Lower Manhattan Resident Squares Off Against Staten Island Incumbent in Run to Represent State Assembly District 61
Justine Cuccia speaks at a June 26 Rally for Roe, on Staten Island, to protest the Supreme Court decision rolling back abortion rights.
NY State Assembly Member Charles Fall
Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 28), voters will go to the polls to decide several important party primary contests. The results of these ballots will determine the Democratic and Republican nominees for Governor, and for the State Assembly seat representing Lower Manhattan.
The Assembly race consists of two contenders. Charles Fall, the incumbent, lives in Staten Island and has served in Albany since 2019. His challenger, Justine Cuccia, resides in Battery Park City, where she has been an activist, organizer, and member of Community Board 1 for many years.
Both contestants are Democrats, and the Republican Party has not announced any plans to run a candidate of their own against whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee. For this reason, the outcome of tomorrow’s primary will likely determine who represents the community in the Assembly for the next two years, with the general election in November relegated to the status of a near-formality.
The reason voters will be choosing between aspirants from two different boroughs is that the State legislature redrew district lines for this year’s elections, and grafted a portion of Downtown—consisting of Battery Park City and the western sliver of the Financial District—onto the North Shore of Staten Island. This development occurred against the backdrop of broader electoral chaos, in which redrawn lines for the United States Congress and the State Senate were challenged in court, thrown out, and then revised yet again by a court-appointed expert. (For that reason, the primaries for both Congress and the State Senate have been pushed to August 23.)
In order to provide readers with a basis for comparison, The Broadsheet submitted four questions to Mr. Fall and Ms. Cuccia, with a fifth question symmetrically tailored to the backgrounds of the two candidates. Their answers are below.
What are the common issues affecting the communities of Lower Manhattan and the North Shore of Staten Island? What are the challenges of representing such diverse districts at the same time?
Justine Cuccia: As I have knocked on doors and attended dozens of events in Staten Island, I have been reminded all over again of the large number of essential concerns among communities that are nearly universal. Residents of both sides of the district want a fair shake for their kids in terms of allocating resources to our public schools. People who live on the North Shore of Staten Island and in Lower Manhattan both regard their public spaces and parks as scarce and valuable resources. Folks in both sides of NY Harbor also rank transportation high on their list: our Staten Island neighbors want more transportation options on and off the Island, while Lower Manhattan wants more ADA-accessible subways, and both want a safe ride. Rental tenants and homeowners alike are concerned about just hanging on financially, and finding a way to stay in their current residences. These are all fundamental building blocks of communities, and they are similarly threatened both here and there. The primary difference I’ve noticed is a time lag between what is happening in Lower Manhattan and the North Shore of Staten Island. In the last 20 years, real estate developers have run wild monetizing this side of the district. That process is only now beginning on the far side of the Staten Island ferry route. But in exactly the same way that developers took billions of dollars out of this community in recent years, and offered almost no community benefit in return, they now have Staten Island in their crosshairs. They plan to loot the waterfront there, and walk away with as much money as they can. And just as they did in Lower Manhattan, they mostly plan to do this on publicly owned land and with taxpayer subsidies. I have already fought those battles here, and I have scored more than a few wins. I am ready to fight the same battles there, with even more success.
With the events over the past few days, I also want to point out that I am proud to say that folks on both sides of the New York Harbor are devastated and angered by the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. And I fear that taking away a woman’s right to control over her own body is only the beginning. With the attack on the right to privacy, the next risks are inter-racial marriage, same-sex marriage, and the right to contraception. We need passionate representatives who recognize that the slide down the slippery slope has begun, and who are not afraid to stand up—out loud and proud—for women, LQBTQA+, people of color, the disabled, the disenfranchised. That is who I am, who I always have been, and who I will be as your next Assembly Member for District 61.
Charles Fall: Although there are different degrees of diversity between the North Shore of Staten Island and Lower Manhattan, I believe there is a commonality that effects both communities. Gun violence, fair housing, transportation, climate change, resiliency planning, education funding, civil liberties and promoting small business and entrepreneurships are all common needs. In the last four years I have worked with my federal, state and local colleagues to secure funding to address gun violence by working with the Richmond County District Attorney’s office, NYPD, faith leaders, RUMC administration and community advocates on gun buyback events, emergency room funding assistance and community and law enforcement engagement events. I continue to advocate and work with the Governor’s office to implement the North Shore Bus Rapid Transit to increase transportation accessibility. I’ve worked directly with school administrators and allocated funding for our schools districtwide. Additionally, I have secured funding to keep the resident Verrazzano Bridge Toll discount in place. Throughout the pandemic I sponsored and helped pass funding to keep our small businesses running and sponsored and passed legislation that secured long-term funding for MWBE’s throughout the city. In my first year in office, I helped pass the codification of Roe V. Wade to protect women’s healthcare and right to choose. I also helped pass legislation that protects the LGBTQ+ community and eliminate hate crimes here in New York State. I supported and help pass key climate change legislation that protects both the shores of Staten Island and Lower Manhattan. I’ve passed legislation that protects children who may be in close contact with family members who were charged with sexual misconduct and assault, protects consumers by assuring safety guides for commercial trampoline parks are put in place, allowing individuals who committed a felony and served their time to serve as fiduciary of their family estate if chosen and found by courts not being a liability. This law gives individuals who served their time a second chance.
