Council Countdown is a partnership of City Limits, City & State, Gotham Gazette and the Queens Daily Eagle, offering coverage of the 2021 New York City Council races.
Manhattan Councilmember Carlina Rivera, one of just a handful of City Council members who is not term-limited this year, faces a single challenger in her District 2 re-election bid.
Erin Hussein, a former attorney from the East Village, is running against Rivera, the current chair of the Council’s hospitals committee who is reportedly seeking the role of speaker, in the June 22 primary.
In a year where many Council races have several candidates running, the Democratic primary for District 2—which includes the Lower East Side, Kips Bay, and Murray Hill—is one of the least competitive in the city. And because only two Democratic candidates are on the ballot for the June 22 primary election, voters in the district will not be electing their next Council member using the city’s new ranked choice voting system.
Rivera, who is from the Lower East Side, faced off with Hussein in a previous Council election. The two ran in the same district in 2017, with Rivera ultimately prevailing over five other candidates, including Hussein, who came in last with less than two percent of the vote.
More than an estimated 300,000 people live within the two community districts—Manhattan Community District 3 and Manhattan Community District 6—that make up Council District 2.
The two districts are somewhat different, collectively representing some of the most racially and ethnically diverse communities in lower Manhattan: Community District 3, which includes the Lower East Side and Chinatown, is mostly white, Asian, and Latino, according to city data. More than a third of the residents there are foreign-born.
Just north of East 14th Street, and encompassing Murray Hill, Gramercy Park and Tudor City, Manhattan Community District 6 is mostly white. More residents here are proficient in English than in any other community district in the city, and are some of the least likely to earn incomes below the city’s poverty threshold.
But there are important similarities between the adjacent districts: Affordable housing is the principal issue in both, according to their respective community boards. Homelessness is also a local concern, both boards said in recent needs statements.
The incumbent Rivera has pulled in around $112,276 in contributions to her campaign so far, including donations from the political action committees attached to unions 1199SEIU and 32BJ, according to city campaign finance records.
In her first term, Rivera, a former community organizer on the Lower East Side, pushed to frame herself as an equity-focused progressive, particularly around issues related to health and housing. The chair of the hospitals committee, she introduced a bill in 2019 that would create a patient advocate office, intended to help New Yorkers navigate bureaucratic difficulties in the healthcare system.
Last year, she introduced legislation that would give affordable and supportive housing developers, community land trusts, and other groups the right of first refusal on select residential properties. These groups would subsequently be able to match competing offers.
But her critics, including Hussein, claim she has neglected resident concerns around local development and affordable housing.
“I have been a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom, and a fundraiser, and for the better part of two decades, I have dedicated myself to serving as the president of one of the largest coops in District 2,” Hussein’s campaign website says. “Together we have watched our district become unrecognizable and decisions be made that don’t reflect the will of the community. We have felt unheard and powerless, and this is why I am running for City Council.”
Hussein has raised just over a tenth of Rivera’s contributions, with about $14,877.
Hussein has also been critical of Rivera’s position on the city’s contentious East Side Coastal Resiliency plan, which will see East River Park demolished and later raised to better protect it from coastal flooding, according to city officials.
Rivera supports the plan, claiming raising the park will protect local homes and businesses from being battered by another storm like Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Though local groups—some of which had alternate plans for the area—have sued to save the existing park, construction began in April.
“East River Park must be saved, and there must be accountability and transparency about why the community plan was abruptly scrapped,” Hussein’s campaign website says.
A Columbia Law School graduate, Hussein is interested in reforming city land use policies and building more schools and hospitals. She is also opposed to a city proposal to rezone SoHo.
Councilmember Rivera could not be immediately reached for comment about her stance on the rezoning plan.