City Council Races are Heating Up; Here’s Why You Should Care

City Council District 6, in pink.

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?

NEWS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. LK says:

      The good thing is that Helen will be out. The bad thing is our representation will remain poor since all the leading candidates do not care about the quality-of-life issues…

      • UWS4ever says:

        There is a wonderful candidate who will take on quality of life issues! Maria Danzilo! She recently entered the race. She’s fabulous and please donate if you can. We need her!

        • Carlos says:

          Thank you for sharing – I just looked at her web site and she looks excellent – a pragmatic liberal. I appreciate WSR’s efforts to cover this important race and hopefully they will add coverage of her as well.

    2. Karen says:

      Thanks WSR for doing this. Competitive local races need as much intelligent coverage as they can get. City Council has direct effect on our daily lives.

    3. Ben B says:

      Very informative. Thank you for acknowledging this on your platform.

    4. Leon says:

      Thank you for doing this. It will hopefully be a valuable resource.

      Hopefully the candidates gave thorough answers on key issues like how to police quality of life crimes, increased homelessness, empty storefronts, more and better affordable housing options, and plans for screened schools.

      These are the issues that are top of mind for many of us and that many of us feel are not being adequately resolved right now.

    5. Andrew says:

      In the end it doesnt really matter anymore…you just have to be WOKE…excuse me while I go back to sleep

    6. good humor says:

      Random and unimportant question: why does the district go out to the middle of Hudson, but only north until 96th?

      • UWS says:


      • Christine E says:

        I also find it interesting that the district 6 borders include the boat basin (or anyone living in the Hudson 59-96?). And that district 6 is responsible for the entirety of Central Park! WSR, what does that mean, exactly, in terms of City Council vs Parks Dept?

        • Jessie says:

          It’s just a legal requirement that all area be accounted for when drawing Districts so as to make sure all potential developable space is included even if there are no residents at that moment.

    7. Josh P. says:

      I’m 36, I’ve been renting on the UWS for the last 10 years, and I would love to start a family here.
      Gale has been in city government for the last 20 years. During that time the city has become completely unaffordable for anyone trying to start a family here. My question for her is why has this happened during her time in office and what is her plan to make the neighborhood affordable for regular people again?

    8. Truth Bearer says:

      I pray people in this neighborhood fully understand how important this city council election is and if you feel that the last 2 years, not just this past year, have been many many steps backwards, please vote for CHANGE. If QUALITY OF LIFE issues are not the 1st priority – or even a close 2nd to a candidate’s platform, with a real concrete plan, then we need another candidate, and fast.

      WSR – significant help to have a spotlight on this and the candidates.

    9. Frank Grimes says:

      Hopefully these candidates dont ignore the actual topics New Yorkers care about. If any of these candidates read this, before you begin spewing about how progressive and inclusive your agenda is, we would like to know how you plan to address:

      Empty Storefronts
      “Temporary” homeless in hotels
      Street Homelessness
      Failures in NYCHA housing

      So far The mayoral candidates have dodged all these issues and instead try to push their progressive ideology, which to me says they have zero plan, aside from hoping these issues will magically disappear. We can do better….

      • sg says:

        As long as you vote for a Democrat, then progressivism will be the primary focus. Since the UWS (and pretty much all of NYC) is a one party town that, it’s going to be very hard to address the issues you point. Instead of making a pie for more people to enjoy, D’s only know how to reallocate and lower the quality of life for everyone…until those who can leave do. So sad.

    10. Michael B McNerney says:

      Please ask the candidates their position on reforming local law 11 and how they think the city could be less burdensome while maintaining safety. Thanks!

      • 72RSD says:

        I agree hugely — and would expand to their opinions on a number of building code issues that are making housing more unaffordable. EG in early 2020 LL11 was made more burdensome with terra-cotta replacement requirements. Buildings now get gas pressure tests that are almost guaranteed-to-fail as our housing stock ages.

        If we care about housing affordability and lowering commercial real estate costs, these must be front and center.

        Would love if WSR could organize a candidate’s form to take questions from ordinary taxpayers on these under-the-radar issues that have a huge impact.

        • James says:

          You read my mind. LL11 should be rolled back to once every ten years. Even the smallest projects entail outsized permit and mobilization costs. The gas inspections are too draconian – imagine being without cooking gas for a year because a small bubble appeared on a soaped down pipe in your basement. Don’t forget 2009’s backflow preventers, something Jim Gennaro and Oliver Koppel gifted the plumbing industry and cost apartment houses millions to install and a $1000 to inspect and re-permit every year, all to mitigate the chance of some water from your building getting back into the supply line. Gale Brewer supported this travesty, too. When will the city stop meddling in our lives and just start providing proper services?

    11. UWS says:

      Thank you for covering our local races!

    12. Wake Me When It's Over says:

      Excuse me, but I still have severe election fatigue. Is there a pill for that?

    13. Pedestrian says:

      One can only hope that candidates are committed to local issues instead of using the City Council as a soap box for national issues. We need a city government that focuses on the City and how it works for residents not billionaire developers and lobbyists!

    14. Lisa Orman says:

      Thanks for covering this issue! It’s crucial that people are educated about the candidates. To that end, we created an events page with opportunities to participate/listen in/ask questions at candidate forums. Keep checking back as more and more forums are being announced.

    15. Chris C says:

      Sara Lind! She’s deeply involved in our community and deserves your either 1 or 2 spot.

    16. js says:

      I’d like to suggest going forward, that WSR ask commenters who have specific affiliations to note their affiliations. This helps with transparency.

      For example there is a comment about info on cityrise. It would be best for the comment to note cityrise is a bicycling advocacy group.