By Sabina Mollot
Following Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh’s easy victory at the polls last week for the downtown Senate seat he wanted, two Democrat candidates have expressed interest in filling the now vacant 74th District Assembly seat.
One of them is Harvey Epstein, a tenant representative on the Rent Guidelines Board and the project director of the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center. The other is Mike Corbett, an aide to Queens-based City Council Member Costa Constantinides and a former teamster. Marie Ternes, a communications consultant who previously worked for then-Congress Member Anthony Weiner, said she is considering running.
Recently, outgoing City Council Member Rosie Mendez told Town & Village she was mulling a run for Assembly, but then later told the local blog Lo Down that she’d decided against it. Council Member Dan Garodnick has also previously said he has no plan to run.
Corbett, Epstein and Ternes spoke with a Town & Village reporter this week, although Ternes declined to be interviewed at this time since she hasn’t yet made a decision on running.
It’s expected that there will be a County Committee vote held by each party to determine who will get onto the ballot for a special election. However, it’s still unclear when the vote will be or when the election will be, since a special election must be called by the governor. Another possible, though unlikely, scenario is that there will be a primary in June when there’s a Congressional primary, or even later.
Meanwhile, Epstein, who lives in the East Village with his family, told Town & Village he was running because of his history accomplishing things people told him couldn’t be done.
“People told me, ‘You’re never going to get a rent freeze; it’s impossible,’” the RGB member said. “Not only did I do it one year, I did it two.”
People also doubted the New York Legal Services Coalition could ever be formed, and then that happened, too, he added.
“For 40 years people weren’t getting organized, and I was instrumental in creating a legal services coalition,” said Epstein. “Those are just two of things people said it was impossible to do that I did to make life better for regular New Yorkers. That is what I do and have done and what I plan to do if elected to the Assembly.”
Epstein serves as president of the coalition, which is aimed at providing legal advocacy for low-income communities.
Issues important to Epstein include improving public schools by ending racial segregation and keeping class size small and creating a single payer healthcare system in New York State. The latter, he said, could be done, “if we had the will to do it. I see an opportunity with an open seat for these things.”
He is also interested in making sure the MTA is properly funded with a reduced fare for low-income New Yorkers and alternative options in place by the time the L-pocalypse arrives in 2019.
On housing matters, he hopes to repeal vacancy deregulation, reform MCIs (major capital improvement rent increases) and prevent steep increases tenants incur as a result of preferential rents. He also wants to make it mandatory for all new development to include some affordable units.
Epstein is a fixture at tenant rights rallies, including one earlier this year against a landlord group’s lawsuit aimed at undoing the RGB’s vote to have a rent freeze. Through the UJC, he was also involved in a legal hotline created for Stuyvesant Town tenants who were facing primary residency challenges from then-landlord Tishman Speyer.
Epstein has been a public interest attorney since graduating from CUNY Law School in 1994 and has served on the nine-member RGB for five years.
Epstein and his wife, union attorney Anita Eliot, have two children, 13 and 18, and a rescued, mixed-breed pooch named Homer. In his spare time, Epstein enjoys practicing yoga and is a certified yoga instructor.
Corbett told Town & Village he’d been thinking about running for office for the past decade, promising himself he’d take a hard look into it if the opportunity presented itself. The lifelong resident of Murray Hill has had a taste for politics about that long through his union Teamsters 814, which represents commercial movers. Corbett served the union as an officer until he left it for his current job as Constantinides’ director of special events. He also served as vice president and later president of New York State Young Democrats, which now, at the age of 35, he’s aged out of.
For Corbett, who inherited the rent-stabilized apartment he lives in with his brother after his mother died in 2014, priority one for a state legislator is affordable housing.
“I don’t think we’re doing enough to sustain the current, stabilized units,” he said. “There are a lot of units going out of stabilization.”
Another issue of importance to him is the environment.
“That’s my boss rubbing off on me, but I would like to focus on resiliency,” said Corbett.
He noted that much of Assembly District 74 was underwater when Sandy hit, his own block on the northern end of an area to be without power that stretched down to Lower Manhattan. Meanwhile, his mother, who was still alive at the time of the superstorm and suffering from COPD, still needed her oxygen delivered each day.
“We can do a lot to stop the seawater from coming in and costing us millions of dollars,” said Corbett. “There are a lot of parts of the city that would benefit.”
Naturally, labor is also a personal issue to the candidate.
“I’m a labor guy,” he said. “I know workers’ comp is something that’s come up in the Assembly. (Anything) that would make it easier for the men and women of New York to earn a living and have a nice life, I will be first out of the gate to back them.”
As for Ternes, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, issues she feels the next Assembly member should focus on include affordable housing, preparing for the L train shutdown and women’s reproductive rights. She would also like to see constituent services enhanced with a “digital refresh” and benefits for small businesses and independently employed New Yorkers.
Ternes outlined those points in an op-ed she submitted to Town & Village this week. (See Page 4.)
Last Tuesday, Kavanagh won the downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfront Senate seat previously occupied by Daniel Squadron with 85 percent of the vote. Squadron had quit so abruptly last summer there was no time for a primary. Instead, Kavanagh became the Democratic nominee through a controversial backroom deal brokered by Brooklyn and Manhattan party bosses and coasted to victory in the general election over an unknown Republican candidate. This follows his serving the 74th District for 11 years.