My Humble Heartfelt Recommendations for the September 10 Primary
The September 10th Primary will result in the largest change in City Governance since 2001, when in the wake of the World Trade Center attack, New York elected Michael Bloomberg as Mayor. As someone who has been active in the Village politics for over 20 years, and as a player in the Labor and Public Interest Legal Communities, I know many of the candidates well, their strengths and weaknesses, and the players and forces behind them. There are several good choices and like many of you, I have waited until near the end to choose the ones I will vote for and recommend to my constituents. So, here are my late-in-the-game choices, and, I hope, a cogent explanation as to why.
I was once close friends with Christine Quinn. My then eight-year old daughter held the Bible used to swear in Chris for her first term in the City Council in 1999. Some of our common friends have stuck with her; the ones who don’t have an aversion to her admittedly bi-polar personality, her viciousness, and her intolerance for criticism. I want a Mayor who will listen and who will be respectful of his/her constituents, after 20 years of the opposite. Furthermore, I don’t want a Mayor who conveniently rediscovered the poor and middle class after playing second fiddle to one who opened NYC for massive, poorly planned luxury development, and expanded the gulf between the haves and the have-nots in our City.
Additionally, I have another concern about a Quinn win. She has high, high negatives in the polls and I fear that she is the candidate most likely to lose to a Republican, be it Joe Lhota or John Catsimatidis. Both of those guys are strong candidates whose mayoralty would plunge New York into a very bad place.
I have a soft spot in my heart for John Liu, a man who is creative and has more energy than all other candidates combined. However, the people around him, who screwed around with his campaign finances, ruined things for him. Bill Thompson is an extremely smart, capable man, who just lacks the heart to take on the Republicans in a vigorous campaign. The man almost beat Bloomberg in 2009, but 40% of the voters still say they don’t know much about him. My friends in Battery Park City, a part of which I represent on the State Democratic Committee, tell me that Bill didn’t do such a great job as President of the Battery Park City Authority.
The emergence of Bill de Blasio as the principal challenger to Quinn is exciting because Bill is building a movement around his candidacy. A man of deep principle who thinks problems out and doesn’t spout one line solutions, Bill de Blasio is a man who listens to people. What is most exciting about him is that he is the one candidate who can bridge the gap between white and non-white in this city, between people with some money and people with very little. I have seen him surrounded by Black and Hispanic hospital workers who look up to him. I have seen him passionately sell his vision of healing a divided city to wealthy Villagers. He has raised two African-American kids and has the understanding of a parent when it comes to the challenges of being dark-skinned in NYC. He is also a public school parent, whose start in government was as the elected member of a Community School Board. He will not just preach about education and how schools work; he has lived the system – the current system with its many faults- first hand.
De Blasio is smart. He took on the closing of Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn Heights carefully; while committing civil disobedience he also put together a crackerjack legal team which convinced a court to say “no.” That victory recently snowballed as another court, a bankruptcy court, amazingly, has held up the closing of Interfaith Hospital at Bill’s urging. He is the one candidate who will be able to relate to the 350,000 City employees who haven’t had a new contract or a raise in four years, while recognizing the need to structure those positive discussions in a way which doesn’t bankrupt the City. I can’t see Chris Quinn or Joe Lhota or Catsimatidis doing that, even with cops and fire fighters.
This is a race which remains a puzzle to most voters. Dan Squadron is a smart unseasoned politician (who just turned 30), Reshma Saujani is also smart, also young, and needs to work her way up more slowly. Cathy Guerriero has been an inspiring candidate, a school teacher who speaks for the white working class of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, but who has no connection to the under-represented communities of color in our city. Finally, there is Letitia (Tish) James, the candidate I urge you to support.
Tish is a fighter. She was an Assistant DA, and then an Assistant Attorney General doing civil rights work, before being elected to the City Council running against the Democratic Party nominee. She has led fights against the overdevelopment of Downtown Brooklyn, she has fought to expand public schools seats, and to promote parent empowerment. She joined Bill de Blasio in his fight to save Long Island College Hospital, which served her district, and has used her City Council office as a place to help tenants, seniors, people who lost jobs and benefits, and to take on untold injustices. She has already been acting as a public advocate and deserves to step up into the official position.
I have known Corey Johnson for many years. We even ran together as Presidential Convention Delegates pledged to Obama in 2008. By all measure, he has been a good Chair for Community Board 4. However, while Corey has garnered the support of lots of elected officials, he has failed to spark a movement. I do have concerns about his long time connection to a real estate development company.
His opponent is Yetta Kurland. I have been on the streets with her campaigning and people greet her with refreshing enthusiasm. She has built a following out of her relentless fight to stop the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital and now for a new hospital. She had the guts to take on Chris Quinn in 2009 and engendered the animosity of the local establishment.
If she is elected, our community will be heard, and will have an advocate fighting for our needs in the City Council, something we have lacked since Quinn started running for Speaker in 2001.
P.S. I was present at the press conference on August 15 when George Capsis “slapped” State Senator Brad Hoylman. I was next to Brad. He wasn’t slapped. George nudged his chin, much like my grandfather used to do if I wasn’t looking at him when he was speaking. Brad wasn’t holding his daughter. George was angry, and became so, two days after his wife died, when former Senator Tom Duane, who had been speaking for a half hour, started to blame the closing of St. Vincent’s on Susan Sarandon, a de Blasio supporter, whose opposition to the 20-story hospital, proposed by St. Vincent’s in 2007 somehow overcame the “valiant” efforts of Chris Quinn. Tom deserved to be yelled at and it was sad to see him and Brad Hoylman reduced to being Quinn apologists who appeared at St. Vincent’s that day to attack Bill de Blasio, the only elected official who has stopped a hospital closing these last 30 years.
Arthur Schwartz is a labor and civil rights lawyer who represents the Lower West Side on the State Democratic Committee, and is a candidate for Village District Leader. His column appears monthly in Westview.