Candidates Niou, Rivera, Simon at Tuesday's forum (photo: The Cooper Union/Marget Long)
Several Democratic candidates running to represent New York’s new 10th congressional district answered questions related to climate and sustainability challenges facing the district and New York City during a forum held at The Great Hall in Cooper Union Tuesday evening. Such issues are especially relevant in the district given that much of it is along the waterfront, whether its Manhattan or Brooklyn side.
The panel, hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (NYLCVEF), a statewide environmental organization, featured Assemblymembers Yuh-Line Niou and Jo Anne Simon, City Council Member Carlina Rivera, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Goldman, former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, former NYPD data analyst Quandra Francis, and attorney Peter Gleason, a former member of the Coast Guard, NYPD, and FDNY.
Rep Mondaire Jones, who currently represents a Hudson Valley district but recently moved to Brooklyn to run in NY-10, was unable to attend the forum after being called to Congress to vote on legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriages in response to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Danielle Muoio, a Politico New York reporter who moderated the panel, read a statement on behalf of Jones to the audience toward the end of the event.
“Whether the court is gutting the EPA’s ability to combat climate change or stripping away fundamental rights, the Supreme Court is on a rampage and I’m leading the fight to stop it,” Jones said in the statement. “As someone who stands to inherit a planet devastated by climate change if we don’t act now, and someone who is both Black and gay, these fights are personal to me and I know they are for New Yorkers throughout Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.”
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio had also registered in advance to attend the forum before announcing Tuesday afternoon his departure from the race. His exit came after he struggled to gain the support of likely Democratic voters in several internal and public polls.
The winner of the new 10th district -- likely to be decided in the August Democratic primary given the district is heavily Democratic -- will represent a set of diverse neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, including the East and West Villages, Soho and Noho, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Battery Park City, the Financial District, portions of Downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus, Park Slope, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Borough Park, and more. Following a messy redistricting process, the race is a rarity in which no incumbent is running (Rep. Jerry Nadler, who represents the current 10th district, is instead running for the new 12th district against Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Suraj Patel after his West Side base was drawn into the new 12th.)
The congressional and state senate primaries will wrap up on August 23, with absentee balloting and early voting preceding.
Before the candidates began, Julie Tighe, the president of the NYLCVEF, called the 10th district a “climate frontline community” experiencing sea level rise and strong storms as a result of climate change. She said a top concern in the district — home to environmental justice communities who face disproportionate pollution rates compared to the rest of New York State — is coastal resiliency, which impacts economic development, quality of life, and the natural environment.
“Some other challenges facing the district, and frankly, our entire country, include building electrification, transportation emissions, promoting a clean energy economy with good union jobs, and many other issues,” Tighe said. “Critically, last week's Data for Progress poll showed that for the voters in this district, climate and environment are top tier issues.”
The forum was met with protesters inside and outside of the building who chanted and held up posters in opposition to Rivera’s approval of the city’s East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project, an initiative funded by the city and federal governments to reduce flood risk and sea level rise along a large stretch of the east side that includes major upheaval for East River Park. Rivera, who represents the 2nd district that includes a chunk of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was interrupted several times while speaking, prompting Muoio to encourage the crowd to be respectful (which Niou reiterated toward the beginning of the forum).
At the start of the forum, Holtzman, Gleason, Goldman, Fancis, Simon, Rivera, and Niou were asked to deliver one-minute opening remarks.
Holtzman, the first woman to serve as New York City Comptroller and Brooklyn District Attorney, began her introduction by saying that there are huge obstacles in the way of fighting for the environment, including a conservative Supreme Court and “MAGA Republicans.”
She touted her record of creating the first environmental crimes bureau in New York State, working closely with environmental groups to stop a mayoral plan to build nine municipal incinerators, which led to the shutdown of all city incinerators, and fighting for penalties against Exxon for oil spills.
“Few things are as important to our survival as climate and our environment,” Holtzman said. “...I am not afraid to take these people on, and I will continue to do that.”
