Photo by Josh Rogers
Jenifer Rajkumar formally kicked off her City Council campaign on the City Hall steps on Sunday.
BY JOSH ROGERS | City Council candidate Jenifer Rajkumar made her formal announcement Sunday, accusing opponent Margaret Chin of listening more to big developers than the people of Lower Manhattan.
“Under this top-down approach, the councilmember goes into the room with a real-estate or outside interest, closes the door, makes the deal and shuts the people out,” Rajukmar said of Chin, the incumbent, who is also running in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.
Rajkumar, 30, a Dem-ocratic district leader and attorney who moved to Battery Park City in 2010, chose the most common New York City location for a campaign announcement, City Hall, for an uncommon reason.
“It is at this very spot that I decided to run for Council,” Rajkumar (pronounced rahj-KOO-mar), said April 7. Last July, she and other opponents of New York University’s expansion project were not allowed to stay in the Council Chambers for the vote in which Chin and all but one of her colleagues approved the plan.
“We were kicked out of City Hall that day,” Rajkumar said. “We were not listened to and the Council nearly unanimously voted in favor of the gargantuan expansion into the Village.”
Chin did win concessions from N.Y.U., reducing the size of two of the proposed buildings by more than half, but many in the Village said the project was still out of scale for the neighborhood.
Rajkumar, who did not mention Chin’s name Sunday, also criticized the councilmember’s vote three weeks ago to approve the redevelopment of the Pier 17 mall in the South Street Seaport.
“We wanted to preserve the historic Seaport district, ensure its future in the face of large development and preserve a world-class food market,” Rajkumar said.
Chin and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn got the Seaport developer, Howard Hughes Corp., and the city to agree to two locally sourced permanent food markets of more than 10,000 square feet nearby, but Rajkumar said the markets would be too small.
It was only after the Council approved the plan that the city released the unredacted portion of its agreement outlining the Hughes firm’s intention also to build a large hotel and apartment building in the neighborhood.
A few weeks prior to the Council vote, Rajkumar did not offer specifics on what her Pier 17 strategy would be if she were representing the district. But on Tuesday she said that the land-use application was a missed opportunity to get more concessions on the rest of the developer’s plans.
She said she learned “tough negotiating skills” as a civil rights attorney representing individuals against large corporations.
In response, Chin’s campaign spokesperson, Austin Finan, issued a statement saying the city’s uniform land use review procedure, known as ULURP, is “transparent and inclusive,” with numerous reviews and many public hearings.
“Ms. Rajkumar clearly does not understand this simple concept or she is purposely trying to mislead voters for political gain,” Finan added. “Both scenarios are troubling and indicate that she either lacks the experience or the integrity to hold public office. Councilmember Chin has always valued and listened to the concerns of her constituents. No one is ever shut out or turned away from her office, and that is a policy she will continue to uphold when she is re-elected.”
Rajkumar is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford Law School.
If elected, Rajkumar said she would employ “bottom-up leadership” in which community members would be included in negotiations. She would also let constituents vote on how to spend discretionary money set aside for the district.
“I am the girl always on your corner, the district leader asking, ‘What can I do for you in the neighborhood?’” she said at City Hall.
The First Council District, one of the most diverse economically, includes Wall St., Chinatown, the Seaport, Battery Park City, Tribeca and Soho, as well as parts of the Village and the Lower East Side.