Lynne Serpe, 2013 candidate for New York City Council, 22nd District
Bellport, New York
|Occupation||Founder and project consultant for Greening Libraries Initiative at Queens Library|
|Profession||Community organizer, environmental activist, politician|
Lynne Serpe (/ /, born 1971) is a community organizer, environmental activist, urban gardener, consultant, electoral reform advocate and politician, based in Astoria, Queens, New York City. She was the Green Party candidate in the 2009 New York City Council race for New York’s 22nd District, which includes Astoria, Long Island City and parts of Jackson Heights, and finished second in that race. She ran again for the same office in 2013 on the Green Party line and again finished second, defeating the Republican candidate and two other independent challengers.
- 1 Early life and political work
- 2 Professional career
- 3 Community activism
- 4 Political campaigns
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Early life and political work
Lynne Serpe was born in Bellport, New York in Suffolk County. (Serpe’s given name is not infrequently misspelled as “Lynn” and sometimes appears so even in mainstream media publications.) She attended Bellport High School, where she participated in student government and belonged to Students for Environmental Quality. She graduated in 1989. She attended Dartmouth College on a full scholarship, her income augmented with several part-time jobs. She graduated in 1993 with a degree in Government. In 1994, Serpe joined the Green Party “as the political expression of her commitment to environmental stewardship, social justice and community-based economics.” In the same year, she moved to Astoria, Queens.
Her initial involvement in Green Party politics was with the 1994 campaigns of Roberto Mondragón, a former two-time Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico, who was the Green candidate for Governor of that state, and Steven Schmidt, the Green candidate for Lieutenant Governor. In 1998, Serpe coordinated the campaign of Sara Amir for Lieutenant Governor of California. She served as Interim Campaign Manager for author and scholar Audie Bock in her successful campaign for the California State Assembly in 1999. Bock was the first U.S. Green Party politician ever elected to state office. Also in 1999, Serpe managed the Santa Barbara City Council candidacy of Green John Strawn, who received 13.5 percent of the vote, and nearly won one of three open seats.
In the New York area, Serpe worked on the campaigns of Gloria Mattera for New York City Council (39th District) in 2003 and of Robin Sklar, also for City Council (26th District), in 2005.
In 2004, Serpe served as national organizer of the US Presidential campaign for the Green Party ticket of David Cobb and Pat LaMarche. In 2010, she managed the campaign of Rich Whitney for Governor of Illinois. Serpe also helped organize the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Green Party National Presidential Conventions.
2004 Ohio presidential vote recount
During the controversy regarding the 2004 US presidential vote in the state of Ohio, Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb officially challenged the vote in that state, which automatically generated a recount. Serpe, who had served as Cobb’s campaign manager, was selected to manage the recount effort, “training and coordinating over 1,300 volunteers – Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and independents – to observe the recount in 88 counties to ensure that every vote was counted.”
Serpe later described her role in the recount process: “What I did was recruit and train Regional Coordinators who were assigned anywhere from 6-12 counties. In turn, they were to find and train County Coordinators who were to find and train recount volunteers. It was both a centralized and decentralized system. We tried to provide resources to Regional and County Coordinators, as well as learn from their experiences… I spent an enormous amount of time on conference calls, which also meant there were larger numbers of people who knew what was going on and were empowered by that knowledge. And I attended all the rallies and protests and hearings that took place while I was there.”
While the recount was ongoing, Serpe published an article on the progressive website Common Dreams, in which she suggested that Republicans may have purged the voter rolls of Democratic African-American voters and committed other possible irregularities, and accused the mainstream media of racial insensitivity in its coverage of the recount. Serpe wrote, “By looking only for provable fraud, and not investigating the obvious question why minority voters and white voters had extremely different experiences on Election Day [in Ohio], these [mainstream media] editors – and each of us – are choosing to accept as a given that when minority voters receive second-class status, it is not really news.”
