The Candidates 2021: Gigi Li for CD1

This is the fifth in a series of short interviews with candidates for City Council District 1 along with their responses to a very long questionnaire based on reader questions. As these roll out, I will link to the posts on other candidates at the bottom.

As a college grad working with families living through domestic violence, Gigi Li learned the hard way about transference — when the counselor absorbs the stress of the client. For nine weeks, she followed the family of a second grade girl who was being abused by her father, and by the end of their time in her program at Womankind, she needed to step away.

That’s what brought her to get her MSSW in social work (from Columbia) with a focus on policy rather than the clinical track, specifically to work with children and families.

“My strengths were not best used person-to-person, but I got to thinking, who makes the rules?” she said. “It motivated me to think about the larger questions and think about change.”

Fast forward to three years ago, when she started working for Margaret Chin’s office on policy issues; she is currently chief of staff. She also served on CB3 for 10 years, until 2018, four as chair. (She doesn’t look it but she’s 39.)

Li moved to Chinatown at age 3, but her parents didn’t think she was learning English fast enough in the local schools so they moved their young family to Glen Head on Long Island, where the North Shore Schools are some of the best in the state. (She went on to Smith and her sister went to Georgetown.) But her parents would bring her back into the city on weekends and she spent most summers with her grandparents here in the district — “They wanted to make sure I was exposed to people who looked like me.”

She and her husband now live in Chinatown, in the same apartment that her grandparents settled in when they came here in the late ’60s, and the couple has a baby daughter — 6-month-old Gemmy. “Being a new mom brings a new focus,” she said. “Representation [of the Chinese community] is always in the back of my mind when I think of the role of a councilmember, but now I am also more focused on childcare, healthcare, and the hope that my daughter can afford to live in this district someday.”


1. Do you have any solutions for protecting small business from the pressures of rising real estate costs? (tax abatements for landlords who keep mom-and-pop stores?)
We need tax relief for both small landlords and for tenants but we also need to make it easier for businesses to access existing relief. As Council Member, I would work with colleagues at the state and federal levels to ensure that small businesses in our community are benefiting from the millions of dollars of recovery aid set aside for them. I would also push the city to ease up on fines and streamline agency oversight to make navigating regulation easier for small business owners and delay implementation of any local laws that are not life threatening.

2. What is your proposal or attitude towards the future of Open Restaurants post-pandemic?
The Open Restaurants program has been essential to many small businesses struggling during COVID-19, but the rollout was haphazard in a way that created challenges for businesses, residents, and pedestrians. Going forward we need more clarity for restaurant owners, in particular streamlining of guidelines and enforcement. Empty structures need to be taken down. The future of the Open Restaurants programs can’t take a one size fits all approach- we need to assess the needs of specific neighborhoods and even blocks.

3. Do you have any ideas for addressing retail vacancies? (vacancy tax? Incentives?)
Retail vacancies have long been a problem but with as many as half of the restaurants and bars around the city closing during the pandemic it has taken on new urgency. This problem requires creativity, electeds need to be open to new models and allow for innovation. We need programs for businesses incubators and to streamline bureaucratic processes for new small businesses. I also support using these spaces for public/ private partnerships, especially ones to help with COVID recovery like testing and vaccination sites.

4. Do you have any solutions for limiting the regulations and red tape required to both start and maintain small business?
The current levels of bureaucratic red tape that small businesses face is a drag on the community and economy. There are too many agencies involved in oversight and regulations are not clearly communicated, especially to businesses owners who primarily speak languages other than English. As Council Member I would streamline regulatory processes and freeze fees not directly related to health and safety.

1. Do you have any solutions to the helicopter traffic that often plagues the neighborhood and others?
Helicopters are not only a quality of life issue but also an environmental one. The vast majority of these flights are tourist flights, news crews, or law enforcement activity. I support banning tourist flights and non-essential flights and have worked with Stop the Chop and overlapping City, State and federal elected officials to address this issue comprehensively as FAA guidelines regulate our air space.

One step we can take at the city level is ensuring that we are collecting thorough data on the problem to pressure federal officials to take action. We all know this is a problem and many Lower Manhattan residents have called 311 over and over. As a Council Member I would work to make sure that that data goes to the FAA.

