Volume 73, Number 1& | Aug. 27 - Sept. 2, 2003


Former firefighter is Gerson’s primary opponent

By Lincoln Anderson

A former fireman and political novice, Peter Gleason is running against Councilmember Alan Gerson in the Democratic primary election in Lower Manhattan’s First City Council District.

Gleason, 40, was a police officer on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown for three years in the early 1980s. Assigned to the Manhattan South Task Force, based out of the Seventh Precinct, he participated in Operation Pressure Point, an anti-drug campaign on the East Side, and manned an anti-gang post on Mott St. He then joined the Fire Department, and for 10 years was assigned to Ladder 11, known as “Los Bomberos Primeros,” on E. Second St. between Avenues C and D.

He’s only lived in Tribeca since October 2000, prior to that having resided on the Upper East Side for 10 years. But while he’s not a longtime resident and has no local political experience, he says he knows the First District well, in that, between his time in the Police and Fire Departments he has probably been in 90 percent of its buildings whether checking out conditions or responding to calls.

In a recent interview at The Villager’s office, Gleason said, if elected, he’d bring a firefighter’s practicality to the Council.

“The Fire Department works on two simple principles: Do the right thing; and keep it simple,” he said. “That’s a lot of why I’m running.”

Gleason left the F.D.N.Y. in 1996 after suffering a serious back injury in a vehicular accident on duty. He was laid up for a year and a half in recovery. Though retired, on 9/11 he donned his firefighters’ uniform and went down to ground zero to look for survivors, joining up with his two brothers, both firefighters. They got down 150 ft. by entering through the E train tunnel but found no one alive.

Gleason said he’s running for office because, he sees a “void” in the current leadership of the district by Councilmember Gerson, who was elected in 2001.

“Normally you give someone a year,” he said. “On the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11 is when I gave serious thought to running.”

Part of Gleason’s complaint has to do with how the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is allocating funds for rebuilding Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Some people get money, some don’t,” he noted of the funds’ disbursement, saying some people on the Lower East Side haven’t received residential grants though they qualify. “There is a pot of money. It should be used for affordable housing.”

Gleason also charged incumbent Gerson is not moving fast enough to address the problem of dangerously high quantities of diesel fuel being stored at a telecom building at 60 Hudson St.

If elected, Gleason firmly vowed, he would immediately move to eliminate the illegal fuel storage at 60 Hudson, “with a vengeance.”

“We saw what happened at 7 World Trade Center,” he recalled. “We’re talking serious collapse, potential serious loss of life, serious environmental impact.”

Gleason lives at N. Moore and Hudson Sts., within sight of the controversial telecom building.

A 20-year Coast Guard reserve member, Gleason has training in anti-terrorism and environmentalism, both of which he said would help him better serve the district, especially in a post-9/11 world.

“It tends to help soothe people” to know a leader has these kinds of training, he said. On the other hand, he added, “In light of what Lower Manhattan went through, there has been nothing coming out of the councilmembers’ office” on terrorism preparedness.

As for Downtown’s environment, he’s not convinced there was ever a thorough cleanup. He backs rebuilding but is also concerned about lingering environmental hazards.

Gleason, who has a close relationship with Norma Ramirez, the Lower East Side Democratic district leader, also feels the needs of Hispanic residents, who make up a substantial percentage of the district’s votership, are not being adequately met.

“There’s construction in front of the Smith Houses right now,” he said. “The spot was earmarked for a playground; it’s being made into a parking lot.”

On another bot-button issue in the Hispanic community, asked about the development of the remainder of the Seward Park urban renewal area, Gleason said he supports “what was promised — low-to-moderate-income housing; what was promised for years and years and years. There’s not even a proposal drafted at this point,” he noted. “They should be up and running; people should be living there.

Councilmember Gerson previously told The Villager that he defers to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Martin Connor on the development of the Seward Park sites, since he is a relative newcomer politically. Gerson said low-income housing slated for the sites could be built elsewhere in the district. But Gleason said he would never condone that.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “If you’re an elected official, you need to take a stance on issues, and to defer on issues is what bad government is about, and that’s passing the buck. That site was earmarked for that housing and that’s what should be put there.”

Gleason is the parent of a toddler, who he had with his former girlfriend.

After retiring as a firefighter, he got a law degree from CUNY and did some environmental consulting in China. Until the towers were destroyed, he shared an office in the World Trade Center’s north tower with his former law school professor.

“I wasn’t in the office that day, thank God, because I would have gone upstairs rather than downstairs — to assist,” the former firefighter noted.

Gleason was born in the South Bronx. His father was a captain in the Fire Department. The family moved to Yorktown Heights in Westchester after one of his brothers was mugged in school in 1967, Gleason said.

Although the councilmember and his supporters say Gleason has stated publicly at political club endorsement meetings that he supports the death penalty and is against abortion, Gleason claimed they distorted what he said. He said he supports the death penalty “for the people responsible for the World Trade Center” and that he is “totally for a woman’s right to choose.”

“He didn’t expect an opponent,” the upstart candidate said of Gerson.

Gleason has no political endorsements, but is supported by the New York State Supreme Court Officers Association, Fire Marshals Benevolent Association and Uniformed Firefighters Association. Gleason said on primary day, two or more off-duty firefighters will be stationed at each poll site to make sure nothing illegal happens that could affect the vote.

In fundraising, Gleason is far behind. He hasn’t even raised more than $10,000, though Gerson has already received $82,500 in public matching funds from the city’s Campaign Finance Board. The program awards $1,000 for every $250 the candidate has raised, in return for agreeing to spending limits.

Although only two weeks remain before the Sept. 9 primary, Gleason still hopes to publicly debate Gerson. The challenger said he’d demonstrate how he gets right to the point. Of Gerson, he said, “He tends to talk in circles.”

“I’ve fought fires, I’ve locked guys up, I’ve pulled children out of burning buildings in Chinatown,” Gleason said. “I don’t need to go on and on about it. It’s more important to hear the people’s problems so we can solve it.”

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