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One Week to Go: Margaret Chin and Christopher Marte Battle For District 1 Council Seat

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There’s only a week plus one day remaining until Election Day in New York City. Here in Lower Manhattan, voters will be called on to decide whether City Council member Margaret Chin should represent District 1 for one more term.

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Chin faces three challengers, including Republican Bryan Jung; Christopher Marte, running on the Independence Party line; and Aaron Foldenauer, who’s running on the Liberal Party line. Most of the attention has been focused on Marte, a political newcomer who lost to Chin in the Democratic Primary by just 222 votes.

Here’s an update on where things stand in the contentious campaign.

After mostly ignoring attacks from her opponents in the primary campaign, Chin has been fighting back in recent weeks and trying to galvanize her supporters. Last week, she rallied with leaders from Planned Parenthood, and other backers, including City Council member Helen Rosenthal (co-chair of the City Council’s Women’s Caucus) and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Their message: Chin must be re-elected to continue advocating for progressive policies, especially in a year that will see fewer women holding seats in the City Council.

In a similar rally held Oct. 19, Chin was surrounded by Latino elected officials and community leaders, who touted her record of fighting for immigrants. Supporters at the City Hall rally included U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez and several Latino members of the City Council.

Margaret Chin held a fundraiser in Chinatown Oct. 17.
Margaret Chin held a fundraiser in Chinatown Oct. 17.

In an interview earlier this month, we talked with Chin about the surprisingly close primary vote. The two-term Council member said she was feeling optimistic about the general election, and focused on turning out the vote. “We have more opportunity to strengthen our district,” said Chin, when people turn out at the polls and participate in the political process.”

Asked why she believes the primary election was so competitive, Chin cited low turnout in a year in which there wasn’t much excitement at the top of the ticket (the mayor faced lackluster challengers). But she also argued that her opponents were spreading misinformation about her record. “They didn’t get the true facts,” said Chin of Lower Manhattan voters. “That’s not healthy (for District 1). My job now is to get the message out.”

During the campaign, Chin has been repeatedly criticized for her positions on two big development issues. One is her support for building senior affordable housing on the Elizabeth Street Garden site. The other is over-development in the Two Bridges area, where Chin has been attacked for acting two slowly and too timidly to stop three proposed mega-towers.

In an interview with NY1, Chin addressed the Elizabeth Street Garden development controversy, saying, “I was elected to make tough choices, and it might have cost me some votes – but it was the right thing to do.”  In speaking with us, she elaborated on the issue, explaining that someone contacts her office almost every day in search of an affordable apartment. “We have to commit to building more affordable housing on every site that is available,” said Chin. “There is such a great need.” Previously, the Chin campaign asserted that Marte was “under the influence” of “well-funded special interests” and that, in the case of the garden, he had taken, “the side of privileged people over the low-income seniors who are in desperate need of places to live.”

As for the looming towers in the Two Bridges area, Chin pointed to a zoning change she and the borough president are pushing to give the local community more control over what is eventually built. Asked about criticism that the strategy took too long to come together, Chin said it took time to research the legal options and to build support in the Council for the plan. “People don’t always see the work that goes into legislation,” she added. Referring to her political opponents, Chin added, “What have they done? It’s easy to criticize. I’m proud of the work that we have done.”

Christopher Marte spoke at a rally organized by tenants of 83 Bowery last month.
Christopher Marte spoke at a rally organized by tenants of 83-85 Bowery last month.

While Chin argues that she has repeatedly stood up for tenants against real estate developers, Marte has slammed her for allegedly failing to represent all parts of District 1. On Oct. 23, he offered support to residents of 83-85 Bowery, who have been tangling with their landlord in court.

Last week, his supporters in the Two Bridges area and in Chinatown marched through several neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, converging at Chatham Square in Chinatown. Marte told those gathered,“We are all here today because our future does not lie in the shadows of luxury developments. It lies in this movement here. Never before have we all come together, but we are setting a precedent that can’t be broken.” A big issue for many of those taking part in the march: Approval by the city of the full Chinatown Working Group Plan, a sweeping rezoning proposal. While the de Blasio administration rejected the proposal as too expansive, some local activists (and Marte) have blamed Chin for allegedly blocking the plan.

In a separate event, Marte rallied with Elizabeth Street Garden supporters Oct. 21, saying, “Our community is best served by alternate site proposals, a win-win grassroots solution that fulfills both the neighborhood’s dire need for open space, and the equally urgent need for affordable housing.”

Finally, the Villager newspaper weighed in with an enthusiastic endorsement of Marte last week, writing, “He always sides with the community and he always has the community’s back.” The newspaper, which also endorsed Marte before the Democratic Primary, said of the sitting Council member, “Too many times Chin has let down or actively worked against the communities in her district’s northern end.”

Since Marte received several write-in votes from the Independence Party, he was able to claim a spot on the general election ballot. But Marte told us some time ago he is accepting no assistance from the Independence Party, which is seen by local Democrats as aiding and abetting the State Republican Party.

Marte has also dismissed charges from the Chin campaign that he is condoning alleged voter fraud by a key Chinatown supporter. The supporter, Steven Wong, admitted to listing a Chinatown address on absentee voter forms, even though he doesn’t live in District 1.  The attack on Wong from the Chin team is one indication that the Council member is at least somewhat concerned about her support in Chinatown, where pro-Chin voters have historically turned out in big numbers. Council member Chin won the neighborhood in the primary, but Marte held his own.

Most political insiders believe Marte faces a huge challenge in the general election against an incumbent running as a Democrat. Out of 110.645 registered voters in District 1, nearly 69,000 are Democrats.  Marte, however, has the money to run a robust campaign. The most recent campaign finance filings show he has nearly $90,000 on hand, compared with close to $57,000 for the Chin campaign. Aaron Foldenauer has about $21,000 in his campaign account, while Republican Bryan Jung has just $100 at his disposal.

Click here if you would like to find your poll site and review sample ballots. The Manhattan Neighborhood Network has biographies and video statements for each candidate.

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