De Blasio Spouse Tie to Hikind Corruption Probe

Recent reports, concerning advertising payments made by Maimonides Medical Center to a company owned by Dov Hikind, have elided the fact that Chirlane McCray, wife of Bill de Blasio, was a key marketing executive at the hospital during the period the payments were made.

Crain’s reported last month that Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission, tasked to investigate corruption in the Legislature, had subpoenaed Maimonides as part of a probe into Assembly member Dov Hikind.  Hikind, whose district includes Maimonides, has a weekly radio program which sells advertising through DYS Production, owned by Hikind.  Hikind failed to mention that he had received income from DYS Production on his financial disclosure forms, and was forced to amend his forms dating to 2006.

Maimonides Medical Center receives substantial funding from the state, and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying annually.  The hospital disclosed that it paid DYS Productions $65,000 in one recent year, though Hikind only admitted to receiving between $5,000 and $20,000 that year.  Given that Maimonides receives so much state funding, it seems like a good question as to whether there is a conflict of interest on Hikind’s part in accepting hefty advertising dollars from the institution.

Oddly enough, Chirlane McCray, wife, helpmeet and political strategist to Mayor-presumptive Bill de Blasio, was a marketing executive in charge of communications and major ad buys at Maimonides Medical Center from 2005-2010.

Ilene Tynion, Vice President for Public Affairs at Maimonides, clarified McCray’s role during her time at the Brooklyn medical center, and minimized her possible interactions with Dov Hikind or his advertising company.  “Chirlane was the Assistant VP for Marketing, which meant that she managed the relationship with Della Femina Advertising, our outside agency, and handled internal communications, messaging, the employee newsletter; and also external communications, such as an insert in Physician’s Practice magazine, or other ad hoc communications.”

Asked about the hospital’s advertising on Dov Hikind’s radio show, Tynion insisted that while advertising was under Chirlane McCray’s purview, “ethnic and niche marketing” was directed by Maimonides’ Community Affairs department, which operates in a separate reporting line from the External Affairs department, where McCray worked.  Nevertheless, Tynion allowed that McCray was “part of the team that participated in in the process.  All of us participate in Community Affairs to some extent…she was part of the process.”

Chirlane McCray’s husband is a longtime ally of Dov Hikind, who backed both de Blasio and Bill Thompson for mayor.  In 2010, when Simcha Felder left the Council to work for John Liu, Hikind, Blasio and Sheldon Silver backed Joe Lazar to take the seat in what became an all-out proxy war against David Greenfield, who was backed by the Kings County Democratic establishment, headed then by Vito Lopez, and who also received the support of de Blasio foe Lew Fidler.

So was Chirlane McCray helping her husband’s political pal by steering advertising dollars to his radio program, possibly as insurance for Hikind’s support for de Blasio’s eventual run for Mayor?  As Maimonides Medical Center continues to insist, the money they paid Hikind was a “tiny percentage” of their total ad budget—perhaps tiny enough that a word from a marketing executive to a community affairs representative would be enough to get those “ethnic or niche” dollars assigned to the local assembly member’s radio show.

The Moreland Commission is looking into it…let’s see what they have to say.


Bill De Blasio and Micah Kellner Teamed up for Car Cash

Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio joined Assemblyman Micah Kellner in a concerted 18-month campaign to block Nissan from getting the contract for the Taxi of Tomorrow, while each accepted the maximum campaign contributions from the CEO of a rival company.  The other company, Vehicle Production Group (VPG), was funded by a $50 million federal loan that soured earlier this year, resulting in VPG’s bankruptcy and the seizure of its assets by the government.  

The Public Advocate made news last week when he expressed his displeasure with Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky, vowing to replace him should he win the general election.  Yassky and de Blasio have a long history of butting heads, back to Yassky's opposition to de Blasio's campaign for Speaker in 2005.  Micah Kellner, who has tangled with Yassky publically in the past, made a stir when he tweeted “Amen!” in response to de Blasio’s announcement regarding the commissioner last Thursday.

City Council Watch (followed by the New York Post) has already covered Micah Kellner’s constant efforts on behalf of VPG and its MV-1 van, including a spirited sales pitch before the TLC, and chipper quotes for VPG promotional literature.  In return for his passionate support, Fred Drasner, the CEO of VPG, donated thousands of dollars to Kellner’s assembly and council campaigns.

Bill de Blasio is well-known for operating from the pocket of New York’s medallion fleet owners, who have, along with their lawyers and family members, et al, contributed more than a quarter-million dollars to his mayoral campaign.  Unnoticed amidst all this cash is the quiet $4950 that Fred Drasner gave to the de Blasio campaign in July 2012, in the same week that VPG gave $5000 to Micah Kellner.    

Micah Kellner and Bill de Blasio, incidentally, are the only two candidates to have received money from Fred Drasner in the current cycle.  In fact, they are the only two candidates in the state of New York to have received money from Fred Drasner since 2001, when he gave to George Pataki.

The Public Advocate first teamed up with AM Kellner in May 2011 when they, along with Brooklyn BP Marty Markowitz, wrote a letter to Comptroller John Liu asking him to investigate the Taxi of Tomorrow RFP process.  De Blasio, Kellner and Markowitz claimed that Ricardo, Inc., a consultant hired by the TLC to vet the three submissions, was biased against one of the contenders, a Turkish car manufacturer called Karsan Automotive.  Ricardo Inc. had prior dealings with the other two companies, a couple of little players named Ford and Nissan, and thus was not impartial in its consideration.

Micah Kellner was already on Fred Drasner’s payroll at this point, so we know why he was so eager to derail the Taxi of Tomorrow RFP process.  Marty Markowitz and Bill de Blasio had apparently been told that Karsan would build an auto factory in Brooklyn, and were on board for that reason.  Although, one must admit, it really does sound preposterous to imagine New York City contracting with a Turkish car manufacturer to supply its entire fleet of taxis.  But perhaps I’m way off base: after all, Turkey falls right between the Czech Republic and Indonesia in world automobile production.  

In any case, de Blasio and Kellner kept pushing, even after Markowitz had given up the fight to give Turkey the Taxi of Tomorrow contract.  In September 2012, two months after Fred Drasner had maxed out to de Blasio and written his latest check to Kellner, the two elected officials co-signed a letter to David Yassky and the rest of the TLC.  Having gotten nowhere with the conflict of interest argument, de Blasio and Kellner now asserted that Nissan’s proposed taxi was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is a van, yet not accessible to wheelchairs.  Commissioner Yassky and the City contend that the taxi is not technically a “van,” and thus is exempt from that stipulation…basically the courts will figure it out.

It definitely appears that Bill de Blasio, already very friendly with the multimillionaires who control the bulk of the city’s taxis, figured that it wouldn’t hurt to oppose the Mayor and the TLC on the Taxi of Tomorrow issue either.  Then, when Vehicle Production Group and their paid representative Micah Kellner saw how amenable de Blasio was to work with on transit issues, they slipped him a large check and asked him to sign another letter: one that didn’t promote Brooklyn’s automotive industry, but which was draped in enough lofty self-righteousness about the disabled as to provide the mayoral candidate with enough cover, should any questions arise.

Vehicle Production Group wound up costing the taxpayer around $42 million.  We have seen, between his wanton sexual behavior and flagrant willingness to play-for-pay, exactly at what a low level of ethical behavior Micah Kellner operates.  It may be eye-opening to consider that Bill de Blasio, until now everybody’s Mr. Clean, is willing to get dirty with scoundrels such as Micah Kellner and his benefactor Fred Drasner.


Handicapping the Next Speaker

Now that the primary election is over and the composition of the council-elect is fairly well established, give or take a possibly competitive inter-partisan election here and there, we can start trying to place odds on the next speaker.

Most of the races, after all, were foregone conclusions.  Perhaps six or eight of the primaries were competitive.  Only one incumbent lost.  Most of the drama of the last few months has been window dressing.  It is when we begin weighing the various blocs that will determine the boss of the whole body that things become interesting.

It is a little like a papal conclave: 51 equal members go in, and one of them emerges, transfigured through a mysterious process we hear little to nothing about.  It is an important moment, because the council speaker has, de facto, more power than the other 50 members combined.  The speaker sets the agenda, distributes money, makes committee assignments and decides which bills come to the floor.  Being an individual council member gives you a certain amount of influence in your home district, but being speaker makes you a player in city politics.

The election of the speaker isn’t really made just by the members of the council, however.  It is well known that the different borough delegations have varying degrees of freedom regarding their votes.  The Queens delegation, for instance, typically votes as a bloc according to the dictates of the county delegation, and the Bronx delegation has traditionally voted together as well.  The collapse of the Lopez machine in Kings County will likely result in a fragmentation of discipline among the Brooklyn delegation, and the Manhattan members have usually been free to vote their conscience.

Nevertheless, other factors come into play as well.  Different boroughs have traditionally been awarded specific slices of the political pie.  The following schema represents the historical facts, and I am not swearing that the future will reflect the past.  But this, according to elected officials who have spoken off the record, is how it has worked:

Manhattan gets the speakership.

Brooklyn gets judges.

Queens gets key appointments to central staff and major committee assignments.

The Bronx gets the majority leader.

And Staten Island?  Well, Staten Island gets to choose the minority leader.

The common view is that the next speaker will likely not be a white man.  I would agree with that perspective assuming that Daniel Squadron defeats Tish James in the PA runoff, because having the mayor of the city and his three successors be white men would be terrible “optics” as the expression goes.  However, the race question is very tricky when it comes to the city council.

