BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Picture it: January 1, 2021. As New York City’s first COVID-era election cycle unfolds, online forums replace brick and mortar gatherings as the candidate vetting venue of choice. The format proves popular, with tenant organizations and block associations holding their own candidate forums alongside more traditional presenters such as political clubs. Flash forward one year and NYC has a new mayor, comptroller, Manhattan District Attorney, and District 3 City Councilmember—all charged with setting a course to guide the city through the post-pandemic era many thought we’d be in by now.
But as the Omicron variant demonstrated, life is full of game-changing twists—such as the one that came via a December 13, 2021 press release noting New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried will not seek reelection. The 2022 ballot was suddenly the first one in over five decades without Gottfried as a choice for the NYC Assembly District 75 seat. Those who would succeed him were quick to react, with several announcing their intent in little more than 24 hours after Gottfried’s announcement. The current crop of candidates is comprised of five-year Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4) member Chris LeBron, current CB4 member and former CB4 Chair Lowell Kern, Manhattan Community Board 5 (CB5) member Layla Law-Gisiko, former leader of the Reimagine New York Commission’s support for workforce and small businesses Harrison Marks, Penn South Co-Op President Ambur Nicosia, and community organizer Tony Simone. (Campaigns have been suspended by former NYC Council staffer Louis Holden-Brown and Carl Wilson, formally NYC Council Speaker/District 3 rep Corey Johnson’s liaison to CB4.)
Two political clubs have already presented online opportunities to learn about the candidates. First up was Jan. 27’s Zoom-held forum sponsored by the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats (HKDems), available to view by clicking here. A Feb. 2 forum held by the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club can be viewed by clicking here. Chelsea Community News began our own coverage by sending an identical Q&A form to all candidates—which brings us to the below exchange with Lowell Kern.
Scott Stiffler, for Chelsea Community News (CCNews): Why do you want the job, and what tone will you set to align yourself with, and/or set yourself apart, from your predecessor?
Lowell Kern (Lowell): While raising my sons, I knew that I wanted to help make our neighborhoods a better place to live. All my experiences, from being a parent leader to being community board chair, will allow me to be a tremendously effective Assemblymember on Day 1.
Dick Gottfried is an institution in the State Assembly, and I will take the baton to continue his good work with a fresh enthusiasm. I will seek to continue fighting to make sure this neighborhood is a place that my sons will be able to raise their own families with access to good housing and open green spaces.
CCNews: What currently enacted Assembly legislation can be strengthened or used in a different manner to further benefit the people you’re running to represent?
Lowell: As is the case with any broad legislation, some things don’t work the way they were intended to and new issues arise that were not addressed by the original legislation. The Bail Reform act is an example of this. It’s clear that judges need more discretion when it comes to dealing with violent offenders and recidivism. New York State suffered under the Rockefeller drug laws where judicial discretion was eliminated for too long, and now we are repeating the same mistake. Further, alternative resolution methods, such as the highly effective Midtown Community Court in Hell’s Kitchen, need to be expanded for non-violent offenders. A Democratic majority can do this fine-tuning, and I will bring the voices of the community to Albany to do exactly that.
CCNews: During last year’s primary races, we asked candidates what they’d do in January 2022, to create a strong “post-pandemic” NYC. Our assessment was too optimistic. How do you regard the pandemic as it currently stands, what is required before we can declare ourselves in a “post-pandemic” period, and what should we be doing now, at the state level, to facilitate that?
Lowell: I want to be optimistic here, but we have to follow the science. We must allow our public health experts to make informed judgements about the state of variants, hospital capacity, and overall risk, and from there determine when we can say we are “post-pandemic.” However, we are seeing some encouraging trends in high vaccination rates, and the rates of severe illness from omicron in vaccinated people. I don’t believe we will ever eliminate COVID from our lives, but I think we will be able to return to some sort of normalcy and deal with COVID as we do with illnesses like the flu. To that end, the state should be guided by science and be prepared to roll out new measures if the determination is made that annual booster shots—like flu shots—are recommended.
CCNews: The time machine has been invented. Once you’ve played the stock market, it’s time to visit your younger self. What, if any, actions do you tell yourself to take or avoid—and what concert ticket do you buy?
Lowell: My younger self was probably too stubborn to listen to anything I would have to say to him, but I would tell him to make sure he was passionate about whatever he was doing, and not to let outside pressures influence his decisions. And if he listened, he’d probably be the play-by-play guy for the Super Bowl.
As for the concert ticket, I saw Bruce Springsteen at the Garden when I was 15 and it literally changed my life, as some of my closest friends to this day are people I’ve met seeing Bruce. I’d make sure my younger self buys that ticket again. The older me would make sure to be at Monterey Pop. Jimi. Janis. The Who. Otis. And, of course, Jerry and the boys.
CCNews: The current Assemblymember is often seen alongside the Manhattan Borough President, our District 3 Councilmember, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler at press conferences or as a signee to action-oriented letters (often generated by Community Board 4). How will you work local elected officials and stakeholders to advance matters of mutual importance?
Lowell: As Chair of Community Board 4, I have a track record of working alongside those elected officials and I was standing with them at many of those press conferences. I made sure Community Board 4 was in the foreground on the issues that affected our community. It is the job of our elected officials to support the people on the ground—the community board members, the block association leaders, the tenant presidents, etc.—because the people who live these issues day in and day out know what is really needed. I would take my cues from them.
Two specific issues I spearheaded at Community Board 4 required more follow up from our local electeds, but I still continued the push for the benefit of our neighbors.
The first was the situation of homeless individuals being sheltered in 3 different hotels on West 36th Street. This oversaturated the block and needed to be fixed. CB4 lead the charge and if we had the earlier backing of our elected officials, we could have solved the problem more quickly than we eventually did.
Second, CB4 led the call to shut down the Vessel at Hudson Yards following a number of horrible tragedies where young people took their own lives. While serving as Chair of CB4, we stood up to The Related Companies and demanded that they close the Vessel until more effective prevention measures were put in place. As the Assemblymember, I will continue to stand up to Related even when others won’t.
CCNews: Conflict and Compromise: What do these words mean to you, in terms of their role in being an effective Assemblymember?
Lowell: Conflict means standing up and being held accountable for either unpopular or impolitic positions. An elected official cannot take positions based upon what is going to get them re-elected. Our communities put their faith in us to do the right thing, and we must do that, regardless of the consequences. That can cause conflict.
Compromise is often seen as a dirty word, it’s not. Rather, it’s essential in governing. Without compromise, we allow one person or party to impose its will on the populace. Compromise is the key to getting things done as a government official, and it is an elected official’s responsibility to reach compromise positions on issues where compromise is the only option.
CCNews: Favorite Golden Girl, and why: Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, or Rose?
Lowell: Betty White was a national treasure, but to me, she will always be Sue Ann Nivens. I’m actually not a huge TV watcher. If the television is on, it usually involves either a ball or a puck (Mets, Jets, Knicks, Islanders).
CCNews: You took the time to answer our questions—even that last one, which, frankly, was a little gimmicky. So in the interest of fairness, we end by turning the tables: What one question do you want people to ask themselves when casting their vote in your race?
Lowell: I want voters to ask who has the experience and the track record of delivering for the communities of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen? Who has demonstrated the ability to work with diverse groups – government agencies, private companies, community leaders, residents – and achieved results? Of all of the candidates running for this office, all of whom I think are good people, I am the only candidate that has the experience actually delivering for our neighborhoods. That makes me the best suited to continue to deliver positive results.
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