Upstarts spar for Kallos seat

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Democrat Socialist Bobilin and community activist Goodwin face steep odds in bid to oust Upper East Side incumbent


  • City Council Member Ben Kallos, who is running for reelection to his Upper East Side seat, with some of his youngest constituents this summer at the Manhattan Schoolhouse, a preschool in his district. Photo: Ben Kallos Campaign

  • City Council Member Ben Kallos, who is running for reelection to his Upper East Side seat, campaigning this summer in Carl Schurz Park. Photo: Ben Kallos Campaign

  • Community activist Gwen Goodwin, at center with red beret and scarf, in front of Trump Tower during the January 21st Women's March on NYC. She is challenging incumbent Ben Kallos to represent the Upper East Side. Photo: Gwen Goodwin Campaign

  • Community activist Gwen Goodwin is challenging incumbent City Council Member Ben Kallos to represent the Upper East Side. Photo: Pat Palmerie

  • Democratic Socialist and political newcomer Patrick Bobilin, second from left in front row, with striking electrical workers at a Time-Warner facility at 78th Street and Third Avenue earlier this year. He is challenging incumbent Ben Kallos to represent the Upper East Side. Photo: Pedro Cappacetti / IBEW Local No. 3

  • Political newcomer Patrick Bobilin, who is challenging incumbent Ben Kallos to represent the Upper East Side. Photo: Mindy Tucker

Two veterans of the insurgent Bernie Sanders campaign — who watched an anti-establishment long shot come breathtakingly close to toppling a candidate once branded inevitable — are vying to unseat incumbent City Council Member Ben Kallos.

Raised by a single mother, trained as an engineer and animated by the mission of community organizing, Patrick Bobilin is a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America who unselfconsciously describes himself as a “perennial protester.”

Forged in the political firefights and community battles of East Harlem, Gwen Goodwin is a neighborhood activist who carries the battle scars from what she terms her “historic campaigns” — including defeats in previous bids for the City Council in 2009 and 2013 and a failed effort to get on the ballot in 2005.

The 34-year-old Bobilin and the 56-year-old Goodwin, who both cite the Sanders race against heavily-favored Hillary Clinton as a source of inspiration, are challenging the 36-year-old Kallos in the Democratic primary for City Council District 5 on September 12.

Kallos, who was elected in 2013, is a lawyer-cum-entrepreneur-turned-politician who was schooled at the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School and Bronx High School of Science. A third-generation Upper East Sider, he’s lived in the neighborhood, originally at 88th Street and York Avenue, since he was four years old.

His record, and his campaign treasury, will make him tough to beat. Kallos has quadrupled the number of pre-K seats in the district, to 618 from 155 over 2.5 years, and helped secure some $150 million in shovel-ready construction for the East River Esplanade, he said.

At stake is a political prize once known as the Silk-Stocking District for the affluence of its residents — and literally, the fabric of choice for the footwear they favored from the end of the 19th century until roughly the onset of the Great Depression.

Thought current boundaries no longer include the moneyed precincts along Fifth and Park Avenues, the district takes in Yorkville, Carnegie Hill and Lenox Hill on the Upper East Side, as well as Sutton Place, Midtown East, East Harlem and Roosevelt Island.

“I’ve been banging on the doors of City Hall for so long that I realized, especially after seeing Bernie Sanders get his message out, how very important it is to be inside City Hall, with that same spirit of activism, fighting for the rights of people on the outside,” Bobilin said.

His street cred as a demonstrator includes marching with Black Lives Matter and for reproductive rights, denouncing NAFTA and bias against the LGBT community, manning a picket line with striking electrical workers and protesting outside the Metropolitan Republican Club at 122 East 83rd Street.

The downside: Bobilin, who lives on East 81st Street, is a newcomer to the district, he acknowledges. He only moved into the city from Chicago in February 2016. He’s never run for office. Campaign funds are scant.

While Kallos has amassed a hefty $185,511 war chest from 542 donors, Bobilin has raised just $3,827 from 86 supporters, and $1,100 of that comes from his own contributions, according to filings with the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

That’s exactly the wrong yardstick, he believes. “Raising money in politics is not the issue when you’re fundamentally against money in politics, and you want to fundamentally restructure and fix the imbalance of capitalism,” he says.

If Bobilin is a newbie when it comes to the electoral scrum, Goodwin is an old hand who has mixed it up repeatedly with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the East Harlem Democrat who is arguably the city’s second most powerful elected official after Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Redistricting yanked Goodwin’s East 100th Street apartment — where she lives in a fifth-floor walk-up, 92 steps up — out of Mark-Viverito’s territory, moving it into Kallos’ turf and making her current challenge possible. But before that happened, she three times sought the seat.

Disqualified from the Democratic primary ballot in 2005, Goodwin was then beaten twice when she tried to oust her nemesis in 2009 and 2013. Why would a fourth-time run for a Council seat be the charm?

“For all you naysayers out there, I just have to remind you that Winston Churchill ran five times before he won, and so did Abraham Lincoln,” she said. “I’m not putting myself up there with these two men. But one of the things I own is the resolve to keep coming back and showing up again, even with these difficult defeats.”

A well-known community activist, Goodwin helped save PS 109 on East 99th Street from demolition, campaigned to close a fume-spewing MTA bus depot on Lexington Avenue and has been trying to block luxury housing developments planned by the city’s Housing Authority on infill sites at several of its projects.

The downside: in 2014, she filed one of the more bizarre lawsuits in local political history against Mark-Viverito, claiming the Council member had essentially placed a hex on her. Really.

In legal papers, she argued that a mural painted on the side of her building portraying a decapitated and sword-stabbed chicken or rooster had been installed at the initiative of her rival, who then headed an urban art program that painted murals on buildings.

“In the Caribbean culture, this constituted a curse and a death threat,” the lawsuit alleged. Goodwin, who sought $1 million in damages, said she eventually dropped the case. But she defends the legal action:

“I sued her because she committed a hostile act toward me,” she said. “This reaches a new level of disgustingness. It was a hostile-looking dead bird. It was a threatening picture.”

Goodwin and Bobilin both criticized Kallos for what each called “outrageous” self-dealing in supporting a 2016 raise for Council members, who reaped a 32 percent pay hike, to $148,500 from $112,192.

Kallos pointed out that he authored two reform bills at the same time that made the Council a full-time job, made outside income illegal — and got rid of so-called lulus, or stipends for members.

“Now, the Council works full time for the people without the corrupting influence of outside income or additional income at the discretion of the speaker,” he said.

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