Friedlander and Lopez pass torch to Mendez


By Lincoln Anderson

Calling it the “passing of the torch” to the next leader who they hope will carry on the progressive political tradition on the Lower East Side, an impressive turnout of local elected officials gathered on the City Hall steps last Friday to endorse Rosie Mendez for City Council.

Mendez is one of 11 candidates who last week filed petition signatures to get on the ballot in the September Democratic primary for District 2, which stretches from Murray Hill to the Lower East Side.

Among those endorsing Mendez at the press conference were two congressmembers, two state senators, three assemblymembers and two councilmembers, including, of course, Margarita Lopez — for whom Mendez was a former chief of staff — who has held the seat the last seven-and-a-half years.

The politicians cited Mendez’s experience fighting for affordable housing, human rights and civil rights, as well as being a Democratic district leader for almost eight years, after having succeeded Lopez.

“She’s been in training for the position,” said Congressmember Nydia Velazquez. “She knows the issues. She lives the issues.”

“On every issue, Rosie has been at the front,” said State Senator Liz Krueger. “She will need no training when she becomes a city councilmember. She will land on her feet.”

Assemblymember Deborah Glick said having a candidate of Mendez’s caliber who has worked for a councilmember is important because the term limits law has led to a decrease in institutional memory in the council.

“That is why it is so critical to have people who have the background, who understand the issues,” Glick said. In addition, Glick said, Mendez brings another key quality, empathy.

“Lack of empathy has trickled down in this country since Ronald Reagan,” Glick said. “We are all in this boat, and we need someone who understands that viscerally, that it is important to fight for all of the people all of the time.”

Mendez grew up in public housing in Williamsburg and has lived in the district 10 years. She and Lopez are neighbors in the same East Village “sweat-equity” building, a formerly abandoned tenement building fixed up by the tenants.

Assemblymember Steve Sanders said Mendez is up to the test of being the district’s next councilmember.

“Representing the Lower East Side has to be the biggest challenge,” he said, “because it is the most diverse community in the city. Politically, culturally, socially — the Lower East Side has it all.”

Sanders said Lopez “met the challenge” by bringing together the community during her tenure in office and that Mendez, who is an attorney as well as an activist, will do the same.

The politicians spoke of the area’s thread of progressive leadership, from former councilmember Miriam Friedlander, to Lopez, and how Mendez would splice into it seamlessly.

“Our district needs this leadership,” Sanders said, “this continuity, that Miriam [Friedlander] started, that Margarita continued and that Rosie will take to another level.”

Councilmember Christine Quinn noted her district abuts District 2, so whoever represents it is important to her constituents. Like some of the others, Quinn mentioned a time when the progressive hold on the district was broken, a time that left lasting scars — a clear reference to former Councilmember Antonio Pagan, Lopez and Friedlander’s nemesis, who ousted Friedlander.

The district “is still recovering from the damage that was done in that deep, dark period,” Quinn said. Mendez, Quinn said, will work to insure that the district stays economically, racially and socially diverse.

Friedlander noted she hasn’t been getting around that much lately and that something really important has to happen to get her to come down from the East Village to City Hall.

“I think it’s time to pass the torch,” she declared.

Mendez, Friedlander said, is “a candidate of the district, for the district. A lot of candidates have come out of the woodwork to run for the Lower East Side. But we are also proud of the leaders in the Lower East Side.”

Said Lopez of her hoped-to-be successor, “District 2 deserves the best and the best is Rosie Mendez. Make no mistake about it and don’t even question it.”

Also throwing their support behind Lopez at last Friday’s rally were Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Martin Connor and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.

In addition to winning the support of most of the area’s politicians, Mendez has also garnered the lion’s share of endorsements of the area’s Democratic political clubs.

In accepting their endorsements, Mendez said, “What I have done, I have not done alone. Each and every one of you who walked a picket line with me, who came to protest the auctions of our community gardens…. I think I’ve been blessed in this community. And not just today — but in the past. The Lower East Side has always been about neighbors and friends helping each other, and today I’m humbled by the support.”

In petition filing, Mendez came out on top in terms of numbers, claiming to have filed 10,000 signatures. Although only 900 valid signatures of registered Democrats residing in the district are needed, candidates typically try to collect more to defend themselves against challenges to the signatures’ validity and also as a show of strength.

The other 10 candidates all filed petitions by last week’s deadline. According to reports, Brian Kavanagh is claiming to have filed 5,500 signatures; Darren Bloch to have filed more than 3,000 signatures; Michael Beys more than 2,900; Michael Lopez more than 2,000 and Reverend Joan Brightharp about 2,000.

In terms of the number of volumes of petition signatures filed, according to reports, Mendez filed 12 volumes; Kavanagh seven; Bloch and Beys three each; Michael Lopez, Gur Tsabar and Chris Papajohn two volumes each; and Mildred Martinez, Claudia Flanagan, Reverend Brightharp and Manuel Cavaco one volume each.

In petition challenges, members of the Coalition for a District Alternative, Margarita Lopez’s and Mendez’s political organization, are challenging the signatures collected by all the East Village-based candidates, Papajohn, Lopez, Flanagan, Cavaco, Martinez and Brightharp and two district leader candidates, Roberto Caballero — who is also Brightharp’s campaign manager — and Jeanette Thomason. The current district leaders in the 74th Assembly District Part A are Mendez and Anthony Feliciano. CoDA is backing Feliciano for reelection and Katrina Monzon to succeed Mendez.

If a challenge invalidates enough of a candidate’s signatures, he or she is knocked off the ballot.

Allen Bortnick, who collected petitions for Beys, who is not being challenged, nevertheless slammed CoDA for making all its challenges.

“I happen to resent how politics is being played by an organization called CoDA — how they are so hell bent in throwing minorities off the ballot,” said Bortnick.

However, Michael Farrin, co-president of CoDA, whose name was listed on half of the challenges, blasted back at Bortnick and defended making the challenges.

“Perhaps he hasn’t noticed,” Farrin said of Bortnick, “we have a minority candidate. It’s interesting that he’s taking up their [the minority candidates’] case, because he’s petitioning for Michael Beys — for money.” Beys is white.

Farrin said CoDA’s challenges targeted candidates who collected low numbers of signatures or those of out-of-district or nonregistered voters.

“One of the candidates filed exactly 75 signatures,” Farrin said, referring to Cavaco. “You let these people sneak in and get public [matching] funds…. And it clutters the field: These races are not covered except by The Villager and public-access TV,” he said, adding that having so many candidates on the ballot can result in voters — not all of whom are so informed about the candidates — making choices based, for example, just on a name.

Farrin said if a candidate can’t even organize enough to collect the minimum amount of signatures, how can they be expected to run a council office and meet the needs of an entire district?

They aren’t targeting the candidates from the north part of the district because they collected a lot of signatures and appear to have been well organized, he said.

It had been expected Mendez might try to at least get Martinez and Michael Lopez off the ballot to secure the Latino vote. Connor is serving as her election lawyer.

Tsabar previously pledged not to challenge opponents’ petitions, and called on others to do the same. On Tuesday, Micah Lasher, Kavanagh’s campaign manager, said his candidate is not challenging petitions.

“Brian believes in an open and democratic process and everyone’s right to ballot access,” he said.