Four Potential LGBT Candidates Poised to Seek Quinn’s Seat
With the 2013 election for the term-limited seat of lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn still more than a year away, four possible candidates are now contemplating a run to succeed her in representing the 3rd Council District. And if identifying as LGBT is an asset in this largely gay district, all four of these potential contenders fit the bill.
"I haven’t made a formal declaration of candidacy. I want to gauge interest and put the infrastructure in place, but 2013 is a long way away," said Corey Johnson, chair of Community Board 4. "People want to get through the presidential and other administrative races before they focus on municipal races."
Should Johnson decide to run, he is ready. The New York State Board of Elections notes that he officially registered an exploratory committee, Corey for Council.
Johnson has been an activist since he came out at age 16 when he was co-captain of his high school football team in Massachusetts. "It turned into a big story, and put me on the path to be involved in LGBT activism on the national level," said Johnson. "When I moved to New York more than a decade ago, I got deeply involved in the community. I believe I have a track record on all the issues that effect the neighborhood and the community, from maintaining a high quality of life, having confidence in the school system, and feeling like they are represented against the moneyed interests."
Also contemplating a run is lesbian attorney Yetta Kurland, who faced off against Quinn in a three-way primary in 2009. She won a respectable 31 percent of the vote in spite of the incumbent’s edge.
A crowd of supporters and well-wishers gathered at Kate’s Joint on the Lower East Side on Wednesday to help Kurland celebrate her birthday and raise funds for her candidacy’s exploratory committee.
"It’s important to say that I have not formally announced my candidacy at this point," said Kurland. "But I have done a lot of advocacy and support."
Also contemplating a run is Brad Hoylman, in his third term as chair of Community Board 2 and Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and former chief of staff for state Sen. Tom Duane.
Neither man has declared their candidacy; but all three of these potential candidates have a similar take on issues important to District 3 that includes the Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. These include good schools, parks, and neighborhoods, health care, affordable housing, curbing over-development, and standing up to powerful real estate developers, small business and quality of life issues.
Different Candidates, Similar Issues
While all four potential candidates are familiar with the issues important to residents of the 3rd District, they all have different ideas on how to deal with them.
Johnson, 29, is the youngest potential candidate for this City Council seat, but his ideas are also among the most innovative. Pointing to mandatory set-aside programs in San Francisco, Johnson said that New York would be better served if the City Council exerted oversight over luxury developers to ensure that they bring more than just high-end condos to the area.
"A comprehensive land use policy would be a good thing," he said. "New York City has the most highly desirable and valued real estate in the country, so it’s not like it’s hard to rent these apartments. The priority needs to be keeping our communities diverse; economically and otherwise; fighting for vacancy decontrol; and working with city agencies on a comprehensive land use and housing policy to make it easier for developers who want to build to know what’s going to be expected of them in the future."
Kurland is most recently known as an outspoken critic of the closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital in April 2010.
"It threw an entire community into a serious health crisis," she said. "We still don’t have adequate health services for this area of Manhattan, and that’s a big issue."
She sees the issue of health care on a national level, noting the big decisions and billions of dollars that will go into it over the next few years. And through her work on St. Vincent’s, Kurland has also learned the importance of standing up to powerful real estate interests.
"Development should be a positive thing that enriches our community and is done in a sustainable way," said Kurland. "We need independent elected officials who are willing to enforce the laws, even when it comes to powerful real estate developers like the Rudins."
Kurland noted that District 3 residents spend a lot of money on rent and have a very high cost of living; but do not have access to basic resources because of development. As a former New York University professor and founder of Hello World Language Center, Kurland questions where the children of families who are moving into the 300 new condos in what was once St. Vincent’s will attend school.
"It literally creates an environment when the most basic resources like education and hospitals aren’t accessible to some of most affluent and enviable places to live," she said.
Kurland also speaks up for preserving mom-and-pop shops, and preserving zoning to allow small factories and business remain in Chelsea, rather than changing the zoning to convert the space for luxury condos. "When larger condos come up, oftentimes the first floor is a huge commercial businesses with rent that small businesses couldn’t possibly afford," said Kurland. "We have got to start thinking about a sustainable balance between residential units and basic resources for the community."
"The city has put the cart before the horse in terms of all of this upzoning of neighborhoods and development, with nothing to ensure that the infrastructure keeps pace," echoed Andrew Berman, a native New Yorker who has actively advocated for parks, schools, affordable housing and quality of life. He also helped found Friends of Pier 84 and the Westside Neighborhood Alliance.
A product of New York’s public schools; Berman said his first focus will be reducing class sizes and increasing the number of policemen, firefighters, sanitation workers and traffic reduction initiatives in order to accommodate the city’s increased population.
Hoylman has done his share to increase the infrastructure; helping to secure two new public schools, fighting against NYU’s campus expansion plan, preserving historic buildings and neighborhoods, helping several non-profit theaters from losing their leases, securing a new public park with an AIDS memorial and brokering a deal to renovate Washington Square Park.
"It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve had a lot of help every step of the way from fellow board members, local elected officials, advocacy organizations and community members," said Hoylman, who is a Democratic district leader for the Village. "That’s what effective representation is about: forging coalitions to address local problems."
A nonprofit lawyer by trade; Hoylman has worked on fair funding for the city’s public schools, traffic congestion mitigation and small business recovery after Sept. 11. He also advocates for children, the needy, the sick and the elderly, noting that he is the parent of a toddler.
"My partner David and I have a 16-month-old daughter, Silvia, and as a friend pointed out the other day, if I were elected in 2013, I’d be the first openly gay parent on the City Council," said Hoylman, who has served as president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, an Empire State Pride Agenda board member and a member of the LGBT synagogue Congregation Beit Simchat Torah.
Hoylman said that her daughter is at the forefront of his mind on all of the issues he tackles. These range from LGBT youth to schools, housing and open space.
"Without question, we need to do a better job of reducing class size in our public schools... and to treat our teachers as the professionals they are and stop demonizing them," said Hoylman.
He said providing services to seniors and the disabled, building a strong economy through a well-educated and healthy workforce, supporting small businesses, getting a full-service hospital on the West Side of Manhattan, and putting "the brakes on the boom and bust development that threatens the character of our neighborhoods," especially in Hudson Yards, remain top priorities. Hoylman is also a proponent of "participatory budgeting" that allows local residents to have a say in which capital projects will receive discretionary funding.
Regardless of who decides to run for Quinn’s seat, having four openly gay candidates ensures that the needs of the LGBT community will certainly not be overlooked.
"I think anybody who is going to speak to the concerns and aspirations of these people have to understand the struggles LGBT New Yorkers face in keeping our neighborhoods safe, friendly, and open for people of all sexual orientations," said Berman. "People come from all over the world to feel safe and a part of our community, and anybody who has the pretense of representing these neighborhoods should understand the needs of the LGBT community."
Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.