Candidates for Council, Comptroller, DA Pitch at VID

Democratic candidates for city council seats in districts 1, 2, and 3, district attorney, and comptroller came to the Village Independent Democrats last night to make their cases, under strict time limits and with screened questioning, for the venerable club's endorsement.

In District 1:

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Pete Gleason. The former cop, fireman, and coast guard reservist is on leave from his law practice, where he does "a tremendous amount of pro bono work." Called the the council's discretionary/slush funds an example of "Ponzi politics" because the money is not the council's but the taxpayers' and "they're floating it back and forth to give the illusion that they're doing something with it." Regarding pollution from buses in the District, favored using the "elephant hose" units he recalls from his FDNY days, when the companies used them to neutralize exhaust from idling fire engines. Boasted that as a former cop/fireman/servicemember, he is the only candidate "who has put himself between you and harm's way." Said the recent Washington Square renovations were done without "community input." Neither have the bike lanes had enough community input, and some are constructed so that a fire engine "can't turn around properly" on the street. Thought a problem with mayoral control of schools is that the DOE's "report card" scores don't tell the whole story; "we need to hear all the news, including the dropout rate which I think is deplorable."

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Margaret Chin. It's her fourth attempt, and she hoped it would be "the charm." Believes that the "pioneers" of Manhattan neighborhoods "have a right to stay in the communities that they helped build," and doesn't like when landlords "put a note under your door and say that you haven't paid the rent, and all kinds of excuses." Was concerned that we were "not getting back what we put in" with government resources, especially housing, Disapproved of mayoral control of schools: "He can't run it like a business... we need to seriously look at this chancellor. He's not an educator, he's a businessman. Also doesn't like that "people have to get into a lottery" to get into a good pre-K. Said she liked some bike lanes but the one on Grand Street is a "disaster" and not well used, and that the Washington Square renovation needed more community input. For small businesses increasingly priced out of their spaces, supports Robert Jackson's small-business rent control bill. And wants to get police back on patrol -- "people call me and they say, 'We don't see the cops out there!'"

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Alan Gerson. The incumbent bragged that he had "created the first overhaul of the noise code since it was enacted years ago," wrote the "first law on construction site emissions, so we can all literally breathe a little easier," and added transgender issues to human rights laws. Asked about his abstention on the controversial sanitation garage proposed for Washington and Spring Street, said "I was part of the negotiations" and "protocol makes it very unusual for someone on the outside to negotiate on a land use regulation." Said his negotiations "allowed the community to bring up alternative locations." Portrayed his vote "legally as a polite 'no.' People on the community boards understand this. You want a councilperson who knows how to negotiate. Now we're going to see that the sanitation department does the right thing." On the Washington Square renovation, said, "I grew up in Washington Square Park, literally. It's an oasis for our community... the Parks Department had a plan that did not allow for a range of uses. We cannot under the charter regulate a park's design," so "we used the power of the bully pulpit to negotiate" for a better plan. Said he has "demonstrated an ability to bring people together."

In District 2:

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Rosie Mendez. The incumbent was "proud to be the VID candidate in 2005." Has "negotiated lease renewals with NYU which, I can tell you. was not easy." Also fought for "contextual height caps" on buildings and "rezoning the old Con Ed site on Second Avenue." To maintain the M8 crosstown bus "I've gone to public hearings, attended protest -- I went out there on my crutches." Found "tough" the controversy over her stand on the restaurant in Union Square Park -- "that gave me some sleepless nights." Also is unhappy that the district doesn't have more schools, as "we lost a lot of land through 421(a) in District 2 to luxury housing." Asked about public/private partnerships and BIDs, says "we need to look into that" but "sometimes we're too quick to go to the private sector." But proud to have supported the Right to Counsel for Seniors Bill that "gives any senior the right to an attorney if you're about to lose your home, whether you own or rent," and the Tenant Protection Act.

