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Transcript: Elizabeth Holtzman NY-10 Max Politics Interview

Elizabeth Holtzman (photo: Holtzman campaign)

Max Politics Podcast: Elizabeth Holtzman Runs for Congress in the New NY-10

Recorded July 26, 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…] Elizabeth Holtzman, thank you very much for being here and taking the time. How are you today?

Elizabeth Holtzman: I'm fine. Thanks for having me.

Ben Max: Alright. So let's hear the broad strokes. We'll get into a lot of the details of your past and your vision for representing this district in Congress in the future, but the broad strokes in terms of what drew you to this race. Why are you running for Congress here in 2022?

Elizabeth Holtzman: I'm running for Congress because these are very dangerous times. We have a right wing out of control Supreme Court trying to take our rights away. We have a former president trying to get reelected as president through fraud and deceit. We have a MAGA Congress of Republicans threatening economic rights and climate and so forth, and enabling the out of control Supreme Court and our former president. In this time, when a new district was created, I live right in I think the geographical center of the district, I said to myself, ‘I'm not a sidelines person. This country is in danger, and I have the background, the skills, the know how, the guts to take these dangers on and try to defeat them.’ And that's what distinguishes me from my colleagues, and that's the motivation.

If we were in normal times, I wouldn't be running for Congress now. I'd be on some kind of vacation. But the fact of the matter is, I don't want to look at myself in the mirror as we go downhill towards authoritarianism and worse, and say to myself, ‘I did nothing about it.’ And the fact of the matter is what I bring to this is eight years of experience in Congress. I was chair of a subcommittee, I got many bills through.

Most importantly, I took on Nixon, and I took on the anti-democratic forces at that time. I was also Brooklyn District Attorney, the first woman in New York City ever to be elected district attorney. And I took on all kinds of issues dealing with crime and violence against women. I was comptroller of New York City, where I helped to finance affordable housing, took on issues of climate, to gun issues, to pollution. So I come with a lot of experience and know how, but most importantly, I'm a practical person, and I want to get things done. I don't want to go to Congress to issue press releases, to stand in front of press conferences. I want to get things done for the people of this district and for the country.

Ben Max: You mentioned having been in Congress during the Watergate scandal, taking on Nixon in the Judiciary Committee. Are there lessons that the country learned then that have been forgotten now in this Trump era. Obviously, two impeachment of Donald Trump where he was acquitted by the Senate both times, but trying to undermine the election results of 2020, a number of scandals, obviously, and you mentioned some of those attempts and some of those forces. Your experience during the Nixon years, are there lessons the country learned that had been forgotten that people need to be reminded of, or are we looking at very different situations here?

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, in some respects, the situations are very similar. You had presidents out of control. But we had an advantage, which was in part that the Department of Justice, actually through a special prosecutor, was moving against the president. Now we do not have that, and as you know, the Mueller investigation, when he wrote his report, was basically maligned and mischaracterized by Attorney General William Barr, who said that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, had exonerated Trump.  That was a lie. That wasn't true. And a judge said that it was misleading as well. So here we had the public being told by the Justice Department that Trump did nothing wrong, that he was exonerated in connection with the Russia matter, and then after that, there's been no investigation of him, and there's been no investigation of his conduct in connection with the insurrection.

Merrick Garland has to read history. If he can't remember it, he has to read about it. The Constitution explicitly allows for the prosecution of someone who leaves office for misconduct or criminality in office. You can’t ignore that. You can't say, ‘Oh, maybe this is not good for the country. Oh, maybe we have to have healing. Oh, maybe you have to be nice to Republicans.’ That's not what the framers said. The framers said, ‘A president does something bad, the president’s a criminal, the president is open to prosecution.’ So why are we ignoring that, aAnd why are we ignoring what the Nixon process taught us? Which is that when Nixon left office, he basically never came back. Why? Because every one of his top aides was put in jail because he himself was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. Because the criminal justice process worked against him, as well as the congressional process. The smoking gun tape came from a grand jury subpoena. Where are those subpoenas today? Merrick Garland has to wake up.

Ben Max: It'll be very interesting, obviously, to see what the Department of Justice does here, especially as we continue to watch these hearings.

Elizabeth Holtzman: All I'm saying is that the insurrection took place on January 6. Our impeachment Inquiry was basically over and the smoking gun tape was released only a few days from now in 1974, almost 50 years ago. So, where’s Merrick Garland? That's what I'm saying, By this time, where are the top aides that have been indicted? Really. I mean, finally, we get someone who's in contempt, but those people Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, were prosecuted and convicted and sent to jail for substantive crimes, not for refusing to testify. 

