BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | City Councilmember Margaret Chin missed a lively debate among her three primary-election opponents last Thursday at Judson Memorial Church in the Village. She probably didn’t miss, however, being savagely attacked by them regarding her record, which no doubt would have been worse were she there.
As previously reported, Chin ducked out of last week’s Villager newspaper-sponsored debate for the District 1 Democratic race, saying she had a previous commitment for a “constituent outreach” event at Hillman Housing, one of the large Grand St. Co-ops complexes.
Chin has already spent two four-year terms representing the district, which stretches from the Financial District up to Washington Square and over to the Lower East Side, and includes Battery Park City, Tribeca, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown, Southbridge Towers and the South St. Seaport.
The debate was moderated by Lincoln Anderson, The Villager’s editor in chief. (The full video of the event can be seen here.)
Speaking before an audience of about 100, the candidates all started out hammering Chin, but two of them — Dashia Imperiale and Aaron Foldenauer — soon turned their sights onto the third challenger, Christopher Marte, who is viewed by many as the strongest opponent to Chin in the race.
Imperiale, an indie filmmaker and native Lower East Sider, touted her background as a tenant leader at her Grand St. Guild building on Grand St. She said that in 2010 she successfully led the effort to get the New York Archdiocese to ensure the development would be affordable for the next 40 years.
“I am running because the system is rigged,” she told the crowd. “There’s nepotism, cronyism and everything is corrupt right now. I’m fed up. I’m not a politician. I’m just like you. I do not have real estate developers or bankers backing me, or Wall St. backing me. I am real grassroots.”
Marte, also a Lower East Side native, noted his parents “immigrated from the Dominican Republican for an opportunity… . In the past eight years, we have seen this opportunity diminish. They’re developing on our community gardens. Our tenants can’t afford what affordable housing is considered now. Our small business owners can’t negotiate an affordable lease.”
He said he has been an advocate for saving the Elizabeth St. Garden, where Chin and the mayor want to develop senior affordable housing.
Foldenauer, a litigator who is originally from Virginia, has lived near Battery Park City for a dozen years. A former Republican, he said he switched parties last year and voted for Hillary Clinton and decided to try to enter politics due to his concern over Donald Trump.
Asked if they felt Chin had alienated voters in the northern end of her district, all said that she had.
“What she’s in is, pretty much, donor service not public service,” Imperiale charged. “As a councilmember, you have to listen to your constituents.”
Marte said, “I believe that our councilmember has ignored the whole district entirely. She hasn’t been to a Community Board 2 meeting for two years.”
He said Chin also “has not fully supported” the Chinatown Working Group’s rezoning plan that would cap heights for new buildings in an area, including Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where “supertall” towers are sprouting up.
Marte also blasted Chin for not holding town-hall meetings. But Imperiale asked why Marte himself didn’t attend the town hall Chin co-hosted with Mayor Bill de Blasio in June.
“I decided I didn’t want to show up because I didn’t want to grandstand and make the event about me,” he answered. “I wanted residents to actually have the opportunity to ask the mayor about what’s happening with N.Y.U.,” referring to the university’s development plan for its South Village superblocks. He said he wanted residents to be able to ask the mayor and Chin about various issues.
“I did decide to go,” Foldenauer stressed, “because I wanted to look Margaret Chin — and Mayor de Blasio — in the eye and tell them that I mean business. It was a fiasco. Margaret Chin controlled the town hall from start to finish. She called on all of her friends and maybe a few others to ask questions.”
On the Rivington House scandal, Marte said both the mayor and Chin should be held responsible for the loss of the former city-owned AIDS hospice site to private developers for luxury redevelopment.
“She wasn’t doing her job,” Marte said of Chin’s not being on top of the situation.
“What happened to Rivington House is a tragedy,” Foldenauer said. “Margaret Chin must have known — and if she didn’t, she was sleeping at the switch.”
Imperiale gave the toughest comments on the issue.
“Margaret Chin is supposed to be the checks and balances — because she’s the councilmember — of Mayor de Blasio, who is in bed with the Real Estate Board of New York. He’s a developer’s prostitute and she’s right there with them. At the end of the day, Margaret Chin and Mayor de Blasio should be held accountable for Rivington House. Period.”
