‘We showed them!’ Chin topples Gerson; Quinn fends off Kurland

By Villager staff

In a historic upset, Margaret Chin defeated two-term Councilmember Alan Gerson in the Democratic primary Tuesday night making her the odds-on favorite to become the first Asian-American to represent Chinatown.

Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn held off a strong challenge from Yetta Kurland, winning re-election to another term.

East Village Councilmember Rosie Mendez romped with 82 percent of the vote against Juan Pagan.

In citywide Democratic primaries, in unofficial tallies, Bill Thompson won solidly over Tony Avella for mayor, Bill de Blasio narrowly beat Mark Green for public advocate, and John Liu took the race for comptroller, with David Yassky running second. Cy Vance won fairly comfortably for Manhattan district attorney over Leslie Crocker Snyder and Richard Aborn.

This was Chin’s fourth bid for the Council seat since 1991 but the first time she quit her job to devote herself full time to running. Many of her supporters Tuesday night said they voted for her all four times. If she wins in the general election in November she will also represent Battery Park City, Tribeca, Soho and Noho, the Financial District, the Seaport, the South Village and Washington Square and parts of the Lower East Side.

Around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, a beaming Chin greeted a rollicking, roaring crowd of 100 at her victory party at Golden Unicorn restaurant in Chinatown and she could barely stop smiling long enough to speak.

“We overcome so many obstacles, but the final result is victory,” she said.

Chin, the first Chinese person to ever represent Chinatown, took nearly 40 percent (4,541 votes) in a primary that drew 11,516 people to the polls, according to unofficial returns that will take about a week to certify. Gerson came in second with 3,520 votes (31 percent), while newcomer PJ Kim received 1,927 votes (17 percent), Pete Gleason received 1,293 votes (11 percent) and Arthur Gregory got 235 votes (2 percent).

Chin and several of her volunteers said Chinese representation for the Council district containing Chinatown is long overdue.

“For it to finally happen, it is very significant,” Chin said, adding that the older Chinese population, especially, felt that they were not being heard because of language and cultural barriers.

As Chin spoke, one supporter called out in Chinese that she was breaking a bad spell cast on the neighborhood.

“No, no spell,” Chin said, laughing. “We’re waking up the community.”

Alex Hing, 63, a hotel worker in Chinatown, took the mic to say that this election year was supposed to be all about change, until the City Council extended term limits for themselves and the mayor. As a result, many incumbents coasted into a third term, but not Gerson.

“We showed them!” Chin said.

Chin gave her speech in both Chinese and English, with the Chinese sections getting louder applause from the mostly Asian crowd.

Gerson, speaking to a dejected group of supporters — a few with moist eyes, did not concede, but acknowledged that Chin “appears headed toward victory,” and said “this is the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.” He said he was “holding off for a day” so his campaign could regroup, compare the returns with internal tallies and decide what to do next.

He also left a message with Chin Tuesday night after she declared victory. Gerson’s speech to roughly 50 supporters crammed into Silver Spurs restaurant, at Houston St. and LaGuardia Place, sounded much like a concession — he thanked his supporters for all of their hard work over his eight years and for working with him to spawn “a political movement.”

Chin not only cleaned up in Chinatown — for example, beating Gerson by 347 votes to 78 at the M.S. 131 voting site, according to unofficial tallies collected by campaigns — she also did well in Tribeca, winning more votes in the election districts that voted at P.S. 234 on Chambers St., beating Gerson there 183 to 149.

Voter turnout was light throughout the district but appeared to be a bit stronger in Chinatown, where Chin had a vigorous get-out-the vote effort.

“We need someone who’s in the community who understands it and is willing to fight for it,” said Annie Der, 57, a Chinese woman who voted for Chin. “Everyone else just looks at us as a number, and after they get the votes, they ignore you.”

But Chin also won over many white voters in the district.

“She seemed legitimately interested,” said Natalie Raben, 24. “She was real. She has the right ideas in mind.”

