City Council Hopeful Susan Lee Reflects on Land Use, Affordability, and Public Safety
Candidate Susan Lee
Susan Lee and her family moved to New York from Hong Kong when she was six years old. Growing up in a working class section of the Lower East Side, she and her brother were two of just four Asian-American students in their elementary school. Ms. Lee inherited from her parents a strong belief in the power of education, which led her to Brooklyn Tech, Barnard College, and graduate school at New York University. She has worked extensively in the non-profit sector, including for Covenant House International (where she fought sex trafficking), on the boards of Nomi Network and MercyFirst (where she has worked to end modern-day slavery). Her campaign for City Council prioritizes affordable housing, aid to small businesses, crime reduction, and support fo education and environmental resiliency. The Broadsheet asked her to share insights across a spectrum of topics that concern Lower Manhattan residents. Here are Ms. Lee’s replies.
Broadsheet: What is your position on the proposed jail that the de Blasio administration wants to build in Lower Manhattan?
Ms. Lee: I strongly oppose the Borough-Based Jail (BBJ) and closing of Rikers Island. Without a doubt, we need to re-make, renovate, rehabilitate Rikers into a humane facility. Reform must take place at Rikers, but simply dismantling it does not solve the institutional and structural issues there. Detainees are subjected to inhumane conditions that need to be remedied through proper training for the correction officers. We need to renovate Rikers to bring it up to current standards. Rikers Island has vast open space for inmate recreation outdoors, while the proposed vertical jail does not. I propose a ward specifically used to treat individuals with mental health needs, so they can receive the proper services they need and deserve. The proposed vertical jail that borders Chinatown and Tribeca poses danger to those detained, to those who work there, and to those who live around there. The seniors living next door to the facility that is being demolished face great health risks. The construction site would increase exposure to particulate matter pollution, which has been found to increase the chance of older adults getting lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and serious respiratory issues. Within the facility, safety and security are of great concern when transporting individuals to and from their cells during meal times. I suggest that the $9 billion proposed for BBJ be diverted to fund affordable housing, close the technology and resource divide in our education system, upgrade school infrastructures and fund programs for seniors and the homeless population. Overall, it would be cheaper, faster and more humane to rehabilitate Rikers than to build BBJ.
Broadsheet: Do you believe residents living within the toll zone that will be created by congestion pricing deserve a discount—as is already done for all other residents trapped within similar toll zones (e.g. Staten Island, Broad Channel and the Rockaways)?
Ms. Lee: Congestion pricing is slowly becoming a reality. I want to make sure our district is prepared for it. While I believe congestion pricing is necessary, I also believe that right now is not the time to implement it, because of the hardship some of the small businesses are facing. It’s important for us to help them recover. Additionally, I have had conversations with residents regarding the unnecessary financial burden imposed on them through congestion pricing. I am open to the idea of providing discounted toll fees for residents in the congestion zone, similar to those implemented for residents of Staten Island, Broad Channel, and the Rockaways.
Broadsheet: The City derives enormous financial benefit from selling government-owned property in Lower Manhattan to developers, but returns little or none of this windfall to the local community. Will you commit to sharing revenue from such deals in the future, by directing a portion of these funds to projects identified and prioritized by Lower Manhattan community leaders?
Ms. Lee: Absolutely! Too often, developers reap enormous financial benefits without providing meaningful services to the communities they are in. As we saw in the construction of the Extell Tower in the Two Bridges Neighborhood, the developer failed to replace a supermarket it removed. Now, the area lacks an affordable supermarket to meet the needs of the community. I am for responsible development that respects and honors input from community leaders, because they have their ears to the ground. If the community demands a supermarket, a childcare facility, a medical center, a community center, let’s make that happen. Let’s hold the developers’ feet to the fire and demand what our community needs, instead of lining their pockets.
Broadsheet: Nearly every major fast-growing city and suburb in the United States (apart from New York) has implemented “impact fees,” which charge developers a levy for the additional burden their projects will place on local infrastructure. These funds are then earmarked to build schools, libraries, community centers, cultural facilities, etc., within the specific communities where the development is taking place. Will you support such a proposal, along with a guarantee that these funds will be spent locally (and not City-wide)?
