Volume 79, Number 23 | November 11 - 17, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Progress Report

A special Villager supplement


Locally and nationally, too, making our voices heard

By Arthur Z. Schwartz 

Assignment: Write a progress report about Village politics. Can that be done without first talking about what is going on in the world around us? No. Where do we start?

Let’s start by setting a parameter for our political discussion. The Villager is distributed all the way over to Avenue C, and down to Grand St., west over to the Hudson River. A diverse, and ever-changing, demographic. 

The wise sages that ran the Democratic Party in the last decade decided to connect us in many ways with the neighborhoods around us. 

For example, the First City Council District, where voters recently ousted Alan Gerson from the City Council and elected Margaret Chin, goes all the way up to the north side of Washington Square Park. 

The Democratic district leaders engaged in the internal fights in the Downtown Independent Democrats represent a district which goes up to Eighth St. 

Rosie Mendez, the city councilmember from the “Lower East Side,” actually represents a district that encompasses most of the “Central Village,” extending all the way over to Fifth Ave. 

Council Speaker Christine Quinn on her way to the gay rights rally in Washington, D.C., last month.

The city councilmember for the West Village, Speaker Christine Quinn, also represents Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.  

Our congressperson, Jerry Nadler, represents a skinny strip of land that runs down the West Side of Manhattan, goes through the Battery Tunnel and ends all the way out in Borough Park. 

Our state senator, who — for most of the Village, central and west and part of the east — is Tom Duane, represents a swath of Manhattan that goes all the way up to 57th St. 

Even Deborah Glick, whose district is most truly a “Village district” (and whose district I share as a state Democratic committeeman), also represents most of Soho, a large part of Tribeca and the northern half of Battery Park City. In fact, with Alan Gerson’s loss, only two legislators (Deborah Glick and Rosie Mendez) actually reside in a neighborhood that includes the name “Village” in it. So we are very connected with the other neighborhoods around us.

We are connected in another, perhaps more important, way. We are one of the most concentrated groups of left-leaning Democratic voters in the country, and we vote. In 1998 we gave 33,000 votes to Charles Schumer when he defeated Al D’Amato, the biggest number of votes Schumer got in any district in the state. Our votes actually exceeded Schumer’s margin of victory. And when Hillary and Gore both ran in 2000, we had turnouts in many districts as high as 98 percent. Our votes matter. Despite the changing makeup of the Village, we continue to be a community that sends important messages to the rest of the city and the country. 

We Villagers like to be challenged, and (despite the views of some government bureaucrats) we generally avoid being oppositional just for the sake of being oppositional. Villagers like to be challenged. We like ideas, and concrete vision mixed with principle. That is why Barack Obama got more votes than Hillary Clinton in the 66th Assembly District (the Village) in the February 2008 Democratic Presidential primary, making it the only predominately white district in New York to vote for Obama in that primary. On the other hand, in this month’s mayoral race, Bill Thompson failed to inspire, so our district, which is more than 90 percent Democratic, voted to stay with the incumbent, Mike Bloomberg, by a margin of 15,057 to 7,894. 

The shape of politics in the years ahead will be reflective of the politics of change that continues to sweep our nation — and which, unfortunately, has brought new life to an increasingly scary Republican Party all around our region, from New Jersey to Westchester to Nassau County. 

Some amazing new faces are going to be heard from on the citywide scene: City Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Expect to see and hear a lot more from them as they jockey with Congressman Anthony Weiner, Borough President Scott Stringer and maybe Speaker Chris Quinn over the 2013 mayoral election. 

And look for a sprited race next year for governor, whether it be a Paterson/Cuomo primary, or a general election between one of them and Rick Lazio or Rudy Giuliani. And expect to hear a lot as Kirsten Gillibrand and several left-leaning opponents duke it out for Senate — and then the winner takes on an energized Republican opponent. 

We are going to hear a lot from the new voice in our community, Margaret Chin, who needs to break beyond the bounds of the Chinatown constituency which elected her and deal with the sticky issues of the South Village, New York University’s expansion, school seat shortages and the makeup of Community Board 2 (to which she will appoint 10 to 12 members). Margaret has been a political activist since she was at Bronx Science in the late ’60s, and can be expected to spice up the political life of our community and that to the south. 

 The year 2010 will mark the beginning of three and a half years of jockeying as potential candidates step forward to replace both Christine Quinn and Rosie Mendez in 2013. On the West Side, Yetta Kurland promises to set up a shadow government.  We need to see her more involved in the nitty-gritty of community politics if she is going to establish her bona fides for another run. Maybe Scott Stringer will put her on a community board. Andrew Berman will continue to protect the entire Village from inappropriate development, as he works to become a political leader in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. Brad Hoylman had a four-year, rise-to-prominence plan that was supposed to peak with a City Council run this year. His dream got dashed by the extension of term limits. Will he come up with a new one? Will he look to succeed Jo Hamilton and reprise as Board 2 chairperson in 2011? Maria Passannante-Derr? She took a risk running in a three-way race against Chris Quinn, and got criticized for running a wholly negative campaign. Either she has politics in her blood, or this last run drove it out of her system; we’ll see. Betcha there are other potential candidates out there who haven’t showed their hand — maybe I’ll run. 

The East Side? CoDA (Coalition for a District Alternative), the political organization that served as Margarita Lopez’s base, as well as Rosie Mendez’s, will be looked to to provide a strong candidate to replace Mendez. But the district runs from the Orthodox community around Grand St. up to Gramercy Park. Maybe Harvey Epstein, a public-interest lawyer with young kids who has been active in CoDA, will bridge those communities, or Anthony Feliciano, the male district leader out of CoDA. And if lines get redrawn after the next census, Paul Newell, the Obama campaign activist who took on Shelly Silver, and who recently got elected as a district leader, could find himself in this district. Noah Yago, the president of the Village Reform Democratic Club, and a member of Community Board 3, may be looking to step up. Both sides of the Village promise to make this an interesting four years. 

One last note on elected officials: No one gets to beat up on Christine Quinn for a while. I have known Chris for a long time, and deep in her heart she is still a grassroots community activist, with strong feelings about affordable housing, the importance of unions, civil rights. With a mayor who may finally realize that he cannot dictate his own legacy, and must work with the communities in the city, Christine may serve both as someone who reminds him of that, and as an ambassador to those communities. Tom Duane, who may get to one day cast the deciding vote on gay marriage, needs to work with the “progressive caucus” to be as creative as dirtbags like Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espado and Hiram Monserrate to get their agenda recognized. 

And finally, back to the larger world around us, my opening theme. These truly are scary times. The hopes that loomed so large a year ago seem beyond our grasp, as weak-kneed Democrats, who gladly rode the sea of change into office last year, abandon the program of profound change that our nation needs to adopt in order to move out of massive unemployment and increasing despair.

They fear more from the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world, even though these demagogues have never proven the ability to win anything or defeat anyone. 

We in the Village are not a passive lot. We have been and often are a fired-up community. We need to work together, pool our resources and make our voices heard beyond the bounds of the 66th Assembly District — to demand principle, passion and a commitment to the search for creative solutions from those who govern.  

Schwartz is Democratic state committeeman for the 66th Assembly District and a former Democratic district leader. He also is the general counsel for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

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