Four years ago the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the council comprised for the first time an absolute majority of the body.  Emboldened by this ascendency, Charles Barron challenged Christine Quinn for the speakership, exhorting his comrades-in-color to seize the moment and elect one of their own (himself) speaker of the council.  Barron was punished for this rebellion, losing his chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee, and none of his colleagues broke ranks.

The problem with electing a minority speaker is that there is a deep schism within the BLA Caucus between the black and Latino members.  They have drawn-out internecine battles over every internal appointment to the leadership of their own caucus, so the idea that they would reach a unified consensus on choosing one of their own members to lead the entire council is preposterous.

Besides, who is the minority candidate that would be acceptable, not just among the BLA members, but also to the white members of the council?  Remember that white representation will actually increase next year, with the replacement of Robert Jackson by Mark Levine in CD 7.  Inez Dickens’ candidacy is wrecked on the shoals of her support for Chris Quinn.  Jumaane Williams’ name has been put forth, but he is probably too liberal for the council's moderates to accept, and he faces opposition within his own delegation from Darlene Mealy and the representatives of the traditional Brooklyn machine.

Melissa Mark-Viverito wants the job, but is also too far to the left, and is not trusted by the black contingent of the BLA caucus.  Plus she is not very likable.  Nothing is impossible, of course, but it would not be surprising at all if Dan Garodnick emerges as the candidate of compromise, assuming Tish James wins the PA race.

I envision something like this: Garodnick becomes speaker, satisfying the real estate interests who feel soothed having a Manhattanite from below 96th Street in that role.  Annabel Palma becomes majority leader in order to maintain Bronx Latino visibility in leadership.  Jumaane Williams is made chair of Public Safety as a sop to the Progressive Caucus.  In order to mollify Queens, Mark Weprin becomes Finance chair, taking over his brother’s position from four years ago, while Karen Koslowitz gets Land Use and Julissa Ferreras gets bumped up to Economic Development.  This calculus doesn’t favor Brooklyn, but realistically speaking, half of Brooklyn’s delegation will be freshmen, while only 1 out of Queens’ 13 council members will be new.

This is all pretty much rotisserie-league stuff, but the logic is there.  If Squadron wins, that would make for a different mix.  Let’s see what happens.


Who Voted for John Liu?

There has been a great deal of analysis of the mayoral primary election in regard to demographic crossover.  Blacks went for de Blasio, women went for de Blasio, gays and lesbians appear to have gone for de Blasio.  Yet Thompson did well among Latinos, and he did especially well in certain areas of the city that are overwhelmingly white: Yorkville, Manhattan Beach and Breezy Point all went heavily for the conservative, business-friendly Thompson, the only Democratic candidate who stood up for stop-and-frisk.

In post-racial New York, it seems, there is only one group who didn't get the memo about crossing over politically, and who voted almost strictly along narrow ethnic lines.  John Liu, winning about 7% of the total vote, did remarkably, even astoundingly well in primarily Asian districts, and rather less well everywhere else.  In fact, and this is a generalization with plenty of counter-examples to be sure, Liu, on a precinct-by-precinct level, either won the district overwhelmingly, or came in 4th or 5th. 

We can look at this data in a couple of ways.  We could say that there is a lot of anti-Asian racism and a reluctance to elect a Chinese mayor.  This could be the case, though Liu won the comptrollership 4 years ago, and did well across the city in the primary election, winning the Bronx, for instance, with about 40% of the vote.  Liu was denied public matching funds this year, and one could argue that this disadvantage made it impossible for him to get his message across.  However, as Comptroller, Liu was notoriously available at the opening of every pizza box and envelope, and certainly made the most of his city-paid driver and security detail to hit as many public functions as possible.  Certainly he cut a higher profile over the last four years than Bill Thompson.

And of course, John Liu certainly gave people plenty of reasons not to vote for him, the indictments of his top aides being one and two.

The real question isn't about John Liu.  It is about the parts of the city that voted for him overwhelmingly: Chinatown, Flushing, and Sunset Park, the three areas of the city with the densest concentration of Chinese voters.  There has been a lot written in recent years about how the Chinese-American community is finally coming into its own politically. In 2002 John Liu became the first Chinese-American elected to the Council, and in 2004 Jimmy Meng was the first elected to the Assembly. In 2009 Margaret Chin became the first Chinese-American representative from Chinatown on the City Council, and Liu was elected to citywide office.  

One could look at the growing Chinese-American electorate and say that they are still at a stage of political immaturity regarding ethnic voting patterns.  It certainly appears that the Chinese vote in this election cut sharply along those lines.  One might encourage the community to look beyond the race or ethnicity of the candidate to embrace, as we ideally do, the notion of finding common ground across such provincial boundaries.  Surely it is just an adolescent phase that all new immigrant communities go through, rooting for "their" guy, looking for another "first."  Certainly the Quinn campaign tried to do that with women and gays, though they failed, perhaps because women and gays are sophisticated enough voters to know that just because Quinn is one of them, that doesn't mean she is necessarily the best candidate for them.

So it is an interesting phenomenon.  John Liu was a credible candidate to be the first Asian-American mayor.  He ran a broad campaign and tried to appeal to a lot of different voters, coming out strong against stop-and-frisk early on, even trying to get the pro-marihuana legalization vote towards the end (slightly desperate, that.)  In the end though, he basically won the Asian vote, and wound up the classic "ethnic" candidate, supported by his base, and largely ignored by everyone else. 


Speaker Quinn and Some Other Losers

Christine Quinn’s devastating loss yesterday was a demonstration of the fatuousness of the Speakership as a source of political power.

My constant readers will recall one of the first columns I posted this election season, in early May, where I laid out the difficult electoral calculus of a Quinn mayoral win:

Are we at City Council Watch the only ones who have noticed that Ms. Quinn’s electoral experience is rather limited?  Unlike any of her opponents, she has never been elected to anything beyond the confines of the 3rd Councilmanic District.  Moreover, in 2009, when she ran for her third term, she scarcely won a majority in the Democratic primary, taking less than 7000 votes in total….
It is easy to make the mistake that Chris Quinn wants everyone to make, which is to see her standing next to Mayor Bloomberg at handshakes and press conferences for the last decade, and to see that physical proximity as a sign of her spiritual proximity to power.  But in fact, becoming Speaker of the Council requires only 25 votes other than her own….
Chris Quinn’s main primary opponents have all won City-wide races.  They have strong outer-borough support, which she lacks.  Labor, which is vital to winning a Democratic primary, is not favorable to Quinn’s dithering on living wage and sick leave legislation….
So how does Chris Quinn win? 

Well now we see the answer: she couldn’t.  Leaving aside term limits and the slush fund, leaving aside her terrible personality and the bizarre quirks by which she made an enemy of New York’s frothing, barking animal lovers, being Speaker of the City Council is probably a net negative in the minds of the electorate.  Heading up a legislative body in a republic means you are a pol’s pol, the one who can force his or her will eyeball-to-eyeball in the Member’s Lounge.  Ask yourself, Who was the last Speaker of the House of Representatives to become President? 

It is a little bit sad though.  Bloomberg played Quinn on term limits through and through.  He looked at her and probably thought, “I have screwed over three thousand people smarter than this woman.”  I can imagine Bloomberg taking Chris, Kim and Chris’ old dad down to Bermuda for a weekend, and telling her lies about their joint legacy.  "Kim you play golf, right?"  Laughing at Mr. Quinn’s stories.  Then when the plane is jetting them back to New York thinking to himself, “Well, that was easy.”

Quinn figured that term limits would be forgotten about by the time 2013 rolled around, even though she was warned that it would come back to bite her.  Her hubris did her in, and the fact that voters, especially the kind who vote in Democratic primaries, have very long memories.  Plus, a relentless ground strategy by Anybody But Quinn set the Speaker's campaign on its heels: in the last two days of the campaign, when Quinn should have been making incursions into Brooklyn and Queens, she had canvassers desperately trying to shore up votes in Chelsea, her home base.  Even then she lost in some of her own ED's.

Up in CD 5 Micah Kellner was defeated handily by Ben Kallos.  Council Watch is pleased that we were the first to break news of Assemblyman Kellner’s corruption, regarding Vehicle Production Group.  We are interested to see how Kallos does in taking over the seat, and will keep an eye on his progress.  It will also be fascinating to see what AM Kellner chooses to do in the coming year: will he run for re-election, and if so, will he be able to come back from his humiliating loss, and overcome the taint of financial and sexual scandal that now colors his political name?

Council Watch was wrong in a few similar cases: both Vito Lopez and Eliot Spitzer, whom we pegged as walk-ins, lost as a result of their sexual peccadillos.  Kellner, Spitzer, Weiner, Lopez: it appears that the public has low tolerance now for scoundrels and harassers.  Women vote.

The execrable Sara Gonzalez lost, the only incumbent to do so.  Check out my piece on her in the current City & State to read why the voters made the right choice.

Mark Levine won handily in District 7…no surprise there.  Inez Barron will continue the grand Barron tradition of shaking her fist in City Hall and sitting down through the Pledge of Allegiance.  Charles Barron can rest for a few months before assuming her Assembly seat in the special election.  Corey Johnson beat Yetta Kurland easily, having placed a pop-up GOTV ad on Grindr to remind his base to squeeze in polltime between hook-ups.

