New York City voting (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)
In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, and in some ways in response to them, 2020 proved to be a historic year for voting in New York City, with 3 million ballots cast in the presidential election in November, including a record-breaking 662,314 absentee ballots after the state eased rules on voting by mail, and unprecedented long lines at early voting poll-sites in the first presidential election with the nine-day period implemented in New York.
Moving into 2021, the newest change impacting New Yorkers’ ballots is the first-ever implementation of ranked-choice voting (RCV), which applies to special elections and party primary elections for city government positions.
The launch of ranked-choice voting will be a special election to replace the vacant seat formerly held by Rory Lancman in the 24th City Council District, covering parts of eastern Queens including Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Eastchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills, and Jamaica. The ballot is set and absentee voting is underway, while early voting runs January 23-January 31, and election day itself February 2.
The winner will serve out the rest of this term for Lancman, who took a position in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, which means the rest of 2021. Meanwhile, the regularly-scheduled 2021 election for the seat, along with the rest of the City Council and city government, will take place with the primary in June and a fall general election. The winner of the special election, like those in several other City Council districts with special elections from December or upcoming, will quickly have to defend his or her seat.
The race in City Council District 24 will be crucial not only for representation for that district and its residents, but as a litmus test for ranked-choice voting’s strengths and weaknesses in advance of the other special elections set for February and March, as well as the full citywide primaries in June.
Six of the City Council hopefuls in the eight-candidate District 24 race appeared this past week at a forum on ranked-choice voting, hosted by Rank the Vote NYC a coalition of elected officials, business and labor leaders, and other reform groups that led the charge in 2019 to implement ranked-choice voting in New York City, Common Cause NY, the nonpartisan organization behind Rank the Vote NYC that has led education efforts on ranked-choice voting in New York City, the Queens Daily Eagle, Disability Rights NY, and the Northeast Queens Chapter of the NAACP. The event was moderated by David Brand, the managing editor of the Queens Daily Eagle, and Aditi Lamba, an anchor at ITV Gold, a South Asian network.
The six candidates, listed in alphabetical order by last name, included Moumita Ahmed, a progressive community organizer, who is endorsed by the Working Families Party; James Gennaro, the former City Council member for District 24 in Queens, who served three terms from 2002 to 2013; Neeta Jain, a Democratic district leader and practicing psychologist; Dilip Nath, a higher education executive and president of the New American Voters Association; Deepti Sharma, a small business advocate and entrepreneur, including as founder of Food to Eat, a catering platform for small and mostly immigrant-owned restaurants; and Soma Syed, a practicing attorney and Queens County Women’s Bar Association president. Candidates Michael Brown, a real estate agent, and Mujib Rahman, a community activist, were not present at the forum. All candidates are Democratic, and with the exception of Gennaro, all are first-time candidates to the City Council. Special elections in the city are non-partisan, whereby candidates run on self-created ballot lines, so there are no party primaries or ballot lines from the major or even minor parties.
The content of the forum focused on how candidates were incorporating ranked-choice voting into their campaign outreach, including education on ranked-choice voting, how ranked-choice voting would minimize vote splitting, or where ideologically or demographically similar candidates split a base of support, increasing the likelihood of a dissimilar candidate winning instead, and how the new voting system was affecting their candidacies overall, including broaching “taboo” or “hot-button” topics with voters and their interactions with the other candidates. Forum participants were not asked questions about district-specific issues, although candidates nevertheless raised them in their responses.
In the interest of time, Brand and Lamba introduced the candidates themselves. Participating candidates appeared at the same time and took turns answering the same questions. They were each given 1-2 minutes to answer each question.
Kenny Cohen, the president of the Northeast Queens NAACP, opened the forum saying, “NAACP has been fighting for voting rights since its inception in 1909. To see this beautiful, diverse group of candidates running here in this City Council District 24 in Queens is a beautiful sight. And it's a testament to the work that NAACP and all the civil rights advocates in the past have done to get us to this point.”
Before the Q&A portion of the forum began, Sean Dugar, the education campaign program director for Rank the Vote NYC, a citywide education and outreach initiative on ranked-choice voting, explained how ranked-choice voting works with a slideshow presentation, followed by a mock election.
