BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Christopher Marte, a native Lower East Sider and community activist, won the nod of the Downtown Independent Democrats for City Council District 1 on Monday night among a crowded field of candidates for next June’s primary election.
D.I.D. held its endorsement vote right after a Zoom candidates forum in which five of the contenders participated. Marte won by an overwhelming vote.
Notably, during the candidates forum, Maud Maron, president of Community Education Council District 2, came under fire for her views on anti-bias training and screened school admissions, and, at one point, appeared close to tears.
Council District 1 covers Lower Manhattan, stretching up to include Soho, Greenwich Village and much of the Lower East Side.
“I am humbled to have the support of such a dedicated group of Downtown progressives,” Marte said. “D.I.D. has a long history of fighting against political machines and expanding tenants’ rights. Having the support and trust of their membership will help us to build a coalition from the East Side to the West Side of this diverse district.”
Marte, who is a Democratic State Committee member, is also New York director of Arena, a group that supports young progressive candidates running for office. He grew up on Rivington St. above his father’s bodega.
Marte ran against Councilmember Margaret Chin in the 2017 primary and barely lost by 200 votes, or less than 1 percent. Chin, now in her third term, will be term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2021.
“We are excited to endorse Christopher Marte for City Council,” Richard Corman, D.I.D. president, said. “Chris has been an active member of our club and has worked on member-driven campaigns, while bringing D.I.D. into broader coalition to stop the Chinatown jail and defend our neighborhood at large. D.I.D. members spoke of his hard-fought community victories, his passion for our district, and his eagerness to listen and learn from our veteran activists.”
District Leader Jeannine Kiely, a D.I.D. member, said, “I voted to endorse Christopher Marte for City Council because he has an impressive track record of building coalitions across our diverse community. He successfully fought against the Chinatown jail and overdevelopment in Two Bridges, supports a win-win solution to save Elizabeth St. Garden, and ensured that the 85 Bowery tenants returned to their homes, after the city evicted them in the middle of the night. District 1 needs a proven leader, organizer and activist like Chris to lead Downtown’s recovery.”
Before the club’s vote, the candidates each had 15 minutes to speak about themselves and field questions from D.I.D. members.
Jenny Low, a Chinatown Democratic district leader for the past 25 years, accused Councilmember Chin of laying low during the current health crisis.
“We have a councilmember that works hard,” Low said, “but we haven’t seen her during the pandemic. Other elected officials are handing out PPE.”
She also said Chinatown needs more Open Streets to help suffering local restaurants by providing more outdoor dining space. She charged that Chinatown is not getting as many Open Streets as other neighborhoods, citing Little Italy by contrast.
In response to a question by District Leader Kiely about the Chinatown mega-jail project, Low said, “I am in support of closing Rikers Island, which is a hellhole, excuse the language.”
She noted that she helped the community fight for concessions when the “current Tombs” was built 30 years ago, including nearby senior housing, a health clinic and open space.
“This process has to stop and it must have full community input,” Low said of the jail plan.
Gigi Li, a former Community Board 3 chairperson and now Chin’s chief of staff, said she was proud of having shepherded through the Essex Crossing project during her tenure at C.B. 3. That massive development, on the long-dormant Seward Park Urban Renewal Area site, south of the Williamsburg Bridge, was approved with 55 percent affordable housing, she noted.
Asked by D.I.D. member Susan Wittenberg how she differs with Chin on projects, Li said of Chin, “A sense of engagement is lacking. Impacted voices [should] have a seat at the table.”
Wittenberg also asked Li for her position on the Elizabeth St. Garden, which Chin spearheaded and has championed in the face of staunch opposition from the surrounding community, Community Board 2 and most other local politicians.
“The ultimate decision to build affordable housing on that lot, I do agree with,” Li said, “but the process could have been better.”
Lora Tenenbaum asked Li for her views on the city’s proposed upzoning for Soho and Noho, noting that it would fill the area with “ultra-rich people,” in addition to providing a smaller number of affordable units.
“I do believe that every neighborhood in the city should play a role in creating affordable housing,” Li said, though adding, “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing is problematic because you only get 25 percent affordable housing.”
Maron, the president of Community Education Council District 2 and a criminal defender, noted that she is the mother of four children currently in public schools and is married to “an immigrant…Juan Pablo.”
