Does Downtown need a special committee? Chin says no, Rajkumar yes

Jenifer Rajkumar, left, and Margaret Chin. Downtown Express photos by Yoon Seo Nam

By JOSH ROGERS  | If you want to keep things the same, sometimes you have to vote for change. That’s the case in perhaps only one issue in the City Council race Downtown.

Councilmember Margaret Chin wants to axe the Council’s Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee, which she heads, but her Democratic primary challenger Jenifer Rajkumar thinks there is more work to do.

Chin, in a recent interview said it’s time for the committee to “pretty much finish up its work… The whole issue with the World Trade Center construction — that pretty much is done.”

The committee formed in 2002 in order to deal with a wide range of issues including 9/11 health concerns, the best way to spend Lower Manhattan’s federal funds, and the effects of security-related street closures.

Rajkumar, a Democratic district leader, said if elected, she’d want the committee to continue in order to focus on storm preparedness and helping small businesses in neighborhoods like Chinatown or the Seaport that are hurting either from the security closures or from Hurricane Sandy.

“I believe Councilmember Chin was given $10,000 in lulu money to chair the committee, but the only thing that the committee did for Hurricane Sandy was throw one meeting for four people in a bagel shop about a month or two after the hurricane,” Rajkumar said in an interview last month. “I think we need a stronger more active committee.”

Chin said she and her staff did extensive outreach after Sandy, but the Lower Manhattan committee was not the appropriate mechanism to handle the problems.

“Sandy is really citywide,” Chin said. “That’s the limitation sometimes of the Lower Manhattan committee is a lot of times we have to share meetings with another committee.”

Community Board 1 chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes, who may have logged more hours testifying before the Council’s Downtown committee than any other witness, said she thinks the committee can still be useful as World Trade Center work continues and storm planning begins.

“Protecting a single bungalow in Far Rockaway and a high-rise building in Lower Manhattan — there is some overlap, but the issues are also different,” said Hughes, who is supporting Chin despite their differences on this issue.

“We obviously want as much focus as we can get on our area,” said Hughes. “The committee has been very helpful in shining a spotlight” on many issues big and small such as heath problems caused by the collapse of the Twin Towers and improving pedestrian access near the W.T.C.

The Lower Manhattan committee did not come up in the heated Aug. 22nd debate between Rajkumar and Chin, but the candidates did spar over the Council committees in general.

“She accepts $10,000 in extra lulus for doing the [Council] speaker’s bidding,” Rajkumar said. “And what makes this even worse, is that she pledged when she ran last time that she would not accept lulus and like so many other things went back on that promise.”

Chin did not dispute that she had once promised not to accept the committee chairperson’s stipend, commonly called a lulu.

“If you chair a committee there’s an extra staff stipend and an extra stipend.  We do a lot of work chairing the committees, and we have to have  more staff support and that’s what every single councilmember who chairs a committee does…

“That’s the way the City Council works right now. Until we change the rules, that’s the way it stands right now.”

The primary will be Tues. Sept. 10.