Christopher Marte: ‘Our District is at a Crossroads’

Candidate Q&A’s: Interviews with the contenders for City Council in District 1

| 15 Jun 2021 | 12:56

The son of Dominican immigrants, Christopher Marte was born and raised in downtown Manhattan. His father owned a neighborhood bodega and his mother worked in a factory in Williamsburg, which Marte described as a sweatshop. As he got older, Marte saw the negative impacts of gentrification: rising rents caused his father’s business to shutter and pushed his cousins out of the neighborhood. In 2017, he decided to take a stand and ran against Margaret Chin, losing what was viewed as a longshot bid by only 222 votes. With a sense of unfinished business, Marte is taking another shot at the seat. Here’s our Q&A with Marte:

Why are you running for City Council in District 1 again?

No one expected us to get so close [in 2017]. Since then we’ve just continue doing the same work that we wanted to do if we were elected. When the mayor announced the bill to build a jail in the heart of Chinatown, I co-founded an organization called Neighbors United Below Canal to educate residents about how bad this plan was, not only for the community, but for people who are going to be incarcerated and I didn’t believe it to be true criminal justice reform. During the pandemic, we gave out almost 150,000 meals raise $15,000 to help small businesses with grants and loans and even offer free COVID testing site. Seeing the inequalities, and especially issues we ran on, get a really big spotlight during the pandemic is what really made me want to run again – because I feel like our district is at a crossroads. There’s certain parts of this district that are still extremely diverse; there’s working class people here, and I think that’s in jeopardy if we don’t elect the right person to continue to make this an affordable neighborhood.

Howard Hughes Corporation’s proposal to build a 324-foot tower within the South Street Seaport Historic District has divided neighbors downtown. Is that a project you support, why or why not?

I think it sets a really bad precedent. It will allow a developer to break one of the most protective zonings. If they’re able to develop there, than any developer can develop anywhere. I don’t only see it as like a micro issue for the historic seaport but does this set a precedent for Sojo/Noho, for Tribeca, for parks, for Governors Island, where developers are can get away with any type of devolved no matter what the protected zoning is of that block. And so that’s kind of my lens into the project, but then also the lack of commitment to affordable housing.

One of the central issues in every race this year is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic – if you’re elected, what kind of policies would you pursue to help workers, families and small businesses get back on their feet?

First, you have to make sure that people can stay in their homes. Even though there’s a new relief program, we need our council office to be an organizing office to make sure that the people who really need it get it, and this doesn’t become a situation similar to the first round of the PPP loans where major corporations were just taking advantage of the system and gaining all the funds. So it’s making sure that we have translators on the ground and we’re working with community-based organizations to identify who truly needs that and make sure that they get it. We need to pass this Small Business Jobs Survival Act to make sure that when people start to renegotiate their lease they have that opportunity to do it longer than one or two years, right, because no small business is gonna invest in a community if there have no guarantee for staying there for at least more than two years.

Over the course of the year there’s been an uptick in gun violence and other sorts of violent crime, but at the same time there remains a call to reform the NYPD – how you negotiate those two needs of keeping the city safe while reforming policing?

When you talk to the local precincts, a lot of them don’t have the expertise to deal with the mental illness crisis that we’re seeing in our streets. We need people who are experienced in emergency crises, like EMT workers, and to make sure that they have all the funds needed to do their job. Most of them get paid around $45,000 a year, and that’s definitely not enough for the jobs that they do. So we have to make sure we increase their presence and also have social workers and people that know how to deal with this not only a short-term basis, but a long-term basis so people can get the care that they need. I think it’s making sure that we have the right people doing the right jobs, and unburdening the police when necessary.

What other issues are top of mind for you?

Climate change. I think this district was extremely affected because of Hurricane Sandy, at the Smith houses there was water going up to the second floor. And now, years after that, we still don’t have a plan to protect our waterfronts. The only part of our district that’s actually protected is the wealthiest, Battery Park City. I want to make sure that we have the protected waterfront, and we do stuff within our power to lower our emissions, whether it’s changing all city vehicles to electric, making sure that we have more connected and protected bike paths, and I want to expand composting to make sure that people’s know that’s a viable alternative to just throwing tons of trash in plastic bags.

What’s something not related to your platform that you want voters to know about you?

When my dad had his bodega as a kid, people saw his bodega as like a neighborhood institution, at least a block institution. People would come over, have questions and stay for a while. And I think that’s how I want to see my Council office. I want it to be a place where people can come, gather, organize, no matter how small or how big the issue is. And so I think it’s changing how politics is done.

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