In summary, the new ranked-choice voting process allows voters to select up to five candidates (including a write-in) in order of preference. To win outright, a candidate must reach over 50% of the first-place votes. If a candidate does not win a majority of first-place votes on first count, then the candidate with the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on their voters’ second choices. This process repeats itself until only two candidates are left, and then the person with most votes is declared the winner. The system will apply starting this year to party primary and special elections for City Council, Borough President, Public Advocate, City Comptroller, and Mayor.
The goals of ranked-choice voting include preventing polarized elections, promoting demographically and ideologically diverse candidates and officeholders, increasing voter awareness of candidates who are running, disincentivizing negative campaigning, and eliminating the need for costly runoff elections, which have applied to party primaries for citywide positions. And perhaps most of all, ranked-choice voting is meant to ensure that the winner of crowded elections has broad support among the constituents they are elected to represent.
Although the referendum passed with nearly 75% of the vote when a Charter Revision Commission put ranked-choice voting before New York City voters in the fall of 2019, critics have argued that it was an especially low turnout election given little was on the ballot and that the city has not adequately prepared voters for the change, potentially leading to voter suppression in marginalized communities where voters may not rank as many choices. But proponents of the new system disagree, pointing out that organizers in communities where voter suppression is more common led the charge for ranked-choice voting in the first place and that there is a robust voter-education underway. They also note that the 2019 Charter Revision Commission did painstaking work in a public process before proposing ranked-choice voting.
Brand kicked off the Q&A portion of the forum, saying, “It's a historic moment. It's our city's first use of ranked-choice voting, and it’s cool that it's happening in Queens.”
Lamba added that candidates in the race for District 24 were also scheduled to meet the following night on Thursday, January 14 for a forum co-hosted by multiple local organizations — Chhaya CDC, a housing advocacy organization geared toward low-income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers; India Home, a center for senior care; the Chinese-American Planning Council, an organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of Chinese American, immigrant, and low-income communities; Shetu, a community-based non-profit organization that assists low-income, Bangladeshi immigrant populations; APA VOICE, a non-partisan, pan-Asian coalition that seeks to increase civic engagement in the Asian-American community; and the MinKwon Center for Community Action, a Korean-led community group focused on social services for marginalized Asian Americans — and encouraged audience members to attend.
Brand posed the first question, asking candidates how City Council District 24’s diversity has influenced their campaign outreach. According to 2010 Census data, District 24’s total 167,448 population was 33.2% white, 28.9% Asian, 21.8% Hispanic, and 11.7% Black. District 24 has the largest Bangladeshi population of any City Council District, with over 10,000 people, part of an overall New York City population where Bangladeshis are the fifth largest Asian group overall, with almost 62,000 residents, according to the 2015 American Community Survey..
“I actually helped pass ranked-choice voting as field and education director for Common Cause. I believe in this way of voting; otherwise, I wouldn't have gotten involved,” Ahmed said.
“As the only renter running, I am mobilizing all of our communities around the issue of housing justice,” she continued, listing numerous endorsements from various civic groups, including the Hispanic American Voter Association, the Working Families Party, New York Communities for Change, Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group, and The Jewish Vote. “That's how we're talking to voters. That's how we're advancing the agenda of ranked-choice voting.”
Sharma began on a personal note, saying, “I was born and brought up in this district on 150 Fifth Street, right by Queens College. My son is going to the same school that I went to, and our focus has been talking to every single voter.” Although Sharma is one of six candidates in the race hoping to become the first South Asian elected to the City Council, she also emphasized, “I'm not here to represent the South Asian district, but every single person that makes this beautiful district exactly what it is.” She went on to add that she wants to prioritize her voters' concerns, citing COVID-19 relief, the vaccine rollout, and safe schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods.
“What better place to have ranked voting than here,” said Nath, referring to Queens, which is the most racially and ethnically diverse county in the country. He went on to praise term limits for creating space for new and diverse leadership, saying that “ranked-choice voting will further enhance the concept of diversity and inclusion.” He added, “What matters to you, what matters to Jewish [communities], what matters to South Asian or Latino [communities], is what matters to me.”
