Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Transcript: Yuh-Line Niou NY-10 Max Politics Interview

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Max Politics Podcast: Yuh-Line Niou Runs for Congress in the New NY-10

Recorded July 19, 2022

Listen to the audio here, or at Max Politics wherever you get podcasts.

Democratic primary day: August 23, 2022

District: Lower Manhattan & parts of Brooklyn (see map here)


Ben Max: [Longer intro...] Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, thanks for being here and taking the time. How are you today?

Yuh-Line Niou: Thank you so much for having me. It's always good to be on your show.

Ben Max: Thanks for joining me, good. So, we're speaking here, as I said, just after former Mayor de Blasio announced he's dropping out of this race. This is not where I expected to start with you, but why don't you share your reaction to the news of the former mayor dropping out of this primary?

Yuh-Line Niou: I think that it’s democracy, and everybody should be able to run, and I just wanted to say, I guess, for the last 20 years plus, I believe that he has been a public servant. I know that being in public service myself, it's not easy, and it's a really, really difficult choice to make for what you want to do with your life to make sure that you're serving people and serving your constituency. So I wish him well, and I think that I appreciate that he was willing to put over 20 plus years of his life into service.

Ben Max: Any sense of what you think sort of did him in with the voters of this district in particular. This is a district home to his original political base, which seemed to have sort of left him or he left it sometime during his mayoralty. A lot of sort of disillusioned progressive Brooklyn voters who elected him to the city council, helped elect him public advocate, mayor. What do you think, and you are now something of a progressive standard bearer in New York, you have the endorsement of the Working Families Party, which Bill de Blasio helped to start, what do you think did the mayor in, in terms of his relationships with the sort of progressive base of at least Brooklyn where he came through?

Yuh-Line Niou: I'm not actually sure what would have been any kind of trigger or anything like that, but I definitely think that it's really important to hear your constituents, hear them out, and be willing to listen, and I think that there's a lot of issues that people might not 100% agree on, or even vehemently disagree on. But I think that what is really important is to make sure that we actually have the ability to be able to have somebody who's listening, who's always willing to sit down, actually have the time, make the time. It doesn't matter where they are talking to you from, but to meet them where they are, meet all of your constituents where they are, and to be willing to listen to all the issues and understand why somebody thinks the way they do, even if they disagree with you. And I think that it's really important to take that time, and I think that over time, people as they are in different positions might have a harder time reaching people, and maybe that could be a frustration. I know that as an assembly member, I definitely have always tried to make that time, but I know that there are moments when people are frustrated with me even when we used to be able to talk all the time, and sometimes it makes it so it's harder for us to be able to reach each other. It doesn't mean I don't care, and it doesn't mean that I don't regard everybody's thoughts, but I could understand how sometimes it's harder.

Ben Max: All right, we can talk with others and maybe the former mayor himself about all that another time. But let's get into your candidacy here for the new 10th congressional district of New York, which as I said in the introduction, includes a big chunk of Lower Manhattan — part of what you represent now in the assembly — and a big swath of Brooklyn. So why are you in this race? Broad strokes, we'll get into a bunch of specifics. But what drew you to this race? Why are you running here for Congress?

Yuh-Line Niou: I mean, obviously, our entire country right now is in crisis. I really am seeing that a lot of people are very scared. We have a lot of people who are getting killed every single day. When it comes to mass shootings, our country has experienced more mass shootings than there are days of the year. I mean, even during July 4, we've seen two mass shootings, where children lost their parents. One little boy lost both of his parents and one girl lost her mom. And people are losing their rights. We saw in Buffalo, how horrifying it was, and people are really suffering. And we have lost our bodily autonomy. I think that right now, we really need to continue to fight for our rights as people. I've already represented part of this district in the state assembly for the past six years, and I think I've represented it really well. 100% of my Assembly district, as you had mentioned earlier, is inside of this NY-10 district, and I really want to continue to represent my neighbors, my community, because I think that right now, our country is in this moment of apathy, right, where a lot of times, it's just like these horrible things are happening to us and we feel like we can't do anything to change it. But as a young person who's just started working in public service when I was in, I guess, in college, I really realized that there are a lot of times when people make it seem like there's some big secret to accessing government, but it's really just that there are powerful people that are in government right now, that don't want us to realize that we actually have the power to make the changes that we want to see. And so I know that it's important for us to run because we are then showing that when we mobilize and come together, we can make government work for us.

