Our Choices for City Council, Public Advocate, Manhattan Borough President
ENDORSEMENTS | City Council:
The District 3 City Council race, for the seat held the past 14 years by Speaker Christine Quinn, pits two passionate and energetic LGBT contenders against each other for what has often been dubbed “the gay seat.”
Yetta Kurland is an attorney who has won some impressive civil rights victories in her career, remains outspoken on the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital, and has rallied community members on other issues including Superstorm Sandy relief.
Corey Johnson has also been a community activist during his 13 years in New York and has served for eight years on Community Board 4, encompassing Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, including two terms as chair.
The two broadly share common progressive views on a host of issues, including the need for more affordable housing, more classrooms, increased spending on HIV prevention, greater citizen participation in allocating funds available to the Council member, and curbs on the excessive use of stop and frisk tactics by the NYPD.
A central theme of Kurland’s campaign has been her willingness to take on established powers in the city, an approach typified by her 2009 challenge to Quinn’s reelection and her tireless activism around the St. Vincent’s issue.
Johnson emphasizes his skill at working with government bodies and other stakeholders to achieve the goals he values. Evidence for that includes his demonstrated mastery of policy details and the confidence his CB4 colleagues placed in him by twice electing him chair.
We believe that Johnson’s skill set and his vision for his role as a Council member better suit him to represent the diverse communities within District 3.
The bitterness and pettiness that have characterized this contest –– including determined whisper campaigns waged by surrogates for both candidates –– are disappointing, and both Johnson and Kurland bear responsibility for not having waged a more positive race. Kurland spent far too much time trying to link her opponent to the evils of the real estate industry based on two staff jobs with developers he held for relatively short amounts of time. Johnson, for his part, for too long was inexplicably opaque about his résumé, which did little but fuel the sense there was something to be uncovered.
The August 26 debate at the Chelsea Bowtie Cinema, however, nicely clarified the choice between the two candidates. Johnson offered detailed explanations for community board work he has accomplished, which gave credence to the proposals he discussed. He also set a generally positive tone for the evening that suggested he has the ability to work with community members of widely divergent opinions.
Kurland offered her vision and also a profile of herself that matched that vision. She was too often, though, short on specifics, a flaw that hobbled both of her Council runs. She also has an unfortunate tendency to use upbeat language to mask serious aspersions she is suggesting about her opponent –– ones she apparently is unwilling to articulate directly.
Should Johnson be elected, we hope he will recognize the vital importance of transparency in public life. His community work to date suggests significant promise and we urge a vote for him.
In other Council races, Rosie Mendez, an out lesbian who has represented District 2 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side since 2006, faces a primary challenge from Richard Del Rio, a senior pastor at Abounding Grace Church. A strong voice for affordable housing and tenants’ rights, Mendez justly deserves reelection under any scenario. She would be part of a trio of out LGBT veteran members –– along with Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, who will be returned to office from Queens –– in next year’s Council. Mendez was among the most outspoken critics of a pattern of false NYPD arrests of gay men in Manhattan adult video stores several years ago.
Though Mendez easily outmatches her opponent in visibility, endorsements, and campaign funds, Del Rio is a troubling figure on the political scene. As his website spells out, he is a leader in the fight against the Department of Education policy preventing religious congregations –– many of them anti-gay –– from renting Sunday space in public schools. The policy, which allows religious groups to continue accessing school space for non-worship activities, is currently under court challenge. Since 2011, Del Rio’s site says, he has been “one of the champions of the Right to Worship movement,” which aims to dramatically increase the presence of such congregations citywide. That position is hostile to the interests of the LGBT community and out of step with his district.
Elsewhere in the city, three promising new LGBT candidates are seeking election to the City Council. In Brooklyn’s District 38, Carlos Menchaca, a former aide to Speaker Christine Quinn and before that to Borough President Marty Markowitz, is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Sara González. On the Upper West Side, in an open race in District 6, Mel Wymore, a transgender man who has served on his local community board for the past 17 years, is vying in a large field of candidates. And in Council District 15, in the central Bronx, Ritchie Torres, who has handled housing issues for Councilman James Vacca during the past eight years, is running for an open seat.
Each of these three, profiled in recent weeks in Gay City News, is a passionate progressive and an intelligent innovator who could bring fresh and unique talents and perspectives to the Council. They deserve the community’s votes and its campaign support in the final weeks.
