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It’s probably a testament to Scott Stringer’s fine work as Manhattan borough president that there are several good candidates to replace him. All four of the Democrats running would continue and build on Stringer’s exemplary system of screening, appointing and training community board members — which has pretty much ended the cronyism and conflict of interest problems of the past.
The candidates in this primary make up by far, the best field of any of the races we looked at this year, but one candidate, Julie Menin, former chairperson of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, stands out.
Except for appointing community board members, borough presidents have mostly advisory powers and can easily be ignored. It takes skill and savvy to be effective, and like a community board chairperson, the post’s power rests more with the person, rather than the office.
Menin has an impressive record of accomplishments, demonstrating leadership on many important issues. Without her, Downtown would never have secured $200 million of 9/11 money originally slated for large utilities, but which the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. had been sitting on for years. The money had been forgotten by most, and it was Menin who raised the issue, rallied support and got money redirected.
Occupy Wall Street was a gimme issue for progressives around the city and the world, but in the neighborhood surrounding Zuccotti Park, it was a thorny situation in which free speech and assembly rights had to be balanced against the need of residents not to be disrupted, and Menin led the effort to forge a compromise resolution at C.B. 1.
The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” actually a mosque and Islamic center in the same neighborhood as the World Trade Center, was something Menin and Board 1 could have easily ducked, but they stood up against calls for government interference into religion.
Whether it came to fighting to move the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial and its security risks outside of Lower Manhattan or getting more desperately needed school space, Menin time and time again worked with others to get results. We have watched this community leader rise and learn and get better with time.
She has a thoughtful plan to use the borough president’s budget to give community boards more resources to do comprehensive surveys in order to identify the greatest needs in each part of Manhattan, which should empower them to get more affordable housing, schools and better park space. Making urban planning more responsive to community needs is something that she has been thinking and talking about for years.
We were also impressed with Councilmember Jessica Lappin, another candidate, who has put forward good ideas on land use and community board improvements. Councilmember Gale Brewer has real legislative accomplishments on important issues like paid sick leave and protecting small shops on the Upper West Side, and would probably be a good borough president. The fourth candidate, Councilmember Robert Jackson, was a leader in the effort to get fairer state education funds for the city, but his legislative record is not as strong as his two opponents in the Council.
But none of those three have shown us they are likely to be as effective as Menin. Downtown Express strongly endorses Julie Menin for borough president in the Sept. 10th primary.