We are looking forward to the fallout of yesterday’s elections, and will continue to keep you posted on the latest scandals and eruptions, as or even before they occur!


Inez Dickens, Harlem Princess: The Rot Runs Deep

Councilmember Inez Dickens of CD 9 is the heir to a real estate and political realm that traces itself in one generational step to the roots of black Harlem.  Her father, real estate millionaire and 3-term assemblyman Lloyd E. Dickens, began buying and selling property in upper Manhattan, by some accounts as early as the 1920s, when blacks began moving in great numbers to the area.  Inez Dickens, born when her father was already a wealthy and well-established senior political figure, grew up steeped in slumlordism and a culture of political cronyism which, should she attain the Speakership, would likely mire the Council in a stew of corruption that would make the last 8 years seem tame.

Reports of CM Dickens’ own poor record as a landlord are old news, and appear to run in the family: in 1964 her father sued Charles Rangel (among others) for libel for calling him a “notorious slumlord.”  Currently, buildings owned by the councilmember and her sister have multiple open violations, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of outstanding fines and taxes levied against them.  And just a cursory review of CM Dickens’ political associations and campaign contributors should embarrass any members of the Council from considering seriously her candidacy for Speaker, not to mention the voters of the 9th CD from voting for her in the first place.  

For example, in the early 1990s, Lloyd Williams, a political and business associate of Inez Dickens and her father dating back at least to the 1970s, and head of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and its development arm the Greater Harlem Housing Development Corporation, presided over a disastrous sweetheart real-estate deal with the City that wound up costing the taxpayers almost $4 million.  Then, in 1998, Williams, head of the publicly-funded Harlem Interfaith Counseling Service, was shown by state auditors to be using government funds to rent space at twice the market rate from buildings that he himself had an ownership interest in.   

A decade later, Inez Dickens tied her approval of the massive rezoning of 125th Street to the city’s agreement to restructure longstanding debt held by the GHHDC into a $2.5 million “forgivable loan.”  Dickens also retained her own seat on the board of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce after her 2005 election to the Council, even though she had previously brokered real estate deals sponsored by the GHCC for her own profit.

Lloyd Williams has personally contributed $6,000 to Inez Dickens’ campaigns for office, and “bundled” an additional $1,500 for her.  An important advisor and fundraiser for Dickens, Lloyd Williams will be a baleful and malign influence on her Speakership, should she get it.

In addition to voting for the development-friendly river-to-river 125th Street rezoning, CM Dickens also supported Columbia University’s controversial Manhattanville expansion.  The 2007 vote, contingent upon a much-ballyhooed community benefits agreement, allowed Columbia to exercise eminent domain over a number of coveted properties that were in the way of its plans.  After making its way through the courts, the vote was ultimately upheld, and Columbia got its way.

So did Full Spectrum NY, a Harlem construction company awarded the contract in the first step of the Manhattanville expansion: the renovation of the Studebaker Building, which became administrative office space for Columbia.  Full Spectrum is run by Walter J. Edwards, who also serves as Chairman of the Harlem Business Alliance.  Walter Edwards funneled $1428.89 to CM Dickens’ 2013 campaign through the Success PAC, which is registered in his name, and which he alone appears to fund.

Mr. Edwards is not normally shy about making campaign contributions, having put close to $30,000 to work for favored candidates over the years, including Inez Dickens in 2005 and 2009.  But since the Harlem Business Alliance has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the City Council in recent years, much of it steered by CM Dickens, who was even credited for helping to organize a $700,000 federal grant to the group, perhaps Walter J. Edwards sees reticence regarding his help for his favorite Councilwoman as the better part of valor.

There are more such stories, many more.  Executives of Petra Capital Management gave the Dickens campaign $6,000 this year.  Andy Stone, chairman of Petra, a “vulture investor” whom Crain’s calls “one of the godfathers of the commercial mortgage-backed securities market,” suffered massive failures in 2010 when his funds went bankrupt.  It isn’t clear what his firm is planning in Harlem, but based on his track record, it probably isn’t good.

Calvin Butts, minister of the legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church and potential challenger to Rep. Rangel, gave Inez Dickens $1000 this year.  The Rev. Butts faces serious scrutiny regarding the finances of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, the church’s non-profit subsidiary organization.  Having received millions of dollars in grants and earmarks from government and private enterprise, the ADC appears to run large deficits, despite a track record of profitable real estate transactions. 

Finally, Ariane Dart of Sarasota gave Inez Dickens $2,500 this year.  Her husband, Robert Dart, probably would have made the contribution, but he and his brother renounced their US citizenship in 2001 in order to avoid taxes.  The Darts own Dart Container Corporation, which owns Solo Cups and is a major producer of insulated foam packaging, which the Council is considering banning.  Dart is in a tizzy over the possibility of losing the market, and has apparently been trying to buy votes.  Inez Dickens is listed as a co-sponsor on the bill, along with about 20 other council members.  The bill is still in committee.  Assuming CM Dickens does become Speaker, it will be most instructive to see if she kills the bill’s progress or allows it to come to a vote.


Micah Kellner's VPG Meltdown Continues

Micah Kellner's favorite car company was sold at a $47 million loss to the US taxpayer. 

Indiana-based AM General agreed to acquire the Michigan-based MV-1 wheelchair accessible vehicle funded by the Obama administration with a $50 million loan.
AM General said it had reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Energy to purchase the DOE’s secured loan to the Vehicle Production Group LLC. AM General bought the loan for $3 million.

Assemblymember Kellner received tens of thousands of dollars from VPG and its owner Fred Drasner in exchange for his favorable testimony before the TLC regarding the MV-1.

Dan Squadron: Crusader for 4-Dollar Tonic Water

The beard, being a half-mask, should be forbidden by the police. 

-Arthur Schopenhauer

State Senator Daniel Squadron, now running for Public Advocate, has doggedly advocated on behalf of a little-known cause in each of his three terms.  Though his advocacy has not gotten anywhere yet, he persists, having three times introduced this vital legislation: to permit liquor stores ”to carry and sell tonic water, bitters and maraschino cherries.”

Sen. Squadron’s grand legislative vision does not stop there, however.  His bill, sponsored on the Assembly side by Brian Kavanagh, will also “allow liquor wholesalers to carry these products on their trucks.” 

Who has been clamoring for tonic water on the shelves of liquor stores?  Not the owners of liquor stores.  The New York State Liquor Store Association, a trade group, explains its reasons for “actively opposing” Squadron’s bill:

…most retail stores are owned and operated by small, independent business owners with limited space available; liquor stores do not have the infrastructure or the desire to sell these types of items; and in this case, liquor stores would have to manage the bottle deposit on tonic water containers, which would add cost and complexity to conducting business.

“Managing the bottle deposit” on bottles of tonic water seems relatively straightforward, and every deli, bodega and supermarket is able to do it.  Moreover, it isn’t like the law would force a liquor store owner to stock tonic water and maraschino cherries.  In reality the NYSLSA is terrified that the Legislature will one day allow grocery stores to sell wine, and reflexively opposes any blurring of the line between liquor and food.

Dan Squadron has been talking up this law since he got into office.  At a meeting of the Montague Street BID in 2009 he announced, “a new law is going into effect that will allow liquor stores to sell some non-alcoholic goods, such as tonic water and maraschino cherries,” in order to lift burdensome restrictions on small businesses.

Readers of this site will not be surprised to learn that an old classmate and donor to Daniel Squadron’s campaign is, of all things, a Brooklyn-based producer of an artisanal, boutique and extremely expensive (for tonic water) tonic water.  Jordan Silbert, Fieldston graduate (like Squadron), explains at great length, in innumerable interviews, his Eureka! moment when he discovered that tonic water is soda.

Jordan Silbert, who in his life has made one political contribution (to Daniel Squadron), perfected an agave-based tonic water called Q Tonic, popular in upscale bars and restaurants.  The bespoke soda manufacturer has called for passage of Squadron’s law, saying, "In other states…tonic water can be sold in liquor stores where people buy their gin or vodka. But in New York, we are limited to a very narrow category of places to sell our product.”

The first part of Squadron’s bill appears to be basic cronyism to help out an old boy from prep school: remember, this is the guy whose dad introduced Bernard Madoff to the Wilpons, and gave Rupert Murdoch entree to the New York media scene.  So he knows the value of doing favors.  The other part of the law, however, addressing the plight of liquor wholesalers, may be tailored to help a major Red Hook beer and liquor distributor, Phoenix Beverages, whose executives have contributed more than $19,000 to his campaign.

Phoenix, which took over Piers 7 and 11 on the Brooklyn docks in 2010, is among the largest beer and liquor distributors in New York, and has the Heineken franchise.  The company unloads 20,000 containers a year, and caused consternation in the neighborhood when its trucks began clogging up Columbia Street. 

Phoenix Beverages currently does not distribute tonic water.  Daniel Squadron’s bill appears to carve out a very particular exemption regarding specifically the transportation of tonic water, bitters and maraschino cherries by liquor wholesalers; presumably some law currently prohibits their transport.  Or perhaps it is one of those cases where permissions not specifically enumerated are not assigned.  I don’t know…I don’t even know what bitters are.

