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Final City Council Debate: PJ Kim Spoiler Rumor, Term Limits, and Contributions

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6a01127920a5dc28a40120a4f0cb8b970b-800wi-1 City Council candidate PJ Kim discovered this past week that receiving high profile endorsements is both a blessing and a curse. Kim, a newcomer to downtown politics, won the support of the New York Times editorial board last week. On Thursday night, perhaps as a result of that endorsement, he was on the hot seat. At the final CD1 debate in Tribeca, Kim’s status as the young upstart taking on more established opponents, became a topic of conversation. Picking up on rumors that Kim is (allegedly) a “spoiler” with ties to City Councilmember Alan Gerson, audience member Neil Fabricant (a Margaret Chin supporter) asked the following question:

Fabricant: I’ve lived in the district for almost 25 years. I know or know of everybody at the table. I have never heard your name before. So because of my concern about removing the present incumbent for the term limits deal, among many other things, but primarily term limits, I’m concerned that you’re a newcomer to the district. I understand you were a Republican, registered until 2006, worked for Bill Frist and so on and so forth. And I know that Margaret Chin, who I support, has a very strong track record, so I worry that your emergence in this campaign will serve as a spoiler in this race and allow Mr. Gerson to slip in. That’s my question to you. Aren’t you really a spoiler in this race?

This is how Kim responded:

Kim: I’m actually glad you asked that question because what Neal just mentioned has been circulating in the blogs and some very anonymous attack pieces. I want to set the record clear. First of all, if I was a spoiler, it would be very interesting for a spoiler to get the endorsement of the New York Times, the New York Press, DC37 and Citizens Union, to have collected the most petition signatures of any of the other candidates except for the incumbent. I also want to address this issue of being a Republican. i did intern for Bill Frist. I was 17. He was my home state senator in Tennessee. And some of these charges that are made I think don’t recognize the fact that the work that I’ve done in social justice, the values that I have, the work that I’ve done for democrats around the country in the past years, since I grew up and left Tennessee, some of those attacks distract from the issues in this race. No one in my view is entitled to be the anointed candidate against the incumbent. The subtext of what Neal just talked about in terms of being a spoiler is that it’s going to divide the Asian vote. Let’s be clear here and call a spade a spade, and the fact that people believe there should only be one Asian candidate in this race and I was the victim of a frivolous lawsuit (filed by Chin) that we beat back and the judge (a referee, actually) challenged them and recommended sanctions against them. I’m thankful that I’m past that. The fact is, this is the fastest growing area of the entire city. Of the 60-thousand registered democrats, 13-thousand of us have registered in the past three years. Now we can dwell on the past and divisive politics and talk about what happened in high school but I’m glad we have this opportunity to talk about the truth and give the voters a chance to make their own decision.

Yesterday, City Hall News had more context on how that rumor about Kim being a spoiler got started. The article pointed out that Kim, who’s Korean, is not expected to draw many supporters from Chin, the only Chinese candidate in the race. Instead, he may very well cut into Gerson’s support in some of the more affluent neighborhoods in the district, including the Financial District and Tribeca. This is what Chin had to say about the issue:

Chin: I am running a very strong grassroots campaign, and the aspiration of my community is there and people have rallied and supported me and have come out. If you just look at the number of contributors, I have the largest one across the city, over more than all the City Council candidates throughout the city. But I think you should read the Downtown Express and Villager endorsement of me . It speaks to the truth and it speaks to the aspiration of all of us in district 1. 

If you’d like to hear more from the debate, here’s the full audio recording:

Download STE-005


There were two other exchanges worth highlighting. The first concerned incumbent Gerson’s decision to support Mayor Bloomberg’s drive to extend term limits. Here’s what challenger Pete Gleason had to say about the issue:

Gleason: I sit here proud to have the endorsement of one of the icons of Tribeca, Jean Grillo, the district leader. Jean shared with me, she was on a conference call with the incumbent and the incumbent said, we are going to put forth this bill to put a referendum to the people that we know is going nowhere but I’m going to vote on that. And Miss Grillo, during this conference call told the incumbent, if you do that you’ve lost my support and respect. We need real transparency in government. The way this term limit situation was handled was egregious… By taking away the voice of the people he should be taken out of office. 

Gerson was not allowed to respond to the allegations, and chose not to address them in his closing statement. We discussed the matter with him after the debate – what he had to say in a moment. But first, a fuller explanation of the charges Gleason made. A few weeks ago, we spoke with Grillo, a former Gerson supporter, now backing Gleason:

Gerson told me Grillo’s version of events is untrue. He said there was no attempt to deceive his constituents. Gerson argued that, if he wanted to gain political advantage, he would have simply voted against the mayor. He insisted that pushing (unsuccessfully) for the referendum and then supporting the extension of term limits was a courageous decision (one he knew might hurt him politically) and the only way to assure that an honest debate could occur as to whether Bloomberg deserved a third term. During Thursday’s debate, this is how he explained his thinking on the term limits issue:

Incidentally, Grillo is running for re-election as a district leader. Earlier this year, Gerson decided to back a rival candidate, Noel Jefferson (more on the district leader races tomorrow). Grillo is a paid staff member of the Gleason campaign. According to campaign finance disclosure statements, she has received numerous payments as a consultant.

In the final exchange we’ll highlight from the debate, the candidates were asked about their biggest financial contributors. No bombshells, but the answers were interesting:

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