Shaking Up a Council Race

Julie Menin resigns as census director and may run for Ben Kallos’s seat

13 Nov 2020 | 03:00

The 2021 race for the District 5 City Council seat could see a big shakeup in the coming weeks.

The city’s census director, Julie Menin, stepped down from her post Monday with the intention to run for City Council on the Upper East Side, according to the Daily News. Menin could make an announcement that she plans to run for the seat being vacated by Council Member Ben Kallos after Thanksgiving, the News reported.

In her resignation letter, according to the Daily News, Menin did not mention running for City Council, but she said she planned to continue serving the city.

Her candidacy could change the dynamics of a race with a crowded field of candidates but no clear frontrunner. Menin would be the most high profile candidate with a long tenure in city politics.

Menin’s success in heading up the city’s census effort could be a key credential for her campaign. City officials feared the population would be undercounted as a result of both misinformation and the pandemic. Since the census determines the amount of federal funding the city will receive as well as the number of representatives it will have in Congress, an undercount would be massively detrimental. But despite the unprecedented obstacles 2020 presented, New York City residents recorded a 61.8 percent self-response this year, according to the city’s data. The Census Bureau had projected before the pandemic that the city’s response rate would total 58 percent.

The Mayor’s Office commended Menin’s work in a press release announcing her departure, noting that New York’s census response surpassed other major U.S. cities.

Within the de Blasio administration, Menin served as Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs, Commissioner of Media and Entertainment and as executive assistant corporation counsel in the city’s Law Department. She also served as former mayor Mike Bloomberg’s redistricting commissioner. For seven years, Menin also served as the chair of Community Board 1, including in the wake of 9/11.

Previous Run

Menin ran for public office once before, coming up short in a bid to become Manhattan Borough President in 2013. She earned 17 percent of the vote and finished in fourth place in the Democratic Primary.

At least one other candidate was not thrilled about Menin possibly entering the race.

Chris Sosa, a former State Senate aide, indirectly calling Menin out on Twitter, writing: “NYC Council hot take: If you’ve ever settled with the [New York City Campaign Finance Board] for over $200k due to campaign finance violations and/or are married to a real estate developer whose company was fined $1.7m for trying to force neighbors out of their homes, reconsider your run. #HousingForAll.”

Menin’s campaign was audited by the Campaign Finance Board but no formal fines or violations were brought against her. She did pay $201,000 in leftover campaign funds back to the CFB in 2017, but she would have needed to repay those funds regardless of potential violations according to city rules.

Menin’s husband, Bruce Menin, and his real estate company, Crescent Heights, paid a $1.7 million fine to settle allegations that the company improperly tried to force dozens of tenants out of an Upper East Side apartment building in order to build condos, as reported by the Daily News in 2015. The company maintained that the allegations were untrue, but settled the case instead of going into costly litigation.

One East Side Democratic leader vouched for Menin, saying Sosa’s tweet was motivated by “fear and desperation.”

“... If he wants to spend his time attacking other Democrats, particularly Democrats who have spent years in public service fighting for affordable housing for working families, improved mass transit, consumers, small businesses and New Yorkers of every stripe, he should maybe check his facts first,” the Democratic leader said, adding that Menin would be the clear frontrunner in the race.

“She is the only candidate with the relevant experience and know-how that our community needs. It’s going to be very tough for any other candidate to compete.”

The other candidates running for the seat include Sosa, Billy Freeland, Joshua Kravitz, Rebecca Lamorte, Kim Moscaritolo and Tricia Shimamura.

The Mayor’s Office commended Menin’s work in a press release announcing her departure, noting that New York’s census response surpassed other major U.S. cities.