as well as representatives from GOLES and CAAAV, the Lower East Side/Chinatown tenant advocacy groups.
This past spring, a new group called Lower East Side Organizing Neighbors (LESON) announced plans to sue the city over the projects. When they speak tomorrow, we’ll see whether the Council member and Borough President are also anticipating legal action.
Last summer, the Department of City Planning rejected Council member Chin’s request for a ULURP in the Two Bridges area, a full land use review that would have given the Council a formal role in deciding whether the projects move forward. The agency said proposed changes in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Plan amounted to a “minor modification” as opposed to a “major modification” of the plan, meaning a ULURP was not required.
UPDATE 7:40 a.m. Council member Chin faces several challengers in a Democratic Primary Election this coming fall. The Two Bridges development controversy is sure to be a big topic of conversation during the campaign. Here’s part of a statement we received from one of the challengers. Christopher Marte, last night:
Margaret Chin’s attempt to take a stand against the waterfront developments is too little, too late. When the community organized against the developers at the EIS meetings, our Councilperson creeped out the back door. After the third such protest, the EIS meetings were re-organized in a way that intentionally deprived the full community of being able to actually meet. Instead of weeknights, they were moved to Saturday mornings. Instead of being hosted in an open hall, they were divided up into subsections by rooms.These meetings were a sham, just as today’s rally is. Our Councilmember knew when the protective zoning was expiring, and she did not renew it. Our Councilmember knew about the Chinatown Working Group plan, which would have prevented these towers, and she did not implement it. Our Councilmember knew that these luxury towers would displace seniors and cause second-hand displacement for countless residents, and she let the developers have their way.
What to make of Marte’s accusations? We’ll have more about that in our story following today’s really.
City Council member Margaret Chin and Mayor de Blasio at last month’s town hall. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office.
Here was the headline in the online version of the Daily News Friday evening: “Councilwoman Margaret Chin blasted over cops seizing leaflets from attendees at town hall in Chinatown.”
The article explained that attorney Pete Gleason had filed preliminary paperwork for a lawsuit against Chin. He’s acting on behalf of Jeanne Wilcke, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, a political club with a long history of opposing the District 1 Council member. Gleason is also a club member and a former contender for the Lower Manhattan Council seat. “If somebody doesn’t stand up and say, ‘Wait, this isn’t right,’ it will happen again,” Wilcke told the News. “And even if it doesn’t happen again, it shouldn’t be gotten away with that police are sitting there and taking people’s personal property.”
The June 21 town hall at the Chinatown YMCA was organized by the mayor’s office, in conjunction with Council member Chin and other elected officials. During the forum, Chin called on members of the audience to ask the mayor questions on a wide range of topics. It was quite a scene at the intersection of Bowery and East Houston Street, outside the auditorium, in the hours before the event got underway. Demonstrators carried signs, protesting a range of issues, from development plans at the Elizabeth Street Garden to the rezoning of Chinatown. Attendees, who were required to RSVP for the town hall, passed through metal detectors on the way inside. Police confiscated flyers before people were allowed entry.
The lawsuit does not name the mayor or the NYPD. Chin is the sole target.
Wilcke is not alone in protesting the heavy-handed tactics. Norman Siegel, the well-known civil rights lawyer, has fired off a letter to the mayor and police commissioner, saying the city’s conduct at the town hall amounted to violations of the First and Fourth amendments. Siegel sent the letter, the News reported, on behalf of the SoHo Alliance (that group is headed by political activist Sean Sweeney, another leader of Downtown Independent Democrats and an outspoken Chin critic). “I can’t think of any Constitutional reason why the government has a right to do what they did on June 21st, to confiscate political literature,” said Siegel.
A NYPD spokesperson said, “After several altercations outside of the town hall between different groups with different signage, the NYPD prohibited signage from the event to prevent another altercation between the groups.” The mayor’s office declined to comment, referring questions to the Law Department and to the police department.
A spokesperson for Council member Chin, Paul Leonard, said, “These allegations are baseless and absurd. The NYPD and Mayor’s police detail prohibited all campaign literature from being brought into the town hall facility, including literature from the Council Member’s own volunteers… Council Members have no control over the actions of the Mayor’s NYPD detail — a fact that someone with Norman Siegel’s extensive legal background knows full well.”
