BY MEGAN MCGIBNEY
Dozens of residents of Assembly District 74 gathered Sunday for a town hall held by Assemblyman Harvey Epstein at the Friends Seminary in Gramercy.
It was a chance for all to learn and discuss climate change, education, prison reform, and disability rights in breakout panel sessions, while the housing panel was held at the end, with everyone present.
It was at the beginning of the housing panel, though, that Senator Chuck Schumer stopped by. When the Senator entered the main hall, there was enthusiastic applause with some cheers and even a few people standing up.
While Schumer acknowledged the housing panel, he gave what he called, “an update” on the impeachment process against President Donald Trump.
“Clearly, the case is very strong,” the Senator said, adding that Trump had abused his power to rig the election. Schumer explained he wants a fair trial with witnesses and documents, saying it was all about seeking the truth and tore into President Trump’s character.
“He’s a bad, evil man,” he said as a few audience members applauded. “He’s a liar.”
As Schumer explained how Trump is “vindictive” and how Republicans are under “tremendous” pressure because of that, a woman called out, asking what did this had to do with housing. A few people told her to show respect.
Schumer finished up by saying Trump was “destroying America’s values, honor and honesty”.
Schumer then thanked the audience and left, with loud applause and a few standing up.
Then, the town hall continued.
Lasting from noon until 4 p.m., it started with Assemblyman Epstein proudly announcing 2019 was the most progressive legislation in New York with laws passed regarding rent, transgender rights and women’s right to choose. But he also said there was a shortfall in the New York State budget which would have serious implications on goals. They included disability rights, education, prison reform and climate change.
Afterward, there were two breakout sessions in which four panels were held. The first two were about Disability Rights and Education. The last two were on prison reform and climate change.
Epstein briefly attended the disability rights panel before going to the education session. There, the big talk was on mayoral control, with the panelists weighing in the pros and cons. The Assemblyman’s input was how education was not being prioritized enough, and how Governor Andrew Cuomo was the biggest obstacle to funding NYC schools.
“He’s only progressive when it doesn’t come to money,” Epstein said.
After that, the Assemblyman stayed around for the prison reform panel and did not go to the climate change panel. He did not give any input here; he sat and listened with a pensive facial expression.
After the four panels, the last part of the town hall was on housing, with the main focus being on the HDFC. Epstein mentioned the changes he wants to make to the NYS Private Housing Finance Law, which created much tension, with some people waving signs against the draft. A few called out about why was there a draft of those changes without any input from the constituents.
“This is a draft bill because we want to have dialogue,” Epstein explained. “The goal is not only to have a conversation once, but an ongoing conversation.”
That seemed to satisfy some.
“I’m relieved to hear it’s still in the early stages,” said Daniel Borchard who lives in Lower East Side.
“It was good he held it,” said an East Village resident named Martha. “Good to hear people’s thoughts on housing.”
She did not, though, expect so many politicians to speak.
Besides Chuck Schumer, a handful of other politicians spoke at the Town Hall, such as Borough President Gail Brewer, City Councilmen Brad Landers, Keith Powers and Assemblyman Dan Quart.