From 2002 to 2003, Serpe was hired by the New Zealand Parliament as National Voting System Reform Coordinator. In this capacity, Serpe campaigned in November 2002 to pass a binding referendum in Auckland in favor of single transferable voting (STV), a method of voting that allows proportional representation. Serpe argued that STV was essentially a multi-partisan reform: "The electoral reform movement draws its strength from its non-partisan foundations. No one political party is favoured over another ‒ STV favours the voter.”
From March 2006 to August 2007, Serpe was employed by the think tank New America Foundation. In her work with the foundation, she was involved with campaigns to try to implement Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV, in several states. According to a 2006 press release, she and a colleague "played a key role as advisors to several of these campaigns, giving workshops on how to educate the public and create educational materials." She wrote an op-ed piece in the San Diego newspaper North County Times in defense of IRV and made a presentation to the Los Angeles Ethics Commission on the same subject.
During early 2008, she served as a Senior Analyst at FairVote, an organization that advocates for electoral reform. For that organization, she produced a report, Choice Voting in New York City: a Case Study, on the need for fair election reforms in New York City. The document pointed out that proportional representation voting had existed in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s, until it was overturned through "a red-scare campaign."
Throughout 2009, she served as Community Liaison for the Long Island City-based organization Community Environmental Center (CEC), "a Queens nonprofit that provides weatherization services for low to moderate-income households, particularly the elderly, the disabled and families with children."
In January, 2011, Serpe was hired by Queens Library as the consultant for its Greening Libraries Initiative. She herself developed the greening initiative “to help transform community libraries into models of sustainability and green resource centers.” One of the main events she has organized at Queens Library is the Western Queens Green Resources Fair, that included an E-Waste Recycling Day event, which allows residents "to responsibly recycle their electronic waste and keep it out of the landfill." Other events organized by Serpe at various library branches are planting days, a green book club and a green film series.
During 2006, some community members in Astoria decided to turn a 25,000-square-foot vacant lot – located at a triangle formed by 30th Avenue, 8th Street and Astoria Boulevard, near the East River – into a community garden, known as Two Coves. In January 2008, Serpe became involved with Two Coves Community Garden. She claims that she helped the garden community "grow from 12 members to 250 plus members." In what was once a trash-filled dumping ground, there now, according to Serpe, grow eggplant, squash, tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and collard greens. She estimates that about 200 people have individual plots and numerous others utilize the community plot on the site. There is no charge for the use of a plot in the garden. Formerly, one might be put on a waiting list until a plot became available; currently the wait list process has been modified to an annual lottery system. In 2009 and again in 2011, Serpe was elected to the garden’s steering committee.
From 2008, with her fellow Green, Robin Sklar Nelson, Serpe has organized events that they call “Triple R Events: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” These events are intended by the co-founders to be “fun and educational,” not dry and didactic. A typical example of these events was the recent “Summer Clothing Swap-a-Rama,” in which participants simply swap their no-longer-needed clothing, described as “a fantastic way to get free new-to-you clothes, find a new home for clothing that no longer excites you, meet new friends and help save the environment.”
Serpe has also been closely associated with the transportation advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives, for which she “has gathered signatures, attended rallies, testified at hearings and spoken up at Community Board 1 about the need for safer streets, more bike lanes, accessible and affordable subways, increased bus service and bike racks on buses.”
2009 New York City Council campaign
Serpe announced her first candidacy for District 22’s New York City Council seat in May 2009. She expressed strong opposition to the City Council’s overturning of the existing term limit law, an action which her opponent, Council member Peter Vallone, Jr., had supported, declaring that she was "appalled at the undemocratic power grab by the mayor and the City Council." On the local economy, she stated, "For me, it’s all about creating jobs and supporting small business… I’m seeing more and more ‘For Rent’ signs on Broadway and Steinway Street. I think a fresh approach is important. I don’t owe anyone favors and I’m not obligated to party machinery." Other issues cited included fighting the construction of new power plants, extending bicycle paths, providing seven-day library service and ensuring that the rezoning of the neighborhood includes affordable housing and doesn’t change the neighborhood's character.