Gleason, who is an attorney for his own firm representing members of the New York City Fire Department, NYPD, and U.S. Military, said his public service in the district started in 1981 after he joined the U.S. Coast Guard at 17 years old and was assigned to Governors Island. From 1989 to 1986, he was a police officer “on the crime and drug-riddled” Lower East Side and later served as a New York City firefighter. He mentioned that he remained on the Coast Guard Reserve for 20 years and worked on the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and said the government and private industry “pulled the wool over people’s eyes.”
“I will accept one endorsement and one endorsement only in this race — that’s by Frank Serpico, the quintessential whistleblower,” Gleason said. “I will do the same thing in Washington that Frank Serpico did in the city of New York. I will expose Washington for what it is, I need your help to do that.”
Goldman, who was lead counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives in the first impeachment trial of then-President Donald Trump, said the country is facing threats against its democracy, including climate change, environmental justice, and in particular, attacks against the right to vote, which disproportionately affect minority communities who are most subject to environmental injustice.
“I worry very much about the future of our country for my five children that I'm raising in this district, especially the air that they breathe, and the sea levels, and the heat that we're seeing, record temperatures in the history of European countries, including Great Britain today,” Goldman said. “I will fight with all of you to change our climate laws, to transition to green energy, to clean our air, and to reduce carbon emissions.”
Francis said she has a unique background in working for the federal government for four years as an emergency response official, traveling across the country in areas where natural disasters occured. She said she has resiliency plans to “bring us into the 21st century,” but did not go into detail about her proposals.
“I traveled a lot to the same areas along the Mississippi River — the same areas were impacted by flooding, and there was no real core mitigation plan,” Francis said. “I am here now to say that we cannot wait any longer to react to climate change.”
Simon, who has represented the overlapping 52nd Assembly District of Brooklyn since 2015, said that combating climate change should be a top priority for every legislator in Washington, D.C., and state capitals across the county. She pointed to her work as a community activist in fighting to reduce transportation emissions and advocating for environmental justice in her district.
Simon also mentioned that she represents the toxic Gowanus Canal Superfund site and that her community has been subjected to devastating impacts of flooding as a coastal district. As an Assembly member, she said she has helped pass the landmark 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which has set ambitious emissions reduction and renewable energy mandates for the state, and that she has the sponsored the All Electric Buildings Act and the Build Public Renewables Act, which have not passed.
“I know what it takes to obtain funding for resiliency improvements and pollution cleanup, and to help pass groundbreaking legislation,” Simon said. “I'm ready on day one to work for you.”
After Rivera was heckled by protesters before speaking, she said “patience is my best virtue” and then talked about how she grew up in Section 8 housing with a single mother and is a “proud product” of a union household and her local New York City Parks and Recreation center. She said she has been organizing around housing, economic, and environmental justice since before deciding to run for public office, and lauded that she has passed 24 pieces of legislation while serving as a City Council member.
“People are frustrated with their government, they're frustrated with the lack of action in Washington,” Rivera said. “And the people who are fighting in this community, who are on the ground, who were disproportionately affected by Hurricane Sandy with eight feet of water in their communities, they are the ones who deserve climate and environmental justice. Those are the people that I stand up for every single day.”
Niou, who has represented the overlapping 65th Assembly District in Manhattan since 2017, said she is energized to help the city and her constituents tackle challenges that come with the worsening climate, and arguing that they will not receive help from Republicans because they do not believe that climate change is real.
Niou said she has been a leader in passing state climate reforms, highlighting that activists have called her the “Green Niou Deal” in reference to the Green New Deal (verbiage she uses on her campaign website). She pointed to her campaign receiving the support of environmental groups including TREEage and Sunrise Movement NYC.
“We live in a frontline climate community where resiliency isn't just a buzzword — it's life or death,” Niou said. “Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn have seen firsthand what happens when superstorms hit.”
