By Sabina Mollot
In the City Council race for the seat currently occupied by a term-limited Dan Garodnick, a Peter Cooper Village resident has recently stepped in as a candidate, with a platform of affordable housing and maintaining quality of life in the district.
Barry Shapiro, 72, who’s lived in Peter Cooper for 25 years (with another 15 in Stuyvesant Town before that), said he entered the race “quietly” in April and is now in the process of petitioning.
“I know a lot of people are concerned about rent stabilization and the continuation of the Democrats having a majority (in the State Senate),” said Shapiro.
Housing regulations, of course, are determined in Albany rather than in City Hall, but Shapiro maintained that it still helps for the local Council members to fight in the ongoing battle for tenant protections.
“Be an advocate, make a lot of noise,” he said. “I intend to make as much noise about this as possible. I’m an advocate for home rule. It makes no sense that these upstate rural counties have a voice about our rent regulations here. It’s insane.”
He also called for reform of the 421a tax benefit program for developers, with Shapiro saying there should be more affordable units required for landlords who want it. “We know if you’re going to develop here you’re going to make money,” he said. “If you do the right thing you’ll get benefits.”
To learn what his neighbors in District 4, which includes Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Waterside, Tudor City, Sutton Place, East Midtown and the Upper East Side, have concerns about, quality-of-life wise, Shapiro said he’s been studying 311 complaints. The main complaints, he’s noticed, have to do with noise, heat, hot water, taxi and limousine drivers as well as health-related issues, like mold.
A pet peeve of his own is dog owners who don’t clean up after their pets. While being interviewed near his building, Shapiro pointed out one patch of lawn that was designated as dog-friendly and subsequently “turned into a swamp.”
Shapiro believes the city’s current tracking system used to respond to quality of life complaints made via 311 calls are inefficient, noting how some matters will be considered closed if they’re deemed more appropriate for another department or agency or other reasons like an inspector wasn’t able to inspect a site because there was no way to access it. “That does not remediate anything,” said Shapiro.
He pledged that if elected, “as much as humanly possible, I will follow up.” Shapiro also said he would want to work with community boards – “those are dedicated people” – to tackle quality of life problems.
Another issue of importance to him as helping small business and he supports the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act. The SBJSA, which has existed in some form for over 30 years, is aimed at getting businesses more bargaining power come lease renewal time and ideally an automatic 10-year lease renewal.
Commenting on the fact that the legislation has been stalled in the Council, Shapiro said, “It makes me wonder what happens to people. They run for office. That particular intro has been around a long time and yet it has never been brought to the floor for a vote. They run and they say they’ll support it and then nothing happens. Once people get in, they start cozying up to the real estate industry.”
As to another pending bill, Garodnick’s Commercial Rent Tax reform bill, Shapiro blasted it as “a band-aid.” The legislation aims to eliminate the tax Manhattan small businesses are made to pay if they’re located be below 96th Street and above Chambers by raising the threshold that makes them eligible. Currently businesses must pay the tax if their yearly rent is more than $250,000. Garodnick said he’d like to see that amount raised to $500,000.
“It’s a day late and a dollar short,” Shapiro said. “Where were you when Capucines went out of business?” he added, noting how that restaurant, a favorite of his in Gramercy, closed due to high rents. He also added, of Garodnick, “I’m not knocking him. He’s done some good things for the community.”
Despite a lack of experience in local politics, Shapiro feels his longtime residency in the district as well as the fact the fact that he’s now retired from careers in tech as well as in the film industry, gives him a bit of an edge in the cluttered race.
“I think more people that are retired ought to run,” he said. “A lot of people think the ideal candidate is 30-40 with an Ivy League education. Why? The fact that someone is retired ties into their ability to be independent from all the real estate money that’s floating around.”
Additionally, he said, being a retiree means he is able to devote the time to the task of petitioning, since each candidate needs 450 signatures.
The process, he admitted, has been grueling. With petitioning for the race having begun a few weeks ago, Shapiro’s already come face to face with a lot of competition, especially from candidates who’ve secured the backing of political clubs and who have the help of volunteers.
“I’m not going to lie to you — it’s terrible,” he said. But, he noted, unlike some of the surrogates he’s seen in his neighborhood who give up when the weather or other pressures become too unbearable, Shapiro has the option of darting back into his apartment for a shower and a moment in some air conditioning before heading back outside. Another obstacle, meanwhile, is the changing demographics of the neighborhood, based on Shapiro’s many encounters with young neighbors who aren’t registered voters.
“Forty years ago it was almost all Democrats, but now because of the marketing efforts to jack up the rents, there are a lot of students here and they’re not registered,” said Shapiro. He’s also observed an influx of more international neighbors and voters who identify as Independent.
Shapiro said he worked up until three years ago, most recently with the title of enterprise architect for marketing systems for American Express and later as a consultant. Prior to that, he worked mainly as a project manager in the film business for 14 years.
He met his wife, with whom he has two grown sons, when they were both graduate students at New York University’s film school. He grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, and wound up staying in the city after studying film.