The newly redrawn 61st Assembly District, which joins Battery Park City and the west side of the Financial District to northern Staten Island. Credit: NYS Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment
Ms. Cuccia, you are a longtime Battery Park City resident, and known for your advocacy work in Lower Manhattan. Have you been getting to know the residents of the North Shore of Staten Island? What have you learned?
Since the redistricting that joined Lower Manhattan to the North Shore of Staten Island, I have spent hundreds of hours listening to and getting to know our new neighbors. They have invited me into their homes and shared with me many of their fondest hopes and most serious concerns. Amazon employees fighting for the right to unionize have told me how hard it is to work for a giant corporation that sees human beings as a fungible commodity. Parents who are struggling to provide decent medical care for their kids have asked me why Staten Island is the only borough without a public hospital. Students traveling to high schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx have demanded their bus passes work on more transportation options and for longer hours to accommodate their commute. Residents near the waterfront want to know why their shoreline has been inaccessible for years and used (literally) as a garbage dump, when the Battery Park City Esplanade and the Hudson River Park are crown jewels of Lower Manhattan. The LGBTQA+ community is demanding inclusion. A concern cited by almost everyone is that Staten Island is the “forgotten borough.” This ties directly into our local history of government agencies making decisions that affect the lives of Lower Manhattan residents without consulting us. The Staten Islanders I’ve met with have been inspired by accounts of how we forced those decision-makers to reckon with our priorities. I have shared with them some of the struggles and some of the victories in our community: How I have fought to make government agencies (like the Battery Park City Authority) and government officials more responsive. How I have led the charge on affordability for residents of different income levels. How I have helped build consensus and shape the dialog around issues that are core concerns for our community. How I worked with community groups and government officials to successfully Pause the Saws in Rockefeller Park last summer, and how I helped save the iconic Winter Garden Stairs in 2011. What they have told me, almost without exception, is that they are ready for a new kind of leadership. Someone who is not afraid to ask the hard questions or demand what’s right. Because they want what we all want—respect and responsiveness from government, and to get things done.
Mr. Fall, you are a longtime Staten Island North Shore resident, and the incumbent in this race. Now that the district that you have represented since 2019 has been widened to include Lower Manhattan, have you been reaching out to the residents in Lower Manhattan and getting to know the issues?
Absolutely. From day one since redistricting, I’ve visited the Harbor School on Governor’s Island, attended events such as Pause for Saws, connected with administrators at public schools throughout lower Manhattan and have met with Battery Park City Neighborhood members and Battery Park City Authority administrators to discuss a fair balance and accountability with regard to ground rent, resident representation on the authority and resiliency planning.
Please comment on the resiliency plans for Lower Manhattan and Staten Island’s North Shore.
Charles Fall: First and foremost, I’ve always advocated for transparent and accountable government for all residents. I’ve been actively working with Battery Park residents and Authority members to work together on strategic planning, especially when it comes to Wagner Park. We all want to protect our communities from climate hazards but we need to do it together. I’ve suggested that there be a pause, not only on resiliency planning, but for ground rent and resident representation until the Governor acts on legislation we passed in the final hours of the 2022 session and a true collaborative effort is put in place with all stakeholders. That is why I sponsored and made sure we passed two key pieces of state legislation that addresses ground rent and fair representation. Intent of both bills are:
• A.10371-A; expands the Battery Park City Authority’s Board of Directors by two members and requires the appointment of Battery Park City residents until a majority of members of the Board are Battery Park City residents.
• A.10414-A; intended to promote housing affordability and stability in the Battery Park City neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.
Expands eligibility for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs.
Expands eligibility for the Senior Citizen Homeowners’ Exemption (SCHE) and the Disabled Homeowners’ Exemption (DHE) programs to provide partial exemptions of PILOTs for senior citizen and disabled homeowners residing in BPC.
Direct the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) to offer certain eligible homeowners residing in BPC an annual rebate that would effectively freeze their ground rent payment.