When asked what the candidates would do in Congress to help New York State reach its goal of 100% clean energy by 2040, Simon said she would pass the Green New Deal and the “Green Amendment,” which provides the constitutional right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment, noting again her work in the Legislature. She also said it is important to advance labor rights and a prevailing wage, as well as work to eliminate fossil fuels and distribute more funding to communities that have been burdened by the lack of emission-free energy.
Simon said she has been disappointed by the Biden administration, which has been “really looking the other way” and “actively pushing to increase the amount of natural gas.”
“Those of us who live in flood prone zones and have dealt with this flooding that's increasing constantly, and have dealt with the environmental impacts of the asthma rates throughout our districts know how important this is,” Simon said. “We need to make sure that we talk about it all the time, and bring that to the attention of everybody else who may be too willing to look the other way.”
Rivera pointed to her vote and support for the city’s Climate Mobilization Act in 2019, which was the country’s first comprehensive approach to lowering greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, the city’s top polluters. Like Simon, Rivera also said it is important to pass the Green New Deal, specifically highlighting the Green New Deal for Public Housing, and called for the move toward offshore wind energy, the electrification of cars, and the prioritization of green infrastructure and mass transit.
“Climate change is not an issue for tomorrow. It is an issue for today, our communities, our Black, brown, low-income immigrant communities have been disproportionately affected,” Rivera said. “We have talent in this city that we need to tap into, and we need to make sure that we're reaching our goals first and foremost, and not backing down — being fearless.”
Niou emphasized the importance of talking about environmental justice and environmental segregation in conversations about environmental legislation, noting that she used to work for the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She also said the Green New Deal needs to be passed for green public schools and green public housing, referencing New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools Act.
“We also have legislation that was passed on the state level, which strengthens our building codes, expands cooling and heating, the [National Defense Authorization Act] actually helps a lot,” Niou said. “And so I think that we have to make sure that we're doing things that will help build public renewables and ensure that we have the clean energy plants that we deserve.”
Holtzman noted that whether the Green New Deal or other initiatives, Democrats will have a tough time passing legislation in the next session of Congress, stressing that the candidate elected to represent NY-10 will need “real legislative skills.” She said investments in public transportation are critical to move from cars to other alternatives, and gas tax subsidies need to be cut.
“We can't necessarily let the Republicans control the Senate, or God forbid, control the House,” Holtzman said. “We even have to rely on the president to act, which means that you're going to have to have someone who's willing to stand up to the president and say, ‘We need this and this and this to make our environment better.’”
Gleason said that he “hates to be the bearer of bad news,” but it is “only a matter of time before the East River meets the Hudson River.” He said the one solution is to build a storm surge protector, and that Governors Island should be turned into a wind and solar farm with desalination plants.
“Water is going to be a more sought after commodity in the next 20 years than fossil fuel,” Gleason said. “...My time in the Coast Guard, we saw many foreign tank vessels go up the Hudson River, take on pure, take on unsalted water. If you go north of the Tappan Zee Bridge, it's unsalted water, and they would bring it back to their home country. They were stealing our fresh water — we have to put a stop to this.”
Goldman said that most NY-10 candidates agree about climate change principles, and he emphasized that they need to be talking about how to get results in Washington, calling it a national security, economic, and environmental issue. He added that he does not believe Republicans are opposed to starting programs that create jobs, foster energy independence, and help mass transit.
“What we need to do is explain to them and be creative in how we put pressure on the Republicans to actually recognize that it's in their self-interest to invest in environmental change, because that will create jobs, it will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Goldman said. “If we can incentivize renewable energy for which we are going to need to rely on both government and private entities and private corporations to actually reduce climate change, the government cannot do it alone.”
Francis said there needs to be a climate resiliency indicator to measure and track funds that are put toward combating climate change. “We need to measure the effectiveness of these plans, assess the level of climate resiliency in each state, and compare it to the policy preparedness,” Francis said. “Again, with all of the dollars that are going into recovery, there's very little going into mitigation.”
