My name is Steve DiBrienza, and I am a City Councilmember.
I think most of you know that. I've been a councilmember
now for 16 years. I am running for the office of public
advocate, and I am here to try and convince you that if
you think about the issues you care about, and the issues
that are not only important to you, but the city as a whole,
while looking at what I have done all these years you will
find it easy to support me for the office of public advocate.
I'm an independent community based candidate. I got into
public service by running against the organization in Brooklyn,
because they were not listening to the people they governed.
A very important principle I try to never forget. I ran
against the then speaker. They didn't call it speaker at
the time. Some of the folks from this club came out to Brooklyn
to be involved in the race. It was twenty years ago. We
had a recount it was so close. It was not as bad as Florida.
I didn't win that time, but in the rematch I started, he
quit, I won.
I never forgot that lesson. If you are in government, in
public service you should listen to the people you govern.
I did my work on waterfront development issues. Something
you care about very much here, about access, and opening
up the waterfront, and reclaiming it in an adaptive, reusable
way sensitive to the environment. I did work on landmarks.
I oversaw the creation of the last three historic districts
in North Central, and South Tribeca. I gave that committee
up and moved on to do work on the contracts committee. Seeding
out waste, fraud, and corruption in the council.
For the last eight years, I chaired the general welfare
committee. This included social services, human services,
child welfare, AIDS services, homeless services. You know
people say to me "Steve, what do you do for a living?" and
I tend to say I bang my hand against the wall, because that's
what it felt like for the last eight years. I'm trying to
make sense out of a very difficult system. Improve it and
change it where necessary, but still provide services to
New Yorkers indeed. At the same time protect the communities
of our city that deal with the aftermath of those problems.
I battled this administration for the eight years it had
been there, because they do not listen to the people they
govern. I take all of that experience, and step back and
say, "What are we about to do?" Here's it in a nutshell.
We are about to rebuild the government in our city. All
of us activists for a year, twenty-five, or longer. We have
never done what we are about to do, a new mayor, the new
controller, new public advocate, four new borough presidents,
and thirty-five new councilmembers.
It is virtually a brand new government. When I looked at
that not unlike yourselves as a citizen who lives works,
and struggles here I knew that I could make a difference
in that new government, and there was only one spot that
made sense. The office of public advocate. The person that
is free to look at our systems of government, and figure
out what works, and more often what doesn't. That's what
I do. That's what I've done.
Q-What do you think the role of the
public advocate will be and how will you expand and focus
A-I would look first and I think we all need to start at
the Charter. The Charter says you're the ombudsman, that
we all know. You need to answer questions for people. You
need to help folks. You need to solve their problems. The
Charter's very clear, you need to do more. Go behind the
problems to look for the patterns of abuse or mistake. Look
for what's wrong with the system of government that's at
issue. So if hundreds of kids call, or hundreds of parents
call about child to child welfare system, you need to solve
those problems if you can, but you need to look behind them
to figure out the system of government, and what is wrong
with the system.
That's what I have done in the council, I've done it for
the child welfare system, I've done it for the homeless
services, I've done it for the welfare system, and I've
done it in environment issues and others. So that part of
the job is described. You also make appointments for very
important boards and commissions, the planning commission,
the tensions board, I submit to you there are several others.
I submit to you that questions of development, over-development
of our neighborhoods running rough-shod over our communities,
not giving folks who live, work and struggle in this city
in neighborhoods not unlike yours or mine in brownstone
Brooklyn, or here in the Village and in all the surrounding
areas, not giving us a voice, and a say in what is or isn't
developed or how it is developed. Well that planning board
becomes important, that appointment is important. And so
the diversity of the appointments that a candidate can make
speaks a lot to the power of the office.
And lastly here's where it would be different. Mark Green
has done a lot of interesting and good things, he has a
consumer background, he has a child welfare background,
we served together on his C-Plan, his organization that
brings together advocates and activists to improve child
welfare. But here's the difference: the next public advocate,
which I hope to be, will be the public advocate in a brand
new government. With a new mayor, comptroller on top, and
a new council beneath and borough presidents except for
the borough of Manhattan that will be brand new. That means
the part of the Charter that says you are ex-officio a member
of every single committee, can hold hearings and introduce
legislation, is where the power will be expanded.
