Lena Dunham Talks About Gentrification, Florida, and Comptrolling (and the Internet Reacts)

  • c/o nymag.com

Lena Dunham spoke at a fundraising event for NYC comptroller candidate and current Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer last night in which she addressed several things that are on the minds of many young New Yorkers: getting priced out of the city, the mallification of New York, and what the hell a comptroller even does. Which, did you know it’s pronounced “controller”? Because it totally is! Weird.

Capital New York reports that Dunham, who has long been vocal about her support of Stringer, was the keynote speaker at the event, and said that Stringer alone knows, “how tough it is for middle class people to make it in the city today. They’re the backbone of the city but they are getting priced right out of it.” Although the race for comptroller is not one to which many people usually pay much attention, this year, of course, the candidates include disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer and the recently arrested former Spitzer madam Kristin Davis, as well as Stringer. So people have finally been paying some attention!

Dunham referred to Spitzer’s candidacy last night by saying, “In some elections, we got a real choice between candidates. Maybe they’re distinguished by policies or by position papers. … Let’s be clear. That’s not the case in this election. This is not a close call. We need a candidate with a record of respecting women and the issues that matter to them.” Dunham’s support of Stringer is probably linked to the fact that her best friend, Audrey Gelman, was the longtime spokesperson for Stringer and is currently working on his campaign. And there’s little doubt that Gelman is responsible for the presence of fashion notables like Pamela Love, Leandra Medine, Chrissie Miller, and Terry Richardson (Gelman’s boyfriend) at last night’s event.

However, rather than be dismissive of the fact that New Yorkers who might “not [be] known as the most politically active subset” were in attendance, or (unjustly and incorrectly) dismissive of Dunham for being a gentrifier herself (as Josh Greenman of the Daily News initially was on twitter, though he later recanted), perhaps we should all just take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that more people are getting involved with local politics and that Lena Dunham—no matter what you think about Girls—is a native New Yorker whose experience might be wildly different than yours or mine, but who is actively trying to apply that experience, and those of her friends, in a positive way for our city.

Dunham spoke about her childhood loft in SoHo, which cost, “$350 a month, if they just hid their stove from Con Edison. Now, the building that I was born in houses a Victoria’s Secret and is next door to a Sephora. Anyway, we can’t have our generation’s Patti Smith moving to Tampa. That’s going to seriously fuck our shit up.” Naturally, the dig against Tampa is what many people are paying the most attention to (I mean, did you see my headline?), but at a time when rent stabilization is basically a thing of the past and wage stagnation is a huge problem and monthly Metrocards practically cost what people pay for rent in other cities, instead of dismissing Dunham, maybe we should be thinking about how to get involved ourselves, and what our votes really mean in this coming election.

One of the reasons the candidacies of Spitzer and Anthony Weiner have been derided is that their sex scandal-plagued pasts have turned this campaign cycle into a circus. Both men insist that their personal choices shouldn’t be the focus of the media, and that there are much bigger issues at hand. And while I do not support either of their candidacies in any way, I definitely think that it is essential that we look past the superficially interesting things and focus on all the challenges that this city faces, including the fact that the once thriving middle class is being priced out of areas that used to be affordable. And while the power to change that will not rest solely in the hands of the new comptroller, a quick Google search did reveal to me what it is exactly that a comptroller does, which includes “manag[ing] the city’s five big pension funds, overseeing a combined $140 billion in assets for nearly 600,000 city employees and retirees.” This is not a small thing and could potentially have a huge impact on the financial health of many middle class New Yorkers. So whatever you think of Dunham or Terry Richardson or star-studded fundraising parties, don’t let it get in the way of making a reasoned and informed decision about who to vote for on primary day. There are bigger things at stake here than defending Tampa from Lena Dunham.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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