On the congestion pricing program targeted for early 2024 implementation in the city, particularly for Manhattan below 61st Street, all the NY-10 candidates present at Tuesday’s forum expressed support.
Goldman said congestion pricing is important for the transition to relying on mass transit, e-bikes, e-scooters, bicycles, and other electrified vehicles and can make a “significant dent” in city pollution. "The money that can come from the congestion pricing can be put back into our mass transit system to convert to carbon neutral vehicles. That will have a significant impact both on our city and our country," Goldman said, perhaps unaware that congestion pricing proceeds are dedicated by the law creating the program to go toward the MTA capital program.
Holtzman agreed with Goldman in saying the purpose of congestion pricing is to provide additional funds for mass transit, and federal funds should be used for research on alternative energy sources. She emphasized the need to improve the reach of mass transit, highlighting how Brooklyn subway lines were halted to stop racial desegregation.
“We have to be attentive to the impact on families of modest means and the congestion pricing system,” Holtzman said, arguing for exemptions to congestion pricing. “It's not one-size-fits-all. Not everybody is a millionaire or a billionaire in this city. We need to take care of people for whom it's unaffordable.”
Gleason said that before discussing congestion pricing, it is important to talk about public safety. He said he wanted to address the issue with de Blasio and was disappointed that he dropped out of the race.
Gleason was disrupted by the crowd mid-sentence when he said “forcing people onto subways and mass transit, where they're going to be robbed, and stabbed, and held on,” and Muoio encouraged him to stay on the topic. “I'm not going to stand down from a position,” he said.
Francis said that congestion pricing carve-outs are needed and mentioned that her autistic son cannot take public transportation from Brooklyn Heights, where they live, to Battery Park City given the over-stimulation of such transit, raising questions about affordability under congestion pricing.
Simon said she has been supporting congestion pricing since before former Mayor Michal Bloomberg released his original proposal in 2007. "We need to bring public transit out to those areas that do not have public transit," she said. "We are not going to be able to congestion price our way out of this problem. We have to do both things. We need to take that money and invest it in public transit and to make it accessible and to bring it to more places in Brooklyn, and in the city of New York."
“Buses, by the way, are accessible to people with disabilities, and there is no bus that goes from Brooklyn to Manhattan,” she added, speaking about the importance of accessibility in transit.
Rivera said she supports congestion pricing, but noted there has been fear about its implementation and how it would affect families financially. To address this, she said the city should try to incentivize electric vehicles, further embrace reduced-fare MetroCards, and invest in mass transit, pointing to how the first city busway, on 14th Street, started in what will be the new 10th congressional district, and travels through part of her City Council district.
Niou, who like Simon voted for congestion pricing when it passed in Albany, said that the disability community and racial, economic, and environmental justice need to be taken into consideration when discussing any bill or program. When she voted for the legislation, she said she prioritized accessible transportation for people with disabilities, seniors, and low-income families, and said there should be a tax credit to help people pay the congestion fee.
“Every single issue is a disability issue,” Niou said. “I want to center that because as somebody who lives with a disability, I will say that it's really important to do so.”
When asked about the disenchantment among young people who feel they are most affected by the climate crisis, Niou said she has talked with a lot of young people involved with TREEage and the Sunrise Movement who care deeply about the environment and climate. She said many believe that the government is difficult to access, and she felt that way when she was younger.
“There's just a lot of people who are in power who don't want you to know that you can have access to government, and that absolutely, you can make change,” Niou said. “Young people right now, they need to hear that there is no big myth, and there is no big secret. We have to break it for them, we have to tell them that they can advocate for themselves.”
Rivera said that young people are “the reason for every important civil rights movement in this country,” including voting rights and climate change, and their participation is essential to make change. She said voting needs to be more accessible and voting rights expanded.