Raben, who works at a small environmental firm on Orchard St., was impressed that Chin spoke at length to the owner and workers at her firm and seemed committed to helping small businesses.

Gerson also maintained much support in the district, capturing many votes in Battery Park City, the Village and at Southbridge Towers by the South Street Seaport.

“Gerson has done a lot for the community — things like affordable housing and [getting] the Downtown Community Center [constructed],” said Glenn Fennelly, a 49-year-old Battery Park City resident.

Diane Lapson, a Gerson supporter who is president of the Independence Plaza tenants association, said she was surprised Gerson lost there, but she was more concerned about how few of her Tribeca neighbors, who are mostly middle income, came out to vote.

“I’m sure Margaret will do a great job,” Lapson said, “but I’m disappointed that people are so complacent and are not coming out to vote.”

In the Third District race, after the votes had come in, at her victory party at Mustang Harry’s on Seventh Ave. at 30th St., Quinn acknowledged the race had been competitive.

“It was a bit more of a West Side of Manhattan, you know, a take-off-the-gloves campaign than any of us expected,” she said. The campaign’s lesson was, Quinn said: “[That] putting progress in front of politics matters — and civility is actually something important. … I don’t want to get to a place where we fight just for the sake of fighting.”

State Senator Tom Duane, one of her chief supporters and longtime ally, described her win as a “slam dunk,” but added, “Exercise always makes us stronger.”

Quinn told a reporter that the race got more “negative” and “personal” than she expected, but was not surprised that Kurland and Passannante-Derr were able to mount strong races.

Quinn won with 6,868 votes (52 percent), versus Kurland’s 4,108 votes (31 percent) and Derr’s 2,117 votes (16 percent).

Kurland held her post-election get-together at Chelsea Brewing Company at Chelsea Piers. By the time she arrived, the result was basically decided. Showing her typical speaking flair, she touted her strong showing.

“If we have not won in terms of being a city councilmember, we have totally won,” she declared. “We won on so many levels. Eight months ago — 12 months ago — people told us we couldn’t do it; it was an impossibility, and we would just get 1 percent of the vote, that you don’t go against incumbents, that you can’t question authority when it becomes dysfunctional. People were afraid to stand up to Christine Quinn, and we showed the entire district, and we showed the entire city, that the numbers show that this district is not happy with their leadership.

“This is just the beginning,” Kurland vowed. “From now on, we will be a phantom government in this district. Every time there is development that happens without affordable housing, there’s deals that are made that succumb to big business and developers and to money, we will be here, we will be watching. We are organized, we have power — this is just the beginning.”

Kurland said she got 7 percent of her votes “because my name is Yetta,” and possibly got another 20 percent as a result of her being an animal lover and her resulting endorsement by the New York League of Humane Voters.

Passannante-Derr and her supporters gathered at P.J. Charlton, Phil Mouquinho’s restaurant at Greenwich and Charlton Sts. Mouquinho, a former Community Board 2 member and a leading foe of the city’s plan for a three-district Department of Sanitation garage in Hudson Square at the west end of Spring St., said that right after Passannante-Derr had left the party, some of her supporters got an idea:

“Some of the people here were discussing what a run by Yetta would do if she ran on an independent ticket with support from Maria’s people” in the November general election, he said.

Tallying up the numbers, Mouquinho said for Quinn to win by a total of only roughly 650 votes over Kurland and Passannante-Derr combined — out of more than 13,000 votes cast — clearly showed weakness on the speaker’s part.

“Here we have an incumbent who is speaker who won with 52 percent of the vote,” he said. “You’re saying the speaker won by [only] 650 votes? Come on, a speaker with all the support of Mayor Bloomberg? Six hundred fifty votes — incumbent speaker with all that power.”

However, Mouquinho conceded the idea was only “in the discussion stages.”

“This would be tough for Maria,” he said. “There’s no love lost between Maria and Yetta.”

Kurland could not be reached for comment by press time as to whether she might entertain a run in November, and it was not clear how feasible such a plan would be.

