Volume 74, Number 50 | April 20 - 26 , 2005

B.P. candidates come marching in to the V.I.D.

By Ed Gold

The Manhattan borough president can have a much greater impact on city policy with energetic and creative leadership, and the number one issue that needs attention is housing for nonmillionaires.

That was a consensus message from the 10 candidates for Manhattan borough president — the largest field in history for that position — who participated in a marathon forum last Thursday that lasted more than two-and-a-half hours at which they sought the Village Independent Democrats’ endorsement.

Stanley Michels
Scott Stringer
Brian Ellner
Adriano Espaillat
Keith Wright
Eva Moskowitz
Margarita Lopez
Carlos Manzano
Bill Perkins
Brian Johnston
The event, held at St. Luke’s in the Field School, brought together four current or former members of the City Council (Eva Moskowitz, Bill Perkins, Margarita Lopez and Stanley Michels); three Assemblymembers (Adriano Espaillat, Scott Stringer and Keith Wright); State Committemember Carlos Manzano; attorney Brian Ellner and copywriter Brian Johnston.

Assemblymember Wright, first to appear, reminded the audience he was the son of a famous judge, Justice Bruce Wright. Judge Wright, who died recently, was nicknamed for his allegedly low bail requirements as “Turn ’em Loose, Bruce.” The assemblymember quipped that he in turn was called “Hold ’em Tight, Wright.”

On a more serious note, he admonished the city administration for “the fiction that we have affordable housing in the city, and particularly in Manhattan.” He insisted that an aggressive borough president “can have a lot of influence” in affecting city housing policy.

On other issues, he noted that in Albany he had sponsored legislation to block repeal of the death penalty ban, and had backed legislation against the Rockefeller drug laws.

He got a friendly laugh when he assured the audience that he would “consult with V.I.D.” — as well as other community activists — on appointments to the local community board.

Councilmember Lopez, using a good deal of body language, spoke of “our biggest crisis,” stating, “We have lots of housing but no one can pay for it. You cannot afford to live in this borough anymore.”

She insisted that “community boards can be empowered, and if you think I won’t do it, you don’t know me.”

She argued for housing on the West Side, and criticized plans for both a stadium and expansion of the Javits Center. “There’s not going to be a stadium,” she promised, “and you can take that to the bank.”

On the Greenwich Village front, she opposed a fence around Washington Sq. Park. “A gate makes it look like private property,” she explained.

The audience welcomed her view on education. She favored the funding of capital projects like computer labs and libraries. “I’m no expert on curriculum,” she added.

State Committeemember Manzano, from the Chelsea/Clinton area where he is heavily involved in the McManus Democratic Club, focused on educational needs, and how he would use the borough president’s discretionary fund, which he noted was $13 million.

He favored funding for civics courses in elementary schools, support for training in the arts and assistance to groups in the gay community.

He was particularly proud of an endorsement from Frank Macchiarola, former New York City schools chancellor, who has praised him for his sensitivity on school issues as well as his work with seniors, tenants, immigrants and working families.

Assemblymember Espaillat, noting he was the first Dominican-American in the State Legislature, said Manhattan had been segregated because “only the rich could live here.”

He said in Washington Heights he had worked successfully to improve schools, parks and transit and to create a safer neighborhood. Because of the improvements in the area, he said, “a housing squeeze resulted as rents rose sharply.”

While he has chaired the Minority Caucus in the Assembly, he told the gathering, “I’m not just a Latin from Manhattan.”

On one local issue, he came out against a permanent restaurant in Union Sq. Park, urging that “we preserve our landmarks.”

Assemblymember Stringer also played the housing card, saying that “no one could have imagined that it would take a million dollars to live in Manhattan.” People invested “their sweat equity” to live here and then discovered they couldn’t afford the neighborhood, he said.

Responding to a question on civil liberties, he criticized the Bloomberg administration for arresting protesters during the Republican Convention. We should, he insisted, “be able to protest in blue territory like Manhattan.”

He favored building coalitions to get things done and promised “mixed community boards including business people and community activists.” He also said he would provide planning assistance to the boards with zoning or land-use problems.

