Council candidates debate preservation

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Tech hub proposal among topics


  • At a Monday night forum, candidates for City Council Districts 1 and 2 answered questions on preservation from residents and activists. Photo: Madeleine Thompson 

  • Attendees to a City Council District 1 and 2 candidates forum expressed their opposition to a proposed tech hub near Union Square. Photo: Madeleine Thompson

Candidates for City Council District 1 gathered Monday night for a forum on preservation that packed a room of the Third Street Music School to the gills. Many attendees wore stickers reading “no tech hub without rezoning,” in reference to a proposal by the New York City Economic Development Corp. to attract more tech companies to Union Square. Those opposed to the so-called tech hub want the area to be rezoned first to restrict the height and size of commercial buildings. This was just one of many issues raised by residents and activists.

There are fewer contenders for the Council District 1 seat because incumbent Margaret Chin is running for another term and will be difficult to unseat. According to the city’s Campaign Finance Board, however, Chin has a financial competitor in 28-year-old Christopher Marte, who has raised just over $50,000 to Chin’s roughly $52,000. Her other two challengers are Aaron Foldenauer, a litigator who lives in the Financial District, and Dashia Imperiale, a filmmaker and activist. Campaign finance filings show that Foldenauer has raised $18,000 while Imperiale has yet to disclose any funding.

Erik Bottcher, chief of staff to Council Member Corey Johnson and a board member on the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, moderated the forum. He was flanked by prominent preservationists from Districts 1 and 2, including Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and Carol Crump, managing director of the East Village Community Coalition.

Some hostility was directed towards Chin spokesperson Paul Leonard, who appeared at the forum in Chin’s stead, over the incumbent’s support for building affordable housing for seniors at the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden and her approval of New York University expansion. “It’s about where we can get housing,” Leonard said, touting the Council member’s role in securing senior housing at Essex Crossing. “Seniors are the fastest-growing population in the city. We need affordable housing for seniors that is age-appropriate, accessible.”

One attendee asked Leonard about plans proposed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to sell air rights from the historic fire house building at 137 Centre Street so a developer can build higher on its neighbor, 139 Centre Street. “[Chin is] against the EDC’s plan for development at that city-owned property,” Leonard said, though he conceded that the fire house and home of DCTV “does have needs, and those needs include preserving the structure.”

Imperiale was especially critical of Chin, and said she was running for City Council because of Chin’s “inappropriate relationship” with developers. Panelist David Balkans, president of Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, reminded Imperiale that the job isn’t just about fighting developers. “Preserving neighborhood character isn’t just about preserving buildings, it’s about preserving the diverse small businesses that provide services and make a place friendly and appealing,” Balkans said. “For 30 years city officials have been sitting on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. If elected, will you pledge to proactively help bring this bill to a vote in City Council?” Imperiale said “absolutely.”

The audience seemed receptive to Marte, who emphasized his lifelong residency in District 1, but less so to Foldenauer. A platform of Marte’s that garnered enthusiastic applause was his pledge to hold town halls, which he called “the most basic responsibility of any elected official,” and instate participatory budgeting, which Chin has not elected to do. “The first year I’m in office we’re going to do it,” Marte said of the program where constituents can vote on how to use a small portion of the district’s funds.

The crowded forum and voracious pleas for preservation made it clear that the issue is central for many voters.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at

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