Volume 74, Number 53 | May 11 - 17 , 2005

Villager photo

From left, Mildred Martinez, Rosie Mendez, Darren Bloch, Brian Kavanagh, Gur Tsabar, Christopher Papajohn, Reverend Joan Brightharp and Michael Lopez.

Candidates face a round of questions on the bars

By Lincoln Anderson

Whether they would take campaign donations from bar owners, how they would save an embattled daycare center and how long they have lived in the district were among questions posed to eight Democratic candidates running for City Council in the Second District at an East Village forum on Monday sponsored by the Village Reform Democratic Club.

In the heavily Democratic district — which stretches along the East Side from Murray Hill to the Lower East Side, but doesn’t include Stuyvesant Town or Peter Cooper Village — the winner of the September primary is virtually assured of winning the election. The seat is currently occupied by Margarita Lopez, who will be term-limited out of office at the end of this year and is running for borough president.

Reverend Joan Brightharp, in her opening remarks, came out in support of developer Gregg Singer’s planned university dormitory on the site of the former CHARAS/El Bohio/old P.S. 64 school building. However, no one in the audience of about 80 people at the Theatre for the New City applauded or voiced any approval for her comments.

“Hallelujah someone?” Brightharp asked hopefully. “If I was in church someone would be saying ‘amen.’ One of the issues I am really concerned about is we don’t have enough dorms for these children from out of state.”

None of the other candidates indicated any support for the contentious dorm project.

Darren Bloch, a former top aide to the Nassau Democratic Party and a former Con Edison community relations official, said the district’s growth is positive, but needs to be controlled.

“Co-ops and condos, bars and restaurants — some of that is very good,” he said, adding too much could cause it to become a “very vanilla, overdeveloped area.”

Bloch claimed his experience with Con Ed could be a plus, because he could “go toe to toe with them — whether it’s stray voltage or particulate matter coming out of the [E. 14th St. Con Ed power plant] stacks.”

Rosie Mendez, a Democratic district leader and former Lopez chief of staff, pledged, if elected, to work to address overdevelopment, institute mandatory inclusionary housing — requiring affordable units in new buildings — and amend the community-facilities zoning bonus, which, she described as “a loophole for developers to build dormitories and turn it over for private housing later on.”

On the question of the P.S. 122 performance and arts center allegedly trying to push Children’s Liberation Daycare out of the building, most candidates agreed that a compromise should be worked out and that the daycare center should stay.

Mendez called Children’s Liberation Daycare “a vital institution in the community.” Referring to other arts organizations in former East Village and Lower East Side public school buildings, she said, “CHARAS is no longer there. Clemente Soto Velez has a lot of problems — the only reason P.S. 122 is still there is because Children’s Liberation Daycare was there and [the city] wouldn’t touch it.”

Mildred Martinez, tenants association president at Campos Plaza, said she is concerned about the Con Ed plant, which she lives near and which she blamed for higher rates of cancer in the surrounding area.

“It blows up, whenever — and no one does anything about it,” she said of the power plant.

Michael Lopez, a Verizon employee who is disabled, disdainfully referred to the other candidates, many of whom have worked in politics, as part of the problem with city government. A board of directors member of Theatre for the New City, he said he regretted the deal with the city that led to the luxury tower being built over the theater, but later said it represented a successful compromise.

Bars were a hot topic. Without naming names, Brightharp, who is a member of Community Board 3, said, “We have people on our community board who owns bars — why is that?” She was obviously referring to David McWater, chairperson of C.B. 3 and a Lopez ally.

“A bar brought me to this district — The Scratcher,” admitted Christopher Papajohn, who is an attorney. He noted Council District 2 has the most bars of any district in the city.

“Our kids are going to be alcoholics,” someone commented in the audience.

Gur Tsabar, a former staff member to Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, said zoning maybe could be used to limit the number of bars allowed on a block. Bar owners must be “community compatible,” he said.

Echoing Tsabar, Brian Kavanagh, former chief of staff to Councilmember Gale Brewer, said zoning should be employed to keep bars off side streets, particularly midblock. He got some of the night’s biggest applause, though, by taking it a step further, when he declared, “Liquor use and liquor control ought to be a local issue — not a state issue.” Kavanagh said shifting oversight on issuing liquor licenses from Albany to New York City “should be an election issue in 2006” in the governor’s race. He said Eliot Spitzer should be lobbied to come out in favor of local control of liquor licenses.

Bloch blamed the new smoking law for exacerbating bar noise and said he supports the idea of a special, ventilated “second room” for smokers in bars.

Martinez implied Mendez has taken campaign funds from bar owners.

“We have to put the blame where it is — and who’s to blame? Look at the financial disclosures,” she said, glowering briefly at Mendez.

Ray Cline, V.R.D.C. president, asked the candidates if they accept campaign donations from bar owners, yes or no. Most of the candidates said no. However, Mendez said, “I accept money from my friends and neighbors, and some of my friends own bars.” She said only one bar owner has given money to her campaign.

However, after the forum, Allen Bortnick, a political operative on the Lower East Side, told The Villager he planned to look into Mendez’s claim and prove that she had more than one bar-related contribution.

In response to a question about Lopez’s having the worst environmental record of any councilmember in Manhattan, according to the League of Conservation Voters, Bloch said the district deserves better, especially because of high asthma rates. Mendez defended Lopez, saying the ranking was based only on a certain pieces of legislation that councilmembers supported and that Lopez spearheaded a new Asthma-Free School Zone program in the East Village.

Relatively recent newcomers to the district, Bloch, Kavanagh and Tsabar, who all currently live in the north part of the district, said they all moved into the neighborhood because they liked it, or because it just naturally worked out that way, not because they planned to run for Council. Tsabar noted that when he moved into his fiancé’s apartment he lived for a while on the Upper West Side.

“Where’s that?” someone in the audience asked.

The candidates were against the West Side Stadium, except for Brightharp, who said it would provide jobs, and Martinez, who said she would support it if Mayor Bloomberg paid for it with his own funds or if it was privately financed.

Mendez is widely considered to be the frontrunner in the race, but V.R.D.C. is a club not friendly to her or Lopez and it seemed some of the questions at this particular candidate’s forum were geared to put her on the spot.

“I understand that this was the toughest one she’s had so far,” said Cline, afterwards. The club will endorse a candidate on May 26.

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