Volume 16, Number 12 | Aug. 26 - Sept. 1, 2003



Tribeca ex-firefighter challenging Gerson

By Lincoln Anderson

A former firefighter and political novice, Peter Gleason is running against Councilmember Alan Gerson in the Democratic primary election in Lower Manhattan’s First City Council District.

Gleason, 40, was a police officer on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown for three years in the early 1980s. He said he participated in Operation Pressure Point, the anti-drug campaign on the East Side, and manned an anti-gang post on Mott St. He then joined the Fire Department, and for 10 years was assigned to Ladder 11 on E. Second St. between Avenues C and D.

He has lived in Tribeca since October 2000. But while he’s not a longtime resident and has no local political experience, he says he knows the First District well, in that between his time in the Police and Fire Departments he has probably been in 90 percent of its buildings whether checking out conditions or responding to calls.

In a recent interview at the Downtown Express office, Gleason said, if elected, he’d bring a firefighter’s practical sensibility to the Council.

“The Fire Department works on two simple principles: Do the right thing; and keep it simple,” he said. “That’s [part of] why I’m running.”

Gleason left the F.D.N.Y. in 1996 after suffering a serious back injury in a vehicular accident on duty. He was laid up for a year and a half in recovery. Though retired, he said on 9/11 he donned his firefighters’ uniform and went down to ground zero to look for survivors, joining up with his two brothers, both firefighters. They got down 150 ft. by entering through the E train tunnel but found no one alive.

Gleason said he’s running for office because, he sees a “void” in the current leadership of the district by Councilmember Gerson, who was elected in 2001.

“Normally you give someone a year,” he said. “On the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11 is when I gave serious thought to running.”

Part of Gleason’s complaint has to do with how the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is allocating funds for rebuilding Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Some people get money, some don’t,” he noted of the funds’ disbursement.

He said he would have pressed the L.M.D.C. to distribute the residential grant money equally rather than giving more money to people living closer to the World Trade Center site. Gleason said Gerson missed the opportunity to become a national figure with more influence over Lower Manhattan’s future.

Gleason also charged incumbent Gerson is not moving fast enough to address the problem of dangerously high quantities of diesel fuel being stored at a telecom building at 60 Hudson St.

If elected, Gleason vowed he would immediately move to eliminate the illegal fuel storage at 60 Hudson, “with a vengeance.”

“We saw what happened at 7 World Trade Center,” he recalled. “We’re talking serious collapse, potential serious loss of life, serious environmental impact.”

Gleason lives at N. Moore and Hudson Sts., within sight of the controversial Tribeca telecom building.

A 20-year Coast Guard reserve member, Gleason has training in anti-terrorism and environmentalism, both of which he said would help him better serve the district, especially in a post-9/11 world.

“It tends to help soothe people” to know a leader has this kind of training, he said. On the other hand, he added, “In light of what Lower Manhattan went through, there has been nothing coming out of the councilmembers’ office” on terrorism preparedness.

As for Downtown’s environment, he’s not convinced there was ever a thorough cleanup. He backs rebuilding but is also concerned about lingering environmental hazards, as is Gerson.

“It could very well be a mistake,” Gleason said. “You need some thorough and some honest studies about what happened there and was released into the atmosphere. It doesn’t go away.”

Gleason, who has a close relationship with Norma Ramirez, the Lower East Side Democratic district leader, also feels the needs of Hispanic residents, who make up a substantial percentage of the district’s votership, are not being adequately met.

“There’s construction in front of the Smith Houses right now,” he said. “The spot was earmarked for a playground; it’s being made into a parking lot.”

Asked about the development of the remainder of the Seward Park urban renewal area, Gleason said he supports “what was promised — low-to-moderate-income housing. What was promised for years and years and years. There’s not even a proposal drafted at this point,” he noted. “They should be up and running; people should be living there.

Councilmember Gerson has said that he defers to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Martin Connor on the development of the Seward Park sites, since he is a relative newcomer. Gerson said low-income housing slated for the sites could be built elsewhere in the district. But Gleason said he would never condone that.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “If you’re an elected official, you need to take a stance on issues, and to defer on issues is what bad government is about, and that’s passing the buck. That site was earmarked for that housing and that’s what should be put there.”

Gleason is the parent of a toddler, who he had with his former girlfriend.

“We both decided that we wanted to be parents. We are best of friends,” he said.

After retiring as a firefighter, he got a law degree from CUNY and did some environmental consulting in China. Until the towers were destroyed, he shared an office in the World Trade Center’s north tower with his former law school professor.

“I wasn’t in the office that day, thank God, because I would have gone upstairs rather than downstairs — to assist,” the former firefighter noted.

Gleason was born in the South Bronx. His father was a captain in the Fire Department. The family moved to Yorktown Heights in Westchester after one of his brothers was mugged in school in 1967, Gleason said.

Although the councilmember and his supporters say Gleason has stated publicly at political club endorsement meetings that he supports the death penalty and is against a woman’s right to choose abortion, Gleason claimed they distorted what he said. He said he supports the death penalty “for the people responsible for the World Trade Center” and that he is “totally for a woman’s right to choose.”

“He didn’t expect an opponent,” the upstart candidate said of Gerson.

Abortion and capital punishment laws are passed in Albany, not the City Council.

Gleason has no political endorsements, but is supported by the New York State Supreme Court Officers Association, Fire Marshals Benevolent Association and Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Although only two weeks remain before the Sept. 9 primary, Gleason still hopes to publicly debate Gerson. The challenger said he’d get right to the point, while of Gerson, he said, “He tends to talk in circles.”

“I’ve fought fires, I’ve locked guys up, I’ve pulled children out of burning buildings in Chinatown,” Gleason said. “I don’t need to go on and on about it. It’s more important to hear the people’s problems so we can solve it.”

Lincoln@DowntwownExpress.com


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