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‘I’m a community leader’: Harvey Epstein, with massive show of support, launches City Council campaign

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Flanked by a phalanx of local supporters, Harvey Epstein, who has represented parts of Manhattan’s East Side in the state Assembly since 2018, on Saturday launched his campaign for City Council District 2.

Standing with him outside the Village East Towers Mitchell-Lama co-op at 11th Street and Avenue C for the announcement were dozens of community leaders — including, most notably, former Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Margarita Lopez.

“It’s an honor to launch this campaign with the support of so many of the leaders that make our community great,” Epstein said. “We are running this race together. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to represent our community in Albany. Now, I am excited to grow this coalition and begin our campaign to show why my years of experience as an organizer, lawyer and effective legislator make me the best candidate to continue serving our community in the Council.”

Longtime East Villager

Epstein is a longtime East Villager and was chairperson of the neighborhood’s Community Board 3 in the early 2000s. He worked at the Urban Justice Center for 11 years and also was a tenant member on the New York City Rent Guidelines Board for five years.

Six years ago, he won a special election to represent the 74th Assembly District, which stretches from the Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side, through most of the East Village, plus Greenwich Village over to Sixth Avenue, and on up to the United Nations in Turtle Bay.

At the campaign launch event, he touted his record of having passed more than 35 bills in Albany and steered millions in funding to local community-based organizations. 

The 74th A.D. covers about 60 percent of Council District 2, which is currently represented by Carlina Rivera, who will be term-limited out of office at the end of next year; the districts share about 75 percent to 80 percent of the same voters.

Harvey Epstein, center, wearing orange tie, surrounded by community supporters at his City Council campaign launch. (Harvey Epstein)

Although a rumor recently was going around that Rivera and Epstein planned to “flip” seats — that she would, in turn, run for Assembly — Rivera in March told The Village Sun that actually was not the plan.

“I have not spoken to Harvey about my or his political future, not at all,” she said then. “So, no, we have absolutely not discussed any of the seats within our districts. Sorry, your intel is bad.”

At the location of the May 18 announcement, someone had put up covered protest signs in advance. As the event began, the signs were unveiled, exposing messages including, “Pick a race Harvey! Assembly or City Council?!” and “No to seat swapping!!!!”

‘Campaigns are different years’

Asked by The Village Sun about, in effect, running for two seats simultaneously, Epstein responded, “I am running for the Council in 2025. This year I am running unopposed for the Assembly. The campaigns are different years.”

He offered a similar example of Brooklyn state Senator Zellnor Myrie, who is running for reelection this year but has also announced his launch of an exploratory campaign for mayor next year.

Should Epstein win reelection to the Assembly and then go on to win the Council seat, he would need to resign from the Assembly, which would be followed by a special election to fill the Assembly post.

A number of other candidates have already declared their campaigns for Council District 2, including Andrea Gordillo and Sarah Batchu, the respective chairperson and first vice chairperson of the East Village’s Community Board 3. However, at Gordillo’s February campaign launch, the threat of Epstein joining the race was the elephant in the room. Allie Ryan, who has previously run for the seat, has not yet said publicly if she plans to throw her hat into the ring.

‘People should elect me this year and elect me next year.’

— Harvey Epstein

Prominently endorsing Epstein on May 18 were the two former city councilmembers who represented District 2 for the 20 years before Rivera: Rosie Mendez and Margarita Lopez.

‘Harvey brings people together’

“I have known Harvey for decades and we have worked on numerous community campaigns together,” Mendez said. “Harvey brings people together, leads on campaigns, and is an effective legislator. I fully support Harvey Epstein for the New York City Council District 2 seat in 2025 and look forward to him continuing the work from my 12-year tenure in that Council seat. I know that I can count on his continued advocacy for area residents and he will make a great councilmember for our community.”

Lopez, who preceded Mendez in the District 2 seat, said, “I endorse Harvey Epstein because he is the best candidate for our community. He has proven it in the work he has done so far and nobody can dispute that.”

Lopez, Mendez and Rivera all ran with the backing of Coalition for a District Alternative (CoDA), the East Village’s dominant political organization for around the last quarter century. Gordillo is currently CoDA co-president and Batchu is a CoDA member. Epstein is also a longtime CoDA member and was previously CoDA president.

