Councilor Margaret Chin and others (Photo: Jeff Reed / Alderman)
Nine Democratic candidates are running in the District 1 primary for a seat in Lower Manhattan. The district includes part or all of Battery Park, the Civic Center, Chinatown, the Financial District, Little Italy, the Lower East Side, NoHo, SoHo, South Street Seaport, South Village, TriBeCa, and Washington Square. Governors Island, Ellis Island, and Liberty Island are also part of the district.
The current city council member, Margaret Chin, was elected as the first Asian-American elector in the district in 2010. It is limited in time and cannot be re-elected. The rapidly approaching area code includes postal voting, early June 12-20 elections, and the June 22nd area code day. Given the district's democratization, the winner of the crowded area code – including using the ranked election for the first time – is sure to become the next council member in January.
With a concentration of public housing on the Lower East Side, as well as some of the city's most expensive real estate in the Financial District and Tribeca, the district is extremely diverse, both economically and racially. Although white residents make up the largest race or ethnic group, about 45% of the population, there is a large Asian-American population totaling about 36% of the district's residents, while Hispanic residents make up about 12% and black residents about 4%. The diversity of the district and the implementation of ranked voting require candidates to have far-reaching appeal in order to win the seat.
The crowded field of candidates running in the Council District 1 Democratic primary include Susan Damplo, an attorney and administrative judge with the NY State Liquor Authority; Sean Hayes, an international lawyer, educator, and arbitrator; Jenny Lam Low, who works as the City Council's Administrative Services Director; Susan Lee, paralegal and nonprofit scholarship writer; Gigi Li, Chief of Staff to outgoing Councilor Chin, who assisted her; Maud Maron, Legal Aid Society attorney and Community Education Council member; Chris Marte, the director of New York State Arena, a political education college; Denny Salas, former stockbroker, researcher, and policy advisor on behalf of Democratic Congressman; and Tiffany Winbush, Associate Professor of Marketing at Berkeley College.
According to the Campaign Finance Board's District 1 Executive Summary, the total private and public matching funds for each candidate on June 3 were: Li at $ 257,979; Marte with $ 256,885; Low at $ 256,239; Chestnut at $ 238,062; Lee for $ 195,134; Damplo at $ 146,711; Winbush at $ 90,679; Hayes for $ 30,647; and Salas at $ 11,202.
District 1, its residents, commuters, and business people, has seen its share of major urban crises and disasters, including the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Wall Street's 2008 financial crisis, and 2012 Superstorm Sandy, the devastation of COVID-19 and its Impact, especially on families and small businesses. Given its large Asian-American population, the district has also been one of the hardest hit by the rise in anti-Asian racism and hate crimes. The choice to replace Chin focuses on these issues as well as major development projects and controversy, homelessness and housing affordability, and more.
Candidates and voters are intensely concerned with issues relating to development, housing and the planned construction of a new prison in the city center, which will replace the existing one in the district as part of the plan to close the prisons on Rikers Island. The Manhattan Detention Complex on White Street, nicknamed "The Tombs", was to be demolished and replaced with a larger, 29-story prison. Most recently, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled the city can proceed with its plans, dismissing residents' claims that the process, approved by the city council with Chin's assistance, was inconsistent with local zoning laws.
Additionally, there is the city's planned SoHo / NoHo zoning plan, which will add an estimated 3,200 housing units and potential retail space to the neighborhoods, and possibly the first neighborhood zoning of the de Blasio years that would add significantly more housing density to an affluent area of the city. Other controversies include the Two Bridges development proposal on the Lower East Side, Haven Green's low-income senior housing project, how to repair NYCHA homes, protect the area from the effects of climate change, and more.
"Whoever is the next councilor who will have a large say in land use through the ULURP process, take positions on future land use decisions and negotiate, will be of vital importance," said Democratic strategist Trip Yang of Gotham Gazette The Importance of Race and the Role of the Councilor. Yang previously worked for Chin's re-election campaign.
District 1 candidates recently met on Zoom for a debate moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max and moderated by the Manhattan Neighborhood Network.
Chin's chief of staff Li has received high-profile support not only from Chin, but also from mayor candidate Andrew Yang, the New York Pan-Asian Democratic Club and others (Chin has confirmed Yang as mayor).
Li is an immigrant from Hong Kong with a first generation graduate degree with a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University. She previously served as the director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, an advisor at the NY Asian Women’s Center (now Womankind), and the first Asian-American chairperson of her local community board. Li says she worked to bring de Blasio's unique educational programs to universal pre-kindergartens and community schools. She has been based in District 1 for nearly two decades, she said.