Direct the BPCA to extend its lease with the City of New York through June 18, 2119.
Justine Cuccia: This touches on one of the biggest differences I have observed between the two sides of the district. The resiliency plans for Lower Manhattan are far from perfect, but they are a work in progress that has advanced significantly through multiple stages in the planning process. There are actual budgets and timelines associated with these projects. The resiliency plans for the North Shore of Staten Island are practically non-existent. This is completely unacceptable. As a State legislator, I will fight for resources to get this process started on Staten Island. But I will also advocate for a process that replicates what we have gotten right in Lower Manhattan, and avoids the mistakes we have made here. In Battery Park City and the Financial District, there has been extensive community consultation, although more is needed. On the Lower East Side, there has been virtually no meaningful engagement with residents. We need to double down on that first model, improve upon it and abandon the second approach—both in Lower Manhattan and on Staten Island. These will be my goals.
More specifically to the Battery Park City South Resiliency Project: I have been working with the BPCA for six years, listening, asking questions and getting answers, some of which I like (the BPCA found a way to address seepage without having to add three large 10-foot high rectangular structures above ground) and some of which I don’t (on the BPCA’s current plans for Wagner Park, I’m advocating for a radically simplified plan that can be implemented in less than two years for much less money.) Related to this is the recent bill that has passed in the Assembly and Senate, requiring that a majority of primary Battery Park City residents be appointed to the BPCA Board. Democracy4BPC led the successful charge in getting two residents on the BPCA Board in 2017, and has worked with CB1, the Homeowners Coalition, the Battery Alliance, the BPCNA, and our elected officials to get the latest bill successfully through both Houses and onto the Governor’s desk. Local representation on the BPCA Board will ensure that our voices are listened to as well as heard. It takes a village and I am proud to be part of this one. (I also want to remind folks to attend the BPCA’s North/West Resiliency open house at 6 River Terrace this Wednesday, from 4pm to 8pm, so they can be involved in the planning for this project from the start.)
What calls you to public service? What do you like best about politics? What do you like least?
Justine Cuccia: This is my first run for elective office, but it is an extension of the public service I’ve been doing for 20 years as a volunteer, activist, and organizer. What has driven and inspired me more than anything else is the opportunity to change outcomes for the better. The most important lesson I have learned is that in any struggle or clash between conflicting visions, government is never neutral. In all cases, it is either working for the people, or working for someone else. And the way to get government to work for the people is to make it impossible for government not to listen. This is never easy, but neither is it particularly complicated. It requires that we engage and show up and do the hard work of demanding more from the people who represent us. And it is a marathon, not a sprint. That is what I specialize in. What I am asking for now is that the people I seek to represent put the tools in my hands, and enable me to do more. This also speaks to what I like least about politics: the division and cynicism that we see everywhere today, which always strike me as a bait-and-switch scam. People who have much more in common than they realize, whose interests should be naturally aligned, are conned into thinking of each other as enemies, so both groups can be victimized by the real powers that are terrified of what might be achieved by a unified public who are thinking clearly and speaking with one voice.
Charles Fall: From an early age I was taught to honor, respect and assist all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or race. This value was instilled in me by my religious practices as a Muslim and parents who immigrated to the United States from West Africa. What better way to further achieve these traits by serving both the North Shore of Staten Island and Lower Manhattan as a state representative. This was certainly enhanced during the pandemic where all New Yorkers needed healthcare, financial and common quality of life assistance. Whether it was distributing, literally thousands of PPE, test kits and passing my legislation granting both public and private employees four hours of leave time to receive their vaccine and booster shots, all are feats that I hold true to my heart.
One topic of concern about being a representative is leadership placing important key pieces of legislation—such as bail reform and congestion pricing—into the state budget. We need to allow for important legislation to be debated and passed as stand alone bills.
Tell us something you’d like voters to know that these questions didn’t address.
Charles Fall: I thoroughly enjoy being a state representative but my pride and joy is my immediate and extended family. I want to share the good fortune and graces that have been afforded me with all the residents of the 61st Assembly District. I look forward to continuing my work in this area for years to come.
Justine Cuccia: As a one-time single mom and a two-time survivor of September 11-related cancers, I know what it is to struggle. As a grassroots leader who has rallied my neighbors and friends to stand up against powerful vested interests, I know what it’s like to be told I should keep quiet and go sit in a corner, because you can’t fight City Hall. As a leader who has beaten those same vested interests and that same political establishment, I know what it takes to score victories for my community. As somebody who moved to Battery Park City when it was a frontier town in the early 1990s, who fled from my home in fear of my life as the World Trade Center toppled all around me, and then came back to help rebuild this community, I know what it means to start over. All of these experiences have trained and equipped me for the role I am now seeking. I am ready to lead. But more than that, I am ready to fight for and advocate on behalf of the communities I am seeking to represent, both in Lower Manhattan and on Staten Island.
