Volume 22, Number 16 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 28 - September 3, 2009

Margaret Chin
Council Candidates: Where Do They Stand?

By Josh Rogers

If Margaret Chin were at a poker table, she might be the type to go “all-in” a lot. Her style is to hold to her position and risk the offer on the table, trying to convince the other player to back down and fold.

Chin, 56, said ultimately the community can get more amenities like affordable housing and more school space if it holds out before making a deal.

When it comes to the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, which has remained mostly undeveloped for 40 years, she said she would insist that any new development include a school and that 100 percent of the apartments built there would be set aside for moderate and low income people.

Asked if she might accept some market rate housing there if the sites continued to languish, she said: “That’s down the line but we got to start with the premise that this is the kind of housing we need. If we start saying ‘oh market rate and then do subsidized [housing] or the financing doesn’t work’ – that’s B.S.”

In an interview with Downtown Express last week, Chin said there are many non-profit developers who often get shut out of the process because the city looks for the highest bidder.

Chin, who is running for the City Council fulltime, until recently was the deputy executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, a non-profit advocacy group which has developed affordable housing in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

Some residents near Seward Park oppose any more affordable housing in the area and many of them are also strong supporters of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Chin said it won’t be hard talking with Silver about Seward Park. “I am going to,” she said with a smile. “I can work with him.”

Similar to her Seward Park position, Chin said she did not like the agreement 20 years ago to build P.S. 234 in Tribeca because it included a high-rise private office tower and she would have said no to the deal a few years ago to build the Spruce Street School, because it came with a condo tower.

“An 80-story tower luxury building in exchange for just a school? I mean the havoc that’s created there with the traffic congestion,” she said. “And who is going to be living there? Is it going to be filled up? It’s a big question.”

Chin was careful not to say she would have let the school idea die, just that she thought the community could have gotten a lower tower, some affordable housing and the school if it held out for more.

Councilmember Alan Gerson, one of Chin’s opponents, said affordable housing at the Spruce St. site was not possible because the developer could have built the tower as of right” within existing zoning law, so the community had no leverage.

Chin also wants to see affordable housing, schools and more open space built at the World Trade Center, but she seemed ready to accept that the plans are not likely to change at this point.

“This is what we can hope for,” she said.

Chin, who lost to Gerson in 2001 and also ran for Council in 1991 and 1993, said she is confident she’ll be successful this time. This is the first time she is the only woman and the only Chinese person in the race. In 2001, she came in fourth in a seven-candidate race, but she got the most votes in Chinatown despite running against two Chinese opponents.

She wants to continue her fight to build and preserve more affordable housing, protect tenants, increase traffic safety, but she also fights for quality of life issues such as noise complaints and fixing street lights.

She uses her campaign office on Saturdays to help solve people’s problems and plans to continue that kind of service if she wins.

“I would have an office that would be open in the evenings, on weekends, provide different languages, and people could come in and get help,” she said.

Chin, who speaks three Chinese dialects, said Gerson has not done well with constituent services. She also criticized Gerson for not holding the required number of hearings of the Council’s Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee.

Gerson said there have been times this year in which different parties in the W.T.C. talks have asked him to postpone a meeting so as not to jeopardize a sensitive point in the negotiations, but he planned to make up the missed meetings in the coming months. But Gotham Gazette reported earlier this year that the problem is not new and that Gerson did not hold the required number of hearings over the last three years.

Chin also wants to continue to promote voter registration and involvement, something she has worked on for many years with AAFE.

The First Council District is one of the most economically diverse in the city and Chin wants to hold regular meetings with neighborhood leaders.

“I want to get the neighborhoods in District 1 working together,” she said. “Yes there is rich and poor but we can coexist and work together.”


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