Li has presented herself as a social worker and organizer with a "track record of building broad-based coalitions". She names the district's top issues of affordable housing, protecting the social safety net, and overall recovery from COVID-19. With regard to affordable housing, she has stressed the need for each neighborhood to get its “fair share” of units and the need to reassess the eligibility criteria for affordable housing.
In the debate, Li said she was in favor of SoHo / NoHo rezoning. “It's a neighborhood with great schools, good access to public transport and really from a housing equity perspective could really be a turning point for any family or child who can move into this neighborhood and benefit from all the amenities that existing neighbors get ", she said.
"What you will get out of me as your next councilor is a focus and pursuit of justice and access," she said during the debate, in which she also said she will put Yang first on the mayoral ballot .
Lam-Low is currently the Director of Administrative Services Division in the Speaker’s Office of the City Council and heads internal council operations. Before that, she was head of the Community Engagement department.
At 12, Low immigrated from China and studied English in public schools. She worked as a community relations and strategic philanthropy executive at JP Morgan Chase & Co., focusing her efforts on helping women and people of color, she said. She also served as Chair of the Board Director of the Sino-American Planning Council and Vice President of the Eleanors Legacy Innovation Council.
Low's top endorsements to date include Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, District Council 37, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, the United Federation of Teachers, and Tenants PAC.
She has presented herself as a nearly lifelong resident who knows the district inside out and a leader in the local nonprofit sector. During the recent debate, Low said her top priorities are affordable housing, tackling food insecurity and finding “real investments” in public education.
Low stressed that their guiding principle for housing construction was "responsible development" and pointed to a luxury residential tower on the Lower East Side, One Manhattan Square, as irresponsible. "We have to make sure that everyone involved is seated at the table and that they have a transparent process from planning to advice and execution," she said. "Stakeholders include local residents … elected officials, experts, trade unions, whose workers will build these developments should it materialize."
After losing to Chin by just 222 votes in 2017, Marte is running again and is considered the front runner. Born and raised in the Lower East Side as the son of immigrants, Marte attended public schools and began his career as a financial analyst at IBM. He was a legal scholar and a board member of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that focused on helping former prisoners run small businesses. In recent years he has helped run the Arena political training institute.
Marte has received a number of grants from groups such as the Village Independent Democrats, the Chinatown Working Group, the Downtown Independent Democrats, the New York City Asian-American Democratic Club, and others.
He has presented himself as a local Lower East Side child committed to the district and "already doing the job our council office should be doing". During the COVID-19 pandemic, Marte helped deliver groceries and PPE to seniors and healthcare workers, connect women-owned businesses to federal PPP loans, and provide free Covid testing sites, he said.
"Our recovery plan focuses on three main themes," Marte said in a candidate statement on MNN accompanying the debate video. “First, I would adopt community-based land-use plans to reclaim the affordability of our neighborhoods, preserve their character and keep small businesses. Second, I am running to improve our quality of life instead of cutting the budget for basic services like education and sanitation. And thirdly, we cannot stumble from crisis to crisis and have to tackle climate change locally and protect our waterfront promenades. "
Marte was decidedly against the development in both of his presidential candidacies. During the debate, he said he was not in favor of de Blasio's SoHo / NoHo remodeling plan and pointed out some alternative locations for building new affordable housing in the district, including a federal parking lot at 2 Howard Street as well as two water tunnel locations that are empty lots .
A longtime public defender and mother of four, Maron was at the forefront of the race in fundraising, focusing her campaign on education and public safety. Maron serves as an elected member of the Community Education Council for District 2 and has lived in District 1 for 20 years, she said. It has received endorsements from the Uniformed Sanitationmen & # 39; s Association and the Police Benevolent Association, the main unions for plumbing workers and ordinary police officers.
In the debate, she said her top priorities in office are to fully reopen schools and stop construction of the new Chinatown prison. She believes the capital budget for the four county prisons would be "better spent" to make local public transport more accessible.
Maron says she is committed to protecting historic neighborhoods like South Street Seaport and SoHo / NoHo, both of which are earmarked for new housing. Although she claimed "we can adapt our zoning to match reality" by updating outdated limits. Unlike many of her opponents, she does not support the conversion of hotels into affordable housing and sees this as a possible setback for the revival of the tourism industry.
During the debate, Maron commented on public safety and said: “When we think of the shape of our city eight years ago, when Bill de Blasio became mayor, and the shape our city is in now, we move into that wrong direction. People on the street fear that New York City is returning to a time when our city was less safe, less clean, and a less calming place, and I think we need a city council, and I hope the city council person too who tackle these difficult problems and have these tough conversations. "
Marron said she favors Kathryn Garcia and Eric Adams as her first choice as mayor. She also said opponent Susan Lee would be her second choice in her city council race.
