Spirited Exchange, Some Sharp Contrasts in Johnson-Kurland Council Debate

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Yetta Kurland and Corey Johnson during a contentious moment in the debate. | DONNA ACETO
Yetta Kurland and Corey Johnson during a contentious moment in the debate. | DONNA ACETO

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | In a spirited debate frequently punctuated by cheers, boos, and catcalls from the audience, the candidates who are seeking the City Council seat held by Speaker Christine Quinn for the past 14 years faced off for roughly 90 minutes.

“I think 14 years is a long time to be representing a district,” said Corey Johnson during the August 26 debate that was held at the Bow Tie Cinema on West 23rd Street in Manhattan. The 31-year-old said that while Quinn had done some “good things,” there were other actions taken by the speaker that “I vehemently disagreed with.”

Yetta Kurland. | DONNA ACETO
Yetta Kurland. | DONNA ACETO

Yetta Kurland, a 45-year-old attorney, declined to criticize Quinn and then delivered a standard Kurland shot –– an oblique reference to things that remind the listener to be suspicious of the person referred to.

“Her close relationship to Mayor Bloomberg gives her access and power and some might argue that’s a good thing,” Kurland said.

The candidates are vying to represent the roughly 180,000 New Yorkers in a district that ranges from the Columbus Circle area to Canal Street and from Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River. With no other credible candidate in the race, the September 10 Democratic primary will determine who takes the seat.

Quinn has not endorsed in the race nor has she been asked for an endorsement. Kurland challenged Quinn in 2009 and won 31 percent of the vote in a three-candidate Democratic primary. Quinn won a surprisingly weak 52 percent of the vote. Quinn and Johnson have had a difficult relationship.

Corey Johnson. | DONNA ACETO
Corey Johnson. | DONNA ACETO

During the debate, Johnson and Kurland mostly used their standard campaign rhetoric. Johnson showed his detailed knowledge of the district and city policy that he learned during eight years on the community board that covers much of District 3. Kurland avoided details and specifics, favoring broad strokes and vision.

Johnson talked about being raised in a working class home in Massachusetts by a mother who was a lunch lady in a public school and a father who was a Teamster and drove a truck for Pepsi.

Kurland’s biography consists of a string of titles she uses to describe herself –– a “small business owner,” an “educator,” a “civil rights attorney,” and many others –– as well as her accomplishments.

The enmity that is very much a feature of the race was also on display.

Kurland made repeated references to needing “representa­tives who are going to be honest and open and transparent.” She also referred to electing someone who is not allied with “political insiders” and “real estate interests.”

Johnson has held jobs at two real estate development firms. He only put them in his campaign biography after the first job was reported by the web site He clearly resented the implication that he is “real estate executive,” as he put it.

“If anybody wants to come see my apartment, they’ll see I’m the poorest real estate executive this side of the Mississippi,” he said, adding that his home is all of 300 square feet.

A pro-Johnson poster outside the debate. | DONNA ACETO
A pro-Johnson poster outside the debate. | DONNA ACETO

Johnson has a string of endorsements from progressive officeholders, including Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who represents Manhattan’s West Side, as well as the heads of block associations, PTA leaders, and others in the district.

“Not a single elected local official has endorsed you and I think that says something,” he told Kurland. “These are local folks who are endorsing me.”

The crowd of roughly 300 freely shared their views on both candidates throughout the debate. They cheered their candidate and booed the other during introductions. If one candidate avoided answering a question, some partisan would yell out “Answer the question.” The accusation “Liar” was used more than once as was “Tell the truth.”

The debate was a refreshing departure from televised debates in which audiences are admonished to keep silent and the discussions are often formulaic and empty.

Kurland and Johnson agree on many issues. Both say that the Lower West Side of Manhattan must have a hospital to replace the now closed St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center, the city needs more affordable housing, and the district needs more parks and more schools. They disagree on who can best deliver these things.

Several members of the audience show their support for Kurland as they leave the debate. | DONNA ACETO
Several members of the audience show their support for Kurland as they leave the debate. | DONNA ACETO

Kurland said it was an “easy decision” for voters. They can back a candidate who is tied to “real estate interests and political insiders” or they can vote for her.

Johnson had a different view.

“I want this race to be about the future,” he said. “This race is about who has delivered consistently for this community.”

The debate was moderated by Paul Schindler, the editor of Gay City News, and Lincoln Anderson, the editor of the Villager. It was sponsored by NYC Community Media, the parent company of both papers and of Chelsea Now, the Downtown Express, and the East Villager.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