Ben Max: Who in the district are you most focused on sort of trying to make sure that their voices are heard? Like many congressional districts, there's a lot of different communities and a lot of different neighborhoods in this new NY-10. A big chunk of the voting population is white, but there's two Chinatowns in the district, including the one you represent currently in Manhattan. There's two large, more than two large Latino neighborhoods. It's a diverse district, there’s an Orthodox Jewish part of Borough Park. How are you thinking about sort of being a voice for the residents of this district, and not all of those residents are voters in the Democratic primary, but who are you looking to sort of really hear out and represent and appeal to in this district?

Yuh-Line Niou: Of course, there’s the vote, but then also the fact that when you're representing any district, when you're representing in any seat, you have to represent everybody who's inside that district, and you have to also be willing to hear everybody out. And again, I think it's really about being a good listener and being somebody who's willing to go and meet people where they're at. And for me, I tend to look at making sure that things are accessible for all, and you and I have talked about this at length before, but I think that it's so important for us to be able to have the lens of looking through all legislation and all representation as ‘Is this going to help with social justice? Is this going to make it so that we have ecological and environmental justice? And is this going to make it so that we're looking at things with disabilities centered in our conversation? Or is this making it so that we are actually looking at economic justice?’ We have to ask those questions. Let's close the racial wealth gap — does this make it so that we are making it so that things are more just for every single person, right. And I think that when we are looking at all of these pieces, I think that we have to be fighting for those who are the most vulnerable in our communities, because when we do that, we are then uplifting everyone. When we build a ramp, everybody walks over it or goes over it and uses it, and whenever we are talking about language accessibility, we're making it so that everybody can have access to services, right. So everything needs to make sure that we have to speak to the most vulnerable at all times, and I think that that's really kind of where I'm coming from when it comes from legislation and representation.

Ben Max: In your original answer and while you're running, you got at some of the big issues that a lot of Democrats especially are focused on right now. But are there specific policies that you would most champion in Congress? There is a lot of agreement, and in many Democratic primaries, especially in New York City on a lot of the big stuff: protecting abortion rights, advancing more gun control, some of the things you refer to. But what would be top priorities for you if you were elected in terms of policies and areas to focus on?

Yuh-Line Niou: Yeah, so one of the things that I would definitely be focusing on, which I think a couple of other legislators have already looked at, which is making sure that we are looking at social infrastructure spending. I think that really passing the Green New Deal, taking our fight for working people in Albany to the halls of Congress. We can really build an economy that really works for regular New Yorkers. One of the biggest things that I speak on all the time is trying to fully fund our public housing. When we are in Albany, I will say that I pushed and pushed and pushed to make sure that our state took some responsibility for our public housing. And when I was elected, I wrote a letter to Carl [Heastie, the Assembly Speaker], making sure that every single one of our elected officials who represent public housing in their districts was on that letter, and we were able to finally get $100 million for the very first time for capital dollars to spend from Albany. And we continued to fight every single year and we got more and more dollars until now, we have put over a billion dollars into public housing. But every single time I fought for public housing on the state level, people told me this is a federal issue, and this is why we don't need to fund it, and this is why we can't fund it, etc., etc., etc.

They gave me a ton of different excuses, but the biggest the biggest thing that I think that we need to do is make sure that we are fully funding our public housing because we have divested, our federal government has divested for decades, from our public housing, and it's really, really important that we are making sure that we are funding all of our capital needs. It means passing the Green New Deal to direct federal funds to protect our public housing. They have a whole Green New Public Housing Deal inside of it. And they also have a Green New Public Schools inside. This is Jamaal Bowman’s bill inside of this package, and this is something that would be so helpful to all of our schools right now, because as we know, some of our schools have aged infrastructure. And also, we haven't talked a lot about the ventilation, the way that it's been so important for us to have that ventilation for so many of our students because of COVID. These are different ways that we can really bridge that gap. And I also think, obviously, we have to really deal with some of the climate change issues that really plague Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and shore up the defenses of our small businesses while creating strong union jobs in the process. This is really, really good stuff inside of the Green New Deal. And it also means doing in Congress what I did in Albany, which is winning our community a larger share of government support for that true affordable housing, to ensure people who live and work in us can keep their head above water. And obviously, if we work together, we can make an economy that works for all New Yorkers.