While Jain concurred that ranked-choice voting is important for amplifying diverse voices, including immigrants, she disagreed with the question’s premise, saying, “It is not affecting my election.” Jain highlighted her experience of community leadership — 30 years of practicing psychology, four years as a Democratic district leader, eight years as a founder of the civic engagement group International Ahimsa Foundation, and one year as the elected president of Daniel Patrick Moynihan Democratic Club of Queens — for “making a difference in their [people’s] lives.”
Jain stressed the range of problems that she has personally witnessed people facing during the pandemic, citing small business owners who went to her for “help to fill out the forms for SBA loans” and “kids suffering at home” because “schools do not have proper devices” for remote learning.
Gennaro emphasized his political career and the network of contacts he developed throughout his tenure as a City Council member, saying, “I was the one that appointed Kenny Cohen to the community board,” referring to Community Board 8 in Queens, and “I appointed the first Bangladeshi woman to Community Board 8,” alluding to Nargis Ahmed. “I’m quite confident that my relationships will serve me well in the upcoming election,” he said. Recalling his history with the community, Gennaro said, “I've had the ability to immerse myself in every community and really have a profound impact. I think people remember and appreciate that.”
Since his departure from the City Council in 2013, Gennaro has served in the Cuomo administration as the deputy commissioner for New York City Sustainability and Resiliency at the Department of Environmental Conservation.
In contrast, Syed said, “We need leadership that is of the future, not of the past.” Growing up in Jamaica and her experience as an attorney working pro-bono cases, has enabled her to form deep bonds within the community, across racial lines, Syed said. “Whether it be the Black community, Hispanic community, the Asian community, the Jewish community, and the white community — we are all together in one community. We’re all looking to better our lives, and the lives of our future, our children.”
Lamba asked if there were any issues that candidates considered “taboo” or “too hot” that they felt ranked-choice voting allowed them to talk about more openly or even campaign on.
“We have to make sure that we're talking about workers’ rights, and that includes sex workers,” began Ahmed, pointing out how certain groups like undocumented immigrants are excluded from federal aid and government protections. On that note, Ahmed spotlighted the “homelessness situation” as a “top priority,” explaining that “we’re closer to being homeless than becoming billionaires right now.” Even though these topics are often seen as taboo because “we’re talking about working-class Black and brown folks,” Ahmed said she believes they shouldn’t be. “That’s why ranked-choice voting is so great,” she added, “because it allows candidates like myself who come from working-class families...to talk about working class issues.”
‘Policing is one of those issues that I've noticed that does alienate a few people, or groups of people,” said Sharma, ““one of the most important things that we need to think about.” To illustrate her point, Sharma described an incident as told to her by a Queens College student, who experienced a panic attack during finals. He called 911, but instead of a mental health professional or social worker, police officers responded to the call, and they handcuffed him. According to Sharma, “That didn’t help the situation. That made it worse.” She explained that the crux of the problem is funding, and then she centered Pomonok Community Center, which “used to have programs like taekwondo, gymnastics, and dance” but now “the only thing that exists there is homework help.”
“When we talk about investing in our communities, we need to keep talking about where the money is going to come from,” Sharma said, though she did not explicitly raise support for the “defund the police” movement.
For Gennaro, “Nothing is taboo. Nothing is off the table. Everything has to be discussed.” In response to Sharma’s mention of the Pomonok Community Center, where she said she personally benefited from its enrichment programs, Gennaro said, “I was happy to fund the good programming that she enjoyed.”
Sharma clarified by saying, “I did that in the 90s, though,” predating Gennaro’s tenure on the City Council.
On the question of taboo issues, Syed said, “I haven’t shied away from any issue. Everything that’s happening to even one person in our community needs to be discussed.”
Jain flagged mental health as a conventionally taboo subject that she believes needs to be discussed more on a political scale. “School children are growing up with anxiety. Our youth are out on the streets, and they are doing more drug abuse. Our seniors are going through depression.” She warned, “We really have to pay attention” because “it’s not going to go away that easily.”
Nath decried the state of remote learning, calling out the economic pressures placed upon low-income families who cannot afford high-speed broadband or laptops or iPads. He also pointed out that the closure of three hospitals in Queens in 2009 effectively transformed the borough into the epicenter of the pandemic a decade later.
