As we get closer to the local primary on Sept. 12, 2017, we spoke at length with Christopher Marte, who is the League's endorsed candidate for District 1. You can see how hard he is working on his campaign and his legit indie theater cred. If you have any time this week, please get out and help his campaign by handing out flyers or phone banking.
Please tell us about a plank on the League's Performing Arts Platform that affects people in your district that you plan on tackling when you are in office. How will you do so?
There’s a crisis of overdevelopment happening almost all across District 1. It’s becoming increasing difficult for the artistic community to afford to live in one of the neighborhoods where they have historically thrived. I will implement protective and community-based zoning to protect the history of the District, and look out of it’s future. Zoning like the Chinatown working group plan accounts for the rich cultures of Lower Manhattan, and will put in place further protections against tenant harassment that can displace hundreds of residents, many of which are artists.
What can the city do to preserve and grow its stock of performance and rehearsal spaces?
We need to improve the communication between different community groups and organizations, and work to solve the vacant storefront crisis. While space has always been tight in the City, everyday as I criss cross the District and knock on doors, I pass dozens and dozens of empty stores. They vary in size and accessibility, but while they wait for a full-time lease, I will work with local business and building owners to strengthen their relationship with the performing arts. More collaboration will be beneficial to both.
Why is independent theater important in your district?
The easiest example to call to mind is Sam Shepard. When he moved to New York, it was the Lower East Side that gave him the most room to experiment. The affordability of the neighborhood and lively independent theater scene was an integral part to his development as a playwright. The overlapping of cultures of District 1 have attracted generations of artists. My City Council office will foster this diversity and preserve the artistic community that has always made its home here.
What made you decide to run for this office?
I decided to run for this office because so many of the issues across the District from sanitation, to waterfront resiliency, to historical preservation, to displacement, all had a common denominator - a passive City Councilperson. I started this race before Obama’s now-famous quote about picking up a clipboard and running for office, however it was the same sentiment that inspired me to run. I knew that there were problems in my District, but instead of watching them pass me and my neighbors by, I decided to stand up and run myself. I’ve lived in the same neighborhood my whole life and have watched it change for the better and for the worse. My love of my community is what drives me to work harder everyday to give my neighbors the voice they deserve in City Hall.
What is something you discovered or were pleasantly surprised by about your district during this campaign? Have you had a moment that has changed you during your campaign?
Everyday I feel changed by my campaign. Whether it’s a long conversation with somebody at their door, where they tell me about their family’s history in the District, or about a particular challenge they’re facing, these interactions always leave a mark. Even for people that think every politician is the same, after I tell them my story and they learn we went to the same school, or my relative lives in their building, we build a connection that’s more personal than political. I talk to hundreds of people a day, but even when it’s exhausting, it’s the most rewarding part of the race. Sometimes the grumpiest person to open their door can become the most enthusiastic supporter, and the potential for this transformation helps keep me going.
What is different about campaigning in 2017?
There seems to be two types of voters -- those who have lost all hope, and those that have a spark for local politics that was never there before. Sometimes they’re the same person. A lot of the most engaged volunteers and interns on my team are people who have realized that this fight needs to start from the grassroots. It has to start from the bottom up. If we cannot demand transparency and honesty at a local level, then we cannot expect to find these morals reflected on a national level. For the voters that have lost hope, and believe the system will always be rigged against them, it’s important to communicate how much of a difference they really can make locally. There’s no electoral college, and close races will come down to just 10s of votes. Finding a way to engage voters outside of the issues they care about, and applying a national frame to this local race, has been very effective in reaching out to new or first-time voters.
What makes you an arts-friendly candidate?
About 25% of my donors are artists from SoHo, to Chinatown, to the Lower East Side, to Tribeca. I think this is one of the communities that has been particularly inspired to become more politically involved after Trump because there were simultaneous changes happening in Lower Manhattan that threatened their quality of life as well. A lot of small galleries and theaters are facing unprecedented rent hikes, so they are already uneasy about the direction their neighborhood is going. And then when you see something so devastating happen on a national scale, it just amplifies these local issues even more. It’s been inspiring to have received support from some of the most creative minds in Manhattan, and their ideas have really helped build up my campaign.
Tell us about a time when you directly helped an indie theater company or artist.
My brother and I repurposed his fitness studio to help two indie artist perform Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. The two directors/actors came from California, so they didn’t have any connections in the neighborhood. They decided to just email a lot of small businesses in the area, and my brother was the only one who responded. This is why I strongly support more opportunities for collaboration and communication between independent theaters that need space, and small businesses that might be willing to offer it. You never know what connections are going to be made.
Share with us a moment or scene from an indie theater show that has stayed with you and why.
In 1997, I was fortunate to be apart of the First Fringe Festival Performance “Camino Real”. I played a dead child in the dream sequence. This show me the importance of street performances and the arts on the Lower East Side.
If a play or movie was being made about you and/or your campaign, who would you want to play you and why?
My team and I often hear a lot of Veep comparisons. There are days where I’m Jonah just because I’m so much taller than everyone else. Of course none of the characters are very likeable, but there are bits and pieces of each of them in all of us. Every now and then there’s an unexpected moment of chaos that you can only get over by laughing your way through it.
How many pairs of shoes have your worn out so far while campaigning? Any funny stories you'd like to share?
I’ve gone through 5 pairs and am currently on my very worn 6th. According to my phone I walk around 26 miles a day, and climb over 80 flights of stairs, which definitely makes me aware that I’m lucky to be a younger candidate.
Since most of my day is spent door knocking, the most imaginative parts of the day can be hearing how my interns are able to get into buildings. When every vote counts and your staff knows it, they’ll find any back door or backstory that will get them to the elevator bank.
What is your favorite place to unwind in your district or in the city? What is your favorite treat after a long day of campaigning?
One of the staples of my campaign is Scarr’s pizza. It’s co-owned by one of my friends growing up, and is a real Lower East Side type of place. The music is always great, and sitting in the back under the air conditioner with a couple slices of pizza and my staff and interns is always the best way to end a long day of canvassing.
Make your direct pitch to get LIT members to help in your campaign in the primary and/or the general. What do you need? How can they get involved/who should they contact? When are the best days and times to get involved?
Running against an incumbent, the regular challenges of campaigning are made a little more difficult. However Lower Manhattan has a long history of resiliency and perseverance, and we have seen the impact the amount of local activism has had on this campaign. When you knock doors and write letters with us, you’ll be alongside a team that’s dedicated, passionate, and has proven people wrong every step of the way. You can contact my campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved in a race that will defend the oldest part of the City.