On Thursday, a city council district 3 candidate forum was held at St. John’s Lutheran Church in the West Village and sponsored by FIERCE, an advocacy group for LGBT youth. Attendees came to hear from Democrats Corey Johnson and Yetta Kurland, the two candidates seeking Speaker Christine Quinn’s soon-to-be-vacant seat on the council.
The forum started out congenially enough as common ground was staked on several topics concerning the community. Both candidates decried the overuse of stop-and-frisk, celebrating the City Council’s creation of an NYPD Inspector-General and its anti-profiling legislation, both of which had been voted on earlier that day as the council overrode the mayor’s vetoes. Both candidates lamented the lack of sufficient services for homeless LGBT youth, argued for more shelter beds dedicated to LGBT youth and more sensitive treatment from existing shelters. Kurland cited the disturbing average age of homeless LGBT youth (14), while Johnson expressed intent to bring the issue up during council budget talks. And, both see the closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital as unacceptable for the community. Kurland spoke of her efforts prior to its closure, trying to convince the Department of Health that the community needed a hospital, and since, applying pressure on City officials to build a new one. Meanwhile, Johnson stated the necessity of investing in a new West Village hospital in no uncertain terms, noting “countless lives have already been lost with the closure of St. Vincent’s.”
Differences arose, but were mostly a matter of focus rather than ideology. Johnson spoke negatively of more cops on the street; Kurland sees no fundamental issue with it; both agree that cops need to be more sensitive to the people they interact with. On development, Johnson championed community involvement in decision-making and pushing the City Council to legislate in the community’s best interest. Kurland emphasized small business regeneration and positioned herself as someone who would “hold developers’ feet to the fire.” Both expressed deep misgivings about fracking and strong support for green measures in the City.
The debate was moving along smoothly and amicably – somewhat surprising for a race that has seen its share of mudslinging. Then the audience got involved.
After a mostly light-hearted lightning round discussing favorite bakeries and such, the moderator asked audience-submitted questions. Quickly sobering, the first question was about the candidates’ gun ownership; neither candidate owns a gun, but Kurland was in charge of a school building’s gun license, and her response to inquiries of how she disposed of the gun after leaving her position did not satisfy several hecklers. Both candidates support stronger gun control.
A question on affordable housing proved contentious because of the “rules” of the question. The candidates were asked to talk about what they have done to protect affordable housing, without mentioning their opponent. Johnson discussed his time on the community board and his creation of affordable housing units in the district; Kurland initially hesitated, then proceeded to challenge the validity of Johnson’s claims, stating that most of the units created were simply moved from elsewhere. Kurland’s decision to name Johnson in her answer drew the loudest boos of the night – prompting FIERCE’s John Blasco, the event organizer, to step in and reprimand the audience.
In the final moderated question of the night, the candidates were asked if they felt unfairly scrutinized. This question seemed to have been prompted by Kurland’s statements on Johnson’s past work for a real estate development firm. Kurland defended herself, stating, “Honesty and openness is not an attack.” Johnson responded that his work was in community outreach, declaring, “I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done.”
Another candidate forum is scheduled for 6:30PM on Monday, 8/26, at Bow Tie Cinemas in Chelsea.
Photo via The Villager