Editor’s Note: On Tuesday (September 12), the Democratic primary will effectively decide who will represent Lower Manhattan in the City Council for the coming four years. (Although the general election is in November, the heavily “blue” landscape of Lower Manhattan usually makes the nomination of the Democratic party tantamount to winning the wider contest, and most often relegates the actual election to the status of a formality.) The Broadsheet has asked each of the leading Democratic candidates the same series of ten questions, hoping to give readers a basis for comparison. Their answers appear below. (A fourth candidate, Dashia Imperiale, did not reply to the Broadsheet’s request.)
The son of two public school teachers, Aaron Foldenauer moved to New York City 12 years ago to join the firm of Sullivan and Cromwell. Since then, he has compiled a record of community service advocating for minority and female lawyers, and offering pro bono representation to low-income, New York City artists who were threatened by gentrification. Mr. Foldenauer emphasizes the negotiating skills he has cultivated as an attorney, arguing that these will be essential in advocating on behalf of the Lower Manhattan community.
Broadsheet: If you could accomplish only one major goal in your term as a City Council member, what would that be?
Aaron Foldenauer: Overdevelopment has led to an affordability crisis in this city. There are many factors that have led to this crisis. One of them is the rise of foreign and non-resident ownership. Housing stock is being purchased by non-residents at an alarming rate. Not only does this artificially inflate prices and take away housing units from local residents, but also these non-residents do not pay either local or state income taxes, thus decreasing the tax base that pays for the services on which we all rely. We are also setting ourselves up for another real estate bubble. Changing our tax incentives and making sure that non-resident owners in New York City pay their fair share—and don’t displace current residents—will be one of my top priorities when I assume office.
Broadsheet: What do you view as the most urgent, individual priorities facing each of the following Lower Manhattan communities—Battery Park City, the Financial District, the South Street Seaport, and Tribeca?
Mr. Foldenauer: Battery Park City—Since I’ve lived just a two-minute walk away from Battery Park City for over a decade, and given Broadsheet’s readership, I’ll dedicate the most space to Battery Park City. The stated purpose of the Battery Park City Authority is to “sustain a balanced community of commercial, residential, [and] retail” space. Sadly, Battery Park City is now one of the more expensive neighborhoods in Manhattan and many apartments that used to be affordable are now market-rate. Furthermore, the retail options here are increasingly unaffordable and cater to wealthy tourists and the super-rich.
Even those who can afford to purchase an apartment are faced with high carrying costs, such as “ground rent” and facility fees. Worse yet, residents in Battery Park City do not truly own these apartments, because ownership is due to revert to the Authority in decades to come. This creates needless risk and uncertainty in the marketplace and for local residents. The ineffective use of the Authority’s funding is also of concern.
The lack of local representation on the board of the Battery Park City Authority is illustrative of the disconnect between the Authority and its residents. Residents who tell me that there is “taxation without representation” in this community may actually be on to something.
Battery Park City, the Financial District, the South Street Seaport and Tribeca: Two big issues in all of these neighborhoods are school shortages and the closure of small businesses.
There is an urgent need for more than 625 [additional] school seats in Lower Manhattan. Stunningly, despite this shortage, Lower Manhattan is not scheduled to get any new school seats until the fall of 2022. This is a basic planning failure by our elected leaders. The inability of a child to attend his or her local school has dramatic impacts not only on families but also on the community as a whole.
Secondly, over the last decade, I have seen small businesses close and our communities become even more corporatized. Lower Manhattan is the most historic area in all of New York City, and we must stand up for our small businesses before New York City becomes yet another suburban Mall of America.
Broadsheet: What is your plan for making progress on these issues?
Mr. Foldenauer: On day one, I will begin work with elected officials at all levels to create an independent commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the Battery Park City Authority. Battery Park City is now fully developed, and we must change the way the neighborhood is governed and operated now that this community will be faced with new challenges. The old way of doing business here is no longer sustainable, and it makes no sense for this community to be controlled by the State.
I will also call for the passage of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which will give small businesses a real seat at the table to negotiate with landlords for fair lease renewal terms. With respect to schools, I will call for the creation of a School Development Fund, and make sure that before additional development is authorized, that funding is secured to create the necessary school seats that are needed.
