Taking on Incumbent, Mel Wymore Again Tosses Hat into District 6 Ring
BY JACKSON CHEN | Mel Wymore is taking a second shot at making history as the City Council’s first out transgender member, announcing his campaign for Council District 6 on March 16. But first, he would have to survive a second round against the seat’s incumbent, Helen Rosenthal.
Wymore, 55, first faced off against the councilmember in the 2013 Democratic primary, when the then-councilmember, Gale Brewer, was term limited and moved on to become the borough president.
In the primary, Wymore lost, but was the runner-up in a multi-candidate race, earning 6,440 votes to Rosenthal’s 7,716 votes — a difference of four percent-plus out of more than 28,000 total votes cast, according to the city Board of Elections.
The challenger has a long history of community activism as a current member of Community Board 7, where he previously served as chair for two years. Wymore’s community CV spans more than 30 organizations that have allowed him to work with youth, seniors, people with disabilities, small businesses, non-profits, LGBTQ groups, and low-income communities.
Most recently, he served as the executive director of TransPAC, a political action committee working to achieve equal rights for transgender people. Wymore said he’s since resigned from his post and suspended his fundraising duties for the group so he could focus on his Council run and avoid any potential for conflicts of interest.
His key concerns in running a Council race again this year are focused on how the city can address the radical shift in the nation’s political landscape and, at the neighborhood level, how best to protect affordable housing on the Upper West Side.
“City Council is our last line of defense against Trump’s attacks on our most vulnerable citizens,” Wymore said in his announcement. “We must be vigilant, take initiative, and most of all, organize for action right here in New York.”
With a wealth of community experience, Wymore said he’s particularly concerned with the large amount of high-end developments sprouting up that threaten the character and affordability of the residential neighborhood. Between a more expensive real estate market and tenants being harassed by landlords, he said, he feared for middle-class and low-income families.
But the challenger isn’t just highlighting changes threatening the community, he’s also emphasizing how the job description for being a councilmember has shifted since he last ran in 2013.
“There were several things that changed, the context, the different challenges now ahead of us,” Wymore told Manhattan Express. “Our state legislature is largely controlled by a conservative agenda, and Trump is attacking our community. City Council is where we can take care of our vulnerable citizens.”
On the Upper West Side, among the most vulnerable groups are the students, parents, and school community that were caught up in the recent rezoning debacle arising out of a need to address racial and socioeconomic segregation in School District 3’s student makeup. Wymore charged that the incumbent failed to listen to many of the voices during the school rezoning debate.
“Playing musical chairs among the parents and students in the community without really hearing their input is not the answer in my opinion,” he said. “On all sides of the equation, I’m not seeing a solution… There’s so many people left out of the conversation.”
In his talks with district residents, Wymore said, he has heard a lot of dissatisfaction with Rosenthal’s term, leading him to believe the incumbent “lacks the responsiveness and inclusiveness to serve every member of our community and bring us together.”
“I discovered a lot of discontent, people feeling angry, dismissed because of constituent services requests,” he said, adding that he knows of people have who called Rosenthal’s office up to 30 times without a response. “There is a sense of a lack of collaboration, a lack of inclusiveness. The people in the most marginalized community are feeling undeserved, unheard, and unmet.”
When asked about Wymore’s criticisms, Rosenthal said his statements were not backed up with evidence.
“I think that’s a conclusionary statement that does not have much,” she said. “There’s no expression or indication of why he thinks that’s true.”
The incumbent defended her positions and actions on several contentious issues in her district, including the school rezoning as well as the American Museum of Natural History’s controversial expansion project, saying, “A leader has to lead, and sometimes that means making unpopular choices for some people.”
Wymore and Rosenthal are joined by another contender in the District 6 race, with Cary Goodman, a vocal opponent of the museum’s project, which would encroach on the surrounding Theodore Roosevelt Park, having announced his Council run in January.
However, Rosenthal is confident in her re-election bid, speaking of the “proven track record” she has. In her term, the councilmember said, she’s worked to integrate schools and ensure students get an excellent education, provided protections against rent increases for people with disabilities, and pushed legislation providing support for residents facing tenant harassment. Rosenthal said she still has work to do – especially in the face of a Trump administration – like promoting equal pay for women, protecting LGBTQ students, and speaking out against Islamophobia.
“If anyone gets on the ballot, then we’ll have an opponent to debate,” Rosenthal said. “For now, my focus is continuing to do the governing work I’ve done the past three years and three months.”