By Sabina Mollot
In a City Council race that now has 10 candidates, the latest one to attempt to replace a term-limited Dan Garodnick is Rachel Honig, a Democrat who developed her taste for politics when working for a Republican governor.
From 1996-1998, Honig worked under then-Governor George Pataki as special assistant to the chairman and director of special projects at the New York State Council on the Arts. The Council is the grant making body for the arts throughout the state and is based in the city.
Honig later moved on to form her own public relations firm, although since becoming a candidate, she’s severely limited her P.R. work to campaign full time.
Recently, at Madison Restaurant, a diner in her East Midtown neighborhood, Honig discussed her platform and the issues she would tackle if elected, in particular disappearing mom-and-pops, homelessness and quality of life protection.
She also discussed how she feels the Democratic Party as a whole has become more liberal than she’s comfortable with and views her own values as being more centrist or “socially liberal but more fiscally responsible.” This is actually a big reason she’s running, with Honig explaining that for other Democrats she’s spoken with who feel similarly, “there’s not a party that represents them. Whether you’re a left-leaning Conservative or a right-leaning Liberal, there’s not an opportunity for them. I think strict party affiliations are constricting in some way. The focus shouldn’t be, ‘Are you a Republican or Democrat?’ It should be what values do you have and what do you bring to the table?”
Honig also feels there’s too much infighting within the Democratic Party.
“If the idea of a party is everyone should be on the same side,” said Honig, “then why don’t we have a mayor and governor on the same side? There should be more cooperation.”
As for her old boss, she had good things to say about Pataki, though she said it wasn’t he who inspired her current run.
“I’m certainly a fan of his, but I can’t say it was he personally who inspired me,” she admitted. “It was working in public service that inspired me.”
While under Pataki’s administration, Honig did a lot of fundraising for arts grants. Looking back, the candidate said that position was good practice for campaigning, a type of work that also involves fundraising.
Prior to the state position, Honig began her post-college career in the art world for Sotheby’s, where she created and maintained the company’s database and archives.
“It was not the art history job I dreamed of but in retrospect it was great, because I learned the business,” Honig said.
She officially launched her Council campaign at the end of April, and said she’s already met her threshold for matching funds, having gotten $25,000 in spendable campaign cash. This translates into $75,000, with matching funds. Honig said she chose to start fundraising right away to demonstrate that despite coming into the game late, she was serious.
She said the reason she entered later was because she wound up feeling “something was missing” after studying the existing crop of candidates.
“I’m running,” she explained, “because I think I would do a great job. I’m running because I’ve lived in this district for my last two apartments.”
Honig, who grew up on Long Island, has been a New York City resident for the past 25 years, most of those years in East Midtown. In terms of district and city issues, a top priority for Honig is helping small businesses, saying the Second Avenue Subway’s lengthy construction so far has failed the surrounding businesses. She also said there needs to be planning for the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway’s construction, as it could impact whether businesses choose to sign a lease in a space nearby.
“It’s far down the road, but we have to think about it now,” she said, “because if you’re opening a business right now, would you consider (renting on Second Avenue) knowing this was looming?”
She’s also observed how more storefronts have become vacant on the Upper East Side due to high rents, noting that at around 77th Street and Third Avenue, she’s heard people say they were scared to walk around because of how blighted it appears.
Honig said she supports the Small Business Jobs Survival Act — or at least having it see the light of day in the City Council chambers. The controversial legislation, aimed at getting commercial tenants more bargaining power come lease time and ideally a 10-year, automatic renewal, has been blasted by critics, including the real estate industry, as being unconstitutional.
“The SBJSA — I think a version of it needs to get to the floor,” said Honig, referencing the fact that the legislation has so far been blocked from getting a hearing in the Council.
“I don’t know the reason for it not getting to the floor. It has to get to the floor so we can start to tackle it. Are we going to get (consistent, automatic) 10-year leases? No, probably not. But let’s get that bill going so there can be a discussion.”
She added, “If I could do one thing it would be City Council voting reform. Now the only way a bill gets to the floor is if it gets through the speaker. So you have 50 other people with really good ideas on important issues for their districts and unless one person sees value in it going to the floor, it doesn’t get to go to the floor.”
Honig also said she supports the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill that’s sponsored by Council Members Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal, although ideally Honig would like to eliminate the tax completely.
A district issue important to Honig is the protection of the East River shoreline in the event of a future disaster. This is also a personal issue for Honig, who lost an inherited family cottage in Long Island when Superstorm Sandy hit. “And there will be another storm,” she said.
Asked about schools in the district, Honig didn’t hesitate when she said her top concern is lead in the water. “And we wonder why our kids aren’t testing well,” she said. “This is a big issue.”
She also called school co-locations “troubling. I’m not necessarily against it, but the way it’s done doesn’t seem to be working.”
Bike lanes are another local scourge, based on feedback from local seniors. “Bike lanes terrify them,” she said. Dirty streets are another common complaint. “People are saying the city is dirtier than it has been. I would say I’ve definitely noticed that as well.”
Homelessness is another frequent subject while Honig is out campaigning and she doesn’t like the mayor’s solution of placing homeless people in hotels.
“If people are waking up in hotels, with no social services, no mental help, they’re isolated. It’s indicative of the mayor’s quick fixes and easy solutions.”
As for a universal city concern, that of affordable housing, Honig said the response has to be a thorough count. “There needs to be a conversation about auditing units to fully understand what the stock looks like.”
Meanwhile, she believes a big part of the problem in the disappearance of the city’s middle class apartments has to do with the glut of luxury ones, in part because they’re often used as a pied-à-terre.
“All the mega towers going up in this district are displacing residents but also they’re not occupied,” said Honig. To combat this she recommended implementing more stringent rules about occupancy, the type of rules that are often reviled, handed down by no-nonsense co-op boards. “They’re not productive members of the community,” she said of foreign apartment buyers, adding she believes this has also contributed to the homeless crisis.
Honig also indicated she wanted to have a look at all the policies and practices that have been in place in the city for so many years most people don’t even think to question their usefulness.
“I think that things have been happening in City Hall for a long time because that’s the way they’ve always been done, now more than ever,” said Honig. She added, “There needs to be a candidate who has not worked in City Hall because it’s people from outside City Hall who can bring different perspectives.”