Marc Landis has always been an organizer. In his bid for City Council Member Gale Brewer’s soon-to-be-vacant seat, he only asks potential voters to see him in that role at a slightly higher level. “I have a long history of organizing things, whether you call me a community organizer or a political organizer,” Landis said. “I believe that the best way to bring about social change is through communal civic action.”Landis grew up in the northeast Philadelphia area and attended college at Princeton, but he began to feel the pull of New York City when he spent a summer living on the Upper West Side, campaigning for Alan Cranston for president in 1983.
“That was really my first exposure to the political world on the West Side,” Landis said. “Then-Assembly Member Jerry Nadler was one of the statewide co-chairs in the Alan Cranston campaign. Scott Stringer, who worked in the assembly member’s office, was very involved in the Young Democrats and organizing young people to help with the campaign.”
After that Landis was hooked, and he moved to the city permanently in 1987 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and to the Upper West in 1989, to the apartment where he still lives with his wife Judy and two children, Rachel, 11, and Barak, 6.
In 1994, Landis set up his private practice in the neighborhood.
Six years ago, Landis moved his practice, which had grown considerably, to Phillips Nizer LLP in order to work more flexibly around his community activities.
“I was spending more time managing than practicing,” Landis said of the reason for the move. “I served for 10 years on the community board before taking a break from it. I remained very active in the Democratic party work and electoral activities.”
He said his firm supports some of the more controversial pro bono cases he’s taken on, like representing tenants who were facing eviction by the Salvation Army or parents fighting against the co-location of Upper West Success Academy charter school at the Brandeis High School complex.
“It was an offensive decision to co-opt a building that was a high school building when there was a shortage of high school seats in the neighborhood,” Landis said.
Fighting that battle was one of the things that spurred him to throw his hat in the ring for City Council; he said he is excited about the opportunities that the city will have under a new mayor, new citywide leadership and a widely changed City Council.
Landis said he would focus on investing in a better and more equitable school system and deemphasize standardized testing as a means for evaluating teachers and students. He would also focus on making housing affordable, not just for renters and low-income residents but for middle-income New Yorkers who are seeking to buy their homes.
He cited a program that he worked on with Brewer and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal as an example of the type of proactive, quality-of-life initiative he’d like to see more of. They held an electronics recycling drive with Per Scholas, a company that accepts old computers to keep them out of landfills and uses them to train technicians, then donates the refurbished computers or sells them at low cost to those who cannot afford brand-new ones.
“I don’t anticipate having a lot of campaign-oriented events in 2012,” Landis said. He said he expects the race, right now between him and two former Community Board 7 chairs, Helen Rosenthal and Mel Wymore, to be an evenly matched one as far as finances and qualifications go.
“I think that what I bring to the picture here is a combination of strengths,” he said. “It’s an understanding of the civic dialogue, but it’s also the ability to translate community views into civic action.”
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