They each outlined the top three priorities that they would focus on, if elected. Imperiale said hers would include “fighting back for Rivington House” and using eminent domain to take it back.
“At the end of the day, that belongs to the city not greedy developers,” she said, adding that her other priorities would be creating affordable housing and abolishing the 421-a property-tax relief program for developers.
Foldenauer listed protecting small businesses, maintaining infrastructure and the environment.
“The tragedy in Houston reminds us of all the work we have to do on the environment,” he said.
Marte gave as his three: passing campaign-finance reform to get special interests and big developers out of City Council politics; passing the Chinatown Working Group plan, and protecting the waterfront.
“I’m the only candidate here tonight that actually goes to every Waterfront Committee meeting, that sat down with the committee chairpersons,” Marte said. “One of the big concerns is we don’t have a plan in place to protect our waterfront.”
Marte said big developers helped re-elect Chin the last time, “and we have seen the consequences, from [supertall towers] in Two Bridges to development in the Financial District.”
He added that he is supporting community members’ lawsuit to stop the next three supertall towers currently in the pipeline for the Lower East Side, and that this is the kind of thing Chin should have been doing.
“Our councilmember has rejected their lawsuit…or to support their lawsuit. How many constituents have seen the Extell tower?” Marte asked, calling the 80-story building going up by the Manhattan Bridge a “pure example” of lack of proactive planning on zoning.
“These megatowers will have primary, secondary and involuntary displacement,” Imperiale said. “Margaret Chin said that it was an ‘as of right’ for these towers to go up. It wasn’t as of right, it needed a special permit. She waited until a month before the election to hold a press conference about it. These are not ‘minor modifications’… . She should have been saying [something] eight years ago.”
“My apartment building was flooded” during Superstorm Sandy, Foldenauer said. “The flood threat is real here in Lower Manhattan. I call for a moratorium on waterfront development until we are protected.”
Asked how they would help resist the Trump administration, Marte noted that three months ago his building was raided by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents.
“I contacted every single neighbor and told them not to open their doors, not let them in,” he said.
Speaking about education issues, Marte noted that his experience attending diverse public schools on the Lower East Side broadened his horizons and encouraged him to travel and explore the world.
On police issues, Imperiale noted she has an uncle who was a police officer, so she is not anti-cop. On a question about traffic around the Holland Tunnel, she said that cutting back the number of bike lanes, in general, in certain areas around the city could help alleviate congestion.
All three candidates said, if elected, they would work to pass the long-stymied Small Business Jobs Survival Act.
About half hour in, Dashia ramped up her attacks on Marte, charging, “Everyone knows you are getting money from Wall St.’s bitch, Charles Schumer.”
Marte calmly answered that he only met Schumer once.
“I don’t know him,” he said.
He later told The Villager that Imperiale apparently was referring to a photo showing Marte posing with Schumer, which Marte said was snapped at a Downtown Independent Democrats club event.
Imperiale also attacked Marte for allegedly putting a few thousand dollars of his own money into his campaign and not declaring it properly, so that he could get matching funds for it. But Marte later said this was actually money he took out from his retirement fund to live on.
“I have a vision for our district,” Marte said in his closing statement. “I’m ready. I have the track record, that on Day One, I will represent the people of District 1.”
“I am not a career politician,” Imperiale said in her final remarks. “I am not backed by Wall St., I am not bought and sold or on layaway,” she said. Brandishing a photo rendering of all the supertalls planned on the Lower East Side, she said, “If it happens on the waterfront, it can happen everywhere.”
Foldenauer reminded everyone again that Chin had ducked the debate and said he was ready for the job.
Afterward, an informal polling of audience members showed that people had been impressed by both Marte and Imperiale, in particular. People liked “the fighter” in Imperiale, but some felt her remarks — such as calling Schumer “Wall St.’s bitch” or de Blasio a prostitute— for example, would not be befitting of a councilmember. One person said Marte, even though the youngest of the bunch, was “the adult in the room” and kept his cool under fire — noting he even calmly poured Imperiale a glass of water after one of her barrages against him.