Volume 75, Number 16 | September 07 - 13, 2005


Rosie Mendez for District 2 City Council

The Democratic primary election race in City Council District 2 features a crowded field of candidates, seven in all. The district stretches from the 30s in Murray Hill to the Lower East Side.

In addition to perennial concerns like the need for affordable housing and parks, the campaign has seen several key issues emerge as flashpoints, notably bar overproliferation and overdevelopment.

Some of the candidates, while contributing to the race, haven’t given us a whole lot of reasons to vote for them.

Reverend Joan Brightharp, who heads a Baptist church in the East Village, has made it clear she feels there are two many bars in the East Village; yet she also supports the widely unpopular plan by Gregg Singer to build a 19-story dormitory at the site of the old P.S. 64 building on E. Ninth St.

Chris Papajohn, an attorney and admitted political “outsider,” showed disarming honesty in saying he came to the East Village because he liked a particular bar, The Scratcher, but now feels the neighborhood has too many liquor-licensed establishments.

Michael Beys, a former federal prosecutor, entered the race late and has made an issue out of renovating the old Baruch Houses bathhouse as a community center; a University Pl. resident, he is boasting he will win the Puerto Rican and Dominican vote in the Lower East projects. However, none of the three above candidates have shown us enough to inspire our support.

Gur Tsabar, a former chief of staff to Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, has run an energetic campaign. He claims to have knocked on more than 10,000 “knockable doors” in the Second District, and has spent time campaigning east of Avenue D, in the projects. He’s given away cell phones to seniors and organized clothes drives while collecting petition signatures. But when it comes to the big ideas of what he will do if elected to the Council and how he would allocate funding, he seems at a loss. He has floated the idea of creating a “second gay district” somewhere in Lower Manhattan, but when asked to specify its boundaries, again, was lacking in information.

Darren Bloch, on the other hand, while also young and energetic, seems to have a firm sense of the community’s dynamics and what he would do if elected. He formerly worked in the Council’s finance office. He supports inclusionary zoning — to encourage developers to include affordable units in new buildings — and community-based planning. We think he needs a little more experience but could have a political future.

Brian Kavanagh, former chief of staff to Councilmember Gale Brewer, is a very impressive candidate. He truly grasps the wide array of neighborhood issues in the district and understands the players and the forces at work. His positions on the issues jibe with those of the community. When he worked for Brewer, he led the effort to push an antiwar bill through the Council, no easy feat, considering the first version weakly noted that Saddam Hussein “may be a dictator.” He’s bright, has a nuanced grasp of the issues and gives the impression he would be a very competent and effective councilmember.

Rosie Mendez, former chief of staff of Councilmember Margarita Lopez, however, has the broadest depth of knowledge of the community. A Puerto Rican who grew up in the Williamsburg housing projects, she’s lived in the East Village for 10 years. She’s been in the trenches. As the local Democratic district leader and Lopez’s former chief of staff for a few years and as an affordable housing advocate, she’s been intimately involved in numerous local issues and struggles. Mendez stresses she’s “not Margarita” — noting that can be both a plus and a minus. While she doesn’t have the passion of Lopez — then again, who does? — as an attorney, she’ll bring a new set of skills to the job. Also, while Lopez has faced criticism that her office wasn’t very accessible, Mendez says that will change if she’s elected: While Lopez’s focus shifted somewhat to citywide issues after she became chairperson of the Council’s Mental Health Committee and head of the Manhattan Council delegation for budget negotiations, Mendez said that, in the words of Tip O’Neill, for her, “all politics is local.” While Lopez didn’t have an office e-mail, Mendez says she will definitely have one to provide a quick way for constituents to communicate with the councilmember. Mendez would also, if elected, be the only other openly gay or lesbian councilmember, along with Christine Quinn.

There are clearly a number of very qualified candidates in this race. The leading candidates are expressing similar ideas on how to curb the proliferation of bars and overdevelopment, in both cases, by implementing zoning changes. Only one candidate has really lived and breathed the struggles of the neighborhood, though, and is now poised to continue her work on its behalf. That candidate is Rosie Mendez. The Villager endorses Rosie Mendez for City Council on Sept. 13.

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