It does appear, however, that Daniel Squadron has invested a lot of energy and time into pushing a bill that scarcely can be said to serve the public interest at large.  The owners of liquor stores don’t want it.  Nobody goes to a liquor store to get cherries.  Jordan Silbert would like to stock his 4-dollar mini bottles of tonic water at upscale liquor stores with extra shelf space.  Maybe Phoenix Beverages would like to use its existing channels to push more products.  Also, there is a factory that produces maraschino cherries in Red Hook: maybe Senator Squadron is trying to expand their market share.

In any case the tonic water bill that Dan Squadron has been relentlessly resubmitting seems to add some texture and shading to the man’s claims to being utterly pure.  Yes indeed, he hasn’t taken money from corporations, just from the owners of corporations.  But stories like what I have described above demonstrate to us how men like Squadron, insiders operating at the highest levels of wealth and power, use the system to the ends of their friends and associates.


Who Can Replace Gale Brewer? A Fierce Battle for CD 6

City Council Watch attended a debate in the 6th Council District on Columbus Avenue this week, where we observed about four dozen elderly black and Jewish voters munch on cookies and fruit, and murmur amongst themselves about the slate of candidates who would presume to fill the shoes of the beloved CM Gale Brewer, champion of the liberal middle-class. “They broke the mold, they broke the mold,” muttered the octogenarian woman to my right as Brewer clomped forward to say hello to the assemblage.  “No one like her,” agreed her neighbor.

Council Member Brewer, who is revered by her fixed-income constituency with a fervor normally reserved for triliteral Democratic icons, announced that she was not endorsing any of the candidates, but added that the whole field met her approval.   “Anyone you get here, you could count yourselves lucky,” she said, so blessing the field.

Open races are supposed to be hard to judge.  Ideally, a group of engaged citizens compete for the votes of the electorate, resources and endorsements are leveraged evenly, and we don’t know who the winner is until after Election Day.  

Unfortunately, this idealized, Four Freedoms vision of democracy is not usually the case in elections to the City Council.  Typically, one candidate has the inside track, gets the bulk of the contributions or endorsements, support from the party machinery, and leaves the rest of the field behind.  For example, in District 7, though the seat is open and there are at least six credible candidates, Mark Levine has most of the money, all the major endorsements, and is the acknowledged front-runner.  

But in the 6th CD, no one of the six most viable candidates can be said to be the clear leader.  They are all well-funded, and each has been endorsed by reputable and influential elected officials, clubs or civic organizations.  Of course, they all basically have the same opinions on major issues.  Nevertheless, there is an actual contest on the Upper West Side, and it deserves more attention than it has gotten.

We spoke with Ken Biberaj about his campaign.  Biberaj, child of Albanian immigrants, separated himself from the field when he alone spoke in favor of charter schools.  Asked about his position, the candidate explained that “charter schools are not the answer, but they may be part of the solution,” noting that parents in many communities in the city have expressed a desire for more school choice.  He went further, noting that some candidates have expressed limited support for charter schools, while disagreeing with the practice of co-location, or placing charter schools within traditional school buildings.  Biberaj claims that this is a common and hypocritical position, because there is no realistic way to house charter schools without locating them in existing school structures.

Ken Biberaj has raised a great deal of money from the Albanian community, as well as from the Biberaj community: at least one-seventh of his fundraising comes from his extensive family network, though he is quick to point out that he received hundreds of donations under fifty dollars from local contributors.  He has been endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the League of Conservation Voters, which likes his thoughtfulness on climate change.  Biberaj claims that his experience working in the restaurant and retail-leasing businesses equip him to deal with City agencies effectively, and give him the insight to help local business owners.  Asked about his lack of experience in public service positions, Biberaj says he has the “right kind of experience” to be a Council Member, and adds that he is “the only candidate who isn’t coming into this with the attitude, ‘It’s my turn now.’”

Noah Gotbaum entered the 6th CD race in what seemed like a false start after his stepmother, Betsy Gotbaum, appeared to endorse Dan Squadron over him in his initial campaign for Public Advocate.  According to the Gotbaums it was all a misunderstanding, and Noah Gotbaum assured me of his stepmother’s full support in his Council race.

A businessman and social entrepreneur, Gotbaum co-founded New York Cares, a prominent volunteer organization, and serves as the president of CEC 3.  Gotbaum announced that he is the only candidate to send his children to public schools, and denounced charter schools as union-busters, saying he opposes them “vehemently.”  As he is the son of Victor Gotbaum, former head of DC 37 and mentor to current director Lillian Roberts, it is no shock that DC 37 has endorsed Noah Gotbaum for the Council seat.  Gotbaum spoke warmly to me of his relationship with Roberts, whom he called his godmother (literally or figuratively, I’m not sure), and he told the audience that he grew up with progressive, labor-oriented values.

Helen Rosenthal, former chair of CB 7, began her run to succeed Gale Brewer in 2008.  When term limits were overturned she placed her fundraising in abeyance, and picked up again in 2011.  Rosenthal is the chair of ParentJobsNet, a non-profit that helps parents of public school students join (or rejoin) the workplace.  She was formerly employed at the Office of Management and Budget, and cites her experience there as key to her understanding of how municipal government functions.  

Rosenthal has raised the most money of any of the candidates, and as of the last disclosure date, had the most cash on hand, by a significant margin.  She has been endorsed by former Council Member Ronnie Eldridge, AM Deborah Glick, Senator Liz Krueger, and Gloria Steinem; Tenants PAC, NY CLASS and the Sierra Club.

Marc Landis is a real estate lawyer and Democratic district leader.  He has a long history of working pro bono on behalf of tenants, though as I have written elsewhere, he has courted controversy when he represented building owners in some ugly transactions.  In any other race Landis would probably be considered the front-runner, as he has received the endorsements of most of the significant labor unions apart from DC 37 and the UFT, which has not endorsed any of the candidates in the 6th CD, as well as the WFP line, and the support of Rep. Jerrold Nadler and AM Linda Rosenthal.  

Landis casts himself as a problem solver with a flexible approach to difficult problems, and cites his experience as a litigator and tough negotiator as important reasons why he would make the best candidate for the Council.  He spoke of his success in keeping Eva Moskowitz’ Success Academy out of the district.  Landis ran for Scott Stringer’s Assembly seat in 2006 after Stringer left to become Manhattan BP, and fought a bitter contest against Linda Rosenthal, the eventual winner.  Everyone made up, however, and Landis has garnered important local establishment support.  

Mel Wymore, also a former Chair of CB 7, is a systems analyst who used to be a woman.  He has received a great deal of national attention as one of the first transsexuals to seek such a widely visible elected office.  Wymore cites his role in negotiating a new 800-seat school at Riverside Center, the last major open parcel of land in CD 6, as a sign of his ability to fight for the district.  Wymore has been endorsed by Citizens Union, and also by a host of LGBT elected officials, clubs and PACs, as well as by more than two dozen community members.

Debra Cooper, who told us several times that she was born in a DP camp after World War II (though she doesn’t look it…age-wise, that is), and later married a wealthy textiles heir.  She works professionally as a real estate agent, and has been very active politically in advancing reproductive rights.  A Democratic State Committeewoman, Cooper took credit for pushing the city and state clinic access bills that later became the model for national legislation.  She has an impressive roster of endorsements, including Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and New York Communities for Change.

Ok, there is a seventh Democratic candidate I was saving for last.  Aaron Braunstein, boxing impresario, radio talk-show host, and father to actress Natasha Lyonne, is running a self-financed campaign.  Sporting a navy blazer with elaborate gold embroidery over the left breast, a plaid waistcoat, and a massive Roman coin on a ring, Braunstein called his campaign manager forward in the middle of his 3-minute introductory speech.  The campaign manager, a young black man dressed in a wrinkled suit and sneakers, sporting an ‘80s-style “fade” hairdo, was introduced as a “22 year old college grad, a kid I decided needed a shot.  So for all these so-called liberals sitting up here, I say, put your money where your mouth is.”



Corey Johnson Prepares Lie Sandwich; Makes CD 3 Eat It

At last night’s District 3 candidate forum, Corey Johnson took issue with being labeled the candidate of “political insiders” by his opponent Yetta Kurland.  “Does anyone here really think Jerry Nadler is a political insider?” asked Johnson, referencing one of his prominent endorsers.  “Jerry Nadler is a progressive Democrat.”

If Johnson believes that a Manhattan ten-term congressman isn’t a political insider, then he is most likely stupid or cynical.  He doesn’t strike me as stupid, so let’s go with cynical, or maybe just cunning.  

Throughout the debate, which mostly covered development-related issues, when Johnson wasn’t lying, he was tendentiously parsing half-truths.  I will concede that he was probably not lying when he said that his mother was a lunch lady, that he is gay, and that he has in fact received the political endorsements that he says he has received.  Virtually everything else, based upon my close scrutiny of his record, is in doubt.

For instance, when asked by Kurland why, if he is in fact proud of his work for real estate company GFI Development, he had asked the Gay Center to remove his bio from their website, Corey Johnson answered that the bio contained “incorrect information.”  He then, in a non sequitur, claimed that the item had come from this blog, which he accused of “saying false things” about him.

