Chin begins: School zoning, stop signs and traffic on agenda


By Julie Shapiro

A cheerful Margaret Chin gave more hugs than handshakes Monday afternoon, at one of her first public events since she officially took office Jan. 1.

The event, a press conference led by new Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, included many of the housing activists Chin worked with in her last job at Asian Americans for Equality. After the formal press conference concluded, the activists circled around Chin to embrace her and tease her gently, treating her more like an admired big sister than a newly minted political official.

“So, do we have to call you Councilmember now?” one woman asked her.

“Councilmember Mar-garet,” another pronounced.

“See,” Chin told them, beaming, “I still get to work with you guys.”

Chin appeared relaxed and confident this week as she settled into the position she has long sought: Chin ran unsuccessfully for the First Council District seat three times before winning on her fourth try. She replaces former Councilmember Alan Gerson, who served two terms but lost to Chin in the Democratic primary last fall. Chin’s election marks the first time a Chinese American has represented Chinatown in the New York City Council.

Chin’s hectic first week in office has included public events, private meetings and dozens of details, from phone numbers to paint colors. She is still hiring her staff and moving into her two offices, a legislative one at 250 Broadway and a district one for constituent services in Chatham Green, on Park Row. Also on tap this week: a working group on the former Deutsche Bank building; a meeting with the commissioner of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit and another with the Institute for the Puerto Rican and Hispanic Elderly; Chin’s first City Council meeting; and an appearance before her Chinatown family association.

With so much going on, Chin has not mapped out her top priorities for her first month in office, but she said there is no shortage of issues to address.

One is the imminent elementary school rezoning in Lower Manhattan. Chin said she has received many e-mails from parents, but she likely will not take a position on which of the city’s zoning proposals is best. Chin did say, though, that people who live across from a school should be zoned for that school, which means she would not support the city’s Option 3, which sends some families who live across from P.S. 234 in Tribeca to P.S. 89 in Battery Park City instead.

Asked if there are any other issues she plans to take on immediately, Chin listed a few transportation concerns, including getting a stop sign or traffic light at Greenwich and Duane Sts., near the entrance to Washington Market Park. The community has long advocated for a change to that intersection, saying speeding cars pose a danger to pedestrians there, but the city has said there have not been enough accidents to merit a stop sign or a light.

“The government cannot make that kind of excuse,” Chin said this week. “They’ve got to come up with some solutions.”

At de Blasio’s press conference on Monday, where the public advocate announced he had created a new Community Organizing Department, Chin said she would work with activist groups on transportation and other issues if city agencies were not responsive.

Even before she was elected, Chin offered constituent services out of her campaign office, and she continued that this week. A volunteer lawyer staffed the office last Saturday to dole out advice, and Chin made phone calls herself when a family came in upset over their relative’s recent arrest.

Soon, the services will move into Chin’s new district office at 165 Park Row, suite 11. On Monday, the office was bare except for a coat of pale blue paint on the walls, a color Chin picked out. She expected furniture, computers and staff to arrive this week.

Amid the flurry of details and decisions, Chin sounded a little caught off guard on Monday when asked if she would support Christine Quinn for re-election as Council speaker.

“I haven’t thought about it,” Chin said.

Quinn attended Chin’s inauguration, but Jake Itzkowitz, Chin’s spokesperson, said Quinn had not asked for Chin’s support. Chin voted for Quinn two days later, and the speaker was re-elected to the Council overwhelmingly.

Between the long hours and many parties and meetings Chin has been attending, there have also been some quieter moments. Chin and her husband, Alan Tung, a public school teacher, spent New Year’s Eve in their Financial District home. She watched the clock and when it turned to midnight, she hugged her husband: Now she was officially a member of the Council. Her phone soon beeped with text messages from friends offering congratulations.

She and Tung have also caught a couple Broadway shows recently, since Tung loves musicals. They saw “Memphis” last Sunday and “Finian’s Rainbow” in December, and both were excellent, Chin said.

One of the biggest perks of Chin’s new job is her title, which gives her more clout at meetings than she is accustomed to. While some of her longtime friends joke about whether they have to call her “Councilmember,” Chin isn’t about to tell everyone to call her “Margaret” instead.

“I’m going to use it to my advantage,” she said of the title. “I love the sound of it.”

Chin’s office can be reached at 212-587-3159.