Volume 77 / Number 47 - April 23 - 29, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Here comes the judge? Freed eyes Council run

By Josh Rogers

Downtown might have Kathryn Freed to kick around again.

Freed, Lower Manhattan’s former councilmember, said she is “fed up and disgusted” with being a Civil Court judge and is thinking about making a run for her old Council seat next year.

“I loved being in the City Council,” Freed said in a telephone interview Monday. “I didn’t feel dissed every day of my life.”

She said New York judges are the lowest paid, have the highest caseloads in the country and get little respect in the courtroom from well-paid lawyers. Chief Judge Judith Kaye filed a lawsuit against the state a few weeks ago after Albany once again failed to pass long-ago-promised raises for judges.

Freed, 61, said the biggest obstacle to running would be giving up her judicial salary for close to a year during the campaign. She makes $125,600 as a Civil Court judge and also has not closed the book on remaining a judge. She said she is thinking about running for State Supreme Court this year or next, which would give her more important cases and an $11,000 raise.

She has been active in Downtown politics for more than 35 years, and she said one of the frustrating things about being a judge for the last five years is that she can no longer publicly comment on local or national politics. She heard about last week’s fight at Downtown Independent Democrats, a club she once led, and pays attention when potential City Council candidates say they’re thinking about running, but she wishes she could join the fray.

A move to the Council would be a cut down to $112,500 in base pay, but Freed said her main concern is not drawing any salary while she runs. She said she would not likely begin a campaign until early next year — a particularly late start in the First Council District, where races have already started.

Freed was first elected in 1991 and left office at the end of 2001 because of term limits. She lived in Tribeca’s Independence Plaza when she was in office, but a few years ago she bought an apartment in the East River Co-ops — which is now in the First Council District.

“Thank you, Alan,” Freed said of Councilmember Gerson, her successor, who backed a change in the district lines to include more of the Lower East Side, including Freed’s building.

Freed’s endorsement of Gerson in a crowded Democratic primary seven years ago helped him win election.

The district includes all of Manhattan south of Canal St., Chinatown, Soho and part of the Village. In a four-person Democratic primary in 1991, Freed won by 9 percentage points with 42 percent of the vote and was re-elected more handily in 1993 and 1997. An animal-rights activist, Freed received high marks from many of her constituents for hard work and for joining many neighborhood fights for better parks, more schools and affordable housing. Some well-wishers greeted her two weeks ago when she returned to Tribeca for the opening of a community center.

“She would have widespread support and the endorsements,” said Sean Sweeney, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, the Council district’s main political club. “Kathryn would run away with the election.”

Sweeney acknowledged his bias. He and Freed dated through most of the late ’90s and they remain good friends. It was Freed who brought Sweeney into D.I.D. almost 20 years ago.

He said he can’t guess what Freed will decide, but money is the only issue for her.

“Kathryn is keeping her cards very close to her chest. … If she won the lottery and got a quarter of a million dollars, she’d be in the race in a second,” Sweeney said.

In addition to her Downtown mortgage, Sweeney said Freed also has a mortgage on a country home Upstate.

Freed said she has begun to think if she could find another source of income if she ran. The city’s generous public matching-funds system would probably allow her to raise enough money quickly in order to run a credible campaign, but she could lose some supporters by waiting until next year.

If Freed ran, Sweeney thinks Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin, considered a likely and a strong candidate, would drop out. But he thinks Menin would be the most likely to get his and the club’s endorsement if Freed stayed out.

“It’s her endorsement to lose,” Sweeney said of a Menin candidacy in a Freed-less race.

The two announced candidates in the race so far have previously tried and lost — Margaret Chin to Freed and Gerson, and Pete Gleason to Gerson.

Sweeney and Menin met for two hours over coffee Tuesday and appear to have resolved another matter. Last week’s D.I.D. meeting turned into a shouting match when Sweeney was challenged for club president by Pat Moore, chairperson of C.B. 1’s Quality of Life Committee. The Sweeney camp saw the move as a “coup” by Menin, whereas Menin and her supporters said Menin was just one of many people who were looking to make reforms to club policy.

Regardless, both Sweeney and Menin said they have settled their differences, and Moore said assuming the club’s executive committee moves toward reform next week, she’ll end her candidacy.

Menin, 40, who has been preparing to run for City Council for more than a year, plans to make a final decision later this year. She did not sound like she’d drop out if Freed ran, pointing out the large number of younger voters who have moved to Lower Manhattan since Freed left office.

“The district has changed a lot in the last eight years,” said Menin. “A lot of new people have moved in; others have moved away. There are younger demographics — there’s a lot of young, single people and people with children, and I don’t have any comment beyond that.”




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