Gleason shocker at D.I.D.: Pete Gleason won the endorsement of Downtown Independent Democrats last week, delivering a body blow to the re-election efforts of Councilmember Alan Gerson.
D.I.D. is considered by many to be the most important political club in the Councils First District because it covers most of the areas Lower Manhattan neighborhoods. As a practical matter, the endorsement means club volunteers will be helping Gleason collect signatures over the next few weeks to be on the ballot for the Sept. 15 Democratic primary, but perhaps more important, it means primary voters who have not tuned in to the race yet will see some of their most politically active friends and neighbors out campaigning for Gleason, an attorney and a former police officer and firefighter.
Im stoked, Gleason said immediately after beating Gerson in the vote, held at St. Anthonys Church on Houston St. the night of Tues., June 2. This is tremendously important. It sends a clear signal that new leadership is needed.
D.I.D.s endorsement helped Gerson narrowly win the Council seat in 2001, when he was one of seven Democrats vying for the open seat. He has won the club nod each time since, including in 2003, when he handily beat Gleason in the endorsement vote and in the primary.
In more recent years, however, Gerson has lost the support of some Downtown political leaders who previously helped him get elected, including Sean Sweeney, Julie Nadel, Adam Silvera and Jean Grillo.
Gerson also lost support in the club because many members believe he put up two of his political allies, Noel Jefferson and Avram Turkel, to run as Democratic district leaders against Grillo and Silvera. Gerson, in a phone interview, acknowledged giving friendly advice to both about mounting challenges, but he said the decision to run was made by the candidates.
The official vote tally was 62 for Gleason and 54 for Gerson, with their three opponents and no endorsement splitting the remaining 8 votes. The numbers were slightly different in the first count, tallied by two different people, with Gleason getting 65 votes on both counts and Gerson getting 56 and 57.
Bob Townley, a Gerson supporter, said he thinks Gerson is having more trouble getting re-elected this time because people had been expecting to get a new councilmember due to term limits. Citing the dire economy, Gerson voted last year to extend limits for the Council, the mayor and other officials even though he had previously said at various times over the years that he would not support overturning voter referenda on the matter without a new referendum.
Townley, who runs Manhattan Youth, a Tribeca-based childrens organization, also thinks Gerson is more vulnerable because there are a lot of new residents who have moved Downtown in the last few years and dont know Gerson well.
There is a spirit of change, Townley said as the club ballots were being counted. Alan has to work hard theres a lot of new people in the community.
Townley said Gerson should be re-elected because of his experience helping Downtown, both in the Council and leading Community Board 2 before that.
I think Alan deserves four more years because of his original commitment of the last 20 years.
Nadel said she continues to like Gerson personally, but hes totally disorganized, echoing a common criticism of him. People deserve better. I would try anybody else.
She said she feels Gleason is the strongest opponent right now, but she said she ultimately could end up supporting a different Gerson opponent as she learns more about them.
Margaret Chin, a former executive with Asian Americans for Equality; PJ Kim, a former Community Board 1 member who has administered anti-poverty programs; and Arthur Gregory, a restaurant/bar owner and former C.B. 1 member, are also running for the seat. Chin and Kim lead the fundraising race so far, with $108,000 and $71,000, respectively, followed by Gerson ($26,000) and Gleason ($23,000). Gregory has not yet filed fundraising figures.
Money is not expected to be an issue because the citys generous matching fund law makes it relatively easy to raise enough money to run a credible campaign.
The opponents point to their individual experience as being right to lead the Council, and criticize Gerson for not effectively using the bully pulpit to get more for a district that includes the World Trade Center site.
Townley and other Gerson supporters say he was a steady force after 9/11 and continues to fight hard throughout the district, which includes Battery Park City, the Financial District, the South St. Seaport, Tribeca, Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho and Noho, as well as the South Village, Washington Square and most of the Lower East Side.
Gerson, who insists he is stronger politically than he ever was, said the endorsement loss was disappointing, but he said there were several contributing factors that lessened its significance. He said Gleason stacked the club, although Gerson acknowledged it was not a violation to get new members to join the club six months in advance before the vote as Gleason did.
This club does not represent the district, Gerson said of D.I.D., adding he had won most of the other political clubs endorsements.
Gerson said there were potential voting irregularities since his side was denied access to the D.I.D. membership list before the vote, a charge echoed by a few other Gerson supporters.
Sweeney, the clubs president, said under the bylaws, members can view the list with advanced notice, but the Gerson camp did not make such a request before the vote.
Gleasons people had their own criticism for Gerson, namely that he distributed his own publicly funded Council newsletter at a political event where he sought an endorsement.
Gerson said he did not print any extra newsletters for the event and it was not passed out to all club members as campaign literature, but merely made available to some who were there. He said he takes whatever newsletters I have to wherever I go. It was not widely distributed [at the meeting.]
Gleason was surprised by the explanation.
Hes an attorney, he said of Gerson. For him to use public money for political purposes is against the law and thats exactly what he did. Case closed.
At least 130 people attended the meeting, making it the largest one in the clubs 37-year history, according to D.I.D. founder Jim Stratton.