BY LEVAR ALONZO | A clear winner emerged from a crowded field of nine Democrats vying in last week’s primary for the District 4 City Council seat.
Keith Powers, a third-generation resident of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, easily topped the field, winning more than 41 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the city Board of Elections.
Marti Speranza, a member of Community Board 5 and director of Women Entrepreneurs NYC, finished a distant second, with just under 23 percent of the vote. No other candidate garnered more than 10 percent.
Councilmember Dan Garodnick, who was first elected in 2005 and recently steered a major East Midtown rezoning plan through to approval, is unable to seek reelection due to term limits.
The seat is one of the eight truly open races out of the Council’s 51 seats citywide.
“I am humbled to earn the Democratic nomination for the 4th Council District seat,” said Powers. “For nearly a year, I’ve connected with East Siders, from Stuyvesant Town to the Upper East Side. I would not be here today without their support. I look forward to continuing to put forth new ideas for affordable housing, public education, and government reform.”
Waiting in the wings to challenge Powers in the November general elections is the Republican candidate, small business owner Rebecca Harary. She won her party’s nomination in an uncontested primary. Rachel Honig, who finished third in the Democratic Party with less than nine percent, will appear on the Liberal Party line. In this heavily Democratic district, the winner of the Democratic Party primary generally is the favorite to win.
Powers acknowledged that he and his GOP opponent are focused on many of the same challenges. What sets him apart from her, he said, is that he has “real roots” within the community and more experience.
“We share a lot of the similar concerns and vision for the the district but my roots in this district and my political experience give me the upperhand,” he said.
Powers said that his community expertise from working in State Senator Liz Krueger’s office and, prior to that, serving as chief of staff to former Assemblymember Jonathan Bing was critical in connecting him to district voters and propelling him to victory.
“Experience in this job really matters,” he said. “If you don’t, as we see with our current president, it can become a real hassle.”
Powers has consistently cited fighting for affordable housing, supporting quality education, and strengthening public transportation as the top three concerns he would bring to the Council.
On the issue of affordable housing, he hopes to bring new ideas to the table, with a proposal for a “21th century” Mitchell-Lama program, based on an earlier state initiative that developed and built rental and co-op housing for middle-class families. He also wants to assist tenants who are seniors by broadening the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program to cover more city residents. SCRIE is a rent-freeze program that stabilizes the rent of seniors 62 or older who have an income level of under $50,000.
“I want to make sure that middle class families continue to have a place in the district and that seniors receive assistance with their rent.”
According to his website, Powers advocates a teacher evaluation approach based on what happens in the classroom, not on standardized testing. He also supports an increased city commitment to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K efforts, and would push to ensure that the East Side has sufficent seats by requiring new housing developments to create space for schools.
On transportation issues, Powers specifically focused on the planned shutdown of the L train. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has announced that a 15-month suspension of service between Manhattan and Brooklyn beginning in April 2019 is requied for critical repairs. Powers advocates expanded transit opitions, including select bus service, for straphangers along the L line route who would be affected.
“The city should give serious consideration to a car-free 14th St. — whether it’s full time or during rush hours,” he said. “Regardless of the outcome, the city should expand select bus service to accommodate the L train riders, expand or alter existing bus lines to increase service, and address basic service issues like Metrocard refills and off-board fare payment.”
Powers, who, as of September 15, has spent $155,000, according to the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), and has just over $60,000 on hand, has landed some formidable endorsements, including from the New York Times and the Daily News, Make the Road, a social justice group, the Stonewall Democrats and the Jim Owles Liberal Democrats, both LGBTQ political clubs, and Garodnick.
“I believe it is important to listen to constituents and treat their issues as passionately as I would treat my own,” Powers said. “I enjoy the challenge of bringing people together and facilitating agreements that meet the needs of diverse stakeholders.”