A Monthly Column about Politics
AN APOLOGY TO YETTA KURLAND
I know my tongue can be piercing. Following 35 years of litigation and 45 years of political activism, I have developed verbal and written skills which can be “off-putting.” Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, I go too far. After a lot of thought and reflection, and my ongoing quest to understand and learn, I decided, as we get closer to choosing a new City Council member, that I have been too hard on Yetta Kurland, local activist.
For those of you not paying attention yet, Yetta Kurland is one of three candidates for City Council in the West Village. (Our district also includes Chelsea and Hells Kitchen.) The others are Corey Johnson and Alexander Meadows, both of whom are wonderful, public service oriented fellows and whom would be progressive-minded City Council members. Yet none of the others have put themselves out there like Yetta has, leading the grassroots fight for a new hospital in the Lower West Side, taking on elected officials, and goading Community Board 2. As someone who stuck her neck out, it made it easier for me to take a whack at it.
Those of you who follow my column know that I have been extremely critical of some of our local elected officials due to their tentativeness, ineffectiveness, and inability to play politics skillfully. Yetta has hardly been tentative; she stepped into the fight to save St. Vincent’s Hospital after all of the elected officials ran away from a possible deal with Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the Health Commissioner’s stubbornness, chanting “urgent care center, now!,” as though that was a suitable substitute. Yetta didn’t buy that line and she was right. Yetta was and has been relentless. She led marches, town hall meetings, and picket lines. She organized community residents to speak at Community Board meetings. She read the situation right; the leadership of Community Board 2, including our new State Senator, Brad Hoylman, made it look like they were fighting the fight, when in fact they were complicit in making a deal.
Yetta undertook far more in 2011 and 2012. She was there, big time, to defend Occupy Wall Street, representing many who were arrested and appearing in court the morning that Bloomberg closed Zucotti Park to try to stop it. When Hurricane Sandy hit, she helped out residents in Lower Manhattan and then spent lots of her time helping people in Far Rockaway and other devastated areas of Queens and Staten Island.
Yetta Kurland can be rough around the edges. Sometimes she goads friends and foes alike. She doesn’t “speak softly,” and isn’t afraid of controversy, or publicity. Recently, I made this critique to her campaign consultant and he said, “Sounds like you.” I looked in the mirror and realized that he was right. I am 15 years older than Yetta and have 15 more years of experience working with elected officials and government representatives and neighborhood leaders. Yet on an issue like St. Vincent’s, I was the sole Community Board 2 member who voted “No” on the resolution approving the building of condos on the former St. Vincent’s site because the resolution did not discuss the need for a new hospital on the Lower West Side. Yetta turned out to be right when she made her effort to carry the argument to the Community Board that the fight for a hospital should not be abandoned.
Yetta may never get along well with the Powers that Be and our local elected leaders are desperate to sidetrack her campaign. However, I have seen her on the street with regular people and folks love her. She will learn as time passes to be a little more diplomatic. However, I doubt that Yetta will ever make a deal such as trading a half-acre park and $1 million for a tenant clinic for a hospital. Nor will she pit hospital adherents against parents looking for a new school building (75 Morton Street) like Christine Quinn did. In this day and age of political sellout and corruption, we need more politicians who lead with their hearts.
If Yetta wins, we will have a fun four years and I pledge to work with her to make it an effective four years.
Arthur Z. Schwartz the State Democratic Committee member for the Lower West Side and is a candidate for Village Democratic District Leader.