Ms. Lee: Without a doubt, I support impact fees. I strongly believe it is the responsibility of developers to be good partners in building our communities. When elected to the City Council, I will examine how to implement impact fees so that funds are earmarked to build schools, libraries, community centers, cultural facilities, et cetera.
Broadsheet: The de Blasio administration has lavished more than $100 million in subsidies on its NYC Ferry Service. The latest iteration of this plan is to create a new route connecting Staten Island to Battery Park City to Midtown, which will compete with the existing (and free) Staten Island Ferry, and, some fear, will overburden Battery Park City’s ferry terminal. What is your position on this project?
Ms. Lee: Yes, I will kill this project on Day One, when I am elected to Council. The City subsizes $10.73 per ferry ride, which is ten times more than the transit system receives. In all major cities in the world, the price of a ferry ride is never the same price as other modes of transportation. They are always higher! Instead of subsidizing ferry operators, we need to use that money on more pressing needs, such as providing quality education for our students, upgrading infrastructures at our public facilities, funding more programs for seniors and those with mental health issues, and addressing the pressing needs of the homeless population.
Broadsheet: Each year, dozens of middle-class retirees are forced to leave Battery Park City, because their fixed incomes cannot keep up with the spiraling cost of living here. Will you commit to creating a “naturally occurring retirement community” (NORC) in Battery Park City, and modify the financial requirements so that middle-class retirees (rather than only those living below the poverty line) can remain here?
Ms. Lee: Yes, I support a NORC in Battery Park City. Battery Park City is unique in its financial structure and I will work with all stakeholders to modify the financial requirements, so that middle-class retirees who were the first to move into the area can remain in the community that they helped build. NORCs will coordinate support for housing, social service, and health care providers to all those in the area, which will be beneficial to all older adults.
Broadsheet: A similar dilemma confronts middle-class young adults who grew up in this community and recently graduated from college. Many would like to return and begin families here, but the relentlessly escalating structural costs make this prohibitive. Are you willing to study a new housing model (in effect, a NORC-in-reverse) that would enable young people to live here, and give preference to those who grew up here?
Ms. Lee: I am open to exploring possible ways to help young people who grew up in Battery Park City have the ability to return and raise their families there. We can re-examine the master lease, the expiration date for which is preventing purchasers from obtaining mortgage. Or perhaps freeze PILOT and ground rent. Another challenge that young families face when living in Battery Park City is the public safety concerns. Some have children attending P.S. 150, which is slated to relocate to Washington Street. With the safe-haven shelter scheduled to open at 105 Washington Street in 2022, families are concerned. How will their concerns affect the makeup of the Battery Park City community? The shelter at 105 Washington will service homeless clients who are the most resistant to sheltering — a population that suffers from severe mental illness and addiction. They also don’t have rules for sobriety, curfew or obligation to stay, as these requirements would deter clients from coming. Sex offenders would be permitted to stay, posing a great concern to the community, as it is around the corner from the new P.S. 150, and across the bridge from P.S. 276 and West Thames Park. These are the issues affecting the Battery Park City community as we examine ways to maintain public safety and quality of life for residents, who have created and maintained this unique neighborhood.
Broadsheet: The City has an option to acquire the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), while assuming all of its assets and liabilities, for $1. Would you be willing to eliminate this uncertainty by waiving (finally and permanently) the City’s $1 option?
Ms. Lee: Yes—and there are other organizational changes that I would propose as well, such as requiring board members reside in Battery Park City, and be elected by residents, instead of the Governor appointing members to the BPCA.
Broadsheet: The BPCA cites its financial obligations to the City as the reason for refusing to make concessions to property owners on ground rent and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). Will you commit to demanding that the BPCA agree to an immediate freeze in these payments, followed by a schedule of reductions in the years ahead?
Ms. Lee: I support the immediate freezing of PILOT and a re-examination of how the PILOT is calculated.
Broadsheet: Another strain in the BPCA’s relationship with the community is the fact that the Authority’s land lease with residents, and the City’s master lease with the BPCA, both end in 2069, at which time all residents are slated to be evicted, and homeowners will have their property confiscated. This looming deadline is already undermining property values, while also making it difficult to obtain mortgages and buy or sell apartments. Will you commit to extending for another 99 years the master lease under which the BPCA occupies land owned by the City, and demanding that the BPCA similarly extend for 99 years the land leases by which buildings in the community occupy their individual plots?
