It was a hectic weekend for Margaret Chin and Jenifer Rajkumar, who are competing to represent the Lower East Side and the rest of District 1 in the City Council.
Tomorrow, we’ll sum up not only the local City Council race but also offer our LES-centric take on the campaigns for public advocate and borough president. But first, here’s a look how the candidates are spending the final hours before tomorrow’s Democratic Primary, and assessment of the challenges ahead for both candidates.
The two candidates approached the final weekend of campaigning in different ways. Chin held two high profile “get-out-the-vote” events — one on Saturday in Tribeca and another Sunday at Columbus Park in Chinatown. Standing alongside Chin, in front of Independence Plaza, Council member Dan Garodnick (a likely candidate for Speaker), said her opponents had “thrown the kitchen sink at her and every other sink in the house,” but added, “I know she will prevail because she is always there fighting for her constituents.” Diane Lapson, head of the Independence Plaza North Tenants Association, also spoke in favor of Chin and said of the opposition, “it’s a negative campaign from someone who has never done anything.”
Rajkumar, a civil rights lawyer and West Side district leader, did not hold large campaign rallies over the weekend. Instead, she and her staff focused on one-on-one contact with voters throughout the district — in person and on the phone. During a visit to her campaign office yesterday afternoon, Rajkumar expressed confidence that her message is getting through to voters who have become dismayed with Chin over her handling of several large development issues. In an interview with The Lo-Down last month, Rajkumar accused Chin of doing too little to protect Independence Plaza, as a last bastion of affordable housing. During her final appeal, Rajkumar is emphasizing her experience as an attorney and community activist and is arguing that Chin’s experience has yielded few positive results for downtown residents.
There’s no polling in City Council campaigns, so it’s anyone’s guess which candidate has the advantage. In 2009, when she defeated the incumbent Council member and three other opponents, Chin collected around 4600 votes out of nearly 12,000 ballots that were cast. Rajkumar is expected to do well in Soho and the South Village, where opposition to Chin’s handling of the NYU expansion plan and the proposed Soho BID has been significant.
Four years ago, Chin did extremely well in Chinatown (around half her votes came from the neighborhood). She benefited from strong turnout, fueled by John Liu’s successful campaign for city comptroller. This time around, Liu has little chance of prevailing in the mayoral contest, but much of Chinatown is still very much in his corner, and Chin will be helped at least somewhat by turnout for the scandal-plagued Liu. On the other hand, Council member Chin will face opposition from some people angered by her strong advocacy for the Chinatown BID. It remains to be seen whether that will be an important factor tomorrow.
On the Lower East Side, where Chin did surprisingly well in 2009, she’s being aided this time around by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s political apparatus, but given the Speaker’s own political problems, his personal support has been low key. Silver’s staff was a constant presence with Chin over the weekend and the Speaker has been leafleting the Grand Street Co-ops. Community activists who have called Chin “racist” for her stance on the Seward Park redevelopment project, could be a benefit to Rajkumar on the LES, but it’s unclear how many voters they’ll be able to turn out.
A key neighborhood to watch: the Financial District, Rajkumar’s political base and an area that has seen large population gains in the past decade. In her 2011 campaign for district leader, downtown politicos were impressed by her success in engaging new voters. Elsewhere she’ll be aided by political clubs such as Village Independent Democrats and Downtown Independent Democrats, who will be working to get out the vote on her behalf tomorrow. Her campaign staff, hoping to take a page from the Obama playbook, is focusing on a “data driven” ground game, identifying residents who have not voted in the past.
At the same time, it’s not easy to unseat an incumbent. Chin has the strong support of most elected officials; she has political club backing of her own, as well as support from the Working Families Party, most labor unions and the tenant leaders of the Lower East Side public housing developments. One other factor: a large scale third-party campaign by Jobs for New York, a real estate-backed PAC, to re-elect Chin. As of the latest campaign filings, the group has spent around $280,000 on mailers in support of the Council member and in opposition to Rajkumar. You can see the impact of their money here: