By Carol Tannenhauser
For the first time, all five candidates for the District 6 City Council seat will be appearing together at a public forum to be held on Monday, July 31st, from 6 – 7:30 pm, at Fordham University.
The race promises to be intense as it moves toward the September 12th Democratic primary and the general election on November 7th.
Democratic incumbent Helen Rosenthal will be joined by Democratic challengers Mel Wymore and Cary Goodman, and Independents Bill Raudenbush and David Owens. Lesley Massiah-Arthur, associate vice president for government relations and urban affairs at Fordham, will moderate a discussion among the candidates, after which questions submitted by the audience will be addressed.
“We’re calling it a forum not a debate,” said Sean Khorsandi, interim executive director of Landmark West, the nonprofit preservationist group that is hosting the event, along with Historic Districts Council, The League of Preservation Voters, and Fordham University.
“We’re not looking for gotchas or whodunnits, just open discussion about land use, preservation, and zoning issues affecting our neighborhood,” Khorsandi said. “A hot topic right now is definitely the threat of ‘super-talls’ arriving on the Upper West Side.”
Other topics to be discussed include “small business retention and support; the accumulation and use of development rights; and the protection of public assets such as parks, light and air.”
If you aren’t quite sure what the City Council is or does, you are not alone. WSR asked a random sampling of passers-by in the neighborhood those questions and most responded with some version of “I have no idea.”
To remedy that and get you ready for the forum – and the ballot box – here’s a basic overview of the City Council’s structure, functions and powers:
Politically speaking, it doesn’t get more local than the City Council, the legislative branch of NYC government. Unlike the federal Congress, it is unicameral –comprised of one chamber. The City is divided into 51 council districts, each represented by a council member, who is limited to two consecutive four-year terms. Most of the Upper West Side falls within District 6, where Rosenthal is finishing her first term. (Manhattan Valley, bounded by West 110th Street to the north, Central Park West to the east, West 96th Street to the south, and Broadway to the west, falls within District 7, currently represented by Mark Levine.)
Like everything else, “local” in NYC takes on a different meaning than in most towns. Where else, for example, does a local legislature negotiate and have sole approval of an $85.2 billion budget? Or pass legislation allowing a billionaire-mayor to serve a third term? In addition to proposing and passing laws, the Council serves as a citizen’s first line of recourse and support, liaising with and monitoring the effectiveness of city agencies, such as the Department of Education and NYPD. And, significantly, according to its website, the Council “reviews land use and makes decisions about the growth and development of our city.”
Crain’s explained why this is important:
“The New York City political system is dominated by the executive branch, but in one key area, the legislative body calls the shots. All land-use decisions—such as zoning, historic districts and even sidewalk cafés—must go through the 51-member City Council. As a result, few major real estate projects can proceed with just the support of the mayor. Not only is the council empowered to thwart or support a mayor’s development agenda, but recent tradition also gives local members de facto veto power over land-use changes specific to their districts.”
Again, the West Side City Council Candidates Forum: The Balance Between Land Use and Quality of Life, will be held on Monday, July 31st, from 6 – 7:30 pm, at Fordham University, Lowenstein Building, 12th Floor Lounge, 113th West 60th Street. Call (212) 496-8110 to RSVP and receive precise directions. The forum is free and open to all.