In the Democratic primary race for City Council in District 1, Margaret Chin is running for re-election to a third term and faces a challenge from three opponents: Christopher Marte, Dashia Imperiale and Aaron Foldenauer.
The district includes Lower Manhattan, the Financial District, Battery Park City, Tribeca, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho, Noho and the Washington Square area of the Village.
Normally, city councilmembers can only serve two four-year terms in a row. However, in 2008, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn conspired to do an end run around the will of the people by pushing the City Council to legislatively overturn both a 1993 referendum and another one in 1996 to uphold it.
Following Bloomberg and Quinn’s coup, New York residents in 2010 once again voted to re-impose a limit of two terms on city councilmembers, citywide elected officials and borough presidents — but Chin still retained the right to serve for three terms because the extension wasn’t taken away for councilmembers who already had it.
So, while Chin can run for a third term, it’s not the norm.
Beyond that, though, simply put, we don’t feel Chin deserves a third term. While she has ably served some portions of her district, she has alienated her constituents in large swaths of it, including the Village and Soho, as well as the Lower East Side waterfront area where enormous “supertall” towers are now beginning to sprout out of control. Chin has repeatedly failed to stand with residents in these neighborhoods on issues that are vitally important to their quality of life. And those times when she has made a show of support, it has always come too late — long after the time for action has passed and when it could have actually meant or done something. (See Niketown in Soho, Met Foods supermarket in Little Italy, etc. …)
In her district’s northern end, Chin let her constituents down by not being a forceful opponent of New York University’s “N.Y.U. 2031” expansion project on the university’s two South Village superblocks. Neighbors, preservationists and N.Y.U. faculty all wanted Chin to oppose the plan outright. Even if she had advocated for a vastly scaled-down project, it would at least have been something. But Chin hardly put up any resistance, and was steamrolled by City Hall and Quinn, which wanted the university expansion to happen.
Another issue where Chin failed to side with the community was the Soho Business Improvement District. Residents vehemently opposed creating the BID, feeling it would just further the “malling” of a neighborhood once renowned for its artist residents — and (what a concept!) its art. But Chin refused to side with the community and supported the BID.
One of the most recent and high-profile cases, of course, of Chin’s disconnect with the community is the Elizabeth St. Garden. The surrounding community loves this unique community space in open-space-starved Little Italy that has become nothing less than a vital resource. But Chin and Mayor de Blasio are determined to develop three-quarters of the garden with affordable senior housing — even though a far better alternative site on the West Side on Hudson St. has been identified by Community Board 2.
Affordable housing for a project like this is allotted by community board district, so there is no downside to shifting the housing’s location from the Elizabeth St. Garden to the better site, which would allow five times as much housing to be built. But again, Chin is stubbornly deaf to the community’s concerns. And, raising eyebrows, to say the least, Asian Americans for Equality — the housing group that Chin co-founded — is one of the leading applicants hoping to get the city contract to build this housing project. And then let’s also go back to how this plan was conceived — in secret, with no review by C.B. 2, as a last-minute add-on to the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) project on the Lower East Side, which DID go through painstaking public review and is not even located in C.B. 2 but in Community Board 3.
And then there was Chin’s failure to safeguard a landmarked building on the Bowery that developers eyed for new construction.
And then there was the Real Estate Board of New York, four years ago, making sure to fund a mailing campaign in support of Chin’s re-election. Chin repeatedly told us that she couldn’t refuse REBNY if it wanted to send out mailings to voters on her behalf. That’s complete nonsense! Ridiculous! She could have threatened to sue REBNY if they didn’t cease and desist. REBNY was specifically funding candidates it saw as friendly to developers’ interests — like Chin — who were facing primary contests by opponents viewed as antidevelopment.
Let’s continue on…. . Then, there are the supertall towers springing up in the Two Bridges area. They are so colossally large — the Extell Tower, which has already topped out at 80 stories, makes the Manhattan Bridge look like an Erector Set toy. Chin has largely done nothing to oppose this march of supertowers or demand a rezoning of the area, in fact, only just now finally starting to speak up now that the primary election is looming.
Chin simply has been unaccountable to voters, as well. Last week, she ducked a debate with her opponents that was sponsored by The Villager at Judson Memorial Church. She ultimately claimed that she had a prescheduled conflicting event, but the 11th-hour efforts by her campaign manager, Paul Leonard, to try to negotiate with The Villager on the debate’s conditions clearly showed that Chin surely could have attended the debate had she wanted to: She just didn’t want to face the music in a part of her district she views as unfriendly to her.
Perhaps even worse, at the June town-hall meeting Chin co-sponsored with Mayor de Blasio at the Chinatown YMCA / University Settlement, at Bowery and E. Houston St. — in a shocking, never-before-seen move — police aggressively confiscated audience members’ protest fliers and signs, forcing attendees to open their bags and turn their pockets inside out. One of Chin’s campaign opponents, Aaron Foldenauer, has filed a federal lawsuit over this. He says it’s punishable by a year in jail. The Downtown Independent Democrats retained prominent civil-rights attorney Norman Siegel to make an inquiry about what happened, and Jeanne Wilcke, president of D.I.D., filed a federal lawsuit over it.