So that the bureaucrats that I have held accountable for
the past eight years and have served next to some of the
may be able to return, I can see the public advocate and
those Councilmembers as well as those new members working
together, continue to do that. And that's different, that's
a different view of the job. Mark doesn't do a lot of that,
not because he is not a good public advocate, but because
he doesn't have to. The number of years of experience is
already there. In a brand new government that will change.
I think that portion of the job will change if I am elected.
Q-What do you find most objectionable
about the current mayor, and what would you address as public
A-I think what I find most objectionable his unwillingness
to listen to the people that he is supposed to govern. He
governs this city in large measure by setting group against
group, neighborhood against neighborhood, race against race,
community against community. It's not good enough to say
the city is much safer, it is much safer. But we don't need
the level of violence that tenders to it, or the level of
police brutality that tenders to it. It's not good enough
to say that the streets are cleaner and realize that he
has done that on the backs of a permanent underclass that
he helped create, or at least keep in place, through Jason
Turner's policies at HRA. It's not good enough to say for
example, that we have a health crisis in the division of
AIDS services and we're going to reorganize it, which is
what he says, but what he does is try to dismantle it--but
for law that I passed that preserves it. Someone asked me
this just tonight, all you are is a critic, all you do is
fight with Giuliani--that's not what it is, it's about holding
government officials and bureaucrats accountable to us,
to the people of the city.
And my problem with Giuliani is that he does not want to
be held accountable. I can give you countless examples.
I have passed more legislation than just about anyone that's
been vetoed, we've overridden it and the mayor still attempts
not to implement it. We've had to sue him over it. That's
not good for the democracy.
So when you see the new government, in all likelihood a
democratic mayor, a democratic set of officials--at least
that's what I hope. Here's the difference--the difference
is the value of what I do isn't in the battle, but in the
solutions. Legislative and budgetary solutions I offer.
And here's the difference--in a democratic administration
one would only hope that if you take the time as the public
advocate can to step back and figure out a problem, and
offer a solution, instead of getting as I did with the homeless
battle you are referring to eviction notices to a clinic
for the mentally ill in my district, that I even had to
rally to save, I would get a response, because I am offering
it as a way of improving the operations of government.
Q-What is the number one issue for
you as public advocate?
A-I find it's really hard name a single issue. I think
public education is one of the most important issues we
face. I think most politicians argue about governance and
the structure, should we have a chancellor, should we have
a commissioner, do we have board, and they missed the real
issues--class size, science and technology, computerization,
the need for well paid certified teachers, and so on and
so forth--the substance of the system.
I happen to believe that we can rebuild the system continuously,
and that's what we need to do. I happen to believe that
both as an elected official and parent of two children in
the system. And I think that public education is a key issue,
but you can't separate that from the crisis in affordable
housing. The need for continued renewal in terms of local
economic development. You don't need mega-projects, this
mayor is good for mega-projects and name and headline, but
then it doesn't really account for the effect that it has
on our communities and our neighborhoods.
Local economic development, the rebuilding of a linear
shopping street that brings it back to life, that surrounds
you and that allows a community surrounding it to thrive.
I've done it on Smith Street. You may have read stories
in The Times in the last three months or four months about
Smith Street. That was my project that took it from a street
with 40 percent vacancy to a street that is bustling with
restaurants and old businesses and new and it's fully occupied
and we've physically rebuilt it.
That's important. That economic development, except for
The Times writing about a few restaurants, will never get
a headline. But it's more important than some of the mega-projects
they talked about and they don't materialize. So things
like public education, affordable housing--which I could
go on and on about, but its about creative use of our tax
programs--local economic development, and the need to deal
with the environment and sane transportation policies.
We have some of the worst transportation policies of the
region, and there's a lot we can with those areas. Now,
how do you deal with them as public advocate? Well, you
can say Steve, all you can do is talk about them. That's
a mistake. You can structure your office to have an inter-advocacy
organization surround each issue. You can bring in the activists,
the advocates, the consumers, the communities, and here's
the difference: the use of staff time.