Editor’s note: Primary Election Day is Tuesday, June 28, 2022. Polls are open from 6am to 9pm. Find your poll site here.
Victory is Ours
Highly Regarded Local Church to Celebrate Its Demisesquicentennial Anniversary
A Lower Manhattan landmark marked its 75th anniversary on Saturday, June 25, when Our Lady of Victory Church (located at 60 William Street) celebrated a special Mass, featuring Archbishop and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, along with the Church’s pastor, Father Myles Murphy.
School’s out for the summer! Pack a picnic lunch and kick-off the season with us in Rockefeller Park. Join us for fun games with Youth Athletes United and participate in the annual Battery Park City tug-o-war! Free.
As Amber braves life after divorce, the young mother must challenge herself to take some personal risks after finding love in an unexpected place. Walk With Me addresses the many aspects of what it means to be a woman—motherhood, marriage, family, career, sexuality—and deftly explores how to balance them. Walk With Me is an indie film in its truest sense. Filmed in Brooklyn in four one week intervals over the course of a year, with a micro-budget and a lot of love, Walk With Me is an intimate, beautiful film that explores womanhood, love and the courage it takes to step into ones life. Free.
Join in on the fun featuring easy-to-follow Latin dance choreography while working on your balance, coordination and range of motion. Come prepared for enthusiastic instruction, a little strength training and a lot of fun. Participants are encouraged to bring their own equipment: weights, water bottle, hand towel etc. Proof of vaccination required. Free.
Play the popular strategy game while getting pointers and advice from an expert. Chess improves concentration, problem solving, and strategic planning — plus it’s fun! For ages 5 and up (adults welcome). Free.
Observe and sketch the human figure. Each week a model will strike short and long poses for participants to draw. An artist/educator will offer constructive suggestions and critique. Drawing materials provided, and artists are encouraged to bring their own favorite media.
Anyone wishing to participate in the public comment period should submit their comments via email to email@example.com no later than 5:30pm on the day prior to the meeting. Comments should be no longer than two minutes in length, and may be read into the record during the livestream broadcast.
Embolden your artwork amidst the flower-filled and seasonally evolving palette of BPC’s verdant gardens. An artist/ educator will provide ideas and instruction. Materials provided, and artists are encouraged to bring their own favorite media.
Available for PT/FT. Wonderful person, who is a great worker.
Worked in BPC.
$2.00 per notarized signature.
Lower Manhattan Greenmarkets
Greenwich Street & Chambers Street
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 8am-3pm (compost program: Saturdays, 8am-1pm)
Bowling Green Greenmarket
Broadway & Whitehall St
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8am-5pm (compost program: 8am-11am)
World Trade Center Oculus Greenmarket
The Outdoor Fulton Stall Market
91 South Street, between Fulton & John Streets
Indoor market: Monday through Saturday,11:30am-5pm
CSA pick-up: Thursday, 4pm-6pm; Friday, 11:30-5pm
Outdoor market: Saturday 11:30am-5pm, May through Thanksgiving
Today in History: June 27
On this day in 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street. Fed up by the injustice, patrons rioted. The uprisings continued, and led to the formation of gay activist groups. One year later, the first gay pride parade was held, and 31 years later, President Obama designated the area as the Stonewall National Monument. Photograph by Grace Mahony
1542 – Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo claims California for Spain
1847 – New York and Boston linked by telegraph wires
2018 – Research published in “Nature” reports that complex carbon-based molecules were found by Cassini spacecraft on the Saturn moon Enceladus. This kind of molecule was previously only ever found on Earth and in meteorites.
1462 – Louis XII, the Just, King of France (1498-1515)
1869 – Emma Goldman, anarchist/publisher (Mother Earth)
1880 – Helen Keller, blind-deaf author/lecturer
1899 – Juan Trippe, airline entrepreneur (d. 1981)
1927 – Bob Keeshan, “Captain Kangaroo,” from 1955 to 1984.
1930 – H. Ross Perot, billionaire/presidental candidate (1992)
1945 – Norma Kamali, dress designer (Costumes for the Wiz)
1844 – Joseph Smith Jr, founder/leader (Mormon Church), shot by mob at 38.
2001 – Jack Lemmon, actor (b. 1925)
2021 – Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill, Cuban Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz composer, arranger, and conductor, dies of pneumonia at 79