‘We Can’t Create Governance Structures That Box Out Residents’
City Council Candidate Christopher Marte Outlines His Priorities
City Council candidate Christopher Marte
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. Here are Mr. Marte’s answers.
Broadsheet: What is your position on the proposed jail that the de Blasio administration wants to build in Lower Manhattan?
I’m the only candidate who has stood against this flawed plan from when it was first announced as a compromise to closing Rikers Island. I’ve organized my neighbors and a lawsuit to temporarily halt its construction. New jails do not end mass incarceration or advance criminal justice reform. The City violated its own zoning procedure in order to fast track a plan that would have built the tallest jail in the world. I co-founded Neighbors United Below Canal (NUBC) and worked with tenants, small businesses, and community leaders to ensure that Chinatown was not left out of the planning process. We advocated for greater transparency and accessibility so that this immigrant community could have a say in the future of our neighborhood. Together with thousands of neighbors, we led the largest march in Chinatown in over 40 years, with thousands of new and old tenants demanding, “No new jails!” We are at a pivotal moment in our City’s history, where we can close Rikers without building new versions of it.
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)?
Congestion pricing cannot be controlled by the City Council, and is not a priority issue for my campaign. However, we must start seriously investing in public transportation infrastructure before we force working people to pay the price of our country’s inaction on climate change. Taking an individual sticks and carrots approach to reducing our City’s carbon footprint is not going to cause enough change fast enough. If there’s going to be exemptions in congestion pricing, then Lower Manhattan residents shouldn’t be treated differently than other areas. I will be a strong advocate to advancing public transportation’s funding and accessibility so that fewer residents have to be so dependent on cars.
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?
Lower Manhattan has been on the receiving end of many broken promises from private developers. Even when concessions are promised to the local community in exchange for development rights, they rarely materialize. Greenwich Village is still waiting for the new public school promised by NYU, and the Lower East Side is still waiting for their new school promised at Essex Crossing. Instead of auctioning off our City’s assets, we should use them for the local community’s immediate benefit. As Lower Manhattan’s Financial District and Battery Park City have grown into increasingly residential areas, we should be using our public property for more community space. Whether this is affordable housing development, new community and arts centers, afterschool programs, or educational facilities — I’ll advocate for the City to use its land to support the community surrounding it.
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)?
Yes, I strongly support impact fees. The City Council should use all the leverage it has over land-use to get developers to give back to the communities they’re looking to profit from. As mentioned in the above response, Lower Manhattan has a lot of potential projects in need of funding, and impact fees are a great strategy to get funding for them.
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, while overburdening Battery Park City’s already-at-capacity ferry terminal. What is your position on this project?
Battery Park City’s terminal shouldn’t be overburdened. I hope that our ferry system can be improved under the next Mayor so that it better serves the transit deserts it was meant to assist, and that locations for new terminals are sited based on where people live and commute to, and not just shop. We should be investing in our subways before we further subsidize these ferry routes.
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?
Yes. Our senior population can be at huge risk of displacement and NORCs are our surest ways to help elderly residents age in place. In addition to helping restrict the rising cost of living for our fixed-income senior population, we must also invest in making our neighborhoods more accessible to seniors. More frequent buses, subway stations with elevators, and affordable grocery stores will all additionally help seniors to live in the communities they helped create.
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?
For the health of our communities, we must make sure neighborhoods are accessible and affordable to people of all income levels and ages. I would advocate for the State to develop a new Mitchell-Lama style program for Battery Park City, so that young people who grew up here and are just starting off in the professional world, as well as low- and middle-income individuals and families, can help this neighborhood continue to grow and thrive for generations to come.
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?
The biggest issue in this relationship is that Battery Park City residents don’t have enough of a voice on the BPCA. A lot of these issues can be resolved if good faith negotiations happen now, rather than continuing to kick it down the road. Having the $1 option gives the City negotiating powers that would otherwise be solely controlled by the Governor. I’m hopeful that a new administration can show how to use this leverage smartly, as we’ve seen the results of an incompetent Mayor who doesn’t fight for Battery Park City residents, which lets this influence go unused. The Mayor and the Governor will have the final say as to whether to transfer the land, but it will be my job as a Council member to make sure that the people who live in Battery Park City have their interests represented in the discussion.
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?
Yes, I support an immediate freeze and a schedule of reductions in coming years so that Battery Park City residents can regain some economic stability. Every time I am in Battery Park City, homeowners of all ages, and especially at middle-income levels, express their constant stress over PILOT and ground rent. We have to support the people who made BPC into a residential community if we want it to continue to grow as one.
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?
Residents cannot afford to wait and see what happens when the land lease expires. We need to get ahead of this deadline, be proactive, and determine what the renewal will look like immediately. Homeowners invested in Battery Park City, many of them stayed through September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Sandy. And now because of this deadline, they’re punished for their commitment to the neighborhood. I held a rally with Battery Park City homeowners and renters, have met with members of the Battery Alliance, and am ready to take on a leading role to make sure this extension happens swiftly. I fully support extending the lease for 99 years.
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?