2. This neighborhood has been under construction for decades. Do you have any solution for making construction sites be better neighbors? (limiting hours, monitoring vibrations and hours, disallowing the blocking of sidewalks or streets) (and don’t say call 311)
We need better mechanisms to hold developers accountable to the promises they make to our communities. During the proposal and approval process developers need to be clear about their quality of life commitments and enforcement mechanisms need the teeth to hold them to it. There should be ongoing communications between developers/construction company and area residents throughout projects. I support a What-To-Expect model so residents know actual timelines and dates. Community stakeholders should be connected with site teams to have advance discussions; we shouldn’t wait for issues to arise. We saw this accountability work at the construction site on Broad Street between Wall Street and Water. Developers should be required to have a Construction Liaison to notify neighborhoods in advance, modeled after the DDC Reconstruction Project.

Additionally, I support the return of a Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center. Lower Manhattan has one of the highest number of construction and after hours permits, and the City should invest accordingly in coordination and oversight.

3. There is hardly a block in this neighborhood that does not have a sidewalk shed, some of which have been up for more than a decade. Do you have any solutions for requiring landlords to finish projects within a certain time frame so that they can be removed?
I support streamlining enforcement and limiting reasons for extensions for sidewalk sheds. Like so many of the quality of life problems facing lower Manhattan, sidewalk sheds come back to enforcement mechanisms. 311 has been residents’ primary way to report these concerns, but they are rarely able to act on reports quickly or meaningfully. In the long term we need legislation, in partnership with the state government. In the short term we need to pressure landlords and property owners to take responsibility for the impact they have on the neighborhood. I would support a sliding scale fine increase over time for delayed work, but it would also have to take type of housing into consideration. For example, a co-op may pass fines onto their residents.

4. Garbage pickup seems to be at an all-time low. Do you have solutions for better street cleaning? And, many private buildings leave mountains of trash on the sidewalks waiting for pickup. Can this be regulated?
Garbage pick up, and other sanitation issues have been made much worse by the Mayor’s steep budget cuts to the Department of Sanitation. We need to make it easier for large buildings to deal with trash. I support legislation for trash compactors in buildings that have over a certain number of units. I also support increasing infrastructure for recycling and compost programs to reduce trash and promote a greener city. Placard abuse also comes into play here. Vehicles cannot be allowed to sit for weeks and prevent sanitation trucks from fully cleaning streets.

5. The proliferation of e-bikes and electric scooters has been a challenge for this neighborhood. We support these delivery workers, but we do not support their use of the sidewalks or bike paths that are reserved for non-motorized vehicles. Do you have a solution?
One part of the problem is how limited the space currently dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists currently is. Expanding and protecting space protected from cars and limiting vehicular traffic will help reduce this burden. I would support a program where the City subsidizes e-bikes for delivery workers after taking a biking safety training. In addition, this could be a way of monitoring that e-bikes/scooters aren’t modified to travel dangerously fast.

6. The NYPD has consistently used its power to close public spaces and amenities, especially during the pandemic. Do you have a proposal for this issue?
This issue is particularly problematic around 1PP, and in/around each of the precincts. Public space needs to be public. I would push the NYPD to take down barricades preventing pedestrian, vehicular and bike traffic. I’ve mentioned this issue directly to Commissioner Shea. The NYPD cannot use protests as an excuse to block public space for months with no clear timeline or communication with residents.

We have the great advantage and privilege of being a walking community and therefore are often looking for ways to increase pedestrian safety. What are your thoughts on expanding pedestrian-only streets? Do you have other proposals that would address pedestrian safety?
Specifically, I support Downtown Alliance’s proposal for a pilot program creating a car free portion of the Financial District. I support expanding pedestrian-only streets along with streets open to buses and bikes but not cars. Additionally we need to take measures to generally strengthen public transportation and reduce car traffic, since fewer cars on the streets is ultimately the best way to protect pedestrians and bikers, improve local air quality, and work toward long term environmental goals.

As you know, the city’s homeless population has increased in the past year, and this neighborhood has, along with many others, seen an increase in people living on the streets.

1. Do you have any new solutions for addressing those people who refuse to go to shelters?
We need to be able to offer unhoused New Yorkers safe shelter near their communities. I believe in increasing the supply of permanent supportive housing as a starting point. In the meantime we need to make sure the organization and agencies working with homeless New Yorkers have the resources to fully do their jobs and that people experiencing homelessness feel that shelters are a safe place to go.

