The race for the City Council’s District 1 seat heated up yesterday as frontrunners held dueling actions. On the steps of City Hall, women’s groups and officials gathered to back Margaret Chin’s bid for reelection. Meanwhile, on the Lower East Side, over 100 people marched to support Independent Party candidate Christopher Marte’s bid to unseat the incumbent.
A major battleground in District 1, which includes Chinatown and the Lower East Side, is the rapidly upscaling Two Bridges neighborhood, where more than 2,500 luxury units are set to come to the waterfront. The controversial supertalls include a 77-story tower at 247 Cherry Street, 62-story tower at 259 Clinton Street, and 62- and 69-story towers at 260 South Street.
“We are all here today because our future does not lie in the shadows of luxury developments,” Marte said after the march from South and Montgomery streets to Chatham Square. The candidate pledged to pass a plan advocated by the Chinatown Working Group. The rezoning would preserve the area’s low-rise character by implement height restrictions ranging from 85 to 350 feet throughout Chinatown and much of the Lower East Side.
Marte, a Lower East Side resident whose family settled from the Dominican Republic, lost to Chin in the Democratic primary by just 222 votes, and went on to secure the Independence Party’s nomination. “On September 12th, we saw something remarkable,” he said, referring to the primary election. “When 54 percent of a community vote against their incumbent, they make a statement. And that statement was loud and clear: we want change.”
The crowd variously chanted, “we want change” and “Marte, yes!”
During ongoing protests, the Chinatown Working Group has accused Chin of failing to curb luxury housing in her district.
Last year, Chin pushed for three planned mega-towers to be subjected to the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which requires a zoning change to be vetted by the local community board, city council and mayor’s office, among other bodies. That requested was rejected by the Department of City Planning, which deemed that the towers were merely “minor modifications” as defined by a special permit, issued in 1972, to redevelop the area.
In August, Chin staged a rally once again urging City Planning to subject the towers to ULURP, and on Oct. 12, she and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer formally sent an application to the Department of City Planning that, if approved, would require developers to seek a special permit to build in the area bordered by Market, South, Montgomery and Cherry streets. In seeking a special permit, developers would have to go through the ULURP. An exception would be granted for enlargements of community facilities for less than 15,000 square feet.
Tanya Castro-Negron, a resident leader who attended the Marte march, said she was unimpressed with Chin and Brewer’s application to City Planning. “Mega-towers are proposed to be built in our community regardless of the many negative impacts stated by the Department of City Planning,” said Tanya Castro-Negron, president of the Lands End II Resident Association. “Yet the only strategy being presented by the community, alongside a handful of elected officials, is the ULURP process to provide special permits as they’ve done for so many other developments, still allowing the buildings to go up.”
“Margaret Chin is scamming us,” Castro-Negron added.
During a phone interview today, Marte reiterated that he, unlike Chin, supported the adopting the entirety of Chinatown Working Group’s plan to rezone Chinatown and a large part of the Lower East Side. The rezoning would include affordability provisions to protect low-income areas.
“One of the biggest lessons from this is that once you focus on one area other areas get developed, so I want to pass the plan in its entirety,” Marte said. “It was evident that Chin wasn’t doing enough and what’s she’s doing now is too little, too late.”
Organizations that came out in support of Marte were Lands End II, LaGuardia Houses, Action by the Lower East Side, Chinatown & Lower East Side Artists Against Displacement, Downtown Independent Business Alliance, and Art Against Displacement.
Meanwhile, at City Hall, Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the City Council’s Women’s Caucus, led a rally with other women’s groups to back Chin’s bid for reelection. Among those attending were Public Advocate Letitia James, National Organization for Women-New York president City Sonia Ossorio, and council members Rosie Mendez, Debi Rose, Laurie Cumbo, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland Karen Koslowitz and Annabel Palma.
Chin, the first Asian-American woman on the New York City Council, spoke at her rally of her effort to support women of color in the workplace. “Together, we’ve passed progressive legislation to break down the barriers for women and women of color, but the fight is not over,” Chin said, according to a press release. “I’m running for the chance to continue to represent my neighbors in Lower Manhattan, and work towards our shared vision for more affordable housing, more opportunities for working families, and more equity and access for all.”