Ms. Lee: Absolutely! We need to extend the master lease for 99 years. With the current expiration date looming, it has negatively affected the property value of apartments in Battery Park City. Additionally, it has caused difficulty in financing for buyers and owners. The way the ground rent payments are calculated over time, the amounts future condo owners will have to pay cannot be predicted by the banks, therefore making lending difficult.
Broadsheet: Even the minority of BPCA board members who happen to be residents of the community are appointed, rather than elected—in spite of the fact that this agency makes decisions profoundly affecting the lives of residents. This is in sharp contrast to a comparable community, Roosevelt Island, where the entire board of the authority that manages the community consists of residents, elected by the community. Will you avoid a repetition of this policy, by making a commitment that—when and if the Seaport City project is built—the board of the authority that manages it will consist entirely of Lower Manhattan residents?
Ms. Lee: Yes, I would commit to having the entire board of the Seaport City project consist of residents in the community, who are elected by the community, as they truly know what are the priorities and needs of the community—not someone appointed by the Governor, who does not even reside in the neighborhood.
Broadsheet: The Lower Manhattan community felt shortchanged by the 421g program, which created enormous financial benefits for real estate developers who converted Downtown commercial buildings to residential use, but created none of the affordable housing that was promised to local residents in exchange. As Downtown faces the prospect of another wave of conversions (of hotels and office buildings) into apartments, will you commit to iron-clad guarantees of housing that is deeply and permanently affordable and economically integrated, in exchange for any benefits to developers?
Ms. Lee: Yes, I will hold developers accountable and make certain that they include guarantees for housing that is deeply, permanently affordable and economically integrated. Oftentimes, the developers get more, while the residents get the shorter end of the stick. It is time to change that and make sure we advocate and fight for fair share of permanent affordable housing.
Broadsheet: Throughout Manhattan, middle-class cooperative and condominium owners are being driven from their homes by relentlessly rising real estate taxes. This is impelled by the disparity between Class 1 (single-family) and Class 2 (apartment) homes, because the latter have no protection against tax increases, while the former are subject to strict limits. Will you commit to implementing tax-hike limits for Class 2 homes identical to those for Class 1 homes, while not modifying or reducing the protections on Class 1 homes?
Ms. Lee: I am committed to working with the City to find equitable solutions to the disparity between Class 1 and Class 2 homes tax issues.
The Annual Yard Sale at Southbridge Towers
will take place
June 17th-18th & 19th
From 10AM to 6PM
Great bargains on interesting bric-a-brak, clothing, one-of-a-kind finds and lots of bling bling – both costume and real.
The tall ship Wavertree is open to the public. Visits will be self-guided along a set route and will include access to the main deck and quarter deck. Learn how people worked and lived aboard a 19th century cargo sailing vessel, from the captain to the ship’s officers, cooks, and crew. Then visit the cargo hold and stand atop the viewing platform where you can take in the massive main cargo area. The Museum will allow no more than 150 guests on board the ship at any time to encourage social distancing from different households. Free
Singer/songwriter Terre Roche leads this weekly singing program with the beautiful backdrop of the setting sun in NY Harbor. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned crooner, the singing circle is perfect for mellow melodies and healthy harmonizing. Participants are expected to bring their own equipment: blankets, instruments, water, etc. Masks required. Participants must maintain six feet of physical distance between households. All programs will be held in accordance with New York State reopening guidance. Free
Milky Way of summer stars with streaming fireflies
As evening twilight deepens, a cosmos of blinking earthly stars attracts and mesmerizes stargazers in areas a distance from street and house lights. Fireflies are connecting our joy in the celestial with breathtaking wonder close around us. In the dark, over gardens, parks, backyards and countryside meadows and forests, our attention is lured away from the starry heavens by undulating streams of countless fireflies flashing. Floating, glowing ribbons of curved light drop from the treetops and move above the ground.