Broadsheet: In your view, what are the three biggest issues or challenges facing Lower Manhattan as a whole?
Mr. Foldenauer: The Environment, Resiliency, and Safety.
The Environment—I am proud to be identified by the Gotham Gazette as the “environmental advocate” in this race, because over-development, traffic, noise, and waste accumulation in our neighborhoods have made our communities increasingly unlivable.
Resiliency—The catastrophic flooding in Houston reminds us of all the hard work we must do to foster a sustainable community here Downtown. Unfortunately, our career politicians have it all wrong. As a longtime resident of Lower Manhattan, I was flooded out of my apartment during Hurricane Sandy. Despite the devastation that occurred here in Lower Manhattan five years ago during Hurricane Sandy, almost nothing has been built in the years since to protect our coastline from future climate events.
Safety—Our population in Lower Manhattan, and the City as a whole, is, on average, getting older. In addition, more families are living here. Despite that, our streets are dangerous and there have been a number of recent high-profile safety incidents, some involving dangerous traffic and others involving aggressive ticket touts.
Broadsheet: What is your plan for making progress on these issues?
Mr. Foldenauer: Protecting the environment at the local level is a key priority. I will plant hundreds of additional trees, convert vacant lots into urban farms, and install compost bins in restaurants, office towers, and residential buildings to reduce the mountains of food waste sent to landfills from New York City. I will also restrict overdevelopment and protect our parks and neighborhoods. I will also block irresponsible deals, like the current administration’s tragic sale of the historic Rivington House nursing home to real estate developers. We also must take action to implement common sense building codes and regulations, and by promoting the development of natural barriers such as wetlands and green spaces to absorb flood waters.
Broadsheet: What is your biggest reservation or objection about the process of governance in New York City, and within the City Council?
Mr. Foldenauer: There is very little transparency with respect to the inner workings of government in New York City. And pay-to-pay politics is rampant. The political establishment is broken, and despite the common belief that we live in a “progressive city,” in many respects, the opposite is true.
Broadsheet: What about the status quo of City politics or government will you embrace and seek to continue?
Mr. Foldenauer: One area in which there has been some progress relates to recent criminal justice reforms. As an attorney myself, I will continue to work on criminal justice issues. But on the whole, I am disappointed with how our local government functions. The City has an annual budget of approximately $85 billion, but much of that money is being wasted and there are so many needs that go unmet. The City spends over $1 billion on the homelessness crisis, with little to show for it. The political establishment is broken, which is why I have chosen, “No to the Status Quo!” as my campaign slogan.
Broadsheet: How will you strike a balance between trying to implement reform, versus participating in the prevailing culture in order to get things done?
Mr. Foldenauer: As a litigator, I’ve worked on business disputes presented in boardrooms and before government regulators and courts across the country. Although being a good advocate requires the ability to be a fighter, it also requires the ability to work with others, negotiate, and compromise.
Your City Council representative must work with 50 other City Council members, and the Mayor, in order to get anything done. I have the skill set to advocate for real reform and to work within the system to make it happen.
Broadsheet: What aspect of your own, personal history of leadership are your proudest of?
Mr. Foldenauer: I’m already standing up to the broken political establishment. As the next City Council member representing Lower Manhattan, I will continue to stand up for the rights of all of us.
Broadsheet: Why should Lower Manhattan voters cast their ballot for you? What is unique or compelling about your candidacy?
Mr. Foldenauer: Lives depend on the person you elect to serve as your City Council representative. It’s a serious responsibility.
I am a successful litigator and practiced at some of the leading law firms in New York City for over a decade. For years, I have advocated for the most vulnerable among us and have conducted significant pro bono legal work in the community and for a number of low-income artists.
As an attorney working on complex business and intellectual property litigation, I have the ability to fully use the tools of the office to fight for positive change. Even well-meaning politicians are often unable to execute and achieve real reform. They end up selling out to—or being pushed around by—special interests. No wonder that little gets done.
To actually change a broken system requires complicated changes to real laws and closing loopholes that the wealthy readily exploit. Given my reputation as a fighter and my experience as an attorney, I will be able to draft and pass substantial laws and get them cleared by the courts in order to make sure that real change actually happens.