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Lions and supporters — and REBNY? With fighting lion dancers and about 175 of her supporters in attendance, Jenifer Rajkumar officially opened her new campaign office in the heart of Chinatown on Sunday.
The location, at 18 Pell St., between Mott St. and Bowery, was formerly the beloved Sun Wah Barbershop. It’s wedged right between the Foot Heaven foot-rub store, on the right, and a hair salon on the left. Nearby just down the street is famed dumpling mecca Joe’s Shanghai, and Confucius Plaza — a key voting bloc — is right across the Bowery.
Rajkumar held up a head of lettuce on a pole for the two lion dancers to fight for. “It’s good luck when you feed them,” she told us. “It was tremendous.” Then she led everyone into the space to continue the celebration with speeches.
Local supporters gave her honorary potted plants and flowers, including Danny Cheung, Tommy Lan, Bo Yok Ho and Stephen Low. Jing Fong restaurant workers gave her a wall hanging “blessing” with a flowered border.
Also at the kickoff event were Georgette Fleischer, founder of Friends of Petrosino Square; Harold Donahue, former president of the Independence Plaza North Tenants Association; and Jeanne Wilcke, president of Downtown Independent Democrats Club. Paul Lee, a well-known former local small businessman, was emcee. Steve Wong, a former top operative for Councilmember Margaret Chin’s 2009 campaign who now runs the Chinese Hotel Trades Association, was also at the shindig.
“This is going to be our command center,” Rajkumar told us. “It’s centrally located. It’s a short walk from here to the Lower East Side.” Sean Sweeney, former president of D.I.D., who couldn’t make the campaign office confab, said, “I think it’s a brilliant strategy — to go right into the belly of the beast.” He added, “I remember that barbershop — it was like $6 a haircut.” Sweeney felt it might have been better, though, if the office was on Mott St., which has heavier foot traffic.
However, a Chin campaign spokesperson downplayed Rajkumar’s Pell St. location as a ploy that won’t work. “It’s too little, too late,” said Austin Finan. “Rajkumar hasn’t lifted a finger for the Chinatown community, and certainly her accomplishments can’t hold a candle to those of Margaret Chin. She chooses to establish a presence in Chinatown when it’s politically convenient for her. … At the end of the day, Chinatown is going to pull the lever for the candidate who has been there for them through thick and thin.”
Although Sweeney is excited about Rajkumar’s new campaign office, he’s more worked up about the fact that the Real Estate Board of New York has endorsed Chin for re-election. Crain’s recently reported that a new group, Jobs for New York — including REBNY, building trade unions and others — which plans to spend $10 million on local races, is backing Chin, another Council incumbent and six challengers.
Per Crain’s: “The group hopes to elect a bloc of councilmembers that would make it more difficult for the Council to override vetoes by a business-friendly mayor and to serve as a counterweight to candidates aligned with the pro-labor Working Families Party.” Even so, Chin and five other of the group’s initial eight favored candidates have been endorsed by W.F.P.
So, does Rajkumar have a chance of winning, we asked Sweeney? “She’s doing much better than I thought,” he said, “and Chin is imploding with her now taking Real Estate Board of New York money.”
Countered Finan, “From elected officials, to Democratic clubs, to labor unions, to the business community, Margaret Chin’s support runs the gamut. She has support in every corner of the district and from all walks of people.”
Tunnel-approach art: Sculptor Gina Miccinilli finished her latest work, “Lemniscatus,” on Mon., July 15, on Varick St. between Broome and Watts, where she transformed a triad of 3-ton granite traffic barriers into representations of movement and metamorphosis.
The project was completed in partnership with Marc Fields of the Compleat Sculptor on Vandam Street, the Hudson Square Connection business improvement district, and the Department of Transportation, and creates a pedestrian plaza near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. Fields would like to continue with similar site-specific projects in the city where traffic barriers could be transformed into urban art.
Suzy Changar, director of marketing at the Hudson Square Connection, said there would be no formal unveiling of the project, to allow pedestrians the opportunity to self-discover it.
Local employee Paris Osgerchian, who works as a photo retoucher in a nearby studio, said the neighborhood needs places for locals to sit outdoors. That the sculpted stones sit hard by the tunnel’s traffic flow doesn’t matter to her. “Being a New Yorker, noise and traffic don’t really bother me,” she said.
Miccinilli, above, A New Jersey native who also teaches on the art faculty at William Paterson University, said of the granite hunks, “I love the idea that it’s reclaimed.” The city repurposes the blocks of stone from material from the dismantled Willis Avenue Bridge. “It’s got such power to it,” she added, “and it challenges our notion of what’s valuable.”