Rivera added that rebuilding East River Park through the coastal resiliency project will fortify the area for future generations.
“You see this right-wing agenda, doing things like weakening the EPA and dismantling fundamental rights, it is easy to be sort-of disengaged and mistrust government,” Rivera said. “I think what builds trust back in government is when you have people who are actually delivering for their districts and engaging them in the conversation.”
Like Rivera, Simon said young people believing in government is fundamental for achieving climate justice, and there needs to be a model of leaders who are honest and deliver for their communities. She said kids need to be taught civic responsibility to pay attention to the government and see themselves playing a role.
“We need to ensure that everybody has a right to vote, that we do everything we can to oppose voter suppression and to ensure that voting rights are expanded like we have done in New York State,” Simon said. “And we are trying to get more people to vote because more people voting is a better democracy, and this country is all about democracy.”
Holtzman said she was “fortunate enough” to be living in the south during the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and was inspired to see young people make change.
“What we need now is to inspire young people to feel that they can stop what's happening in this country,” Holtzman said. “I saw young people stop the war in Vietnam, it was young people who did that. It was young reporters on The Washington Post who had the guts to stand up against Richard Nixon. Young people can make a difference, but they have to see models to show that they can do it.”
Gleason reiterated his proposal of Governors Island and said it would be a “perfect think tank” for people ages 17 to 25.
Goldman said that many elected officials make promises, but are unable to deliver, and said engaging young people will be to get results. He lauded his work in the impeachment investigation in finding ways to prove the case against Trump, and again emphasized how Republicans need to realize that their interests are similar to Democrats’ in transitioning to renewable energy, building water and solar plants, and reducing the country’s dependence on the global oil and gas industry.
“A lot of people, young people in particular, are right to feel dejected, to feel frustrated, to feel scared, to feel angry,” Goldman said. “It feels a little bit like the walls of our country are closing in, where there are unprecedented attacks against our democracy, our fundamental rights are getting rolled back, and climate change is increasing with very little progress.”
Francis said her platform has been dedicated to youth, mentioning that she was pregnant, homeless, and a victim of domestic violence at 17 years old.
“If you want change, you need to send people to Congress that understand the needs of the people, that will amplify the voices of the individuals in the communities,” Francis said. “In order to do that, again, you have to be on the ground to understand the unique experiences of individuals in the community…I'm here because the policies that are in place are affecting me, and they’re pushing me backwards, and they’re pushing kids back.”
On working with city and state officials to develop a plan for the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE), Simon said she has been working already with leaders. She said the triple cantilever needs to be replaced because it is “going to fall off a cliff,” and noted that she passed legislation to remove illegally overweight trucks.
She added that Mayor Eric Adams’ administration needs to engage with communities in the area and develop a plan. “For too long, the state and the city were not cooperating on the BQE, and that has led to this disrepair and the prolongation of that disrepair is a huge environmental issue,” she said.
Rivera said she understands the community’s fears about the eroding infrastructure and would provide leadership at the federal level to receive the sufficient amount of funding to support a plan led by the community. She said she is encouraged by several ideas to reimagine the BQE, including covering the highway under parkland and building a cross-harbor rail freight tunnel.
“We have to totally reimagine something that is actually a relic of a Robert Moses history that we should not repeat,” Rivera said. “So I would be working with community stakeholders to ensure that we're doing something and we're leading that fight together.”
Niou also emphasized how the safety of the BQE is important and said the climate is continuing to make the expressway more dangerous. She said there needs to be transparency from the city, state, and federal governments with the community, who she believes have been “severely left out” of the discussion, and there needs to be enough funding at the federal level.
Holtzman agreed with Niou, saying that Congress should not fund projects to fix the BQE “without a very clear sense of what’s happening.” She said issues with the BQE stem from ignoring basic transportation problems by subsiding trucking and cars, and expressed support for Nadler’s rail freight tunnel proposal to reduce trucking in the city.
