V.I.D. gets view of candidates for D.A., Council, comptroller


By Ed Gold

Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Christine Quinn were on the receiving end of verbal blows from opponents running against them in the First and Third Council districts, respectively, at a political forum sponsored by Village Independent Democrats last Thursday evening.

The forum, the first of two scheduled by V.I.D., brought together candidates for City Council, city comptroller and Manhattan district attorney before a jampacked audience at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in the West Village.

Maria Passannante Derr, running against Council Speaker Quinn, focused on Quinn’s support for Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s move to scrap the two-term limit with the City Council vote so he could run for a third term. Derr also took exception to Quinn’s support of the mayor in using the Gansevoort Peninsula, part of the Hudson River Park, as a marine waste-transfer station.

Derr noted that a Bloomberg success at the polls this fall would mean “20 years of Republican control” of City Hall. In another dig at Quinn, she promised to vote for the Democratic mayoral candidate in November.

Quinn responded, stating that she had always opposed the two-term limit, and believed, in light of worsening economic conditions, that it was appropriate to allow incumbents in city offices to seek a third term.

She added that, practically speaking, it would have been “impossible” to arrange for a public referendum before the election.

Richard Aborn is a candidate for Manhattan district attorney. RIGHT: Melinda Katz is a contender for comptroller.

In stressing her achievements, Quinn mentioned her continuing efforts to obtain more park space, as well as additional educational facilities, and her conspicuous support for senior social service programs in the district, which includes part of the Village, Chelsea and Clinton.

Pete Gleason, running for the second time in an effort to replace Gerson, also chided Gerson for seeking a third term in the light of two public referenda supporting the two-term limit.

Further, he criticized Gerson’s involvement in the Washington Square Park renovation, which, he claimed, resulted in “a great deal of confusion” and lacked “sufficient public input.” He said, as a firefighter, police officer and Coast Guard reserve officer, he was the only candidate in the First District “who had stood between the public and danger.” He added that he was also an attorney doing pro bono work for people in the West Village.

A confident Gerson claimed “unparalleled achievement in his eight years in office,” and defended his activities on Washington Square Park, noting that his efforts “were dedicated to keeping the park beautiful.”

He was successful, he added, in limiting the height of the park fence and working out a compromise on retention of the children’s play mounds.

Gerson was particularly proud of his rewriting of the noise code for the city, his environmental work in clean air control, his support for affordable housing and his battle against human trafficking.

Also running in the First Council District — which includes Lower Manhattan, Soho, the South Village and Chinatown — was Margaret Chin, making her fourth bid for a Council seat.

Petite and cheerful, she stressed her commitment to tenants’ rights and her deep interest in the city’s educational system, which, she said, “should not be run like a business.” She added that it was vital to get more parents involved in their children’s education.

Chin also worried about public safety, urging that “more policemen should be out on the streets.”

Two other candidates are competing for the Third District Council seat, Yetta Kurland, a civil rights attorney and teacher, and a surprise entry in Jim Fouratt, a V.I.D.’er, who argued for greater community involvement and against “sound-bite campaigns” and term limits.

Kurland, with a very youthful look, although she’s been an attorney for 10 years, said she became serious about political activity “after watching the Republican National Convention last year,” which “galvanized my interest.” She worried about overdevelopment, supported increased school construction and argued against fare hikes.

Three candidates are in the running to fill the Manhattan district attorney’s seat, which has been occupied for the past 34 years by retiring Robert Morgenthau: Richard Aborn, Cyrus Vance and Leslie Crocker Snyder.

Snyder has been on this road before, having sharply contested Morgenthau’s re-election four years ago. At that time, she favored limited use of the death penalty, while Morganthau opposed it. She said she has had “an evolution in my thinking,” and told the forum audience that she now unconditionally opposes the death penalty, which drew some crowd applause.

She stressed her 21-year experience as a judge and as a prosecutor of murder and sex crimes under Morgenthau’s predecessor, Frank Hogan. She suggested the weak economy would increase criminal activity, and that her prosecutorial experience would be particularly helpful, should she be elected.

Vance and Aborn both worked for Morgenthau. Vance, whose father was President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, said he would have his lawyers “work closer to the communities they serve,” and would create geographic zones in Manhattan where prosecutors could be more easily evaluated as to their effectiveness.

Aborn stressed his ardent support for gun control, evidenced by his leadership in the fight for the Brady Bill.

He also strongly opposed the death penalty, and said he would lead a coalition against any future attempt to legalize the death penalty in the state, which drew applause.

In the race for comptroller, four candidates, all City Council members, seem headed for a September primary, although only two made it to the forum. John Liu of Queens arrived at St. Luke’s at 10 p.m. — just after the two-and-a-half hour forum had ended. He said he would be back in the area next month. David Weprin, also of Queens, was tied up in family matters, but also promised to visit the district in the near future.

Melinda Katz of Queens and David Yassky of Brooklyn did show up. An animated Katz noted her strong position against hate crimes, and stressed that she would focus on creating jobs in the city, should she be elected. Asked about heavy campaign contributions to her from real estate interests, she argued that all candidates receive funding from the same sources.

In private legal practice, Katz had specialized in mergers, acquisitions and corporate governance, which provided her with experience needed in the comptroller’s job. She previously served in the state Assembly, and is completing her second term in the Council.

Yassky called himself an “aggressive liberal who doesn’t play defense.” He promised to go after spending waste and cut expenditures by 10 percent.

While he opposed increasing bridge tolls or payroll taxes, Yassky said it was necessary to make sure the subways keep running. He promised, if elected, to invest pension dollars in businesses that create jobs. He added that the city budget should be posted online.

Possibly the most relaxed candidate at the forum was Rosie Mendez, running for re-election in the Second Council District, and apparently unopposed. She made a strong push for affordable housing, and was gratified to hear that one “question” from the audience was merely: “Rosie, we love you!”

Because of the large number of candidates, V.I.D. structured the forum to limit contentious argument. Each candidate could talk for three minutes, after which each was asked several questions submitted by the audience.

District Leader Brad Hoylman and Lorna Gottesman served as questioners, and Jonathan Geballe was in charge of the clock.

A second forum featuring candidates for mayor and public advocate is scheduled for 8 p.m. Thurs., April 16, at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, at E. 10th St. and Second Ave.