While Quinn, de Blasio, and company duke it out in the mayoral race, a less-discussed election strikes much closer to home – literally. This year’s City Council elections will decide the new representatives for New York’s tightly knit neighborhoods. These district representatives comprise NYC’s law-making body, and hold considerable sway over their respective neighborhoods, particularly over land-use and zoning.
Even in its most-concentrated areas, NYU’s “campus” sprawls over large parts of Districts 1, 2, and 3 – Greenwich, East, and West Villages. Under the NYU 2031 plan, the University would expand its presence in these largely residential neighborhoods.
Your City Council candidates have some strong opinions on NYU 2031; they also have the potential to put the brakes on some the plan’s more ambitions developments. Here’s our guide to the 2013 City Council election, and how it affects you.
District 1 – Lower Manhattan, including Greenwich Village
Why we’re watching: Political reporter Anna Sale has labeled the District 1 race as the most important City Council election this year, and for good reason. The bulk of NYU’s expansion is planned to occur on a few hotly contested Greenwich Village superblocks. Early debates between District 1’s two candidates have exposed a rift in the way neighborhood politicians propose to address the issue.
Democratic incumbent Margaret Chin is running on platforms of affordable housing, urban renewal, and workers’ rights. She helped battle down NYU 2031’s planned size by 26%.
But Democratic challenger Jenifer Rajkumar claims Chin has not gone far enough to protect the Village. Rajkumar, a civil rights attorney, has built her campaign around a hardline approach for NYU negotiations. “As a Council Member, Jenifer will do everything in her power to stop this egregious land grab,” Rajkumar’s campaign site says.
The implication is that, in conceding the remaining 74% of development space to NYU, Chin has failed to do “everything in her power” to halt NYU 2031. But Chin defends her more-moderate tactics as practicality, rather than lack of resolve. “My opponent has no experience in land use. You gotta be in it to know what’s going on,” Chin said of Rajkumar’s idealistic platform.
District 2 – East Village
Why we’re watching: Because we live in the East Village. A significant percentage of students seek affordable off-campus housing here, but rising rent costs are making the neighborhood less accessible to students hoping to live near campus. Housing policies set in place by the new district representative will greatly affect the cost and character of a neighborhood many students call home.
Current representative Rosie Mendez is running for her third term on the City Council. An advocate for affordable housing and an outspoken critic of Stop-and-Frisk Laws, Mendez hopes to promote safety while preserving the neighborhood’s character. In past terms, she has worked to reduce noise- and light-pollution, and has passed zoning regulations that prevent developers – like NYU – from constructing tall buildings on certain streets.
Challenger Richard del Rio also champions affordable housing, and hopes to restore several East Village landmarks including the abandoned Baruch Bath House. A father of four, much of del Rio’s focus is on education reform and youth development. He also advocates better emergency preparedness in the wake of the post-Sandy flood that damaged many homes and businesses.
District 3 – West Village
Why we’re watching: Current District 3 rep Christine Quinn is leaving her post – she said something about running for a different NYC office. Vying for her vacated seat are two young, openly gay politicians who must address the neighborhood’s need for a new hospital after the closing of Saint Vincent’s Hospital in 2010.
Yetta Kurland is an advocate for women’s rights, neighborhood preservation, and public healthcare. Since the shut-down of Saint Vincent’s, Kurland has campaigned for a new hospital to serve the community. She has also adopted a firm stance on 2031-like developments in the picturesque West Village. “Development cannot be something that displaces community members, changes the look and feel of a historic district,” her campaign site reads.
Corey Johnson is similarly opposed to disruptive development, particularly the NYU 2031 plan. In the past he has appeared as a speaker at anti-2031 rallies and public hearings. He does, however, support the construction of a new public hospital, and is a long-time advocate of increased space for public schools.