Susan Lee, a freelance scholarship writer, immigrated to New York when she was six and grew up on the Lower East Side. Lee has repeatedly highlighted her extensive campaigning nonprofit experience. She previously worked as a legal assistant at an international human rights law firm and as a program manager for development at the Asian Americans For Equality Community Development Fund. In addition, she says she has helped homeless youth at Covenant House International and victims of slave labor and sex trafficking through the Nomi network.
On February 17, Lee was the victim of an anti-Asian attack when she was assaulted while exiting a local transit platform. Lee says she was pressured by family and friends to file a police report and did so; She writes about the incident on her campaign website blog.
"I'm lucky to have left this incident behind me, but I know a lot of my Asian-American colleagues weren't that lucky," she wrote. "I stand in solidarity with my community as we continue to fight anti-Asian hate crimes."
During the debate, Lee said her main concern was economic recovery with an emphasis on helping small businesses. She would propose a property tax freeze and ensure federal subsidies are given to mums and dads before hedge funds or big real estate developers. As for housing, she said she would take a holistic approach to building affordable housing with access to supermarkets, medical facilities, daycare and more.
Lee said she supported Ray McGuire in the mayoral election and returned Maron's runner-up support in that race.
Winbush is a resident of the financial district and is originally from Louisiana, where she was raised by her very politically active family. She has a background in marketing and social media and previously worked as a marketing associate at Acurius, a digital services company, and Hiscox, an insurance company. She is currently an Associate Professor of Marketing at Berkeley College. Winbush was previously a member of the Public Policy Committee of the New York Junior League and a board member of Community Board 1 of Manhattan, which serves the district.
Her top priorities include helping small businesses by ensuring access to ten-year leases and converting vacant hotels into affordable housing and housing for the homeless.
"If I am elected to represent District 1 on the city council, I will bring progress and positive change for all New Yorkers," she said during the debate. “Though I have roots in Louisiana after 15 years, New York City is definitely“ my home. ”She added,“ I will be an inclusive voice for our very diverse district. ”
Damplo runs with the fact that she is “not a career politician” but “an advocate”. She started her career as a legal assistant at Lawyers & # 39; Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, DC, where, according to their website, she worked for the director of the Employment Discrimination Project on his reproductive rights project.
During the debate, Damplo stated that her top priorities are affordability of housing, with an emphasis on finding solutions to the longstanding homelessness crisis. She also said that she believes that the city council should have the power to approve commissioners in any city authority. On her website, she says, “The city council must serve as stronger control and balance. I support the approval of the department heads by the council. "
Salas, who has a varied professional career behind him and also draws on his lived experience, said he was running for the city council in order to realize his "American dream". Born to immigrant parents who worked in low-wage jobs in the Bronx, he recalls lying about his address in order to get a better public school.
Salas quit his job as a stockbroker to volunteer with President Obama's Organizing for America. He also worked as a political advisor and fundraiser for Erickson & Co., where he says he raised $ 1.4 million to fund public schools in the Bronx.
His campaign pledges are set out in his American Dream Plan, which "recognizes the link between housing, education and economic policies that must be used to rebuild and move our city forward." The highlights include pedestrian zones for “superblocks” and a focus on residential construction for a wide range of incomes and New Yorkers. During the debate, Salas named Kathryn Garcia as his first choice for the next New York City mayor.
Hayes has also had a varied professional career, but mainly in international business law. He is an associate professor at Seoul National University and a former dean of international relations at a United Nations university called the University for Peace. He works as a lawyer for an international law firm based in Korea and as a Managing Partner at Hayes & Simon in New York City.
On his campaign website, Hayes says he made the decision to run after “looking around and seeing that the majority of candidates running for New York City Council and Mayor are of experience, centrist outlook, and pragmatism are lacking and too radicalized to meet the needs of New York City residents. "
The Battery Park City resident said he would prioritize education and youth services. He highlighted a paid training and mentoring program he featured on his website that would refer the young apprentice to nonprofits, banks, law firms, technology companies and more for a two-year program.
During the debate, Hayes said seniors or veterans who earn less than $ 70,000 a year are not required to pay property taxes. To complement this effort, he would impose property tax on wealthy universities and fallow NGO land. Hayes said he was leaning towards Eric Adams as his first choice as mayor.
WATCH THE PRIMARY DEMOCRATIC DEBATE OF THE CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 1 HERE
by Emma Seiwell for Gotham Gazette