Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Kathryn Freed came crosstown to Tribeca two weeks ago to help celebrate Manhattan Youth’s new community center.

Here comes the judge? Freed may go for broke in Council race

By Josh Rogers

Downtown might have Kathryn Freed to kick around again.

Freed, Lower Manhattan’s former councilmember, said she is “fed up and disgusted” with being a Civil Court judge and is thinking about making a run for her old council seat next year.

“I loved being in the City Council,” Freed said in a telephone interview Monday. “I didn’t feel dissed every day of my life.”

She said New York judges are the lowest paid, have the highest caseloads in the country and get little respect in the courtroom from lawyers who are paid much better. Chief Judge Judith Kaye filed a lawsuit against the state a few weeks ago after Albany once again failed to pass long ago promised raises for judges.

Freed, 61, said the biggest obstacle to running would be giving up her judicial salary for close to a year during the campaign. She makes $125,600 as a Civil Court judge and also has not closed the book on remaining a judge. She said she is thinking about running for State Supreme Court this year or next, which would give her more important cases and an $11,000 raise.

She has been active in Downtown politics for about 35 years and she said one of the frustrating things about being a judge for the last five years, is she can no longer comment on local or national politics. She heard about last week’s fight at Downtown Independent Democrats, a club she once led, and pays attention when potential City Council candidates say they’re thinking about running, but she wishes she could join the political fray.

A move to the Council would be a cut down to $112,500 in base pay, but Freed said her main concern is not drawing any salary while she runs. She said she would not likely begin a campaign until early next year — a particularly late start in the First Council District, where races have already started.

Freed was first elected in 1991 and left office at the end of 2001 because of term limits, which will also end the tenure of her successor, Councilmember Alan Gerson, next year. She lived in Tribeca’s Independence Plaza when she was in office but a few years ago, she bought an apartment in the East River Co-ops – which is now in the First Council District. “Thank you Alan,” Freed said of Gerson’s backing a change in the district lines to include more of the Lower East Side, including Freed’s building.

Freed’s endorsement of Gerson in a crowded Democratic primary seven years ago helped him win the election. When she was asked a few weeks ago whether she might run for Gerson’s seat, she replied “you mean my seat.”

The district includes all of Manhattan south of Canal St., Chinatown, Soho and part of the Village. In a four-person Democratic primary in 1991, Freed won 42 percent of the vote and was reelected more handily in 1993 and 1997. An animal rights activist, Freed received high marks from many of her constituents for hard work and for joining many neighborhood fights for better parks, more schools and affordable housing. Some well wishers greeted her two weeks ago when she returned to Tribeca for the opening of a community center.

“She would have widespread support and the endorsements,” said Sean Sweeney, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, the council district’s main political club. “Kathryn would run away with the election.”

Sweeney acknowledged his bias. He and Freed dated through most of the late ’90s and they remain good friends. It was Freed who brought Sweeney into D.I.D. almost 20 years ago.

He said he can’t guess what Freed will decide, but money is the only issue for her. “Kathryn is keeping her cards very close to her chest…. If she won the lottery and got a quarter of a million dollars, she’d be in the race in a second,” he said.

Sweeney said in addition to Freed’s co-op mortgage, she also has a mortgage on a country home Upstate.

Freed said she has begun to think about finding another source of income if she ran. The city’s generous public matching fund system would probably allow her to raise enough money quickly in order to run a credible campaign, but she could lose some supporters by waiting until next year.

If Freed ran, Sweeney thinks Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin, considered a likely and a strong candidate, would drop out. But he thinks Menin would be the most likely to get his and the club’s endorsement if Freed stayed out.

“It’s her endorsement to lose,” Sweeney said of a Menin candidacy in a Freed-less race.

The two announced candidates in the race so far have previously tried and lost — Margaret Chin to Freed and Gerson, and Pete Gleason to Gerson.

Sweeney and Menin met for two hours over coffee Tuesday about the D.I.D. fight last week and appear to have resolved their differences.

Menin, 40, who has been preparing to run for City Council for over a year, plans to make a final decision later this year. She did not sound like she’d drop out if Freed ran, pointing out the large number of younger voters who have moved to Lower Manhattan since Freed left office.

“The district has changed a lot in the last eight years,” said Menin. “A lot of new people have moved in, others have moved away. There are younger demographics — there’s a lot of young, single people and people with children, and I don’t have any comment beyond that.”





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