Everyone says that this has never occurred before in New York City — protest fliers and signs being taken away from members of the public attending a public meeting. Siegel says he spoke to a member of the New York Police Department’s Law Bureau, who told him the decision was made by the police, and Siegel told us he accepts that answer. Foldenauer, though, said he’s not buying it, and he accuses Chin of masterminding the whole thing. Wilcke just wants an apology and — like Siegel — assurance that this will never happen again.
The whole episode was nothing short of shameful — an attempt to sanitize, wipe away and hide all the anger and resentment residents feel against Chin and de Blasio for their policies in our district.
Anyway, by now you get the point: Chin has been both antagonistic and unresponsive to large segments of her community. She has dodged debates with her opponents — ours wasn’t the only one she avoided — and at the only town hall she has held during her time in office, the public’s cherished First Amendment right to express their views and disseminate information was stifled in a manner one would associate with a fascistic dictatorship.
Chin has had her two terms, and now — we respectfully say — it is time for her to leave. She’s been good on senior issues, among others. She’s looking out for AAFE and her support base. But she has glaringly failed to represent her whole district on all of its issues. Honestly, we’ve never seen such a disconnect between a local politician and her community. (Perhaps one has to go back to former Councilmember Antonio Pagan in the East Village in the early 1990s.) Chin’s predecessors in District 1, former Councilmembers Kathryn Freed and Alan Gerson, always — always — had the community’s back. They always stood with the community, no matter what the issue was. It would never have been otherwise. They were “represent”-atives; they represented their constituents.
Of Chin’s three opponents, Christopher Marte is the best candidate. He is a native Lower East Sider. He’s earnest. He knows the issues. And most important — unlike Chin — he is on the community’s side on each and every issue that matters. He’s been outspoken against the supertall towers and the residential and commercial displacement they would invariably bring, and he’s firmly behind the Chinatown Working Group’s rezoning plan to downzone this threatened area. He stands strongly with the thousands of supporters of the Elizabeth St. Garden and backs the C.B. 2 alternative plan for the senior housing that the mayor and Chin want to bury the garden under. Marte actually attends all the community board Waterfront Committee meetings about protecting the East Village and Lower East Side waterfront from flooding by future storm surges. He is levelheaded and even tempered. He speaks Chinese — because he attended a bilingual neighborhood school — and is well-traveled for a young man. All of this has given him an understanding of people and the world beyond his years, which is just the kind of quality we need in our leaders in this community and this city.
In addition, Marte is a vocal advocate for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, and as a result has been endorsed by the Small Business Congress. Chin, on the other hand, even though having been the prime sponsor in the City Council of the S.B.J.S.A. in the past, really didn’t put much muscle behind pushing for it, and just went through the motions. Not surprisingly, when Chin was the point person, the bill never got any closer to coming up for a vote by the full City Council. It’s time to end the politics as usual that has seen the Council let the S.B.J.S.A. wallow without a vote for decades. Marte would be a forceful advocate for the bill.
Marte grew up on Rivington St. — right across from the site of one of de Blasio’s biggest and most enduring scandals, Rivington House. (The shameful sale of this city-owned property for luxury redevelopment somehow incredibly all happened right underneath Chin’s nose.) Marte’s immigrant dad ran a bodega on that same block, and Marte, at times, worked in it. From his interactions in that family business, he intimately learned about the neighborhood and its people.
Dashia Imperiale, another L.E.S. native, is an impassioned tenant activist from the Grand St. Guild housing. She speaks forcefully on local issues, including housing and the need to rein in the supertall towers. Aaron Foldenauer is a litigator and former actor, who until last year was a Republican. Not surprisingly for a litigator, in addition to filing suit over the confiscation of his campaign fliers at the June Chin-de Blasio town hall, Foldenauer has now also filed a complaint over alleged voter fraud in Chin’s voter base in Chinatown — though that’s not the first time such a charge has been made in Council District 1 or the 65th Assembly District, for that matter. However, Foldenauer really has no record of activism in the community.
Marte is the best candidate to replace Chin. Again, he has been out there standing with the community, whatever the issue — whether traveling out to Park Slope, Brooklyn, with the Elizabeth St. Garden members to buttonhole de Blasio to get him to visit the garden (the mayor pledged to do so, yet sadly still hasn’t made it) or rallying against the supertalls with the Coalition to Protection Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
Marte has always been there, and, if elected, he will be there — unlike Chin, who is only there for certain parts of her district. We need a councilmember who represents and listens to all of us in the district, not just some. Marte will do that.
Again, Margaret Chin has had her two terms in the Council. We thank her for her service, but it’s been enough. We have no choice now but to rally together to protect our communities, which are under assault — from the Village and Soho to Two Bridges. Chin hasn’t been doing enough protecting. Rather, she has been enabling (certainly, REBNY thinks so), and that’s a big — huge — part of the problem.
It’s time for change. …
It’s time for our voices to be heard. …
It’s time for us to be represented. …
It’s time for us to be respected. …
The Villager endorses Christopher Marte for City Council in the Democratic primary.
Vote Marte on Tues., Sept. 12!