Splitting the Yenta Vote: the Race for Manhattan Beep

Of all the municipal races this year, are any less significant than the ones for Borough President?  Ever since the Board of Estimate was declared unconstitutional 25 years ago, the role of the “Beep” has become quaint and almost vestigial.  Like “Master of the Horse.”

Ask anyone what his Borough President does and you will receive a blank look.  When my daughter graduated from fifth grade, Manhattan Beep Scott Stringer showed up and gave a three minute speech, congratulating the students for living in “such a diverse city.” And he apparently stands outside Fairway sometimes and shakes hands.

Marty Markowitz probably is the Beep par excellence with his incessant boosterism of Brooklyn.  Eating Junior’s cheesecake, praising the Nets, basically being a clown.  When you consider that Markowitz’ predecessor as Brooklyn Borough President was the legitimate powerbroker Howard Golden, one sees how completely diminished the position really is.  It is almost like a Carnival celebration where the town idiot is crowned king for a day.

Ok, maybe the role isn’t as vacuous as it seems.  The Beep has a small amount of capital funding to dispense every year, and can appoint members of local community boards.  Borough Presidents can also introduce legislation to the City Council, though this rarely happens.  And they do have influence over land use decisions.  But mostly the position is a post for either the superannuated (Helen Marshall, Marty Markowitz) or the ambitious (Ruben Diaz, Jr., Scott Stringer).

In any case, the role pays well, provides a staff, and requires limited work, so if you are already used to living on the public’s dime, why wouldn’t you run for it?

This year’s race for Manhattan Borough President is intriguing in that the candidates are relatively respectable, and also because they represent such distinctly identifiable areas of the borough.  Council Members Gale Brewer, Jessica Lappin and Robert Jackson are from the Upper West and Upper East Sides and Uptown respectively.  Julie Menin, president of CB 1, is the candidate of Tribeca and downtown.

Jessica Lappin from the Upper East Side was former Council Speaker Gifford Miller’s chief of staff, and she has long been considered a potential candidate to fill his spot after Speaker Quinn moves on to her well-deserved retirement.  Alternatively it is said that she has her eye on Carolyn Maloney’s House seat in the famed silk stocking district, but the Hon. Maloney isn’t going anywhere soon, so CM Lappin has decided to try for Manhattan BP in the meantime.

Lappin has been a faithful Council soldier, serving competently this last term as chair of the Aging Committee.  Her legislative history is respectable: she has persistently filed intros regarding food allergies and newspaper boxes, twin obsessions of her UES constituency, one imagines.  And she has succeeded this year in getting restrictions passed on those electric scooters that restaurants rely on to buzz around the sidewalks.

Meanwhile, Robert Jackson has represented sections of Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood for 12 years.  He is known as a committed advocate for public education, and co-founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which won billions of dollars for city schools from the state, though most of that money has never materialized.  As a black man running against three white women, CM Jackson could capitalize on a possible split vote below 125th Street and win by capturing the black and Latino turnout.  Also, Jackson is a Muslim, which though little remarked upon, would be a significant first if he were elected to a borough-wide office.

Here is a funny video where CM Jackson shows his annoyance with a heckler.

Gale Brewer is known for her vigorous, Jane Jacobs-style advocacy for a livable Upper West Side.  One recent zoning item she pushed for limits the expanding street frontage of banks and drugstores, which have turned entire blocks of Manhattan into glassy swaths of nothingness.  She has also tried to penalize landlords who turn residentially zoned units into illegal hotels.

CM Brewer has saved her considerable wrath for her (perhaps quixotic) war against bedbugs.  No one has fought more persistently, some might say obsessively, to eliminate their scourge from our city.  CM Brewer has announced on separate occasions that she has ceased going to the movies because of bedbugs, and that she crosses the street to avoid walking past chairs or couches that are being thrown out.

The thing about Gale Brewer’s candidacy is that, although she claims that she is serious about running, she hasn’t raised very much money.  More significantly, she hasn’t spent very much money either.  Her three opponents have each spent over $100,000 so far according to the CFB, while CM Brewer isn’t on record as having spent a dime.  So what’s her game?  We will see.

The final candidate for Manhattan BP has never been elected to anything, though as our Mayor has shown us, this isn’t a disqualification for office anymore.  Julie Menin is the chair of CB 1, and has pushed development projects in TriBeCa and SoHo.  She brings a little glamour to the otherwise unsexy Borough President race in the form of her intimidatingly famous supporters, most notably Robert DeNiro.  Ms. Menin has raised more money than anyone else in the race, and will surely run a formidable campaign.

Keep posted to City Council Watch for more info and news about this race and others.