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Tribeca Citizen | The Candidates 2022: Ryder Kessler for State Assembly District 66


New York will have two primaries this season: June 28 for State Assembly and state-wide office, August 23 for State Senate and Congress. I will be talking to candidates for both federal and state offices, starting with the Assembly since that comes up in a few weeks. And I will ask them to answer the TCQ&A so they can add their own words. First up: Ryder Kessler for State Assembly District 66.

Before Ryder Kessler started a tech company, and before he experienced his political awakening in 2016, he was a PhD candidate at Columbia, studying American and English literature. His favorite: Edith Wharton’s 1905 “House of Mirth.”

“It’s the greatest novel about New York and all the possibilities of the city and the challenges of finding your way and finding out what you value,” he said. “And grappling with how much of life is outside of our control. It’s a real metaphor for any life project you undertake. We have to do the best we can with the parts we can control.”

He never did finish the PhD — he was all but dissertation — realizing instead that academic life was not for him. “There was work I wanted to do addressing the crises of today.” His first project was born in his local coffee shop, when he learned his barista was making $4 less an hour once the shop went cashless. Dip Jar was a tech company that allowed customers to leave tips for workers with a quick dip of the credit card.

“We have helped low wage workers collect millions in tips,” Kessler said. “But in doing that work I realized what they really needed is a higher minimum wage or more affordable housing. The fact that they were living so precariously made me realize that technology was not the solution to large scale social problems.”

He handed over the reigns of Dip Jar to a partner after the 2016 election, “amidst threats to our federal democracy.” Next he helped launch a PAC called Flippable; managed a campaign upstate; and worked to build a program for Democrats in Maine. In 2019, he joined Community Board 2.

Kessler was raised in Chelsea (he’s 36), went to Friends Seminary, then Hunter College High School and Harvard for undergrad. He is Jewish and gay, important in his mind since the seat is currently held by Deborah Glick, the first openly gay member of the Assembly.

“What motivates me as a gay man is we have to lobby for the most underrepresented among us,” Kessler said. “There are things that are affecting our community today that we are not doing enough to address. There are actions we could be taking to end mass incarceration, to house homeless folks — we are failing to address these huge challenges.”

Downtown Manhattan, he says, should be leading as a dynamic, welcoming neighborhood — by reducing traffic, making it better for pedestrians and bikers and reducing emissions in the process, plus keeping the streets cleaner and safer. “We are choosing every day to live in this reality rather than find something that works for everyone. I love New York more than anything and I knew we can do so much better.”

………………………………………

1. How long have you lived in the district? 
I was born in the district, at St. Vincent’s Hospital, then grew up just north of Union Square. After college, I came right back to New York and have lived in the same West Village apartment for over a dozen years.

2. Married? Partnered?
Single (and looking)

3. Kids? Pets?
None

4. Where do you live?
West 11th between Bleecker and West 4th

5. What do you do for a living? Or, what did you do before you decided to run for this office?
My work has led me from social impact entrepreneurship, to progressive organizing, to voting rights and democracy advocacy. I was the founder and CEO of DipJar, a technology company that has helped low-wage service workers collect more earnings and nonprofit organizations increase their donations. My most recent work includes building a state-level voter protection program for Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats in 2020 and running a voter protection unit for the Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock Senate runoffs in Georgia.

6. What are the first three issues you will tackle if you win the election?
(1) Reducing housing costs and empowering renters: Our rental market is the most expensive in America, with consequences including housing insecurity, displacement, homelessness, and sprawl. First, we must build abundant housing while maximizing fully affordable units. Second, we must increase financial resources and legal protections for existing renters. Third, we must end the broken congregate shelter response to homelessness with solutions we know connect New Yorkers to long-term housing and support services they need to flourish.

(2) Making our streets safer, cleaner, and more sustainable. Our bus, bike, and subway systems need to be improved so that New Yorkers can get around affordably while reducing our carbon emissions and traffic violence. Containerization of trash and expanded frequency of sanitation service will reduce rat sightings. Evidence-based investments in community-led crime prevention, neighborhood infrastructure, and jobs have been broadly shown to reduce violence in both the near and long-term.

(3) As a gay man seeking to represent the queer heart of Manhattan, I will champion all efforts to increase the equity, justice, and opportunity of New York — especially for its marginalized people. This includes fighting for universal healthcare, pre-K, and childcare; reproductive rights, immigrant rights, and worker rights; liberation of Black, brown, LGTBQ+, and disabled New Yorkers; and robust climate action.

