BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Sun., March 22: You read it first in The Village Sun. Village District Leader Arthur Schwartz is launching a campaign for City Council.
The Village Sun first reported in early January that the longtime local politico was seriously mulling a run for Council District 3, currently represented by Speaker Corey Johnson. Johnson will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021. However, back then, Schwartz wasn’t fully ready to commit, though said he’d have an answer by mid-March.
So the paper checked in with him last week and he confirmed that, yes, he is indeed throwing his hat in the ring.
“I’m going to do it — unless I get coronavirus,” he said.
“This isn’t an official announcement, but I’ve been telling people,” he added. “I’ll do something official in April.”
On Thursday, he held a press conference with Penny Mintz, of the Community Coalition to Save Beth Israel, charging that the Gramercy hospital is “warehousing” hundreds of beds that should be made available during the coronavirus pandemic. Schwartz is currently suing Mount Sinai to stop its plan to close down Beth Israel Hospital and replace it with a new mini-hospital at 13th St. and Second Ave. with only 70 inpatient beds.
Subsequently, on Saturday, Mount Sinai said it would make the empty Beth Israel beds available to treat coronavirus patients.
Schwartz has been arguing “improper segmentation” — meaning that Mount Sinai had been shutting down various medical units at Beth Israel in a piecemeal manner, as a way to avoid having to do a major environmental impact study, or E.I.S. In response to his suit, he believes Mount Sinai then started slowing down the process, trying to spread out the shutdown to make it look like everything wasn’t part of one grand plan.
“I think the lawsuit slowed them down a lot — to the point we’d be seeing them putting up the new structure now,” he said in an interview last week.
Schwartz said due to a recent ruling on his case, there is no way Mount Sinai can now wriggle out of the environmental study.
“I think it’s a big deal,” he said. “They are not going to be able to shut down the hospital without doing an E.I.S.”
After Thursday’s press conference, Schwartz again confirmed to The Village Sun his intention to run for City Council. He said that — due to public health and safety concerns — he now plans a “virtual campaign launch” event, possibly on Google Zoom, in two weeks from now.
“I created a campaign committee — ‘Arthur for Our Community’ or ‘Arthur 4 Our Community’ — I’m still deciding on the name,” he said. “I haven’t filed with the Campaign Finance Board yet, but I’m going to do it.”
Schwartz said he had thought to make the announcement in April for a few reasons, though coronavirus probably has scrambled a lot of those plans. His kids were off from school and he wanted to take a family vacation. He wanted to celebrate Passover with his wife’s family in Toronto. And, a union lawyer as well as a civil-rights lawyer, he had wanted to wrap up contract negotiations with National Grid, the electricity and gas utility company.
He also said he planned to file a brief on April 10 for an appeal on his lawsuit against the 14th St. busway. He said he was shocked by the data for bus speeds after the busway went into effect in early October.
“The data is astounding how little the bus speeds have changed since October,” he said. “From January to October, it went from 4.9 miles per hour to 5.4 miles per hour. The speed since October hasn’t changed at all.”
Schwartz attributes the increased bus speeds to the elimination of turns on 14th St. — including a notorious right-hand turn at Broadway that caused slowdowns — which happened last summer.
“It sped up in July,” he noted. “They put various turn restrictions into effect that eliminated a number of the bottlenecks.”
The activist attorney is a former longtime member of Community Board 2, and for years was heavily involved on Hudson River Park issues.
On another waterfront park, though on the other side of town, he recently filed a community lawsuit to stop the destruction of East River Park for a coastal-resiliency plan that would see it buried under 8 to 10 feet of dirt.
And he has yet another lawsuit in the works, on behalf of disabled advocates, to restore bus stops along the M14 route that were removed for high-speed Select Bus Service as part of the busway scheme.
So far, two other candidates are running for the Council seat — Erik Bottcher, Johnson’s chief of staff, and Marni Halasa, a community activist and figure-skating instructor at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers.
Schwartz said community members strongly urged him to run for Council District 3, which covers the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.
“I got lots of encouragement from neighbors who felt that they got abandoned by Corey over the last four years as he became more focused on running for mayor,” he said. “And while they think Erik is a nice guy, they don’t feel he’s been fighting on local issues for the community. I think a lot of people feel the focus of that office on the community has been lost.”
The same accusations were made against Johnson’s predecessor, Christine Quinn, who was also the Council’s speaker and who also ran for mayor.
Meanwhile, Schwartz said, if elected, he would not aspire to follow in Quinn’s and Johnson’s footsteps or seek higher office.
“I have no desire to be speaker,” he said. “I’ll stay local. I have no desire to run for mayor or public advocate.”
He said, if elected, he would serve for two terms, and that would be enough for him.
“In 2030, I would be as old as Bernie [is now] — time to hang it up!” he laughed.
Schwartz was Bernie Sanders’s New York State campaign counsel in 2016 and remains an ardent supporter.
Asked what his top campaign issues are, the Village attorney said Beth Israel Hospital — and healthcare, in general, in the neighborhood — is his number one concern.
Second for him is the New York City Housing Authority. He noted the district has two NYCHA developments, the Robert Fulton Houses and the Chelsea-Elliott Houses.
Third is the issue of affordable housing “and all this ridiculous construction of luxury apartments,” as he put it, adding, “I think I would make a big deal about all those affordable apartments [that were supposed to be] across from Pier 40 at the Google building.”
He was referring to how the initial plan that the City Council approved in 2016 for the St. John’s Building site, at Washington and W. Houston Sts., called for 1,600 apartments, with about 475 of them slated for affordable housing. Of that amount, 175 units were earmarked for low-income seniors; the rest would have been for low- and moderate-income families.
In 2018, however, the developer of the site’s southern portion, Oxford Properties Group, suddenly switched to the so-called “hybrid option,” under which its part of the project could be 100 percent commercial. It was soon announced that Google would be the sole tenant for that part of the site, which would be vertically expanded.
Now, the only affordable housing left as part of the overall St. John’s project is around 200 senior apartments planned for the block north of W. Houston St. — a loss of nearly 300 affordable units for families from the original plan.
Schwartz said another campaign issue for him is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“I know more about the M.T.A. than anyone running for office,” he declared. “I’ve been representing the Transport Workers Union for 19 years — 19 years!” he added, incredulous at how time flies.
“I think New York City, as a city, has to put more into the M.T.A.,” he stated. “It was Bloomberg who stopped putting in $700 million per year. That’s when the fare started going up. You take operating money out of the system, who’s going to pay for it? The passengers. And the state [also] started taking money out of operating expenses.”
Meanwhile, he dismissed Johnson’s call for the city to take over control of the M.T.A. as “unrealistic.”
So far, Schwartz doesn’t have any political endorsements. Then again, he hasn’t even officially announced his campaign yet. But he does have one very important backer.
“My wife is supporting me,” he said, happily. “She said she wants me to run.”