Join the club: Downtowners form new political group

Patrick Kennell, a member of Community Board 1 and cofounder of the Financial District Neighborhood Association, is now cofounding a new political club to organize Downtown Democrats.
Photo by Milo Hess


Locals living in and around the Financial District are cordially invited to attend the Apr. 11 inaugural meeting of the New Downtown Democrats, a political club formed by area civic mavens to harness the relatively newfound voting power of New York’s fastest-growing residential community, according to one founding member.

“Considering the fact that the population down here is exploding, it makes obvious sense that there needs to be some organized political effort,” said Patrick Kennell, who is also a member of Community Board 1. “It’s about expressing our power at the polls.”

New York’s political clubs represent the some of the most grassroots elements of local politics, and members typically try to influence elections by distributing voter cards at poll sites, and through mailings that advertise their endorsements for offices ranging from local district leaders to the Commander-in-Chief.

But Kennell, who is also largely responsible for creating the Financial District Neighborhood Association, said he doesn’t envision the new club as being overly concerned with “electioneering,” and instead hopes to use the group as a way to fire up Downtown voters and draw more political attention to Manhattan’s southernmost extremes.

“It’s partly electioneering, but for us its about getting more people in the neighborhood to vote and voice their opinions through voting, and that in turn will make the powers that be pay attention to the area,” he said.

Local pols don’t fully appreciate the Downtown area’s recent transformation into a residential hotspot, according to another founding member, who said elected officials still tend to prioritize more traditionally residential neighborhoods, such as Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.

“This used to be a business center where people didn’t really live,” said Enrico Ciotti, who owns VBar on Front Street and is a member of the Seaport Alliance. “We’re not saying our needs are more important than theirs, we’re just saying things have changed, and a lot of people live Downtown and have small businesses here.”

Paul Proulx, also a ranking member of the Fidi Neighborhood Association, said he joined the group specifically to advocate for much-needed city services and Downtown infrastructure improvements — most notably through upgrades to the area’s colonial-era street grid, which locals have blamed for a whole host of quality-of-life and safety issues — that have been late catching up with the area’s radical demographic shift.

“Existing institutions have failed to plan for or address the issues facing residents in Lower Manhattan. If we want a better future for our children and want to maintain property values, we need to wrest control of our future from the status quo,” said Proulx. “The only way to do that is through political action.”

New Downtown Democrats won’t be the only political club that advocates for neighborhoods south of Canal Street, and the venerable Downtown Independent Democrats have represented the interests of area residents for years, according to the club’s vice president, Sean Sweeney.

But Sweeney’s club features more Lower East Side residents, and has been struggling to attract members living in the southern reaches of Downtown for years, despite an annual mailer that invites thousands of locals to join up, he said.

The Downtown Independent Democrats actually reached out to Kennell to join their club, and Sweeney admits he was disappointed that the Fidi organizer decided to create his own outfit, although he hopes the groups can work together in the future.

“I think he would have gotten more power if he had joined Downtown Independent Democrats,” said Sweeney. “He’d have more influence with an established political club, but if he chooses to form his own club, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

With Kennell saying he doesn’t see the group participating in the traditional electioneering that usually defines political clubs’ role in city politics, and an admission from Ciotti that the group hasn’t established a strategy for accomplishing its stated goals, it’s unclear exactly how the group will reach out and effect the district.

The group does enjoy endorsements from Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou (D–Lower Manhattan) and Comptroller Scott Stringer, who will be on hand at VBar on Apr. 11 for the club’s official debut. And Daisy Paez, a district leader for the 65th Assembly District, has agreed to join the club, lending the New Downtown Democrats an air of legitimacy with at least one elected member.

And while the group’s activities and form will likely take shape over time, and defined in part by the interest the club generates, locals can at least trust that New Downtown Democrats’ fearless leader is a doer, Ciotti said.

“I remember one time we joked about forming a Democratic club Downtown, and with Pat you never know — you talk about it, and then it just gets done,” he said.

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