The Hudson Square activist spent the day as a poll worker for Passannate-Derr at P.S. 3, on Hudson St. between Christopher and Grove Sts. in the West Village. Mouquinho said Quinn and Duane were standing on the corner by P.S. 3 for about three hours on primary election day, while Kurland was there pretty much the whole day. Meanwhile, Passannante-Derr, whose support base was in Greenwich Village, took the strategy of being out and about in Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and at Manhattan Plaza at 42nd St. and Ninth Ave.

As primary election day elections go, the turnout in the Village (66th Assembly District, Part A) was pretty good according to election workers interviewed during a casual tour of a few polling places.

“Lively” was the way Milagros Seda, a Board of Elections coordinator, described the voting at P.S. 41, on W. 11th St. at Sixth Ave.

“I’ve seen some primaries that were pretty quiet,” she told The Villager about an hour and a half before the poll’s 9 p.m. closing time.

Keen Berger, Democratic district co-leader, was very busy on primary day — as she is during every election.

“I go to all 17 poling sites in the district,” she said Tuesday night on her way up to 14th St., the north end of Part A. “I talk to people to see that everything is going right and to make sure the coordinators are doing their jobs. It’s mostly about encouraging them. They get paid, but it’s a pretty thankless job. They don’t do it for the money,” Berger said.

Asked whom she voted for, Berger declined to answer.

“I’m supposed to be neutral,” she explained.

In Chelsea, a steady stream of voters visited the Selis Manor polling station on W. 23rd St. to cast their ballots in the Democratic primary.

Michael Todd Meyers, 45, of W. 24th St., voted for Quinn because he saw the City Council speaker’s alignment with Mayor Bloomberg as a positive thing.

“She seems pretty on point, seems to know the issues,” said Meyers, who did not vote for either of the mayoral candidates and plans to support Bloomberg. “If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” he added of his choice, “especially in this economy.”

Another voter, a 39-year-old W. 21st St. resident who declined to give his name, conversely viewed Quinn’s ties to the mayor as a weakness and instead pulled the lever for Kurland.

“The term-limits thing really upsets me, and I really believe Quinn lost her way,” he said, acknowledging he thought Quinn would eventually emerge the victor. “She’s one of Bloomberg’s little pawns.”

However, Edward Hlastrova, 87, who has lived in the same W. 21st St. building since 1966, voted “Quinn for sure” on Tuesday morning.

“She’s very good, she’s very serious, she gets things done,” Hlastrova said, admitting he didn’t hear much about the two other candidates, but didn’t like Passannante-Derr’s “personal attacks” against the speaker during the campaign. “Quinn to me is the most qualified,” he said.

Over at the Penn South co-op residential complex on Eighth Ave., which historically counts a high voter turnout among its residents, many explained their picks came to down to a few key issues.

“[Quinn] has been doing a lot for our community, for senior citizens,” said Kathy Andrade, 79, who has lived at Penn South since it first opened nearly 50 years ago. “Her door is always open. She really identifies with our community, and she has excellent personnel in her office.”

Ben Schaechter, a 40-something Penn South resident, said Kurland offered the freshest choice and would be the least likely to find herself embroiled in a political controversy, like Quinn’s so-called “slush fund” scandal.

“I heard negative things about Quinn, didn’t know anything about the third candidate, so [Kurland] was the default choice,” Schaechter said, adding Kurland “seemed like she was new and ripe.”

Larry Risko, 49, of W. 23rd St., pulled for Yetta “Kirkland” simply because he was asked to.

“My domestic partner told me to vote for [her] because she’s for animal rights,” he said, adding that the couple owns pets.

John Murphy, 56, of W. 23rd St., ultimately chose Quinn despite being upset with her “horrible mistake” regarding the slush-fund scandal.

The speaker got his vote “because of her experience and her relationship with Bloomberg,” Murphy explained. “A real workhorse I find her to be. [She has] a real genuineness I admire.”


Reporting for this article was done by Josh Rogers, Julie Shapiro, Albert Amateau, Patrick Hedlund, Lincoln Anderson and Paul Schindler.