Maya Wiley, left (photo: Wiley campaign)
After months honing her public image and developing her campaign platform, Maya Wiley now embodies two distinct archetypes of mayoral candidate: she is a standard-bearer of the progressive left and the type of political hopeful that expresses her zeal for executive leadership with lengthy policy papers.
A civil rights attorney, former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and MSNBC commentator, Wiley has stepped into the spotlight in recent weeks as the foremost -- and most viable -- progressive in a packed field. She is best known for championing issues like police divestment and reinvestment in communities, child and elder care, and equity in education while staying above the fray of major scandal (unlike progressive rivals Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, which he has denied, and nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, who faced a unionization effort within her campaign after alleged labor abuses).
Wiley’s policies around economic recovery -- major capital investments, small business support, and promoting the arts -- are not radically different from most of the other Democratic frontrunners. Perhaps because they address the broadest issues, they also contain some of the biggest unanswered questions of any of her proposals related to funding, spending, and execution.
She has framed herself as the candidate "with the courage to confront the bureaucracy, developers, and the NYPD" while also being able to meet the needs of the post-pandemic city.
"This historic moment is one in which we can remake our city so that it is safe and fair and a great place to live," Wiley said in her opening statement at the second televised Democratic debate on June 2. "We can end street homelessness, we can make sure that every last person can afford this city and be safe from police violence," she said hitting a number of common campaign themes, including her push to make the city easier to live in -- both in terms of affordability, with promises of affordable housing for the lowest earners, and broader city services.
She agrees with most other candidates that there needs to be major investment in the environment, affordable housing, and education. One thing that sets her apart from most is an emphasis on the city government's role as a care provider, from child and elder care centers to caregiver grants and "trauma-informed" services in schools. Her campaign told Gotham Gazette this is the signature policy idea she is promising voters.
“Maya Wiley is the clear viable progressive choice in this race, and her policy platform offers a roadmap to a truly inclusive recovery,” wrote Daniel Altschuler, co-executive director of Make the Road Action, which endorsed Wiley, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “If enacted, her New Deal New York and Universal Community Care plans would provide urgently-needed financial relief to low-income families and create good jobs to help struggling New Yorkers get back on their feet, while also helping the city address climate change...And her health care plan addresses the vital challenge of significantly expanding access to coverage and care, regardless of immigration status."
Wiley "is a very serious thinker about large structural issues, there's no doubt," said Eric Phillips, a former press secretary to de Blasio and colleague of Wiley's, by phone. "I think if I had one critique from an electoral standpoint it would be that 'more is more' is not always the case. She's got sort of a lot out there and sometimes that's tough to message."
"What may suit her as a policymaker in government might also not be helpful from an electoral campaign perspective," he said.
New Deal New York
The centerpiece of Wiley's recovery pitch to voters is a five-year public works program with a $10 billion capital budget, modeled as the name suggests on the Depression-era spending spree intended to 'prime the pumps' of the sunken economy -- in Wiley's case, it's a "shot in the arm."
The city would fund major infrastructure and development projects overseen by a "New Deal Czar" within the mayor's office with the goal of creating 100,000 new jobs and improving benefits like healthcare, hazard pay, and gig protections. Thirty-thousand of those jobs would come directly from development projects and the remaining 70,000 would be indirect roles in child and home health care and manufacturing. The czar would have the power to centralize workforce development funding from various agencies, something workforce development providers have long said was needed to improve the city's haphazard job training strategy.
"Stuff like that is undoubtedly important or could be important to people's lives but at the same time it's effectively what the current mayor is doing from a jobs investment and creation standpoint," said Phillips. "Capital funds and significant public resources into economic development...It's something the city already does." He noted most of the frontrunner Democrats have major infrastructure or capital spending plans.
