On April 6, 2005, the four Democratic candidates for mayor - Gifford Miller, C. Virginia Fields, Fernando Ferrer, and Anthony Weiner - spoke at the Greater Voices mayoral forum, organized by several gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups in the city. The following is an edited transcript of the candidate’s opening remarks and a sample of some of the questions from the audience.
Gifford Miller: The Right Choices for the City’s Future
This is an exciting year and an exciting opportunity because we have a chance here in New York City to do something important for our entire country. You know, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a mayor in New York who’s a real progressive leader for urban areas in our country in general. Like many of you, I got on buses to swing states, went to phone banks and called Florida and Ohio, and was disappointed with the results of the last election. But I don’t know how we can expect to win Ohio if we can’t win back the most Democratic city in the United States of America.
We have a chance this year to send a clear message that we’re going to force this country to deal with urban issues, because the mayor of the City of New York is the urban leader in our country. Until we have a Democratic, progressive mayor, we’re never going to have conversations about how we educate kids in urban areas, about how we make sure that we protect cities from foreign attack, and about how we deal with equal rights for gays and lesbians and civil rights issues generally. We’re never going to have that conversation because the mayor of the City of New York for the last 12 years has been apologizing for policies and practices that have bankrupted not just New York City, but urban areas all over the country. When I go all over the city and I talk to people, I see people looking for new leadership and here at home and around our country.
This mayor is making the wrong choices for our city’s future. He has chosen to focus all of his political energies and billions of taxpayer dollars on the construction of a football stadium that we don’t want and we don’t need. He could be putting that capital, both political and financial, into building schools and protecting subway service, and building the affordable housing we need.
It’s the wrong choice to have focused all of these energies and to have shoved this sweetheart deal through, when the right choice is an open and competitive process that would yield billions of dollars for the MTA, and when the right choice is to build housing and commercial developments on that site.
He’s been making the wrong choice on our schools, choosing to focus on bureaucratic reshuffling instead of the fundamentals that we know work in education. I think the best thing that this mayor has done is get control of our schools system. The best. And the worst thing that he has done is squander that control. After more than three years, we have not only the right, but the responsibility to hold him accountable for those results.
What are the results? Attendance is down. Test scores are off. Parents are more disconnected that ever. Teachers are leaving the system in droves. Violence is an increasing problem. And it’s because he’s focusing his time and his energy on the wrong things and mismanaging the things that he’s focusing on.
What’s the right choice? It’s actually not as complicated as this mayor and his chancellor sometimes suggest. We know what works in education. It’s actually pretty simple. Think about it: smaller class sizes, more quality teachers, safer schools, and stronger after-school programs. That’s it. If we focus on those four things, combined with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, which creates the opportunity for a real leap forward, we can truly improve our schools and make this a city of opportunity for our children.
This is a mayor who has focused on the wrong choices on jobs, declaring victory on unemployment. I hear him go all over the city and say, “We’re doing great; unemployment has never been so low,” at the same time that he and I and you all know that 49 percent of [male] African Americans in the city, and 43 percent of [male] Latinos in the city don’t have jobs. What’s the right choice? The right choice is to focus on job training for the formerly incarcerated, programs to keep kids in schools, and give capital and training support for entrepreneurs and community scholars. That’s what the City Council has done under my leadership.
This mayor has made the wrong choices on LGBT rights. He has chosen to spend almost four years ducking the issue of gay marriage, telling us that his personal opinion doesn’t matter. He’s mayor of the City of New York, and he says his personal opinion on the central struggle for civil rights for LGBT New Yorkers and Americans doesn’t matter.
Now we finally got a court decision that many of us fought for here in New York, and he tells us his personal opinion. And it turns out he’s right; his personal opinion didn’t matter. Because once he tells us what his personal opinion is, he uses the weight of his office and my and your taxpayer dollars to go into court, and fight against equal rights for New Yorkers. He actually submitted papers in which he compared gay civil marriages to allowing marriages between uncles and nephews. It’s outrageous. What’s the right choice? The right choice is to stand up and fight for equal rights for New Yorkers.
I have been for gay marriage since I ran for office for the first time in January of 1996. More than a year ago, I stood on the steps of City Hall with many of you and called upon the mayor to issue marriage licenses immediately. The right choice is to issue those marriage licenses, to stand up and say, “The equal protection laws of the State of New York applies to LGBT New Yorkers, and I, as mayor - if you choose me, if I’m so fortunate to be elected - will issue those marriage licenses immediately, because it’s the right thing to do.
And finally, this mayor has made the wrong choice, over and over and over again, choosing to roll over to a president and to a governor who do not have the city’s best interests at heart, instead of choosing to stand up and keep fighting for our fair share. When this mayor came into office, we were sending $20 billion more to Washington than we got back every year. And now, more than three years later, we’re sending $24 billion more to Washington than we get back every year. He took a situation that nobody thought could get any worse, and made it worse.