Here is the offending bio, from the archived version of the Gay Center website:

Corey Johnson is currently employed by GFI Development Company as Director of Government Relations and Community Affairs, where he has worked with the New York City Council, Mayor’s office and a variety of New York City Agencies. He has overseen the re-zoning of a large mixed-use project and managed the GFI’s efforts to revitalize neighborhoods surrounding their developments. Prior to his work at GFI, Mr. Johnson directed and shaped political and communications strategy on a variety of mayoral, gubernatorial and presidential campaigns in New York. He has served on the media-strategy team of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and worked in the finance department of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Johnson has been quoted in The New York Times, New York Daily News, The Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle. He has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, NPR, Sirius-XM Satellite Radio and NY 1 to offer political commentary and insight. Mr. Johnson is also the Vice-Chair of Manhattan Community Board 4, where he co-chairs the Chelsea Land-Use Committee and serves on the Business, Licenses and Permits Committee. He is the Political Director for, which is the highest-trafficked gay and lesbian blog on the Web.

Everything in this blurb corresponds with what Johnson acknowledges to be true about his work history.  The only consistent explanation for why he called the Gay Center and asked them to remove the item is that he was trying to cover up his association with GFI.  

Regarding this blog, incidentally, I challenge the Johnson campaign or anyone else to identify any false claims I have made about him.

Next, Johnson accused Kurland of lying about his current association with GFI, insisting that his employer, the Sydell Group, is not an offshoot of GFI, nor is it connected with the company in any way.  Corey Johnson identified the Sydell Group as the manager of two hotels outside of New York, and insisted emphatically that it is not connected to GFI.

Here is a little item from the New York Times from March 10 of this year:

The Local Stop column in some editions on Feb. 24 about NoMad, the area north of Madison Square, referred imprecisely to the development of the Ace Hotel in the area. The Ace, which opened in 2009, was developed by GFI Development, then a partnership between Sydell Partners L.L.C. and Allen Gross of GFI; it was not developed only by Sydell Partners L.L.C., which has since become the Sydell Group.

This blurb was a correction to an earlier article, and was thus presumably rigorously checked and re-checked.  So unless the Times fact checkers are complete incompetents, GFI Development and the Sydell Group are, contrary to Corey Johnson’s denial, closely related.

Here is an article from The Real Deal describing the fallout between the head of the Sydell Group and his partner, the head of GFI.  There is no question in the mind of the writer that the two companies operated in a tight partnership, with joint ownership and management of assets.

Here is a press release from the Sydell Group itself, describing its close partnership with GFI.

So we are left with two options if we want to preserve the idea that Corey Johnson is telling the truth about the Sydell Group: either he is very stupid, or everyone else in the world is wrong.  But if we reject the supposition that he must be telling the truth, then everything becomes clear.  That’s the problem with extremely convincing liars: the way they say things sounds so sensible that we want it to accord with reality, even when it doesn’t.  

Corey Johnson took hairsplitting to the level of the angstrom when the conversation turned to the question of 470 Vanderbilt, a GFI development in Brooklyn.  At an earlier community forum, Johnson took credit for having forced the developer to increase the level of affordable housing to be built from 20% to 26%.  He then congratulated himself for having even provided for affordable two-bedroom apartments to be built, all for the benefit of the families of Brooklyn.

Leaving aside the fact that the Council Member involved in the negotiations on the other side of the table from Johnson, Tish James, said flat out that she has no recollection of Corey Johnson’s role in securing the higher percentage, no housing of any sort was built at all at 470 Vanderbilt.  There is an office building at the site, and a parking lot where the housing was supposed to be.

Last night Johnson insisted that he had never said that the housing was built, only that he had negotiated a restriction in the event that housing were to be built.  Forgive me if I fail to follow Corey Johnson into his Thomistic musings on the nature of the unbuilt, but the lot is commercially zoned, so his imaginary restrictions have been violated in any case.  Don’t take my word for any of this, listen to the man himself talk about his fantasy building, and then decide if he was talking about restrictions or about actual housing.

Corey Johnson is a handsome, charismatic guy, and it sounds like he has worked hard on the community board.  He speaks clearly, has a nice voice, and unlike Yetta Kurland, he doesn’t get visibly nervous.  The debate last night was kind of like Kennedy-Nixon: Johnson won if you watched it on television, but everyone who listened to it on the radio said it was hands-down Kurland’s victory.

The only problem with Corey Johnson is that he lies.  He figures he can lie his way into office, and by then it won’t matter.  But the problem with lies, even if they never catch up to you (cf. Bill Clinton), is that lying is a terrible habit, habit forms character, and character is destiny.


Charles and Inez Barron Two-Step in East New York

Inez Barron, Assembly Member from East New York, is running to succeed her husband, CM Charles Barron, in the 42nd Council District.  The two districts being largely coterminous, Inez Barron has a good shot of taking over her spouse’s seat.  At which time, presumably, Charles Barron would run for her Assembly seat, and the two Barrons (assuredly, of no relation to your writer) could continue to serve the overlapping districts for another decade or so.

It is not a sure thing, however, as Chris Banks, the man who ran a tough primary race against Inez Barron in 2012, is seeking the Council seat this year.  He has spoken of “Barron fatigue” in the district, and has outraised the field substantially.  However, he has taken a great deal of money from Manhattan real estate and taxi interests, which doesn’t necessarily play well in the heart of black Brooklyn.  The Barrons, with their Panther past and Garveyite “anti-gentrification” platform, will surely make hay of their opponent’s ties to moneyed interlopers.

It is truly amazing to behold Charles Barron, generally held to be the moving force behind the family’s political life, in action.  Yesterday, for example, during the City Council’s vote to overturn Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of the stop-and-frisk and police oversight bills, it was startling to hear Barron, following his customary sit-in during the Pledge of Allegiance, stand up and pay tribute to Viola Plummer, his former chief of staff: “There wouldn’t be no today if it weren’t for Viola Plummer, the December 12th Movement, Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who put it on the line, to make this day history.”

Viola Plummer, of course, was the woman who was fired from the Council in 2007 for calling for the assassination of CM Leroy Comrie.  “If it takes assassination of his ass, he will not be a borough president in the borough where I live,” opined Plummer, angry that CM Comrie had abstained from voting to co-name Gates Avenue after Sonny Carson.

Viola Plummer complained that she meant “assassination” in the metaphorical sense, arguing that as an “educated, extremely intelligent black woman,” it would be “preposterous” for her to call for the actual murder of the head of the Queens Delegation.  CM Barron announced that he was so proud of his chief of staff that he wanted to “give her a raise.”

The December 12th Movement, incidentally, named for the date of Kenya’s independence, prides itself on bullying Harlem shop owners to close for Malcolm X’s birthday:  “December 12th Movement shows the power of a small group of dedicated people: for years now DEC 12th has forced Harlem merchants to close down their businesses on 125th Street on Malcolm's birthday. Now that's people's power!”

Charles Barron is certainly a throwback to old-style radical black nationalist politics, with his dithyrambic praise of Robert Mugabe and Muammar Qaddafi.  What other council member could hope to have David Duke release a video endorsement of his or her congressional campaign, on the basis of shared antipathy to Zionism and belief in black self-determination?  Of course, Charles Barron would surely repudiate David Duke’s support, just as CM Margaret Chin has repudiated independent expenditures made on her behalf by the real estate industry.  But where there is common ground or common interests, one supposes that even presumptive enemies can make common cause.

Charles and Inez Barron have together earmarked hundreds of thousands of dollars for Man Up!, a community group in East New York run by Andre Mitchell, a political associate of the Barrons.  Charles Barron supported Mitchell, an ex-con (convicted of manslaughter) who now runs violence prevention programs, in several runs for district leader and state committeeman, none of which was successful.  Questions arose in 2011 when it emerged that Inez and Charles Barron had also paid Mitchell substantial sums to work as a campaign aide, and also paid campaign funds into a related organization called Hip Hop Stand Up and Vote, which shared the same address.  This kind of electioneering on the part of non-profits is strictly illegal and has sent Hiram Monserrate, among others, to prison.

Man Up! has also benefitted richly from a recent major real estate deal in District 42.  The Related Companies, requiring the support of the Barrons to implement the building of their Gateway II mall in East New York, acquiesced to a $3 million Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) that would fund and provide operating space for various local organizations.  The East New York Restoration Local Development Corporation (ENYRLDC) was formed to administer the funds from the CBA.  The executive director and associate executive director of the ENYRLDC are both contributors to Inez Barron's current campaign, and Andre Mitchell is the chairman of the board.

Furthermore, Man Up!, which Andre Mitchell still runs, has the contract to run all job training programs funded by the CBA, and can slot preferred candidates into construction and retail jobs at Gateway II.

So it is really classic, Tammany-style dealings going on in East New York.  Charles and Inez Barron set their friend up in a “community based organization” which receives a steady flow of public money.  The group has a lot of visibility, and functions basically as a permanent campaign machine for the Barrons.  Then Charles Barron works out a sweetheart deal with a major real estate developer to give his friend a job and power over local hiring—always the key factor in a Daleyesque machine.

Thus the Barrons come to resemble ever closer their idols Mugabe and Qaddafi: erstwhile fighters for freedom who are transformed by power into grotesques.


Affordability and Development

Two articles I wrote are up at City & State and Gotham Gazette. 

First, Defining Affordability Down: 

Who opposes affordable housing? For Democratic candidates, supporting affordable housing is like coming out for better schools or equal rights for women: It is so uncontroversial and obvious that it is almost beside the point. But what does affordability really mean in a city as obsessed and driven by real estate as New York?

Read the rest here

Second, Development and Its Discontents: 

Manhattan’s 3rd City Council District, covering the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, has been altered immeasurably in the last decade. Depending on your perspective, the last 12 years under the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the district’s current representative, have either destroyed the area, or remade it into a fabulously exciting international destination. Or both. 

