Being the richest guy in town is not the only reason Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been able to dominate New York politics for the past eight years. The City Council, whose weakness and venality was highlighted by its vote to allow Bloomberg to run for a third term, has also played an enabling role. That may begin to change in January thanks to enraged voters bouncing several pro-Bloomberg incumbents in favor of reformers with strong backgrounds as community organizers. Here are several fresh faces to watch for:
—Washington Heights, Inwood, Marble Hill
A longtime neighborhood activist in Washington Heights with roots in the Dominican left, Ydanis Rodriguez has been a staunch defender of public education from his student days at the City University of New York (CUNY). At CUNY, he was a leader in campus building takeovers in 1989 and 1991 to block tuition hikes and an organizer for the unpermitted 10,000-strong student march on City Hall in 1995 that ended in a police riot. Rodriguez founded the Dominican Youth Union and Dominicans 2000 to expand educational opportunities for Dominican youth and has worked as an English-language teacher at Gregorio Luperón High School in Washington Heights for immigrants. After losing City Council races in 2001 and 2003, Rodriguez swept to victory this year following incumbent Councilmember Miguel Martinez’s indictment in July on bribery and corruption charges.
—Chinatown, SoHo, South Village, Tribeca, Battery Park City, Greenwich Village
Margaret Chin will be the first Chinese-American to represent Chinatown. She has been fighting for affordable housing and greater access to government services for Chinatown’s residents for more than three decades since helping found Asian Americans for Equality as a college student. Chin has also worked as a teacher and college administrator helping immigrant adults get a college education, and served as chairperson for the New York Immigration Coalition. When a supporter praised her on the night of her Democratic primary victory as someone who will fight for the community, Chin, a former Maoist, replied, “My background is in organizing. I don’t do things by myself!” She will need to remember that if she’s going to confront the real-estate industry’s designs on her Lower Manhattan district.
—East Flatbush, Mill Basin, Canarsie
Jumaane Williams has already done New York’s long-suffering tenants a favor with his upset victory over landlord-lovin’ incumbent Kendall Stewart. There’s reason to hope more pleasant surprises are on the way. Williams, 32, is already a veteran of campaigns to improve community services and preserve and create affordable housing in his district. He also served a stint as executive director of Tenants & Neighbors, a statewide tenant advocacy organization. Like several other successful reform candidates, he was heavily supported by the Working Families Party and a number of local labor unions.
–Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Corona, Woodside, Rego Park
An award-winning elementary school teacher, union activist and well-known figure in the Queens LGBT community, Daniel Dromm mobilized an insurgent coalition of gays, Latinos and unionists that knocked off do-nothing incumbent Helen Sears to become the first gay City Councilmember from outside Manhattan, along with fellow reformer Jimmy Van Bramer who won in an adjacent Queens district. Dromm first made the news in 1992 when he came out as an openly gay schoolteacher in Queens and then successfully defeated several attempts to have him removed from his post. Dromm went on to organize the first Queens LGBT Pride Parade and Festival and cofounded the Queens Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG) and the Queens Pride House. As the shortcomings of Bloomberg’s gimmicky educational “reforms” become more evident, Dromm will be well-suited to speak to what a wiser education policy might look like. Hint: It starts with smaller class sizes and more parental involvement.