Parks Advocate Challenges Helen Rosenthal for Council
BY JACKSON CHEN | A fierce parks advocate from the Upper West Side has launched his first bid for elective office, a challenge to incumbent City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal for her District 6 seat.
Cary Goodman, 66, who announced his run on January 27, has no experience in elective office nor has he served on his local community board, a launching pad for many city councilmembers. He last worked as a City Hall staffer in 1977, for Gilberto Gerena Valentín, a Bronx councilmember.
Goodman is the executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District in the Bronx and worked as a public school teacher for more than a decade. He has recently become highly visible on the Upper West Side as a staunch vocal opponent of the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation expansion that would encroach on the surrounding Theodore Roosevelt Park.
Goodman explained he was inspired by President Barack Obama’s farewell speech, in which he said, “If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.” Equally inspiring in spurring him to run, the Upper West Sider said, was the January 21 Women’s March on Washington that brought out more than 500,000 participants.
The challenger’s platform revolves around two major issues on the Upper West Side – the controversial Gilder Center expansion to be built at the museum’s Columbus Avenue entrance and the rezoning debacle within School District 3, where sharp socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic disparities exist among the schools.
If he were to capture the District 6 seat, Goodman pledged, one of his first actions would be a freezing of city funding for the museum project. He would also propose legislation requiring community boards and borough presidents to hold a series of town hall meetings with constituents prior to — and not after, Goodman emphasized — endorsing, recommending, or approving major undertakings like the Gilder Center expansion.
The political newcomer is taking aim at what he terms “Done Deal Democrats” – politicians who retain power by toeing the party line and maintaining the status quo, he explained.
“When you go the day after the elections in New York City and take a look at the percentages that people who are elected have, they’re comparable to the statistics that you see in dictatorships in South America or in the Soviet Union,” Goodman said of Council and other local legislative contests. “Everybody wins like 89, 90, 95 percent, these enormous dilapidated scores, but the question is how come?”
In his view, it’s because most elected officials share the same political affiliations, belong to the same Democratic clubs, and endorse each other blindly. In her last election for District 6 in November 2013, Rosenthal secured 78 percent of the vote, though her September primary win came in a tight, multi-candidate race.
“What they do is sort of shut out the rest of the community in having its input in decisions like this one [the Gilder Center],” Goodman said. “It’s like a club, sort of incestuous, and precludes the kind of robust community involvement that I think a project of this magnitude should have.”
When asked about Goodman’s run against her, Rosenthal welcomed the challenger.
“The wonderful thing about a democracy is that everyone can run for office,” she said in an email response. “Multiple-candidate races are critical for residents to become ‘high information’ voters with debate on different perspectives and ideas.”
Goodman seized on Rosenthal’s use of the word “debate” as an invitation to appear on a stage with her, and, in a message to Manhattan Express, wrote, “I officially accept her offer. Let’s start next month.”
In contrast to Goodman, both Rosenthal and her predecessor, Gale Brewer, who is now Manhattan’s borough president, served on Community Board 7, with the incumbent councilmember serving as the board’s chair for two years.
“This is a great opportunity for all residents to become further engaged and informed and I welcome that,” Rosenthal said. “No one should ever run un-opposed, it’s not democratic.”
Goodman said he expects to challenge Rosenthal in the Democratic primary, but has had conversations with the Republican Party and would be happy to be endorsed by the Working Families Party.
“I expect to give her a really solid race,” Goodman said. “I think we’re going to raise a significant amount of money. Our campaign is not going to be inaccessible… I like people, I like talking to people, I like working with people.”
Goodman has not yet filed information about a fundraising committee with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Rosenthal’s committee currently shows a relatively modest balance of just over $21,000.