The national and congressional elections may be over, but in Manhattan, there are races down the ballot that are just getting started.
The 504 Democratic Club and Progressive Action of Lower Manhattan co-hosted a virtual forum Wednesday night featuring candidates for the Second City Council District (East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Lower East Side, Murray Hill, Rose Hill) and the Third City Council District (Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Greenwich Village, West SoHo, Hudson Square, Times Square, Garment District, Flatiron, Upper West Side.)
The candidates in attendance were progressive activist Eric Bottcher; former Community Board 2 member Arthur Schwartz; Hell’s Kitchen Democrats Co-Founder Aleta LaFargue; small business owner Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick; Community Board 4 Member Leslie Boghosian Murphy; tenant activist Marni Halasa; and incumbent Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-East Village, Gramercy Park).
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein (D-Lower East Side, East Village) moderated, asking the candidates about how to handle various challenges faced by the city.
Disability emerged as a major topic of the discussion. All the candidates pledged to make their campaign events accessible. However, they disagreed over how to best accommodate disabled people citywide. Leslie Boghosian Murphy emphasized the need to create more accessible subway stations, along with personal attendants and tools for other challenges.
Aleta LaFargue called for all new city buildings to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and an end to laws that strip disabled people of their health care if they reach a certain income.
However, Arthur Schwartz considered the ADA small potatoes, claiming that it doesn’t do enough to protect New York’s disabled population.
“New York’s Human Rights Law has a wider definition of disability,” he explained. “We must expand it further.”
On the matter of hospital downsizing, Erik Bottcher insisted that “Beth Israel cannot downsize,” referring to its role in treating patients infected with COVID-19, while Marni Halasa mourned St. Vincent’s Hospital’s replacement with luxury housing.
“If you have a heart attack, you only have fifteen minutes to get to the hospital to survive,” Halasa explained. “Now that St. Vincent’s is no longer there, it’s that much harder. We need a corporate tax on the 1% to save our hospitals.”
The issue of defunding the police also came up, with all agreeing that some responsibilities are better reserved for other types of professionals. Schwartz cited Camden, New Jersey as a model of using health care and mental health professionals to take up some of the slack. Bottcher called for radical reforms, including only letting residents of the five boroughs become cops, making the Civilian Complaint Review Board independent and more powerful, and “defanging” the police unions.
Phelan Dante Fitzpatrick, citing his experiences as a black man who has been subjected to discriminatory policing practices such as stop and frisk, based his sense of security elsewhere.
“For me, being safe is job security. Being safe is taking my daughter to the hospital and not having a $1,000 bill when I get home,” he said. “It’s my black and brown friends not being overpoliced in their own neighborhoods to benefit a for-profit prison system.”
When discussing zoning measures, the candidates varied perhaps most widely. Halasa called for keeping the open streets program temporary and allowing local communities to control land use, while Boghosian Murphy called for outdoor dining to go permanent, leading to fewer cars, and calling for the establishment of bike paths based on formal grids.
Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, called for investment in park land.
“We need all the green spaces we can get,” he asserted. “When the tourists return, they’ll want to visit Central Park and the High Line.”
Towards the forum’s end, incumbent Carlina Rivera appeared, offering a plan to fix the gridlock over improving mass transit.
“The mayor and governor always play the blame game over the MTA,” she highlighted. “We should put it under control of one of them, and if they don’t dedicate enough capital to access and improvements, we’ll know who to vote out.”