Chris says:
Shame on Gay City News for this article and last night. Most of the people sitting next to me at the theater, Kurland and Johnson supporters alike, were appalled at the way this debate was moderated. To call it a "refreshing departure" is a total joke. You let the audience run amock and be totally disrespectful, you didn't moderate the candidates at all, and worst of all, you let outright lies go unchallenged. Between this and your endorsement of the Democratic party traitor Christine Quinn (not to mention Bloomberg endorser Corey), you have lost all credibility.
Aug. 27, 2013, 2:41 pm
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
And we are supposed to pay attention to who moderated the discussion knowing ful well that the Gay City News ENDORSED Quinn? Cum on and get the foreplay over with!!
Aug. 27, 2013, 2:42 pm
Jerry says:
This is a somewhat biased article. For example, "During the debate, Johnson and Kurland mostly used their standard campaign rhetoric. Johnson showed his detailed knowledge of the district and city policy that he learned during eight years on the community board that covers much of District 3. Kurland avoided details and specifics, favoring broad strokes and vision." Actually it was just the opposite. Also it was only the Johnson supporters that kept on interrupting Yetta. For them obnoxiousness seemed to be their substitute for a substantive platform. One of them kept on kicking my chair.
Aug. 27, 2013, 2:54 pm
Mike Conway says:
I'm voting Anyone But Quinn and Anyone But Corey, two peas in a pod.
Aug. 27, 2013, 3:31 pm
Paul Nagle says:
I'd have to agree with the previous comments that the rude behavior was pretty much coming from the Johnson supporters when Kurland was trying to speak. Also, Johnson never said Kurland didn't have any elected officials' endorsements, she named some of them and to report that she doesn't have any in the context of this coverage is sloppy. Finally, about endorsements. I have been inside political campaigns that were on the winning side of endorsements. They are a political insiders' game of horse trading and are based pretty exclusively on personal political positioning within alliances. People should view them with a healthy suspicion.
Aug. 27, 2013, 3:36 pm
jim connolly says:
The antics of the Yetta supporters last night were atrocious. I personally witnessed a thug wearing a blue Yetta t-shirt arguing with old ladies outside the cinema -- forcing a Teamster to stand up behind the woman so she didn't feel endangered. That same Yetta thug then interrupted so many times inside that it was the only time the moderator felt compelled to actually chastise an audience member (despite multiple interruptions from both sides). I also received materials about Corey that were not accredited to any group because the people handing them out knew they were blatant lies. It was truly disgraceful. The more I see of Yetta and her supporters behaving like this, the more compelled I am to vote for Corey Johnson. As to the debate itself, it was clear that Corey Johnson has a much better command of the issues whether you agree with his positions or not.
Aug. 27, 2013, 4:13 pm
Morgan says:
I echo Chris' and Jerry's sentiment. This article is not an accurate representation of what happened last night. The debate was moderated in incredibly biased fashion. From an objective perspective, there are at least 5 corrections that need to be made if Gay City News wants to be respected as a credible news outlet.
Aug. 27, 2013, 4:52 pm
Dan says:
Care to give an example of how it was "just the opposite"?
Aug. 27, 2013, 4:59 pm
LittleBearNYC says:
I have no choice in this race since I do not live in the district. HOWEVER- I do know of many people who have both worked for one of Yetta's so-called 'businesses' and have reported abuse, being forced to work on her campaigns while supposedly employees of her ESL school (since sold), and her hiring practices designed to skirt paying medical benefits, decent wages, and overtime. And I also know many community activists who have reported how Yetta talks like a 'lefty' but runs slipshod over people with intimidation and lies. She packs meetings, sues former employees, and threatens and intimidates as good or better than the Supreme Capitalist who has been Mayor for three disturbing terms. But I guess Progressives who talk a good game but end up being the same as all the other trash is a prerequisite to holding this council seat - just examine Christine Quinn's trajectory -oh that's right, Gay City News does not want us to examine her trajectory!! And shame on the first former Progressive to hold this seat - Tom Duane- for endorsing Handmaiden Quinn's third term enabling of Mayor Moneybags and all the other 1% actions she has taken. One thing you can say for Joe Lhota and that horror Johnny Cats - they know they are pigs and don't wear masks to hide it.
Aug. 27, 2013, 5:14 pm
Dana says:
Appreciate the coverage Duncan. I think most people behaved themselves.
Aug. 27, 2013, 6:12 pm
Jerry says:
For example, Yetta Kurland knew exactly what needs to be done to get a full-service hospital in the village. Corey didn't even care about the issue until years after the hospital had been closed. She knew exactly how few units of affordable housing Bloomberg's plan is creating. Even though Corey brought up the issue of whether she still owned a gun, he seemed to have no idea of what the procedure is for obtaining or relinquishing a gun permit. Corey is relying heavily on the endorsements of politicians who have been in office for ever and who have done less than nothing. If he is elected it will be more of the same.
Aug. 27, 2013, 9:02 pm
LDK says:
Yetta provided specifics? Lincoln Anderson asked a question about the candidate's position on education issues, such as overcrowding, new schools, etc. Yetta's answer consisted of providing her educational background and then went off onto an affordable housing tangent. Corey asked Yetta for her position on the development of the Farley Post Office and MSG. Yetta had no clue what to say, so she went off on the same affordable housing tangent. Corey made very clear that he knows the facts, details, specifics and the people involved on all of the major issues affecting this district. As for the criticisms of how the debate was conducted, it's actually a predictable response from Kurland supporters. Lose the debate, so blame the format. I will give them this - they've done a great job of copying the tactics of the far right.
Aug. 27, 2013, 9:29 pm
tom connor says:
I was very mpressed by Corey s grasp of the issues.He has worked in the commuity for years as Chair of Community BOARD 4 AND IT SHOWED. YETTA DID NOT SEEM TO BE INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY ISSUES. . SHE DOES BRING P HER EFFORTS TO SAVE ST VINCENTS HOWEVER HER EFFORTS WERE NOT SUCCESSFUL. When she ran against Quinn she was a bright light but her bulb has gone out.She is a one issue candidate, vote for me I am a woman how sexist and wrong
Aug. 28, 2013, 11:53 am
Uptown girl says:
Of all the progressive ppl who live in this district this is all you could find to run for this council seat. Both are unqualified.
Aug. 29, 2013, 1:30 pm

Comments closed.


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