"The fund will consist of committed unspent capital funds and new capital dollars financed by City debt," reads Wiley's policy proposal. "The proposed spending would include new projects, as well as accelerating projects currently in the pipeline that meet the program’s criteria which will include equity and advance social and economic goals." Wiley has not been specific about many of the infrastructure projects she would pursue and has said her administration would conduct a needs assessment by community district with deference to underserved communities of color.
In a column in City Journal after the final televised debate, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Nicole Gelinas criticized Wiley's spending plan for putting the cart before the horse. "Other mayoral hopefuls barely made any sense on anything...Wiley wants to double the size of the city’s capital budget, currently about $13.3 billion a year, not to build any major infrastructure projects but to create 100,000 jobs," she wrote, also calling out statements from Stringer, Morales, and former city housing commissioner and federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan.
Wiley has laid out "initial potential funding numbers" for the $10 billion spending: $3 billion would go toward climate infrastructure like a renewable energy hub on Rikers Island, wind and solar power, power grid upgrades, and coastal resiliency. Two billion dollars would fund repairs at the New York City Housing Authority -- far lower than the $1.5 to $2 billion per year of funding advocates say the city needs to provide, in combination with other revenue, to keep public housing standing. Another $2 billion would be spent on sewage, transportation, and digital infrastructure. And $2 billion would go towards "social infrastructure" -- things like day care and community centers as part of affordable housing projects, and business incubators with subsidized office space. The last $1 billion would go to artists and performers for venues and studio space and other needs. The jobs created would prioritize local hiring and minority- and women-owned businesses, with the NYCHA dollars going to hire NYCHA residents.
Wiley, like other candidates, has dedicated significant page space to supporting small businesses, which absorbed much of the economic damage from the pandemic. The proposal includes $100 million in regulatory relief and $30 million in emergency grants for the most devastated areas and industries -- both funded by federal stimulus dollars. It would be led by a Chief Small Business Officer at City Hall.
She wants to put $7 million into promoting worker cooperatives and using the Federal Reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Facility to purchase distressed small and mid-sized businesses during economic downturns and resell them "to employees or other forms of democratic and/or local ownership" during recovery. She supports a "recovery lease program" being floated in the City Council and State Legislature -- to help commercial tenants negotiate new long term leases in exchange for arrears payments and tax abatements -- and tapping departments like Housing Preservation and Development to locate affordable retail space. Her plan states she wants to meet the city's procurement goals for MWBEs, in part by improving timelines and payment methods and expanding existing loan programs. There are also loans for street vendors and another $100 million fund for grants to artists and performers, with a council to oversee its equitable distribution.
Multiple Forms of Care
Universal Community Care
One of the most central proposals of the Wiley campaign is a serious focus on child and elder care. Her "universal community care" model would take $300 million from suspended NYPD and Correction cadet classes and give $5,000 annual stipends to 100,000 unpaid caregivers (her plan does not say where the remaining $200 million needed to pay for it would come from).
Wiley also wants to create so-called "community care centers," which she has said would provide child and elder care, as well as counseling, job training, and social programming. The goal would be to reach 300,000 people in the first year of implementation and eventually scaling to a height of 1 million annually. The centers would be paid for in part using the $10 billion capital funds she has proposed in her New Deal New York plan. She has not said which communities she would focus on first.
Phillips believes the proposals in her care platform are one of things that make Wiley's approach stand out among the candidates. "They are more forward-thinking, they're more unique. They are not something necessarily that a mayor would automatically do no matter who is elected," he said. "They touch a lot of people in different ways...which makes for a very effective policy-making strategy."
Wiley has proposed a sliding-scale city health insurance plan to the tune of at least $1 billion annually to be available to 246,000 people who are uninsured and ineligible for Medicaid, Affordable Care Act, and other programs, regardless of immigration status. Her plan describes a number of funding mechanisms, including repurposing city funds like NYC Care (the city's current program for uninsured New Yorkers) and state medicaid reimbursements, and finding administrative efficiencies.
