By Sabina Mollot
The race to replace term-limited City Council Member Dan Garodnick has a new candidate in the GOP-leaning Midtown East resident Melissa Jane Kronfeld.
Kronfeld, a former New York Post reporter, said she is not yet sure what party she’ll be running on, although one thing is for sure. It won’t be Democrat. The 34-year-old, a lifelong resident of the City Council District 4, which snakes its way from Stuyvesant Town to the East 90s, identifies as a “progressive Conservative.”
Asked what this means, Kronfeld, known to friends as “MJ,” said, “Being progressive and conservative are not mutually exclusive. Democrats didn’t copyright it. I checked.
“But,” she added, “we don’t bend so far to the left that it’s a free for all for everybody.”
This, she said, means support for immigrants. “There should be a process (to become legal) but I don’t want to send you anywhere because (your) parents didn’t fill out the proper paperwork,” Kronfeld said. “I’m not a conservative who will tell you don’t have the right to choose or that you don’t have the right to hold your husband’s hand if you’re a man.”
Kronfeld said she got into Republican politics in an unlikely place — college.
“A lot of young people, they think you’re naturally a Democrat because you’re young,” she said. “That’s how the party positions itself, but it didn’t represent who I was. As of ’04, I knew I didn’t want to be a Democrat anymore, but being a New York Jew, (the Republican Party) wasn’t really in my purview. I was inspired by the McCain family. They’re who made me interested in Republicans and they weren’t anything like what I thought they’d be. I thought he was a model individual that was willing to have conversations with both sides. I was so impressed by him.”
She also called Republican President Theodore Roosevelt an amazing leader.
Working at the Post not surprisingly also made an impact on Kronfeld’s political ideology.
“They approach homelessness and other issues through a conservative bent,” she said. “I don’t think anyone would deny that. I worked there for five years and that allowed me to see how the city worked and functioned, through a lens I’d never been provided with before. The cops who risk their lives every day, I talked to the FDNY and I heard their back stories. That was a formidable experience for me, not only by the access I was provided as a reporter but in the way they approach stories.”
Eventually, she got to work on getting her master’s degree in global affairs at New York University and Rutgers University. She also got a taste of teaching while also working on her Global Affairs PhD program at Rutgers. After being put into a classroom with 40 kids in Newark, Kronfeld said she “fell in love with teaching.”
Meanwhile, Kronfeld doesn’t see politics as a longterm career, but something she can do to make positive change and then move on from. “(Politics) was never meant to be the all-encompassing huge force that it is today,” she explained.
Locally, an issue of concern for Kronfeld is sex trafficking in the city. She also wants to crack down on sexual harassment and unwanted contact women face on the streets and subway.
Just last month, for example, Kronfeld was treated to the sight of a man exposing himself to her near her home. “I walked out of my apartment and a guy just whipped it out,” she said. “And I live in a nice building and it was two in the afternoon.”
Another priority is steering funds to organizations and agencies that help women who are victims of domestic violence and trafficking.
If elected, she said her first priority would be to tackle homelessness. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. I would find opportunities to create more housing, not hotels.”
Another pressing issue is schools, both regular public and charter. “I’m very worried about schools being overcrowded,” said Kronfeld. “Unfortunately the mayor’s waged a war on charters and I don’t know why. Getting more teachers in public schools is critical. Raise pay upon entry so they can retire earlier.”
She also wants to push better training for jobs, like those in manufacturing, as an alternative to college, which she noted, isn’t for everyone.
“We’re not training kids for the future,” she said. “The American dream our parents lived — it doesn’t exist anymore so we need to refashion the American dream and train our kids for the jobs of the future. It’s important to steer people towards jobs like electricians, jobs that aren’t going to get automated any time soon.”
An issue in the district of concern to her is air pollution due to food trucks and other street vendors, with Kronfeld saying she’s heard a lot of complaints about it. “Our district in general is a clean district. I want to make sure our quality of life is maintained.”
This also includes reducing petty crimes with Kronfeld feeling the city is slipping back into the bad old days before Giuliani. She also is concerned about the city’s small businesses disappearing from storefronts. When asked if she supports the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, which is aimed at getting existing businesses an automatic 10-year lease extension when it’s time for renewal, Kronfeld said she couldn’t answer, because she hasn’t read the pending legislation.
