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The Politics of Change in Lower Manhattan
July 1st, 2008

The New York Times reports that “The Lower East Side of Manhattan is being SoHo-fied. (Or is it Chelsea-fied?)” The travel section article lists hidden L.E.S. art galleries that have popped up in the past year or so – though the galleries mentioned by name are likely to lose their “hidden” status fast. The reporter takes the new art scene as a sign of the changing face of the area.

And while demographic shifts could have implications in the art world, they may also affect September’s elections, potentially even threatening the re-election of 32-year incumbent and Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver. (For more on this race, see Gotham Gazette’s Running Against Albany on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

As New York Magazine noted last month in an article about the speaker, “It’s not the old neighborhood anymore.” Silver hails from Lower Manhattan’s Orthodox Jewish community, which has shrunk in recent years.

As the article puts it, Silver’s Democratic primary opponents are from the “new” Lower Manhattan: “The dirty, noisy tenement streets [Silver's] family sought to escape have become postcollegiate playpens. The kosher delis he used to go to are now nightclubs– like Ratner’s — or condo sites — like Gertles. Even the Grand Street co-ops have changed, as young families move in, paying market rates. His challengers in the September primary come from this new neighborhood.”

Both of Silver’s challengers, Luke Henry and Paul Newell, are courting the area’s young voters, many of whom weren’t even born when Silver assumed office.

In what The Daily Politics saw as a pitch to young voters, Henry recently tried to capitalize on his first name — Luke — with a Star Wars flyer. He’s either making a play for the youth vote or has rare polling data to suggest the geek vote will factor heavily into the election.

Henry also reaches out to the youth vote with the appeal of his young family. He has a baby on the way and says he’s in the market for baby names (he already ruled out”Sheldon,” he said).

But we can’t count Silver out of the race to woo Lower Manhattan’s youth. In this photo photo posted on The Daily Politics, Silver looked like a friend to the (very) young. The photo made him appear in stride with Barack Obama, since the Democratic presidential candidate has been credited with bringing the fist bump into mainstream culture in recent weeks. For their part, Newell and Henry are trying to exclude the speaker, a Hillary Clinton superdelegate, from Obama’s “change” message, portraying him as the establishment candidate. Henry was a Clinton supporter, though, and now, like Silver, promises to support Obama in the general.

Beyond the youth vote, Henry and Newell say they are aware of demographic shifts in the Lower Manhattan, but neither disclosed a strategy for courting any specific demographics.

Henry did say he would try to preserve the area’s diversity in face of changes. “You really had a melting pot of New York City,” he said. “It’s increasingly becoming less that. There is one place south of 100th Street that still is this vibrant diverse slice of New York that we all love and it will disappear if there aren’t state policies to make sure it’s maintained.”

As for Paul Newell, Silver’s other challenger, his fluency in Spanish is seen as an asset in the race.

By on July 1, 2008, 12:13 pm
In category: Demographics | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “The Politics of Change in Lower Manhattan”

  1. cal Says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    “As the article puts it, Silvers Democratic primary opponents are from the ‘new’ Lower Manhattan.”

    I think that characterization might be unfair.

    I was just looking at Newell’s site to find out more about him and it says that he was “born and raised in Lower Manhattan.” Also that he later worked for the Institute for Jewish Research.

    That hardly makes him part of the new influx into the area…

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