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.)
Christopher Marte was born and raised in the Lower East Side, where he still resides. The son of a bodega owner and a garment worker who immigrated to Lower Manhattan from the Dominican Republic, Mr. Marte emerged in his teens as a community activist, who helped found (and later fought to protect) several public gardens. He has also helped to mentor previously incarcerated people, assisting them in starting their own businesses, and has been active in the fight to prevent overdevelopment Downtown.
Broadsheet: If you could accomplish only one major goal in your term as a City Council member, what would that be?
Christopher Marte: My major goal is to ensure that all neighborhoods in the District are represented in the City Council. I will implement Participatory Budgeting, where residents can vote on community-based proposals that will be funded by a portion of the Council member’s discretionary budget. This creates direct and fast solutions to chronic problems, and has been implemented successfully in 31 other City Council districts. Participatory Budgeting increases community engagement, empowers each neighborhood in the District to take a more active role, and improves accountability and transparency in governance by making the budgeting process public.
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. Marte: The most urgent priority for Battery Park City is to change the way it is governed to allow the community a voice in local decisions. Legislation has finally passed that mandates two [Battery Park City Authority] seats be filled by residents, but this is not enough. City control is the next step to guarantee fair representation, while ensuring that [payments in lieu of taxes] remain in Battery Park City. This has already occurred at Governors Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park, and it’s time for it to happen in Battery Park City.
The Financial District faces serious quality of life issues driven by population growth. Parked cars and trash overcrowd our sidewalks and push pedestrians into congested streets. This overcrowding overflows into our schools, which is why the Trinity School and others are critically needed to create more public school seats for young families in the neighborhood.
Overdevelopment is an issue throughout Lower Manhattan, and is particularly threatening to our historic areas. The South Street Seaport must be preserved and maintained, and the small businesses in the surrounding neighborhood must have the support they need to prosper.
In Tribeca, my priorities are to a) preserve and expand Tribeca’s Historic Districts, b) prevent out-of-scale developments that will erode this landmarked neighborhood and c) preserve affordable housing, particularly for long-term senior residents who helped Tribeca grow into the community it is today.
Broadsheet: What is your plan for making progress on these issues?
Mr. Marte: I will host regular Town Hall meetings and community conventions to not only listen to constituent concerns but to follow up and address them. I will be an engaged City Council member, easily accessible to all residents of District 1. There are many well-equipped community activists in Lower Manhattan, and they need to be given a voice at the table when decisions are made. These meetings are the first step in coordinating with City agencies and other elected officials to tackle the problems presented.
Broadsheet: In your view, what are the three biggest issues or challenges facing Lower Manhattan as a whole?
Mr. Marte: The three biggest issues facing Lower Manhattan are 1) ensuring that City services keep pace with rapid development, and in particular increasing funding for public schools, to reduce class size and provide greater services to our neediest students, 2) addressing waterfront resiliency and 3) preserving small businesses by addressing the vacant storefront crisis and the blight they create for our neighborhoods.
Broadsheet: What is your plan for making progress on these issues?
Mr. Marte: For public schools, we need to reduce class sizes with Contracts for Excellence and funding and siting new schools, through persistent and consistent work with the Overcrowding Task Force, the School Construction Authority and Downtown school advocates.
For waterfront resiliency, Downtown currently has no plan in place for the next superstorm. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are powerful reminders of the importance of preparation. I will continue to advocate for the BIG U [a proposed flood barrier system], but also support newer initiatives like the NY Surge Barrier—a barrier between Sandy Hook, NJ and the Rockaways—that will protect not only Lower Manhattan, but also the rest of the City’s waterfront. And I support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and I am endorsed by the Small Business Congress. This legislation is an integral step in leveling the field for small business owners when they renegotiate their leases with landlords.
Broadsheet: What is your biggest reservation or objection about the process of governance in New York City, and within the City Council?
Mr. Marte: The relationship between the City Council and the Mayor is supposed to be a system of checks and balances. Currently I do not believe this system is in place. We need a voice that can work with the Mayor while standing up to him—and not a representative who is the first to endorse him.
Broadsheet: What about the status quo of City politics or government will you embrace and seek to continue?
Mr. Marte: The City Council has the opportunity to be influential with its broad control over funding of City services, development, and responding to constituent concerns. However one of my biggest concerns is how lackluster leadership has left our community responding to crises—such as school overcrowding, underfunded parks, waterfront sustainability and overdevelopment.
I would take the same approach I used as a manager of retirement portfolios at IBM, and use the power of the City Council to proactively address issues, allocate services that improve the quality of life and plan for a stable future for our District.
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. Marte: In the City Council, compromise is sometimes needed to achieve results, but the true test of leadership is deciding when to compromise. My campaign has been built by Lower Manhattan’s most vocal advocates and progressive voices—a coalition that is demanding proactive reform for our District for land use, budgeting, and environmental resiliency.
I will not compromise on fundraising or community values. I have not accepted any money from special interests and large-scale developers and I will fight for community-based zoning plans and the legislative priorities of District 1 residents.
The breadth of my endorsements demonstrate my ability to build bridges that will make true reform possible. They span the district and include Downtown Independent Democrats, the New York City Asian American Democratic Club, Village Independent Democrats and the Small Business Congress. I have experience negotiating from my professional background in finance and immigration services, while having a track record of keeping the promises I make to those who have invested their time, money, and vision in my campaign.
Broadsheet: What aspect of your own, personal history of leadership are your proudest of?
Mr. Marte: My parents immigrated to Lower Manhattan from the Dominican Republic to give me an opportunity for a better life. I received a strong public school education, grew up in a tight knit community and attended college on scholarship. Since then, I have worked to expand these opportunities for others. While serving on the professional board of Defy Ventures, I helped previously incarcerated individuals start their own small businesses, giving people who were on the fringes of society the opportunity to create businesses and contribute to their neighborhoods. I also have worked to expand parks and open spaces for residents of Lower Manhattan. When I learned that the students at M.S. 131 were not going to have the opportunity to play basketball after school due to funding cuts, I stood up and volunteered to coach all three middle school teams. I have always worked to create opportunities for those who have none, and will continue this mission in the City Council.
Broadsheet: Why should Lower Manhattan voters cast their ballot for you? What is unique or compelling about your candidacy?
Mr. Marte: I not only have a track record in fighting for transparency, defending tenants rights, advocating for open spaces, and helping our public schools, but I also have the vision to implement improvements in each of these areas. I have knocked on tens of thousands of doors since the start of my campaign and listened to constituent concerns about the lack of leadership in City Hall. I know first hand the pressing issues our community faces and will continue this hard work in City Hall to give our community the active representation we deserve.
I am the only candidate who received high-profile endorsements, other than the incumbent, because community activists and neighborhood leaders believe in my vision and my ability to implement it. I am endorsed by Downtown Independent Democrats, Village Independent Democrats, New York City Asian-American Democratic Club, Village Reform Democratic Club, the Small Business Congress, the League of Independent Theaters, and Run for Something, as well as unions that represent thousands of working class families; and I hold a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood.
To address the many problems that face our District, I will bring to City Hall the dedication I’ve shown to our community. I ask for your vote on September 12 to give the District the active voice we deserve.