Stringer intends to be a hands-on borough president, noting: “My first representative to a community board will be me.”

Lawyer Ellner, very active in gay rights, noted his service on the board of directors at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of Harvey Milk High School, a school for L.G.B.T. youth.

Again, housing was a priority, as Ellner noted that valuable citizens like teachers and poets were priced out of the Manhattan luxury housing market.

Opposing the West Side stadium, as the “mayor’s priority screw-up,” he called for a major housing project instead, with 30 percent of the units guaranteed as affordable for poor and middle-class tenants. The stadium, he said, belongs in Queens.

Education was a key element in his program. Teachers, he said, “are our heroes and need a living wage.” He called for “dedicated housing for teachers,” and said his budgetary focus would be to help schools.

Former Councilmember Michels, who spent 24 years in the City Council, noted his extensive leadership experience on environmental issues as former chairperson of the Council’s Environmental Committee. He emphasized his work on the recycling program and his efforts in protecting the state’s watershed to insure a clean water supply.

Michels also cited his early commitment to gay rights, “which led to my wife being abused on the street,” he added.

Again, on housing, he feared the rapid disappearance of the remaining apartments now under rent control and stabilization, adding that tenants’ rights are simply not being protected.

Asked about his views on Wal-Mart trying to make inroads in the city, he said he had problems with the giant retailer. “They don’t like unions and this is a union town,” he noted.

Again on Washington Sq. Park, he joined the anti-fence position, opting for “open spaces in one of our great parks.”

Councilmember Perkins stressed his ability at coalition-building and his successful effort in getting legislation passed in the Council on lead poisoning.

He also stressed to a supportive audience his opposition to the Iraq War.

More than most of his opponents in the race, he dwelt on community board possibilities. The boards, he said, were “fundamental to sound government, but now seem marginalized.” He suggested that he could get increased recognition for the community boards through the Manhattan borough board — a group including representatives from all the borough’s community boards that meets regularly — because of his past relationships on the Council.

He didn’t forget housing: “We brag about how profitable this city is, but you can’t afford to live here,” he contended.

Councilmember Moskowitz homed in on education. She said she had held “one hundred meetings on education and had developed a very simple philosophy: Above, all we need qualified and well-trained teachers.”

To achieve that goal, she said, teachers must be well paid and highly trained; schools must receive all the materials needed in the educational experience; and decisions have to be made at each school by qualified principals together with their teachers. She received a friendly hand for her explanation on education.

She considered the West Side stadium an example of “unfettered development,” and said as borough president she would concentrate on land-use reform.

She said many of her competitors were good quality people, but with confidence, added she would be a “result-oriented” borough president.

Somewhat off the beaten path was the last entry, Johnston, a copywriter who is a counselor for troubled gays.

His address was a letter written by Martin Luther King Jr., and his literature indicated he seeks a “tolerant, secular and humanist society.”

The V.I.D. membership will make its selection for borough president on May 19.

Also appearing at the forum were district leader candidates for the 66 Assembly District, Part A, in this case both incumbents.

Arthur Schwartz, apparently a born-again V.I.D.’er, in seeking the club’s endorsement offered a biographical sketch with emphasis on his strong support for reform-oriented unions. He mentioned, too, his community board service on Park and Waterfront Committees, and his commitment to community parks and recreation facilities. He noted he was now in his 10th year as district leader, adding that he had worked closely with Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a V.I.D. stalwart, on important projects.

Keen Berger, running for her second term, reviewed her victory two years ago against two opponents, to solid applause. She said last year had been devoted to the presidential campaign, particularly her trip to Ohio.

She said she was now focused on local issues, and noted her concern for “all of our parks.” She promised to work on all projects that help the community.

Because of time gaps in the appearance of candidates in the borough presidential race, V.I.D. President William Stricklin had to play stage manager as well as forum moderator.

He received a welcome helping hand from Glick, who offered several reports on events in Albany, particularly on educational issues, and the effort to win over the State Senate, while, as she put I, Governor Pataki “spent time ribbon-cutting.”

Also, she introduced a colleague, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who will be running for state attorney general next year and who stressed that “progressive politics can win.”

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