Unaware of time, I find myself alternately looking up to my favorite summer constellations, then stealing time to lower my eyes to the pulsating world of lightening bugs in the landscape all around me. Close above the west-northwest skyline, planet Venus makes a brief appearance at dusk today and is visible until nightfall by next week.
City Council Hopeful Jenny Low on Mass Transit, Congestion Pricing, and Tax Reform
Seeking election to the City Council must seem natural for Jenny Low, who has helped manage that body for years, as part of the staff of Council Speaker Corey Johnson. After emigrating to America at age 12, Ms. Low attended New York City public schools, and graduated from Yale University. The first Asian-American elected as a Democratic Party District Leader (a post she has held since 1995, representing Chinatown), Ms. Low is also the vice chair of the New York State Democratic Committee. The Broadsheet asked her to address a range of issues that are on the minds of Lower Manhattan residents. Click here for Ms. Low’s replies.
‘The Jail Proposal Is Being Rushed Through’
City Council Contender Susan Damplo on Taxes, Affordability, and Governance
Attorney and activist Susan Damplo points with pride to the fact that she is not a career politician. As a young girl, she supported Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 presidential run, and was then elected president of her fifth-grade class, which makes her current campaign for the City Council seat representing Lower Manhattan Ms. Damplo’s second bid for elective office. But she is no stranger to government, having clerked for multiple judges, served as a State administrative law judge, and worked on the staff of the Committee on Education and Labor in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she focused on civil rights. As a Downtown resident for more than a decade, Ms. Damplo is making issues such as quality of life, social justice, police reform, and federally funded childcare the centerpieces of her campaign. The Broadsheet asked her to share insights on a variety of topics that affect Lower Manhattan residents. Click here for Ms. Damplo’s replies.
‘We Can’t Create Governance Structures That Box Out Residents’
City Council Candidate Christopher Marte Outlines His Priorities
Christopher Marte grew up on the Lower East Side, where his father owned a bodega. From a young age, he began building a record as a community activist, culminating in a City Council run in 2017, which he lost by only a few hundred votes. Since then, Mr. Marte has played a leading role on local issues such as opposition to the de Blasio administration’s plan for a large new prison facility in Lower Manhattan, and support for affordable housing. The Broadsheet asked him to address a range of issues that are of concern to Lower Manhattan residents.
‘There Are Fundamental Issues That Need To Be Addressed’
City Council Candidate Gigi Li Talks about What She Hopes to Accomplish in Office
Gigi Li is one of the candidates seeking the City Council seat representing Lower Manhattan is, which is currently held by Margaret Chin (who is barred by term limits from seeking reelection). Ms. Li was born in Hong Kong and emigrated to the United States as a small child. In 2009, she was appointed to Manhattan’s Community Board 3, on the Lower East Side, where she became the first Asian-American to be elected to serve as a community board chair (anywhere in New York City) in 2012. Since 2019, Ms. Li has served as chief of staff to Ms. Chin. The Broadsheet asked her to address a range of issues that are of concern to Lower Manhattan residents. To read more…
‘A Few Affordable Units in Fancy Developments Are Not The Answer’
City Council Hopeful Maud Maron Hold Forth on Ferries, Congestion Pricing, and Housing
Attorney Maud Maron is a veteran public defender, who also serves as an elected member of the Community Education Council that gives parents a voice in the governance of public schools in District Two, which includes Lower Manhattan. Ms. Maron Maud has served on the board of Greenwich Village Little League, and was a member of Community Board 2 for five years. The Broadsheet asked her to reflect on a series of issues that are of concern to Lower Manhattan residents. Here are Ms. Maron’s answers.
River to River Festival Is Back:
Don’t Miss These 5 Acts
Photo courtesy of Damon Davis
As we come out of covid, it’s clear the city’s thriving cultural scene is on its way back — and Lower Manhattan’s leading the way.
In May, the Downtown Alliance teamed up with En Garde Arts and + The Tankto present Downtown Live, a multi-weekend festival stocked with live performances ranging from music to theater to spoken poetry. The revival of Downtown’s cultural scene continues into June, with the return of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival.
