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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Trying to make inroads with Downtown community leaders, borough president candidate Jessica Lappin held a meet-and-greet with a small but influential group of about 30 people at the Village home of Susanna Aaron and Gary Ginsberg last week.
Standing midway up a staircase leading up from the living room, Lappin addressed her audience for about 20 minutes, laying out some of her key campaign positions and concerns, then took questions and mingled with the crowd as they sipped wine and snacked on cheese and grapes.
The gathering — which was not a fundraiser — was heavy on Community Board 2 members and local Hudson River Park activists, and notably included Madelyn Wils, the president and C.E.O. of the Hudson River Park Trust.
Also attending was former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey. The former New School president said he is endorsing Lappin.
As a condition for a reporter being invited to attend, the Lappin campaign requested that the substance or her remarks at the gathering be off the record.
Elected to the City Council in 2005, Lappin represents the Upper East Side between 49th and 92nd Sts. She formerly chaired the Council’s Land Use Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses.
A native New Yorker and lifelong Democrat, Lappin attended UNIS (United Nations International School) — which Aaron also attended — and Stuyvesant High School.
The three other candidates in the race are Councilmembers Gale Brewer and Robert Jackson, and former Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin.
The borough president appoints community board members, issues advisory opinions on land-use projects and has a sizable staff.
Ginsberg is a board of directors member of the Friends of Hudson River Park.
Aaron said her being on the board of Friends — the waterfront park’s leading private fundraising arm — is the reason she invited Wils. However, Wils said she had been “dragged” to the event by Rich Caccappolo, a Lappin booster and chairperson of C.B. 2’s Parks and Waterfront Committee.
As Wils was leaving the meet-and-greet, asked if she was throwing her support behind Lappin, she said, “No, I had a drink with Rich Caccappolo at a bar first and he asked me to come over… There’s nothing here,” she said with a flick of her hand, as if to say, “There’s no story here.”
However, her presence did raise a few eyebrows.
“I didn’t expect to see Madelyn here,” remarked Pam Frederick, a board of directors member of the Trust and former C.B. 4 chairperson, who was schmoozing with David Gruber, C.B. 2 chairperson.
As for who she might support for B.P., Frederick said she’s undecided.
“Jessica and Julie — those are two good ones,” she said.
Caccappolo did the I.T. side of Kerrey’s recent losing Nebraska Senate campaign. Asked if he was supporting Lappin, Kerrey quipped, of course, because “her husband’s from Nebraska.”
“I think she’s a real fresh face and she’ll help get a contract with the teachers union,” he said, adding that otherwise $250 million for the city’s schools is at risk of being lost due to the current impasse over teacher evaluations.
“I’m not speaking against Julie or the other candidates,” said Kerrey. “There are other people I speak against — but not them.”
As for his own plans, he said he’s focusing on working to get reimbursements for pre-K — early childhood education.
And he added, “I got a book I gotta finish.”
The day before the Jan. 28th event, in what some are dubbing a “hit piece,” the New York Post reported that Menin switched political parties three times in the span of 17 months, charging that she did so to raise her political profile. Menin was registered as a Democrat in November 2001, then in February 2002 registered with the Independence Party, only the next month to switch to Republican, and in July 2003 back to being a Democrat again.
During her G.O.P. stint, Menin was named by Republican Governor George Pataki to various 9/11 panels to work on Downtown rebuilding.
Brewer blasted Menin’s party hopping as “opportunistic,” saying, “[Voters] should evaluate someone who’s switched parties that often.”
Lappin and Jackson declined to comment for that article.
Menin’s spokesperson, George Arzt, told the Post, that Menin has “been a Democrat for all but a year and a half of her last 27. In 2002, she was working 24/7 with the [Republican Pataki] administration to help rebuild Downtown. She thought she could help her community by showing her support for the state administration’s rebuilding efforts.”
However, leaders of local Democratic political clubs played down Menin’s party switches, some of which had been reported by Downtown Express and others a few years ago.
Jeanne Wilcke, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, said local politicos already knew Menin wasn’t always a Democrat.
“Old news,” she said, “and the party registration changes were over a decade ago. The New York Post article read like a setup by a political rival. I guess someone is desperately afraid Menin may win. What I care about is what Menin has done for us.
“She called out when everyone else had their eyes closed on the L.M.D.C. and the hundreds of millions they were hoarding from 9/11 funds,” Wilcke said, referring to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.
“She wasn’t afraid to step in and address thorny issues, like Occupy Wall Street or the mosque while others were scratching their heads what to do.
“The 9/11 trials got moved from Downtown New York City after she started the ball rolling.
“When N.Y.U. applied for its big land grab further north, folks out of her area pleaded for help,” Wilcke added. “She lobbied N.Y.U. to move to the Financial District instead of crush Greenwich Village. Most other elected officials were nowhere to be seen.”
Plus, Wilcke added, “I too was a Republican once.”
“No clearheadedness to it, just everyone around me was Republican,” she said. “After awhile, I saw the light and switched to Democrat sometime in the early 1990s, I think. Anyway, we all have our stories and histories. The question to these candidates is — what have you done for me and the community?”