Volume 22, Number 17 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 4 - 10, 2009


Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Margaret Chin

Margaret Chin for City Council in First District

 No one thought Alan Gerson would be running again for re-election to the City Council this year. Not only was he facing term limits, but Gerson also said he would not violate the will of the people by using a Council vote to reverse two voter referenda. Like Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn, Gerson changed his mind and gave himself a chance to stay in office longer.

The first question for us was: Politically speaking, is this anti-democratic action a mortal sin? It is deeply troubling, but it is legal and we don’t think it was so egregious that the best candidates should be voted out of office. That would also be a disservice to the people. So we did consider backing Gerson, but he has not shown us that he deserves four more years.

Margaret Chin has passion, deep community roots and a strong record of accomplishment. She has been fighting for Downtowners for decades and should be the First District’s Democratic nominee for councilmember.

Gerson has accomplished some things, but his record is mixed. Probably his two best achievements as a councilmember were several years ago, and we don’t see him getting better after eight years. He is rightfully proud of securing a city agreement that led to the Spruce St. School and the P.S. 234 annex, and for bringing the problems of unsafe diesel storage to light, but his more recent record has not been as strong.

In his first re-election campaign, we endorsed him but also said he had not lived up to some of our expectations, pointing out his problems communicating his positions, and with using the bully pulpit, something that should come with having the World Trade Center in the First District.

Lower Manhattan may never get a city councilmember who is so well versed in all of the details of the area’s issues, but Gerson somehow takes that formidable trait and makes it a flaw. His habit of explaining every nuance of an issue makes it hard for people to figure out where he stands. This is not a superficial point — it goes directly to a councilmember’s effectiveness working with constituents and public officials. 

Traffic pricing is the best example. We are now the third news organization to get confounded by Gerson while trying to pin him down to a short answer. He claimed Gotham Gazette and The New York Times listed his congestion-pricing position incorrectly in their surveys in 2007 and 2008, and his answer during the “lightning round” section of our candidates’ forum last month once again seemed to contradict his actual position. 

We have not just heard about Gerson’s chronic office disorganization from partisans, we have heard it from supporters, government officials without an ax to grind, and we’ve experienced it ourselves. Now, in the last weeks of a close political campaign, he recognizes that it could be a problem, and says he is willing to use personal funds to get a consultant’s help. That would have been a really good idea about seven years ago.

Chin’s opponents all offer something, but not as much as she does.

PJ Kim is clearly a bright man who has a constructive, collaborative approach to solving problems. But he has only lived in the district about a year and he did not distinguish himself at the community board meetings he was able to attend before professional commitments made it impossible. He also has not fleshed out his solutions enough for us to go with someone so new to the area. We hope he stays active in the community and think he may have a bright future in politics.

Pete Gleason ran a forceful, but mostly negative, campaign, and he would be better than Gerson at using the bully pulpit. Yet it’s not enough simply to identify problems now and figure out how to make them better later. A candidate should know a few specifics on his own key issues, but we found Gleason woefully under-informed. He did not know what schools were already under construction Downtown, yet he was certain that Lower Manhattan would need more schools after they opened. 

Arthur Gregory has been an effective advocate for Lower Manhattan businesses since 9/11. But his positions on other matters are not always clear. Some do not take his candidacy seriously, and even he said he thought he was not the most qualified candidate in the race.

Margaret Chin has fought hard for affordable housing all over Downtown and has helped get hundreds of apartments built in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. She also has worked for many years on voter registration and rights, and will be good solving constituent problems.

We did have concerns that she would not focus enough on the west side of the district, but she has also been active on the quality-of-life issues, including traffic safety and congestion, as well as schools and affordable housing, that are issues all over Downtown. She and her family have lived in the Financial District for more than two decades. We’re confident she will fight hard for the entire district.

We think that Margaret Chin is the best candidate in this race, but there is an added benefit in supporting her: sending the first Chinese person to the New York City Council to represent one of the largest Chinatowns in the country. We think that the time has come to send Margaret Chin to the City Council to represent the First District, and we are proud to endorse her in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary.


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