Rivington House Stays Front-and-Center in Marte vs. Chin City Council Showdown

Posted on: March 8th, 2017 at 9:57 am by

Photo: Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden

Photo: Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden

Looks like the widely reported Rivington House debacle will loom large over City Council elections next fall.

Last Friday, City Council hopeful Christopher Marte, brought his campaign message of “increased transparency” and “community outreach” to the Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden rally outside the iconic 45 Rivington Street on the Lower East Side. The Garden protestors sought to admonish Mayor de Blasio and Councilwoman Chin for their proposal to build affordable senior housing on the site of their community garden while allowing the former nursing home, a site they argue is more suitable, to fall into the hands of luxury condo developers.

Marte and the Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden are not the first community organizations to use Rivington House as a symbol of City Hall’s incompetence for their cause.

Yet, for Marte, it’s not just politics…

The young upstart with a disarming smile grew up directly across the street from Rivington House. Marte, the son of Dominican working-class parents, has deep roots in the neighborhood from his years at P.S. 20 and his volunteer work at University Settlement.

Marte describes the controversial loss of Rivington House as the “wake-up call” that motivated him to set off on the ambitious task of challenging Margaret Chin for her City Council seat in District 1. But before he can face the incumbent in the Democratic primary, he still needs to raise enough donations to meet the Campaign Finance Board’s funding requirements.

rivington-house-february

Currently, Marte is $8,000 short of his next threshold and his March 11 deadline is fast approaching. After that, he has until June to gather enough signatures. If Marte meets his goals, he’ll technically be evenly matched with Chin because City Council campaign spending is capped at $182,000 per candidate.

However, as with national races, special-interests apply.

In the 2013 election, Chin was reportedly aided by $281,000 in spending from the REBNY-backed Jobs for New York PAC which supported her with ads and door-to-door campaigning against Democratic primary opponent Jenifer Rajkumar. See below.

For her part, Councilwoman Chin, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, introduced legislation to increase transparency and create accountability when it comes to nullifying any future deed restrictions. Mayor de Blasio, facing fierce press scrutiny over the debacle, signed the bill into law last December.

Still, Marte criticizes Chin’s response as “reactionary,” and remains fearful that without a “proactive force” in City Council, other essential neighborhood facilities will fall into the hands of commercial developers.

It’s clear that Marte is adept at speaking to issues of urban planning and community activism, but his website also touts him as someone who will be an advocate for small business owners and not for landlords who warehouse vacant storefronts.

marte-speaking-little-italy

UNIS, a small boutique retailer in Little Italy, was impressed enough with the potential candidate to host a fundraiser in their storefront this week. Marte conceded at the event that, at street-level, many residents don’t know who their councilmember is, or what they do.

But Marte sees this challenge as a way to engage with first-time voters, especially young Democrats anxious to get involved in local politics since the Trump administration took office.

Since City Council incumbents tend to do better in races with low voter turnout, Marte’s pitch to potential voters is as much about raising awareness as to the role City Council plays in their lives, as it is about his resume or accomplishments.

For now, it remains to be seen if Marte can complete his fundraising goals. But if he does, the streetwise contestant has the potential to deny Chin a third term.

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