At the West Side Spirit District 6 forum (clockwise from bottom left): Publisher Jeanne Straus, Alexis Gelber, Richard Khavkine, Douglas Feiden and Michael Garofalo for Straus News; candidates Hyman Drusin, Cary Goodman, David Owens, Helen Rosenthal, Bill Raudenbush, Mel Wymore. Photo: Molly Colgan
Incumbent City Council Member Helen Rosenthal and the five challengers running against her to represent the Upper West Side in the city council met last week for a roundtable forum hosted by the West Side Spirit.
Rosenthal, who is nearing the end of her first term in office, will face fellow Democrats Cary Goodman and Mel Wymore in the Sept. 12 primary election. The primary winner will face Republican Hyman Drusin and independent candidates David Owens and Bill Raudenbush in the Nov. 7 general election.
All six candidates met at the West Side Spirit's offices on Sept. 1 for a discussion on some of the most pressing issues facing Council District 6, from affordable housing to bike lanes, along with a bit of fun (a sampling of candidates' three-word descriptions of themselves: Rosenthal — Creative, smart, fighter; Drusin — Jewish, intellectual, introvert; Goodman — Save our park). The Spirit's editorial team moderated the forum, which was streamed live on Facebook.
Video of the full conversation can be viewed on the West Side Spirit's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/WestSideSpirit/). Below is a compilation of highlights from the discussion, organized by topic:Small businesses
Wymore: “I've proposed a fine for long-term vacancies in our neighborhood to encourage landlords to rent to small businesses at a much quicker rate. I've proposed the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which is a proposal to help small businesses negotiate a fair renewal of their lease. They're most vulnerable at the lease renewal part. [...] Thirdly, cut the red tape for businesses so that they don't have an inspection or license of application due every day that distracts them from actually doing the work they need.”
Rosenthal: “[W]e started our small business clinics to connect these retail owners with lawyers and with loans. I submitted legislation to eliminate the commercial rent tax for nearly 300 businesses on the Upper West Side. [...] The Small Business Jobs Survival Act was introduced 20 years ago by [former council member and Manhattan Borough President] Ruth Messinger. Its time has passed. Even [Manhattan Borough President] Gale Brewer has said it's not feasible. That's why I'm researching legislation to put a vacancy tax on empty storefronts.”
Goodman: “My recommendation is called the Legacy Stores Act, [...] which is a plan to provide the difference between what the renewal rate of the lease is and the amount of rent that the store owner had been paying with tax credits.”
Drusin: “To propose credits or offsets or grants, I would oppose. Because when you're interfering with the market — and the most extreme example is commercial rent control — you always have unanticipated consequences that are worse than the benefits that you're trying to create. I would advocate to get the government's hands off the stores. Whatever you can do to do that [...] repeal the commercial rent tax, but also reduc[e] regulations and those tax generating fines.”Overdevelopment
Raudenbush: “If you walk into Central Park and look south, what you're doing is you're looking into the future when you see those megatall towers. [...] We see things happening around the city and we think that just because it's not happening on our block means it's not coming to our block. They built a highrise on top of a public library in Brooklyn. That should terrify everyone. They built condos in Brooklyn Bridge Park. People will say they only technically did that, but flip that upside down and that's the same argument they will make when they come for our public spaces.”Creating and preserving middle-class housing
Owens: “The incentives that are given to developers must be held tightly. They need to add units to our district, period. There should be no way to get out of that. The incentive that they have, the tax abatements that they get, warrants them to give back to the community, to make sure that people that are teachers and firemen and police officers are able to live in our district.”
Wymore: “I believe we need sweeping land use reform to trigger public review of any development that significantly increases the density of that lot, so that we can negotiate with developers the kinds of benefits that we need in our community. Affordable housing being the top one, schools, parks and investment in our subways, all of these are things that we should be negotiating. I also think it's the wrong approach to give tax breaks to billionaires and allow them to build higher and higher in our community.”
Raudenbush: “We've looked at a lot of options that focus on renters who are middle class, and one of the things we haven't done is focus on how do we get people in to purchase homes who can stay there, because that's really how you solve this problem in a longer sort of timeline. [...] Let's really hammer the stake as council people and make sure [...] that we start to do programs that get middle class people to buy.”
Goodman: “I think that the need for affordable housing has to incorporate a Community Median Income, which we do not have. We have an [Area Media Income], which, for a lot of the people that I know in this neighborhood, is astronomical. If they were forced to deal with the rents that correspond to the AMI now, they wouldn't be on the Upper West Side.”Commercial traffic on West End Avenue
Drusin: “If suddenly all these commercial vehicles are going down West End, why has that changed? Maybe it's because Amsterdam, which used to be a [...] relatively fast and wide street is now slowed down and narrowed because of the bike lane, and ditto with Columbus. Maybe they're doing it because they have no option. [...] Consideration or thought should be put into why this is happening [...] instead of just cracking down.”American Museum of Natural History's planned Gilder Center expansion, which would occupy a portion of what is now Theodore Roosevelt Park
Goodman: “You often hear people say, 'Oh, it's only a quarter of an acre.' Let's just take a quarter of your heart. Let's just take a quarter of the Empire State Building. [...] I think a park is as important to the lifeblood and the happiness and the well-being and the quality of life of a community as a heart is to an individual. [...] The councilwoman never took it to the public to discuss before steering tens of millions of dollars to that project.”
Rosenthal: “The money is going to be used for 21st century research labs, science education rooms and opening up visibility for the millions of specimens that are currently locked behind closed doors in a warehouse. [...] We set up a parks working group. They've come back with a plan that will recreate the neighborhood haven feel. We set up a traffic working group — I'm still not satisfied with the dealing with congestion. But most importantly, there won't be any toxins going into the air. [...] I'm really excited about this project. [...] It's run through a full community review over the last two years.”
Owens: “I've come to the conclusion that I don't think the way the project is right now is very beneficial to the Upper West Side. [...] Any time you're taking you're taking public lands away without full review is a very dangerous precedent to set. [...] I'm all for the museum, […] but it has to be run better, and you can't take land that belongs to the public as if it's your own. It's not their backyard, it's ours.”