In District 3:

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Yetta Kurland. Touted herself as "someone who has created a small business" (she's a private civil rights lawyer) and thus is sensitive to the needs of small businesses. Has spoken at community board 4 for a $7 million "theater task force" ("when we have cutting-edge theater in the district, it attracts people") and the Pets in Housing Bill, and supports rent control and rent stabilization. Has been working with the 504 Democratic Club for accessible voting machines.

(Spoke very fast, hard to get a quote.)

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Maria Passannante-Derr. Says she's also a small business owner (and also a lawyer). Has served on community board 6 for six years. Niece of former assemblyman William F. Passannante, she declared herself "firmly in the tradition of public service" and desirous to "bring my community service to the next level." On term limits: "It's a question of the democratic process. We the people have been heard from twice on this." The overturn was "a sad day for democracy." Very opposed to the sanitation garage, is angry that opponent Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg "lobbied in lockstep" for it, and thinks spending half a billion dollars on the facility is "foolish" when there are "cheaper proposals on the table." Asked if she's supporter of more bar and nightclubs in the district, says "I don't feel that way at all... I don't practice SLA law and I don't process SLA applications," but feels "we need beer and wine licenses in cafes because we need the jobs." Wants licensing processes simpified; "Has anybody here ever been to an ECB meeting? They can go on for five or six hours."

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Christine Quinn. The incumbent and council speaker announced that she and the council had just passed "a very important clinic access bill today" that will "allow police to make arrests when protesters are preventing doctors, nurses and patients" from entering abortion clinics. She's also been urging the repeal of URSTAT and vacancy decontrol in Albany. Is "proud" to have "worked with the folks in the VID" on projects like the upgrade of the J.J. Walker ballfield. Quickly asked about the term-limits vote, joked, "I'm shocked to be asked that question," then said, "When I ran I said I was open to a referendum," but "about halfway through my term I realized it didn't look like we could take that action." Ultimately decided "the right thing to do was to change the law" and "give voters the option." (Also mentioned the "unprecedented crisis" of our time, etc.) Hoped to address the problem of tour bus congestion, but "some efforts are impeded by interstate commerce law," and she's working with Jerry Nadler on that. Has worked to get the "entire MTA bus fleet" raised to "the greatest possible standards" of air quality. Chided on the anti-smoking law, said she was proud of that, because "we engaged in an outstanding process," "life spans have gone up," and "the prediction that bars and restaurants would close has not come to pass."

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Jim Fouratt. The longtime music promoter and activist is running because he sees "a lack of leadership on issues that concern this neighborhood." He "respects" the other candidates but pleads for "principles," "values," and "neighborhood realities." As a "resident of Greenwich Village since 1959" who has "worked all my life in the culture business," Fouratt is here to "represent what the Village used to be about," as opposed to the "cultural Disneyland in which someone like me can no longer afford to live." He asked that the club "hold its endorsement until this club can hold the debate" needed to assure their endorsee represents its "principled values." He adds that "sound-bite culture is very dangerous to politics." On the matter of the sanitation station, he is angry that "Christine Quinn brought in Reverend Sharpton to lecture the mothers and kids that were protesting... I know the politics were not about the Village, they were about the money." Opposes term limits but said "we can't talk about that without talking about campaign finance reform." On noise problems, said they're "really easy" to oppose, but "this is not Westchester, this is the Village.. I'm not in favor of a simple answer. Let's think about it and find an answer together." Regarding the pornographic bookstores, "I disagree with Tom Duane. I do not think they're landmarks of gay culture. The commercial sex establishment has to be looked at differently." As to prostitution, "I think there's less of a problem today in the far West Village than there was years ago," when Westbeth mothers took down and publicized the license plate numbers of johns. The issue is "cloaked in homophobia" and a "red herring" -- "let's talk about the victims."