The good government group Citizens Union gave candidate Serpe a favorable evaluation: "Lynne Serpe says she is running to provide voters with a serious alternative in the district, and if elected she would focus on increasing the availability of healthy foods, like produce to the district’s poor communities and in school lunches; the creation of green jobs ranging from insulation to engineering; and energy efficiency initiatives like painting roofs white to decrease cooling costs. On government reform, Ms. Serpe demonstrated herself to be incredibly knowledgeable and supportive of Citizens Union’s agenda, particularly election reform and ballot access issues. Ms. Serpe is a strong candidate who would make a thoughtful and passionate legislator, and if elected would be an effective representative."
During the campaign Serpe and her Democratic opponent, Peter Vallone, Jr., sparred over plans for the space on which the Two Coves Community Garden, with which she has been heavily involved, was situated. Vallone reasserted his plans to build a park on the site, claiming that the agreement allowing Two Coves to exist there was never intended to be permanent. Serpe argued that the space should remain a garden because the surrounding area is, in her words, a "food desert." "There is no access to safe, healthy food," said Serpe.
On October 19, 2009, the three candidates for City Council – Vallone, Serpe and Populist Party candidate Gerald F. Kahn – engaged in a public debate. Serpe affirmed a number of her positions, including opposition to cuts in mass transit, particularly Access-a-Ride; support for a Newtown pedestrian plaza; opposition to cuts in funding to schools; support for downzoning; and support for making the community's streets safer and more sustainable.
In the general election of 2009, Serpe won 3,462 votes out of 14,937 votes counted, finishing second behind the incumbent, Vallone.
2013 New York City Council campaign
On July 17, 2013, Serpe qualified to run again for City Council in the 22nd District. Her campaign manager, Daniel Lee, stated in a press release, "Lynne Serpe's campaign is the response to a demand for a sincerely different kind of politics that is evident from the emergence of the Occupy movement and the growing number of voters disaffected by the Obama brand of 'change.'"
"22 Ideas for District 22"
On October 3, Serpe launched "22 Ideas for District 22," a series of policy proposals for the District that she planned to highlight, one idea per day, on her website. Said Serpe, "These 22 ideas are a starting point for a community discussion about the needs of our district. Several are based on conversations with voters over the last few months, like a dog run, while others are issues I have been committed to for years."
The "22 Ideas" are as follows:
- A multi-purpose state-of-the art community center as part of the proposed developments at Hallett’s Point or Astoria Cove
- Access to healthy food, including affordable local supermarkets and a school and senior lunch program
- Participatory budgeting by including the community in the process
- Seven-day library service
- Immigrant Entrepreneurship Program to teach small business owners about resources available to them to grow their own businesses
- Greening vacant lots to protect the environment and to grow food
- Accessible to subways and taxis, especially for seniors and the mobility-impaired
- Greenest Block competition and grant program where businesses and residents join together to make green improvements
- Municipal food-waste pilot project to compost kitchen scraps to save the environment and the budget
- Ban on single-use nonbiodegradable plastic bags and the 800,000 Styrofoam lunch trays used every day in schools
- Bring back leaf collection and mulch givebacks
- Street-level recycling bins along busy commercial corridors and high foot traffic areas
- Investment in solar and wind energy by, for example, putting solar panels on flat roofs
- Energy efficiency at home by giving people the tools and resources they need
- Dedicated bike lanes, bike racks on buses and wider bike share coverage
- Newtown pedestrian plaza with planters, seating and tables
- An open waterfront for everyone by eliminating development and expanding ferry service
- Install the traffic calming measures that already work elsewhere in New York, including curb build outs and countdown clocks
- Dog run in the neighborhood
- Year-round ping-pong in Astoria Park
- Start the lap swim program at Astoria Pool as soon it opens
- Increase bus service and accessibility to subways.
In the 2013 District 22 City Council election, Serpe lost to Democrat Costa Constantinides. She received a little over 2400 votes, almost 15 percent of the total, exceeding the totals of her Republican, Conservative and Populist opponents.
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