Read the rest here

Rafael Espinal, the Dupe of District 37

Rafael Espinal was chosen in 2011 to run for Assembly by the Vito Lopez machine and its Dilan family appendage. The seat was vacated by Darryl Towns, following his appointment as state housing commissioner, and the campaign became a proxy war between the Kings County organization, the Towns family and the WFP. Espinal’s victory was held up as a victory for Lopez and a sign of his ascendency.

Now, after serving almost two years in the Assembly, Espinal is running for City Council in District 37, less because of his commitment to service than because his former boss, CM Erik Dilan, is term limited and needs a new job. So Dilan will take over the Assembly seat kept warm by his lieutenant Espinal, and Espinal will move to the Council.

This is a familiar two-step in New York. Mark and David Weprin swapped places in 2009, and Inez and Charles Barron are preparing to do the same thing as the Council’s self-described “elected activist” reaches the end of his third term. Larry Seabrook of the Bronx used to brag (dubiously) about being the first African-American to be elected to three different legislative bodies, though when you consider that the three districts he represented were all similarly-sized subsets of the same group of impoverished neighborhoods, his accomplishment becomes slightly less impressive than, say, Obama’s. City politicians make careers of filling one another’s shoes, and talk openly about the relative material benefits of being a council member vs. a state senator, such as the commute, per diems, office space, etc.

Even amidst such honest cynicism, however, Rafael Espinal’s case seems particularly absurd. In fact, Rafael Espinal embodies all the obsessions of City Council Watch in one person. His fealty to the city’s real estate interests is unparalleled. Other Democrats in Brooklyn, for example, have received support from the Real Estate Board’s PAC, Jobs for New York. The open secret about this kind of independent expenditure is that, since you can’t legally ask for the money, you can credibly claim that you have nothing to do with it, and that your independence is immune to campaign money.

Not so Espinal, who has decided to let his benefactors know how pleased he is to be their choice. “I'm very grateful for their endorsement,” says Espinal. “They do believe that I'm the best candidate to create jobs and to do the job in the City Council.” One might think that a politician in tenant-heavy East Brooklyn would keep landlord support under his hat, but Rafael Espinal is apparently unembarrassed to be the real estate candidate, and to trumpet that information.

Espinal has a lot of friends in the landlord community. Jay and Jerry Wartski, for instance, have given his campaigns ample contributions, totaling in the thousands of dollars. Jerry Wartski was arrested in 1974 for running a “hot sheet” hotel, and then came to notice in the early 1980s when he was identified by the FDNY as the center of an “interlocking group of investors” whose SROs burned down at a rate three times normal. Legal problems continued to dog the Wartskis, who have a long history of neglecting buildings and forcing out their tenants illegally.

Joseph Jerome, the principal of JEMB and the moving force behind the Small Business Coalition; Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, an earlier manifestation of the powers behind Jobs for New York; Katrina Peebles, wife of Roy Peebles of the Peebles Corporation, the largest black-owned real estate company in the country and recent buyer of 346 Broadway; Stephen L. Green, real estate magnate and brother of boy wonder Mark Green; Aaron Sirulnick, chairman of the Rent Stabilization Association: these are the hefty contributors to the campaigns of Rafael Espinal, one-term Assembly Member and cutout for the Dilans and Vito Lopez. Do you think they are paying for the excellence of Espinal's judgement, or for the attention of his bosses?

Former chief of staff to a Council Member who took over his father’s seat, willing stooge to real estate interests, Assembly Member Rafael Espinal is the sort of man whose fondest dreams are of being a cog in a sputtering machine. Fortunately for him, if not for the people of CD 37, those kinds of dreams are easy to attain, if your personal standards are low enough. It's like Pinocchio in reverse--he's the boy who always wanted to be a puppet.

Sexing up Scott Stringer

Eliot Spitzer played his comeback the right way, by not seeking a promotion. Ex-governor, ex-attorney general, he must have felt that it was a comedown to seek a lesser, municipal-level position.  Nevertheless he knew that to get back in the game, it didn’t make sense to ask the people for a better job, or even a lateral move.  He has to go down in order to get back up.  Insofar as anyone who is trying to get elected can be considered humble, Spitzer has humbled himself.

If Anthony Weiner had swallowed his pride and run for his old council seat in the 48th CD, being vacated now by his successor Michael Nelson, he probably would have won in a walk.  Or he could have waited a year and sought an open assembly or state senate seat.  Then he could have worked hard and redeemed himself instead of becoming a laughingstock.  His political career is now over.

Isn’t that why everyone loves John Quincy Adams?  He lost his re-election bid in 1828, and got himself elected to the House of Representatives instead, serving eight terms with distinction.  People like seeing a politician accept disgrace.

The reason why City Council Watch is so fascinated by the Spitzer phenomenon is the extent to which his campaign gainsays all the conventional wisdom.  Look at a list of Scott Stringer’s endorsements.  He has 10 US representatives, 10 state senators, about 25 assembly members, 15 council members, all the clubs, all the unions, the WFP…not to mention the media…and he is losing.  Scott Stringer is surely going to lose, probably by 10 points or more.

So what does that say about the value of all those endorsements?  Every campaign season all the candidates go hat in hand to the various political organizations and bow obediently, make the right noises about paid sick leave or charter schools, accept the money and count the votes.  But when an insurgent such as Spitzer comes in and encourages the electorate to buck party discipline, it threatens to break everyone else’s rice bowl.

So when the New York Post whines “It’s Embarrassing” (the Post is embarrassed?), what they are really saying is that Spitzer’s successful candidacy is inconvenient for the smooth operation of the machine.  If only Spitzer were also melting down like Weiner, then everyone could congratulate themselves for not being perverted egomaniacs, and the charade of political respectability could continue.

The effort by the Stringer campaign to make their candidate attractive, cool noch, has taken on ludicrous, even parodic, aspects.  Did you know he once was part owner of a bar?  Did you know he is vaguely connected to a raunchy photographer of louche celebrities?  Have you seen the picture where he is standing awkwardly next to a starlet?  The very effort to point to Scott Stringer's latent sex appeal unintentionally emphasizes his almost disturbingly eunuchoid presentation.

The establishment is desperate for Stringer to win, and is doubling down on their bets, because they know that, however unfortunately our system is structured, if Stringer wins, they already own him, and if Spitzer wins, they have to start the negotiations from square one.


Micah Kellner: Catering Hall Clown

Honoring his well-established and documented practice of being a hack, Assembly Member Micah Kellner took significant contributions from the lobbyists for a Park Avenue catering hall that fought, and won, an Albany-based battle for a liquor license exemption.

Third Church of Christ, Scientist at 583 Park Avenue has stood for 90 years as a Temple to Science and Health, according to the tenets propounded by Mary Baker Eddy.  Active membership having declined of late, in 2006 the Christian Scientists began renting out their church to the Roses, an entire family of event planners.  The Rose group struck a mutually lucrative bargain with the Christian Scientists, who would be allowed to continue using the church twice a week, in between bar mitzvahs, hedge fund holiday parties and fashion shows.

Anyone who has been on Park Avenue above 59th Street has surely noticed the area’s distinct lack of ground-level retail establishments, nightlife venues, bus stops, etc.  All of that is for a reason: the people who live in the buildings on Park Avenue like peace and quiet and have the resources to impose it.  So when 583 Park Avenue transformed itself from a nearly somnolent tomb into an event venue, the locals were perturbed.  Lines of white limousines, catering trucks, photographers, and crowds: none of this fit the standards of the neighborhood.

The church, now effectively a catering hall, applied for temporary permits to sell liquor at its events, but needed an actual retail liquor license in order to operate as a fully-functional event factory.  The Rose family ran into trouble when applying for a liquor license, as there is a legitimate house of worship, Central Presbyterian, less than 200 feet away, and state law forbids retail liquor sales in such close proximity to churches and schools.

Fortunately, some of the local elected officials were venal and open to the right kind of persuasion.  Micah Kellner and Dan Quart co-sponsored a bill specifically to carve out an exception in the state liquor law to give the church-cum-wedding factory the right to sell liquor all the time.  Lobbyists for the Rose Group contributed thousands of dollars to Kellner’s (and Quart’s) campaigns.  Over the last few campaign cycles Micah Kellner took in around $4,000 from lobbying firm Connelly, McLaughlin & Woloz, and from the principals of the firm, and from Brenda Levin and George Arzt, other Rose Group lobbyists.

As Senator Liz Krueger, who vigorously opposed the exemption, points out, the Kellner/Quart bill is essentially a private bill: it does not have any general applicability to other churches, but pertains only to 583 Park Avenue.  This point will surely irritate the Upper East Side bar owners whom Micah Kellner has targeted in his latest campaign against pub crawls.  Kellner, arguing from a bogus position of civic rectitude, has introduced legislation to strip liquor licenses from bars that participate in what are basically organized tours of bars that offer drink specials to revelers on special occasions.  The problem being, presumably, that it is hard to collect campaign funds from pub crawls.

As we have discussed many times on this website, Kellner is highly amenable to pay-to-play arrangements.  Taxi manufacturers, grocery store owners, offtrack betting machine operators, and now catering halls have found that Micah Kellner is happy to say whatever it is you need him to say, as long as you can meet his price.   As Mark Twain said about the tenets of Christian Science, “from end to end of the Christian Science literature not a single (material) thing in the world is conceded to be real, except the Dollar.”  Sounds like a theology for Micah Kellner.


