BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Mon., Feb. 15, 12:01 a.m.: Claiming that Council District 2 voters feel “disenfranchised” and that their concerns are being ignored, another candidate has thrown her hat into the ring for the June 22 primary election.
The Village Sun has learned that Erin Hussein, the longtime tenants association president of the Stewart House — the full-square-block, 368-unit co-op building between E. Ninth and E. 10th Sts. and Broadway and Fourth Ave. — has officially entered the race. She recently filed with the city’s Campaign Finance Board and has a campaign web site.
Until recently, incumbent Councilmember Carlina Rivera had been running unopposed. In addition to Hussein, Juan Pagan, who ran for Assembly versus Harvey Epstein in 2018, also entered the primary race a couple of weeks ago.
Hussein first ran for the District 2 seat in 2017. In a crowded field with six candidates, Rivera won the primary with 61 percent of the vote.
Originally from Connecticut, Hussein got both her B.A. and law degree from Columbia. She previously lived one block outside of District 2, at the Rivergate building, at 34th St. and First Ave. After practicing law for nine years, she raised her two children and now works at Columbia in alumni relations.
Hussein said she was spurred to run for City Council four years ago over concerns about the Tech Hub project on E. 14th St. and its potential impact on the surrounding neighborhood, plus concern over “the constant drumbeat of small businesses closing.”
This time, she said, there are more reasons fueling her run — including the first-term councilmember’s record on certain key issues.
“There’s just been this one common theme that’s emerged,” she said. “People in the district feel disenfranchised — all the way from Grand St. up to Murray Hill, it’s really districtwide. There hasn’t been attention. There hasn’t been listening. Their concerns haven’t been heard.”
The top issue where this is being felt is East River Park, in her view. The city’s East Side Coastal Resiliency plan, which Rivera staunchly supports, is facing resistance from a broad group of environmental activists, block associations and individuals, who have sued to stop the project.
“I’d have to start with the park,” Hussein said. “The park is a big one. The de Blasio / Carlina Rivera plan for the park seems to be the opposite of what the community wants.”
The opponents support the earlier and simpler, community-approved Rebuild By Design plan, which unlike E.S.C.R. would not raze and rebuild the park, but simply create berms along the F.D.R. Drive.
“The community spent hours and weeks and years coming up with a plan,” Hussein said. “The so-called Value Engineering Report [which compares the two plans] came out, and it’s heavily redacted.
“It was a lower-impact plan,” she said of the earlier version, “and it created that flood protection right away. And we still don’t have that flood protection. Now it’s COVID. It looks like COVID’s going to be with us for a long time. This neighborhood more than ever needs a park. Do flood protection first. Keep the park open, keep it accessible. Let’s walk this back and take a breather.”
The E.S.C.R. project would impact everyone, Hussein said, from seniors who simply want to sit on a park bench, to children whose ball fields would now be off limits for years.
As reported by The Village Sun, in a public rebuke, the Grand Street Democrats recently declined to endorse Rivera for reelection, with many of the club’s members having “serious concerns” about the park project and the city’s “lack of transparency” about it.
“Many in attendance [at the club’s vote] felt that Councilwoman Rivera has ignored these issues, even after they have repeatedly been brought to her attention,” District Leader Lee Berman told the newspaper.
Hussein is also still critical of the Tech Hub project and the lack of hoped-for zoning protections for the neighborhood to the south of it, which had been lobbied for by Village Preservation. Rivera held the critical vote in the City Council for the Tech Hub’s approval since the project is in her district.
“Definitely, a large part of the district where I live felt disenfranchised by the Tech Hub vote,” Hussein said.
The massive new building, still under construction, towering over New York University student dorms on either side of it, has now been dubbed Zero Irving since it sits just south of Irving Place.
“A huge part of that building is market-rate office spaces and also a very large food hall,” Hussein scoffed. “You’re creating a food hall that is going to bring tourists.”
She noted that the Tech Hub site, which was formerly home to a P.C. Richard & Son store, is both city-owned and was originally slated for affordable housing. Rivera has been accused by Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, of not pushing for zoning protections that he claims she promised for the area around the Tech Hub. The councilmember is a fan of the project since it will contain a tech training program that will benefit community members.
On another hot-button issue involving development, Hussein said she does not support the Soho/Noho upzoning plan, which is backed by Mayor de Blasio, along with Councilmembers Rivera and Margaret Chin.
Hussein said upzoning Soho and Noho would set “a dangerous precedent.”
“This is the first upzoning of a historic district — at least in the 50 years that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has been around,” she noted.
“I would not vote in favor of the Soho / Noho rezoning,” she stated. “I think that it destroys the historic core of the city. I think that physical embodiment of the city is very important. I don’t think Mandatory Inclusionary Housing has worked. I think that there is already affordable housing in Soho and Noho. Clearly, there should be more. But with the Soho / Noho upzoning, that could all be office buildings. Affordable housing isn’t even guaranteed. You could just end up with a bunch of super-tall office buildings.”
Hussein attended the rally outside City Hall in December where community groups from around the city spoke out against the de Blasio administration’s push for a raft of rezonings in the mayor’s last year before he is term-limited out of office.
“You just heard group after group protesting against these plans,” she said. “They’re petitioning, they’re making phone calls. Still, they feel their concerns are not being heard.”
In contrast, Hussein said her candidacy “gives a voice” to people who feel their protests are falling on deaf ears.
“I think, in general, there’s a lack of leadership by de Blasio and the councilmember,” she charged. “They seem to be reactive rather than proactive. I really believe in leading through listening.”
Although she has never held political office, Hussein has been the T.A. president at her 700-person co-op for most of the past 20 years, which she notes is “a big job” and which she feels involves similar skills.
