Adriano Espaillat's GOP Challenger Wants More Development Uptown
LINCOLN CENTER — If there were a playbook for running for office in northern Manhattan, calling for more rent-boosting development probably wouldn’t make the cut.
But that’s exactly what Martin Chicon is promising to do if he’s elected on Nov. 6.
The Republican candidate for State Senate, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Adriano Espaillat, says he wants to see more high-end development to stoke the economy and boost property values in upper Manhattan and across the west side.
“Unlike Espaillat, who stands in the way of progress for this area, I appreciate the value of Manhattan’s development,” Chicon said in a statement kicking off his long-shot campaign to unseat Espaillat, who drew national attention this year after narrowly losing a primary challenge against Rep. Charles Rangel.
But Chicon, a perpetual candidate who has yet to declare a single dollar of support, is hoping that a newly-redrawn district, growing frustration over corruption in Albany and a still-ailing economy will convince voters they need a change.
In an interview with DNAinfo.com New York, Chicon laid out his agenda for the newly-redrawn district, which now stretches peculiarly from Inwood through Washington Heights and down the West Side Highway, through the Upper West Side, Hell's Kitchen, and even parts of Midtown, including Madison Square Garden and Penn Station.
He is staunchly in favor of charter schools and believes that parents should be provided vouchers to pay private school tuition. He's also fervently opposed to Mayor Bloomberg's large soda ban, which he slams as an affront to personal freedoms that echoes fears of takeover by the Soviet Union.
But his top priority, he makes clear in campaign materials, is easing regulations to help spur new development, like Donald Trump’s Riverside South — “projects that will bring into the area much-needed jobs, as well as a further rise in the overall value of the area," he said.
Another example of success he cited: La Marina, which has attracted scores of hot celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyonce to Dyckman Street — as well as complaints over endless traffic and rowdy crowds.
Chicon said he wants to see similar development spread to other parts of Washington Heights.
“Espaillat’s lack of leadership won’t make that happen,” Chicon said in a release.
Instead of building new affordable housing, he said that officials should be focusing on apartments in existing buildings that are standing vacant, which could be used to house new residents.
"Sometimes half of them are empty," he said, estimating a 10 to 20 percent vacancy rate in some parts of the district.
Still, Chicon insisted that he's not looking to drive lower-income residents out.
"My opponent likes to paint myself and members of my party as saying all we care about is the rich and we want to rise rents for people. That is not true," he said, stressing that he wants to strengthen rent stabilization rules at the same time as easing regulations to help speed projects like the stalled Sherman Creek redevelopment plan, which he said would attract new residents and new customers for existing businesses.
"What I would like to do is to find that balance so that we can spur new development, create jobs. But at the same time. We want to help people," he said. "Nobody wants to throw anybody's grandmother to the streets."
Chicon acknowledged that being a Republican in the city can be tough.
"When people first meet me and people don't know I'm a Republican, they say, 'You're a great person. Why don't you get involved," he said.
When he reveals his party, he said, they often object, saying, "You can't be on the other side!"
Chicon also stressed his connection to the district. He was born at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, raised along the border of West Harlem and Washington Heights, attended school at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus and now lives in Inwood where he works in information technology.
He accused Espaillat of ignoring the Upper West Side and only caring about what happens in Washington Heights.
“They have a state Sen. that they hardly ever see in the area,” Chicon said of residents living in the southern half of the district.
Espaillat supporters, including Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, refuted the charge, saying Espaillat visits the Upper West Side frequently and that the two have worked closely together on numerous cases and issues.
“Senator Espaillat has been a strong advocate of families and small businesses throughout the entire 31st District," his spokesman Ibrahim Khan said in a statement.
"He has fought for progressive values in the Senate, taking on Republic efforts to cut New York City’s education funding; protecting affordable housing; and opposing hydrofracking, a dangerous drilling process that threatens our environment," he said.
With less than a month to go, Chicon hasn’t raised a single dollar, launched a campaign website, or held any type of campaign kick-off event. Nonetheless, he predicted the election will be close.
"I really have a shot!" he said.