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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | On Dec. 10, Yetta Kurland announced that she’s running for City Council in the Third District, for the seat currently held by Speaker Christine Quinn, which stretches from the West Village up to Hell’s Kitchen.
Three years ago, riding a wave of voter backlash over Quinn’s enabling the extension of term limits despite two voter referenda against it, Kurland made an impressive showing against the powerful Council speaker, winning 31 percent of the vote to Quinn’s 53 percent. It was always expected Kurland would make another run for the seat.
Kurland, a civil rights attorney, raised her local profile as a champion of fighting to save St. Vincent’s Hospital and then, after it closed, to try to get a replacement hospital.
Within days of announcing her candidacy earlier this month, Kurland nabbed some prime endorsements, including the 38,000-member Transport Workers Union (transit workers union) and Local 1180 of the Communication Workers of America.
Other candidates in the Council contest include Corey Johnson, chairperson of Community Board 4, and Alexander Meadows, a member of Community Board 2.
Although there has been much interest in whether preservationist Andrew Berman will jump in the race, it’s still unknown what his plans are. The Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation director did not respond to several requests for comment by press time on whether he intends to run or not.
Meanwhile, last Saturday evening, in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre, Kurland led a vigil in Union Square against gun violence. Two years ago, after the mass shooting in Tucson that left several dead and Congressmember Gabbie Giffords critically injured, Kurland also held a vigil in Union Square against gun violence. However, at that previous vigil, Kurland did not divulge that she herself was in fact a handgun owner.
Kurland’s gun ownership was “outed” in a New York Times article in February of last year, which noted that she was among the more than 37,000 New Yorkers legally licensed to have a handgun in the city.
Kurland responded to that article with a letter to the editor the Times apparently never published, but which Kurland circulated to her supporters, in which she claimed she needed the deadly firearm because she was a “court officer.” Other attorneys snickered, noting she’s not a peace officer, plus she handles civil rights cases, not organized crime and drug cases.
In a subsequent interview with this newspaper, Kurland said she mainly had the gun because her then English-language school — which issues visas to foreign students — voted for her to have it as part of its post-9/11 security plan.
That prompted fellow civil rights attorney Ron Kuby to comment, “I don’t know why an English-as-a-Second-Language school needs someone running around with a gun. You can check with [Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly on this, but I don’t see Yetta Kurland as my first line of defense against terrorists wanting to learn English.”
Last year when Kurland participated in a vigil against gun violence and this newspaper asked her if she still had her gun, she declined to answer — instead accusing The Villager of harassment for simply asking the question.
However, when queried again about her gun this week, she responded by saying she has left the school, the Hello World Language Center, and no longer has the weapon.
“When I owned a language school in New York City, I was licensed for a firearm as part of our school’s public safety precautions,” she said. “I took on this responsibility and worked hard to protect the students and teachers in my school. When I left the school I terminated all responsibilities and no longer have a firearm license, nor do I have a gun.
“I am an unwavering longtime advocate for gun control. Further, many progressive, outspoken politicians who advocate for gun control have been licensed for a firearm, including New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. I am not alone and continue to be a voice in efforts to make this world a safer place.”
Kurland further called for a ban on all assault weapons; for stricter and unified, national gun laws to stop people from transporting weapons from states with lax gun laws to ones with tougher regulations, like New York; for a commitment to mental healthcare to identify warning signs and get people treatment; and for better emergency preparedness and public safety plans for public facilities, such as schools.
Schneiderman worked in law enforcement as a deputy sheriff in Massachusetts in the 1970s.
As for Schneiderman today, a spokesperson said, “He does not have a gun or a gun license.”
Meanwhile, Kurland better focus on her fact-checking before she releases her next statement. A Schumer spokesperson said the senator has, in fact, never owned a gun or been licensed to carry a gun. The spokesperson said this was a bizarre rumor that has been “bouncing around forever,” and was even employed against Schumer during his last election by his Republican opponent, Jay Townsend. During a 2010 debate, Townsend falsely accused Schumer of being “licensed to carry a concealed handgun.”
Of course, Schumer is one of the country’s leading gun-control advocates.
“No, he does not have a firearm,” the Schumer spokesperson told The Villager. “He is not licensed to conceal and carry.”
However, while Kurland said she no longer has a gun or a gun license, the New York Police Department said her registration for a “carry permit” — to carry a gun on her person in public — is still on the books with them.
“She has a carry permit,” confirmed Sergeant Brendan Ryan, a police spokesperson, speaking on Tuesday. “She has a license for carrying.”
The police spokesperson said the permits need to be renewed every few years.
Kurland did not respond by press time to a follow-up question on the fact that, despite her saying she no longer has a gun-carrying permit, she is still registered with the N.Y.P.D. as having one. She also did not respond to questions on exactly when she left the language school and when she gave up the gun, or how she disposed of it, such as by turning it in at a local police precinct or at a Manhattan district attorney-sponsored gun buyback, which is designed to get guns off the streets.
Kuby, for one, who said he always enjoyed shooting guns recreationally before he moved to the city, said he decided to turn in his weapons at Greenwich Village’s Sixth Precinct years ago.
“I began to realize I’m a lot safer without having a pistol in my pocket,” Kuby told this newspaper last year. “I get in too many arguments. When you’re armed you don’t have to walk away. … Just shut up and walk away. The mouth is more powerful than the pistol.”
Kurland’s campaign opponent Johnson declined to comment on the latest twist in the tale of Kurland’s gun, but he said there may still be more to report.
“I have no comment on this at this time,” he said. “There’s a lot more to understand here regarding her story and justification for owning a gun and having a carry permit.”
Asked if he owns a firearm, Johnson replied, “I do not have a gun. I have never owned a gun. I have never had a gun license, and I do not plan on ever having a gun or a gun license.”