Asked her position on the Lower Manhattan towering jail plan, she said, “Changing the zip code of Rikers Island does not solve the problem. That massive investment could be better used elsewhere.”
She said she supports creating more sports fields in the district.
As to her stance on the Soho/Noho upzoning, Maron said, “I do think we need more affordable housing. The Open New York plan offered some places where affordable housing could be built in Soho. But we don’t need big towers in Soho.
But Maron came under attack by some club members on school issues, who accused her of supporting screened school admissions and also of not making public a grant application for funding from the $3 million New York State Integration Plan. (Only a four-page summary of the School District 2 application, not the full 40-plus pages, has been made public.)
Someone also disapprovingly typed in the chat section of the Zoom meeting that Maron had penned a New York Post op-ed criticizing anti-bias training. In the op-ed, Maron objects to having had to refer to herself as a white woman during a Department of Education anti-bias training session. Also in the piece, Maron calls the doctrine of anti-racism “chilling,” saying it “insists on defining everyone by race, invites discrimination and divides all thought and behavior along a racial axis.”
In the face of criticism during the D.I.D. forum, Maron appeared to become visibly emotional, noting how she took her daughter to the polls with her in 2016 when she cast her vote against Trump, who she said shuts people up before they can express their views.
However, District Leader Paul Newell bristled at the Trump analogy, typing in the chat section, “Please do not compare Aaron [sic] McGraw to Donald Trump for asking if you approve of anti-bias training.”
Also running for City Council District 1, Tiffany Winbush, a FiDi resident, has lived in New York City for 15 years. On the issue of the planned Project Renewal homeless shelter in Lower Manhattan, she said, “The mayor made a decision without consulting our community.”
At the same time, she said she would welcome the homeless men, who would be relocated from the Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side to the Radisson Hotel, on William St., if the project goes forward.
“If that move has to happen, I am going to make sure I am not talking down on people, setting them back in their recovery,” she said.
Winbush also said she supports eliminating the Specialized High School Admissions Test, currently required to get into the city’s elite high schools, like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science.
For his part, Marte listed his community-activist credentials, including working to get tenants from 85 Bowery back into their homes and fighting against the Two Bridges mega-development project. He noted he founded a group, Neighbors United Below Canal, to oppose the Chinatown jail plan.
“I led the largest march in Chinatown in 50 years,” Marte said, noting how the participants had marched through the streets chanting, “No new jails!”
The hotly debated project was recently derailed by a community lawsuit that Marte supported.
Asked about his stance on the city’s plans for Soho and Noho, Marte said, “I don’t think we should upzone Soho and Noho.”
On the issue of the planned William St. homeless shelter, he said, “I think we should have a homeless shelter in Lower Manhattan. It’s the only community board that doesn’t have one. But,” he added, “the process must be better.”
He also is a strong supporter of the movement to defund the police.
“I was the first candidate to support defunding the police,” he said, “especially by a billion [dollars], at the very least. I believe in defunding and making sure those funds go to youth programs and summer programs.”
Marte said his top three issues are land use, standard of living and climate change.
As for why D.I.D. endorsed so early in this race, club president Corman told The Village Sun there were some reasons behind it.
“Because of the timing of petitioning [to put candidates on the ballot], endorsements need to be done by early February, the latest,” he said. “With eight important local races — mayor, comptroller, public advocate, district attorney and Council Districts 2 and 3 all relevant to us, there really isn’t that much time.
“Other than mayor, District 1 is the most important local election for D.I.D.,” Corman said. “It covers the largest portion of the D.I.D. area. Our role in this election is particularly relevant. Other candidates are already garnering endorsements. We did not want our endorsed candidate to be disadvantaged.”
The Democratic primary will take place nine months from now on Tues., June 22. It will be held using ranked-choice voting, giving each voter the chance to rank the candidates in order of preference from 1 through 5.
D.I.D. will hold a forum for candidates for Council Districts 2 and 3 on Nov. 9 and expects to endorse for those races then, as well.
The Downtown clubs, including D.I.D., Village Independent Democrats and Village Reform Democratic Club, will be co-sponsoring forums for the other borough and citywide races.
Correction: The original version of this article said the Democratic primary would be held next September. Following recent election reform changes, the primary will be held on June 22, 2021.