Ben Max: In a democratic supermajority in the State Assembly, you've been one of the voices on the left sort of really trying to push the conversation in that more leftward progressive direction, voting no on a number of budget bills, really trying to say ‘This is not enough, we should be increasing taxes on the wealthy further,’ and investing even more money in services and programs and public housing and so forth. Would you see yourself playing a similar role in Congress, given the current landscape? And again, for the sake of a lot of this discussion, we can sort of assess the current congressional landscape. There's a chance obviously that Democrats lose the house majority in the coming elections. But in terms of that role and that sort of progressive left voice, how would you see yourself in the House?

Yuh-Line Niou: Yeah, I mean, I think that there's obviously a need for political courage right now, more than ever, in our Congress. And we have a majority in the Senate, we have a majority in the House, and so obviously, we also have a Democratic president. And I think that it's really about making sure that we are people who have that political courage in order to fight for the things that we desperately need because we don't need to save seats — what we need to do is save our people. And so I always think that it's really important that we vote for somebody who's willing to stand in front of our people and make sure that they take the hits. I think that one of the biggest things for me is that I know that progressives are going to fight like hell to keep the House majority. We always have, we always will, but if there's a risk of losing it, we still have an important role to play. And one, even in the minority, we can be a roadblock to conservative overreach. Two, we can be a voice of moral authority in the face of attacks on our rights or giveaways to the wealthy. And three, we can develop policy and legislation that will improve people's lives when we take the majority, which we will.

And I have worked across the aisle in Albany, obviously, to get legislation passed, but I think it's important to be honest about what bipartisanship means when we're talking about the congressional level, and when we have sitting Congress people who actually voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results, and electeds who actively planned, promoted, and participated in a violent attack against our democracy. And if people in our government are actively working against our democracy, I'm not really sure what achieving a bipartisanship even looks like when bipartisanship is obviously only possible when the party across the aisle isn't actively working to undo our democracy or violently harm their colleagues in a fascist coup. And I'm happy to obviously work with anyone who can pass that litmus test.

Ben Max: Some of what you're saying about courage and about having the majorities and about having a Democratic president. What do you make of federal leadership, Democratic leadership? Senate Majority Leader Schumer, who obviously is from Brooklyn, Speaker Pelosi, President Biden. Is part of your campaign here for Congress about the need for generational change, is it about the need for some sort of critique those leaders, that they haven't really adapted or adjusted to the modern Republican Party that they're really dealing with? And in some ways, obviously, Schumer and Pelosi have recognized that, and in some ways, Biden seems to have come around to recognize that, even though he sort of ran on the idea that he could get Republicans to return to more bipartisanship. They've had a couple of bipartisan accomplishments on infrastructure and the recent gun legislation, but it's part of your pitch here about the need for generational change in Congress. Are you someone who would definitely be seeking a different speaker of the house than Nancy Pelosi if you were in the House majority?

Yuh-Line Niou: So for me, I think that I'm somebody who's always spoken truth to power. Iit didn't matter if it was against my own leadership or the governor, right, and I think that I've been very honest about everything that I've seen. I spoke up against Cuomo, I did, I spoke up when I felt like the austerity budget was going to kill us. And I felt like we lost a lot of lives because instead of passing a budget that would be something that was going to make us healthy, happy, and whole again, we were cutting and slashing health care funds and social services, and education dollars in the beginning of a worldwide global pandemic, right. We were doing that, and we should have been investing in our communities. I feel like that goes to show that I want to be able to, no matter what, be accountable to my constituents and the people who chose to have me represent them, and I think that that's the most important thing. Even if it means speaking up when it's uncomfortable, even when it means speaking out when people want you to toe the status quo line, and I think that it's important for us to have somebody who's willing to do that.

Ben Max: Let me throw a couple of the some of the common criticisms of you and see what your responses are on these two things. One is, one way to frame some of this, as you said, is sort of having courage and speaking out and speaking truth to power. But some people say, ‘Well, you're always you're always sort of saying no to everything,’ that you're always saying ‘This is not enough,’ and vote no uncertain budget deals, oppose specific projects in the district. What's your response to that critique that you're sort of never willing to sort of get to yes and make more compromise, and not never obviously, that's sort of a overstatement, but that you're sort of too hesitant to come along and get to some compromises and almost always opposed to things.