On June 29, DNAinfo reported that Aaron Foldenauer, who is challenging Chin in the upcoming Democratic Primary, filed a federal complaint against the mayor and the Council member. In the complaint, Foldenauer alleged that de Blasio and Chin ordered cops to seize the political materials.
City Council member Margaret Chin questioned city officials during a hearing June 15.
A hearing (watch the video) was held last week on City Council member Margaret Chin’s legislation that would require the city to notify communities when urban renewal areas are set to expire. The public meeting of the Council’s land use committee also offered local lawmakers an opportunity to grill representatives of city agencies about several proposed Two Bridges mega-towers.
Those projects would add about 2,000 mostly market-rate apartments in towers ranging in height from 62-80 stories along the East Side waterfront. A joint environmental review is now underway for the large-scale towers, which are located in an urban renewal area that expired in 2007. The review does not include Extell Development’s One Manhattan Square, an 80-story luxury condo project that will add another 1,000 apartments to the immediate area.
During the hearing, Council member Chin argued that public notification would have given her community an important tool to fight over-development. Residents would have been able, she explained, to ask for an extension of the urban renewal area or a rezoning if they had known restrictions on development were set to expire. In a press release, she stated, “We must take action now to ensure that all communities, especially those that are predominately low income and of color, are equipped with the knowledge and tools to protect their neighborhoods. Though we cannot turn back time to prevent the expiration of the Two Bridges URA, 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.”
Last summer, the Department of City Planning rejected Chin’s request for a ULURP in the Two Bridges area, a full land use review that would have given the Council a formal role in deciding whether the projects move forward. The agency said proposed changes in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Plan amounted to a “minor modification” as opposed to a “major modification” of the plan, meaning a ULURP was not required.
Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.
At last Thursday’s hearing, Chin noted that the underlying zoning along the waterfront (C6-4a) permits what she called “humungous” towers. But she argued that the new buildings are definitely not in the spirit of the original urban renewal area. Every time she sees photos of the Extell tower, said Chin, “it makes me sick to my stomach.” She added, “What is being proposed is totally out of scale. We cannot allow (the plan) to go forward.” Addressing officials from the Department of City Planning and Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Chin asserted, “You share responsibility with us. Something has got to be done.”
The officials said they agreed in principle with Chin’s proposal for public notification, but they pushed back on the notion that the towers in the Two Bridges area are inappropriate for the neighborhood. The chairman of the land use committee, David Greenfield, asked a series of pointed questions of the city bureaucrats and argued that stronger legislation is required to protect local communities.
Representatives from the Department of City Planning said the Lower East Side plans were deemed to be “minor modifications” because the developers were not asking for new or modified waivers. They were simply asking the city to lift floor area limits. Greenfield, however, made the case that any plan adding 2.2 million square feet and 2,000 apartments to an existing neighborhood, “amounts to a pretty big modification.”
Community members and advocates testified at last week’s hearing. Photo courtesy of the Office of Council member Margaret Chin.
Erik Botsford, deputy Manhattan director of City Planning, said, “We understand the community’s concerns (about these projects).” He conceded that the phrase, “minor modification,” is “perhaps an unfortunate term” in reference to one-thousand foot towers. The officials, however, insisted that the projects are allowable under New York’s land use rules.
Greenfield countered by asking, “Would you agree that this is a major change to the original plan?” He also asked why Mayor de Blasio would not have insisted on a rezoning in the area to require affordable housing in the new projects (the developers are voluntarily setting aside 25% of their units for affordable housing in exchange for tax benefits). City Planning’s Joel Kolkmann responded, “These are obviously large buildings.” He said the city’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program (MIH) is only feasible in neighborhoods that can be upzoned (Two Bridges is already zoned for maximum density). “These types of large-scale districts are not unusual along the waterfront,” said Kolkmann, arguing that the large-scale towers under review are appropriate for the community.
There was also testimony from Trever Holland, a tenant leader who read a statement on behalf of neighborhood advocacy groups GOLES and CAAAV. He said there are serious concerns about the threat of displacement of low-income tenants as a result of the luxury developments. He also cited worries about flood protection in the low-lying area and noted the city’s refusal to consider a large-scale rezoning of the community as proposed by the Chinatown Working Group.