2. The Financial District is also being asked to take on several new homeless shelters. What are your thoughts on residents’ opposition to this and their concerns?
As highlighted in the article linked here it is essential that we have the shelter space to house the people who are part of our community and are experiencing homelessness. I believe in fair share, and that every neighborhood in the City should be part of the solution.
However, I do believe that the City and City agencies have a responsibility to inform and engage the community (either through the community board, or in other ways). Locations that may be more challenging require experienced providers and both early and consistent dialogue. As we start to move short term COVID emergency housing solutions into building long term plans, community members–unhoused and housed–should be at the table every step of the way.

We would like to hear your thoughts on the status of affordable housing downtown and in our zip codes. What can be done to preserve it? What can you propose to create more below market housing?
As a Council Member I would approach affordable housing from multiple angles, both protecting existing affordable housing and supporting building new units of permanent affordable housing. This includes passing and expanding rent stabilization, guaranteeing aggrieved tenants a right to counsel, fully funding public housing, dedicating a significant portion of my discretionary and capital investment allocation to NYCHA projects and support essential improvements, and supporting more avenues for affordable home ownership, such as Community Land Trusts and mutual housing models.

Addressing the crisis around affordable housing also requires working with and pressuring the state to follow through on its commitments and help maintain affordability. Where appropriate, I would support upzoning to create more permanent affordable housing, fight for lower income bands – with community input at every step, though there needs to be ULURP process reforms.

What solutions for seniors in housing, mobility and access to basic needs can ensure that downtown is a place that residents don’t need to leave as they age?
Our seniors are a diverse and growing population, and the depth and breadth of their needs became clear when COVID impacted our city. People in our community need to be able to age in the community without being priced out. I have fought to build more affordable senior housing in Lower Manhattan and as Councilmember, I will continue to advocate for more investments in senior centers, community centers, universal healthcare, and other social services to help seniors. I would also work with the State elected officials to allow seniors who lived in buildings under the Mitchell-Lama program and transitioned to private residences (such as IPN) to be eligible to apply for SCRIE/DRIE.

Recently there have been some neighborhood concerns that have not received attention from local elected officials, such as the siting of Citi Bike stations. How will you communicate and deal with constituent concerns?
Balancing the needs of this diverse district requires a commitment to listen to and engage with constituents. I would hire staff with a range of experience and knowledge of the community. In addition, as a former (almost decade-long) community board member, I pledge to attend CB meetings regularly to hear directly from residents. Every constituent concern will be taken seriously, issues that impact health and safety will be prioritized.

We see homeowners in other neighborhoods – especially single-family dwellings — paying much lower taxes for the same services. How would you address this inequity?
As a Council Member I would work with my state level colleagues to make sure that residents get relief for coop and condo fees that has been provided in the state budget. I would work to simplify fees and regulation and advocate for policies that insure that members of our community are able to age in place.

As councilmember will you urge the MTA and the governor to put it in place? Would you include carve-outs for downtown residents or other groups?
I support congestion pricing, but believe that there should be carve-outs for residents, similar to Staten Island residents. Furthermore, I would support a City-controlled MTA, or at the very least, an increase in the number of Mayor-appointed City representatives on the MTA board.

What else do you propose to reduce vehicular traffic, blocking the box, and speeding?
I believe that strengthening public transportation around Lower Manhattan will reduce traffic. But we also need to take other measures including limiting private vehicles on certain streets and giving more space to pedestrians and bikers.

What proposals do you have (or are you against) for increasing bike lanes?
I support building more protected bike lanes, there needs to be better markings for pedestrian versus bike path. Space for bike lanes should not come out of space for pedestrians. I do support the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane project and I have a record of advocating for bike lanes as a community board member.

What is your stance on the borough-based jail plan for White Street?
I wholeheartedly supported closing Rikers. However, jails that are proposed in Manhattan or elsewhere should be held under intense scrutiny on its impact to the community, including the local economy and environmental impacts in the short and long term.

I have serious questions about the current jail proposed for construction in Chinatown, including the lack of community input throughout this process, and I believe much more must be done to address the concerns of the community surrounding the proposed site before the City can consider moving forward in good conscience. There was a premium placed on “consistency and fairness” in outreach to the 4 neighborhoods. Engagement with a low income community of color, such as Chinatown, should be different than engagement in Downtown Brooklyn. If the next City Council has a role in the future of MDC, I support a new engagement process all together.