Those efforts, those self help efforts usually peter out,
unless you have staff time. Mark does it, with what's caused
C-Plan, it's his child welfare group; they're activists,
advocates, providers, consumers of the service. They meet
on a regular basis and on staff person is designed to keep
it going. You can do that with public education, transportation,
the issues I mentioned. And you're allowed to introduce
legislation, hold hearings, and participate in the work
of the council. So when people say to you "the public advocate
can only talk about the issues"--that's wrong, it's a fundamental
misunderstanding. I produced legislative and budgetary solutions
my entire career. I would continue that as public advocate.
With affordable housing for middle and low-income people,
I would seek out support from the state on a moratorium
on all Mitchell-Lama conversions. If we lose the Mitchell-Lama
buildings you all lose, the city loses an entire--a generation
if you will--an entire set of middle class working New Yorkers
who live in Mitchell-Lama housing.
We need to strengthen rent protection and rent stabilization
laws. I was one of the handful of Councilmembers who voted
against so called luxury de-controls. The Manhattan members
voted against it because "it's going to effect our neighborhoods."
But I have always had a broad vision of this city, a vision
that has included all its neighborhoods, and I knew full
well that if you set those numbers that the a) the real
estate industry will pressure you to bring those numbers
down and b) it doesn't take an extra week or month or maybe
even six months to catch up in neighborhoods like mine,
in Brownstone Brooklyn or any of the other communities that
it is happening to.
So we'd have to fight to continue to undo the damage. I
am a leader of those issues. And lastly, it's about tax
policy. We give away hundreds of millions of dollars. We
have spent years dealing with the city's tax policies. They
have given away hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate,
those luxury towers and or luxury office buildings in the
theory that somehow jobs will materialize. A) They don't.
B) They don't go to resident New Yorkers most of the time.
And so what you do instead with those hundreds of millions
of dollars is commit it to a capital construction program
of tax rebates and tax relief for people who build affordable
housing. And there are so many examples of that. And there's
more than enough money to begin to make serious dents.
Q-Where do you stand on term limits
and campaign finance?
A-I was a co-sponsor of the campaign finance law. I think
the 4-to-1 match component of that law is incredibly important
for average candidates to be able to run for office. It
drives down the influence of money. It means a ten dollar,
fifty dollar, hundred dollar contribution is as important
as five and ten thousand dollar contribution that the mayor's
used to. It's the height of hypocrisy for him to stand up
there and say it will cost too much. It's about democracy
and participation. It doesn't cost too much--it cost too
much for him because has rich and powerful friends, but
it doesn't cost too much for the rest of us. Having said
that, on term limits: I am personally against term limits,
I think they are a false answer to some very real problems.
The real problems being valid access, the influence of money--I
think democrats and republicans alike need to tackle those
But unless and until we do, it's the law, it passed twice,
and as much I don't think it is a valid thing, I think it
is an artificial or false answer to some very real problems,
I couldn't vote to legislatively overturn it. I'm not one
of the 22, I'm not sponsoring it, and I can't voter for
it. You know how I explain it to people? I believe that
we are going to have to live through the pain in order for
people to see that it is artificial and that it won't work,
and that the bureaucrats and the insiders will run amok
unless we pick better than we have ever picked before, from
your next Councilmember to your next borough president although
you don't have a new race in Manhattan, to the three city-wides.
I commend people all over the city to pick better than they
have ever picked before otherwise the bureaucrats and the
insiders will run amok.
You think it's difficult dealing with agencies now, I'll
give you a sense of the scope of this. You all hear 35 new
members, you hear that in the papers--let me give you a
sense of the scope, 12, 15 members can get re-elected and
come back, three of them have to be republicans so let's
put them to the side, it's a minority party. So the 12 come
back--they're the big shots! Second term, they're nice people,
they're good people don't get me wrong. They're going to
chair the big committees--it stands to reason. We have no
less than 32 standing and sub-committees in the council.
Do the math, 12 big shots taking the big committees, that
leaves 20. So 20 people will walk in the door from day one,
not only new, but they're chairing committees. So we can
get a sense of the upheaval.