In the end, Greenfield told city officials he believes there’s obviously a flaw in the law if massive development projects like the ones under review in the Two Bridges aren’t subject to public review. He called it a loophole that needs to be closed.
On a related note, a community engagement meeting will be held Saturday, June 24 to discuss the Two Bridges environmental review. It will take place at the Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadwaay, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
The projects include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 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.
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.
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 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!”
Photo: Office of Council member Margaret Chin. Bill signing, 2015.
Over the weekend, local Council member Margaret Chin joined six City Council colleagues in endorsing Mayor de Blasio’ for re-election. Today. Politico New York has more on the endorsements of a mayor who’s been dogged by controversy and low opinion polls.
The article notes that Chin represents a “Lower East Side district that has been the epicenter of one of the administration’s most headline-grabbing, real-estate focused scandals.” The Council member has been critical of the city’s handling of Rivington House, where the city lifted deed restrictions and allowed the former nursing home to slip into the hands of luxury condo developers. According to the story, Chin praised the mayor’s ability to “take on powerful real estate interests.”
Chin is expected to face her own re-election battle next year. Christopher Marte, a Lower East Side activist, and Aaron Foldenauer, an attorney, have already filed to run for the District 1 seat.
The Council member has been a reliable backer of Mayor de Blasio’s housing policies. She came out in support of his controversial push to change zoning laws. She has also sided with the city administration in the development of the Elizabeth Street Garden, a project many of her constituents oppose. On the Lower East Side, however, she was unable to persuade the city to launch a full-scale land use evaluation in the Two Bridges area, the site of unprecedented large-scale development. Chin settled for an “enhanced environmental review,” a process which does not require City Council approval.
Seward Park basketball courts, November 2016.
City Council member Margaret Chin wants to know why the renovation of basketball courts at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, paid for by Nike, happened so swiftly while other projects, funded by the Council, have been languishing for years.
Earlier this month, Nike and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver debuted the Stanton Street courts with great fanfare. While community activists were pleased that the renovation took place, they were unhappy about the lack of community input. They weren’t even told the project was happening until and hour or two before a ribbon cutting ceremony.
On Nov. 15, Chin wrote a letter to Silver expressing concern over the lack of communication with her office, Community Board 3 and the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition (a community advocacy group). Chin added, “I am particularly troubled at how quickly the Parks Department approved and completed this corporate-funded project when capital renovation projects funded through the City Council’s discretionary capital budget remain unfinished for years.”
Back in 2014, Chin allocated $600,000 in discretionary funding to resurface the courts at Seward Park. The project had been a priority of CB3. Local residents have been complaining for years about the drainage problems on the courts (even a small amount of rain renders the courts unusable). The community has been waiting ever since for the improvements to be made.
In her letter, Chin noted that Department of Parks officials recently told her that the project was “still in the procurement phase.” She also mentioned that DeSalvio Playground in Little Italy, another project she funded, has been on indefinite hold.
Nike courts on Stanton Street.
Referring to the Nike courts, Chin told Silver:
…a corporate-funded public space seem(s) to have taken priority over public projects that received discretionary funding and community support. In the future, I hope to see the same, if not greater, urgency from the Department of Parks and Recreation to complete capital projects and other renovations funded by the City. Furthermore, it is my wish that the Parks Department to be more transparent to local advocates when large-scale changes are being made to any public parks throughout the City.
CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said Parks Department staff mentioned during budget consultations over the summer that they were trying to get Nike to pay for the Stanton Street courts. But there was no public presentation before the community board and no notice that construction was actually happening. The Nike courts include a mural by KAWS (aka Brian Donnelly), a Brooklyn artist. The community board, said Stetzer, is normally asked for input about public art initiatives on city property.
As previously reported, City Council member Rosie Mendez vented at a CB3 meeting earlier this months about a lack of communication from the Parks Department. At the time, she brought up several projects in her district, including the renovation of a playground in Tompkins Square Park. Mendez and the community board have urged the city to reconsider plans to lower the fences around the playground (they’re concerned about safety and about worsening the park’s homeless problem). Since that meeting, Parks Department officials have reaffirmed their decision to lower the fences, in spite of neighborhood worries.