Ben Max: This speaks to one of the pitches you're making and the reason you said you're running here for Congress, which is unique times and your unique background, as you said just a minute ago. If it weren't the current circumstances, you'd be on vacation somewhere. Say more about what makes you unique and what your pitches to voters here in this crowded competitive primary. You have a number of accomplished colleagues running, competitors running, people who are currently in office, both in Congress, City Council, State Legislature. What sets you apart?

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, with all due respect, I mean the City Council is not the U.S. Congress, and neither is the State Legislature in Albany. So nobody aside from one candidate who is from upstate New York, and who is in his first term in Congress has any experience with the U.S. Congress. I was in Congress for eight years. I had a huge record of legislative accomplishments. So that's one thing I can bring. I would not be in this race if I didn't think I had something special to contribute, and that's what people are telling me on the streets, that's why they're supporting me, because they know my record, not just of standing up and speaking out, but of getting things done. Hust take my first term in the U.S. Congress, I brought a lawsuit to stop the Cambodia bombing. It was a landmark lawsuit and we won in the lower court and we won from Justice Douglas. President Nixon had proposed a State Secrets Act. My very first bill stopped that act from going into effect. If it had gone into effect, maybe we never would have found out about Watergate. I uncovered the presence of Nazi war criminals in the United States and started a decades-long action to bring them to justice. That's just in my first two years of Congress. So I'm just saying that there's a record of accomplishment that is really unmatched, and I'm just bringing it to the people of my district, of this district, hope to be my district, because we we need somebody who can take on this court, who's not just going to grandstand, but who actually has a record of accomplishment and knows how to get things through Congress and knows how to go outside the Congress. And so that's what I bring.

Ben Max: Say more about what that would look like, take us forward now. You're elected, let's say for the sake of this discussion you're part of a Democratic majority. That's obviously not a given and is a pretty uphill battle. But let's say you're in the majority, what does that look like? What are the ways in which you would be able to exercise that experience, that creativity? What can you tell people that would be sort of top of the agenda and the ways that you would follow through on that pitch?

Elizabeth Holtzman: OK, well, not necessarily in order, but one of the things that people are very concerned about is gun violence, and I've been concerned about it since the first time it was in Congress and as DA. Because you put a gun in someone's hand, all of a sudden, they're no longer a coward, they're a killer, and we've suffered too much with that. And it's the kind of chain that goes or tunnel or pathway that goes from the south is driving all these illegal guns into our city. We've got to do something to stop it.

One of the things I want to see, I mean, even with the Democratic majority, we may not be able to get any legislation through Congress on this issue. Of course, I would support a ban on assault weapons, large magazines, excess handguns, and also requiring gun manufacturers to become liable. In fact, the first bill that was introduced, one of the first bills in the country holding gun manufacturers liable, was one that I introduced when I was comptroller. But what I think needs to be done, aside from if you can get legislation through, great, I don't think so, but I'm going to fight like hell to get that done. But we need to start asking the federal government and state governments that buy billions of dollars in munitions from gun manufacturers to start saying the gun manufacturers, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Don't sell assault weapons. You want our business? Don't sell assault weapons,’ or if they don't manufacture assault weapons, ‘Hey, you want our business? Do not sell so many guns into the illegal channels that will get to New York City and kill people.’ That that kind of thing is actually happening in a private lawsuit. In connection with that gun slaughter that took place in Connecticut several years ago. The gun manufacturers agreed to have the gun to monitor the sales of guns. So why can't the federal government do that? We don't need legislation to make them do that. You just need someone who has that smart idea and says, ‘Let's do something about this.’ And so let's use our power, the leverage of all these purchases, to get gun manufacturers to change their behavior. That would be one of the top items on my agenda, as well as legislation in that area.

The second thing I'd want to do is deal with affordable housing because I had some experiences, comptroller in that area. We financed, when I was comptroller, tens of thousands of units of affordable housing using the city's pension funds without any risk to those funds. We could try to replicate that not only around the country, but also enhance and broaden those programs in places like New York. That's something I'd like to do because I haven't experienced doing it, and because it works. And we need to repair our existing housing stock of affordable housing, and we need to create additional affordable housing.