She does, however, recommend helping them find ways to combine retail space.
“We have a shared economy, so why not share spaces? You make cupcakes. She makes bread, but no one can open up a storefront on their own. The rent is too high. Look at Uber. Look at WeWork.”
She’s also a believer that the rent is too damn high for residential tenants, and wants to see more affordable housing “for millennials, seniors and especially the homeless.
“How do people get started in New York City without backing from their parents or without moving into a studio with 12 people? That’s not going to inspire people to stay here.”
While City Council members don’t impact international politics, Kronfeld is staunchly pro-Israel. While studying for her PhD, she co-founded a young leadership board for an Israeli medical nonprofit. This led to other advocacy and activist activities with pro-Israel and other organizations.
“I want to fight on behalf of my community because I’ve seen anti-Semitism up close in New York,” she said. “As Jews, hatred is a constant in our history and unless we’re fighting against it, it will win.”
She added that her faith is also what inspired her to run for office.
“(As a Jewish person) you’re not chosen because you’re special,” she said. “You’re chosen because God has burdened you with additional responsibilities to leave the world a better place than how you found it. It’s why I started my company and it’s why I decided to run.”
The company she mentioned that she’s the CEO of, Party for a Purpose, is aimed at helping small charities and other passion project efforts through consulting services.
Launching it, she noted, is what helped her deal with the death of her father three years ago. It started with simply asking others if they needed help when working on raising money for different projects. “I didn’t want to stay home and sulk,” Kronfeld explained, adding, “I’m good at figuring out ways to get things going. People started calling me and that’s when I realized I was onto something.”
Just two days prior to the interview with Town & Village, Kronfeld said she was able to help get a Chabad synagogue the green light from officials in West Africa to open there. “We just got a rabbi and the blessing of the government,” she said. “That’s what we do.”
Incidentally, she doesn’t just work quickly; Kronfeld is an extremely fast-talker, making even other native New Yorkers’ speech seem like a southern drawl in comparison. She’s also someone who’s managed to raise a few eyebrows on the East Side – she has almost exclusively lived in that area — for her tattoos, which are Hebrew text. Each one is taken from a different religious text as a reminder of her goals to help others.
As for possibly running on the GOP line, Kronfeld doesn’t appear to be intimidated by the fact that the 4th District is heavily Democratic.
“Democrats and Republicans and Conservatives and Liberals have more in common than they are willing to admit,” she said. “On the Upper East Side we are obviously a more liberal place but not that many Democrats in New York are Bernie Sanders Democrats. Hillary Clinton is a more centrist Democrat.”
While she didn’t get into her views on the presidential election, as far as local politics are concerned, Kronfeld proclaimed, “I am not a de Blasio lackey.”
Her campaign has begun the process of fundraising, having started in December. Kronfeld said she wasn’t sure of the amount during the interview, but said the effort would become more active in January, starting with a brunch for women.
Asked for her thoughts on the current Council member or his predecessor, Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz, Kronfeld said the latter “has done great things with charter schools.”
On Garodnick, she said, “I don’t have a huge opinion of him but I know Dan is very well-liked. Dan has been a great City Council member. He gives people a lot of face time. I was surprised by how many people in my district knew who he was. At the end of the day he is still a Democrat with a Democratic agenda and works for a Democratic mayor. I have not heard a bad thing about him. I hope I get the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand.”
At this time, Kronfeld is the only Conservative candidate in the race in which a handful of Democrats and one Independent are currently running. The Independent candidate is Peter Cooper Village resident Diane Grayson, an associate editor at a publishing house who has interned for former Governor David Paterson. Democrats include Peter Cooper Village lobbyist and Community Board 6’s Businesses and Street Activities Committee Chair Keith Powers; East Midtown’s Jeffrey Mailman, who works as a legislative aide to Council Member Liz Crowley; and NoMad resident and president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club, Marti Sperenza. Another candidate, a state committee woman with the Lexington Democratic Club, Bessie Schachter, is also in the running, according to filings with the New York City Campaign Finance Board.
Kronfeld is single and the owner of two dogs, Yoni and Bibi. In her spare time, she reads a lot of nonfiction.
Corrections: In an earlier version of this article, we misstated the candidate’s last name in some places as “Kronberg.” Additionally, the article originally said teaching was part of Kronfeld’s requirements for a PhD program. It was actually a job.