For district attorney:

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Cyrus Vance Jr. Says because of the market collapse. "economic fraud has hit all of us... the pensioner, the homeowner, the business owner." While "we're blessed that the violent crime rates are down... we need some expertise in economic crime." Also, "certain principles of the office [of D.A.] are immutable: non-partisan... fairness... a vision for the office." Though he's been in Seattle, he has New York roots and "my wife owned a store on Bleecker and Perry." Anyway, "let's not establish residency requirements, let's establish a competency requirement." Advocates a "community-based justice idea... an ongoing relationship with the community" so the DA's office can be involved in local issues, such as the "false arrests in the bookstores... the D.A.'s office will know about it immediately" so they can "use our tools as prosecutors" to help. Believes offender recidivism is a problem, which is why he favors the proposed reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws -- "we know treatment for drug dependent offenders is much more effective than incarceration... it will make you safer and it will lower crime."

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Richard Aborn. Said when D.A. Morgenthau leaves office, it will be "the single largest transition in 35 years... it's a moment I intend to seize." Likes the low crime rate, wants "to drive it even lower... when people engage in violent activity against citizens, often jail is the appropriate response," but he wants to "think in a much broader paradigm." When he was a violent crime prosecutor in the D.A.'s office in the 70s and 80s, "we knew you had to go after guns." Later went to work with Jim Brady's antigun efforts and was retained to investigate the NYPD during the Amadou Diallo era. Said he "was against the death penalty yesterday, is against the death penalty today, and will be against it tomorrow." Approves the mental health court project in Brooklyn, says the "intersection of mental heath and criminal activity" is part of the future of law enforcement.

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Leslie Crocker Snyder. Said she seeks "alternatives to incarceration" because "we cannot incarcerate our problems." Approves of a "Second Look Bureau" to quickly reexamine cases like the Palladium murder convictions. Said she is "the only candidate that has actively used alternative sentencing" and thinks nonviolent drug offenders should see "judicial discretion" in their sentencing -- like what Albany proposes, perhaps, though "no one has seen" the actual bill yet. Asked about her change on the death penalty, said she was always against it "except for terrorists and serial child rapists, but after investigating a particularly horrific miscarriage of justice in Westchester, she said, she changed her mind and now "will always advocate against the death penalty." Believes that "crime will probably rise through the economic disaster," particularly fraud and economic crime, and said while Morgenthau has been okay on big cases, "we need to deal with the small cases, too... I want all of my ADAs trained in sophisticated financial crime."

For comptroller:

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David Yassky. The councilman said he "very much wants to work with the VID." Recalled standing up to the "right-wingers" who "were taking over the country" and believes that "we true-believing progressives can't play defense." As comptroller wants to be "an indepedent check and balance on the Mayor." Asked about his term-limits reversal, said the old limits were "a terrible policy" and voted to overturn them "against my own interest," because it might have encouraged Bill Thompson to stay on as comptroller (Yassky said Thompson "will be a good strong mayoral candidate"), and he didn't like to "help the Mayor." On transportation, supports the Ravitch plan, but wants a green car policy that distinguishes "between gas guzzlers and fuel-efficient cars." Is against tolls -- "I represent the Brooklyn side of the bridges... but I like the subways falling apart even less." Doesn't like taxes either, but that may be "what it takes" to address the problem. Likes that "after the Mayor, comptroller is the most powerful policy-making position" in the city, in which he can "enforce prevailing wage laws" to go after offenders.

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Melinda Katz. The councilmember is proud to have "forced HMOs to give women direct access to gynecological services." Said the comptroller's office is "an amazing tool... you want to talk about who's abusing their employees? We have the power of the pensions... if they don't start treating their people properly, we have the power of our pension authority." Also: "Every candidate for comptroller has to raise money, and most -- though they will not admit it -- get it from the same sources." Currently the city is going through a "economic holistic national meltdown, and we need to create jobs now." Is against a commuter tax because "I think charging anyone to go into a community is wrong if you don't charge everyone the same." But is also against "making New Yorkers pay for a budget crisis that isn't their fault." Doesn't like the low-bid contracts the city sometimes accepts -- "we've got to look at them and say, 'this contract is 50 percent lower than all the others," which in her experience often leads to lots of change order forms, which she compared to getting a low estimate from a mechanic and "all of a sudden there's a lot of changes that 'really need to be done,' and all of a sudden it's 800 bucks... you need someone auditing these folks."

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