Volume 75, Number 18 | September 21 - 27, 2005

Villager photo by Bob Kreizel

Rosie Mendez campaigning the weekend before the Sept. 13 primary election

After winning big, Mendez gears up for City Council

By Lincoln Anderson

Although she won a seven-person primary race for City Council District 2 with an impressive one-third of the vote on Sept. 13, Rosie Mendez said last week she was never overconfident of victory until all the numbers were in. And while still smarting from some of the negative campaigning of which she was the target, she said she’s putting it behind her and getting ready for the job ahead.

Mendez and supporters celebrated her victory at Opaline, an Avenue A nightclub owned by David McWater, chairperson of Community Board 3 and a longtime friend of Mendez.

Mendez said that, as opposed to eight years ago, when New York 1 TV news at first mistakenly reported Judy Rapfogel had beaten Margarita Lopez in a tight City Council election, this time it was a clear-cut victory that friends and supporters could really celebrate. Members of the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s and La Plaza Cultural garden and other groups joined the party. Mendez was so busy accepting congratulations that, she said, “I only got two carrot sticks.”

Speaking the next day — after having spent a couple of hours relaxing with a few supporters at the Turkish Baths on E. 10th St. — Mendez said that despite being the heavy favorite she took nothing for granted. It’s her nature, she said, to do the best she can and then not stress about the outcome.

“Elections are unpredictable,” said Mendez, a Democratic district leader for the past eight years. “District 2 is about three or four times larger than my district leader part. We had some really good opponents. We had some differences on some things, but on a lot of things we weren’t really that different. I think it came down to my track record.”

She said she did very well in her district leader part — roughly Avenue B east to the river between 14th and Delancey Streets — while holding her own in the rest of the district, which stretches from the Lower East Side to Murray Hill. The race got down and dirty, though, she said.

“I think there was negative campaigning,” Mendez said flatly. “V.R.D.C. sent out a mailing that was inaccurate and twisted facts. There was stuff put up in the neighborhood and whoever did it, the cowards didn’t even put their name on it.”

Ray Cline, president of Village Reform Democratic Club, did not return a call for comment.

The attack ads in The Villager by LESPAC, in particular, did have some impact, she admitted. One of them tried to link her to the involvement of Lopez — for whom Mendez was chief of staff for two years — with fundraising from Scientologists and the failure to renovate the Baruch Houses’ bathhouse into a community center. Another ad slammed Mendez and her political organization, Coalition for a District Alternative, for knocking candidates of color and gays off the ballot in the race. However, Mendez, who is lesbian, said she personally never knew Claudia Flanagan was a lesbian. Gur Tsabar, another candidate, also hammered Mendez and CoDA for the petition challenges.

Another ad referred to the new mirrored-glass Related Companies building on Astor Place as the “Lopez/Mendez tower.” Yet, Mendez said, this project, though on a site owned by The Cooper Union, was not included in the Cooper Union general large-scale redevelopment plan and so was built as of right, without zoning variances. Still, some voters grilled her on it.

“They said, ‘How could you let that building go up?’ I said, ‘Are you referring to the ad in The Villager?’ — and then I explained it to them,” Mendez said. “That happened a couple of times on Astor Place — because, I guess, we were standing in front of that big monstrosity.”

Regarding the Cooper Union G.L.S.D.P., Mendez said she unsuccessfully tried to persuade Lopez to vote against it.

“I told her, ‘The community wants this,’” Mendez said. “She said, ‘There’s no way I can fight this.’ ”

Mendez said, if she had been councilmember at the time, she would have followed the lead of Community Boards 2 and 3 and voted against the development plan, which notably added some extra zoning bulk to The Cooper Union Engineering Building site, where an office tower is planned in the future.

Regarding the Baruch bathhouse, Mendez indicated she feels the high estimated cost to renovate it is prohibitive and that the money could be better spent on numerous projects in the district. She said she’d follow the C.B. 3 district needs statement and try to fund the top requested items. “You can’t fund everything,” she noted.

However, while Mendez said some of her opponents did resort to negative campaigning, she just wants to move on now and if they want to work with her she’ll be happy to work with them.

Given that the district is overwhelmingly Democratic and that she should win the general election handily, she said this gives her a few months to better acquaint herself with the constituency. Among other things, she plans to meet with parents’ groups and the new community education council that has replaced the former community school board.

Asked what issues she plans to focus on, she said, “Certainly CHARAS [the old P.S. 64, where a dorm is planned], I’ll struggle to save St. Brigid’s — and there are buildings in the district that are opting out of Section 8 [affordable housing programs].” She also said she’s looking forward to working with Dan Garodnick, who won the primary in District 4, on the redevelopment of Con Edison’s Waterside plant sites in the upper 30s along First Avenue, which is on the northern edge of District 2.

On the issue of the proliferation of bars, Mendez noted she and some of her neighbors recently got Community Board 3 to add Avenue B to its list of moratorium areas for new liquor licenses.

Mendez and Lopez live in the same building and the two are close. Mendez said Lopez’s third-place finish in the borough president race was “pretty good,” especially considering the winner, Scott Stringer, and second-place finisher, Eva Moskowitz, had a lot more money than Lopez.

“She had less than half of what Eva had, but she came in only a few [percentage] points behind,” noted Mendez.

On how she’ll approach the office in relation to her predecessor and mentor Lopez, Mendez said: “We are two different people. We have two different styles. I think our political philosophy is very similar. But I think our strategies and how we approach things are different.”

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