Rosenthal faces 4 challengers

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Small business, development, museum's proposed expansion among campaign issues


  • Council Member Helen Rosenthal faces four challengers in her bid for reelection to the District 6 seat. Photo: Andrew Schwartz

  • This is Mel Wymore's second bid for the District 6 seat.

  • Opposition to the Museum of Natural's History's proposed Gilder Center is Cary Goodman's prime campaign issue.

  • Opposition to the Gilder Center is also a focal point of William Raudenbush’s campaign.

  • David Owens is running as an independent.


In 2013, Helen Rosenthal defeated six candidates in the Democratic primary and three more in the general election on her way to winning the District 6 City Council seat. As Rosenthal nears the end of her first term representing the Upper West Side, it appears as though she'll face a slightly less crowded field in her reelection campaign.

With summer campaign season picking up in advance of the Sept. 12 primaries and the Nov. 7 general election, four challengers have filed with the New York City Campaign Finance Board to run for the seat currently held by Rosenthal.

Rosenthal said she welcomes the election year challengers. “Campaigns make every candidate better,” she said.

“I'm really proud of my record,” Rosenthal said. “We help thousands of people every year.”

Rosenthal expressed particular pride in her support for the hotly contested public school rezoning plan, passed last year, that aims to alleviate overcrowding and increase economic and racial integration in three Upper West Side elementary schools. Rosenthal said it might have made for easier politics to have withheld support for the plan, which attracted vocal opposition from many community members, but she is proud of the stance she took. “Why would you have this job if you wouldn't support the parents on the Community Education Council who voted for it?” Rosenthal said of the plan, which she described as an “elegant, respectful, smart solution” to persistent problems.

“I would do it again,” she said. “It was the right thing to do.”

For the second straight election cycle, Rosenthal will compete for Democratic primary votes with Mel Wymore, the community organizer and former Community Board 7 chairman who finished second to Rosenthal in the 2013 Democratic primary, winning 6,440 votes to Rosenthal's 7,716. If elected, Wymore would become the first transgender person elected to the City Council.

Wymore has made small businesses and what he refers to as the West Side's “epidemic of empty storefronts” focal points of his campaign. “It's almost impossible to start a business, let alone make a profit here because of the red tape we see, because of the soaring rents we see, and because there's no one really supporting the small business person in the face of everyone trying to get the highest rent they can from a chain, a bank or a drugstore,” Wymore, a former small business owner, said.

“We need to level the playing field for small businesses, and that means taking on real estate,” he added. “It means making sure our small businesses have a fair chance to renegotiate their lease.”

Wymore has criticized Rosenthal for what he characterizes as a lack of responsiveness and inclusiveness. “Four years ago, we had an amazing City Council member,” Wymore said, referring to Gale Brewer, who preceded Rosenthal as District 6's Council representative and is now Manhattan Borough president. “Someone who was very connected to the community, full of commitment to making sure all people in the community are well served. And in the last few years, I have had real concerns about the way in which our community is served, especially those who are most vulnerable — low income families, seniors, immigrant families in our community.”

Rosenthal rejects the charge that she is unresponsive to constituents, calling it “flat out wrong.” Among other examples, Rosenthal cited her office's efforts to assist tenants who are harassed by landlords. Rosenthal said that a package of tenant safety bills she has championed in the Council is characteristic of her overall strategy to “use information we gather from the cases that come into our office to pass laws to help people.”

“I do think Mel Wymore makes a lot of assertions,” she said. “I don't experience them to be grounded in fact.”

The American Museum of Natural History's planned Gilder Center expansion, which calls for the construction of a new museum building that would occupy a quarter-acre of what is now Theodore Roosevelt Park and is currently in the city's environmental review process, has been another topic of contentious debate in the district. Opponents cite a host of concerns with the planned expansion, including lost park space, increased traffic congestion, noise during construction, and the fact that the project relies, in significant measure, on public funding.

Rosenthal supports the plan, which she said will serve the public and “polish the gem” that is the museum. “I have heard the community loud and clear on this issue,” Rosenthal said, adding that politicians have allocated public resources to the museum for years and that she would like to see additional public reporting from the museum on issues like traffic congestion.

Wymore said he is “not, in principle, against the idea” of the expansion, but that there wasn't adequate public debate surrounding the proposal. “We have a very upset community because a decision was made without their input,” he said.

Wymore has concerns about the size of the expansion and its impacts on traffic and environmental sustainability. “I would freeze funding until we had full public hearings, because that's the right thing to do,” he said.

Staunch opposition to the Gilder Center plan is a central feature of the campaign platforms of two other candidates. Cary Goodman, a longtime Upper West Sider and director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, has been a consistent opponent of the project.

“Mel Wymore and Helen Rosenthal are both on the side of expansion,” Goodman said.

“Mel Wymore had a chance to oppose it but he didn't,” Goodman said. “He opposed lack of public discussion before tax dollars were allocated. That's not the same thing as saying this is a toxic plan that is going to poison the neighborhood by dividing it and causing such stress.

Goodman's campaign for the Democratic nomination also focuses on plans reduce segregation in public schools and promote affordability for small businesses.

Opposition to the Gilder Center is also a focal point of William Raudenbush's campaign. Raudenbush, an information governance consultant and vice president of the Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park, announced his candidacy last month at a public hearing on the Gilder Center's Draft Environmental Impact Statement. “I had held out hope that Mel Wymore would ultimately end up opposing the project as-is,” he said, explaining his decision to enter the race.

Raudenbush has collected petitions to appear on the Democratic primary ballot, but said that he may instead choose to run as an independent.

David Owens, a longtime Upper West Side resident, told the Spirit that he will mount an independent campaign for the District 6 City Council seat. “I went to public school, I grew up in affordable housing, my mom's Jewish, my dad's black — I mean, I am the Upper West Side,” he said. Owens founded and coaches the New York Grays Baseball Club, a youth team that seeks to use baseball as a vehicle to put children on track towards college.

Owens said he will focus on improving affordable housing and after school programs. “There has to be more attentiveness to people on the lower rungs of socioeconomic status,” he said. Owens said he'd also propose what he described as “practical, common sense” initiatives like working with the Parks Department and Central Park Conservancy to install new bathrooms in Central Park.

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