We can’t let history repeat itself and continue to create governance structures that box out residents from having a say in their own neighborhood. If Seaport City happens, we should use it as an opportunity to model and improve Roosevelt Island’s structure so that residents are democratically represented.
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?
Yes. These broken promises by real estate developers can be seen all across our district, and ensuring that all these deals are followed through and that promises are kept is one of the main reasons why I am running for City Council. These conversions could be a great boost in our local economy and make a strong dent in our affordability crisis, but only if we have a Council member who is elected to hold real estate interests accountable, instead of bending to their whim. This is my track record in community activism, and I will use all of those organizing experiences to make sure our district gets the permanently and economically integrated affordable housing that is promised.
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?
Yes, we need much greater equity for real estate taxes. The pandemic has affected the livelihoods of countless New Yorkers, and we don’t want homeowners to be forced to sell and move away because of continuously rising real estate taxes, while other wealthy areas with more Class 1 homes, do not pay their fair share. I support greater equity between Class 1 and Class 2 homes.
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
Connections celebrates the many ways rising dance and performance artists have been supported and influenced by other artists they respect as past or present teachers, mentors or exemplars of the best in their field. Each program features a look at new or developing work as well as conversation or storytelling about the human connections that drive the creative spirit. This evening will check in with dancemaker Lisa La Touche and curator Kazunori Kumagai, two exciting artists from the world of tap. $10
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
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.
CB1 Endorses Proposal for Museum at Lower Manhattan’s Final Resting Place of Untold Thousands of African Americans
Community Board 1 is getting behind a proposal by Congressman Jerry Nadler expand the African Burial Ground National Monument, the Lower Manhattan site that holds the remains of an estimated 15,000 African-Americans from the colonial era (both free and enslaved), with a new museum and education center.
In a resolution enacted at its April 27 meeting, CB1 said that it, “supports the African Burial Ground International Memorial Museum and Education Center Act, which would establish a museum and education center at the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan that would serve as a sister site to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.”
This comes in response to Mr. Nadler’s recent sponsorship of a proposal federal law that would establish an African Burial Ground Advisory Council, which would manage the proposed museum, in partnership with the National Park Service (the agency that oversees the current National Monument). To read more…
Off Again, On Again…
Appeals Court Okays City Plan Move of Homeless Men to 52 William, But Calls It ‘Moot’
On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division issued a decision that will allow the City’s Department of Homeless Services to proceed with a plan to transfer many dozens of homeless men from the Lucerne Hotel, on the Upper West Side, to the Radisson Wall Street Hotel, located at 52 William Street.
This order dismissed an ongoing suit, brought by a coalition of groups, which sought to allow the men to remain in the Lucerne Hotel. The Appellate Division judges ruled narrowly on the issue of standing, finding that the original lawsuit was moot because the three homeless men named as lead plaintiffs last year have since been moved out of the Lucerne and into permanent housing.
‘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.
Broadsheet: Are you willing to commit to a carve-out for residents living within the toll zone who will be trapped by congestion pricing—as is already done for all other residents living within similar toll zones (e.g. Staten Island, Broad Channel, the Rockaways, and Grand Island)?
Ms. Li: Yes. Congestion pricing is important to improve quality of life and is a step to building a greener and more resilient City, but residents of Lower Manhattan need the same exemptions as residents in other parts of the City to make it equitable. To read more…
Ain’t That a Hole in the Boat?
Operators of New Ferry Service Predict Launching by Summer
At the June 2 meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1, officials from the City’s Economic Development Corporation offered an update on their plans for a new ferry that will connect Staten Island to Battery Park City and Midtown.
Jeff Brault, the director of public affairs at NYC Ferry—the company designated by the City’s Economic Development Corporation to operate a network of new routes connecting Manhattan to the outer boroughs—began the discussion by saying, “the next time we speak, the new ferry will have already begun service.”
Committee chair Justine Cuccia asked, “do you have a launch date?”
Mr. Brault replied, “not yet. Basically we’re working really hard. We already have a dock in place at Battery Park City, but not in St. George,” the site of the ferry landing in Staten Island.
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 13, 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.
In Doyle They Trust
New Leadership Comes at Crucial Juncture for HRPT
The Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) has new leadership: Last Thursday, the organization’s board of directors voted to appoint Noreen Doyle as president, following the departure in March of longtime chief executive officer Madelyn Wils.
Ms. Doyle has served since 2004 as HRPT’s executive vice president, and was more recently named acting president, when Ms. Wils stepped down. This is Ms. Doyle’s second tenure with the Trust, having served in various capacities there from 1994 through 2001. During the intervening years, she worked for AKRF, Inc., an environmental and planning consultant.
The Lower West Side of Manhattan officially has another stunning public space: On Friday morning, the Hudson River Park Trust debuted Little Island, the new park located just off the shoreline, at 13th and West Streets. The park offers more than two acres of gardens, glades, lawns, performance spaces and picnic grounds.
All of this greenery is hoisted above the water by 280 slender concrete columns, driven hundreds of feet down into the riverbed, and supporting 132 flower-shaped masonry “tulips”—pods that appear to be separate platforms from outside Little Island, but form a continuous, undulating surface when seen from the inside. Each of these structural bulbs is a different size, shape, and elevation.
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.