Volume 18 • Issue 16 | September 09 - 15, 2005


Stringer for borough president

The Democratic field for Manhattan borough president is crowded with elected officials who have served their constituencies well. From this group of talented candidates, it’s tough to make a choice.

The borough president has limited powers, the main ones being input on the city’s land-use decisions, budget oversight and appointment of community board members. Yet the position can be used as a bully pulpit on important issues and the borough president should function as the leading spokesperson for his or her borough.

A few candidates stand out. City Councilmember Margarita Lopez has for the last eight years ably represented her East Side district with passion and verve. She’s championed the rights of the disabled, fought to create and preserve affordable housing and battled inappropriate development, like the proposed 19-story dormitory on E. Ninth St. She also forged a good relationship with Mayor Bloomberg, which helped the district in various ways, from helping to get Park Row reopened to buses to getting funding for park improvements.

Yet, concerns were raised about Lopez’s campaign contributions from Scientologists and the fact that a significant amount of public funds she received for her 2001 election were still in dispute. Also, Lopez seemed to stake out puzzling positions on the community boards and Union Square pavilion just to take a contrary stance to another B.P. candidate, Scott Stringer.

Councilmember Eva Moskowitz is another leading contender. She has shown a willingness to take on sacred cows without fearing the consequences. Her recent report on 311 calls complaining about noise was insightful in showing most come from Manhattan below 14th St. She has earned a reputation as “abrasive” and someone who doesn’t build coalitions, though we have not observed this quality in her.

Bill Perkins, another councilmember, is worthy of mention. He was front and center during the run-up to last year’s Republican National Convention in fighting for the rights of protesters to use the Great Lawn and have a genuine protest march, as opposed to being penned by police on the West Side Highway.

However, one candidate has really distinguished himself from the crowd, and that is Scott Stringer. The Upper West Side assemblymember earned a reputation as a reformer in Albany when he passed legislation actually requiring legislators to be present when they vote. Of all the candidates running for B.P., he has shown the best ideas on how to improve the office with an eye toward reforming it.

Specifically, on the community boards, Stringer issued a hard-hitting report calling for reform to insure: that conflicts of interest are avoided and dealt with expeditiously when they arise; that board appointments aren’t politicized and used to sway chairperson elections; that ongoing training of the boards’ staff is provided; and that there is funding parity for the borough’s 12 boards. Stringer’s reforms on the boards are long overdue, and we wholeheartedly support them.

Stringer has assembled the most talented campaign staff in this race and it has shown in the several reports he’s issued on an array of subjects, from the community boards to housing and the greening of the city; this would augur well for him surrounding himself with a talented staff as borough president. A cousin of Bella Abzug, he’s grown up with politics; he’s a consummate coalition builder who can work with others. He says, if elected, as B.P. he would be “at the front of the train,” leading the charge on key issues, not at the back.

All in all, Stringer brings the most to the table. We think he’s got the skills, personality and organization to be the most effective borough president of the bunch. Downtown Express endorses Scott Stringer for borough president.

While we are not endorsing Lopez for B.P., we definitely wish her well and thank her for her years of service to the district. And we have a hunch we just may be seeing her again in a future role in city government or a related field where her enthusiasm and talents will shine.

Mendez for City Council

The Democratic primary election race in City Council District 2 features a crowded field of candidates, seven in all. The district stretches from the 30s in Murray Hill to the Lower East Side.

In addition to perennial concerns, like the need for affordable housing and parks, the campaign has seen several key issues emerge as flashpoints, notably bar over-proliferation and over-development.

Some of the candidates, while contributing to the race, haven’t given us a whole of reasons to vote for them.

Reverend Joan Brightharp, who heads a Baptist church in the East Village, has made it clear she feels there are two many bars in the East Village; yet she also supports the widely unpopular plan by Gregg Singer to build a 19-story dormitory at the site of the old P.S. 64 building on E. Ninth St.

Chris Papajohn, an attorney and admitted political “outsider,” showed disarming honesty in saying he came to the East Village because he liked a particular bar, The Scratcher, but now feels the neighborhood has too many liquor-licensed establishments.

Michael Beys, a former federal prosecutor, entered the race late and has made an issue out of renovating the old Baruch Houses bathhouse as a community center; a University Pl. resident, he is boasting he will win the Puerto Rican and Dominican vote in the Lower East projects. However, none of the three above candidates have shown us enough to inspire our support.

Gur Tsabar, a former chief of staff to Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, has run an energetic campaign. He claims to have knocked on more than 10,000 “knockable doors” in the Second District, and has spent time campaigning east of Avenue D, in the projects. He’s given away cell phones to seniors and organized clothes drives while collecting petition signatures. But when it comes to the big ideas of what he will do if elected to the Council and how he would allocate funding, he seems at a loss. He has floated the idea of creating a “second gay district” somewhere in Lower Manhattan, but when asked to specify its boundaries, again, was lacking in information.

Darren Bloch, on the other hand, while also young and energetic, seems to have a firm sense of the community’s dynamics and what he would do if elected. He formerly worked in the Council’s finance office. He supports inclusionary zoning — to encourage developers to include affordable units in new buildings — and community-based planning. We think he needs a little more experience but could have a political future.

Brian Kavanagh, former chief of staff to Councilmember Gale Brewer, is a very impressive candidate. He truly grasps the wide array of neighborhood issues in the district and understands the players and the forces at work. His positions on the issues jibe with those of the community. When he worked for Brewer, he led the effort to push an antiwar bill through the Council, no easy feat, considering the first version weakly noted that Saddam Hussein “may be a dictator.” He’s bright, has a nuanced grasp of the issues and gives the impression he would be a very competent and effective councilmember.

Rosie Mendez, former chief of staff of Councilmember Margarita Lopez, however, has the broadest depth of knowledge of the community. Puerto Rican, having grown up in the Williamsburg housing projects, she’s lived in the East Village for 10 years. She’s been in the trenches. As the local Democratic district leader and Lopez’s former chief of staff for a few years and as an affordable housing advocate, she’s been intimately involved in numerous local issues and struggles. Mendez stresses she’s “not Margarita” — and that that can be both a plus and a minus. While she doesn’t have the passion of Lopez — then again, who does? — as an attorney, she’ll bring a new set of skills to the job. Also, while Lopez has faced criticism that her office wasn’t very accessible, Mendez says that will change if she’s elected: While Lopez’s focus shifted somewhat to citywide issues after she became chairperson of the Council’s Mental Health Committee and head of the Manhattan Council delegation for budget negotiations, Mendez said that, in the words of Tip O’Neil, for her, “all politics is local.” While Lopez didn’t have an office e-mail, Mendez says she will definitely have one to provide a quick way for constituents to communicate with the councilmember. Mendez would also, if elected, be the only other openly gay or lesbian councilmember, along with Christine Quinn.

There are clearly a number of very qualified candidates in this race. The leading candidates are expressing similar ideas on how to curb the proliferation of bars and over-development, in both cases, by implementing zoning changes. Only one candidate has really lived and breathed the struggles of the neighborhood, though, and is now poised to continue her work on its behalf. That candidate is Rosie Mendez. Downtown Express endorses Rosie Mendez for City Council on Sept. 13.


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