City Council Hopeful Jenny Low on Mass Transit, Congestion Pricing, and Tax Reform
City Council aspirant Jenny Low
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. Here are Ms. Low’s replies.
Broadsheet: What is your position on the proposed jail that the de Blasio administration wants to build in Lower Manhattan?
Ms. Low: We need to close Rikers Island because it is an inhumane institution that is emblematic of the systemic racism of our criminal justice system. But we should not simply replace one big jail with four small ones; we must fundamentally change our approach to criminal justice and move away from the incarcerate-first mentality that has destroyed so many lives and harmed our communities. Instead, we need to look much more at root causes of crimes—whether it’s poverty, lack of community support, or lack of mental health care or addiction treatment—and give people the tools they need to become productive members of their communities. We do not need or want a jail built in Lower Manhattan; let’s stop de Blasio’s four borough jail plan and focus on helping communities rise rather than finding new ways to keep them down.
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, the Rockaways, and Grand Island)?
Ms. Low: The U.S. Department of Transportation gave the green light on a crucial next step in the plan to bring congestion pricing to New York City. I support congestion pricing and applaud the green light to advance the measure. Congestion pricing will help reduce traffic, enhance public transportation, and improve air quality, since there will be fewer vehicles on the road.
Those who live in the congestion zone and make less than $60,000 a year are also expected to be exempt from the fees. And if you hardly drive or mostly drive off-peak, you’re not going to rack up huge tolls. Emergency vehicles and cars used by people with disabilities do not pay the tolls, as is required by legislation that authorized the program. The price of the tolls has not yet been determined, and more exemptions or carve-outs would require higher toll costs for drivers.
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. Low: Yes—we must ensure our community benefits from these kinds of deals.
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. Low: Yes, developers must be held accountable for the burden they place on our infrastructure, schools, and community facilities, and implementing impact fees would be an important step forward.
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. Low: I support the ferry service as a fast commuting option to parts of the City that have long been transit deserts. But this is the wrong time to expand ferry services. There is already a free ferry service from Staten Island to Battery Park City. We should not add another service to cater to higher-earning residents, especially at a time when the subways are in need of repair and state officials are preparing to charge drivers to enter Manhattan’s busiest areas.
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. Low: I fully support NORCs, and we need to go further to support our seniors, by ensuring that the community also has access to wellness, social services and mental health support for seniors. I will work with the Battery Park City seniors to modify the requirements necessary to establish a NORC in their community.
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. Low: New York City’s affordability crisis is not new and continues to impact every New Yorker and every community. The lack of affordable housing and the soaring cost of living have ravaged New Yorkers, and now, these pressures are pushing people out. I will work with the Battery Park City community to study a new affordable housing model to ensure that young professionals and families can stay and thrive here.
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. Low: As Council Member, I will always prioritize the voices of the community and look into waiving the City’s $1 option.
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. Low: It is clear that the burden on Battery Park City residents is too high, and as Council Member, I would be in favor of studying ways to reduce this burden as soon as possible.
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. Low: I will fight to extend the master lease and to demand BCPA extend land leases for individual plots.
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. Low: I will advocate for the board of authority of the Seaport City project be made up of Lower Manhattan residents.
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. Low: Yes, for far too long real estate developers have benefitted from these deals while our communities continue to be in desperate need of affordable housing. The 421-g program set out to incentivize developers to convert office buildings into housing, with all rental units subject to rent stabilization — a stipulation that does not necessarily translate to truly affordable housing for the average New Yorker. A 2019 ruling by New York’s highest court found that as many as 5,000 Lower Manhattan apartments had been illegally deprived of rent stabilization benefits, further demonstrating the failure of this program to provide for our communities. I am committed to fighting for deeply and permanently affordable housing in these plans going forward, and putting the needs of the community over wealthy developers.
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. Low: Officials have attempted to address property tax inequities in New York City, but they have failed to produce transformative results. The property classification system, particularly tax-related burdens New Yorkers face, often feels arbitrary. We do need to bring the treatment of co-ops and condos closer to Class 1 properties, but I also want to consider putting all homes into one class and value them based on sales.
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.
This year’s Food for Thought digital series will focus on topics in pursuit of three goals – to restart, revive, and reconnect. Today, Clinical Hypnotherapist and wellness expert Joanne Davies will be joined by Mindset and Meditation Coach, Kirsty Raynor, to discuss how to approach mindfulness and meditation as a newcomer or as an individual hoping to expand one’s practice, different methods of meditation, and how achieving the right mindset can help you improve your wellbeing and accomplish goals. The public may submit a question anonymously in advance of the event. Free
Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian
How does identity influence activism? Many tribal nations have always recognized multiple genders and those who possess both male and female spirits. Native people who identify as more than one gender or possessing both spirits sometimes refer to themselves as Two Spirit. In celebration of Pride Month, hear from Indigenous youth working in the fields of education, health, cultural heritage and the arts to amplify Two Spirit and Native LGBTQ+ voices and issues. Youth in Action: Conversations About Our Future is a monthly program led by young Native activists and changemakers from across the Western Hemisphere who are working toward equity and social justice for Indigenous peoples. Topics vary from month to month. 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 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.
‘Nadler Is Going to Be Assassinated’
Violent Offender and Fugitive Convicted of Threatening to Kill Congressman
An Iowa man is going to prison for threatening to kill Jerry Nadler, who represents Lower Manhattan in Congress. Federal prosecutors in Iowa (who have jurisdiction, because that is the location from which the threat was made) have announced that Kenneth Brown, aged 57, has been sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment, plus an additional subsequent three years of supervised release, arising from a 2019 phone call he placed to Mr. Nadler’s office in Washington. During this call, Mr. Brown spoke with a member of Mr. Nadler’s staff and said, “I will find someone to assassinate that piece of sh*t you work for. Jerry Nadler is going to be assassinated.” To read more…
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.