Yuh-Line Niou: I am very rarely opposed to things. I think that's why the things that are shining out are really the times when I do say no, and I think that I do say no to things that need to be said no to. I think that a lot of times when you're seeing a budget like that, and you're seeing that there's education cuts that are making it so that students, when you know, kids are not going to be able to go to school in person and they're going to struggle. You can't skim, you have to make sure that you're speaking out when you know that it's a healthcare crisis and you see that the governor is taking away healthcare dollars and underfunding, like you need to say no. And if you are seeing that, you know that in the future, that social services are going to prevent worse deaths or prevent harm to people, that you have to say no. I think that there are moments when that is the courageous thing to do. And I think that if somebody's paying attention, then they would say no to, but I think a lot of times things are happening and people aren't paying attention. And I think that because I pay attention and I read everything, and I try to be really thorough, and I try to raise the question, and if those questions are not answered, then I can't be OK with this until I have my questions answered for these particular issues. And I think that every single time when I have had the courage to go out and fight for folks, I'm just really trying to shine a light on some of the places where people are not given the ability to shine the light on the normal darkness and opaqueness of government. And I would say that it's really about accessibility, trying to talk to my constituents first about what is happening, and then I think that because of my speeches on things, because of my clarity on the reason behind something, people are actually more involved and have more say in the process. And I think that that's always something that's good in government.

Ben Max: How do you think about this district, this congressional district, and it obviously expands quite a bit into Brooklyn and other parts of Manhattan than you currently represent. But about bringing more housing into the district, and the debate over what it means to sort of be progressive on housing issues. You hear from some people, for example the chair of the City Council housing committee, Pierina Ana Sanchez, who is talking about the need for more housing everywhere and of all types. But then there's a pretty strong sort of left-leaning group of people on many issues who are very often opposed to a lot of new housing development, and largely because they say it's not affordable enough. How are you thinking about that with respect to this larger 10th congressional district and the importance of housing development broadly and affordable housing within that conversation?

Yuh-Line Niou: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the biggest things is I am very much in, I think in a lot of ways, in both those cans. We do need to build a lot more housing, and we need to make sure that it is deeply affordable, permanently affordable, and also something that people can afford, because I have seen all over my district, a lot of luxury housing that people can't afford. And I think that it's really important for us to be able to be sure to build affordable housing and make sure that people have those programs. And I will say that we have a lot of housing developments that go on in lower Manhattan. Density is obviously not an issue with me, and I think that it's something that is important. It lowers the carbon footprint, it helps to make sure that we have a lot more people being able to come and go easier. We also have the very, very important thing of having more units on the market, right.

Obviously in Lower Manhattan, we have buildings that are even on top of buildings. But what I do think is really important is people don't realize how many developments are going on that people don't really have any say over. But I do think that it's really important that if we do on the city level have any kind of public space or kind of public housing or anything like that that is built there, then we have to make sure that people can actually afford it. And I think that we have to make sure that things are deeply affordable, permanently affordable, and if something's taken away from somebody for public good, then we have to make sure that we replace it with another public good, right. And I think that it's really important for us to be able to be vocal when the community has any pushback, because we represent our people and we have to make sure that we're representing what the people want out of all of these different developments, and I think that that's the most important thing. I think that it's really about making sure that we have a neighborhood that works for everyone.

Ben Max: As I mentioned earlier, there's a couple of pretty large majority Asian communities in this new 10th congressional district. One of them is Manhattan's Chinatown, which is currently in your assembly district. By no means making a plurality or a majority of voters in this new district, but the new district does combine those two significant heavily Asian communities. How are you thinking about representation and Asian representation in Congress as part of this run? And forgive me, but as part of this question, we've seen some movement of Asian American voters towards the Republican Party in New York City and elsewhere. How are you thinking about that and what's at the root of that? And as a progressive, how are you thinking about sort of winning over some of those voters who might be disaffected from the Democratic Party who are registered Democrats most likely?

Yuh-Line Niou: So first and foremost, that's several questions and I will try to take it. I love them, really important questions. So first and foremost, this district actually designated by this special master included both Chinatowns on purpose, both the Brooklyn-side Chinatown on Bat Dai Do [8th Avenue] is what we call it, and also in Chinatown here in Lower Manhattan, which we call it Táng Rén Jiē. And so we have both of our Chinatowns voting together for the first time and an open primary, and it's really important because if we have this opportunity to be able to have Asian American representation, that's really what this district was kind of slated for by the special master. But if we don't actually win this seat, then for 10, 20, 30, maybe years, we might not be able to have another opportunity to be able to have another Asian American representative from New York on the congressional level. And here in New York, we obviously have one Asian American on the congressional level — Grace Meng, she's amazing. But we also have not had another American representative ever, so I think that it's really important that we do have that representation because nationwide, Asian Americans make up over 7% of the country's population, and yet we have less than 1% of representation here in Congress. And so I think that it's really important for us to be able to have more Asian American representation because as we know, it's important to be able to have diverse lenses in order to make better policy.

