By Carol Tannenhauser
A hotly contested Upper West Side City Council race is entering its last stretch before the Democratic primary, and the candidates are forcefully trying to stand out. On Wednesday night, four candidates for the seat now held by Helen Rosenthal met for a “Faith Over Fear” forum, held at the JCC Manhattan, on 76th Street and Amsterdam.
Rev. Schuyler Vogel, co-moderator with Rabbi Miriam Wajnberg, requested that both the audience and candidates “embody our best selves.” This was, after all, a “faith-based” forum, organized by the Faith in New York Action Fund, representing more than 70 diverse congregations, in partnership with the JCC’s Joseph Stern Center for Social Responsibility.
Nonetheless, it was hard to completely squash the tough talk and braggadocio.
“I invented the Senior Olympics and I did it right here on the Upper West Side,” said Dr. Cary Goodman.
“I personally am the only one to have organized the community to build our first new school on the UWS in 30 years,” Mel Wymore said.
“…luxury development – I’ve stopped everything that’s ever happened here on the Upper West Side,” said incumbent Helen Rosenthal.
Bill Raudenbush, the only Independent on the stage (David Owens didn’t appear), called Bill de Blasio “the most pro-development mayor in history.”
Then there were the attacks.
Wymore attacked Rosenthal: “Our Council Member has missed opportunities to bring people together. People in Harlem were not even included in that school rezoning plan. And, with the Museum of Natural History, people were very angry that funds were allocated without public input.”
Goodman attacked Wymore: “I know he’s been recently castigating the Council Member, but the same stone needs to be thrown towards him, because he prevented – or certainly didn’t facilitate – a public conversation about [the museum’s] land abuse, while he was on the community board.”
Goodman attacked Rosenthal: “Our campaign is concluding with a parade to celebrate the beauty of the park that our council member wants to destroy.”
Raudenbush attacked the system: “Something we’ve lost along the way, folks, is called ‘public service.’ Time was when people got into politics because they wanted to help people. What our city and state governments – and even our governor – have done is taken left-wing values and, with a D beside their names, they’ve placed money interests above them.”
Rosenthal made a plea for “staying with the facts” – then cited some hopeful ones:
“Over the past four years, as stop-and-frisk has declined, so has crime,” she said. “From 860,000 stop-and-frisks in the latest year of Bloomberg, to less than 20,000 last year under this mayor, we have seen dramatic declines in crime. This August, we saw the fewest homicides in New York City’s current history.”
“We are in an affordable housing crisis,” Rosenthal said. “The vacancy rate is roughly 3-4%. This mayor came up with a plan supported by the City Council that will get us more than 80,000 units of affordable housing, whereas, in the prior 20 years, we got only 6,000 units.”
There were no disputes regarding the rights and protections of undocumented New Yorkers. Referring to the repeal of DACA, Raudenbush said:
“This great country of ours is partaking in something that’s so inhumane, so reprehensible, so out of character…that we all should be shocked and bewildered about how we’ve come to this place. It is unbelievable to me that we could live in these United States and do something like repealing DACA.”
“We will give up our federal funding before we will give up our residents,” Rosenthal declared.
All the candidates were in favor of further decriminalizing minor offenses; community policing; and affording legal services to undocumented immigrants at the time of arrest, rather than at detention.
“These values,” Wymore said, “of diversity, justice, and inclusivity, allowed space for my own personal journey. As a woman of 46, mother of two children, I came out as transgender. And my community – this community – not only did not exclude me, but empowered me as the newly elected chair of Community Board 7.”
Concluded Goodman, “I just want to say what a great time I’ve had running. This is the first time I’ve ever run for city office. It’s really been a joyful period for me. I said to one of the other candidates, ‘Gee, I’m really having a good time.’ Blank stare.”
The field is fascinating, the competition palpably fierce. The Democratic primary between Rosenthal, Wymore, and Goodman is on September 12th. If you haven’t registered for the primary yet, you’re too late, but you still have time to register to vote in the general election on November 7th.