BY JACKSON CHEN | Competition for the City Council District 4 seat that is being vacated after this fall’s election has attracted more than half a million dollars in fundraising spread across a dozen eager candidates. With the district represented since 2006 by Dan Garodnick, who now faces term limits, those vying to succeed him are all competing to garner name recognition — at this stage through political club appearances and endorsements.
The district runs downtown from East 98th Street, between Fifth and Park Avenues, widening as it goes south and including all of Midtown East before ending at Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village. The city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB) records, as of May 15, indicate that 12 candidates, 10 of them planning to run in the September 12 Democratic primary, have formed official committees and raised a collective total of $505,781.
Handicapping the contest at this date, the race has a clear fundraising leader, a candidate with the highest number of endorsements from elected officials, but also a contender who appears to be an early favorite among local Democratic activists.
Far ahead of her opponents, Marti Speranza leads the fundraising scramble, with $176,409 collected so far, according to the CFB. Speranza currently serves on Community Board 5, the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, and as the director for Women Entrepreneurs NYC, a city initiative to empower female business owners.
As with her rivals, the CB5 member talked about her readiness to speak up for the community through a local government elective post in order to tackle the district’s most pressing issues.
“Obviously we have a major affordability crisis in terms of housing, and our small businesses are being pushed out of our neighborhoods,” Speranza told a meeting of the Four Freedoms Democratic Club on May 15. “Although I’m concerned, I’m really optimistic, I believe in the power of the local government and the impact it can have on our communities.”
With $98,080 in his political war chest, Keith Powers has raised just over half of what Speranza has, but he dominated the vote by Four Freedoms, winning 27 votes to four for his next nearest rival. A third-generation resident of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, he is a Democratic district leader and chairs Community Board 6’s Business Affairs and Street Activities Committee.
The district’s other two major Democratic clubs have not yet weighed in on the race, with the Lexington Democratic Club taking it up on May 25 and the Lenox Hill Democratic Club on May 31.
Powers told the Four Freedoms club that his lifelong experience in the neighborhood in addition to his work as former Assemblymember Jonathan Bing’s chief of staff would make him an effective councilmember.
Ben Kallos, the incumbent councilmember for neighboring District 5, previously worked with Powers under Bing and, explaining that he needs more progressive allies on the Council, offered him a pat on the back.
“I know [Powers] actually wants to do the constituent services and do the parts of the job that those people don’t want to do,” Kallos said in an apparent allusion to the other candidates.
Following the top two fundraisers, Bessie Schachter has reported $61,011 to the CFB. Schachter recently resigned from her post as director of community outreach and scheduling for State Senator Liz Krueger so she could pursue her campaign. She is emphasizing the district’s housing affordability and livability as issues she plans to zero in on.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I had to talk to so many people every day who are just struggling to make ends meet,” Schachter said of what she’s heard during her campaigning. “I’m literally talking to people two or three times a week who didn’t know if they could pay rent for the next month.”
The candidate said she would address the housing situation in a three-fold manner — through auditing the programs that allow developers tax breaks for including affordable housing, by providing legal services for those facing Housing Court actions, and by securing additional funding to address the homelessness crisis.
Schachter boasts several early endorsements from elected officials, including Upper West Side Councilmember Helen Rosenthal and East Side Assemblymember Dan Quart, as well as Ron Kim, a Queens assemblymember, and George Latimer, a Westchester County state senator.
Trailing behind the campaign coffers’ top three, Jeffrey Mailman, who has served as legislative director for Queens Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley and is a former member of Community Board 6, has raised $45,012.
The other Democratic contenders in the race include public relations executive Rachel Honig, who has raised $24,347; former diplomat-turned-schoolteacher Vanessa Aronson, whose filings show $19,612 in funds; technology entrepreneur Alec Hartman, who has $8,250 on file; and Maria Castro, who was a delegate to this year’s Democratic National Convention, with $7,445 in her campaign. Neither Diane Grayson nor Barry Shapiro has reported any funds raised, to date. On the Republican side, Rebecca Harary has raised $27,611 and Melissa Jane Kronfeld has garnered $38,005.
Incumbent Garodnick could not be reached for comment about the field of would-be successors.