Why I Am Running for Village District Leader
For the first 24 years of my adult (post 18) life, I eschewed electoral politics. I loved politics and worked with folks organizing against the Vietnam War, against nuclear power plants, against U.S. intervention in Central America, and against cuts in City hospitals. (I once stood up at a meeting of the NYC Financial Control Board with fake blood spurting out of my shirt, and yelled at Mayor Beame that his closure of City Hospitals was going to cause me to die.)
In 1991, after my first two children were born in the West Village, I learned that I had to pay attention to local elected officials in order to get money to fix up the dilapidated parks and playgrounds in which they played. I organized parents and local residents, and soon we had millions of dollars flowing into Bleecker Playground, JJ Walker Park, Serevalli Playground, and the Carmine Recreation Center. The park supporters had numbers and the politicians listened. Soon, one of the more responsive, Tom Duane, then in the City Council, urged me to run for the vacant democratic District Leader position once held by the likes of Carmine Desapio and Ed Koch. I had no idea what a District Leader did, but Tom said I could make it up as I went along, so I ran. I won, with great help from Duane’s Chief of Staff, Chris Quinn, who basically ran my campaign, and support from Borough President Ruth Messinger, Assembly Member Debra Glick, and then State Senator Catherine Abate.
I was the Greenwich Village/West Village/South Chelsea District Leader from 1995-2005. I learned a lot about politics while in that cauldron. I learned that organized communities could win elections, and have some influence on what the winners did. I learned, too, that most elected officials had huge egos, and required constant praise from their supporters, even for just doing what they were supposed to do. Part of that ego involved a drive to move up the ladder, even at the expense of those who had elected them. I realized that one was expected to follow the dictates of a political club in supporting candidates, a form of centralistic functioning which had driven me from the doctrinaire left. In addition, I discovered that there were very few in electoral politics who could be trusted to remain loyal to “friends.” It all made me quite cynical, sort of right back where I started from, and at where most people are.
I started having a second round of children in 2003, and by 2005, I had to take a break and step aside for Brad Hoylman, a friend of mine, who Duane (now a State Senator) and Quinn (now a City Councilwoman) had chosen to be the next City Councilperson for our community. I was annoyed that I didn’t even receive a celebratory dinner for 10 years of hard work bringing the Duane/Quinn agenda to the local community and helping turn out huge numbers to vote in elections. Consequently, in 2006, I ran for Democratic State Committee against a candidate that all of my former friends supported. I won, flat on my back from mid-campaign by-pass surgery, because my neighbors appreciated my years of hard work, successful work, for a wide variety of causes. Owing nothing to any elected official, I have been free to choose who to support (I was the only elected official south of Harlem to work for Barack Obama in 2007-2008) and I have been free to be critical of our elected officials when required.
Brad Hoylman, who was never publically critical of an elected official, has moved up, not to the City Council, but to the State Senate. Some of the local elected officials have a new designee for District Leader. A fine fellow who has good politics, served on CB2 for a few years (I have served for 22 years), and worked hard for Obama in 2012, but who wouldn’t challenge any elected official on any issue.
Do they need to be challenged?
- Our local elected officials utterly failed to stop the closing of St. Vincent’s when it was stoppable and then failed to exert sufficient leverage to obtain sufficient replacement health care services for a community that needs it. The fruits of the ultimate government approval of the multi-billion dollar condo community being built on St. Vincent’s ruins were small in comparison to what was lost.
- Our local elected officials have done too little, too slowly, to address the overcrowding of local public schools. For a half dozen years now, parents of five year olds have approached the coming school year with horror, not knowing whether seats would be available; we have no local middle school. Yes, help is on the way, but too many kids and families have suffered.
- NYU has rolled over the Central Village, without much real resistance from elected officials. Yes, one elected led marches around Washington Square, but in the end, those in power were out maneuvered by the University.
- A natural gas pipeline (the Spectra pipeline) will soon be running across Hudson River Park, and West Street, at 13th Street. Local residents are horrified, but other than lip service, little has been done by elected to stop it.
I could go on and on. Local residents who felt abandoned after Hurricane Sandy. The decimation of local merchants and affordable housing in our part of town. The closing of token booths and curtailment of bus routes. The intractable deadlock over Hudson River Park and Pier 40.
I have no inhibition about challenging our elected leaders to be more responsive to their communities, and the position of District Leader – and this election for District leader will give me more of a bully pulpit to do that. My run won’t win me any friends in the electoral world, but the world of my four children, of my 90 year old mother, and of my neighbors, is more important. So I am running again, hoping that my statement, once again, can be a statement by the community which has elected me to various positions four times in the last 17 years, that the status quo just isn’t good enough.
Arthur Schwartz, our monthly columnist, is the Male State Democratic Committee member for the Village, SoHo, Tribeca and North Battery Park City.
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