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Hotel Chelsea Tenants Endorse Corey Johnson in City Council Race

By Mathew Katz | July 29, 2013 4:24pm
 Corey Johnson was endorsed by Michael McKee of TenantsPAC, along with tenants from the Hotel Chelsea, on July 29 2013.
Corey Johnson was endorsed by Michael McKee of TenantsPAC, along with tenants from the Hotel Chelsea, on July 29 2013.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — Citing his help in their ongoing struggles with landlord Joseph Chetrit, tenants at the Hotel Chelsea threw their weight behind Corey Johnson in his campaign for the District 3 City Council seat on Monday.

The tenants association, which represents dozens — though not all — of the residents living in the historic hotel at 222 W. 23rd St., said it was supporting Johnson, the Community Board 4 chairman, over rival Yetta Kurland, a civil rights attorney.

They cited Johnson's ongoing help dealing with a renovation that left them with dangerous debris in the air and caused them to lose heat, hot water and cooking gas for weeks in March. 

"There's been no greater friend to the tenants of this building than Corey," said Sam Himmelstein, the tenants' rights lawyer who's represented the residents in their court battles against Chetrit.

TenantsPAC, a separate group that strives to elect tenant-friendly politicians, also endorsed Johnson at a press conference outside the historic hotel.

Not everyone agreed, however — in the middle of the press conference, a man appeared and shouted down the group for several minutes.

"You guys are supporting someone who's in the pocket of the developers," yelled the man, who refused to identify himself. 

During the event, Johnson repeated his support for strengthening rent control and said he was "enormously grateful" for the endorsement.

Opponents have criticized Johnson's time working for the GFI Development Company, where he worked with local governments on several of the company's projects.

"Of course Corey has worked in the real estate business and worked for the GFI Development Company for a few years," said Rodd McLeod, a spokesman for Kurland's campaign, in response to Johnson's endorsement.

"Yetta is a civil rights attorney who's gone to court to protect tenants from unfair evictions."

But Johnson's past employment didn't matter to the Hotel Chelsea tenants. 

"Due to his help and some other support, we can develop a relationship [with Chetrit] based on respect, understanding and wanting to move forward," said Zoe Pappas, who leads the tenants association.

Johnson helped the tenants in several of their struggles, including fighting against Chetrit's efforts to get permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to build a large extension on the historic hotel's rooftop.

The tenants plan to work with Himmelstein on a phone bank to canvass support for Johnson, and on a get-out-the-vote effort for the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.