And the third area I'd like to work on is the environment. I mean, I'm an avid kayaker, and I know when I see the trees that are dying on the shoreline, that's a direct result of climate change because of the rising sea levels and the salt that now gets into the roots of these trees that were able to live on the shoreline 10, 12, even five years ago. So we don't have to go to Greenland and we don't have to go to the North Pole to find the consequences of these rising water levels here right in New York. So I want to take on that issue and try to get the president to take actions himself and also legislation if it's at all possible to reduce the subsidies for the fossil fuel companies to audit. This doesn't require legislation to audit whether those fossil fuel companies are paying the federal government the proper share of royalties that they owe the government. No one really audits them, it's kind of a self regulating system that never in my judgment works properly. But that's the kind of thing if we got money from those programs, if we could stop the subsidies or reduce the subsidies and get more money from the audits, we could use that money, for example, for mass transit. We can use that money for charging stations for electric cars. So there are things that we could do right now.

Ben Max: You expressed some frustration with the Department of Justice, Attorney General Merrick Garland. There's been a lot of frustration directed in that same direction, but also at Democratic leadership at the national level. President Joe Biden, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who obviously is from your neck of the woods in Brooklyn and I'm sure you know quite well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Those three, the three major Democratic leaders right now. What do you make of their leadership and how they're approaching issues like the filibuster, like using more executive powers to respond to the Supreme Court rulings on Roe and other issues? What do you make of the Democratic leadership at the national level right now? And what would your message to them be if you are in the next Congress? 

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, I need to be a little bit cautious. First of all, with regard to President Biden, we came to Congress at the same time, so I've known him and we've known each other for a very, very long time. I’ve known him probably before his wife met him. So he's a very decent person, he's a caring person, and this country owes him a debt of gratitude that can never be erased no matter what he does when he beat Donald Trump, denied Trump another term of office. He saved this country from fascism. So I'm just very indebted to Joe Biden.

Is their messaging proper? No, I think Biden has done some important things. Could he do more? Could he have gotten his act together more quickly, for example, on when the Supreme Court decision on abortion came out? They should have had a to do list ready and had all the things they were going to do. They didn't, OK, but they're gonna get it ready, and he will act appropriately about that. So I mean I'm not really frustrated. The president's got a lot on his mind. He's got a war going on in Ukraine. He's got China breathing down his neck and Taiwan, and he's got Joe Manchin saying first he's gonna help on some bills and then changing his mind. I mean, it's been tough. Plus he’s got a mess that was left to him by Trump, so I'm not going to attack him, certainly not yet. And as far as Chuck Schumer, Chuck Schumer took my seat in the House when I ran for Senate, and I think he's been trying to do a good job in the Senate. People say, ‘Well, he hasn't ended the filibuster.’ Well, you need votes, you need votes for that. And you don't even have all the votes on the Democratic side, so how are you going to do that? You can't just wave a magic wand and then all of a sudden, things happen. It doesn't happen that way. Nancy Pelosi, you have to give her an enormous amount of credit. Actually, if you go back to the Affordable Care Act that Obama proposed, if it hadn't been for her leadership and her stewardship, that legislation may have never passed the House of Representatives. We owe that to her. She's a very effective, very savvy person. Do I agree with her 100% of the time? I don't necessarily agree with myself 100% of the time. I’m not going to criticize her leadership. I think we have a lot to be thankful for.

Ben Max: There are Democrats who sort of are miffed that Biden and Schumer particularly haven't been able to sort of figure out what to give Joe Manchin to get him on board with some some version of the Build Back Better agenda, even if it's extremely slimmed down, you know, some major climate action and some other things. He's obviously shifted the goalposts numerous times it seems, and Manchin seems particularly challenging to negotiate with. But are you of that mind that you sort of are a little bit miffed as to how the president and the Senate Majority Leader haven't been able to sort of figure out what to just give Manchin to get something big done on another set of policy priorities here?

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, that may mean nothing to give Manchin. I mean, I'm sure they're trying. It's very easy to sit on the outside and poke holes in what people are doing, but you don't know all the offers that have been made. We don't know that, and I feel reluctant to criticize the president for that because I just don't know enough about what Manchin has been offered and what he's turned down. And he's been a very slippery person. It seems to me, some people might even say he's trying to get publicity every time he turns the president down, leads him on and then turns him down. So I think it's a very dicey situation.

The real problem here is that not enough Democrats turned out in the presidential election to vote for the lower ranks of candidates, and so we got, you know, a 50/50 split in the Senate and a very narrow majority in the House. And we've got to do better. Democrats who care about it. I mean, it's one thing to attack Biden, but you really want to do something about it? Elect more Democrats to office. Make contributions, even if it's $1, or two, or five, or 20. Let's get Democrats elected — That's the way you're going to give power to Schumer and to Biden and to Nancy Pelosi to get through an agenda that we really need on climate, on guns, on women's rights.