Public housing leaders’ support

Epstein impressively also racked up endorsements from leaders of local public housing complexes from across the district — which are critical voting blocs — including Aixa Torres, president of the Smith Houses Tenants Association and the group Manhattan South.

“I have watched Harvey stand up for our neighborhood, as a parent with his kids in public school, as a community board member and chairperson, and as an assemblymember,” Torres said. “I know he has what it takes to be a strong representative for our community because I have seen him be one for decades. Harvey has been a strong advocate and a pillar for residents and public housing before [he was in] the Assembly, and all of his community work makes our lives better and assists us in our struggles. I am proud to be part of the coalition working to get him elected to the Council, where he will continue to fight for our neighbors.”

Other public housing T.A. presidents endorsing Epstein last weekend were Brendaliz Santiago (First Houses); Camille Napoleon (Baruch Houses); Christine Bookin (Campos Plaza II); Elise Otero (Straus Houses); Daphne Williams (Riis Houses); DeReese Huff (Campos Plaza I); Linda Rhodes (LES V); and Vernette Quick (Bracetti Plaza).

Stealth protest signs that had been put up but left covered were revealed during the campaign launch event.

Showing strong grassroots political support, a number of Democratic district leaders also are backing Epstein.

‘A man with integrity’

“Harvey Epstein is a man with integrity rooted in community values, a man with strong principles and ethical behavior, which is why I give Harvey my 100 percent support,” said Daisy Paez, a Lower East Side district leader.

“Harvey Epstein is a true public servant,” said Lower Manhattan District Leader Vittoria Fariello. “He has spent his entire career in service to others and is deeply involved in the community that he loves and where he and his wife have raised their children. Harvey leads with compassion and by example.”

“He is a thoughtful legislator who shows up for our community and is a true team player,” said 74th A.D. District Leader Marquis Jenkins. “He has been one of our strongest advocates for public housing in the state and I know he will do the same in New York City.”

Other local district leaders also backing Epstein include Mariama James and Ron Thomas.

‘Shares our progressive values’

Anthony Feliciano, a Democratic State Committee member for the 74th AD, said Epstein is the right person now for the Council seat, based on his progressive politics and his valuing of diversity.

“Harvey always backed past Council candidates who reflected the diverse range of backgrounds and experiences of the people they represent,” Feliciano said. “Harvey shares our progressive values and cares about bold housing, health and environmental justice policies. He understands how to ensure diverse voices and opinions.”

As Feliciano referred to, in the past, Epstein’s name had been floated a few times for City Council, but he always deferred to other local candidates — until now.

“I support Harvey Epstein for City Council,” said Ayo Harrington, a veteran East Village community leader. “I have known him for decades. Our acquaintance began in a PTA room, where we worked together as parent advocates, and, since then, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to our community, in many roles, every single day.”

‘I trust Harvey’

Damaris Reyes, the executive director of GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), a neighborhood housing and preservation organization, gave an enthusiastic personal thumbs up to Epstein for City Council. Like others heading organizations, her endorsement was her own, as opposed to representing the organizations per se.

“I trust Harvey,” Reyes said. “He knows how to do the job of representing this district and he is ready to take on the role of councilmember. His years of service to this community working side by side with me on so many campaigns has prepared him to lead in the Council and I believe he’s our best choice.”

Epstein and his supporters say he has the right track record, community credentials and progressive politics to represent the District 2 Council seat. (Harvey Epstein)

Jasmin Sanchez, a Baruch Houses resident and president of the Three Bridges Democratic Club, said, “I am supporting Harvey Epstein to be my next city councilmember in District 2 because he has been a strong advocate for tenant protections, people with disabilities, climate justice, education, supportive services and public safety, amongst other issues. Harvey Epstein is the ‘People’s Candidate’ and having him serve as the next city councilmember for District 2 means that our community and New York City will be more just and livable.”

