BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Updated Thurs., June 22, 3:30 p.m.: Candidates — and their supporters — in the District 1 City Council race are strategizing on how best to use — or not use — ranked-choice voting to win.
Two of the contenders, Susan Lee and Ursila Jung, recently cross-endorsed each other, urging voters to rank them first and second on their ballots in the June 27 Democratic primary election, early voting for which started June 17 and runs through June 25.
Lee and Jung’s scheme is clearly a move to try to beat the election’s front-runner, incumbent Councilmember Christopher Marte.
“Lower Manhattan needs an experienced, grassroots leader who will work with her colleagues and community leaders to put public safety, education and working families first,” Lee said.
“District 1 needs a new councilmember committed to transparency and accountability in serving her constituents. Ursila and I agree on many issues, such as public safety and quality of life issues. She’s a strong education advocate. I urge you to rank me No. 1 and Ursila No. 2.”
“Public safety is deteriorating, our schools are failing our children, and our neighbors are being priced out of the district, all while our current councilmember pats himself on the back just for showing up,” Jung declared. “I urge you to rank me No. 1 and Susan No. 2.”
Meanwhile, countering Lee and Jung’s tactic, the Soho Alliance is urging voters to fill in the oval for one candidate, Marte — and no one else.
In an e-mail blast to its list on Saturday, the Soho Alliance warned that Lee is backed by “real estate speculators,” adding that Marte “has served Soho very well since taking office in 2021.”
“The two have formed an alliance to manipulate the ranked-choice voting system,” the Alliance charged of Lee and Jung. “[They] are urging voters to ‘bullet vote.’ That is: Vote for both of them but not at all for Marte, not even as a third-choice preference. This cynical strategy, of course, would deny Marte receiving any votes in this tight race.
“Let’s counter Lee and Jung’s cynical election ploy and turn the tables on them,” the e-mail urged. “When it is time to rank your choice for City Council, vote for only one candidate, Christopher Marte, and deny these two opportunists the edge they seek.”
The Soho Alliance further charges that Lee’s campaign is being “partially funded by a PAC financed by real estate speculators out of Brooklyn” who are seeking to build a $3 billion gambling casino and hotel across from the Coney Island boardwalk.
This “consortium,” according to the Alliance is led by Thor Equities, Saratoga Casino Holdings, and Legends, “a global sports and entertainment behemoth.”
“So why is a PAC of Brooklyn real estate speculators and casino operators donating so heavily to Susan Lee in Lower Manhattan?” the Alliance’s e-mail asked. “What do they expect in return?”
However, Bob Liff, a campaign spokesperson for Lee, retorted that the Soho Alliance’s accusation “explicitly untrue.”
“It’s unfair,” he said. “Go through her [campaign finance] filings.”
The accusation was initially made by Marte during a NY1 candidates debate. In response, Lee said none of the cited entities had given to her campaign — but Marte said that they could do so later in the race.
“Yeah, and the Mets win the World Series. … This is not Watergate, this is not the Russia…,” he scoffed, his voice trailing off. “This is having a significant effect on her campaign,” he said of the pro-developer tag.
PACs must disclose their expenditures — yet only when they actually make some. It’s not clear if this PAC has done much of a spend on the current races — at least not yet.
“They may have done something in the 9th District,” Liff noted, though adding, “but everyone’s jumping into that Harlem race.”
Super PAC People Enhancing New York planning to spend on Lee, Dickens, Velázquez, Lee, Schulman, Chan and Brannan.
This is the revamped “A Better NY for All” IE, which spent half a mill, mostly on Adams, in 2021. Was funded mostly by real estate, plus Brock Pierce (!) https://t.co/RezPYznZN6
— Jeff Coltin (@JCColtin) May 26, 2023
In light of that fact, Sean Sweeney, the Soho Alliance’s director, asked Lee to “provide the list” of attendees at a May 24 fundraiser held by People Enhancing New York, at which Lee was one of the candidates being supported — plus to fork over the names of others who didn’t physically attend the event but contributed funds.
Liff said that’s impossible.
“The nature of PACs is that they are independent and you can’t coordinate [with political campaigns],” Liff noted.
John Seravalli, a communications director and account representative at Reputation Management, first tweeted about big real estate connections’ to the May 24 “super-PAC” candidates fundraiser. Seravalli’s tweet was, in turn, retweeted by Jeff Coltin, a political reporter at City & State.
Coltin tweeted that the super-PAC was “planning to spend” on Lee, Councilmember Justin Brannan and the others named on the fundraiser invite.
The fourth candidate in the District 1 race is Pooi Stewart.
Meanwhile, Lee and Jung are also slamming Marte for not immediately firing a staffer, Steven Wong, after accusations emerged that he had berated and cursed out, using misogynistic language, Lotus Chau, a longtime local reporter for Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper. Wong, who is Chinese-American, formerly worked for ex-Councilmember Chin.
“The incident was recorded and resulted in an ethics inquiry by the New York City Council, but it took a month for Marte to remove him from the public payroll,” Lee and Jung fumed.
Wong ultimately resigned.
In a statement on March 19, Marte said, “Today, I have received new information regarding my employee, Steven Wong, and his interaction with Lotus Chau, a reporter at Sing Tao Daily. In addition to Mr. Wong’s voice memo that Ms. Chau sent to the Office of the General Council, there were three additional voice memos that were not submitted to the General Counsel when they requested evidence. I do not know what they contain or why they were not included. When I immediately contacted Mr. Wong to find out more, he said he regrets his actions and is now offering his resignation, which I have accepted. I hope this decision can bring healing to those who were hurt by his actions.”
For her part, Councilmember Kathryn Freed — who strongly supports Marte’s reelection — told The Village Sun she didn’t understand why the councilmember didn’t just can Wong sooner, and that she felt he would have been within his rights to do so.
In addition, both Lee and Jung have been endorsed by PLACE NYC (Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education), along with The New Majority, Eleanor’s Legacy, the Citizens Union and Asian Wave Alliance. PLACE NYC supports, among other things, keeping the Specialized High School Admission Test and expansion of Gifted and Talented programs and accelerated-curriculum options. The group was founded, in part, to oppose former Mayor de Blasio’s effort to revamp the admissions process for specialized high schools. PLACE NYC also opposes critical race theory being taught in schools, as well as what they call excessive classroom discussions about racial justice versus teaching education fundamentals.
Marte’s long list of endorsements includes the Downtown Independent Democrats, Stonewall Democrats, Grand Street Democrats, New Downtown Democrats, Village Reform Democratic Club, Tenants PAC, Streets PAC, United Federation of Teachers, New York League of Conservation Voters and half a dozen unions representing building trades, supermarkets and eduction.
In another Downtown race, the Soho Alliance is supporting challenger Allie Ryan over Councilmember Carlina Rivera in District 2 (Noho, the East Village, part of Greenwich Village, Gramercy and Kips Bay).
Rivera was former Councilmember Margaret Chin’s “cohort in the upzoning of Soho/Noho/Chinatown in 2021,” plus supported the demolition of East River Park for a coastal-resiliency project, the Alliance said, charging that Rivera is pro-development. On the other hand, the Alliance positively described Ryan as a “community activist and environmentalist.”
Downtown Independent Democrats — whose home turf is Soho, although they do cover a wider area — did not endorse in the District 2 race. Ryan’s past association with Place NYC when she was previously a public school parent was an issue for some D.I.D. members. After Ryans’ daughters transferred to a local private school, Ryan ended her membership with Place NYC, which focuses on public schools.