Rosie Mendez, Alice Cancel, Margaret Chin. Photo by TheLoDownNY.com
In 11 days, a special election will be held to decide who will replace Sheldon Silver in the 65th Assembly District. This morning, City Council member Margaret Chin came to the Alfred E. Smith Houses to announce her endorsement of Alice Cancel, the Democratic nominee.
Cancel is opposed by Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat running on the Working Families Party line, Republican Lester Chang and Dennis Levy of the Green Party. Niou and Chang are both Chinese. Margaret Chin is the first Chinese American to represent Chinatown in the City Council.
As rain starting falling today, a diverse group of supporters gathered under scaffolding on Madison Street. The event was coordinated by Council member Rosie Mendez, an early supporter of Cancel. As a resident of the assembly district, Chin said she has been thinking about who to vote for in the special election:
When I thought about it, it was easy. It’s going to be Alice. Alice knows the community. She knows our schools. She knows our small businesses. She knows about public housing. She’s worked with the tenants: Latino tenants, Chinese tenants, African American tenants. And I’ve worked with Alice. She is a district leader who works with the elected officials. When there is a problem in the community, she calls me… I know there are other candidates who are running. One of them, I don’t share his values. He’s a Republican. The other one just moved into the district. She doesn’t know the people! You have to know the people. I know Alice is a fighter. When she fights for tenants, watch out.
Yuh-Line Niou has lived in the Financial District for about two years and is chief of staff to Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens. She has the strong backing of Virginia Kee, the co-founder of the United Democratic Organization (UDO), Chinatown’s only political club. Chin and Kee are longtime rivals. While Chin is supporting Cancel in the special election, the Council member told us today she would be backing another candidate, Gigi Li, in the regularly scheduled Democratic Primary in September.
Chin is well aware her decision will be a controversial one in Chinatown. “For me, it’s a very clear choice,” said Chin. “I hope that the community, especially the Chinese community, know that we don’t just vote for someone because they’re Chinese.”
Cancel, a resident of Southbridge Towers, has served as a district leader for the past 25 years. Her opponents and newspaper stories have portrayed Cancel as a “crony” of Sheldon Silver, the former speaker soon headed to prison for federal corruption crimes. Silver’s political organization, the Truman Democratic Club, provided critical support to Cancel when the Democratic County Committee chose her as the party’s nominee. “In the last few months,” said Council member Mendez, “she’s been attacked, and I don’t know why. She has done nothing wrong but to work and represent the people in this district.” Referencing the supporters from public housing developments in attendance, Mendez added, “She was content being district leader and never seeking higher office, except all of these people here — not once, not twice but multiple times — asked Alice to run.”
Aixa Torres, tenant president of the Smith Houses, said she was chosen by other community members to take Cancel to lunch and urge her to get in the race. “It was the community,” explained Torres, “not any elected official, not any club. It was this community of leaders who got together to say, ‘Alice, we need for you to run.’” Nancy Ortiz, tenant president of the Vladeck Houses, also spoke today, saying, “It is our community and we want someone to represent us from our community.”
Last week, Yuh-Line Niou was endorsed by two local representatives, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh. Other prominent backers include City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Sen. Brad Hoylman, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Council member Ritchie Torres and an array of labor unions with ties to the Working Families Party.
UPDATE 2:01 p.m. Here’s reaction from Yuh-Line Niou’s campaign:
We knew that Shelly Silver’s allies would be working to elect Alice Cancel, so we’re not surprised to see Margaret Chin lining up with the status quo to stand against reform. Margaret’s support has a two week expiration date because she is supporting a different candidate in September, and this is exactly the kind of cynical politics and deal-making that has led to so much voter anger at Albany. In fact, Yuh-Line Niou has generated massive support from progressive leaders in this district and across the city because she represents a break from the past and a new, more responsive voice for downtown residents. That’s why she’s been endorsed by the UFT, the Hotel Trades Council, Tenants PAC, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressmember Grace Meng, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, State Senators Dan Squadron and Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. Lower Manhattan deserves better than clubhouse politics and cynical gamesmanship.