BY LEVAR ALONZO | Democrats have long enjoyed a political stranglehold in most New York City Council districts, where oftentimes the race is decided in the Sept. primary rather than on Election Day in Nov. Republican businesswoman Rebecca Harary is looking to break their grip.
Harary, who won her party’s nomination in an uncontested Sept. 12 primary, is seeking to win the East Side District 4 City Council seat this Nov. against Democratic nominee Keith Powers.
Powers easily topped a crowded field of nine Democrats in last month’s primary, winning more than 41 percent of the vote, according to results from the city Board of Elections. Rachel Honig, who finished third in that contest, will appear on the ballot on the Liberal Party line.
Councilmember Dan Garodnick, who was first elected in 2005, is unable to seek reelection due to term limits.
The seat is one of the eight truly open races this year where a new councilmember could emerge out of the city’s 51 districts.
In this heavily Democratic district, the winner of the Democratic Party primary generally is the favorite to win.
A longtime East Side resident, Harary told Manhattan Express she doesn’t see people of the district as Democrats or Republicans but as neighbors and friends.
“I plan to be visible as possible in my district and bring my lifetime of experience in business, government, and raising my family with me wherever I go,” she said, when asked how she will sway voters who generally vote Democratic.
Then taking an apparent swipe at the field of Democrats Powers triumphed over, she added, “My opponent represents the best that our district has to offer, but the people deserve to know Powers has never been looking out for their best interest. I will.”
Harary, the mother of six who has founded a school for children with autism as well as the Propel Network, which teaches marketable job skills to Jewish women, describes herself as a problem-solver.
“Using common sense, not taking no for an answer, and the courage to take a stand when something is wrong are qualities people have come to expect from me,” said Harary. “I am proud of my reputation as someone who gets things done and gets things done right and with integrity.”
She said what sets her apart from her opponent is that she is not a lobbyist or a “bought or paid”-for political insider.
“Mr. Powers worked the last seven years as a registered lobbyist, lobbying the City Council on behalf of his clients, which include real estate developers, the owners of a private prison company, and other questionable clients,” she said. “I have never had to lobby on behalf of fat cats and the good ole boys like my opponent. I would not be able to sleep at night if I did.”
Among the achievements in her record, Harary cited saving small businesses from closure, fighting against homelessness, and providing better quality of life for residents as the three top strengths she would bring to the Council.
On the battle to support a healthy neighborhood small businesses climate, she said that vacant storefronts can be avoided by offering landlords a one-year tax break if commercial space is re-occupied within a year of a business vacating it.
“Our residents need the neighborhood to retain its charm and value,” she said. “Our shop owners need to preserve their cash in order to hire more employees and to keep their shelves full.”
Harary wants to go further than incumbent Garodnick’s effort to modify the commercial rent tax to offer small businesses relief. The commercial rent tax is assessed on all businesses in Manhattan south of 96th Street that pay annual rents of $250,000 or more. Earlier this year, Garodnick and Upper West Side Councilmember Helen Rosenthal proposed legislation that would raise the minimum annual rent for paying that tax to $500,000.
That’s not enough for Harary, who said, “I also want to repeal the commercial rent tax affecting all mom and pops stores below 96th Street, over the next three years. Forcing small business owners to pay a hefty tax on top of their already sky-high rent is something our mayor will have to answer to when I become a city council member.”
Harary noted that Mayor Bill de Blasio has not even said if he is in support of Garodnick and Rosenthal’s proposal to amend the tax. The mayor has been quoted saying that because of the unpredictability of federal government funding under President Donald Trump he does not want to get rid of a reliable stream of income for the city.
“Trash, traffic, and transit… these issues are affecting our quality of life every single minute of every single hour of every single day in New York City,” said Harary.
She is asking for major reform with regard to bicycle lanes, double parked trucks, overstuffed and ignored trash cans on street corners, and problems with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Harary blames de Blasio for being out of touch and disconnected from the troubles everyday riders using buses and subways face.
“Taking an entourage of SUVs to the gym every day is probably clouding his judgment,” she said. “As the next city councilwoman, I will demand the release of the funds needed to pay for vital subway and MTA repairs, and will work to form a coalition to make it happen.”
On homelessness, Harary wants to build more supportive housing and subsidize vocational training for every able-bodied man and woman. She also voiced support for ensuring that homeless people with disabilities get the right care, be it medical or psychiatric.
When asked if any of her agenda aligns with the leader of her party in Washington, Harary dodged making comment on Trump, saying she is focused on solving the problems caused locally by the mayor and not interested in getting caught up in a “national ideological battle.”
“He [De Blasio] has made his Tale of Two Cities here in New York a reality,” she said, referring to the mayor’s 2013 campaign theme, “one where he rewards his political allies, and the other for the rest of New York, where people are struggling to survive and are just getting by.”
Harary, who, as of Oct. 16, has spent $75,000, with about $82,000 on hand, according to the city’s Campaign Finance Board, is endorsed by the Stop de Blasio Party, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the Jewish Press, and former Republican Governor George Pataki. Powers has spent nearly $200,000 and has more than $135,000 on hand.
“We want and deserve a quality of life that enjoys equality as well as diversity, safety and security, excellent schools, and true affordable housing for all,” Harary said. “I will bring common sense, my heart, and, most of all, my lifetime of experience.”