No Candidate Unscathed at Borough President Forum

Borough President Forum
Chelsea Clinton News March 20-26, 1997
by Al Amateau

No Candidate Unscathed at Borough President Forum
Hopefuls Spar With Audience, Each Other

Four Democrats seeking the Manhattan Borough President’s office fielded some aggressive questions about campaign contributions, community board appointments and rent laws from West Siders at a forum last week in Manhattan Valley.

The joint meeting of the Three Parks and Broadway Democrats brought together Council members C. Virginia Fields, from Central Harlem, Antonio Pagan from the Lower East Side, and Adam Clayton Powell IV from East Harlem, along with Assemb. Deborah Glick, whose state legislative district covers Greenwich Village.

State Sen. David Paterson, who withdrew from the contest on March 11, one day before the forum, was replaced by an uninvited candidate, George Spitz, who convinced the moderators to allow him two minutes to present his platform. Spitz, 74, wants a referendum to eliminate the office of Borough President, and failing that, he would cut the $95,000 salary of the office in half and reduce the staff.

Fields, a supporter of rent regulations, was challenged to explain why she accepted campaign contributions from the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a group representing landlords of rent-stabilized buildings who oppose rent regulations. Her questioner, Ira Manhoff, membership secretary of the Three Parks club, also asked why she took campaign money from Riverside South, the Trump project in the riverfront tract between 59th and 72nd streets.

Fields defended herself by saying the contributions did not affect her votes on rent regulations or any other issue. She insisted that her absence from a council vote on decontrol of high rents was caused by a long-standing previous appointment.

Glick joined the dialogue to say that she would not take a campaign donation from RSA.

Pagan Attacked On Rent Stance

Manhoff also challenged Antonio Pagan on his vote against decontrol of rents above $2,000. Pagan, whose conservative stance did not win friends on the Upper West Side, declared “I was a sponsor of luxury decontrol and I still support it.”

Pagan took the opportunity to slam current Borough President Ruth Messinger, currently challenging Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “I intend to make the Borough President’s office the people’s office,” he said in opening remarks, “not a platform someone is using to run for another office.”

Manhoff also faulted Pagan for appointing Ray Cline, to Community Board 5. Cline, a resident of the Community Board 4 district, was manager of the Longacre Hotel on West 45th Street when the hotel was caught evicting long-time tenants. Pagan responded, “I do not have to clear my community board appointments with you.”

Allen Bortnick, a political consultant who has represented rivals of Pagan, also tweaked the East Side Councilmember, asking why he had lost support of district and county leaders, “your fellow Democrats, if you are a Democrat.”

Pagan, in turn, demanded that Bortnick identify himself and declare for whom he was speaking. “I’m not engaged by anyone at the moment. Perhaps you’d like to hire me,” Bortnick retorted. “I wouldn’t hire you if you were the last thing crawling on the earth,” said Pagan

Powell was also provoked to defend a community board appointment. Manhoff described Lisa Lehr, Powell’s appointment to Community Board 7, as “a notorious NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard]” Powell replied “Lisa Lehr represents a community point of view that’s not so much NIMBY as “there’s enough in my backyard, compared to other neighborhoods in Manhattan.”

Fields, whose district is closest to the Three Parks and Broadway Democrats’ neighborhoods, appeared to be favored by the crowd despite the embarrassing questions. She has already won the support of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats Club on the East Side in her quest.

Contenders for Fields’ council seat include Bill Perkins, on the staff of Assemb. Steven Sanders and a district leader in the 68th Assembly District (AD); Inez Dickens, district leader in the 70th AD; Ronnie Holly, her male counterpart in the 70th AD, and Virginia Montague, former chief of staff for Fields.