Living in District 1, It’s Time to Stop Being Indifferent [OP-ED]
In a democracy, so the saying goes, the people get the government they deserve. Don’t we deserve better in District 1?
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was a cancer that spread throughout Lower Manhattan over the course of 40 years. His malfeasance eroded our vital democracy, carved up our district and turned out gerrymandered zombie voters fattened on discretionary funds.
Where were the rest of us? The thousands of voters? The undead?
We were somewhere between apathy and cynicism — hitting the snooze button on the unseemly antics and politicking, fast asleep while democracy derailed.
No politician has benefitted more from Silver’s reign than Councilmember Margaret Chin, his beneficiary and accomplice. Voter turnout in Chinatown and on Grand Street — strongholds in Lower Manhattan — would dwarf other parts of the district.
The ballot boxes were stuffed.
The corrosive political machine that Silver built churned out Chin as well as voters for the mayor, public advocate, Manhattan’s borough president and governor, giving him undue influence over all the top elected offices.
The ethical erosion of Lower Manhattan in Silver’s hands has left a legacy of crony and punitive politics. Chin has unabashedly dug her heels in, shoring up her power, the opposition argues, by allegedly doling out discretionary funds to not-for-profits and local projects to make them dependent and loyal while withholding funding from groups not in lock-step with her agenda and ambitions.
For eight years, weak leadership and sheer incompetence have stonewalled this community. Chin has been quick to capitulate to special interests (she has shamelessly done the bidding for REBNY who has generously donated to her campaign coffers in kind) and developers (the NYU expansion, Essex Crossing/SPURA and 1,000-foot luxury towers going up along the waterfront).
Bulldozing the Elizabeth Street Garden — though a larger parcel of land allowing more affordable housing has been offered— is just bad math: lose a park to gain less affordable housing in a city without enough parks or affordable housing?
Chin’s incompetence was most glaring when she, unaware of what was happening in her own backyard, dropped the ball on Rivington House — a now defunct not-for-profit AIDS nursing home that will become an ultra-luxe development.
As our neighborhoods become less livable and our quality of life more compromised, we need a champion. We need someone who will channel our outrage — over the unbridled construction, noise and traffic and failed public transportation — into policy.
We need a leader who understands that rezoning in Chinatown and the Lower East Side is not too ambitious, but an inspired movement that will protect the local communities and economies while fostering smart, inclusive development.
We need someone in City Hall who will fight for 100-percent affordable housing so the working and middle classes stand a chance against the massive high-rise luxury towers displacing them.
And we need bold leadership that will push back against Hizzoner, who has made a pact with developers in exchange for “some” affordable housing (which is often not affordable to the local population).
We need common sense leadership— people elected to office who understand green spaces and parks are vital to our city and selling private land to developers is a bad idea. Our city deserves to keep its hospitals, libraries, parks and playgrounds.
We need someone who will put our children first and fight for more public funding in order to support already existing schools and build new ones at pace with development, someone who understands that every child in our district, from Chinatown to Battery Park City to Tribeca to Loisaida deserves an equal opportunity.
Our councilmember’s role should be to protect his or her constituents from all the arrows that special interest and lobbyists and, in these crucial times, developers shoot at a us.
We must come out in droves once and for all to the polls to crush the political machine that Silver built. We must vote with our conscience. We must vote for the person who stands for economic justice, environmental sanity, and racial equality.
Change is possible.
Hope kissed our cheek as we felt the first wave of sea change. The one-time powerful Truman Club, made up of the Rapfogels and Silvers, was ousted from Grand Street when the newly formed Grand Democrats defeated it in September.
In 2016, current assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou soundly defeated Silver’s hand-picked replacement, Alice Cancel, and crushed Margaret Chin’s lackey, Gigi Li, for the same Assembly seat. The people voted and rebuked the status quo. Cancel and Li were the past and Niou would be our future.
The best thing we can do in a politically turbulent Lower Manhattan is leave our indifference at home and go out and vote tomorrow (November 7).
Written by Erin Harvey