Mentored LES activist

Lilah Mejia, a Lower East Side community leader and former Community Education Council 1 president, said, “I first met Harvey over 10 years ago when I began my activism career. He embraced and guided me, helping to sharpen my skills as an advocate. Over the years, I have witnessed his unwavering commitment to education and housing, all while raising his family in this community. It is an honor to endorse Harvey for the City Council. With his extensive experience and genuine passion for service, he is well-equipped to lead and make a positive impact on our community.”

Michael Schweinsburg, president of the 504 Democratic Club, whose members are disabled, personally is endorsing Epstein.

“As a disability-rights advocate for the last 25 years,” Schweinsburg said, “I can state emphatically that, throughout his time in Albany, he has become the greatest champion the disability community has ever known.”

Former public school parent

Naomi Peña, a former C.E.C. 1 president, said of the assemblymember, “As a public school parent, he has shown how much he cares about improving our schools, enhancing parent involvement, and helping students thrive. I am voting for Harvey because he is engaged and he lifts up people in our community and takes their input genuinely.”

Tareake Dorill, a past Community Board 3 chairperson, is bullish on Epstein for City Council in ’25.

“He not only shows up, but does his absolute best to hold up the diversity of perspectives in District 2,” Dorill said. “He is a true public servant and his years of experience speaks for itself.”

Sean Sweeney, the director of the Soho Alliance, enthusiastically said Epstein will be “the voice the community needs” in the City Council.

“From his work as a Legal Services and Legal Aid attorney to his tenure on Community Board 3 during tumultuous times, as a tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board and with his current position in the state Assembly, Harvey Epstein has put the individual and community as his top priority, not the special interests and lobbies that figure so disproportionately in the running of this city,” the Soho leader declared. “Epstein will be the voice the community needs in the City Council — not afraid to speak out but willing to operate and achieve an outcome that will benefit his constituents and guide the city to an equitable future.”

Supports migrants, environment

Several leading Village East Towers residents are throwing their support behind Epstein, including retired human-rights lawyer Dan Meyers.

“Of particular note,” Meyers said, “is Harvey’s generosity and compassion for new migrants who have recently arrived in our community.”

JK Canepa, the chairperson of the Energy Conservation Committee at Village East Towers and a More Gardens Fund member, said, “We are grateful for Harvey Epstein’s excellent work fighting for climate justice in our community and for a healthier, safer environment for all New Yorkers, including his championing of important legislation like the NY HEAT Act.”

One local politico, requesting anonymity, said Epstein entering the Council race means it’s basically over, and that he will be unbeatable.

What of other CoDA candidates?

Retired judge Kathryn Freed, who in the 1990s was the councilmember for Lower Manhattan’s District 1, offered her take on Epstein’s shaking up the field by jumping in.

“It will be interesting to see what the other CoDA candidates do,” she mused. “It’s ranked-choice voting, so…you never know. Do I think he has a strong choice? Oh yeah.”

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein speaking on Second Avenue across from Middle Collegiate Church last year, was one of the voices supporting the difficult decision to demolish the fire-gutted building’s historic facade, so that a new building could be constructed. (Photo by The Village Sun)

In a follow-up interview, asked if he had discussed a possible “seat swap” with Rivera, Epstein answered in general terms, saying, “I’ve talked to a lot of people about the opportunity,” adding that he is confident “someone great” would get the Assembly seat, assuming he moves on to the City Council.

Asked about the fact that, if elected, he would break a nearly 30-year unbroken line of Puerto Rican Latina leadership in Council District 2, Epstein said simply that he’s an experienced local leader who clearly has overwhelming support.

‘I’m a community leader’

“I’m a community leader,” he stated, “and powerful community leaders, like Rosie Mendez and Margarita Lopez, think that I’m the right person for the job. Lilah Mejia, Naomi Peña, Damaris Reyes, Camille Napoleon, Elise Otero — I mean, dozens and dozens of people are saying, ‘Harvey’s our guy.’ That sends the message that they want me to represent them.”

Epstein added that his Albany experience would help him be a better councilmember, noting, “I think there’s a lot of good work that can be done in the City Council. I’m an experienced, effective legislator. … I’m happy to stand on my record on the bills that I sponsored and the hundreds that co-sponsored to get them through in Albany.”