Brand then asked candidates how they thought ranked-choice voting might serve voters and how it has affected the way they talk about themselves, as well as other candidates.
Candidates seemed to unanimously agree that ranked-choice voting creates a more level playing field for candidates in the electoral process. “RCV is giving a broader platform to everyone,” said Jain.
Candidates also agreed that the new voting system allowed them to focus more on the issues rather than political attacks. “It's giving a chance for voters to actually research and look up every single candidate because now that they know that they're not just voting for their number one,” said Sharma. She also said that these conversations with voters in which she’s able to focus solely on the issues, have enabled her to squeeze into voters’ number two slots in cases where she isn’t their top pick, thereby securing as many votes as possible.
Lamba asked candidates how they thought ranked-choice voting minimized the spoiler effect, or vote splitting between candidates who share similar demographics or ideologies.
“We are trying very hard through RCV not to split votes,” began Jain, “but I think that it’s still going to happen.” Jain said she has conducted an educational seminar for voters on ranked-choice voting and is planning another one soon, which she hopes will minimize vote splitting.
Syed expressed some doubt over the abilities of the New York City Campaign Finance Board and New York City Board of Elections to “invest enough resources and time to educate voters about RCV.” She went on to say that these shortcomings are “going to affect our minority communities who are already marginalized, who are afraid of the voting process. It falls on the candidates to pick up the slack and educate the voters.”
Gennaro said he didn’t think significant vote splitting would occur, saying, “I think that the whole idea of ranked-choice voting is to turn that splitting phenomenon on its head.” He did concur with Syed that “there has not been enough education by the Board of Elections and by the Campaign Finance Board,” concluding that “this election is going to be a little bit of a shakeout.”
Nath did not directly answer the question but voiced praise for the “many minority candidates running for office” compared to when he ran in 2005 for the same seat.
Sharma said she’s hoping to mitigate vote splitting by staying focused on the issues rather than identity politics. “I don't just talk about my race. I don't just talk about my gender. I talk about the things that are affecting them.”
“The beauty of ranked-choice voting is, yes, it diversifies the slate in terms of our identity. But issues, as well,” added Ahmed, citing her pro-worker platform.
Brand then asked what was possibly the most controversial yet straight-forward question posed during the forum: who is your second choice?
Sharma answered, “We are still analyzing our second choice based on how these forums go. I want to know that people are the same in every room, and don't pick and choose what they say, when it's convenient.”
Jain also said she was in the process of evaluating her candidate picks.
“My ballot is private,” said Gennaro, “but I will keep my eye on the candidates as the race progresses.” When Brand called this a “cop-out answer,” Gennaro told him, “I reject your characterization,” claiming that revealing his second choice would in effect attempt to “manipulate the voters.”
Syed also said she has not yet decided on a second choice candidate, saying that she is going to wait for more debates to hear other candidates’ platforms.
Nath did not explicitly share any names, but named top priorities: education, health care, and housing. He also said he’d rank candidates with “roots in the community.” Nath said he’s undecided on his fifth choice.
Ahmed was the only one who shared her candidate picks, saying, “I like to walk the walk.” She went on to disclose that Sharma will get one of her votes because of her detailed housing plan, Nath will also get a vote from Ahmed, who praised his work with New American Voters Association, and she also committed to voting for Jain because she supports taxing the rich. She didn’t name a fifth vote.
For the final question, which was submitted by a member of the audience, candidates were asked how they were educating voters on completing their ballots under the new system.
Gennaro, Nath, and Syed all identified reminding voters to vote for up to five different candidates as part of their education on ranked-choice voting in order to maximize the potential of the new voting system.
Sharma said her campaign volunteers have been taught how to educate voters on ranked-choice voting through a script and training sessions.
“We have literature in multiple languages explaining how ranked-choice voting works,” said Ahmed, who also pairs this education with reminders about her platform and endorsements, so that they will think of her on Election Day.
In addition to educational seminars, Jain also said that she has a sample ballot on her phone, which she uses to demonstrate for voters how the ballot will look and how to use it.
