Chin challenger raises $37K for Council race

Jenifer Rajkumar
Jenifer Rajkumar

BY JOSH ROGERS  |  Democratic District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar hasn’t announced her plans yet to unseat City Councilmember Margaret Chin later this year, but she has already raised more than $37,000 for her campaign.

Rajkumar said last week that she is “exploring” a possible run, and would wait until a formal announcement before discussing the campaign’s issues. She and Chin submitted their fundraising numbers to the city Campaign Finance Board last week.

Rajkumar said she has been raising money for only two weeks.

“I am very pleased and moved and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support right in the beginning,” she said.

Rajkumar trails Chin, who has raised almost $97,000 from slightly more than 800 donors, but it is not hard for challengers to raise enough money to run a credible campaign. Under the city’s generous public finance system, donations up to $175 are matched at a 6-to-1 ratio.

Rajkumar, 30, a Battery Park City resident and an attorney, defeated her Gateway Plaza neighbor, Linda Belfer, in last year’s district leader race.

One of Chin’s donors, John Fratta, a former district leader and a longtime ally of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said he expects to support Rajkumar someday for some office — just not this year’s Council race.

“She’s very sharp,” Fratta said of Rajkumar, adding, “In politics one year you’re with me and the next you’re not. I do look forward to supporting Jenifer for something.”

He said he admired her “youth and vibrancy” but that Chin deserves re-election.

“Margaret has been a breath of fresh air,” he said. “She’s always fighting for what’s best for Lower Manhattan and Little Italy.”

Similarly, Adam Malitz, a Rajkumar supporter and friend from Young Democrats of New York, pointed to her youth.

“Jenifer would be a young voice in politics and does have some fresh ideas,” said Malitz, a Tribeca resident on the executive board of Community Board 1 and Downtown Independent Democrats.

He did not have any criticisms of Chin and said it would be good for Lower Manhattan to have a contested race.

For her part, Chin, 58, said with the expected matching funds, she is close to having the $168,000 limit she could spend in 2013 for a primary.

Only 19 of her donations were of $1,000 or more and none were over $2,000. Her bigger donors include Margery-Archie Gottesman of Edison Properties, whose big development proposal in Hudson Square, is facing a rezoning; Henry Buhl, a leader in the effort to create a business improvement district in Soho; and four members of the Gindi family, owners of the famed Century 21 department store across from the World Trade Center, who gave a combined $5,000.

A look at Chin’s donor list shows many donations under $100 and many from people with Asian surnames — more than 100 are named Chen, for example. She also has support from community leaders throughout the district, raking in small donations from people like Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of Community Board 1, and Tobi Bergman, who runs P3, a youth sports program on Pier 40.

Harold Reed, a C.B. 1 member who died unexpectedly two weeks ago in Hong Kong, donated $500.

Councilmember Margaret Chin at a tree mulching event two weeks ago in Bowling Green.  Downtown Express photo by Milo Hess
Councilmember Margaret Chin at a tree mulching event two weeks ago in Bowling Green. Downtown Express photo by Milo Hess

By contrast, most of Rajkumar’s donations so far, nearly $30,000, have come from herself and eight others who have given at least $2,000. Rajkumar gave herself $8,250, the maximum allowed to participate in the public finance system. Others are limited to $2,750 donations to her campaign. She said four of her larger donors are family members, and the rest are friends and legal colleagues.

Also included in her donors are Jeanne Wilcke, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, which has been searching for an opponent for Chin, and two of Rajkumar’s neighbors, Tom Goodkind, a D.I.D. member, and Michael Fortenbaugh, who also runs the marina near their Battery Park City homes. PJ Kim, who lost to Chin four years ago, and David Gruber, chairperson of C.B. 2, contributed as well.

Rajkumar has also given a combined $210 to Julie Menin, the former C.B. 1 chairperson running for borough president; Yetta Kurland, running to succeed Council Speaker Christine Quinn in the neighboring district; Borough President Scott Stringer, now a candidate for city comptroller; and Michael Treybich, a Young Democrat running for Council in Coney Island.

Chin and Rajkumar attended last week’s D.I.D. meeting at which Chin was one of the invited speakers. The club has always supported Chin’s opponents in her runs for the Council, although D.I.D. gave her glowing praise short of an endorsement in her successful run in 2009 to defeat Councilmember Alan Gerson.

As Chin spoke, Rajkumar sat close by, paying close attention while taking a few notes.

Other club members politely questioned Chin on issues like the proposed Soho BID and New York University’s development plans, which passed the Council last year. On the BID, she said she got organizers to exempt residential co-ops from the building owners’ tax and to do better outreach to neighbors.

On N.Y.U., Chin said the Council got the university to provide space to allow building a public school, scale back development by 25 percent (“no, no, no,” a few in the audience said), ensure permanent rent protections at 505 LaGuardia Place and expand open space in the area.

District Leader Paul Newell wondered if she got the best possible agreement.

“If there was a better deal, Paul, we would have fought for it,” Chin replied.