By Carol Tannenhauser
On Monday night, the five candidates for City Council from District 6 participated in a public forum at Fordham University to discuss the most pressing issues facing the Upper West Side, among them: affordable housing; empty storefronts; over-development and super-tall buildings; the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History; safeguarding seniors; and school overcrowding and segregation.
It wasn’t a debate, so there were few direct exchanges. Responses to the questions posed by Moderator Lesley Massiah-Arthur, an associate vice president at Fordham, were civil, though passionate and laced with implications and accusations, mostly among the Democrats – incumbent Helen Rosenthal, Dr. Cary Goodman, and Mel Wymore. Wymore is running for the second time, after losing to Rosenthal in the 2013 Democratic primary by less than 2,000 votes.
The forum was co-hosted by Landmark West, the Historic Districts Council, and the League of Preservation Voters, all nonprofits concerned with preservation, zoning, and land use. In his introductory remarks, Wymore, who served on the board of Landmark West before resigning to run, underscored the importance of these themes.
“Our community depends on the way our built environment proceeds,” he said.
Other candidates present were “Big Bill” Raudenbush (I), who, like Goodman, is a staunch opponent of the Museum’s expansion plan, and David Owens, a self-described “neophyte” (and notably nice guy), who introduced himself to the crowd of about 300, saying,
“I’d like to thank the other people on the podium. Anybody who wants to help my community – our community – I’m supportive of. Even though we’re challengers here, we’re all one community, so I thank each and every one of you for what you bring to the Upper West Side.”
What each “brings” is significant, since all are either Democrats or Independents; there is no “other side of the aisle.” In light of those circumstances, Massiah-Arthur asked the candidates what “differentiates” them from each other. Here’s a sampling of their responses.
Helen Rosenthal: “In each and every development project that has come before our community, my office got out ahead of it. Developers pay lawyers and PR firms a lot of money to find technicalities to game the system to their advantage. The only way to stop them is to (1) be equally good with technical solutions, (2) not waste the public’s time with solutions that have no chance of surviving a court challenge or a legislative vote; and (3) be real about where you’re gonna go. We’ll never have unanimous consent on these issues. We’re Upper West Siders. We were born to disagree.”
Mel Wymore: “You should view us based on the results we’ve produced and the concrete plans we have. I’ve been on the UWS for almost 30 years and I’ve stood up to developers and landlords that entire time…I won a new community and teen center for kids in need after school…permanent affordable housing…$20 million for our parks… and a new public school. It takes an activist and organizer to be able to do that.”
Dr. Cary Goodman: “It’s going to be easy for me to distinguish myself from my opponents. Both Mel and Helen support the idea of having the American Museum of Natural History annex public parkland.”
David Owens: “I think growing up in the community as I did, understanding what it was before, is very important. Keeping continuity of the community as far as development is even more important. Dropping the ball is not acceptable anymore. The Upper West Side is the greatest place in the world – to me – and we have to protect it. That’s what I’m all about.”
Bill Raudenbush: “The truth is, everyone’s going to stand up here and more or less tell you what you want to hear. The question is, who do you believe? I’m the only candidate who is proposing a hard cap of 500’ on all buildings across the entire Upper West Side…I am dead serious about zoning reform…I propose no new shadows on public parkland. Have we reached the point of inequity in our city where only the wealthy and the powerful are entitled to sunlight? In a body of 51 members you have to have a strong, clear voice if you want to get anything done. Who has the strongest voice?”
We will be profiling each candidate in the coming weeks before the Democratic primary on September 12th and the general election on November 7tt . Be sure you are registered to vote! “We have a crisis of participation in our democracy,” Raudenbush said. “Barely one million people participated in the last city-wide mayoral election. That’s about one in nine…”