The candidates for City Council District 7 all agree on what needs to be done; they just don’t agree on who’s the most qualified to do it.
The Uptown Community Democrats, a political club for Northern Manhattan Democrats, hosted a forum for City Council candidates in District 7 (Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights) on Thursday. Candidates Maria Ordoñez, Shaun Abreu, Corey Ortega, Marti Cummings, Dan Cohen, Lena Melendez, and Ray Sanchez participated. Stacy Lynch was listed to participate but she was not in attendance.
The forum was moderated by Jackie Rowe-Adams and Bruce Robertson, members of the political club. They asked questions on gun crime, health care, food insecurity, education and housing. The candidates ranged from lifelong residents with years of advocacy experience to Maria Ordoñez, the youngest candidate in the race. State Senator Robert Jackson (D-Washington Heights, Inwood) started off introductions from the club and didn’t play favorites.
“So to the best of my knowledge, any one of you would be a good representative representing the seventh councilman district,” Jackson said.
Most of the candidates spoke about the ills facing the communities in the district. There was no clear standout from the group, as nearly all of the candidates agreed broadly on what is to be done for the District. The issue at heart was, who is best suited to represent it.
When asked about housing, Marti Cummings, the only nonbinary candidate for City Council, complained about Columbia University’s impact on displacement.
“You have institutions like Columbia University creeping into the district displacing people not putting new affordable housing units. And so we need to have zoning that is reflective of the needs of the community, we need to be fighting against privatization of NYCHA fighting against privatization of HDFC,” they said.
Dan Cohen – a lifelong resident and a member of Community Board 9, who has worked for nonprofits on affordable housing – stated he has refused to accept any money from real estate developers.
“I support the HDFC (Housing Development Fund Corporation)Coalition’s plan to save and restore them,” said Cohen. “I think that TPT (Third Party Transfer) program either needs to be reformed or abolished because it’s putting too many people, particularly people of color and their equity at risk. And lastly, I’ve called for the creation of over 1000 units of affordable housing in the district.”
Corey Ortega agreed regarding the HDFC, but cautioned that it needs to be done through the City Council.
“I agree with the HDFC coalition, that we have to reform the process or abolish it, because they’re just taken for a ride. But it goes to how you’re going to do this. And it has to be through the city council changing, if not the Charter of the passing new legislation in terms of how the city is going to manage its funds and requests because we’re in a housing crisis, not a luxury crisis,” he said.
Maria Ordoñez, the youngest candidate in the race, stressed the importance of residents having a say in housing issues. She criticized the policy of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), on the grounds that it doesn’t actually make affordable housing more available.
“I am against the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program because the way it has been implemented and used throughout the city has had nothing to do with affordability, and rather allowed private developers to make a profit at the expense of working class New Yorkers,” said Ordoñez. “As a woman of color born and raised in West Harlem, I know that the strategy to create affordable housing by incentivizing private developers is bad. We must center our communities first in all our discussions about affordability and they should be the focus of any and all legislation.”
While many of the candidates brought up community organizing, Ray Sanchez emphasized his government experience getting LinkNYC wifi kiosks installed and as the CEO of a homeless shelter as proof that he is the best candidate for the district.
“This is a job interview. Experience matters, right? You hire the guy who’s got a track record of getting things done. I’ve been that guy,” he said.
As the forum wrapped up, Ortega made a thinly veiled reference to Maria Ordoñez, criticizing her for not having the experience necessary for the position.
“I understand that some people here, you know, they say they’ve been working and doing all the hard work, because you’ve been doing it for two years doesn’t mean that’s good enough. But I understand you’re still learning what issues your neighborhood has to offer, while other people in this room have been busting their ass for over a decade,” he said.
At the end, Robert Jackson asked the candidates to keep in mind that rank choice voting is now an option. He wanted people to start building alliances with each other for the sake of the district.
“This is ranked voting, as someone said,” said Jackson. “And so you have to decide, who you try to partner with, for the best interests of yourself getting elected and helping others and in the long run helping your community.”