I also support a decarceral approach to criminal justice reform in the long term, including increased investments in community-based programs, rehabilitation programs, youth programs, and other social services. We need to dig deeper and address the root causes of crime and the mass incarceration problem in the city, including arrest and incarceration rates that disproportionately affect Black, Brown, poor, and immigrant communities.

What is your opinion on school choice? What proposals do you have to address inequities? Or not?
I understand that every parent wants what is best for their child, and I believe no child’s future should depend on the zip code they reside in. All families should be able to choose the school that best meets their needs. The only way to address inequity in our education system is to fully fund all of our public schools and set the standard high for all of New York’s students. The budget most recently passed in Albany is a good start, but deeper investment and long-owed foundation is sorely needed.

What is your opinion on preserving historic districts?
Historic districts are an important part of the City’s urban design and architecture, and will always weigh heavily in any development/rezoning proposal. In the SoHo/NoHo rezoning proposal, I believe we should be adding height and bulk outside of the historic district. I do not support the current proposal for 250 Water St. – one reason being the height of the building.

How do you plan to deal with the abuse of placard holders (real and fake ones)
Fake placards should get ticketed without question. We need to be able to get clear accounting on the number of City, State, and federal placards in our neighborhoods. A police officer in the Bronx should not be able to abuse a placard by parking a car on Mulberry St on their day off with family. Placards should be tiered, and have quotas.


Denny Salas
Christopher Marte
Tiffany Winbush
Susan Lee
Maud Maron
Susan Damplo



  1. Closing Rikers will clearly result in a jail in this neighborhood. Li, like her boss Chin, can talk all she wants about gathering more local input (this is political speak for, I am going to vote as I please and pretend to care about your interests) but as long as she supports closing Rikers, she will be condemning this neighborhood to an unnecessary jail that people in her constituency overwhelmingly do not support. This is the largest issue of this election for Chinatown/Tribeca. If she actually listens to what the constituents want, she will change her stance on the Chinatown/Tribeca jail. There are many other candidates that have listened to us and will move to oppose the jail. This candiate will not receive my vote.

  2. Unfortunately, we have a group of people running for office with little real world or business experience, and are mainly focused on pushing their left wing agendas that are destroying this city instead of addressing the issues that matter to local residents.

    No one can give any coherent explanation about why It is better to close down Rikers and open a bunch of new jails, which would probably have all the same problems that Rikers has. Instead of addressing the problems at Rikers, these people advocate for spending obscene amounts of money, which will likely have little impact but will completely disrupt many communities.

    She doesn’t even address the exploding crimes problems that are destroying the quality of life for most people in the city, and are a big driver of many of the most productive, tax paying residents to leave or consider leaving the city.

    Her comments on supporting business demonstrate she doesn’t understand anything about business. The city needs to get out of the way and leave businesses alone, and allow them to grow and prosper. The NYC unemployment rate is hovering over 12%, while most of the lower tax states are below 7% and in some cases even below 5% (Florida for example). The over regulation and high taxes are driving companies out of NYC, and she doesn’t over any meaningful ideas to address this.

    • Name calling is ineffective and cheap. You can hardly blame any of these candidates for the decision to close Riker’s. Going forward all of these candidates will have to work within the system in which they find themselves. To pile on all your complaints with an hysterical edge is tiresome. Most NY’ers are staying put. You don’t like it here…well you know the rest…

  3. Lost my vote with the stance on Rikers. As others have commented, the Rikers closing plan is completely misguided and senseless, with no promise of the sought criminal justice system reform, with net negative effects on the intended “host” communities, and a huge price tag which the city cannot afford. Reform Rikers in place seems like the most cost-effective and sensible solution.

  4. Gigi wholeheartedly supported the Chinatown Jail construction when it was undergoing the approval process and her boss Margaret Chin voted in favor of it. She supported Bail Reform which lead to skyrocketing crime city wide. She has offuscated her role in this by stating she wants to look at ‘root causes’ of crime and now is equivocating on the jail. On education she avoids answering directly if she supports maintaining SHSAT. During the debate she forcefully stood up for protecting small property owners, yet in this inteview mere weeks before, she advocates for more rent stabilization… the opposite. Her principals are ruled by expedience and who her audience is.