By Carol Tannenhauser
Are you as interested in your local city council race as you are in the million-candidate march to City Hall?
“In truth, I don’t pay attention to the city council elections or understand what they do,” a long-time, otherwise well-informed Upper West Sider admitted. She then guessed who her council member is — wrong. “At the moment, I’m focusing on the mayor’s race,” she said. “Why do you ask?”
Because the New York City Council wields significant influence over the daily lives of New Yorkers. Like Congress on the federal level, it is the legislative body of the city. Plus, your council member provides key constituent services. Is there a safety or noise hazard that hasn’t gone away even after you contact 311? Your council member is probably your next call. Is your landlord pressuring you in a way you think could be illegal? Yep, keep that council member’s number nearby.
In addition to making laws and providing direct services, the Council is responsible for negotiating with the mayor and approving the City’s budget — $88.2 billion in 2021. The Council also monitors City agencies, such as the Departments of Buildings and Sanitation and the NYPD, making sure they’re effectively serving the community. (Garbage can missing? Call your council person!) And the Council reviews land use and zoning decisions, helping to determine, in the words of the website, “the growth and development of our city.”
Despite its importance, voter turnout for City Council elections has been historically dismal. In 2017, Council District 6, comprising most of the UWS, had one of the highest turnout rates for a Democratic primary — arguably more important than the general election — but, even then, only about 26% of the 80,336 registered Democrats in the neighborhood voted, according to City Limits.
This fall, the City Council will turn over in a big way. Of the 51 seats, 35 will be up for grabs due to term limits. Current District 6 Councilmember Helen Rosenthal will be out at the end of 2021, as will District 7 member Mark Levine. The next Democratic primary is on June 22, 2021, just five months away.
After a year of turmoil and lawsuits, six candidates are running to represent District 6. WSR has interviewed them all, and they are an impressive group. One of them — acknowledged by the other five as “the one to beat” — is Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who is taking an unprecedented political step backwards, trying to regain the seat she held from 2002 to 2013.
We will present profiles of each candidate in the coming weeks, in alphabetical order. We’ll also be taking a look at District 7 later.
First: What Made Gale Run?