CHELSEA — A costumed protester who has been a ubiquitous presence at demonstrations around the city throughout the years is challenging West Side Councilman Corey Johnson in the upcoming City Council race — saying the incumbent "shouldn’t be able to just waltz into office."
Marni Halasa, a former legal journalist and current figure skating coach who runs a protest consulting group called “Revolution is Sexy,” joined the Green Party after the 2016 presidential election and plans to challenge Johnson in November's general election.
While Halasa has never served as an elected official, she’s appeared at myriad protests and political events in costume over the years since she launched her consulting group— a “one-stop shop" for activists seeking advice on staging attention-grabbing protests — at the onset of Occupy Wall Street.
“My campaign is really about kind of encouraging and inspiring ordinary citizens to jump into this political environment,” said Halasa, a Hell’s Kitchen resident who also coaches a nationally ranked figure skating team that practices at Chelsea Piers.
During Occupy Wall Street, Halasa dressed up as characters like the “Money Bunny,” donning rabbit ears and carrying a whip and a sign emblazoned with “Naughty Banks Need A Spanking” — a role she reprised at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inauguration.
More recently, she protested President Donald Trump’s first visit back to New York City as “Miss Mar-a-Lago,” accompanied by a man in a papier mâché Trump mask.
Halasa as "Miss Mar-a-Lago," with papier mâché Trump impersonator Elliot Crown. (Credit: Marni Halasa)
“For me it was really a way to be engaged in politics, and to have my political opinions out there,” Halasa said of “Revolution is Sexy.”
“It was just a way of illustrating outrage in a very unique, colorful way that engaged the public and engaged the media,” she added.
Halasa, who has degrees in law and journalism, worked as a legal reporter at the New York Law Journal for more than a decade before she segued into teaching figure skating full time.
Her decision to run for office was inspired by her belief that “no one should run unopposed,” Halasa said.
“Corey Johnson might be a nice guy, but he shouldn’t be able to just waltz into office, just because he’s an anointed incumbent,” she said of the councilman, who was elected to fill the seat left by former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in 2013.
Halasa is also a vehement supporter of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a proposed law that would secure rights including a minimum 10-year lease for small business owners.
After watching neighborhood businesses like Cafe Edison, the Garden of Eden on West 23rd Street and the Associated Supermarket on West 14th Street close, Halasa realized asking landlords to give endangered businesses a lease wasn’t enough to save them, she said.
Though Johnson is a co-sponsor of the SBJSA, the measure has been stalled for years — a situation Halasa lamented.
“If they were truly genuine about supporting the SBJSA, Corey, the mayor and City Council would've been much more proactive about pushing the bill forward,” she said. “The reason it’s not passing is because of the contributions of the real estate industry.”
Johnson has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, some of which have come from real estate developers, Halasa said.
That makes her campaign — which hadn’t accepted any monetary contributions as of Monday, according to city Campaign Finance Board records — a “David and Goliath” fight against Johnson, who had raised $480,088 as of Monday.
“How can you be independent if these people are funding your campaign?” she asked. “I feel like if people want an existence that’s affordable, they can’t go to the current administration, because they’re obviously not giving it to them — they need new leadership. ...And people who aren’t in bed with the real estate industry."
Along with her pro-small business platform, Halasa says she’s focused on housing issues and making the city more affordable for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.
In a statement sent to DNAinfo, Johnson said he would “welcome the opportunity to discuss my record of fighting for tenants and small businesses,” noting that he was the prime sponsor of legislation that extended rent-stabilization laws, fought for the first rent freeze in the city’s history and was arrested during a protest for stronger rent laws in Albany.
“I sponsored bills cracking down on landlords who victimize tenants in transitional housing and legislation requiring luxury housing to make amenities available to stabilized tenants,” he said, adding that he’s helped create “over 1,000 units of affordable housing across the district, with more in the pipeline.”
The councilman also noted his sponsorship of the SBJSA and “several other pieces of legislation to help our struggling small businesses.”
While Halasa said she felt Johnson is “generally well-liked in the community,” she maintained it was “time for a change” in leadership.
“If people want a better situation for themselves where they can actually afford New York City, they should vote for me,” she said.
“You need a new person with a new voice and a new perspective to come on in and shake things up.”