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On SPURA, Silver Faces Tough Choices

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As we noted in an earlier post today, Community Board 3 is preparing for a big vote later this month regarding the future of the Seward Park redevelopment site. Affordable housing advocates and Grand Street co-op residents don’t agree on much. But there’s one point no one disputes: a redevelopment plan will only go forward with the support of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Silver has steadfastly declined to express an opinion on SPURA, saying he wants Community Board 3’s “process to take its course before commenting.”    As the Villager noted last week, “he has (historically) been perceived as opposing low-income development on SPURA, though he has done so in more of a Sphinx-like, taciturn manner, rather than overtly.”

However, the political landscape is a bit different in 2011 than it was in 2003, the last time the city floated a SPURA plan. For one thing, there’s SHARE, a group of Grand Street moderates willing to accept some affordable housing. In the past, the loudest voices within the cooperatives (Silver’s political base) strongly opposed apartments for low income residents on SPURA.  Another factor: last year’s election of City Councilmember Margaret Chin, a lifelong affordable housing activist whose political base is Chinatown, a neighborhood increasingly important to Silver’s long-term political fortunes.

With all of these factors in mind, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at where Sheldon Silver’s support comes from within the 64th Assembly District.  Several neighborhoods, including the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Tribeca, Soho and the Financial District, make up the district.  In the mainstream media, the co-ops are often portrayed as the key to Silver’s power. But how important are they, really?

Let’s take a look at the 2008 Democratic Primary, in which Silver was challenged by two candidates (Paul Newell and Luke Henry).  Out of more than 50,000 registered Democrats in the 64th Assembly District, only around 10,000 voted. Silver won easily with 7037 votes (2401 pulled the lever for Newell, 891 chose Henry).

In the four co-op complexes on Grand Street, Silver picked up about 1600 votes (another 600 or so opted for one of the other candidates). Beyond Grand Street, about 2500 Lower East Side residents (most of whom live in public or subsidized housing), voted for the Speaker.  In Chinatown,  he got just under one-thousand votes.  Silver’s support was strong on the west side, especially in Battery Park City and Tribeca.  The bottom line: the Speaker is a force to be reckoned with in every neighborhood.

A lot of downtown political observers believe any serious challenge to Silver’s supremacy would come from a candidate with strong ties to Chinatown (Ed Chen recently moved into the district to run against him in 2012).  Chin will almost certainly back Silver, bolstering his support in a key part of the district.  So for the moment, he might not have very much to worry about.

But no politician wants to risk angering any part of his political base — and on Grand Street — many of Silver’s constituents are increasingly at odds on the SPURA issue.   It’s tough to envision any scenario that would satisfy everyone.  Yet you’d be hard pressed to find any politician more skilled at the art of the deal. Silver has been navigating stormy political waters as long as anyone can remember.

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