District 1 Council Contenders Wrangle on Development

By Nan Victoria Munger

If politics is “war without bloodshed,” then the race for District 1 City Council is pure politics. Eight-year incumbent Margaret Chin is opposed in the Democratic primary by Aaron Foldenauer, Christopher Marte, and Dashia Imperiale, who suggest that she is too pro-development. (According to a Common Cause New York report, the Real Estate Board Political Action Committee (PAC) spent $230,968 promoting Chin’s 2014 re-election.)

At a July 18th debate, candidates shouted, interrupted one another, and hurled invectives. Foldenauer and Imperiale accused Chin of allowing the construction of mega-tall buildings and condemned her for supporting the development of senior housing on the Elizabeth Street Garden site. Marte was less aggressive, but also voiced his determination for change. Chin defended her incumbency and expressed her wish to continue working on behalf of seniors and affordable housing.

The election will take place on September 12th. Here is an overview of the candidates’ backgrounds and positions.

Aaron Foldenauer

Aaron Foldenauer moved to New York City from Virginia in 2005, and has lived in Lower Manhattan ever since. Although he was raised Republican, the election of Donald Trump was “the last straw” for him. He is now a Democrat. Frustrated with “the incompetence in government at the local level,” he officially became a candidate for City Council in December 2016. A former attorney specializing in intellectual property, he feels that his familiarity with the law and skills in negotiation would benefit the City Council.

Foldenauer exhibited his determination to “continue using…legal skills to fight for the people” when he registered a federal complaint against Mayor de Blasio and Council Member Margaret Chin. Outside a town hall meeting on June 21st, police confiscated the political literature of those entering the venue. Inside, workers distributed fliers with information about Chin’s accomplishments. According to Foldenauer, that classifies as viewpoint discrimination, a violation of the First Amendment. (Paul Leonard, Chin’s chief of staff, responds that the decision was made by the New York Police Department, and that Chin was unaware of it.)

Foldenauer’s top priorities include: improving the school system, reforming criminal justice, and upgrading infrastructure to make the City more accessible for seniors. He also wants to enhance storm resiliency and make the City more environmentally conscious.

“I’m not here running for office to try to kiss up to anyone. I’m trying to make real change happen,” says Foldenauer. For more information, visit: Foldenauerforcitycouncil.com/.

Christopher Marte

The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Christopher Marte was born and raised on the Lower East Side. Marte’s mother was a sweatshop worker, and his father owned a bodega which was eventually forced to close because of rent hikes. Marte says that the neighborhood in which he grew up is becoming “an unlivable place for the people who built the community.” Frustrated by the City Council’s failure to prevent displacement, Marte declared his candidacy in November 2016.

Marte’s top priorities include passing the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act (SBJSA), creating height restrictions on buildings by implementing the Chinatown Working Group Plan, and increasing community engagement. “[Chin] hasn’t been in a community board meeting in almost two years…and she waited to host a town hall until an election year,” he says. “When you can’t do your basic responsibility, which is community engagement, why should you have another four years?” (Chin hosts weekly office hours for constituents and visits community boards, an approach she feels is more effective than town halls.)

Marte speaks fluent Spanish and conversational Mandarin. His experience includes working for Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that helps previously incarcerated individuals, and managing retirement funds for IBM. At IBM, he constantly asked himself what would be best for his clients, which he feels prepared him well for considering the needs of District 1 constituents. Marte is also a volunteer at the Elizabeth Street Garden, and has been a leading advocate in the campaign to save it. For more information, visit: martenyc.com/.

Dashia Imperiale

An award-winning independent filmmaker and longtime housing activist, Dashia Imperiale was born and raised in District 1. As President of the Tenant Association at the Grand Street Guild, she secured an extension of income-based affordable housing for a second 40-year term, a feat she says no other tenant association had ever accomplished without the help of a lawyer or tenant advocate association. Imperiale says that negotiating with the City on housing issues has demonstrated that it prioritizes money over constituents. Aspiring to change the City’s focus, she announced her candidacy in March 2017. “My whole thing is people first,” she says. “Because I think that profit is good, but not at the expense of people.”

Imperiale has been infuriated by Chin’s leadership. She says that Chin “made it easy for developers to buy air rights and have their buildings taller,” causing rent increases that hurt small businesses and renters. Imperiale has referred to Chin as a “developer’s doormat,” and blames Chin for the planned construction of five mega-towers on the East River. (Chin says that these buildings are “not a done deal” and that her office is working to fight them.) “[Chin] says she’s gonna fight and all she does is fold,” says Imperiale. “It’s hard for me to comprehend how the woman is able to sit in a chair without a backbone.”

Imperiale’s priorities include creating height restrictions by implementing the Chinatown Working Group Plan, passing the SBJSA, and fighting for diversity in schools. For more information, visit: nywarriors4Imperiale.com/.

Margaret Chin (Incumbent)

Margaret Chin emigrated from Hong Kong at age nine and grew up in Chinatown. She says that her biggest successes as District 1 Council Member have been the preservation and construction of affordable housing. She is also proud of her work as chair of the Committee on Aging: This year, the Department of the Aging secured a $22.89 million increase in permanent annual funding. If re-elected, Chin would continue her focus on affordable housing and senior housing. “Now I’m more experienced,” she says. “There are more tools that I could utilize to really help create more affordable housing.”

Chin has been criticized for her determination to build senior housing on the Elizabeth Street Garden site, but she stands by her decision. “Over 200,000 seniors are on waiting lists for senior housing,” she says. “There is such a great need.” Those who defend the garden often point to alternative locations, and Chin responds that she would like to build on those places as well. She also feels that the Garden is exclusive. “I grew up in the neighborhood,” says Chin, “[and the Garden] was never that public.” Chin’s plan includes a small garden “not based on volunteers coming to unlock the padlocks.”

Chin has repeatedly defended herself against attacks from opponents. “They just throw everything at me,” Chin says, shaking her head. “The bottom line, it’s up to the voter. And I hope that they will continue to support me because they know the good work that I have done.”

For more information, visit: margaretchin.nyc/.

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