The festival, which runs June 10–June 27, joins the explosion of post-vaccine outdoor events and art exhibits that are set to take over the city this summer. Here are five acts you won’t want to miss, and visit lmcc.net/river-to-river-festival for the full schedule.
Processions with Miguel Gutierrez, Okwui Okpokwasili and The Illustrious Blacks
(June 20, 25)
Artist Okwui Okpokwasili is following up her recent piece on the High Line called “On the way, undone” with another processional performance, which means you get to participate in the art. Okpokwasili’s performance will happen at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City on June 20, followed by processions led by choreographer Gutierrez and musical duo the Illustrious Blacks will also conduct processions on June 13 and June 25.
Kamau Ware, Land of the Blacks (June 10-27)
Black history scholar and co-found of Black Gotham Experience Kamau Ware is writing an original piece on “Land of the Blacks,” 28 Black-owned farmsteads that once covered a swath of Lower Manhattan. It will debut on the River to River website.
Womxn in Windows (June 15-27)
Womxn in Windows is a multi-part video installation installed in Windows across the Seaport District. They’ll focus on the confluence of culture and society in an exploration of the multi-faceted female identity, created by artists from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Mariana Valencia, Futurity (June 25-27)
Choreographer and performer Mariana Valencia brings a 2021 version of Futurity, a dance performance that will transmit the queer stories of elders in Greenwich Village from the 1960s to the present.
CLASSIFIEDS & PERSONALS
Swaps & Trades, Respectable Employment, Lost and Found
The Battery Park City Authority asks that the public not interact with or feed the urban wildlife in the neighborhood’s parks and green spaces, and at the waterfront.
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Report
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.
618 – Coronation of the Chinese governor Li Yuan as Emperor Gaozu of Tang, the new Emperor of China, initiating three centuries of the Tang Dynasty’s rule over China.
860 – Swedish Vikings attack Constantinople
1178 – Five monks at Canterbury report explosion on moon (only known observation)
1682 – William Penn founds Philadelphia
1812 – War of 1812 begins as US declares war against Britain
1873 – Susan B Anthony fined $100 for voting for President
1936 – Polish parliament gives pres Ignacy Moscicki dictatorial power
1940 – Gen Charles de Gaulle on BBC tells French to defy nazi occupiers
1959 – First telecast transmitted from England to US
1959 – Governor of Louisiana Earl K. Long is committed to a state mental hospital; he responds by having the hospital’s director fired and replaced with a crony who proceeds to proclaim him perfectly sane.
1977 – Space Shuttle test model “Enterprise” carries a crew aloft for first time, It was fixed to a modified Boeing 747
1981 – The AIDS epidemic is formally recognized by medical professionals in San Francisco, California.
1996 – Ted Kaczynski, suspected of being the Unabomber, is indicted on ten criminal counts.
When asked if he was afraid of losing his mind in prison, Kaczynski replied: No, what worries me is that I might in a sense adapt to this environment and come to be comfortable here and not resent it anymore. And I am afraid that as the years go by that I may forget, I may begin to lose my memories of the mountains and the woods and that’s what really worries me, that I might lose those memories, and lose that sense of contact with wild nature in general. But I am not afraid they are going to break my spirit. On May 24, 2012, Kaczynski submitted his current information to the Harvard University alumni association. He listed his eight life sentences as achievements, his current occupation as prisoner, and his current address as No. 04475-046, US Penitentiary—Max, P.O. Box 8500, Florence, CO 81226-8500
1723 – Giuseppe Scarlotti, composer
1854 – Edward Wyllis Scripps, publisher/journalist
1886 – George Mallory, England, mountain climber (“because it is there”)
1913 – Sammy Cahn, lyricist (3 Coins in a Fountain)
1915 – Red Adair, oilman (fought oil fires in Kuwait)
1942 – Paul McCartney, Liverpool UK, English musician and a Beatle
1629 – Piet Hein, Dutch naval commander (Spanish silver fleet) and folk hero (b. 1577) shot by cannonball at 51
1982 – John Cheever, Pulitzer prize winning author, dies at 70 in Ossining
1984 – Alan Berg, American radio talk show host and attorney. An outspoken abrasive combative talk show host, he was murdered in his driveway by members of The Order, a white nationalist group who took umbrage at his comments.