BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Claiming she has a prior commitment that she cannot break, Councilmember Margaret Chin is declining to participate in this Thursday’s District 1 candidates debate sponsored by The Villager at Judson Church.
However, the debate will go on as scheduled, at the 55 Washington Square South house of worship, featuring the other three Democrats in the primary-election race: Aaron Foldenauer, Dashia Imperiale and Christopher Marte.
A chair and nameplate will be left for Chin, though, in case she changes her mind at the last minute.
According to her campaign manager, Paul Leonard, Chin has a “constituent outreach” event scheduled at the Hillman Houses on Grand St. at the same time — 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. — as The Villager debate at Judson on Aug. 31.
“Margaret will not be able to attend due to a previously scheduled engagement with her constituents, which has already been confirmed,” Leonard said in an e-mail this Tuesday.
In fact, however, that followed a period of several days of negotiations on the phone and by e-mail during which Chin tried to change the debate’s conditions to better suit her — namely, shorter exposure to the public and fewer questions from The Villager.
The negotiations followed several days during which Leonard did not respond at all to this newspaper’s repeated e-mails and phone messages asking for the reason why Chin was declining. He only finally responded after The Villager said it would post an online article saying Chin was declining to attend the debate.
In short, instead of a two-hour debate moderated solely by The Villager, Leonard said Chin wanted the event cut down to one hour — ostensibly so she could attend the Grand St. event — and also that it be co-moderated by Ed Litvak, editor of the Lo-Down, a Lower East Side news blog.
The Villager initially decided against acquiescing to both conditions — either having Litvak as a co-moderator or a shorter format. Told that, Leonard responded that Chin had to have at least one of her conditions met in order to participate. The Villager then agreed to cut it down to one-and-a-half hours, but Leonard said the answer was still no.
On Wednesday, on second thought, The Villager decided it would be good just to have Chin there, even with a shortened event — so that she could at least answer to the public on some issues — and that Litvak could even co-moderate — basically, agreeing to Chin’s two conditions — but Leonard, at that point, said no.
For the record, reached on Wednesday morning after Chin’s final refusal, Litvak said he is actually “taking a pass” on moderating candidate debates and forums this election cycle because it’s time-consuming.
Chin has ducked a number of candidate forums this season — notably ones where she expected a hostile reception — including Downtown Independent Democrats’ candidates night and last Friday’s District 1 forum hosted by the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
Told of the news, Chin’s opponents all slammed her for skipping Thursday’s Villager debate.
Marte said, “Councilmember Chin’s absence from this debate is consistent with her track record of not engaging with her constituents. She was not there for the community during the N.Y.U. negotiation, nor does she stand with residents when they organize to save Elizabeth St. Garden. Her refusal to be held accountable for these decisions at a debate demonstrates her knowledge that these were both instances of betrayal. She will continue to prioritize development and real-estate interests over those of the community — which is why the election on Sept. 12 is critical to preserve our district.”
Marte added that he was just endorsed by The New York City Asian-American Democratic Club.
For his part, Foldenauer said, “I am ahead of Margaret Chin in the only scientific poll taken in this race, and Margaret Chin is running scared. Worse yet, Margaret Chin also canceled her appearance at the last minute for the only televised debate.”
Foldenauer was referring to a debate recorded by Manhattan Neighborhood Network two weeks ago. Instead of that debate, Chin attended an event at which she was endorsed by tenant leaders of several New York City Housing Authority complexes in her district — something that was planned far in advance, according to Leonard.
“Based on Chin’s corrupt and ineffective leadership, I am not surprised” that she isn’t attending The Villager debate, Foldenauer said. “Margaret Chin is incapable of defending her record, and she knows it.
“Our elected representatives should be accountable to the people,” he continued. “You would think that Margaret would at least pretend to speak to the people in advance of a hotly contested election, but her arrogance is beyond measure. Chin’s failure to show up will cost her on Election Day.
“It’s time to end pay-to-play politics in City Hall,” Foldenauer declared. “Margaret Chin has failed the citizens of Lower Manhattan and her record is indefensible. Little wonder that Chin is refusing to show up at candidate debates.”