And so during this time especially, we saw such an increase in anti-Asian hate, antisemitism, we have seen Islamophobia in a way that we can't even describe. There's so much hatred going on throughout our country that it's really important that people recognize that a lot of times when we're seeing this kind of hatred, this kind of fear throughout, the purpose of that kind of terrorism, that kind of hatred, is to make us afraid and to make us not show up for things, not run for things, just to hide, I guess. And I think that's why it's so much more important that we have visibility and that we have somebody who's running that looks like us and helps us to be able to break some of the stereotypes and break some of the hatred and the perpetual foreigner syndrome that our country buys into, right. And I think that it's really important for us to be able to have those conversations as well.

I will say that I am not surprised by folks being disillusioned with the Democratic Party when it comes to our Asian American communities because I will say that during this pandemic and for many, many years before it, we have not had the representation to really be able to speak for our communities in a way that matters. Until I was elected in our New York State Legislature, we didn't even have line items for our community organizations, for our Asian American community organizations in our budget. We had no set aside funding for our Asian American groups as a whole, and I felt like that was something that needed to change and we were able to bring, for the first time, when it was very apparent to me when we were talking about legal services for our immigrant communities, and there was funding for everybody except for the Asian American groups, I was shocked. And it was called the Liberty Defense Fund, you can look it up, it was put together by the IDC actually, and I was shocked that Asian Americans were not included in that funding. And so I fought to make sure that we had some dollars. And Carl [Heastie, the Assembly Speaker] actually, to his credit, gave us 300,000, and said that was a start and that I could fight for more later. So then I fought for more later, we got another 600k. And then we were finally able to get last year, $10 million to our Asian American organizations for the first time ever in the history of the nation, probably. And then in California, they actually copied us and were able to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to our Asian American communities.

And then this year, we were able to double what we were able to give for Asian American communities and anti-hate work to 20 million. So it was really incredible to be able to see and I was able to triple the dollars that our yeshivas got for protections like against hate crimes, so some of the dollars for cameras, etc. These kinds of dollars are really important so that we can stop the hatred that we are seeing, and so that's why from my end, I'm not surprised by the Asian American population getting a little bit more disillusioned with how little we've protected them. The anti-Asian hate is really, really scary and frightening, and I think that it's really important for us to be able to provide the resources in order to combat it.

Ben Max: I kind of want to try to get to a few more things in our last five or so minutes here. Just quickly, one more on that. There seems to be, and again, it's hard to quantify exactly, but there seems to be some gap between some portion of Asian American communities and the progressive vision around divesting from police funding to go to some other community programs. And again, maybe if you're saying some of this work you've done to target some new funding into programs that actually benefit in Asian American communities, then people might see some of that differently, but there seems to be a bit of a gap, again not in totality, but some portion of Asian American communities here in New York City around that progressive push. How do you sort of try to bridge that gap, because you have been much more firmly in the camp of ‘Let's move funding away from law enforcement into more community programs?’”

Yuh-Line Niou: Yeah, I think that it's about educating everyone on why it's so important that we have funding for the programs that are really important in helping with ending poverty, creating community safety, like real community safety, and we have to talk about safety as something that's important to all of us in this in the real community safety sense. Because when we're talking about changing what safety, in that conversation around safety, to really talk about what actually keeps us safe. It’s not having somebody respond to you after something horrible has happened. It's about making sure that we're preventing these horrible things from happening and it's supposed to be, ‘Hey, if you have somebody checking in on you,’ if we have a lot of people making sure that there are services for folks who need them, and then if we have services for folks who are also wanting to make sure that they can have mental health services or the ability to be able to talk about what's happening inside the community. It will help us to be able to have more of an ability to fight back in the sense of really just prevention, right. And I think that the more education that we have, the more representation that we have, the more diversity that we have in our representation, the more that we will actually be able to cover the things that cause it so that people don't get services.