The forum on Thursday night, hosted by Chhaya CDC, India Home, Chinese-American Planning Committee (CPC NYC), Shetu, APA VOICE, and the MinKwon Center for Community Action, also began with an educational presentation on ranked-choice voting. After that, the candidates each had one minute to introduce themselves. The Q&A portion of the forum was divided into four rounds including questions from members of the organizations sponsoring the event; a “lightning round” requiring short answers; audience questions; and the candidates selecting an opponent of their choice to ask a question.
The questions posed to candidates touched on plans for social services, language accessibility, gentrification and displacement, land use, housing, tenants’ rights, senior care, the city budget, and more. The forum was moderated by Habib Rahman of TBN24, a Bangla language live television channel.
Although originally scheduled to appear, Gennaro cancelled an hour or so before the event, according to organizers. Habib called this news “disappointing” a few times throughout the forum, and said, “We’d like to thank all of the candidates who saw it important to come to the forum and speak to everybody who’s here.” Candidates Mujib Rahman and Michael Brown were also missing.
When asked how they would enhance professional development programs geared toward immigrant and undocumented communities, all of the candidates agreed that language accessibility was a crucial aspect of this and proposed different strategies.
Syed suggested coordinating with the Small Business Administration to “connect with employers to see what needs they have, and we train and provide funding simultaneously.” Additionally, Syed proposed “investing in trade schools,” as well as educating those with foreign degrees about the existing system for certificate conversion.
On language accessibility, Nath took a few shots at Gennaro, saying, “Today, we have somebody who is running for this seat who voted against a language assistance program. Apparently, he’s not even on this panel. Maybe I’m missing him.” If elected to the City Council, Nath said, “I want to specifically work with CUNY and SUNY and create a center at York College and Queens College” that would help immigrants with their certifications.
Jain emphasized funding, citing her experience as a Democratic district leader and a delegate for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the most recent presidential election. “I know how much money is sitting there for our adult education program. I want to bring that money to my district. I want to bring the fair share to my community,” she said.
Sharma said she would create a task force of community leaders to strategize “innovative solutions” that are “on par with what’s happening in the community,” including making sure that “language accessibility is part of [job training].”
Ahmed said her personal experience of providing translation for her immigrant parents has informed her understanding of the need for language justice, saying, “When you can't understand, you can't participate.” But the clock ran out before she proposed specific strategies.
When asked how they would assist first-time homebuyers, Ahmed, Nath, Syed, and Jain all agreed that basements should be legalized as separate dwelling units.
Ahmed went on to say, “And we need to work with state legislators to tax the rich and make sure there's funding to give a stipend to homeowners so that they're able to pay their mortgage.”
Nath emphasized his commitment to helping homeowners, saying, “I have not taken a single dime from developers,” which he criticized for artificially inflating prices. He added that taxes should be suspended for first-time homebuyers and that the process by which to secure loans for homes should be easier.
“There’s already a program that exists, which provides $40,000 for the first-time homebuyer,” began Jain, referencing the HomeFirst Down Payment Assistance Program. “It should be extended more, and there should be some more educational programs also to be funded by the City Council,” added Jain.
If elected, Sharma said that she would work with the state on property taxes, although she didn’t specify. She also proposed “creating a New York City public bank, where we can actually provide capital that goes to a more diverse group of people.” She identified loans at the “number one problem” for first-time homeowners.
“Since 2002, property taxes have increased almost 18%,” began Syed. “When I get to City Council, I’m pledging not to increase property taxes on one-to-three [family] homes.” She also emphasized the need for seminars on purchasing homes and spotting predatory lending.
On gentrification and displacement as a result of rezonings and real estate development, all candidates agreed that input from the community is vital.
Both Nath and Jain called for the creation of more affordable housing.
Sharma, Ahmed, and Soma said that racial impact studies, as suggested by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and some City Council members, should be required on major rezoning proposals. In addition to racial impact reports, Soma emphasized the need for environmental impact statements. Sharma and Syed also criticized what they say is a one-size-fits-all approach of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. “AMI, the average median income is the same across the board” when it should vary neighborhood by neighborhood, said Sharma.
Ahmed called for reforming the entire land use review process overall, saying, “I would not vote for any rezoning under our current ULURP process,” which she said “prioritizes developers over our community.”