The Electoral Calculus of the Comptroller Race

It was funny in last night’s debate when Scott Stringer said that he represented a “new generation” of leadership, and Eliot Spitzer interrupted him to ask, “Scott, how old are you?  Aren’t we the same age?”

In fact, Spitzer is a little younger than Stringer.  But the point was absurd to begin with.  Spitzer outclasses Stringer in virtually every way: he is taller, more virile, speaks better (Stringer’s nasal stammer makes him sound like Elmer Fudd), is richer, and comes from a higher social class. He has better grammar: did anyone else catch Stringer twice saying "between you and I?" 

Scott Stringer, from Washington Heights, grew up in the civil servant stratum of the Jewish middle class and used his family’s political connections (his mother was an elected official and a cousin of Bella Abzug) to scrape ahead, graduating from John Jay, then putting in years of toil as a legislative slave to Jerry Nadler.

Eliot Spitzer, on the other hand, was a child of immense privilege, growing up in Riverdale, a few miles north of Stringer geographically but galaxies away in terms of expectation.  He went to elite Horace Mann (presumably avoiding being sexually abused—his time there overlaps with the apparent madhouse of male-on-male rape that has been exposed in the last two years) and then Princeton and Harvard.  

So it is ironic that Scott Stringer is running as the candidate of Manhattan and the political establishment versus Spitzer as the champion of the middle class and the outer boroughs.  And try as he may to shake off that distinction, Stringer will be hampered by it, and there are solid electoral reasons why that is so.

Eliot Spitzer has won three state-wide races: two for Attorney General and one for Governor.  But forget about the rest of the state and focus on New York City: Spitzer has already won, by terrific margins, three city-wide races.  In each of these races Spitzer received, at or near the top of the ballot, about 750,000 votes not including voters in Manhattan. 

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that half of these voters now despise Eliot Spitzer: they agree completely with Scott Stringer and the NOW/NARAL/Wall Street faction that Spitzer is a beast who cannot be trusted.  And let's assume half of the voters will not turn out for a primary election.  That leaves a quarter of Spitzer’s previous outer-borough voters now voting for him for Comptroller.  That drastic arithmetic still leaves him with 187,000 votes, or 50% of the total vote for Comptroller in 2009.  And doesn’t include Manhattan, where he is actually polling well.

On the other hand, look at Scott Stringer.  He has never won a single vote from anyone off the island of Manhattan.  When he goes to Jackson Heights or Boro Park, people hear him introduced as the Manhattan Borough President, and which illustrious elected officials do they automatically think of?  Helen Marshall and Marty Markowitz: two superannuated and largely ceremonial figures, party faithfuls, hacks.  

Is being from Manhattan a great benefit to a candidate seeking citywide office?  Let’s look at some other post-Beep candidacies of former Manhattan Borough Presidents. 

Immediately preceding Scott Stringer as MBP was C. Virginia Fields.  Fields was term limited in 2005 and decided to run for Mayor.  Her campaign was a disaster, and she finished third in the primary voting in every borough, garnering only 16% of the Manhattan vote. 

Before C. Virginia Fields Manhattan had Ruth Messinger.  In 1997 Messinger ran for Mayor and was almost forced into a primary runoff by Al Sharpton, but squeaked by with 40%.  Then in the general election she lost every borough except the Bronx to Giuliani.  She lost Manhattan by 3 points.

Before Ruth Messinger, David Dinkins was Manhattan Beep.  True, he became Mayor.  However, he may be the example that proves the rule, given that he is widely considered to have been a horrible mayor…fairly or unfairly.

My wider point is that being Manhattan BP isn’t like being Mayor of Manhattan City.  It probably sounds very impressive to foreign visitors, but local voters know exactly what the office is and what it isn’t.  If you think Brooklyn and Queens primary voters are going to look at Scott Stringer’s record and stature as the boy king of Manhattan and rush to vote for him, then I have a bridge you might be interested in leasing—the Kosciuszko.


Soft Machine: Electing Staffers

From my latest column in City & State: 

Many of the current crop of New York City Council candidates, including incumbents, got their start as political staffers. In fact, a great many have no significant professional experience except as staffers for the City Council. In an era of seemingly ingrained corruption and political scandal, is it healthy for the political body to be constituted by what amounts to a kind of professional nepotism?

Read the rest of the article here.


Untwisting the Knot: Towards an Understanding of the Bronx

When Joel Rivera became Council Majority Leader at the age of 23, it was not because his colleagues beheld him as a new Pitt the Younger.  It was because the Bronx political machine still had a lot of power, his dad was now Assemblyman, and the Bronx Delegation had swung Gifford Miller the Speakership.           

For the last 12 years, CM Rivera’s role as Leader has been a prime mystery of the Council.  His handsome suite of offices at 250 Broadway is virtually always dark.  He has introduced fewer than two pieces of legislation per year, and almost none of them have been moved into committee.  One of his proposals was to ban fluoride from the city’s water supply: this item had no co-sponsors.

The Majority Leader didn’t even do a great job of steering money into his own 15th District.  According to Citizens Union, Rivera ranked 4th among Bronx council members for total combined capital and expense funding this term, behind Members Vacca, Arroyo and Seabrook. 

Council Member Rivera, term-limited out of a job, appears to be happily gearing up for his second career as a Re/Max real estate agent.  He recently received licensure, and has started his own website.  Rivera has even written an article detailing the ins and outs of search engine optimization for one’s website.  He appears to be totally engaged in the details of XML and Dreamweaver.  All in all, CM Rivera shows far more enthusiasm for real estate sales and web applications than he has in twelve years for being an elected official.

But who can blame him?  The Bronx machine that he was born to is shattered.  In 2008 his father Assemblyman Jose Rivera was forced out of his role as boss of the Bronx Dems in a populist revolt known as the Rainbow Rebellion.  In 2009, key Rivera ally Council Member Maria Baez lost her primary re-election campaign to a Republican, Fernando Cabrera.  

Then in 2012, in a stunning upset, Rivera’s sister, Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, lost her bid for re-election to Mark Gjonaj, a Bronx-born Albanian-American investor and community leader. The Rivera family brushed off the Assemblywoman's well-publicized scandals, and assumed that its brand of ethno-politics would keep it in power, as it always had.  The Gjonaj campaign, in what became a textbook case of a targeted field operation, made a strong appeal to the district's large, and largely ignored, black population, which came out heavily for Gjonaj.  Naomi Rivera, in denial, never conceded defeat. 

But it is not just the Rivera dynasty that is ending.  Indeed, much of the Bronx is in play.  The Espadas are in prison.  Efrain Gonzalez is in prison.  Larry Seabrook is in prison.  Assemblyman Eric Stevenson has been indicted for taking bribes, and Nelson Castro resigned from the Assembly after taping him, and presumably others, for years.  Carl Heastie, head of the Bronx County Dems, has little actual authority and is barely holding on. The time is ripe for reform to sweep through the Bronx like a breath of fresh air!

Not likely.  Instead, we see other elected officials, untainted as yet by arrest or scandal, moving into the vacuum to extend their own power.  In the race to succeed CM Rivera we find his own chief of staff, Albert Alvarez, scarcely running a credible campaign.  Normally a council member’s top assistant has the inside track on succession, and it is a measure of the decline of the fortunes of the Rivera family that the front-runner for the seat is Ritchie Torres, a staffer for CM Jimmy Vacca in the adjoining 13th District.

Torres is a remarkable case of all the players lining up behind an unqualified yet handsome Council staffer who appears to know how to listen.  Only 24 years old, Ritchie Torres has worked for CM Vacca’s office since he was 17, so he quite literally does not know about anything except working in the city council.  Torres has received all the labor endorsements and all the political endorsements that matter, including those of the Working Families Party and REBNY’s Jobs for New York PAC, which according to Tenants PAC he refused to disavow.

Over to the northwest in District 11, Council Member G. Oliver Koppell is facing the end of his third term in the council.  The race to succeed the man who was once appointed NYS Attorney General (and who beat Joe Hynes and Eliot Spitzer in the ensuing primary, though losing to Karen Burstein…remember?) has come down to a contest between two men who have never held office before: Andrew Cohen, a lawyer, and businessman Clifford Stanton.

Clifford Stanton owns United Snacks, which franchises the popular “Nuts 4 Nuts” carts one sees around Manhattan.  He was chief of staff for the erratic former Council Member Noach Dear, and is active in the Riverdale community.

His opponent is another classic example of what City Council Watch is fascinated by: a benign nobody who, through some mysterious alchemy, is presented to the public as the candidate of choice.  Andrew Cohen, who has never run for office before, has apparently worked nicely with the powerful Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, from which Senator Jeffrey Klein and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz hold sway over Riverdale and Kingsbridge.

Cohen, it has emerged, served as Pedro G. Espada’s chief of staff or counsel (it is unclear which) in the late 1990s.  Since then he has worked in the Bronx courts and maintained a small private law practice of some sort.  A respectable type of person, one supposes.  But to read his list of endorsements one would think that Andrew Cohen were Churchill being called to lead the nation at its darkest hour: Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson all stand with him in the strongest terms.  Every union, every relevant elected official, former candidates for the seat, all the clubs and independent political organizations, they all support Cohen.  Except for the League of Independent Theater: it is with Stanton.