This year’s race for city public advocate has been overshadowed by the hotly contested mayoral contest and, in recent weeks, by the suddenly competitive face-off between Scott Stringer and Eliot Spitzer for city comptroller.
Which is a shame because in a group of able Democratic candidates, there are two with demonstrated records of support for the LGBT community –– Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James and State Senator Daniel Squadron, whose district straddles Lower Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn.
In roughly a decade on the Council, James has consistently backed gay rights initiatives, worked on HIV issues, and spoken out against homophobic and transphobic violence.
In his five years in the Senate, Squadron voted for marriage equality –– both when it lost in a rout in 2009 and when it won approval in 2011 –– and is now lead sponsor of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), the long-stalled transgender civil rights measure. Though GENDA was overlooked once again this year by the Senate’s Republican leadership, Squadron and his Assembly counterpart, Dick Gottfried, significantly improved its prospects for eventual success by skillfully enlisting the support of top law enforcement officials statewide –– including Police Commissioner Ray Kelly –– to beat back opponents’ scurrilous charge that the measure imperils the safety of women accessing public restrooms and locker rooms.
Squadron distinguishes himself from James by his support for the Department of Education policy barring the use of public schools for Sunday religious worship services. Squadron admirably stands firm on the basic principal of separation of church and state.
This factor –– combined with his aggressive GENDA advocacy and his role in passing sensible gun control legislation and curbing Bloomberg administration policy that charged rents to homeless families in shelters –– makes Squadron the best choice for public advocate. We will miss his GENDA leadership in Albany but are confident his colleague Brad Hoylman can run with that ball. We urge a vote for Squadron in the September 10 Democratic primary.
Manhattan Borough President:
The race to succeed Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is a very competitive one. Most of the borough president’s powers are advisory, except for appointing half of the members of every community board. So it is a good thing that the four Democratic candidates to succeed him share one central point of agreement –– that they would continue his exemplary system of screening and appointing community board members, which ended the cronyism of years past.
In wielding the office’s advisory powers, skill and savvy are needed to be effective, the post’s power resting more with the person than with the office. Among four very strong contenders, one candidate, Julie Menin, the former chair of Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, stands out.
In serving Lower Manhattan, Menin wracked up impressive accomplishments. Without her, community groups downtown would never have secured $200 million of 9/11 money that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation sat on for years. The money had been forgotten by most, and it was Menin who raised the issue, rallied support, and got the money into deserving hands.
Beyond her achievements for Lower Manhattan, Menin has demonstrated leadership that speaks more broadly to the integrity she would bring to the borough presidency. Occupy Wall Street was a rallying point for progressives across the city and around the world, but in the neighborhood surrounding Zuccotti Park, it was a thorny situation in which free speech and assembly rights had to be balanced against the needs and rights of residents not to be disrupted. Menin rolled up her sleeves to forge a compromise resolution at CB1. The result satisfied both sides, but success was certainly not a foregone conclusion when she stepped up.
The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” –– actually a mosque and Islamic center blocks away from the World Trade Center –– was something Menin and CB1 could easily have ducked, but they chose to stand up against calls for government interference into the religious freedom of the groups backing the project. That is commendable.
Menin also demonstrates her respect for the principal of church and state separation in her posture toward the use of public schools for Sunday worship services, an issue of particular concern given the growing number of explicitly anti-gay congregations that availed themselves of the opportunity and have voiced the goal of increasing their presence. Menin understands that opening up public schools for worship inevitably raises problems the Constitution wisely provided a clear solution for 225 years ago.
Central to Menin’s campaign is a thoughtful proposal to craft a borough-wide master plan and to use the borough president’s budget to give community boards enhanced resources to comprehensively survey their greatest needs. Making urban planning more responsive to community needs is something she’s worked on for years.
Among the other candidates, City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin has put forward good ideas on land use and community board improvements and taken the same principled stance as Menin on worship in the schools. Councilwoman Gale Brewer has real legislative accomplishments on issues like paid sick leave and protecting small shops on the Upper West Side. And Councilman Robert Jackson was a leader in the court fight to get the city a fairer shake in state education funding, though his legislative record is not as strong as that of his two Council opponents.
It is Menin, however, who most clearly shows the comprehensive vision and passion to be a first-rate borough president. She deserves support on September 10.