“I am not surprised!” Imperiale said of Chin’s plan to be a no-show. “She has been ducking these forums both because she is not liked by the community and people are finally able to see the evidence of reality around them — affordable housing that is not affordable. She claims to protect seniors but in 80 Rutgers St., 20 seniors are being displaced because of her failed administration. Her legacy will be one of displacement and being in donor service not public service.”
Regarding the displacement issue she referred to, Imperiale explained, “There are four additional megatowers being proposed near the Extell tower on the waterfront. One of those towers will be adjacent to 80 Rutgers, which is a senior building. Elderly tenants will need to be displaced — rumored to be the A and B lines — to build that tower.
“However, these seniors have no knowledge of this because no one is allowed in the building to do outreach to them, and the person who is supposed to do the outreach is the staff counselor, who represents the management company — the very people who sold the property to the developers.”
In other news about the race, during the MNN debate, Foldenauer accused Marte, who is in his late 20s, of never having voted in an election until last year. In return, Marte noted that Foldenauer was a registered Republican until last year.
Asked about his voting record by The Villager, Marte said, “I was traveling in remote China in 2008, the first presidential primary I was allowed to vote in, so the 2016 primary was the first time I voted here.
“The same way Trump woke up a lot of voters last year, Sheldon Silver had a similar effect on me. When I was coaching the boys and girls basketball teams at MS131, the school didn’t have enough money to afford uniforms. When the news broke about Silver stealing millions, I realized that it was these kids who were suffering the consequences. That’s when I decided to take action.
“I am proud to say that I have always been a registered Democrat who has a track record of fighting for progressive ideals.”
Asked if he had voted in 2012 — since he didn’t mention that in his initial response — Marte answered, “No, I didn’t vote in 2012. I regret not being more political at that time, but I believe the most important aspect of civic life is what you do for the other 364 days of the year.
“My commitment to this community has never wavered, and that’s why I’ve been able to get wide support from our district’s most vocal activists.”
Indeed, Marte is probably the candidate most viewed as the “anti-Chin” in The Villager’s coverage area, with the widest support among local community activists, at least those not aligned with Chin.
“I have spent my entire campaign,” Marte said, “working to educate residents about the steps the City Council should be taking to stop overdevelopment, strengthen our small businesses, and bring transparency and accountability to our elected officials. It is public record that until last year Aaron Foldenauer was a Republican, but this is not a talking point in my campaign because it is not why I am running. We face the I.D.C. in the state Senate and should not have similar individuals infiltrating the City Council,” he said, referring to a group of rogue Democrats in Albany who have formed a bloc with the Republicans, allowing them to sway close votes on bills.
Foldenauer, an attorney, has lived in Lower Manhattan for 12 years. Asked if he was previously a registered G.O.P. voter, he said, “Yes, I was! I was raised in a Republican family in Virginia, but for me, it’s always been about the person, not the party.
“I’ve voted for Democratic candidates for many years, and the Republican Party has become increasingly broken in recent years. Donald Trump was the last straw. That’s why I made my longstanding status as a Democrat official last year and decided to run for office.
“My message to people is that, ‘All politics is local,’ and it’s time to focus on reform at the local level. I was proud to vote for Hillary Clinton last year, who herself was also previously a Republican,” he added.
Told that Chin was dodging The Villager debate, Terri Cude, chairperson of Community Board 2, said, “I’m sorry to hear that. I would like to see and hear from all of the candidates — the incumbent and all of the challengers. It’s just good when issues get aired and candidates say, ‘This is what I’ve done. This is what I’m going to do.’ ”
Sean Sweeney, a leader in the Downtown Independent Democrats political club, noted of Chin’s event on Thursday at the Hillman Houses, that it’s where fallen Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver lives.
“She’d rather be with Shelly than with her political constituents,” he scoffed.
Regarding Chin’s snubbing The Villager event, Sweeney responded with one of his trademark zingers:
“I think Trump has more respect for the press than she does.”
Chin does plan to attend a candidates forum on Tuesday on Grand St. organized by the Lower East Side’s settlement houses.
However, Marte said that one will be “on friendly turf” for her. He also noted that Chin allocates city funding to those organizations, as well.