A better choice for District 1: Jenifer Rajkumar

Jenifer Rajkumar

Jenifer Rajkumar

Four years ago Margaret Chin told us she would have said no to the deals to get beloved schools like P.S. 234 decades ago, and Spruce Street School more recently, because the community was giving away too much to corporations and developers and didn’t get enough affordable housing.

It raised our eyebrows, but we endorsed her for City Council, in part, because she made it clear that she was not against new schools, but she would use tough negotiating tactics to get the best deal for Downtown. Now a councilmember, she has said yes to worse deals then the ones she criticized and we are disappointed that she has not lived up to her promise. She does not deserve to be reelected.

When it’s time to negotiate, Chin “goes into the room…closes the door, makes the deal and shuts the people out.”

Jenifer Rajkumar, Chin’s opponent in the First District City Council Democratic primary, said that when Rajkumar announced her campaign a few months ago. Not all of her criticisms are valid, but that one is spot on.

It is true that Chin spends an extraordinary amount of time meeting with community groups and others to get their views on particular proposals, but she does not include leaders when the real talks start. This approach has alienated constituents in the Village and elsewhere over several projects, including the New York University expansion.

In a talking point published in The Villager, she promised not to back a business improvement district in Soho unless it had “substantial support,” including from Community Board 2. She ended up supporting the BID saying the proposal was altered in response to neighbors’ concerns, but there was no clear indication that community opposition had changed.

Rajkumar, a Democratic district leader living in Battery Park City and a civil rights attorney, has been an active presence in Lower Manhattan. Her record is not as strong and long as we’d like, and she has not convinced us that she will definitely be a good councilmember, but her intelligence, her communication skills and her diligence give us hope. We think she deserves a chance.

One of the most disturbing things about this campaign is that the real estate industry and others that make up the Jobs for New York PAC have tilted the field for Chin with frequent mailings on her behalf. The city’s model campaign finance system has been compromised by the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

While Chin doesn’t control this independent real estate money, she is the clear beneficiary, and if she wins, she will have strong incentive to keep satisfying developers, particularly since she would be able to run for re-election one more time.

If Rajkumar wins, her incentive would be to provide good representation to the people of Lower Manhattan to ensure her own re-election — the way democracy is supposed to work.

To be clear, we are not saying Chin does not work for her community. Her successfully winning 50 percent affordable housing at SPURA (Seward Park Urban Renewal Area), for one, was a major victory for her and the community. We recognize her many years of advocacy for affordable housing, immigrant rights and ballot access — and we hope that work continues, win or lose. But the Real Estate Board of New York is clearly happy with her first term, and if Chin wins, she would be taking a political risk if she opposed them.

At the South Street Seaport, she passively accepted a false city argument that two land use reviews known as ULURPs couldn’t be discussed in tandem, when in fact the city did exactly that nine years ago in Tribeca in a deal that led to a new community center and more school space. She defended the city’s decision to redact a key section of an agreement in which the Seaport’s developer, Howard Hughes Corp., outlined its intention to build a large hotel and residences in the neighborhood. It’s hard to imagine that more community needs could not have been met had Chin been more forceful negotiating the Pier 17 deal at the Seaport.

She has not been an effective representative for the community. We have not just heard this from a few activists from a few neighborhoods; we’ve also heard the same thing privately from community leaders and others who have nothing against her.

The only way to get better representation is to vote people out when they fall short. If Rajkumar doesn’t do a good job, she’s not likely to be able to stay in office for another term.

But we think Rajkumar has what it takes to be a good councilmember. The Villager endorses Jenifer Rajkumar in the Sept. 10 primary.

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