BY SCOTT R. AXELROD | Besides the heat, there was a palpable tension in the room when Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Margaret Chin hosted a town hall at the Chinatown YMCA and University Settlement, at E. Houston St. and the Bowery, on Wed., June 21.
And while many of the roughly 400 attendees of the RSVP-only event waited patiently or impatiently to grill Hizzoner on a litany of topics that have been part of much criticism aimed at his administration, hundreds turned the sidewalk outside into what could have easily been mistaken for a casting call for contestants for “Who’s Pissed Off at the Mayor and Margaret the Most?”
Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese arrived with the intention of holding a press conference about an hour before the town hall, not knowing the scope of protester turnout, and the fact that there was little room to walk, let alone engage an audience. He did have time, however, to share some thoughts on the two politicians headlining the town hall.
“It’s clear that de Blasio and Chin are not listening to the community,” Albanese said. “They’re taking their lead from real estate developers and lobbyists, and ignoring the wishes of the majority of the community.”
The community, in fact, did turn out in force hoping for their wishes to be heard. A large, loud contingent of protesters representing Chinatown carried placards of de Blasio and Chin being symbolically slapped in the face with sandals. Supporters of the Elizabeth St. Garden cried out for saving the garden from being bulldozed for affordable senior housing. Others came to demand that a 10-year plan to shut down Rikers Island be implemented. Soho residents slammed illegally large big-box stores taking over the neighborhoods. The scandalous, shady Rivington House property flip, supertall towers gone wild in the Two Bridges area — there were no shortage of subjects voiced by the angry demonstrators.
Meanwhile, members of the mayor’s security detail and officers with the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism unit funneled those waiting in line — some for several hours — through what appeared to be a portable Transportation Security Administration screening simulator, complete with metal detectors, pat-downs and bag checks. In addition, as DNAinfo first reported last week, police and the mayor’s security detail members were seen and recorded blatantly confiscating all pieces of political literature and fliers from people entering the town hall — much of it protest literature against de Blasio and Chin — only to leave them behind in a crumpled pile at the event’s end.
Now Aaron Foldenauer, a candidate for City Council challenging Chin in Lower Manhattan’s District 1, has filed a formal complaint against de Blasio and Chin based on what he claims to be “governmental suppression of free speech and the unauthorized search and seizure of opposing political materials.”
“This is on par with Bridgegate, and the misconduct is punishable under the same federal criminal statutes at issue in Bridgegate,” Foldenauer, who is a an attorney, said in a statement released Wednesday. “It is unquestionable that the vast bulk of the materials distributed by the various groups outside the event were anti-Margaret Chin and anti-de Blasio,” he said. “It was hugely advantageous for both de Blasio and Chin to have these materials confiscated.”
The Villager reached out for comment to the Mayor’s Press Office, which did not respond by press time.
Back inside, over the course of more than two hours, de Blasio fielded questions from attendees chosen at random by Chin, having to stop several times as persistent hecklers clearly enjoyed the opportunity to bash him over all of the same issues he was being attacked on by the protesters outside.
Other issues included affordability, as well as rent regulation and the Rent Guidelines Board’s upcoming vote this past Tuesday night whether to freeze or raise rents: To tenant advocates’ dismay, the R.G.B. rose them, 1.25 percent for one-year lease renewals and 2 percent on two-year lease renewals.
But the mayor abruptly disappeared, reportedly to take a phone call from Albany on the issue of mayor control of the city’s public schools, and did not return, leaving Chin to field questions for another hour.
Terri Cude, chairperson of Community Board 2, noted that Elizabeth St. Garden activist Emily Hellstrom “was ready to set the mayor straight on the garden, but he had already left. Wouldn’t it be better to have five times more affordable housing at 388 Hudson St.?” Cude asked.
C.B. 2 has been pushing an alternative plan to build the senior housing project on a vacant, city-owned lot at Hudson and Clarkson Sts., but the mayor and Chin won’t let go of the Little Italy garden as a development site.
“De Blasio said the Elizabeth St. Garden has always been designated for housing, but it used to be a school,” Cude said. “It’s been an open space for 200 years.”