Volume IV, Issue 13 | March 31 - April 01, 2005

POLITICS

Moskowitz Runs on Efficacy

East Side councilwoman aims for borough presidency by pointing to results

By PAUL SCHINDLER

Eva Moskowitz, a Democratic city councilwoman who represents the Fourth District—portions of the East Side of Manhattan from 96th Street south through Midtown—has been a consistent supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights initiatives at City Hall and has enjoyed strong gay community support since the 1999 campaign that first brought her to the Council.

Yet as she mounts a run to succeed C. Virginia Fields as Manhattan borough president in this November’s election, Moskowitz must devise a complex electoral calculus, with a field of at least ten candidates—from the Council, the state Assembly and other venues—that includes several gay and lesbian contenders. The most prominent of her LGBT opponents are Council colleague Margarita Lopez, who represents the Second District, that runs from Grammercy Park to the Lower East Side, and Brian Ellner, an attorney who was an elected community school board member from 1999 until 2004 and also served on Midtown Community Board Five.

In the scramble to snare voter attention in a down-ballot race, however, Moskowitz this week was handed a golden opportunity for making her case to LGBT Manhattanites concerned about the issue of harassment, bullying and violence aimed at queer youth in the public schools. As chairwoman of the Council’s Education Committee, Moskowitz had prepared for several weeks to host a March 28 oversight hearing to gauge the implementation of the Dignity for All Schools Act. Passed last year over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto and scheduled to go into effect this month, DASA aims to document and curb bullying behavior aimed at students and teachers, specifically including those who are gay and transgendered. Although the legislation was sponsored by Councilman Alan Gerson, who represents Lower Manhattan, as education chair, Moskowitz was the primary player in getting it enacted.

On March 25, or as Moskowitz’s office described it, “late Good Friday afternoon,” the councilwoman received a letter from Karen E. Meara, of the mayor’s office of legislative affairs, informing her, “As you know, the mayor vetoed this legislation because it could not be lawfully implemented. The Council acted beyond its jurisdiction in passing DASA and overriding the Mayor’s veto, as several sections of the State education law preempt the Council… The administration does not implement illegal statutes, and therefore has no comment on this oversight topic. [The Department of Education] will not be attending this hearing.”

A top administration official, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, underscored the same point in response to a Gay City News question at City Hall Monday morning: “DASA is an illegal bill, so we’re not participating” in the hearing.

The posture adopted by the mayor afforded Moskowitz a chance to take Bloomberg on directly over a measure on which she can claim a good deal of ownership—not a bad place to find herself in full view of a liberal Manhattan electorate.

“The City Charter is clear and so are the mayor’s obligations to the electorate and the City’s legislative body,” she said, in a written statement. “The Department’s refusal to testify is unacceptable. Do not be fooled by the rhetoric about DASA being pre-empted, or by election-year politics.”

Moskowitz was able to back that rhetoric up with the subpoena power of the Council, lent her by Speaker Gifford Miller, another Upper East Side Democrat who hopes to take the mayor on in November. The subpoena compels testimony from the Department of Education on April 5.

The new battle with the mayor, however, provides risks as well as rewards for Moskowitz. Taking on powerful opponents can win fans, so long as a candidate with a reputation for effectiveness is not outflanked.

“I will emphasize my style of governing—results,” she said, when asked in a March 18 interview as to how she will distinguish herself in the crowded Democratic primary for borough president on September 13.

“I am the single most prolific legislator,” Moskowitz said, by way of summarizing her experience on the Council. “I have authored and passed the most bills.”

Having said that, she hastened to add that a simple count of laws enacted is not the true measure by which she wishes to be judged.

“Passing a law is the easy part,” she said regarding her plans for the DASA oversight hearings, the administration’s resistance to which had not yet been communicated to her. “I am not done. I don’t believe in passing laws and then walking away.”

Later, she elaborated further on this point.

“Securing funds and getting them spent are two very different things,” Moskowitz argued. “It’s the follow-through in government that counts.”

Asked to name her proudest legislative accomplishments, the councilwoman cited laws across the progressive policy horizon—protecting residents in the city’s Mitchell-Lama housing developments created a half-century ago to provide moderate income housing ownership opportunities; updating landlords’ heat and hot water obligations; ensuring access to morning-after contraceptives for rape victims in public hospitals; and establishing liability for gun manufacturers.

Acknowledging that the public and the media often regard the post of borough president as largely ceremonial, Moskowitz noted the authority to make appointments to important municipal boards, particularly in the area of land use, and also pointed out that borough presidents can introduce legislation in the City Council.

“I have never needed the City Charter to tell me how to perform public service,” she said. “The education chair on the Council was not considered a particularly important post before I assumed it.”

Moskowitz’s official biography notes that The New York Times has described her work on public education issues as “the City Council’s unapologetically demanding voice.”

The councilwoman’s focus on education is not surprising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she holds a Ph.D. in American history from Johns Hopkins University, and has taught at CUNY, Columbia, Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia. In the years immediately prior to her election to the Council, Moskowitz held several professional posts focused on primary and secondary education.

In addition to Lopez and Ellner, she also faces a host of other competitors with strong public service credentials—including Bill Perkins, a city councilman from Harlem; Scott Stringer, a West Side assemblyman; Adriano Espaillat and Keith Wright, both assemblymen who have held leadership in the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus; and Stanley Michels, a former City Council powerhouse who faced term limits in 2001.

Moskowitz emphasized that although she represents the affluent East Side, her roots are more humble, having been raised at 118th Street and Amsterdam and having waitressed to earn money during her undergraduate years at Penn. She is married to attorney Eric Grannis and they have three children, the oldest of whom is a public school first-grader.

Moskowitz conceded that there are unlikely to be major ideological disputes in the borough presidency race, despite the unusually large field. She counts her name recognition as a Council leader and the fact that she has essentially nailed down the $1.5 million or so in private contributions and public matching funds that she hopes to spend in the race as advantages she brings to the contest.

Like many of her Democratic peers, Moskowitz is critical of the mayor’s intention to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds in order to woo the Jets to Manhattan’s West Side. More surprisingly, she is even willing to admit to some “skepticism” about the city’s efforts to lure the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Asked about Bloomberg’s decision to appeal the February pro-gay marriage ruling from a Manhattan Supreme Court justice, Moskowitz said, “I fundamentally oppose the way he handled it. The notion that there is going to be chaos struck me as ridiculous. Aren’t we trying to get people to come to New York? I just don’t buy it.”

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