Volume 22, Number 15 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Aug. 21 - 27, 2009


Democracy in action

This past week saw Community Media lead and participate in what we think was an impressive exercise in democracy that benefited and informed voters in two City Council districts.

First, last Thursday, three of our publications — The Villager, Gay City News and Chelsea Now — sponsored a debate for the Democratic candidates in the Third Council District — Christine Quinn, Yetta Kurland and Maria Passannante-Derr. We thank New York University for hosting and supporting the event.

Then, on Monday, Downtown Express teamed up with The Villager to sponsor a second debate, for the five Democratic contenders in the First Council District — Alan Gerson, Margaret Chin, PJ Kim, Pete Gleason and Arthur Gregory and we thank Pace University for hosting and sponsoring as well.

Hundreds of New Yorkers turned out to hear the candidates state their positions on the issues, answer tough questions, challenge each other and generally make their case for why they should be elected to represent their respective districts. The debates were stimulating, thought provoking, fun and informative. And the engagement and passion of the many audience members was truly inspiring.

In total, 225 people attended Thursday’s debate and 150 more were at Monday’s debate. An impressive turnout, to say the least. What’s more, the debates, in their entirety, are now posted on our newspapers’ Web sites. Now thousands more people can view and hear all the action from both forums. We think it’s part of what responsible, committed community journalism is all about.

Council Speaker Quinn, though attacked vigorously by both her opponents, stayed cool under fire. Regardless of the criticisms — some certainly legitimate — Quinn faces, that kind of steady character is what one looks for in a good leader. Kurland, too, though she had plenty stuck to the issues and made the most of her opportunity to get her message out and argue why she could do a better job than the incumbent.

One of Quinn’s glaring failures during the debate though, was her refusal to own up fully to her role in the City Council “slush fund” scandal. Quinn can’t plead ignorance of what was going on with those millions of dollars during the early years of her Council speakership. She also was less than candid about the proposed three-district Sanitation garage in Hudson Square, in which she has been too resistant to alternatives, and she wants voters to forget that she changed her mind about extending term limits in the Council after opposing it.

Like Quinn, Councilmember Gerson also changed positions on the necessity of a term limit referendum.       

We suspect we’re like many Lower Manhattan voters in the First District -- unsure at this point who the best candidate is. The incumbent, Alan Gerson, has a record of some accomplishments, but his difficulty making clear points and taking a stand, his lack of candor about his disorganization problems, and his self-serving term limit vote are important minuses.

But his opponents didn’t exactly blow us over either, and they have not shown yet they have the depth of understanding to make a difference on issues like the World Trade Center impasse. We would have liked to hear more specificity on a number of other important issues in the First. It is not yet clear if any of the challengers would be a change for the better.

We’ll continue to look at these candidates closely as we and you consider who will be best for Downtown. Our forums, we hope, got us off to a good start. 

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