Yetta Kurland (r.) greets a supporter during her December 10 City Hall campaign kick-off. | DONNA ACETO
Seven months after Corey Johnson, the chair of Community Board 4 in Chelsea, officially announced his aim to succeed Speaker Christine Quinn in the City Council’s District 3 seat, Yetta Kurland stepped up to say she too would contest the seat in 2013.
The December 10 City Hall press conference at which the out lesbian civil rights attorney and community activist threw her hat into the ring was hardly surprising; in fact, it was long expected. In 2009, Kurland took on Quinn, who had then been speaker for four years, and earned a third of the vote in a three-woman race, holding the incumbent to just over 50 percent.
Since then, Kurland’s visibility has remained undiminished –– tackling issues like the closure of St. Vincent’s Hospital and the rights of Occupy Wall Street participants to hold their ground in Zuccotti Park, and also hosting a weekly radio show on WWRL AM 1600. In announcing her candidacy, Kurland evoked her now familiar combatively progressive tone.
Saying New York, her home for the past two decades, is “the greatest city in the world,” she warned, “We’re heading toward becoming a place where only the richest can afford to live and where our public resources are being converted into private profit.”
The closing of St. Vincent’s and the damage Lower Manhattan and other parts of the city suffered from Hurricane Sandy, she said, represented “critical points in our sustainability.”
Kurland’s press conference included full-throated endorsements from Cathy Marino-Thomas, the co-president of the board of Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA), David Braun, the co-founder of United for Action, an anti-fracking group, and Penny Landau, a West Village resident and theater world publicist.
Voicing the Kurland campaign’s outsider message, Braun said. “We don’t need leaders who come here with a certain set of goals and them watch themselves get corrupted.”
During the press conference itself, which drew roughly 50 Kurland supporters who stood behind her, the candidate took no questions. Asked afterward how she expected the debate in the primary campaign to take shape, she responded, “I honestly don’t know who’s running,” and then lauded “active democracy where the more candidates the better.”
Community Board 4 chair Corey Johnson announced his candidacy early this year.
On Johnson’s role as her only declared opponent to date, Kurland said, “I haven’t seen Corey’s full set of issues yet.”
The candidate released a list of 65 supporters –– each of whom were quoted –– that included a number of other prominent LGBT New Yorkers, such as civil rights attorney Tom Shanahan, author and gender theorist Kate Bornstein, Queer Rising grassroots activist Jake Goodman, playwright Barbara Kahn, AIDS activist Andrew Velez, and MEUSA’s former executive director Ron Zacchi.
Attorney Christopher Lynn, who served as transportation commissioner in the Giuliani administration and ran against Quinn in her first election to the Council in 1999, was on hand for the press conference.
Producing blizzards of endorsements has become something of the standard in the nascent District 3 race. Earlier this year, Johnson, who is gay, issued a list that numbered nearly 600 names. Among many leaders in the LGBT community, Johnson announced support from Henrietta Hudson owner Lisa Cannistraci and former Human Rights Campaign leader Elizabeth Birch, as well as many gay men with high visibility, including Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry, Herndon Graddick, the executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), where Johnson formerly worked, Sean Strub, the creator of POZ magazine, Mitchell Gold, a worldwide premier furniture retailer who founded Faith in America to challenge religious anti-gay bigotry, and four former executive directors or board chairs of the Empire State Pride Agenda.
Both candidates boast endorsements from outside District 3, but Johnson’s list, at this point, is heavier on that score. In an email message to Gay City News, he highlighted his support from out gay US House Representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Jared Polis of Colorado, and David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black –– even as he pointed, as well, to endorsements from “PTA presidents, block association leaders, tenant association presidents” and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Kurland has been endorsed by the Transport Workers Union and the Communication Workers of America.
Johnson’s response to Kurland’s entry into the race mirrored the one she offered about him.
“I'm looking forward to a spirited race focused on the issues that affect our neighborhoods and residents of West Soho, the Village, Chelsea, and Hell's Kitchen,” he wrote.
Like Kurland, Johnson said he was uncertain whether anyone else might jump into the race, adding, “I'll be running on a long record of service and accomplishments both as an activist and in leading a community board.”
Johnson has scrambled to an early lead in campaign fundraising, reporting just under the legal limit of $168,000 in donations, which will allow him to gain the maximum public match of $92,400. According to the city's Campaign Finance Board, Kurland has raised more than $75,000, or about 45 percent of Johnson’s private donations. She, too, will be eligible for the city’s generous public matching funds program.
Next year’s primary date has not yet been scheduled and could happen in either June or September.