She organizes town halls in the building, among other things, and is currently ensuring the full-square-block development reduces its carbon emissions as required under Local Law 97. That involves replacing 1,000 light fixtures in common areas with LED ones, installing new boilers and creating a solar energy-storage project.
“People in the building know they can stop me in the hallway, stop me in the laundry room and share their concerns with me,” she said.
Hussein does have to run for reelection as T.A. president every two years.
“I have consistently been reelected,” she noted, though adding, “I’m going to be honest with you, I’m not a politician. I’m not the product of a political machine. This is a people-powered campaign.”
At the same time, Hussein said she created one of the first Indivisible groups in the city, referring to the nationwide progressive movement that sprung up after Donald Trump’s 2016 victory. She is currently part of Ricky Silver’s Indivisible group.
On the larger issue of police reform, Hussein differs somewhat with Rivera on Defund the Police. Rivera voted against the city’s budget this past summer, feeling that, despite $1 billion being cut from the Police Department, more police funding should have been shifted into programs for black and brown communities, and police should have been removed from more roles, among other things.
“I unequivocally support Black Lives Matter,” Hussein said. “It’s a part of human decency.”
However, she said, “I don’t agree with the branding of Defund the Police. I think we need to demilitarize the police. I agree with the calls to disband the Vice Squad.”
The candidate said the New York Police Department is racially diverse among its rank and file but that the upper ranks are 70 percent white, which should be addressed.
“If we had more diversity in the police force, we could probably go in a direction where there was less force, less arrests,” she said.
At the same time, she added, “But public safety is an issue.”
Although the embattled Lower Manhattan mega-jail project was slated for the adjacent District 1 not District 2, it’s an issue Hussein feels strongly about it.
“The tower jails, I would not have voted in favor of them,” she said. “It feels very ‘Field of Dreams’ — if you build these things, people will fill them.”
She said she is also concerned about the environmental impact the jail’s construction would have on the surrounding Chinatown population, including the elderly.
At the same time, she said, “I think Rikers definitely needs to be closed. And I think the vast majority of people at Rikers, who are waiting for trials, should be held closer to their communities, loved ones and faith leaders.”
On the city’s beleaguered small businesses, Hussein said, “I am a huge, huge proponent of small business. I don’t think we’re doing enough for small businesses. We haven’t seen enough leadership from de Blasio and our councilmember.”
Asked if she backs the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, Hussein said, “It is something I support. I don’t think it’s the only thing we need. It empowers small businesses to get a lease renewal. Small businesses are the lifeblood of the city. And the Small Business Jobs Survival Act is a part of that, but there’s more.”
Hussein noted that Rivera, at one point, was on the City Council’s Small Business Committee but no longer is.
“I think the councilmember for this district needs to be on that committee,” Hussein declared. “I would not leave that committee. I would make it a priority to be on that committee and I would be a very vocal member of that committee.”
She supports the Open Restaurants initiative but doesn’t agree with how City Hall made it permanent without first seeking community input and buy-in.
“I think outdoor dining has been great,” she said. “My family and I take advantage of it multiple times per week. Making it permanent, I think, requires more discussion. Some communities are oversaturated with bars and liquor licenses. I think we have to think about what these [outdoor dining] structures look like. Can you leave it there for six months? The community should not only be involved — they should be the wellspring of this….and also the restaurateurs.”
Hussein said, if elected, she would also want to be on the Council’s Education Committee.
“When you’re a parent, you spend an inordinate amount of your mental bandwidth on your children. I love kids,” she said. “Parents should have choices, and they should have choice of a good school without putting their kid on a bus. They should have a good school within walking distance. But clearly we need integration.”
On the issue of bikes and bike lanes, Hussein enjoys them but also understands the criticism and even fear that some residents, often older ones, feel toward them.
“I think bike lanes are great,” she said. “I have a bike. My kids have bikes. We bike a lot.”
At the same time, she said, “I want there to be protection of aging people from being hit by bicyclists.”
She said she knows someone in her building who was badly hurt by a cyclist, and that she can empathize with these concerns.
“It’s bewildering for people who have lived in the building for decades and, all of a sudden, the traffic flow has changed, and sometimes bikes are coming from directions they’re not expecting,” she said.
“New York City, it’s the perfect place to age in place,” she noted. “That is a high priority for me, to protect these people who have lived in these communities and built these communities.”
To those who say that seniors scared of bikes should just “move to Boca Raton,” Hussein said, “The senior citizens in our community are the lifeblood of our community. To say that any part of the population of the community that has lived here for decades, that built the community, that they should have to leave the community because they are afraid of bicycles — I just can’t get there. I mean, every single resident in my building is so precious. We can all live here together. We can all use the city together, we just have to be careful.”
On the New York City Housing Authority, Hussein said she does not support the Rental Assistance Demonstration a.k.a. RAD program, which the mayor has pushed locally for the Robert Fulton and Chelsea-Elliott Houses.
“I think pawning them off on private companies and the federal government is not the solution,” she said of cash-strapped NYCHA developments in need of repairs.
As for the 14th St. busway, Hussein admitted she and neighbors were initially concerned that it might divert car traffic onto 10th St., which, like 13th St., is a river-to-river through street. But that hasn’t happened.
“I have to say, we haven’t really seen it,” she said, adding, “And the buses go so much faster now!”
Finally, Hussein is a big advocate of adopting elderly rescue cats. She has two.
“They’re the best!” she said.
“This campaign is built on the people. It’s going to rise and fall with the people,” she said. “I’m going to get out there and meet with people, to the extent I can with COVID, and not being reliant on a machine.”