Gleason said the rail tunnel that Holtzman has supported is part of the solution to deteriorating infrastructure across the country, and mentioned that supply chain issues need to be addressed.
Goldman also said rail freight should be increased, in addition to water freight to reduce the number of trucks carrying weight. In order to reimagine the BQE, he said the expressway should be underground with parkland above to increase public space.
Francis said the infrastructure of the BQE needs to be improved to fit the 21st century and said the city has the data to make decisions.
Muoio then underscored the importance of public parks during the pandemic and asked the candidates if they supported protecting 30% of land and water in the city by 2030, something being sought by advocates and proposed statewide in state legislation.
Holtzman said she is a supporter of open space and parks and touted how she fought for safety netting on playgrounds when she was an assistant to the mayor. She said money from the federal military budget should be transferred to jobs, housing, and parks at a state level. If elected to Congress, she said she will fight for money to be put toward increasing urban parks and their accessibility by transit.
Gleason said that every borough should have its version of Central Park to be accessible by public transportation. “It's a pretty simple question where I don't think anybody in this room doesn't doesn't support parks,” he said.
Goldman said the Battery Park Conservancy is an example of how open space can be used to revitalize an area. He said that there needs to be an increase in public space when a block is rezoned or a new development is being created.
Francis said that crime is higher in areas where there is little to no access to public space. She also said low-income families might not have the resources to commute to open spaces and said communities in recreational deserts should be funded.
“The positive impacts on mental health, that's something that we really need to pay attention to if we're going to sort of really attack the issues that are facing individuals from marginalized communities,” Francis said.
Niou said the district she represents in Lower Manhattan lacks green space, and emphasized the importance of preserving the green space that is available, also noting its positive impacts on mental health, especially amid COVID-19, and the environmental benefits. She pointed to the Catskills and said the city should adopt a forward-thinking view. “We are always putting green space against something else, and for some reason, green space always loses,” she said.
Rivera said she has heard questions from her constituents living in low-lying areas about investments in resiliency for their parks to mitigate the effects of climate change, again noting the East Side Coastal Resiliency project and saying similar plans should be brought to Red Hook. She said the Green New Deal for Public Housing is important to ensure green spaces are available to tenants, as well as the creation of green jobs and infrastructure.
Rivera added that she authored and passed the Open Streets program for New York City, which should be adopted in every neighborhood, especially in the 10th congressional district.
Simon said she was a sponsor of the 30x30 bill and noted it was presented nationally through the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. She said the Antiquities Act, which established the first national historic preservation policy in the country, can help reach the goal of protecting 30% of U.S. land by 2030, and she mentioned that playgrounds also need to be made more accessible.
“If I had a nickel for every promenade that was built that was going to be a massive amount of open space, it's really just a fat sidewalk, I’d be a rich woman,” Simon said. “We need to make these decisions realistically, we need community at the table, we need to be listening to the community, we need to plant more trees.”
To tackle increased flooding and implement resiliency measures to protect the coastal communities of NY-10, Simon said she represents a district that has flooded badly, including Gowanus, and it is important to define what resilience means and what technology can be used to help the affected communities.
“I have seen too many agencies — city, state, federal — that aren’t actually doing what it is that they're supposed to be doing, and we need to be there to keep them accountable and keep pushing them forward on that,” Simon said.
Rivera said a storm like Hurricane Sandy is going to take place again, and the 10,000 low-income families that live along the waterfront in public housing and have been historically underserved deserve to receive effective communication and management. “We take the lessons that we've learned from something like the East Side resiliency project, and we do better,” she said.
Niou said it is important to tackle long-term resiliency, particularly in frontline communities and their infrastructure. She said that airports, schools, hospitals, wastewater treatment plants, public housing, and other places vulnerable to sea level rise should have resilience measures in place. She added that there needs to be updates to flood maps using the most recent projections on storm surges, floodplains, and sea level rises.