On supporting tenants, Sharma said she would start with holding “problematic landlords” accountable by “taking them to court,” referring to Zara Realty, a real estate company that faced a lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James over violations of rent stabilization and tenant harassment laws.
Syed, who has represented tenants against Zara Realty, said she would cancel rent “for those tenants who are not able to pay rent.” On this point, Nath disagreed, saying, “If we do that, that will hurt some of our small landlords.”
“What I will do is work to continue the moratorium on evictions during the pandemic by working with state legislators, expand ‘right to a lawyer’ for all renters in housing court, encourage the creation of more tenant unions…and expand community land trusts to help working class families afford a home,” said Ahmed.
On senior care, Sharma proposed distributing the COVID-19 vaccine via a mobile van, and Nath agreed, saying, “We need to bring the vaccine into the local community.” Syed promised using $750,000 in discretionary funds allotted to City Council District 24 to fund senior centers. Ahmed concurred, adding, “We also need adult daycare centers to provide help for our seniors, whether it's physical therapy, mental health support.” Jain, who serves as chair of the community advisory board of India Home, cited her experience in the role, including mental health counseling for seniors, providing hot meals, and vocational skills programs.
When asked how they would approach the city budget in the midst of the fiscal crisis caused by the pandemic, Sharma, Ahmed, and Jain called for new revenue streams. Sharma and Ahmed suggested redirecting a portion of the NYPD’s budget toward social services, with Ahmed pointing out, “The city spent $230 million in 2018 alone on lawsuits against the NYPD for misconduct. It's clear that we need to stop pumping billions into a policing system that's broken and plagued with lawsuits and human rights violations.” Ahmed and Jaim also proposed taxing billionaires. Additionally, Ahmed said she would “work with state legislators to pass marijuana legalization,” “take away tax abatements so corporate landlords can’t avoid taxes,” and “make sure New York City collects fines for permit violations and tax commercial property warehouses.”
While Sharma said that the city needs “to stop relying on federal funding,” Syed said that she would “push the Biden administration to provide state funding.” She also added, “We need to look at the entire city budget and make the appropriate cuts,” but she promised those cuts would not impact essential social services, such as senior care, mental health services, and support for the unhoused.
“What I'm proposing is suspending the commercial rent tax for at least one year, and giving a grant to the small business owner, so they can open the business and create jobs,” said Nath. He also said he was “supportive of Amazon” building a massive new campus in Long Island City, but in lieu of that, “We need to make sure we invite companies who will create jobs that are going to help the middle-class American. Of course, they have to be union jobs.”
During the lightning round, candidates were unanimous in their support of “people over profit,” Medicare for all, affordable housing, ranked-choice voting, and working-class communities. When asked to choose between investment in community programs and services or investment in law enforcement, most candidates chose the former, except Syed, who said she supported both.
During the final round, in which candidates asked another candidate of their choice one question, Sharma kicked things off, asking Nath for his stance on the Black Lives Matter movement. To this, he said he was supportive. “We cannot end [systemic racism] by electing the same people year after year who violate term limits, who just treat politics as a career,” he said, seemingly referring to former City Council member Gennaro, who served three terms and is now running for his old seat in District 24. (The current law limits officeholders to two concurrent terms, but there is nothing barring Gennaro from running again. He was among those who approved a term-limits extension in 2009 that allowed Mayor Bloomberg and City Council members like himself the possibility of an additional term.)“By electing one of us, we can bring diversity and inclusion to the City Council. That's how we end systemic racism in this country,” Nath said.
Syed asked Jain how she thought white supremacy affected immigrant communities, to which Jain replied, “This is a democratic country. What happened in Washington, that should not have happened.” She added, “Of course it affected our immigrant community,” highlighting immigrant concern over safety.
Next, Ahmed asked Nath what his favorite Bangladeshi restaurant was on Hillside Avenue, and he answered, “Sagar Chinese.”
When Nath asked Ahmed if she would pledge to not work with candidates “who violated the term limit,” seemingly another reference to Genarro, Ahmed said, “I absolutely support term limits and would not want to work with anybody who's exploiting a loophole.”
For the last question of the forum, Jain asked Syed what she would do differently from the previous Council member, Lancman, for immigrant communities. Syed said, “We need to equitably distribute discretionary funds into communities that really need them.”