In his first term he co-authored and passed the sweeping Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which made rent regulation permanent, helping preserve the city’s affordable housing stock and taking the pressure off tenants, reducing the incentive for landlord harassment.

“I just think I’m the most experienced, effective person for the job and to keep a progressive person in the [City Council] seat,” he said. “And people should elect me this year and elect me next year.”

Unfazed by protest posters

As for the stealth protest posters that were unveiled at his East Village campaign launch, Epstein said he didn’t notice who pulled off the covers because he was too busy doing the event, but shrugged that it’s just part of politics and people have a right to protest.

“That’s what democracy’s about,” he asserted.

As to Freed’s wondering what will happen with so many CoDA candidates in the same race — and whom CoDA will endorse — Epstein offered, “It’s a year away. We don’t have to stress out about it. CoDA decides when CoDA decides.”

Opponent: ‘Stay in Albany, Harvey’

For her part, commenting on Epstein’s bombshell announcement, candidate Batchu urged him to stick to his work in the state Legislature.

“Harvey has been a valuable partner up in Albany, and our community would benefit from his continued presence in the state Assembly,” she said. “Here at the city level, a new generation of grassroots leaders is ready to tackle tough problems, and I believe my on-the-ground work championing community health and affordable housing makes me the right candidate to meet this moment.”

Gordillo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Councilmember Rivera herself has not endorsed in the City Council race yet.

Why he didn’t back Rivera in ’22

One local politico, though, pointedly noted that Epstein did not publicly support Rivera when she ran for Congress two years ago. However, Epstein said that two of his Assembly colleagues at the time, Yuh-Line Niou and Jo Anne Simon, also ran in that contest, putting him in a bind — so he simply stayed out of it. He noted that when Niou was in the Assembly, they worked closely together, noting, “We would talk every day.” Attorney Dan Goldman, a Levi’s heir and Trump impeachment scourge, went on to win the Congressional District 10 race, with Niou finishing second.

No doubt about it, though, the sheer amount and quality of community endorsements that Epstein unloaded on May 18 was a massive broadside, thoroughly rocking the Council District 2 race. But he said even more are yet to come.

“I haven’t rolled out any elected officials but will do it soon,” he said. “I have a year.”


  1. We honestly do not fully know his record as assemblyman but his claim that he speaks for the community can be challenged. Over his term his district has seen countless good businesses forced to close due to landlord greed charging insane rents. The main lawmakers serving the Real Estate Board of New York that blocked a vote in the City Council on the Jobs Survival Act, which would give rights to merchants when their leases expired, all came from the Village and Lower Manhattan districts. Beginning with Speaker Christine Quinn, then Corey Johnson, Carlina Rivera and Erik Bottcher all betrayed every small business owner and their workers by rigging the system to deny any lifeline legislation giving rights to owners for a fighting chance to survive when their leases expired. Yet, Epstein remained silent on this destruction of local merchants by this collusion between REBNY and his district’s lawmakers. This is a link to just one of these lawmakers who betrayed the merchants
    Epstein may be a strong voice for residents and others. But for the merchants and their workers, his record of concern and real action is weak.

    • Alt Alt May 23, 2024

      Thank you for discussing that Rivera and Bottcher have done nothing to help local shops.

      Seems like they are only interested in the bicycle lobby and real estate (under guise of faux affordable housing)

      Beyond demoralizing

    • Robert Lederman Robert Lederman May 21, 2024

      It is not police brutality to use force on protesters who are assaulting police, trespassing, damaging property, obstructing traffic and violently resisting arrest, not to mention, supporting terrorism and demanding the genocide of Jews. The entire point of these protests is to force the police to make mass arrests so as to garner media attention.

      • Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost May 23, 2024

        Robert Lederman, all that you say is a lie and an injustice to the protesters! I don’t know where you got all that stuff. They are NOT demanding the genocide of Jews. They are NOT trying to make themselves targets of police brutality to get media attention — which they’d already gotten before the police were called. Why would they want to get injured by the police? To serve what purpose? Innocent Palestinians are being murdered by the thousands. Who told you the protesters were assaulting police? WHAT? Supporting terrorism? HOW? How can anybody get on here and print such blatant, abusive lies?

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