A day after City Council member Margaret Chin emerged victorious from a tough re-election battle, downtown political observers are mulling over the lessons learned from the contentious campaign.
When the votes were all counted in District 1, which includes the Lower East Side and most of Lower Manhattan below East Houston Street, Chin had won by 17 points. She came in with 58.5% (8303 votes) to 41.5% (5891 votes) for Jenifer Rajkumar.
An early look at the vote breakdown at various polling sites, shows there was heavy turnout in Chinatown, Chin’s political base, and she did very well there. Preliminary tallies from Chin’s campaign, for example, indicated she beat Rajkumar 442-145 at M.S. 131 on Hester Street. As expected, Chin had a rough time in the South Village and Soho, where many residents were displeased with the Council member’s handling of the NYU expansion plan and the proposed Soho BID. But Chin did have significant support in those neighborhoods; she even won two election districts near NYU (on East 10th Street and on Washington Square West). At the same time, Rajkumar was competitive throughout the district. An unofficial count in the Grand Street Cooperatives (courtesy of the Truman Democratic Club), had Chin with 56% and Rajkumar with 43% (in the four apartment complexes plus P.S. 110 and P.S. 134, about 1500 people cast ballots).
Last night, Chin told supporters gathered at the Chatham Square Restaurant in Chinatown, “it’s just so amazing that we are able to bring everyone together for this solid, strong victory for Lower Manhattan.” But the scene was a lot more muted than the celebration that took place four years ago, when Chin made history by becoming the first Chinese American to represent Chinatown. Mostly, she seemed relieved that the ordeal was over. Even some ardent supporters were surprised that Rajkumar, a political newcomer, received nearly 6,000 votes.
Today Rajkumar told us, “I’m proud of my campaign, proud of the results, especially given that my opponent was backed by the (political) establishment and the real estate industry.” Rajkumar was re-elected as a district leader, so she will continue to have a platform for future political aspirations. In our conversation, she made it clear she intends to “stay involved in community issues,” but Rajkumar was not specific about her future plans.
Meanwhile, Chin’s foes — and even some of her supporters — hope the hard-fought re-election battle will be something of a wake-up call.
Everyone concedes the district is difficult to manage, in part, because it’s so diverse; it includes some of the richest as well as poorest neighborhoods in New York City. Opponents of the Council member criticized her management of land use issues, arguing that she hadn’t fought hard enough against real estate interests and had not fully collaborated with community organizations.
Not everyone agrees with this assessment. Throughout the district, many constituents praise Chin for her tireless work on behalf of low and middle-income tenants. In the days before the Democratic Primary, one longtime community activist told us Chin is one of the very few elected officials in Lower Manhattan with the courage to tell constituents “no” when she doesn’t agree with their point of view. He called her an exemplary public servant who doesn’t “play politics as usual, telling people what they want to hear.” This style of leadership has won her both friends and foes. Chin has acknowledged that her first term was a big learning experience. She now must decide what lessons to carry with her in a second term on the Council.
On other note. There’s divided opinion today about the impact of Jobs for New York, a real estate industry-backed political action committee. The organization spent nearly $300,000 to send out mailers praising Chin and criticizing Rajkumar. Direct mail pieces charging that Rajkumar had fabricated portions of her resume, may have prompted some voters to choose Chin. But on the other hand, some of the Council member’s allies are convinced the real estate PAC’s involvement turned off some constituents and drove them to vote for Rajkumar.
In the weeks ahead, Chin has the opportunity to help reign in the real estate industry’s involvement in City Council politics; along with Council member Brad Lander, she has promised to push legislation imposing controls on their fundraising activities.