One of the biggest things is language access. Right now, our government and our law enforcement, we don't have people who are speaking our languages actually helping us on the ground, right. And I think it's really hard when you have like an app or something telling you something, or you don't hear somebody talking to you because you don't understand that they're speaking to you. And I think that it's really important that we are talking about how we can get more of those services. Majority of the cases that we get in our office are really like somebody just needing some translation help to get the services that they already qualify for, right. And so I think that it's really important to help us to be able to get those kinds of services going and then making sure that our government is actually able to get us to things that we need. That biggest thing, again, being funding towards our community organizations in order to be able to provide them.

Ben Max: Alright, thank you. So let's try to get a little clarity on something that blew up related to you in the news recently. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that's focused on Israel, the disapproval of actions by the Israeli government and other issues. You told Jewish Insider that you believe in the right to protest as a fundamental tenet of Western democracy, so I do support BDS. Then I saw a tweet from a Jewish community leader, Alexander Rapaport, who said that you told him and others in the community that you are against BDS. Can you clarify your stance on this, and just try to sort of give us where you stand on this issue?

Yuh-Line Niou: So first and foremost, that tweet. I think that it was maybe made in joking, I don't know. But that was not, yeah, I did not say enough things. I will say that I am adamantly committed to the safety, security, and well being of all Jewish people, whether they live in my district in New York, in the United States, in Israel, or anywhere else in the world. I have dedicated my personal and public life to fighting for all targeted communities impacted by bigotry, by white supremacy, and nationalism, and that has and will always include my Jewish neighbors. And when it comes to Israel and Palestine, I support the BDS movement’s right to political speech. I was very, very clear about that, including boycotts and economic pressure. I also share the movement's commitment to human rights. I think that that's for everyone in the region. I know that boycotts are tried to and respected and constitutionally protected, non-violent tactic for human rights and social justice movements, and I think that it's really important that we be able to continue to be able to utilize that tool, right. And so from the movement against like South African apartheid to my own mentors’ biggest causes was the great boycott in solidarity with the United Farm Workers to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts to fight segregation. I think that it's really important that we are able to have that political speech, whether it's towards our government or our government’s relationships with other governments.

Ben Max: And in giving full-throated support for the right to do these things, do you also consider yourself a supporter of that BDS movement?

Yuh-Line Niou: I mean, I personally, myself, , I think that it's really important for us to know, I believe our tax dollars should never be used to violate human rights, which is why I also support legislation that would prevent federal funds from going to the persecution of Palestinians or to the construction of settlements. And I think that the only way that we have a voice in this is the direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are going. We have to make sure that they are the ones who are actually, since they're closest to their own pain, obviously, that there are many things that they can do, and I think that they have to be the ones to make that decision. This issue is one that's personal to me. Some of you may know the story of Rachel Corrie. She was a young activist who was killed by an armored bulldozer while protesting for Palestinian rights. She was my classmate and she was my friend, and she was part of a movement and that movement obviously deserves the right to be heard. And so here's the bottom line, I'll just say it out loud that I will be a strong voice in Congress against occupation and in support of equality, justice, and a thriving future for all Israelis and Palestinians. So I think that the only way we get there is through direct negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.

Ben Max: OK, thank you. Last few things and these are things I'm asking all the candidates in NY-10, and they’re sort of a quick, final little lightning round of quick answers. You don't have to give a whole explanation here and I want to let you go on time. Do you think it's time, and again, you're up to get into a rationale, but do you think it's time for a full federal receivership of the Rikers Island jails? There's a monitor in place and there's questions around whether there should be a receivership. Do you think it's time for that? Yes or no?

Yuh-Line Niou: I think that it’s time to close Rikers. I think that we don't need to even, I mean…

Ben Max: There’s going to be some time between now and the closure, though. So the question is the Adams administration has asked for more time, presented a plan. Obviously, the new mayor's only been in office six or seven months, and they got a little more time. But do you think it's time for the federal government to play an even more active role here?

Yuh-Line Niou: I think so. I mean, in the sense that we have more and more people dying, every single day, we have something horrible coming out of Rikers. We've had, I believe, 11 people have died since the beginning of this year, I believe, in Rikers, and that is not something that should continue. We need to do something about Rikers and I believe that Rikers needs to close. We cannot keep on kicking the ball down the road or the can down the road, I think that's the terminology for it. But we can' keep on waiting. Rikers Island is a human rights atrocity.

