BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Erik Bottcher, the chief of staff to Council Speaker Corey Johnson, has announced he is running to succeed his boss.
The news was first reported this week by The City.
City Council District 3 includes Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and part of Midtown West. Johnson will be term-limited out of office at the end of next year.
“I’m running because I love working hand in hand with community members every day to help solve problems in my community large and small,” Bottcher told the paper, “and I want to continue this work and take it to the next level.”
The profile in The City tells the story of how Bottcher grew up Upstate in a small Adirondacks town of 1,200 where his parents ran a hotel and where, as a young gay male, he felt like a total outsider.
As the article relates: “Bottcher, the only gay person he knew growing up, tried to kill himself three times. ‘When I was a teen becoming aware of my sexual orientation, the world was a different place,’ said Bottcher, 40. ‘I felt completely alone in the world.’”
Bottcher moved to New York City right after college — and three months before 9/11 — finding work in advertising and real estate. He got involved with gay activist groups like Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
He eventually became Andrew Cuomo’s liaison to L.G.B.T. communities on his 2010 campaign, going on to become Cuomo’s Manhattan liaison and being a strong advocate for the ratification of gay marriage in New York State.
Bottcher next worked on former Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s mayoral run in 2013 before snagging the job of Johnson’s chief of staff two years later.
As The Village Sun first reported one month ago, Village District Leader Arthur Schwartz is mulling a run for the Council seat, too. Back then, Schwartz told The Village Sun that his main motivation for possibly seeking the seat was his opposition to the 14th St. busway.
While the city has pitched the car-banning busway as an 18-month pilot project — which will be subject to review at that period’s end — many local residents suspect the “fix is in” already to make the street scheme permanent. Many Village and Chelsea residents fear the project will add traffic to surrounding side streets, plus is making living on 14th St. much more inconvenient.
The area around University Place and 12th and 13th Sts., in particular, is being hammered by the street changes — with increased traffic and horn honking — residents complain.
“If Erik is going to run as the candidate of Transportation Alternatives,” Schwartz told The City, referring to the pro-bike and pro-transit advocacy group, “good luck.”
Last August, Transportation Alternatives picketed Schwartz’s W. 12th St. townhouse after a lawsuit he filed blocked the busway’s launch. While a judge ultimately greenlighted the busway in early October, Schwartz said he plans to file a court appeal by mid-March, at the latest, in his ongoing effort to can the transit plan.
As The Village Sun also previously reported, Marni Halasa, an activist who lives near Hudson Yards and is a skating instructor at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, also intends to run in the Democratic primary.
Recently, Halasa has been an outspoken opponent of the city’s “RAD” plan for Chelsea’s Fulton Houses, which would see two of the complex’s low-rise buildings razed and replaced with larger towers including a mix of market-rate and public housing.
A Democrat, naturally, is the prohibitive favorite to win the general election in the West Side district, which Johnson has proudly touted as the center of the anti-Trump Resistance movement.
As opposed to Bottcher, who is openly gay, however, Schwartz and Halasa are both straight. District 3 was designated the Council’s “gay seat” decades ago, and has been held by a gay or lesbian politician since 1992, with Tom Duane preceding Quinn and Johnson as councilmember.
As he seeks office, Bottcher will be counting on the many close relationships he has forged with local community groups and leaders while working with Johnson.
The speaker, meanwhile, is running for mayor.
Bottcher told The City that if both he and Johnson succeed in winning election, “it would be an effective partnership for the district.”
But he also said that, if elected, he would not aspire to follow in Quinn’s and Johnson’s footsteps and run for Council speaker and mayor.
As for Schwartz, he told The Village Sun this week that he feels he would be a better candidate than Bottcher for the City Council seat, but is still thinking it over on whether to run.
“I think I’m better qualified,” the veteran activist said, “but I haven’t made a decision yet.”
Asked when he would know by, he said, “Very soon — I’d say I’ll make the decision by mid-March.”
As for the quote about Transportation Alternatives in The City article, Schwartz said his recollection of the interview was that he had been speaking about Johnson not Bottcher.
“I’ve never heard Erik talk about bike lanes once in my life,” Schwartz said. “[The reporter] asked me about Corey.”
Johnson, a strong advocate for bike lanes, has publicly declared he wants to “break car culture” in the city.
What Schwartz said he did mean by his quote to The City — “If Erik is going to run as the candidate of Transportation Alternatives, good luck” — is that bicycling, specifically, represents a relatively small percentage of the way people get around in New York City, and thus a small number of voters.
He cited a survey of thousands of city residents in the Department of Transportation’s August 2019 Mobility Report, which found that cycling was the primary mode of transportation for just 1.1 percent of New Yorkers.
Halasa, meanwhile, who is not known for mincing words, in a fiery statement to The Village Sun, slammed Johnson and Bottcher as “machine politicians.” She accused Johnson of refusing to let the Small Business Jobs Survival Act be voted on by the full City Council. And she said Johnson should be fighting the Fulton Houses RAD plan, which she called “an eviction machine of the disabled, elderly and vulnerable people of color.”
“Using identity politics just to win an election — when their policies have hurt the community, including their own L.G.B.T.Q. community — qualifies them both for another job: a real estate lobbyist,” she scoffed.