BY TEQUILA MINSKY
It’s not often that you see a fire-eater, local musical talent and a Beat poet during a typical Zoom gathering, let alone a political fundraiser.
Yet in this pandemic year, more than 90 members and supporters of Downtown Independent Democrats (DID), all purposefully like-minded, enjoyed that kind of entertainment while Zooming during its recent annual fundraiser. Most of the attendees hail from the neighborhoods of the East Village, Lower East Side, Soho, Financial District and Tribeca.
Entertaining as well as serious, gala funds raised go to the programs, activities and actions of this progressive downtown political club.
“We want to connect the community and their interests to elected officials and support them,” says Richard Corman, president of DID, explaining how a political club helps get its endorsed candidates on the ballot, which is often very difficult without a club’s support. “We help get the necessary signatures.”
Corman puts the definition simply, “Political clubs are a way for people to take their values and translate them into action and focus on good governance and policy.” A club is also an official entity of its political party.
During the evening, four awards of honor were presented to those whose works represent the club’s progressive values.
DID awarded New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams Elected Official of the Year, “who has never stopped fighting for us.”
Williams never shies from taking a stand. He has participated in civil disobedience and been arrested numerous times while a member of City Council— demonstrating for the rights of immigrants, Occupy Wall Street, and during the Trump January 20, 2017 inauguration, he was arrested outside of Trump Tower.
Former New York City Census Director, Julie Menin received the award for being the 2020 New York City Civic Champion “who has made sure we all get counted.”
Menin, also a former chair of Community Board 1 and also a former Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment saw 61% direct responses for Census returns — a very high number for a major city—prior to enumerators going door-to-door to catch those who didn’t self-return the census.
DID recognized Eric Diaz, Director Vision Urbana, as the 2020 Downtown Pandemic Hero, “who has brought food to so many in need.” Drawing on experience with its food pantry program and connections in the community, the Lower East Side-based Vision Urbana has provided food for 1200 food insecure households on the Lower East Side particularly in NYCHA housing, during this Pandemic time.
And, not to ignore the arts and their legacy in enriching downtown neighborhoods, The Wooster Group received the Downtown Arts Award. Continuously creating since 1975, The Wooster Group is a company of artists who make work for theater, dance, and media, based in Soho at The Performing Garage, 33 Wooster Street, where they develop and perform work.
“We’re a very active club,” Corman reports, as he lists various activities from creating resolutions on key issues focused on downtown life —police overreach, integrating high schools— to postcard writing, and the text and phone banking that members participated in during this current election cycle. The current point of focus is the senatorial run-off election in Georgia.
Monies raised at the fundraiser go to direct political action: forums, endorsements, mail outreach; educational panels (e.g. on racial justice, how government really works); the website and other activities. Earlier this year DID bought hundreds of PPE packets of masks, gloves, and sanitizer, distributing them to downtown health workers during the supply shortage.
The evening’s virtual gala attracted district leaders and federal and state politicians that represent the various local neighborhoods, as well as judges and judicial candidates. It also paid homage to active DID member Tom Goodkind who recently died.