With the primary just days away, the residents of Peter Cooper Village (always a strong voter base) have remained unsure about who it is they want to make their next mayor. And based on the very cluttered ballot, we can’t say we blame them.
In the last issue of Town & Village, we made an endorsement for the candidate on the Democrat side, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, because we believe he is genuinely interested in fighting for the preservation of the middle class and the rights of renters in this city. However, finding a Republican candidate with similar interests has proven to be a wee bit tougher. Last week, Town & Village reached out to the three Republican mayoral hopefuls to ask for their thoughts on how they would help middle class New Yorkers, including tenants, which we hoped to share with readers here. But unfortunately, none of the candidates responded to the question. Not one.
So what we did here was pick a candidate that we believe wouldn’t have a hands-off approach to matters like tenant rights and housing costs. It is after all that way of thinking that allowed a culture of predatory equity to go unchecked and result in real estate disasters like the Stuy Town sale to Tishman Speyer and the frivolous primary residence challenges of tenants and eventually, the default that followed.
Of the three Republican candidates, we think former MTA head Joe Lhota has the most potential to tackle the housing crisis New Yorkers now face. Though he isn’t committed to building or preserving a particular number of units of affordable housing as a few of the Democratic candidates are, he has acknowledged the need for more housing and for the government to step in to make it a reality.
In June, at a candidate forum held by CUNY covered by Town & Village, Lhota said, “The city government should give tax incentives for housing. We have a million more people; where are we going to house them? Where is the property? We need to renovate existing housing and bring more onto the system. We need to evaluate property that’s not being used. Post offices aren’t as needed as they used to be. The government should grab them and use them through a building incentive program.”
Lhota is also an old hand at the workings of city government, having been the city’s budget director in Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s first term and deputy mayor for operations during the second term. Education is another important issue to him; he’s said he’s not in favor of a system that punishes teachers (as educators believe Bloomberg does in failing schools) and he has promised not to be “anti-teacher.”
Though we were somewhat tempted to go with Lhota’s Republican rival George McDonald, here’s why we didn’t. McDonald, founder of the Doe Fund, believes that everyone who “wants a job should have one.” This sounds great, but in order to make this a real positive for New York, there needs to be a clear plan that provides for the creation of jobs at all income levels, not just low income jobs that would be an improvement for the people the Doe Fund helps, who were at one point homeless or incarcerated. The idea is for those who work in the city to be able to pay rent or a mortgage there, too. To be fair, no one else has come up with a way to create jobs at all levels, but… we’re still not even sure what else McDonald’s campaign is about. Billionaire Gristedes chain owner John Catsimatidis has also not shown his platform to be a unique one, beyond an admittedly worthy goal of trying to reduce fines and other nuisances for small business owners.
So, though we disagree strongly with his position on kittens, for the Republican side, we endorse Joe Lhota.
For the role of Manhattan borough president, we believe the best person for the job out of four Democrat candidates is Jessica Lappin.
Lappin, a City Council member representing the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island, has made it clear that that she considers the concerns of most Manhattanites — affordable housing and crowded classrooms — of the utmost importance. Though legislation governing tenant rights and rent are under the control of legislators in Albany, Lappin said she would still push for home rule “as aggressively as possible.”
During a recent conversation over the phone, Lappin stressed that she is very pro-tenant, and has voted to repeal the Urstadt Law and vacancy decontrol. In a recent report she authored on affordable housing, she discusses the need to reform the Rent Guidelines Board to more fairly represent tenants, expand the NORC model (naturally occurring retirement community), close loopholes in laws that allow regulated units to go to the free market, expand legal resources for tenants and create more affordable housing that is accessible to locals.
On education, she would push for more middle school seats, noting that the growing population is going to need it soon, and also called for more parental involvement in decisions relating to schools.
Another goal is to set term limits for community board leadership positions, which some, but not all boards have. This would be in effort to avoid the “fiefdoms” that have settled in some. The other goal is to modernize the boards so they each have access to technology that would make it easier to share news with the community, including having meeting minutes being streamed live via social media.
Having growing up on East 19th Street in Gramercy Park, she’s no stranger to the problems that those living on the East Side face. She’s followed the near-closure of the Stein Senior Center and said that she is committed to maintaining the city’s senior centers.
She also wants to make sure the city is prepared for a future Sandy, by making sure hospitals have the backup generators they need, and that there’s an organized shelter system and volunteer response process in place.
“I know that in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, they checked up on people. The Tenants Association there had an outstanding system,” she said. “We need to make sure we have a response in place that was as good as Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village’s.”
Other candidates are Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin and Council Members Robert Jackson and Gale Brewer.
For City Council, District 2, we endorse Rosie Mendez, who is running for a third term. In the eight years that she’s served as Council representative of the district, which covers Kips Bay, Gramercy Park, the East Village, Alphabet City and the Lower East Side, she has proven to be a fighter for her constituents, particularly those who are the most vulnerable.
Though there’s still plenty of work to be done, Mendez has made life better for residents of NYCHA housing whenever and wherever possible, allocating cash to try to make up for the cuts in federal funding and demanding (and helping to get) much needed security upgrades to developments like Campos Plaza. Clearing the backlog of repairs has been a tougher matter, but with NYCHA around a million jobs behind, it is reassuring to know Mendez is there to remind the agency of what it needs to be doing.
On NYCHA’s “infill” plan to generate market rate income, Mendez says what she would like to see instead is new development that is entirely or mostly affordable housing. Mendez has also said if constituents like the idea, she’ll push for affordable senior housing in the district.
On schools, she has been a staunch opponent of co-locations of charters or other schools into already over-crowded public school buildings.
In an interview last week, Mendez told Town & Village, “I like to say I’m old school. When I went to school, a school was a building and a building was a school.”
It’s fair to say Mendez has made a name for herself as an elected official who won’t decide problems are too small to demand her attention.
“Everything in politics is local,” she said, “so I’m proud of my track record with constituent services.”
It’s worth noting that we were also impressed with her opponent, pastor and community activist Richard del Rio, who’s obviously a true advocate for the poor and other disadvantaged New Yorkers, and we don’t want to discourage him from running for office in the future. However, there is simply no arguing with Mendez’s record of staying on top of the district’s problems both large and small.
Correction: In the last issue, we said we would be making an endorsement for the City Council’s fourth district. However, there is no primary for this race, in which Democrat incumbent Dan Garodnick will face off against Republican Helene Jnane in November.