Volume 22, Number 20 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 25 - October 1, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
Margaret Chin rallied in Chinatown Wednesday in support of two candidates in next week’s Democratic primary runoff: Comptroller candidate John Liu and Public Advocate hopeful Bill de Blasio.
Chin begins work early, promising to ‘always reach out’
By Julie Shapiro
Margaret Chin could not decide where to hold her first press conference after winning the Democratic primary for Lower Manhattan’s City Council seat.
Her campaign headquarters at Chatham Green was too small and stuffy to fit all of the reporters, so Chin moved everyone to a plaza outside the middle-income housing complex. There, she wasn’t sure whether to stand in the sun or in the shade and asked advice from the reporters. After a minute or two, Chin settled on the steps leading into the apartment building, which raised her up several inches.
“This makes me look taller,” Chin said with a smile, squaring her shoulders to stand all of her 4 feet, 11 inches.
The press conference was last Thursday, less than 48 hours after Chin’s Sept. 15 upset victory unseated incumbent Councilmember Alan Gerson. Chin, 56, appeared to still be taking in the news last week, as she fielded a whirlwind of congratulatory phone calls from city politicians and began making plans for her first term in office as victory in the general election appears to be assured.
Neighborhood voting results compiled by Margaret Chin’s campaign in the Sept. 15 City Council District 1 Democratic primary she won against Councilmember Alan Gerson, Pete Gleason, Arthur Gregory and PJ Kim.
At the press conference, Chin spoke briefly from the steps of Chatham Square, offering gratitude to her supporters and promises to work with those who supported her opponents.
“We’ve waited a long time for this,” said Chin, who ran for the seat three times before. Her election also marks the first time Chinatown will have a Chinese representative.
Chin won last week’s primary with nearly 40 percent of the 11,516 votes cast, receiving over 1,000 votes more than Gerson, who came in second in the five-way race, according to unofficial returns. Chin unsurprisingly did best in Chinatown, where she received 59 percent of the vote, but she also won the East Village, Soho and the Lower East Side (except for Grand St.), and she received the most votes at Independence Plaza North in Tribeca, according to her campaign’s analysis of the results.
During her campaign, Chin focused on affordable housing — her area of expertise, after serving as executive director of Asian Americans for Equality — as well as education, transportation and pedestrian safety, and she said those will be the biggest issues she will take up, though she did not describe any specifics last week. Chin started offering constituent services during the campaign with open office hours for residents, and she will continue doing so.
Chin said she has already begun reaching out to groups in Little Italy and on the West Side who did not support her in the primary. Asked how she would work with groups like the Downtown Alliance, which represents the Wall St. area’s building owners, she said she wanted to talk to everyone.
“I will always reach out,” Chin said. “It is for the interests of the community, and that’s what I’m all about. I can work with anyone who really wants to help the community.”
Chin said her biggest goals, like building and preserving affordable housing, will be achieved by a combination of private meetings and community rallies. She hopes to see Downtown’s residents become more active, which means not just marching in demonstrations but also attending Council hearings and feeling comfortable enough to speak. Chin also reiterated her goal of uniting East Side and West Side residents on the issues they share.
“I want the community to get to know each other and work together,” Chin said.
Chin was also careful to say last week that she did not want to step on Gerson’s toes as he finishes his eighth year representing Lower Manhattan south of Canal St., Chinatown, Soho and parts of the Lower East Side and the Village.
Asked if there are any issues so important to the district that she would take them up immediately, Chin said she would be doing more listening than fighting in the next couple of months.
“I also want to be respectful that we still have a City Councilmember,” she said. “I will meet with groups and let’s start getting to know each other and start planning how we’re going to work together starting Jan. 1.”
Chin has a few small hurdles to clear before she can take office. One is the general election in November, when she will face Republican Irene Horvath, who has raised no money and is not well known in the district. Chin is expected to win easily in the Democratic district, but she is still fundraising and working to register new voters, citing the many people who turned out to the polls on primary day only to find that they weren’t registered. Horvath did not return calls for comment.
Chin also has to work with Gerson on the transition — provided that he officially concedes and does not challenge the results, which the Board of Elections is expected to certify this Thursday. Gerson said election night that it “appeared” Chin had won and he promised a “smooth transition” assuming the results hold up, but he has not yet conceded. Gerson said Wednesday that he could issue a concession statement as soon as next Tuesday.
Gerson also said many people have asked him to run in the general election on a different party line, “but I have no plans to do that.” He did not rule out the possibility and said he would have more specifics when he makes a formal statement on the election sometime next week.
As Gerson greeted supporters after a City Council hearing Monday, he reassured people who said they would miss him. He appeared to be accepting his defeat and said he would remain active Downtown.
“No, you’re not going to miss me,” he told them. “I’ll be around.”
Gerson, 51, told Downtown Express his only definite plan for the future is to take his first vacation in eight years. After that, he is considering opening a community-based legal practice, working for a foundation or nonprofit or possibly joining a city agency. Gerson said earlier this year before his campaign began that he was most interested in agencies focusing on housing, the environment or education.
Gerson said his exit from the Council will give him more time to focus on the issues facing Lower Manhattan because he won’t be so bound by politics. But he also added, “I would not be surprised if there are future campaigns on the horizon.”
Since winning the primary, Chin has spoken to many of the district’s major players, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Borough President Scott Stringer and Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Chin has not decided whether she would support Quinn for speaker. After conversations with John Liu and Bill de Blasio, Chin endorsed them for comptroller and public advocate on Wednesday and rallied with them in Chinatown. (Liu is facing David Yassky and De Blasio is running against Mark Green in the Democratic primary runoff on Sept. 29.)
Chin received lots of advice in the first couple of days after the primary, and one of her tasks is to decide what to take seriously and what to discard. Chin said one elected official told her to take two weeks’ vacation now, while she has the time.
“I said, ‘No way,’” Chin said, laughing. “This is not the time to take a vacation.”