Oh wow! The election for Mayor and other sundry City offices is coming up fast—on September 12th. And, although there has been some disenchantment with Bill de Blasio, no for-real opposition candidate has emerged.
At a recent meet-the-candidate rally at the LGBT Center on 13th Street, the only sparks were over the Mayor’s insistence to build senior housing on top of the Elizabeth Street Garden. Our own WestView News contributor, Dr. Alec Pruchnicki, who treats seniors, strongly supports housing on that site. (I am sure he hears heart-wrenching tales of seniors losing their homes after decades. Read his article on page 26 of this issue.)
Personally, I am in favor of keeping the park a park. It will serve a lot more seniors as a place to sit in the sun than as apartments—a place to sit and watch TV.
By Edward Yutkowitz
The Democratic primary for City-wide offices is months away, but at a candidates’ forum held at the LGBT Center, on 13th Street, downtown Democrats began the formal process of assessing the incumbents and their challengers.
Some 200 members of the public, including many members of the downtown Democratic political clubs, participated in the forum, which was sponsored by five political clubs representing Lower Manhattan: the Village Independent Democrats (VID), the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, the Village Reform Democratic Club, the Downtown Independent Democrats, the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, and the Coalition for a District Alternative.
“It’s important for us to have our voices heard on the issues that affect Lower Manhattan,” said Erik Coler, President of the VID. “We particularly wanted to give some of the lesser-known candidates for public office the opportunity to address issues that affect our community and the City as a whole.”
City Council Member Corey Johnson introduced Mayor Bill de Blasio with a ringing endorsement. Not surprisingly, the Mayor faced the most criticism from the other candidates and the most pointed questions from the audience. They were particularly angry about the administration’s policing practices and his plan to develop affordable senior housing on the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden. But the Mayor stood his ground, emphasizing that affordable housing is his highest priority for the City. He also defended his progressive credentials and his record on both housing and policing. The Mayor was also applauded for his commitment to maintaining New York as a “sanctuary city.”
Audience members were familiar with the records of the established candidates, all of whom described themselves as “progressive.” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer emphasized the way she’s reached out to community groups and other stakeholders to promote practical solutions to meet the needs of the borough’s residents, from making sure that schoolchildren have fresh fruits and vegetables to working to save Beth Israel Hospital.
Seeking re-election as Comptroller, Scott Stringer spoke briefly about his record of fiscal probity and how he balances his fiduciary responsibilities with his progressive political views. Public Advocate Letitia James made a compelling case for her re-election, focusing on her work on housing issues.
Cyrus Vance, who is running for his third term as Manhattan District Attorney, said that the Trump administration is putting communities at risk with policies that will allow more guns on City streets. Pushing back against an audience member who pressed him on privacy issues, he spoke of law enforcement’s need to access electronic devices to obtain evidence under proper, court-ordered circumstances. He noted, “Cell phones have revolutionized our lives [but] they’ve also revolutionized the lives of criminals.”
The forum also gave several lesser-known candidates the opportunity to introduce themselves. Mayoral candidate, Sal Albanese, a former Brooklyn City Council member, was rough around the edges, but both idealistic and pragmatic. Decrying pay-to-play corruption, he said, “New York should be Athens.” He called for bold, creative ideas for mass transit, and reminded the audience of his progressive credentials, ability to work with Albany, and refusal to take contributions from lobbyists or real estate developers.
Long-time advocate for prison and police reform, Robert Gangi blasted the de Blasio administration’s approach to criminal justice. Calling himself an “honest progressive,” he promised to implement truly progressive reforms should he be elected Mayor.
Warning that the status quo is unsustainable, the two youngest candidates foresaw a dire future for New York City if government doesn’t act quickly and imaginatively.
Mayoral candidate Mike Tolkin, an energetic high-tech entrepreneur, proposed a strategy to ensure New York’s “economic resilience.” He called for government “companies” to help the City meet the crisis of automation, but didn’t flesh out the details of his intriguing ideas.
Running for Public Advocate, David C. Eisenbach, a historian and art professor at Columbia University, had the intriguing idea of guaranteeing lease renewal through arbitration for small businesses. However, it wasn’t clear whether this would be legal or under the Public Advocate’s purview.
Former firefighter Kevin Coenen seemed sincere in his disgust with corruption in City Hall, but wasn’t able to articulate a clear rationale for his candidacy for Mayor.
“We were happy to provide an opportunity for our neighbors to speak directly to the elected officials whose decisions affect their lives,” said Erik Coler. “The give-and-take between audience members and the candidates demonstrated the knowledge and passion of our community and helps keep our elected officials on their toes.”
On May 11th, the VID endorsed Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James; it declined to endorse Cyrus Vance for re-election. The Democratic Primary will be held on Tuesday, September 12th.