Yimby group backs City Council candidates

Open New York endorses eight candidates, including two challenging Democratic incumbents

Council member Mark Gjonaj and Robert Holden (Photos via City Council)
Council members Mark Gjonaj and Robert Holden, who are being challenged by candidates endorsed by Open New York (Photos via City Council)

A pro-development group is flexing its political muscle for the first time, backing candidates in upcoming City Council races.

Open New York, which advocates for increased density in wealthy neighborhoods, is endorsing eight contenders for the 51-member Council, where two-thirds of members will leave office next year due to term limits.

“A district-by-district fiefdom approach to development is not working and we need a smarter citywide approach,” Casey Berkovitz, a board member, told Politico.

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Berkovitz said the electoral endorsements are the first for the group, which is fundraising to hire an executive director. The Council determines rezonings, which substantial residential projects routinely seek in New York City.

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On Wednesday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson released a comprehensive plan to overhaul the city’s approach to land use decisions. The 10-year plan sets long-term goals for housing, transportation and public space, and adds opportunities for the public to weigh in.

Two of Open New York’s candidates are challenging Democratic incumbents. Juan Ardila, a Legal Aid Society employee, is taking on Council member Robert Holden, who has opposed homeless shelters in his Queens district. It is also backing Marjorie Velázquez, a Bronx community board member who is running against Mark Gjonaj, another conservative-leaning Council Democrat. Both insurgents have also been endorsed by the Working Families Party.

Another Open New York endorsee, Sara Lind, is running in an Upper West Side district where tower-averse Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is expected to seek her former City Council seat.

The “yes in my back yard” group and progressive leaders have criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio for focusing rezoning on lower-income neighborhoods. But this fall the mayor announced he will seek to rezone Soho and Gowanus next year.

Open New York is a vocal supporter of both of those rezonings, as well as residential projects in high-income areas, prompting suspicion that it is doing the real estate industry’s bidding. Berkovitz said the nonprofit takes no money from groups like the Real Estate Board of New York, which told The Real Deal it has no knowledge of Open New York’s operations. The group has accepted money from individuals who work in real estate.

[Politico] — E.B. Solomont