By Sabina Mollot
Last Wednesday, Upper East Sider and nonprofit founder Rebecca Harary officially launched her campaign for the City Council seat soon to be vacated by Dan Garodnick.
Harary, who last year ran for Assembly in the 73rd District, is the first candidate to officially declare she’s running as a Republican. Self-described “progressive Conservative” Melissa Jane Kronfeld previously told Town & Village she hadn’t yet committed to running on the GOP ticket, only saying she would not run as a Democrat.
Harary, however, has the backing of Manhattan GOP and has also collected a couple of endorsements from Republican City Council members as well as former Governor George Pataki.
The mother of six this week spoke with Town & Village about her priorities if elected, and why running as a Republican in a mostly Democratic city and district isn’t the lost cause it might appear to be.
When running for Assembly, though she ended up losing to incumbent Dan Quart, she did get the highest number of votes for a Republican running for that position since 2000.
“She has a real following and a bi-partisan following,” said Adele Malpass, chair of Manhattan GOP. She added that the fourth City Council district “is left of center but it’s not progressive.”
Asked how Harary planned to court the Democratic voters she needs to win this election, Malpass said she was confident many Democrats’ dissatisfaction with de Blasio would get them to see past party lines.
“I think the best thing to do is be myself because I resonated with a lot of Democrats (in the last election),” Harary said. “I think it’s about common sense. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats in my mind although I am a full Republican and very happy to be one.”
As for her reason for running for office, Harary said it was mainly out of her feeling that the mayor is leading the city in the wrong direction.
“The progressive left is going way too far in the areas of safety, education, quality of life and homelessness,” she said. “I believe these are issues that need common sense.”
Prior to running for office, Harary said she gained some insight into how politics works when launching four different nonprofits.
“I spent a lot of time with elected officials over the years because of nonprofits,” she said. “You need them to help with a lot of things. You need discretionary funds and they can introduce you to the right people to get things done.”
Harary’s nonprofits include a school for autistic children in Brooklyn, a high school for students with disabilities, also in Brooklyn, a still-in-the-works Jewish community center on the Upper East Side (slated to be finished next year) and Propel Network, an organization that funds vocational school education for women that also helps with job placement.
The last one Harary said she started because in her previous nonprofit work, she was frequently approached by people looking for jobs who just didn’t have relevant skills. Now, she said, the network has a 6:1 return on investment, meaning that for every $7,000 invested, a woman leaves the program with a job that starts at a salary ranging from $40,000-$50,000. The first nonprofit she started was out of frustration when noticing an abundance of autistic children “but not a school in our area.”
While she is still affiliated with the nonprofits, she is no longer active in day-to-day operations. She explained, “I start them and get them going, and as long as they’re moving forward and donations are coming in, I move on because it’s time to solve the next problem.”
She also ran an event planning business for 10 years, which she also believes will help her govern if elected.
“It’s that experience that helped me form a nonprofit, because nonprofits are really businesses as well,” she said. “You need someone in the Council who has experience in managing people, in managing projects with a goal in mind.”
The plight of small businesses is a priority for Harary, who, like her opponents, has noticed the debilitating effect store closures have on a neighborhood. To help combat this, she wants to do away with commercial rent tax, which retailers below 96th Street are forced to pay if their rent is over $250,000 a year.
She called Garodnick’s recently announced effort to increase the threshold of rent to $500,000 annually to be eligible for the tax “a step in the right direction.”
But, she said, “It needs to be repealed altogether. Yesterday I was walking along Madison and I saw two businesses closed. It’s literally breaking the backs of all of them.”
Meanwhile, she noted, small businesses provide two thirds of the jobs in this country. “We lose jobs and we lose taxes because people can’t pay taxes if they’re not working.”
Asked if she supports the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, which is aimed at getting automatic 10-year lease renewals for small businesses, Harary said she hadn’t heard of it.
However, another way she wants to help businesses is to combat city-imposed fines. She believes fines, along with high rents, have contributed to the disappearance of mom-and-pops.
Another top priority — the top one in fact — is addressing the homeless crisis, with Harary saying the budget for sheltering the homeless needs to be reassessed to find how to most effectively spend the money. She is against this administration’s use of hotels and against opening additional shelters.
“It’s heartbreaking not only in terms of seeing the numbers climbing but it’s heartbreaking to see them on the street not getting the help they need,” she said. “Mayor de Blasio is spending $400,000 a night putting the homeless into hotels and that money can be used for more affordable housing, fixing up NYCHA buildings — they’re crumbling — instead of building new shelters, which I think hurts the situation.” On new shelters, Harary said she was concerned this would attract more homeless people from outside the city.
Other issues she would tackle if elected are quality of life and safety concerns in the district, particularly after hearing about an uptick of burglaries in her neighborhood.
“The Police Department is too overloaded and overworked and needs more support,” she said. She also finds traffic in the area to be a worsening problem. She went on to blast the mayor’s traffic safety initiative as “Zero Vision.”
Harary has lived on the Upper East Side for six years, and before that lived in Brooklyn. She grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the oldest of eight kids. She moved away at 19, getting married a year later (34 years ago).
She recently begun the process of fundraising and just hit the $5,000 mark needed to be eligible for matching funds.
Other candidates in this race are Independent Diane Grayson and Democrats Marti Speranza, Keith Powers, Jeff Mailman, Bessie Schachter, Maria Castro and Vanessa Aronson.