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Follow-up: Margaret Chin Wins a Third Term in City Council District 1

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Margaret Chin celebrated her victory in Chinatown Tuesday evening.

Life in politics has never come easily to Margaret Chin. In 2009, she was finally elected to the City Council in Lower Manhattan on her fourth try. Four years ago, she endured a tough re-election battle in the Democratic Primary. And in  Tuesday evening’s General Election, she emerged from a bruising battle for a third term — victorious but not unscathed.

Chin came in with 49% to 37% for Christopher Marte, a political newcomer who almost defeated the two-term Council member in the primary election a few weeks ago. When he decided to run a second time on the Independence Party line, Chin had another battle to wage. In the end, she prevailed, by a margin of almost 3,000 votes. During a victory celebration at Golden Unicorn, the East Broadway Chinese restaurant, she appeared exhausted — emotionally and physically — but very much relieved.

In her remarks on Tuesday evening, Chin thanked longtime supporters, as well as new ones, who rallied around her following the shocking result in the September primary. At the top of the list were Jenny Low, Justin Yu, Virginia Kee and Chung Seto, Chinatown activists who helped turn out the vote in an area critical to Chin’s political survival.

Chin said there’s a lot of work to do during the next four years. She alluded to one of the most controversial issues in the campaign: her support for developing low-income residential units on the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden. “We’ve got to make sure,” Chin asserted defiantly, “that our senior housing gets built on that Elizabeth Street site, with open space for everyone!” A statement put out by the campaign Tuesday evening said, “the voters have spoken” in support of Council member Chin’s vision of building new affordable housing, as well as for securing new money for seniors, parks and schools, and for storm protection.

Christopher Marte gathered with his supporters at Jing Fong, the dim sum restaurant just a couple blocks away from the Chin victory party. In a statement put out last night, he said, “Together we were able to shatter expectations and make political history… We created new opportunities to the voiceless by calling attention to the rapid over-development of the waterfront.” The 28-year-old Lower East Sider added, “This is not the end of our movement… It is the beginning of real political change in Lower Manhattan. It is the beginning of a new era of accountability for our elected officials.”

Christopher Marte announcing his decision to run in the general election. Photo provided by the Marte campaign.

Christopher Marte announcing his decision to run in the general election. Photo provided by the Marte campaign.

The political experts said Marte would be hard-pressed to knock off an incumbent running on the Democratic Party line. He pulled in 8500 votes, easily surpassing both the Republican nominee, Bryan Jung, and Aaron Foldenauer, who ran on the Liberal Party line.

In the General Election, Chin may have benefited from Mayor de Blasio coattails (he coasted to a second term.) Many people simply vote the Democratic Party line. A review of vote totals in each precinct, however, reveals a divided district. Margaret Chin has a lot of support, but also many detractors, and she’s entering her third and final term as a polarizing figure across District 1.

Throughout much of this year, Council member Chin faced criticism from residents in the Two Bridges area, who felt she acted too slowly in response to three proposed mega-towers along the waterfront. In Tuesday’s election, the controversial redevelopment issue continued to hurt her standing on the Lower East Side. According to preliminary results from the Board of Elections, Chin narrowly lost six out of nine election districts in the Two Bridges area.

In other areas, however, a concerted effort by the Chin campaign to get out the vote made a big difference. Although Marte ran strong in the Grand Street cooperatives, Chin was victorious in all four large residential complexes. In Chinatown, she improved significantly on her performance in the Democratic Primary. At the huge Confucius Plaza apartment complex, she had 229 votes to 60 for Marte. In one election district on Park Row, Chin won 203 to 57. As the Broadsheet pointed out, Chin over-performed in three neighborhoods: Battery Park City, the Financial District and the South Street Seaport. “Taken together,” noted the Lower Manhattan newspaper,”  these communities (plus Tribeca) voted for Ms. Chin at a higher rate than the First District overall, with 53.7 percent supporting her…”

Slightly more than half of those residents taking part in Tuesday’s election voted against the incumbent.  She collected 11,468 votes, while 11,529 District 1 voters chose one of Chin’s rivals. In some ways, not much has changed from four years ago. Chin has always been unpopular in Soho and the Village. In this election, her longtime opponents in those neighborhoods united with people outraged by her stance on the Elizabeth Street Garden. They were highly motivated to work for Marte’s election. On the Lower East Side, rampant over-development galvanized many of the Council member’s old foes.

But this time around, Chin was forced to contend with a surprisingly formidable political opponent. Following the primary election, the Chin camp became more aggressive, exposing alleged voter fraud by one of Marte’s chief Chinatown backers and “fact checking” incendiary flyers distributed by campaign supporters in the Two Bridges area. On Election Day, a story surfaced in City & State which questioned the legality of Marte’s rent-free campaign headquarters.

Now another contentious election is over, and Margaret Chin has a decision to make: Will she choose to repair relations with her detractors in District 1? If history is any guide, she may make some concessions, but no one should expect Chin to back away from a fight on issues she believes in (such as building affordable housing). No one should expect her to stop telling constituents “no” when her vision doesn’t conform with theirs. In other words, you can look for more heated battles between Council member Chin and her detractors in the next four years. In a third term, however, she has no worries about the next election on the horizon. Chin will face term limits in the year 2021.

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