The women sparred over hot-button issues such as school overcrowding, contentious development projects — including the NYU expansion and Howard Hughes’ Pier 17 overhaul — as well as the Chinatown and SoHo business improvement districts, in front of a packed, raucous room.
The 90-minute debate at New York Law School, sponsored by Downtown Express and The Villager, was continually interrupted by passionate cheers, jeers, hisses and several shouts of “Liar!” from both candidates’ supporters.
Rajkumar, a 30-year-old Stanford University-educated civil rights lawyer, began her attacks on the incumbent from the start, as she accused Chin, a former housing activist, of “being in the pocket of big real estate."
Chin, as Rajkumar pointed out several times, has been endorsed by a powerful real estate political action committee, called Jobs For New York. PACs are allowed spend unlimited funds on behalf of a candidate, as long as there’s no coordinated effort between the PAC and the candidate’s campaign. Chin countered that she didn’t asked for the PAC's support.
Throughout the evening, Rajkumar — who doesn't have a long political track record, aside from her post as Democratic district leader, which she won two years ago in a race against a 28-year incumbent — hammered away at Chin on her votes to approve the NYU expansion and the redevelopment of South Street Seaport’s Pier 17. Rajkumar accused Chin of being a councilwoman who will “do whatever developers want.”
While Rajkumar claimed that Chin approved the contentious NYU expansion against the wishes of “almost every resident in Greenwich Village,” Chin countered that before she cast her vote, she worked hard to scale down the plans. The final deal was more than 20 percent smaller than NYU had originally wanted, with lower building heights and more space for community use, Chin said.
Rajkumar also said several times that Chin’s approval of the redevelopment of Pier 17 would allow “luxury buildings and apartments to be built” that residents couldn’t afford.
However, the land-use plan that Chin and the rest of the City Council approved includes only commercial space and would not allow for luxury residential buildings to be erected, Chin countered. The developer, Howard Hughes, has expressed interest in building luxury hotels and condos, but that would require a separate land-use approval process.
The councilwoman hit back at Rajkumar, saying she lacked experience, and also accused Rajkumar of constantly giving out “misinformation” about Chin’s record.
Rajkumar said Chin was right that she didn’t have experience: “I don’t have experience in selling out my community over and over and over and over again,” Rajkumar said.
Chin, who won her office four years ago as the widely hailed first Asian-American woman to represent Chinatown in the City Council, stood by her record, saying she was proud of her accomplishments.
Serving the city has been her "American dream," said Chin, a Chinese immigrant who grew up in Chinatown.
The Democratic primary will be held Sept. 10.