By Sabina Mollot
The most recent person to enter the City Council race for the seat currently occupied by Dan Garodnick is Marti Speranza, a former city employee and the co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club.
Speranza, a 40-year-old NoMad neighborhood resident, is so far the only woman Democrat in the race. Another female candidate, Peter Cooper Village’s Diane Grayson, is running as an Independent.
Other candidates are Democrats Keith Powers and Jeff Mailman. As T&V first reported, former candidate Joshua Thompson dropped out of the Council race in May and is now running for mayor.
For Speranza, fundraising for the Council campaign has been in the works since April and just last week, she stepped down from her job as director at Women Entrepreneurs (WE) NYC, a new city initiative, to focus on the race.
So far things seem to be going well for Speranza, who announced that she raised $169,706 by the filing date last week, a fundraising record for the first filing of a Council race. She now has over $170,000. The record was previously held by Council Member Corey Johnson, who’d raised $166,000. Speranza also said this was the first time a woman candidate got $100,000 in contributions in the first filing. Of that campaign cash, 52 percent of those donating it are women and 72 percent gave $250 or less, she said. None were real estate developers or lobbyists.
On being the only female Democrat in the race, Speranza pointed out that at this time, because of term limits faced by members of the City Council, the number of female representatives out of over 50 could potentially drop to just nine.
“I do feel that more women need to step up to the plate and run for these seats,” she said.
But even for Speranza, the decision didn’t come easy. She’d been with WE NYC at the time of its launch last year and since then the program has reached out to address the needs of women business owners, in particular those who are lower-income and from the outer boroughs. Being passionate about that job, Speranza was tempted to remain there, but ultimately she left to pursue politics, another area close to her heart since her college days.
This is when Speranza got her first taste of political activism, serving as the president of University of Pennsylvania’s chapter of NOW.
“I was realizing the things I was doing on weekends and at nights, activism, were what I was most passionate about,” she said.
As for her run for office, ironically, it was many of the women she encountered through her last job who inspired her to make that move.
“These were women who didn’t have the advantages that I’d had, but they started businesses, had confidence in themselves and were taking risks,” Speranza explained. “It occurred to me that this opportunity comes up once every eight years and I should take that risk and put myself out there.”
And, she added, “I have a plan for a livable New York.”
One of her main priorities is to help small businesses. Prior to joining WE NYC, Speranza worked for the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs and she’s a supporter of the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act (SBJSA). The controversial legislation, currently collecting dust at City Hall, is aimed at giving commercial businesses a chance to renew their leases for another 10 years.
“I believe it’s essential to preserve the fabric of our neighborhoods,” she said. “We’ve all lost our favorite shops, like Mariella Pizza. I think it’s important for mom-and-pops with these escalating rents. I know there are other proposals out there, but I think it is a travesty that this piece of legislation has been languishing for 30 years.”
Speranza herself was an entrepreneur at one time, running a karaoke business before becoming employed by the city.
She’s also focused on affordable housing, saying she believes an opportunity for new affordable developments could stem from the city’s stock of vacant lots. Referring to a recent report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer that counted 1,100 vacant city-owned lots, Speranza suggested using subsidies to entice developers, in particular nonprofit entities, to build housing that would be 100 percent affordable.
“In terms of affordable housing, that could translate into 57,000 affordable units,” she said. “It would not solve the problem by any stretch of the imagination, but we can do things like that to help.”
On education, Speranza said she wants to focus on class over-crowding and dilapidated school buildings. Another problem is a lack of access to new technology and computers, in particular at schools in lower income neighborhoods.
“If we fall short on (education), we’re selling us all short,” said Speranza. “You need to prepare kids for the high-tech jobs of the future.”
She added that she is opposed to colocations for charters in public school buildings.
Quality of life in the district is another focus, with those issues raised whenever she speaks to voters. In Stuy Town, top complaints are about noise from all sorts of sources from construction on East 14th Street to neighboring apartments, thanks to thin walls. Airbnb is a concern across the district and the city. In Kips Bay, there are residents who feel unsafe near the city-run shelter at Bellevue’s Old Psych building. Speranza said she’d like to see more of a security presence within a six-block radius of the shelter.
She’s also been hearing about senior centers. One concern was specifically about the Stein Senior Center, which serves District 4, despite being slightly out of district lines.
“It doesn’t have programming on weekends,” said Speranza. “I’ve heard people say it would be really great if there were more hours. In addition to that a strong case needs to be made that there needs to be more senior centers in the district.”
The planned downsizing of Beth Israel has also left some people in the community worried. “They say they’re down to 60 percent capacity (of beds), but even so it’s a real concern,” she said. “On the West Side when St. Vincent’s closed the impact it had on the community was really big.”
Much of what she hears in terms of quality of life issues stems from Community Board 5, which she’s a member of on two committees. She also serves on the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity NYC.
Along with Speranza’s leadership role at GSID, she is currently Democratic state committeewoman for the 74th Assembly District.
Speranza will be moving soon from NoMad though she and her husband, Dr. Rod Wang, the founder of a biotech company called Rocket Pharma, are not yet sure where they’re moving. Over the years, Speranza has lived in a number of cities including Singapore and Tokyo, when she worked in technology. She also lived in Boston while getting her master’s in business administration at Harvard. Prior to that, she studied economics and political science at University of Pennsylvania.
City Council District 4, which resembles a gun in shape, includes part of the Upper East Side up to 96th Street, Central Park South, Tudor City, Carnegie Hill, north of Madison Square Park (NoMad), Turtle Bay, Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town and Waterside.