LOWER EAST SIDE — In a district facing questions over displacement and overdevelopment, three political newcomers are vying to unseat incumbent City Councilwoman Margaret Chin as she runs for a third term.
Christopher Marte, Aaron Foldenauer and Dashia Imperiale — all Democrats — are each competing for the District 1 post held by Chin since 2010.
In the days leading up to the Sept. 12 primary, the candidates have taken on issues ranging from a trio of controversial mega-developments slated to rise on the largely low-income Two Bridges waterfront, to residents fearing displacement during a prolonged quest to rezone Chinatown and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Below is a closer look at the candidates and the issues informing their platforms.
CANDIDATES AND PLATFORMS
The platform of incumbent Councilwoman Margaret Chin points to her experience and accomplishments accumulated over her last two terms, with senior citizens at the core of her mission. She is the chair of the Council's Committee on Aging, in which capacity she fought to increase funding for home care services, senior centers and more. She was the primary sponsor of a bill passed last year to identify and address the needs of unpaid caregivers.
Chin has raised $127,184 in private funds and has received $95,095 in matching public funds, making her campaign the highest-funded in the race, according to the Campaign Finance Board. She has received endorsements from Public Advocate Letitia James, Borough President Gale Brewer and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, as well as from labor organizations such as the Cenral Labor Council, DC 37 and the Hotel Trades Council.
Christopher Marte worked at IBM managing its retirement fund while volunteering in the community on nights and weekends, including stepping in as a basketball coach for all three basketball teams at M.S. 131. His platform is largely based on the importance of community involvement, and he has pledged to hold regular town hall meetings if elected to gather constituent feedback and to bring participatory budgeting to the district.
Marte has raised $83,170 in private funds in addition to $95,095 in matching public funds, CFB records show. He has been endorsed by a handful of political groups, including the New York City Asian-American Democratic Club and the Village Independent Democrats, as well as labor organizations Local 28 and Local 46.
Aaron Foldenauer worked as an attorney before launching his bid for City Council, claiming his legal expertise and bargaining skills will enable him to advocate for community interests as a politician. Chief among his talking points have been the need for repairs to NYCHA developments, strengthening land-use regulations to prevent overdevelopment and infrastructure to protect against future storms.
He has raised $28,377 in private funds and has received no public funds. He has been endorsed by the Liberal Party of New York and the East Side Independence Club.
Dashia Imperiale, who touts her history of fighting for fellow Grand Street Guild residents as president of the complex's tenant association since she was first elected in 2007, pledges to "speak truth to power" if elected to the Council. As tenant association president, she said she has fought for major renovations at the complex, as well as an extension of the units' affordability. Her core issues include increased affordable housing, and she has pledged to push for a district-specific Area Median Income (AMI) as new housing is considered, arguing the current AMI used by the city is skewed. Imperiale has also spoken out against NYCHA's NextGen initiative to bring additional subsidized and market-rate units to the properties, and has pledged to fight for NYCHA repairs.
Imperiale has raised $19,658 in private funds but received $23,774 in matching public funds.
CONTROVERSIES: Two Bridges and the Chinatown Working Group Plan
Three developments slated to rise within a three-block radius on the Two Bridges waterfront — leaving residents fearing quality-of-life impacts and secondary displacement — have proven to be the central issue to the District 1 race.
JDS Development Group plans to build a 77-story tower at 247 Cherry St., while Two Bridges Associates plans two towers on a shared base at 260 South St. Starrett Development is planning a 62-story residence at 259 Clinton St.
Chin has vocally opposed the waterfront developments, introduced legislation that could put the skyscrapers through an intensive review process and threatened legal action if the city approves the towers in lieu of that process.
But her competitors have claimed she should have fought to put protective zoning in place before the tower applications were introduced.
Namely, they claim, she should have aggressively advocated for the full passage of a community-led plan to rezone the neighborhood — the Chinatown Working Group Plan — which seeks to impose height restrictions throughout Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
The Department of City Planning in 2015 shot down the plan as it was presented, claiming it was too broad and too focused on down-zoning instead of creating more affordable housing. But the agency said it would work with the community to create a feasible plan, starting with Chinatown and NYCHA properties rather than taking it all at once.
The Chinatown Working Group, once a coalition of roughly 50 community groups, has itself splintered since creating the contested plan. Factions from the original group have insisted on an "all or nothing" approach to the plan's passage, holding rallies outside City Hall and storming community meetings to insist the city pass the plan as it stands.
Foldenauer, Marte and Imperiale have all spoken in favor of the full plan's passage and have criticized Chin for failing to push it through, claiming more aggressive advocacy could have saved Two Bridges from overdevelopment.
"Everyday that this land remained exposed to the will of developers is on her watch," wrote Marte in a statement on the issue. "The Chinatown Working Group Plan was the story of what could have been. There could have been height restrictions, there could have been greater protection for tenants rights, and greater security for our seniors."
But City Planning made the decision to shoot down the plan, and after it did, the community was better served by working toward a feasible plan the city may accept, Chin said.
"Our community must be united if we are to achieve the goal of preserving Chinatown. There is no consensus in our community on the entire CWG plan," she said in a statement.
"I support parts of the plan that protect the waterfront and other parts of the CWG study area. However, there is a vocal minority who is blocking any attempt to pass portions of the CWG plan that would provide immediate protection for our most vulnerable neighborhoods. The only ones benefitting [sic] from this 'all or nothing' approach are the developers putting up mega-towers in unprotected neighborhoods."