By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Over the last few months, WestView readers have been kept abreast of the efforts to keep Beth Israel Hospital open thanks to the reporting done by Penny Mintz, a 40 year resident of West 11th Street. Penny has been the Chair of the Coalition to Save Beth Israel Hospital, a group pulled together by Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan (PALM) (the local affiliate of the NY Progressive Action Network or NYPAN) last spring after the plan to close the hospital, piece by piece, became known. Under Penny’s leadership the Coalition, which includes health care organizations and community groups, has held a Town Hall, launched a lawsuit, held a demonstration, and met with the various political figures whose constituents will be affected by the shutdown.
One thing that became clear very quickly was that the shutdown, which was being accomplished without any meaningful public review, was going forward because Governor Cuomo supports the shutdown of hospitals all over NYC. The Governor, who appoints the Health Commissioner, has been made aware of the objections raised by those of us who live in Lower Manhattan, about how the closure of Beth Israel will leave one hospital serving Manhattan below 23rd Street, and none on the West Side until 59th Street. His response? Silence.
Penny, like many of us, was also upset about the corruption swirling around the Governor, who despite a few good pieces of legislation in eight years, has largely presided over a dysfunctional Albany which can’t even pass legislation to keep speed cameras in school zones functioning.
Cuomo is running for re-election, and most progressive forces in the state have rallied around the candidacy of Cynthia Nixon for Governor and Jumaane Williams for Lt. Governor. Cynthia is not only supported by NYPAN; she has been endorsed by the Village Independent Democrats (VID) and the Downtown Independent Democrats (DID), the two “official” Democratic clubs in the 66th Assembly District.
The NY State Democratic Party, an institution largely controlled by the Governor, is run by a state committee. Our assembly district, which stretches from 14th Street to the World Trade Center, has a male and female state committee member. (Note- I held the seat from 2006 – 2013.) The male state committee member is Ben Yee, who was elected in a contested election in 2014. Our female state committee member, Rachel Lavine, has served since 1997, but has never run against an opponent. She was actually recommended for appointment by me, as district leader to fill a vacancy.
In many communities, the state committee members are active community leaders, using the position as a bully pulpit around important local issues. Ben Yee, for example, has held scores of meetings and workshops all over Manhattan teaching people how to get involved in politics in the era Trump. But Rachel Lavine has never stood up around any issue which has arisen since 1997; not around NYU’s expansion, the closure of St. Vincents, the need for more school space, or even the proposed 14th Street closure, which will make her block, West 12th Street, unbearable.
Penny Mintz, on the other hand, was a parent activist at the Downing Street Playground Co-op and led parents with pots and pans around Washington Square Park to drive drug dealers out. She was on the board of the PS41 Parents Association and helped run their flea market. She served on Community Board 2 for 12 years; chairing the Traffic and Transportation Committee, and bringing bike lanes to Hudson Street. She served on the Executive Committee of CB2. She did environmental litigation at a major law firm, and then served as Appellate Counsel for the Brooklyn DA.
In May, after the VID and DID endorsed Cynthia Nixon, the State Democratic Committee held a Convention to “nominate” candidates (subject to a primary). The vote was largely stacked against Cynthia Nixon, but she decided to participate in order to give her supporters a chance to express their democratic choice. The vote went assembly district by assembly district. When they got to 66, Ben Yee stood up and said “Cynthia Nixon.” Then it was Rachel’s turn. Now understand, not only had VID and DID endorsed Cynthia, but Rachel created an entity called the “Progressive Caucus” and is the Chairwoman. Rachel stands up and says: on behalf of the 66th Assembly District, I cast my votes for Andrew Cuomo.” She got lots of applause.
Penny, who as a Board member of NYPAN, and a member of DID had voted to endorse Cynthia, heard about this and decided to do something about it. “It’s bad enough that Rachel isn’t actively involved in any issues in the Village, Soho and Tribeca. But she voted for Cuomo when her clubs, and her community don’t support that candidacy. Zephyr Teachout won 65% of the vote in our assembly district in 2014. NYPAN is running candidates all over the state in an effort to reshape the State Party; I decided to be part of that effort.”
So Penny went out, almost every day for a month, and with the help of other PALM members, and Nixon supporters, turned in 1900 signatures to get on the ballot. A week later she was endorsed by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, the City’s most influential gay and lesbian club, which endorsed her even though Rachel is a lesbian and Penny is not.
Come September 13th, our community gets to vote, not only for Cynthia Nixon and her campaign to clean up Albany, but for Mintz, and her campaign to democratize the Democratic Party, and to have a state committee woman who stands-up around day-to-day community issues which affect us all.
Arthur Z. Schwartz is the Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village, and the Political Director of the NY State Progressive Action Network.