BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Spurred by a slew of recent mailings by the real estate industry endorsing Margaret Chin for re-election, a local political club has gone postal — as in, firing back with a spoof mailing of its own.
Sean Sweeney of the Downtown Independent Democrats recently created the anti-Chin piece while on vacation in Wisconsin, with the help of Penelope Grill, a friend from Soho who has some good computer design software. D.I.D. has endorsed Jenifer Rajkumar, Chin’s opponent.
The spoof mailing was sent to 15,000 people in Lower Manhattan’s First Council District, and hit people’s mailboxes this Mon., Aug. 12. The design, printing and mailing of the piece cost $6,500 total, paid for out of D.I.D. funds.
But that sum doesn’t come close to the nearly $80,000 that the new Jobs for New York PAC has spent on pro-Chin mailings in the past month and a half.
In late June and early July, the new PAC sent out at least eight mailings backing the incumbent councilmember for re-election, according to the city’s Campaign Finance Board. These mass mailings fall under the category of “independent expenditures,” since the money was not contributed directly to Chin’s campaign.
The PAC is backing Chin, one another Council incumbent and six challengers for other seats.
The Chin mailings have each focused on a different issue, or, as they are described in their entries on the C.F.B. Web site: “Chin Education,” “Chin Jobs & Economy,” “Chin Meet Margaret,” “Chin Tough Negotiator,” “Chin’s Record,” “Chin Affordable Housing.” The PAC’s pro-Chin materials cost about $12,500 per mass mailing to send out.
One of the Jobs for New York pieces declares Chin will fight to create affordable housing. Another touts her record on creating new schools and reducing class size. A third proclaims, “Margaret Chin is Rebuilding New York’s Middle Class.” The mailings highlight that she is endorsed by the likes of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Councilmember Rosie Mendez and Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, with small head shots of each.
However, many Downtown residents are outraged that Chin has not rejected the support — and prolific mailings — of Jobs for New York, since one of the PAC’s leading members, the Real Estate Board of New York, has consistently fought to weaken rent-regulation protections for middle- and lower-class residents.
Chin has refused to publicly reject the PAC’s efforts on her behalf, saying that, well, she can’t really do anything about it since it’s an independent expenditure.
Nevertheless, with the upcoming primary election now just a month away, her rival Rajkumar is challenging Chin to rebuff both the real estate group’s support and its mailings on her behalf. The upstart Democratic district leader called on Chin to do so at a recent debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters. But, again, Chin said she couldn’t do anything about it, due to the nature of it being an independent expenditure.
In a recent interview with the editorial staff of The Villager and NYC Community Media, Chin reiterated that she really can’t do much about an outside group if it wants to support her and send out mailings in praise of her.
“Probably, I have already said that this kind of expenditure is not good,” she told The Villager. “We can send them a stronger message, but it’s an independent expenditure.”
She quipped that she wished the mailings had better photos of her.
She stressed that people instead should look at her “track record” and her endorsements by elected officials, like Congressmembers Jerry Nadler and Velazquez and the Working Families Party. And she pointed to her efforts to save affordable housing at 505 LaGuardia Place, a Mitchell-Lama co-op on New York University’s southern superblock in the South Village.
She noted, “505 LaGuardia was separate from the ULURP,” referring to the public review of N.Y.U.’s 2031 mega-development plan, “but it was going on in the background — to preserve it for affordable housing. You’re talking about 175 families, and a lot of them are seniors.
“We’re going back to our track record,” Chin stated. “Look at my history — for my constituents. I’ve been there for them.”
She added that she was disappointed at not being able to get 100 percent affordable housing for the SPURA (Seward Park Urban Renewal Area) project, and had to settle for 50 percent, which nevertheless is still a very high percentage. And whether a school is part of the project still needs to be settled, she added. But she said that she did push for more affordable housing and was able to win 21 Spring St. in Nolita as a site for it.
Chin, in turn, lashed back at Rajkumar, taking exception with the district leader’s base of support, telling The Villager, “You should ask my opponent — why are a lot of her constituents from out of state? And what about her contributions from wealthy South-Asian friends?”
Chin said she’s used to being mischaracterized, recalling her early days as an activist.
“Back then, they called me a communist,” she said.
“You just have to look at where her support is,” Chin charged, referring to Rajkumar again and her backers. “I’ve been here for 50 years. This is the community that I love.”
Meanwhile, Rajkumar, in an interview with The Villager and NYC Community Media, pulled no punches when asked about Chin and the Jobs for New York mailings.
“This is an attempt to buy the Council seat — just as the Council seat has been up for sale the last four years,” she asserted. “Chin said, ‘I can’t stop them.’ … We need a real leader in the Council who actually stands up for the community. She couldn’t stop N.Y.U., she couldn’t stop the [South St.] Seaport plan, she couldn’t stop the [Jobs for New York] PAC… .”
A spokesperson for the PAC explained, in a statement, why they feel that Chin is the right woman for the job.
“Jobs for New York and its members believe strongly that New York City needs to create jobs, strengthen the local housing market and create more affordable housing options in order to make the local economy grow,” he said. “Margaret Chin’s time in public service makes it clear that she shares this view. She’s the kind of leader New York City needs in office right now.”
He praised Chin for her “balance.”
“She has amassed a very balanced record over the years,” he said, “creating jobs…a happy balance.”
He noted that Jobs for New York isn’t just composed of REBNY, but also includes the likes of the mason tenders and carpenters unions.
The economic recovery is still pretty tepid, and the PAC doesn’t want to see things backslide, he added. Plus, due to term limits, there will be a big turnover next year in the Council, with about 20 new members, he said. So, they are targeting a few Council races they feel are “competitive” — with Chin vs. Rajkumar clearly being one of them.
The PAC spokesperson argued that it’s incorrect to say that REBNY “takes issue with affordable housing.”
Practically the only new affordable housing being created in Manhattan below 96th St. is being built by REBNY members, he noted. These units are part of the 421-a program, or “80/20,” under which 80 percent of a building’s apartments are market rate but the remainder are affordable, in return for which the developer gets a tax break. However, generally, these units are not permanently affordable.
A spoof mailer created by Sean Sweeney replaces the photos of local politicians endorsing Margaret Chin, like Sheldon Silver and Nydia Velazquez, on a Jobs for New York PAC mailer with photos of developers who are leading members of REBNY, a member of the PAC.