If one didn’t know better, it would seem like a conspiracy.  This kind of full-court press is typical of races such as the 34th CD, where the entire establishment is committed to Antonio Reynoso’s campaign, not because Reynoso is such an amazing candidate, but because he is not Vito Lopez.  When Hiram Monserrate tried to win his Senate seat back, everyone important came to Corona to stop him.  When Gustavo Rivera was trying to unseat Pedro Espada, he was brought to Chambers and given a standing ovation, prior to the election. 

In the case of CD 11, however, City Council Watch is perplexed.  The two candidates seem roughly equivalent, yet one has been anointed and the other shunned.  It is almost mystical…an act of Grace…like when only one of the thieves was saved. 

Anyone have any ideas as to why Cliff Stanton has been cast into the pit of darkness, and Andrew Cohen will be with the rest of the Council in Paradise?  Your guess is as good as mine.  


Brad Lander on REBNY and Margaret Chin: "Hard to Know What the Relationship is"

After my last post about Margaret Chin and her acceptance of Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) support, I started wondering about what it means in New York for an elected Democrat to label herself as “progressive.”

By the standards of legislative bodies in this country, after all, the New York City Council as a whole is about as far to the left as you could go.  The Speaker, hewing to her agenda, has prevented most legislation from proceeding to the floor for a vote, but if the Council were a more democratic institution then New York would find itself, in certain respects, in Pyongyang.

Consider, for example, the fact that the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the Council already constitutes an absolute majority of the entire body.  If minority representation is a proxy for a leftish, social justice style agenda, then surely the Council is already “progressive” enough, no? 

It is when we look, as Chris Bragg did in Crain’s recently, at the precise political history of the members of the Progressive Caucus, that we understand that the Caucus represents the high water mark of the Working Families Party, circa 2009, before the implosion of Data and Field Services.  The Caucus was organized as an elected vanguard to further the WFP union-left agenda.  It is more of a Montagnard clique representing a strategic tendency, than it is an ideological movement of visionaries or particularly committed liberals.

I spoke this week to Council Member Brad Lander, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, about what it means to be on the caucus, and what it would take to be thrown out of it, and whether Margaret Chin is in danger of such exile.

The always affable and somewhat verbose Lander, of District 39 representing Park Slope and environs, told me about the loose requirements for joining the Caucus.  “People send a letter saying they would like to consider joining,” Lander said, “and then we have a conversation, and there is the matter of dues, we do have rather heavy dues…and then we take a vote, though we have never rejected anyone.  I believe we do have a clause pertaining to expulsion based on ethical misconduct, much as the Council itself….”

I explained that I was less interested in the mechanics of the Progressive Caucus than in what would constitute political grounds for expelling someone.  I asked Lander what he made of the independent expenditures that REBNY has made, through their Jobs for New York PAC, on behalf of Council Member (and fellow Progressive) Margaret Chin, and if that violated the Progressive Caucus’ stated principles on affordable housing.

Defending Chin, Lander said, “I don’t think Margaret Chin has signed on to the REBNY platform…it is hard to know what the relationship is.  I don’t think that Mark Levine has signed on to the REBNY platform, and I don’t think that Ritchie Torres has signed on the REBNY platform either.”  

Mark Levine (running in CD 7) and Ritchie Torres (candidate in CD 15) are both WFP candidates, and presumably prospective Progressive Caucus members, though neither of them has received any help from Jobs for New York. In fact, so far, the only elected Council Member who has received substantial help from Jobs for New York is Margaret Chin, avowed fighter for affordable housing.

(Correction: Mark Levine and Ritchie Torres have been endorsed by Jobs for New York.  Levine has disavowed the support, while Torres, according to Tenents PAC, has issued ambivalent statements regarding Jobs for New York.)

I pointed this out to Lander, who grew defensive of his fellow Progressive.  “I am not going to criticize Margaret Chin’s campaign,” he said.  “There are several races where Jobs for New York has supported the front-running candidates in hopes that they will be grateful later.  There is no way to solicit or refuse the help, so who is to say whether Margaret Chin even wanted it…”

The notion that the people at REBNY, who comprise some of the savviest investors in the world, are making random political contributions, either in befuddlement or out of earnest good will, seemed so ridiculous that I was forced to interrupt the council member to say so.  I asked him, If you will not draw lines against an organization such as REBNY, whose position is anathema to that of the Progressive Caucus, then what does it mean for there to be a Progressive Caucus?

CM Lander softened his tone: “I share the concern implied in your question. I am against large independent expenditures, and many of the battles I have fought for affordable housing and inclusionary zoning--I am sure that REBNY would be on the other side of them.

“But at the same time we have not discussed REBNY.  There is no set of specific questions and criteria that we have developed about them.  There is not a defined agenda regarding REBNY, as there is for Students First.”  

Students First is a pro-charter school PAC founded by Michelle Rhee, which the Progressive Caucus has specifically drawn a line on.  Any endorsement of or by Students First, it appears, will sink endorsement from the Progressive Caucus/WFP front.

Which makes sense, if you think about it.  The UFT opposes anyone who doesn’t take the position that the only way to be pro-student is to be pro-teacher, and that the only way to be pro-teacher is to salute the UFT.  The UFT has a lot of money, and highly disciplined voters as members.  On the other hand, REBNY, while an unsavory type of organization for people who call themselves progressives to be associated with, has no organized opposition worth fearing.  OK, there is Tenants PAC, but Tenants PAC has given away in total about $130,000, ever.  That is, a little more than one percent of what Jobs for New York is planning to disburse this summer.

So the Progressive Caucus may see Margaret Chin’s refusal to denounce REBNY’s support for her campaign as an embarrassment, but not a significant one.   It isn’t as though she offended anyone important, like Michael Mulgrew or Lillian Roberts.  And as Co-Chairman Brad Lander told me, “I am sure that Margaret Chin will continue to be a committed member of the Progressive Caucus.”


Margaret Chin, Progressively Awful

A hundred years ago being a Progressive meant you were in favor of civil service reform, eugenics, and the referendum.  Nowadays being a Progressive means being in favor of social and economic justice and against stop-and-frisk…I guess. It isn’t entirely clear what the label means.  But whatever it is, if it includes Margaret Chin, Council Member for CD 1, it doesn’t mean much of anything at all.

CM Chin, a member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, represents Lower Manhattan, including Chinatown.  She got her start in politics as a housing advocate and was a founding member of Asian Americans for Equality, which originated as a front group for the Communist Workers Party.  She appears to have pedaled back from her Maoist commitments since then, and even from the rather less stringent doctrines of the Progressive Caucus. 

Signing on with Jobs for New York, the political action committee of the Real Estate Board of New York, Margaret Chin has endorsed the platform of the most pro-developer, anti-tenant organization in the city.  REBNY has promised to spend $10 million in 2013 to defeat candidates opposed to its agenda.  So far this season, Jobs for New York has spent more than $80,000 on Chin’s mailers, one of which calls her “Maragret.”  Coming from a soi-disant “passionate advocate for tenants’ rights,” Chin's evident doublethink is dizzying.

Chin’s record in her district on development issues is terrible.  When she took office, the oldest building on the Bowery was a circa-1817 Federal Era wood framed structure at 135 Bowery.  First American International Bank, a local company, owned the building, which was designated as a landmark in June 2011 by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  Under Council tradition, local Members direct their colleagues how to vote on most land use proposals, and Chin urged removal of the landmark designation, allowing the owner to destroy the historic property, which was in fact torn down. 

Executives and employees of the First American International Bank then contributed $5,910 to Chin’s re-election campaign.

Council Member Chin, who had originally claimed to support the landmarking of 135 Bowery, argued that, “there is opportunity on the site to build commercial space that is so needed in the Chinatown community for the small businesses.”  She claimed repeatedly that the commercial space would provide “affordable office space,” that would be below market-rate.

Here we see the shibboleth “affordable” brought out like a fetish to dispel criticism of real estate development.  Affordable housing is always promised, but at least that is an actual thing, which can be given to people with low incomes.  But how would “affordable office space” be allocated?  To businesses that need more money?  To non-profits run by her supporters?  It is totally absurd and fantastically cynical for Chin to make such a promise. 

In another case where Margaret Chin set aside Progressive principles of transparency and open government, we find that 183 East Broadway, owned by Ching Sun “Norman” Wong, was built in contravention of building code.  It was too tall and violated the “sliver law.”  It did not have enough open space.  Demolition and structural work caused neighboring buildings to crack.  Its scaffold fell on and hurt a pedestrian.  The city halted construction.

Wong’s lawyer pled to the community board that his client, who owns a real estate company, is “in the noodle business…doesn’t know much about real estate.”  He also said that Wong gave the community “$150,000 in grants and donations” (unspecified), and wanted help to finish building the structure without having to follow the law.

The board voted to support Wong, and the Bureau of Standards and Appeals went along with the board.  Presumably Council Member Chin could have stepped in at any time, but why should she?  Norman Wong gave her campaign $2,750.

When I interviewed Margaret Chin in 2009, I asked her about NYU’s plans for expanding its footprint through the lower Village.  Chin said forcefully, “NYU needs to be reined in, and made to understand that lower Manhattan is not a college town.”  Once elected however, Council Member Chin went along with the Speaker, and approved NYU’s plans to continue devouring downtown.

Assuming Margaret Chin is re-elected, it will be interesting to see what happens next term when the Progressive Caucus reconstitutes itself.  Will Chin, a “proud member,” remain as such?  Or will the Caucus expel this running dog from its midst?