Wiley has a policy paper specifically to address maternal health, particularly for Black women who experience maternal mortality at far higher rates in circumstances that are more often than not preventable. Wiley would allocate $4.35 million to build birthing centers at all public hospitals and one on Staten Island's North Shore, "targeting communities of color," the proposal reads, and "[e]stablish maternal health as mayoral priority."
Climate and Transit
The heart of Wiley’s climate plan is the $3 billion in climate infrastructure and $2 billion in NYCHA repairs and resiliency upgrades contained in her New Deal New York proposal. Part of that funding would come from $400 million in unspent federal aid for coastal resiliency projects, according to her plan. Money would go to Renewable Rikers, a plan to turn the jail complex into a site of clean energy generation and large battery storage.
Wiley, like most other frontrunners, has discussed exploring wind and solar power and utilizing city owned property like schools to build renewable energy. That includes completing the de Blasio administration goal of installing 100 megawatts of solar energy on hundreds of public buildings by 2025, which she says would create 5,000 jobs over three years. Wiley also has the lofty goal of "the decarbonization of all existing housing, including public housing" through efficiency retrofitting, which would create over 42,000 jobs over the same period, her plan says. She frequently discusses upgrading the power grid, though her policy paper mostly discusses pushing for more public accountability and control over utilities over infrastructure improvements.
Wiley has proposed a new Office of Public Space Management to oversee the repurposing of roads to pedestrian uses and green urban space, including the expansion of the pandemic-era Open Streets program. She has said she supports the "NYC 25x25" plan proposed by Transportation Alternatives to convert a quarter of road space in the five boroughs to non-car use by 2025. Part of that includes building 300 miles of bike lanes and create 1,600 jobs in the process, and transition city vehicles to electric.
Notably, Wiley has not offered a transportation plan.
Housing and Evictions
The core promise of Wiley's housing plan is to guarantee no New Yorker making up to $54,000 a year for a family of three pays more than a third of their income in rent. She would achieve this "bold solution" through affordable housing creation for households making less than 80% area median income and by greatly expanding CityFHEPS, a housing voucher program.
Wiley has committed to building only 100% permanently affordable housing on public land. She has proposed creating a nonprofit community land bank to fund the conversion of distressed properties. Building new housing appears to be of limited priority for Wiley. She would pursue upzoning in "high opportunity neighborhoods," her plan says, in brief, and she opposes the 421-a state tax incentive, which she says has "accelerated gentrification and housing segregation." She also wants to give more opportunities to non-profit developers.
Wiley has a number of proposals to address and prevent homelessness. At the top of that list is stemming evictions using federally-backed rent relief for tenants and small landlords and targeting source of income discrimination. She also wants to expand supportive housing -- housing with social services to help people get and stay on their feet -- and convert failing hotels and other properties to do it, though she hasn't placed a number on that goal.
"Her housing plan rightly focuses on both stopping rampant displacement and housing homeless New Yorkers, while prioritizing the creation of deeply affordable housing," said Altschuler of Make the Road Action.
In addition to the $2 billion in capital repairs to NYCHA, Wiley wants to integrate NYCHA into the city's building code enforcement. She opposes the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, which privatizes management of some public housing developments as a way to leverage capital funds, but has expressed qualified support for infill development, which allows private development on leaded NYCHA land, saying she is open to it as long as tenants are involved in the decision-making process.
Wiley's main education proposals are hiring 2,500 new teachers at the cost of $250 million to reduce class sizes and to create what she calls "trauma-informed care" -- "mental health teams" in every school made up of social workers, guidance counselors, and psychologists. She wants to remove police officers from schools and reallocate $450 million from the NYPD's school safety budget to student support and mental health services. She would put an additional $10 million to hire a full-time nurse in every school.
"We're going to stop ignoring that our kids need supports and we have to educate the whole child," she said of trauma-informed care at the last televised debate, on June 16.
