Tenant Advocates Join Democratic Clubs In Supporting Mark Levine

City Councilmember Mark Levine at a February 12 rally of tenants’ rights advocates. | ED REED/ OFFICE OF THE MAYOR

BY JACKSON CHEN | City Councilmember Mark Levine has earned endorsements from a tenant political action committee and six Democratic political clubs throughout District 7 in his bid for a second term.

Levine is facing off against two Democratic challengers for his Council seat, in which he represents the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, West Harlem, and Washington Heights. The incumbent is emphasizing the advantages he brings into the September 12 primary by showcasing the endorsements from the six clubs as well as from TenantsPAC.

As its name suggests, TenantsPAC is a political action committee that endorses candidates with a record of support for tenants’ rights and security. According to the group’s treasurer, Michael McKee, its endorsement of Levine was a “no-brainer” and came after a vote at its May 1 monthly meeting.

Levine, who said he pushes an “aggressive legislative agenda to protect and support tenants,” explained that his crowning achievement to date has been opening up access to an attorney for low-income tenants hauled into Housing Court.

McKee said that Levine has been instrumental in building support for free legal representation to low-income families who find themselves squaring off against their landlords in Housing Court. Intro 214-A, the Right to Counsel bill, was first introduced by Levine and Bronx Councilmember Vanessa Gibson in 2014 and gained momentum last September with a hearing before the Council’s Courts and Legal Services Committee.

The push won a major victory in February when Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced an increase of $93 million for tenant legal services for families with annual incomes of less than $50,000.

Councilmember Mark Levine joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito when they announced $93 million in additional funding to provide legal counsel to low income New Yorkers facing potential eviction in Housing Court. | COURTESY: OFFICE OF CITY COUNCILMEMBER MARK LEVINE

The TenantsPAC treasurer said his group would have endorsed Levine for his work on the Right to Counsel bill alone, but noted his proven track record on tenant advocacy overall.

“It’s our job to make tenants into an electoral force and to make elected officials take tenants seriously,” McKee said. “I think [Levine] takes tenants very seriously.”

According to a nonprofit leader who works with the councilmember on tenant issues, the incumbent has played a critical role in bridging the concerns of those facing eviction and the efforts of those on the Council looking to provide remedies.

“Mark continues to, and has had his chief of staff, meet with us regularly, taking our concerns to the Council and taking the Council’s concerns back to us,” said Jenny Laurie, the executive director of Housing Court Answers.

That group – a nonprofit that assists tenants served with eviction notices and facing other legal problems with their landlords in navigating the daunting world of the city’s housing law – is part of a larger network, the Right to Counsel Coalition, that has worked with Levine on the legal representation issue.

“There are tenant organizing groups within the coalition who did the ground work on getting tenant support” for the Right to Counsel initiative, Laurie said. “But Mark Levine really led the effort within the City Council.”

In addition to his support among tenant advocates, Levine’s four years in office have also won him the continued support of the district’s many Democratic political clubs. The Community Free Democrats and Three Parks Independent Democrats clubs active on the Upper West Side, the Broadway Democrats in Morningside Heights, the West Harlem Progressive Democratic Club, the Audubon Reform Democratic Club in Washington Heights, and the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan have all voted to endorse Levine in recent months.

With endorsements from clubs from diverse neighborhoods within his district, Levine pointed to his campaign’s inclusivity and reach.

“These are really the first true test of where leaders of the district are headed on this race,” Levine told Manhattan Express. “I’m just so gratified that again and again and again they are choosing to endorse me by nearly unanimous margins.”

When asked about his opponents in the District 7 race, Thomas Lopez-Pierre and Matthew Gros-Werter, Levine said that Lopez-Pierre’s speeches have been “venomous.”

Lopez-Pierre – who ran a short-lived campaign for the seat in 2013, as well – has a history of anti-Semitic and racially divisive comments and recently stepped into a controversy over whether he had established a phony GoFundMe page with the purported aim of opposing his candidacy while in fact funding it.

Levine noted that in the age of Trump nothing in politics should come as a surprise.

Lopez-Pierre has been the target of widespread condemnation from Democratic leaders, with one Brooklyn councilmember, David Greenfield, calling on the Manhattan Democratic Party to remove him from the party’s rolls.

Gros-Werter is a political newcomer who had given money to Lopez-Pierre’s 2013 campaign.

“I am working very, very hard in making my case to the voters of District 7 for their support for another four years,” Levine said. “I think my record is one of having delivered results for residents of my district in a way that has brought people together.”