Francis said the city can look to other countries that have reduced their flood risk by over 60%. She said she visited Red Hook after Hurricane Sandy and noted how most small businesses in the area could not take advantage of federal funding.
Goldman said his building was flooded by Hurricane Sandy and that the effects of the storm have not been addressed throughout the city, noting NYCHA’s Jacob Riis Houses.
“We also need to realize that the resiliency requirements that we have in Lower Manhattan and the waterfront areas in Brooklyn, are an opportunity to reimagine the city,” he said. “We are not going to get this opportunity with federal money from FEMA to do this kind of project again for a very long time.”
Gleason said “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” there is another Superstorm Sandy. He repeated his proposal to install a storm surge protector.
“When you have coastal problems, whether it's in New York City or the Hamptons, the millionaires and billionaires get bailed out, and the working class people there are still sitting in public housing that has mold and mildew,” Gleason said. “Where the people working factories don't have the wherewithal or the political acumen to get things done.”
Holtzman said it is crucial to end tax subsidies for oil companies in order to fund needed projects across the city, including parks, and stressed the importance of thinking big in developing resiliency projects. In an apparent reference to the East Side Coastal Resiliency project, Holtzman said “we can't be destroying when we're rebuilding” and called herself a “tree-hugger.” “I don't understand why trees had to be destroyed to rebuild,” she said.
On the topic of environmental justice communities disproportionately impacted by pollution, Simon said the communities need to be involved and there must be a just transition from fossil fuels. She added that a candidate needs to be honest and mentioned how she pushed for an asthma and pulmonary study about the pollution effects of the BQE.
“We have to listen to Mother Nature, we have to listen to our communities, we have to empower our communities by including them in everything we do and being honest with them and forthright about insisting on transparency, and holding those agencies accountable,” Simon said.
Rivera acknowledged how there has been controversy around the ESCR project, and said it was because it was the first project of its kind in the city and was a $1.5 billion investment. She said to not discount the opinions, expertise, fears, and contributions of the New York City Housing Authority Tenant Association, community board members, environmental justice leaders, and every local elected official in the area that supported the plan.
“The [poor] communication and the ineffective management by the mayor's office created a year's worth of no communication and a very, very divided community that just desperately wanted information and transparency,” Rivera said, in reference to the de Blasio administration. “...I am clear, I am direct, and I am uncompromising, and sometimes you have to be a little bit bold to take care of your communities, and that is the type of Congresswoman that I will be.”
Niou said it is important to address climate issues as racial, disability, and transportation justice issues as well, emphasizing that “the people who are often the most affected are often the folks who have the least amount of voice in this process.” She noted that public housing is built next to highways by design, which exposes residents to toxic air at a higher level. “We need to center the folks who have the least voice in all of these conversations,” she said.
Holtzman said it is “shocking” how revelations related to public housing have not been addressed. She added that a relationship between an elected official and community can be powerful in demanding action.
Gleason was reproached by the audience and other candidates after he said the Democrats have not supported one another and the Working Families Party (which has endorsed Niou) is not the Democratic Party, and Muoio asked him to focus on the topic of environmental justice.
“We're Democrats, we're not Working Family [sic] Party members,” Gleason said. “What has the Working Family [sic] Party ever done for workers or for anybody?”
Goldman said that environmental justice is directly tied to voting rights and representation, and said that marginalized groups have not been given a say in their own communities.
“What we need to make sure that we're doing is facilitating community engagement with marginalized communities, with the public housing communities that are disproportionately affected by environmental harm,” Goldman said. “Part of the reason that these marginalized communities bear the brunt of the environmental justice issues is because they don't have the same seat at the table.”
Francis reiterated that funding to climate justice should be measured and tracked, and said that many marginalized communities do not have access to information to make decisions for themselves.
“Allocating funds, and then measuring and tracking their effectiveness to climate change, and really understanding what climate change and climate justice means to marginalized communities — not what we think it means — but what it actually means to them.”
Rachel Cohen, Gotham Gazette