Ben Max: And I mentioned earlier, Representative Jones has moved into the district just a few weeks ago. Do you take any issue with that, or do you, again, do you think it's a little bit different, it’s a democracy and he didn't even have to move into the district to run. But do you take any issue with that, given that a lot of the other candidates in the race are people who have had a long-standing commitment to the district?

Yuh-Line Niou: I mean I think that again, it's a democracy, everyone can run, but I think that our constituents probably would like somebody who knows their issues and cares about the things that they've gone through, knows where the bathrooms are in their apartment layout. I think that it's really important for us to be able to have a representative who is speaking for all of us and is willing to make sure that we have somebody who wants to continue to get to know and listen to our constituents. And I think that when we have neighbors that we already know and already know the issues that they care about, it makes a big difference in how we represent them.

Ben Max: And lastly in this little round here, other than tens of billions of dollars for NYCHA, which obviously you've made clear you would fight for at the federal level and there's lots of potential NYCHA money in Build Back Better, which has stalled in Washington, obviously. You and others in the race would obviously fight for that. Other than tens of billions of federal dollars going to help NYCHA with its huge need of capital repairs, is there one NYCHA revenue raising strategy that you support? Is there anything other than major amounts of federal aid, state aid as you've talked about fighting for and securing, but is there any other NYCHA-related strategy to raise revenue that you support?

Yuh-Line Niou: Yeah, so actually, Nydia Velázquez has a standalone bill to fully fund public housing, it's also a very good bill, the Green New Housing Deal is also one way of being able to also fully fund our public housing, and then of course, there is the addition to the Build Back Better plan, also fully funding our public housing. And I think that we need a lot of different bills to take the chance of being able to fully fund our public housing, but I think that the most important thing is that we find more and more mechanisms in order to be able to get those dollars to our state and to our public housing residents who are seeing that their homes are making them sick — no hot water, no heat, mold, lead, paint. It's really, really devastating every single time. I know that whenever it gets hot, I'm going to get calls to try to figure out how they can cool their apartments. Whenever it gets cold, I already know that they're going to have hot water and heating issues. And every single time that it happens, it's been devastating. So we've had we've seen fires happen when seniors who have Alzheimer's or something who will turn on and open their stoves for heat and forget that they had them turned on or open. I think that it's really important that we are preventing those kinds of accidents.

Ben Max: Alright, Yuh-Line Niou. Democratic candidate in the new 10th congressional district of New York, including parts of Lower Manhattan and a big swath of Brooklyn. Why don't you take a closing moment here, a closing minute, anything we haven't touched on or any message to the NY-10 voters who are listening that you want to leave them with after listening to this conversation. Go ahead and take a minute, and then we'll say goodbye.

Yuh-Line Niou: I just want to say thank you so much Ben for having the opportunity to be able to talk to you and be able to deep dive into so many of these issues. I think that it's really important that we are very much having these discussions in order for people to see who they want to be able to support for the new NY-10. Again, I think that right now we need to have that political courage and we have to make sure that we have somebody who's willing to fight for us, fight for us continuously, and make sure that we are standing up in this moment where our government is needing that voice more than ever. And so I hope that you'll all vote for me. You can go to in order to make sure to look up and find out and hear more about all of the things that are happening in our race. Again, that's Thank you so much.

Ben Max: All right. Yuh-Line Niou represents the 65th assembly district in the New York State Assembly that includes parts of Lower Manhattan that are part of the new 10th congressional district where she's a candidate in the Democratic primary coming up in August. Primary day is August 23. Get that on your calendar, whether you're in the 10th district or not. And if you're an eligible Democratic voter, you can still register to vote in these races. The state senate and U.S. House primaries coming up in August, and then of course, the general election in the fall that will also include the winners of the assembly and statewide primaries that happened in June. It's another busy election year here in New York. Yuh-Line Niou, thank you very much for the time, appreciate it, and be well.

Yuh-Line Niou: Thank you so much. Bye Ben.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: New York Voters Approve $4.2 Billion Environmental Bond Act
New York Voters Approve $4.2 Billion Environmental Bond Act
Gotham Gazette: 
New York City Voters Approve Racial Justice Ballot Measures
New York City Voters Approve Racial Justice Ballot Measures
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast: A Winning Formula for Democrats in Tough New York Races
Max Politics Podcast: A Winning Formula for Democrats in Tough New York Races
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast Max Politics Podcast