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City Council Candidate Inez Dickens Called 'Slumlord Millionaire'

By Jeff Mays | June 26, 2013 6:50am
 The race for Harlem's District 9 City Council seat is getting nasty with incumbent  Inez Dickens  blaming challenger  Vincent Morgan  for creating fliers referring to her as a "slumlord millionaire" that were posted in the Polo Grounds public housing complex.
Harlem City Council Race Gets Nasty
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HARLEM — The race for Harlem's District 9 City Council seat is getting nasty.

Incumbent Inez Dickens is blaming challenger Vincent Morgan for creating fliers referring to her as a "slumlord millionaire" and posting them in the Polo Grounds public housing complex.

The flier shows a picture of Dickens with the headline "$lumlord Millionaire" written underneath. It also includes a copy of a newspaper article about how Harlem buildings owned by Dickens and her family have been cited by the city for violations.

Dickens, who is running for her third term and is a leading candidate to succeed Christine Quinn as council speaker, called the fliers a "cheap shot."

"I don't have to be dirty because I have a record I can talk about. He has no record to stand on because he hasn't done anything," Dickens, a Democrat, said. "The only time you see him is when he is running for office."

Donnette Dunbar, a spokeswoman for Morgan's campaign, denied any involvement with the fliers.

"We don't condone those fliers," Dunbar said.

Told that DNAinfo New York was made aware of the fliers by one of Morgan's supporters, Dunbar said Morgan couldn't be responsible for the actions of all of his supporters.

But Morgan, a 44-year-old former community banker and former chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, is making a campaign issue of the violations at property owned by Dickens and her family.

Records from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development show there are 11 open violations from 2012 on a building owned by Dickens and her family at 2155 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. They range from leaky faucets to defective electrical outlets and missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

There's also one open, old violation at a property Dickens and her family own at 2153 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. Both properties are listed as not being registered with HPD, as is required.

Dickens said she is not that involved in the day-to-day operation of the family real estate business but that her company makes every attempt to keep the properties in good condition. She is listed as an officer in the corporation that owns the buildings, while her sister is listed as the head officer.

Dickens' late father, Lloyd E. Dickens, was a assemblyman, civil rights advocate and successful businessman in the real estate field.

"My family has been committed to this community for years. We try to ensure that our rents are not excessive, we take care of the property, and when my residents have difficulties we stand with them and by them," she said.

But after Jobs for New York, a political action committee of the Real Estate Board of New York, construction trade unions, insurance companies and others endorsed Dickens Monday, Morgan fired off a letter to Steve Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, criticizing the decision as "troubling" and a "disservice" to residents of the district.

Jobs for New York plans to pump up to $10 million into this fall's City Council races to promote candidates it feels are pro-jobs, pro-business and pro-development. Dickens is among the first batch of endorsements.

"That fact that a sitting city council person would be so callous was apparently of no concern to the New York real Estate Board," Morgan wrote, calling the citations "hazardous."

The Real Estate Board of New York did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

The money from the board's political action committee will be used mostly on advertising leading up to the Sept. 10 primary, which in this heavily Democrat district usually determines the winner of the general election, and could have a major impact.

Dickens, the frontrunner, has raised $67,805 in campaign contributions and has just under $30,000 on hand, according to the most recent Campaign Finance Board report. Morgan has raised just under $50,000 and has slightly less than $19,000 on hand.

Dickens said Morgan's letter shows that her opponent is anti-development, a position a council member from Harlem, where new retail and residential developments have been sprouting quickly in the past few years, can't afford to take.

"He doesn't deserve the endorsement," Dickens said. "My community needs employment, not cheap talk. Development brings jobs. My community needs affordable housing, not a carpetbagger with cheap rhetoric about businesses."

Dunbar disputed the idea that Morgan was anti-development.

"Vince Morgan has always embraced development. We embrace development if minority, women and small businesses in Harlem benefit accordingly," Dunbar added, citing Morgan's criticism of Columbia's Manhattanville campus expansion project.

Political consultant Basil Smikle called the fliers a bit of a risk.

"The nastiness of the campaign is going to turn a lot of voters off. It's not something Harlem has a stomach for because there are so many problems people want addressed," Smikle said.

But Morgan's attacks may have an edge when it comes to the many new residents of varying demographics moving into the neighborhood. Calling Morgan a "carpetbagger" may hurt Dickens with younger voters, Smikle added.

"Vince is an underdog but he represents a growing constituency in Harlem of younger voters not tied to political machines," he said.

But Dickens also has an advantage because of her relationship with the Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club, where she serves as a district leader along with Rep. Charlie Rangel.

"She is going to have a very significant base of support going into the primary," Smikle said. "It's going to be hard for a lot of those negative arguments to stick."