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.
C.Virginia Fields: A Mayor Needs To Listen
I am now in my 16th year in government. I served eight years as a member of the New York City Council and I am now in my eighth as the president of the Borough of Manhattan. All of those experiences have provided a broad based knowledge and understanding of every aspect of government - budget, policy, personnel, administration, and I might add, political diplomacy. In addition to the time spent as an elected official, I also served as the chair of the local community board for two years and as a member of that board for 10 years. All of that is relevant to process of governance and I have fundamental differences with this mayor and his approach to government.
This mayor is one who governs by exclusion, with a top down approach and fait accompli decisions. He does not listen, does not include, and does not reach out. I believe the decisions that affect all of our daily lives are not well informed and certainly lack the input from elected officials and others in the community.
I will have a much more inclusive approach. I think opinions matter; point of view matters. When it comes to issues within the LGBT community, I will have that dialogue. I will use those relationships so that we can address issues in a way that is most beneficial for the whole community.
When it comes to education, let us include educators and not make those decisions with a trial and error process that does not lead us to the best result for our school children.
When it comes to housing, there are steps we can take, concrete steps to build affordable housing.
Let us involve and listen, so we can get things done.
My work with you, the LGBT community, has been extremely meaningful. I am for marriage equality. I am for the Dignity for All Students Act. I am for adoption rights for LGBT parents as well as the repeal of “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” because it doesn’t work. I am for the protection of transgendered people.
As borough president, I have appointed more people from the LGBT community to local community boards than any other borough president in history. That is important because the voices need to be there to shape decisions. I have been happy to fund the work of the common law health center as well as the LGBT community center.
I understand the sting of prejudice, the sting of discrimination. As an African-American woman, I know what it means to be locked out, left out, and told, “you don’t matter, and you are not worthy.” In my case, it’s the color of my skin. In your case, it is sexual orientation, plus color of skin. It is one thing to knock down discrimination in laws, but it is another thing to deal with attitudes. What we need to do now in the city and in this country is change attitudes. We have a lot of work to do.
I am looking forward to being a leader of this city, delivering a clear mandate and projecting the kind of attitude that should relate to all of us - leading us forward, working together, and getting things done.
QUESTION: One unfortunate aspect of our city’s diversity is the way politics of different people varies in different neighborhoods. We have neighborhoods where people who spoke in favor of the “children of the rainbow” curriculum had to have a police escort out of a public hearing. And the tires of a blood mobile at a lesbian blood drive were slashed. As a candidate from Manhattan, what will you do to ensure the safety of LGBT people in the outer boroughs?
Fields: It is unfortunate that we have to ensure the safety of people because of their sexual orientation, but it is real and we must address that. I think tolerance is important in understanding different people in different communities as it relates to sexual orientation, race, and other issues and that it must be taught through our schools, our churches, our religious institutions, in our homes. That is the way you get people to discuss it. These are issues that we haven’t confronted.
Let’s do some public things and have some discussions. Bring some LGBT people together with non-LGBT people. Let’s open up these discussions in the same way we have in certain communities of color around issues of HIV/AIDS. Many in the black community did not want to admit that this was an issue in our community and we allowed it to move further and further before we did something about it.
We should acknowledge it, recognize it, bring it into open discussions, have people in leadership positions like the mayor talk about this and talk about the importance of respecting people. In incidents where we need to reinforce police or protection, let’s do that.
We are very concerned about what happened to the African-American gay man Rashawn Brazell [who was murdered in February] out in Brooklyn. Very little has been said about it. Very little has been done about it. That should be discussed and become part of a larger discussion. If the crime was a result of him being gay, let’s use it to teach and change minds and attitudes. Let’s use every vehicle and mechanism in our disposal to have those discussions.
Q: In the nearly four years that Mike Bloomberg has been mayor he has not appointed one openly gay man or lesbian woman to the courts. What do you make of this?
Fields: You’d have to ask Mayor Bloomberg why that hasn’t been done. I can only say that Mayor Fields would take a much different approach. I would look to be diverse in terms of my appointments to various positions including judges and that includes members of the LGBT communities, as well as others from various racial, ethnic, and religious communities.
Q: When you get to be mayor, how will you extend affordable housing programs?
Fields: One of the things we started in my office about four years ago was a Mitchell-Lama task force because we saw that we were coming to the end of a 20-year period where owners of Mitchell-Lama buildings were being bought out. That started in Manhattan and it has now spread citywide. We were able to encourage Assemblyman Vito Lopez to introduce legislation in Albany that would enable us to get some Mitchell-Lama housing under the rent stabilization program. As mayor I would be a strong advocate in Albany, because if we lose a lot of the people who live in Mitchell-Lama developments, working people, middle-income people who have stabilized our communities and if that housing becomes only market rate, then we will see massive displacement. We need to fight back at all costs.
With respect to affordable housing overall, we have a plan and we will work to implement that plan. That is to put in place ways to really create affordable housing. The reality is that the city must invest dollars. When we look at how we were able to build affordable housing in the past under Mayor Ed Koch, money was put into the budget, and subsidies were leveraged to increase private investment. It would start with the funds put into the Battery Park City fund for affordable housing. We haven’t had a mayor use those funds since Koch. At the rate we are going, we could have approximately $1 billion in that fund over the next ten years.
We also need to take an inventory of city owned properties throughout this city. And instead of selling city owned property at market rate prices as the administration is currently doing, we need to make it part of the incentive package as we have in the past. I know it can be done. On 112th Street to 135th Street, we sold city land at a nominal cost and we were able to provide incentives to work with developers to build housing at different levels so people in different income levels could afford it.
Other Candidates speeches:
â€˘ Gifford Miller: The Right Choices for the City's Future