7. Who is the first person you will hire?
My first hire will be a director of constituent services. Folks in our district deserve committed, full-time help to address quality of life issues and navigate government systems and services.

8. What are the three most important issues for New Yorkers right now?
(1) Skyrocketing housing costs and resulting displacement and homelessness
(2) Streets that are unsafe and unsustainable, with small businesses shuttering
(3) Mass incarceration and over-policing that reduce rather than improve safety

9. What do you think is the most important thing to help the district recover from the pandemic?
Addressing skyrocketing rent costs must be priority one.

In the first quarter of 2022, the median asking rents in our district went up by nearly 50%. This is the epicenter of our affordability crisis, which has severe consequences here and citywide. Between 2010 and 2020, New York lost 4.5% of our Black population to displacement; last year, 100,000 New Yorkers slept in a shelter, including 30,000 children.

Coming out of the pandemic, New Yorkers who haven’t already been disconnected from housing, jobs, and support services are facing rent increases they cannot manage. Finally, homelessness exacerbates mental health and addiction challenges among our vulnerable neighbors, which reduces everyone’s quality of life — but the underlying driver is the unaffordability of housing.

10. Why are you running for office? What do you hope to change, or do better?
New York is the greatest city in the world, but we are facing extreme challenges. We’re emerging from a once-in-a-century pandemic, facing an existential climate emergency, and continuing to suffer from segregation in housing, schools, and the justice system. We need bold new leadership to take them on.

I was born and raised in downtown Manhattan, and so I am deeply rooted here. As a gay millennial and progressive Jew, I come from and represent both the longstanding communities and changing demographics of our neighborhoods — and I am committed to ensuring the flourishing of all the communities that make New York the greatest state in the union and NYC the greatest city in the world.

Our current Assembly isn’t delivering, and I’m running to change that.

11. Most-frequented restaurants:
For dinner, Extra Virgin, Tartine, and Mémé
For lunch, Grey Dog, Café Panino Mucho Gusto, and Jack’s Wife Freda
For brunch, Fairfax and Café Cluny.

12. For special occasions, I go to: Alta

13. Sweet-tooth satisfaction: A two-chip chocolate chip cookie from Levain on Lafayette

14. What’s your drink order?
No matter where I am, it’s a Manhattan. You can take the boy out of the borough, but you can’t take the borough out of the boy.

15. I usually order in from Westville, and I always order the arugula salad with breaded chicken cutlet.

17. I’m so glad Washington Square Park is in the district, because it’s the place I feel most connected to the vibrancy, vitality, and history of New York.

18. How I stay fit: Walking. Downtown Manhattan’s gift is its walkability; the more pedestrian-friendly we can make it, the better.

20. What’s the district’s best-kept secret?
Everyone knows about the Stonewall Inn, but not enough younger queer folks frequent Julius’ on W. 10th and Waverly, likely the oldest operating gay bar in New York — and home to the legendary sip-in in 1966 that helped launch the full movement for queer liberation

21. A recent enthusiasm: Willow Pill (winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 14)

22. Rainy-day activity: Picking up a book at Three Lives then reading on the couch

23. I take out-of-towners to: Marie’s Crisis

24. Pet peeve: When we tie credibility about weighing in on city policy to how long someone has lived here. Whether you were born here like I was, came decades ago, came last month or last week, New York is for everyone — and everyone deserves a say in their community.

25. A doctor I’d recommend: Unabated climate change in New York has made allergy season longer and much worse, so it’s been a game-changer for me to get a more robust regimen from my allergist, Dr. David Mazza. He’s great for treatment and a New York politics chat!

27. Tribeca could use more: rat-proof trash containers and fewer piles of garbage bags lining the sidewalk.

30. A business I miss: After losing Sammy’s Noodle, I migrated to Uncle Ted’s as my go-to Chinese takeout spot. I’m thrilled it’s coming back this summer. I also deeply miss Grounded on Jane, which was my go-to café for many years pre-Covid-19.

31. Proof that change is good: Washington Square used to be a parking lot. We can choose how we shape our neighborhoods — and we can put residents and small businesses first. .

33. Best reason to go above 14th Street: My parents on 18th Street; my brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and nieces on the Upper West Side; and two of the three New York Mets — opera and museum.

34. What’s your favorite park in the city? Washington Square is my favorite place on earth.

35. If I couldn’t live here, I’d live in… To quote Holly Whyte when asked about his three favorite cities: “New York, New York, New York.” (Also the name of an excellent recent history of the city’s last four decades by Thomas Dyja.)





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