Wiley is the candidate with the most aggressive stance on integrating the city's heavily segregated public schools, though she talks far more about reducing overcrowding and addressing student trauma on the campaign trail. She is supportive of many of the policies recommended by the School Diversity Advisory Group -- a task force empanelled by de Blasio of which Wiley was a co-chair -- including controversial changes to admissions. Wiley says she would replace gifted and talented programing with school-wide enrichment programing at every school, drop exclusionary admissions screens for middle and high schools (criteria like grade minimums, attendance, and zip code) and eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test as the single criteria used to get into the five specialized high schools where it's not required by state law while also pushing to change the state law so it can be removed at the other three. To meet integration goals, and oversee the implementation of these policies, Wiley would appoint a Chief Integration and Equity Officer reporting to the schools chancellor with broad jurisdiction with the Department of Education.
"Maya's specific plans for desegregating New York City schools lean into the work she led on the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG)," wrote Matt Gonzales, an education advocate and member of the SDAG, by email. "The appointment of a Chief Integration and Equity Officer in particular would be significant, as it was one of the key recommendations declined by Mayor de Blasio back in 2019."
Policing and Public Safety
Wiley might have become most well-known initially for her stance on police reform, adopting many of what have become (especially in this race) staple progressive positions around redirecting funds and responsibilities from the NYPD and using the language of police accountability and independent oversight.
Though she has purposefully avoided the language of “defunding the NYPD,” Wiley has proposed removing $1 billion from the NYPD's nearly $6 billion annual operating budget by freezing cadet classes for two years and closing the vice squad, traffic enforcement, and school safety divisions. The rest of the money would come from cuts identified in a full audit of the NYPD. And the money would go toward violence interrupter groups, reentry services, and homelessness and mental health response. The focal point of her gun violence plan is $18 million to establish a "participatory justice process" where the public will have input on local anti-violence programs and policies in some of the communities hardest hit by shootings.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain who is leading most polls and widely viewed as a moderate Democrat, has criticized Wiley for having long-term gun violence prevention plans (that he calls more philosophical but says he agrees with) but what he says is no immediate response to increased shootings -- no “right now plan” for “intervention.” Wiley has said there is a role for the NYPD in stemming the flow of guns into New York and getting guns off the street, but has offered few details. Her campaign did not provide any when asked by Gotham Gazette about what she would do immediately if she was mayor during a spike in gun violence like the city has seen over the course of a year-plus.
"I don't think her police reform proposals are from a substance level all that different from any of the other candidates," said Phillips, acknowledging some variances like on NYPD divestment.
"What will end up mattering more from a police reform perspective is how the next mayor will actually manage the commissioner and his or her top lieutenants. And it's not the kind of organization, just like the Department of Education, just like Sanitation, just like all these other big organizations, it's not the kind of place where you can snap your fingers and expect the department to change," he said. "The change will come from your ability to navigate 1 Police Plaza, and that's not easy to do. So I think the concepts themselves aren't nearly as important as the style of the next mayor when it comes to police reform.
Along with other candidates, Wiley has said she would appoint a civilian police commissioner who has not come up through the ranks of the department and create an office to track behaviors associated with biased policing. "The first step is to take the leadership of the NYPD out of a uniformed culture that is resistant to change and is stuck to routines and practices that are hostile to the mission," her plan states.
A former chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Wiley would expand that agency's budget but also create another oversight body -- a "Commission on Public Safety Oversight and Accountability" -- which together with the CCRB would have final authority over police discipline, removing it from the discretion of the NYPD commissioner. How that relationship would work is not clear in Wiley's policy papers, nor do they address state law, which reserves disciplinary decision-making for the police commissioner. Unlike the CCRB, the new commission would also have the power to set NYPD policy and budget framework. Wiley has also suggested making officers, not taxpayers, liable for police misconduct and beefing up criminal prosecutions of some violations through the state Attorney General's office.