What’s so frustrating to me about this, is that I know that this can change. It has to change. Think about it. We live in the most powerful city in the world. New York City has the most powerful business community, the most powerful labor community, and the most powerful political donors. We’re the most powerful city in the world and we have to act like we’re powerless because we’re paralyzed by a lack of leadership.
What’s required is for somebody to roll up their sleeves and bring together those powerful business, labor, and political leaders, with our delegations, and say, “Enough is enough. I am the leader of the City of New York, and we are going to change this together.” And if we did, if we could get some of that, if we weren’t starting $24 billion behind, think what we could accomplish as a city.
Now, we know that the mayor has made the wrong choices, but I’m not going to talk to you about his wrong choices, I’m going to talk to you about the right choices that I’ve laid out. How do you know that I’ll make those right choices, because I’m asking you to support me for mayor? You know I’ll make the right choices as mayor because I’ve already been making the right choices as Speaker.
As Speaker of the New York City Council for the last three and a half years I’ve brought together the most diverse legislature in the country, behind great goals that people said could never be accomplished, during the toughest time this city has ever faced and accomplished them.
I’ve passed the first city Earned Income Tax Credit that helped lift 700,000 people from poverty toward prosperity.
I passed the first real living wage law that helped 50,000 people whose jobs were created by city tax dollars provide for their families.
I’ve passed the first real lead paint legislation in the history of our city or anywhere else in this country that will protect children without driving the cost of housing through the roof. This was something everyone said couldn’t be done.
And over and over again, I’ve stood up for principles and progressive values I believe in, passing the equal benefits law over this mayor’s veto, the Dignity for All Students act, the first transgender civil rights act, the only domestic partnership recognition act in the country that recognizes other jurisdictions’ marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships. Through the toughest budgets we have ever faced, I have found money to fund LGBT groups that are doing extraordinary work all over the city. I have also put the rest of our values and principles in place: putting education first, fighting back the mayor’s cuts for education, protecting our senior centers and child health clinics from closure, and still doing it in a fiscally responsible way.
And if you elect me as mayor, I’ll continue to make those right choices for our city’s future. I know we can do this. I know we can. We don’t have to settle. We can have a mayor who will stand up and fight for every community in the city, no less the LGBT community. And I can only do it with your help. I can’t do it alone. And so I’m here to ask you to support me for mayor, but also to ask you to get involved. This is our city. I love this city. I know you love this city. We can make it better. We can make it more just. We can make it stronger. But we can only do it together.
QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, there are only 30 city-funded beds for LGBT homeless youth; I want to know what the city can do to provide for these kids. Will you commit yourself to increasing funds in this year’s budget and what other steps can you take?
Miller: Good question and an important issue. As speaker, I have certainly fought hard to increase funding for groups that address the concerns of LGBT homeless youth. Certainly, there is a considerable population whose needs are not being met, and I will seek to ways in the budget to increase funding for those needs.
QUESTION: There was a gay bashing up in the Bronx a few weeks ago. As mayor, what can you do to address this problem?
Miller: As speaker of the council, I have repeatedly supported funding for organizations that deal with violence against LGBT people. My staff also works closely with the police department on these incidents.
More broadly, we have to make this a city that banishes that sort of hatred and bigotry. We need a mayor who not only supports the concept of equality for all New Yorkers, but provides leadership to address it. Ultimately, gay bashing comes from bigotry. That why it is so offensive that the mayor spent four years saying that his opinion on gay marriage doesn’t matter. It marginalizes the community and the struggle.
The mayor of the City of New York is required to have an opinion on everything! You can’t even imagine the variety of things the mayor of New York is required to have an opinion on - and this is the one on which the mayor says, “My personal opinion isn’t important.” That’s wrong. And it creates an environment where it is OK to overlook bigotry, to overlook discrimination.
We live in a society that systematically discriminates against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. LGBT New Yorkers and LGBT Americans do not have the same rights that everyone else has. As long as we accept this and say “it would be nice if we could extend equal rights to all Americans and all New Yorkers,” then we support an environment where some New Yorkers don’t have the same value as others.
QUESTION: Once a month, Union Square Park becomes a war zone with a massive police presence surrounding the park and arresting people on bicycles. Will you end the existing NYPD/Bloomberg policy and work with Critical Mass they way they used to before the Republican Convention?
Miller: People have a right to ride a bike in this city, but they have to abide by the laws. We used to make it possible for people to march and do all things across the city before this mayor took office and the RNC came to the city. I was critical at the time and continued to be critical of the way the mayor welcomed the Republican National Convention but did not seem to understand that he had the responsibility to welcome those whose views were not on display at Madison Square Garden. It was OK for people to go to a Dave Matthews Band in Central Park, so it ought to have been OK to have protestors exercise their First Amendment rights in Central Park. We have to have a police department that works with groups to accomplish the kinds of activities connected to that.
Other Candidates Speeches:
â€˘ C. Virginia Fields: A Mayor Needs to Listen