Ben Max: Let's come back to your decision to run in this race and how the race is shaping up. There's obviously some limited polling out there and some of it shows that you've got a solid start here. And with just a few weeks to go, the largest percentage in all the polls we've seen is undecided. What do you make of the lay of the land in the race and what's your thinking on your path to victory? And I mean that in terms of there's probably some solid constituency who has known you in the district for a long time and remembers your work in Congress and perhaps as Brooklyn district attorney and New York City Comptroller. And then you obviously need to grow from that. Who are the Elizabeth Holtzman voters that you're particularly trying to appeal to, and how do you see your path to victory here over the next few weeks?

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, given the expected low turnout in this district, I don't know that it'll be low turnout, but if there's a very low turnout, I might be able to win just with the people who voted for me in the past. I wouldn't discount that or minimize that, and not only that, but I'm joking a little bit. But the truth of the matter is, I have been so surprised and energized by the response I'm getting from voters on the street. People who know my record, who know what I stand for, are so enthusiastic about my candidacy. It's really great. Sometimes people even scream when they meet me, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ it's wonderful, it's a little embarrassing. So I think the first thing we have to do is to make sure that everybody in the district knows I'm running, and those people who support me know that I'm running, and we have to make sure that they vote — that's the critical thing.

Second thing is, of course, to expand that base of support to other people. People who know my record are very impressed by it. For example, I'm the only one in this race who Gloria Steinem is supporting. She's not a politician, she's not supporting me because she's going to be working with me next year in the City Council or in the State Legislature or in Congress or whatever. She's supporting me because of all of my decades of work of fighting for women's rights and never giving up. She knows me, and I'm really so honored by her endorsement. So I really think that when people know the record, they know that, for example, when I was DA, I was the only district Attorney in america, not just in New York City, in America, to call on the Supreme Court to ban racial discrimination in jury selection. Nobody would join with me in that. But we were able to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to ban that and the Supreme Court acknowledged the work of my office in a footnote in their decision banning the use of peremptory challenges on a racial basis. So I mean, that's the kind of person I was, I mean, when I was in Congress, I mentioned it earlier.

In my very first year, I found out that there were Nazi war criminals living in America and spewing out their hatred and their vitriol, not to mention making an example of their criminal conduct. So nobody wants to deal with that problem. Nobody cared. Not only did I expose a problem, I didn’t just have a press conference. I worked on the problem until there was a new law that strengthened our ability to deport these people, and also got a special unit set up in the Department of Justice. When I was New York City Comptroller on climate, the mayor, who was a Democrat, proposed building nine new polluting incinerators. I worked with all the major environmental groups in New York, we got together, I organized them together, and we took on this proposal. We put an end to the proposal and that in and of itself led to the shutdown of every single polluting incinerator, municipal incinerator, New York City. That's my record, it's right out there. If people don’t want that, don't vote for me. But if people want someone who knows how to get things done, is prepared to stand up to no matter who, and is prepared to take on bad guys. That's me.

Ben Max: I see in some other interviews you're getting a version of this question. And one of the sort of criticisms you're getting in running this race is you had this accomplished career. There's a bunch of young, dynamic, Democratic progressive candidates in the race. Why potentially block one of them if you're able to be successful?

Elizabeth Holtzman: Excuse me? Why should they block me? And why should they block, no, just turn that question right around. You can’t just say I’m blocking them. They're blocking each other. They're running against each other. I'm just bringing something different from all of them in this race. I think the voters should have a choice, and the idea that someone of my age can't do the job. Well, there's some people when I ran for DA, there was a bias about women in office. I remember going campaigning when I was running for DA for the first time in Brooklyn, first time in New York City that a woman was running, voters came to me said ‘Liz, you know we love you. Great record in Congress, and we voted for you for Congress. And so forth the Senate, blah, blah. But this is not a job for a woman.’ They thought it was too tough for a woman to be DA. Well, after I was DA, they said ‘Do you know something? Women can be a DA.’ That question never came up again, never came up in Brooklyn, and didn't really come up in New York City because that preconception went out the window.

I think as soon as people see that I've got the energy and the guts, the intellectual ability, and the physical ability to do this job, then they're not going to judge me on basis of how many years pass by chronologically, how tall I am, how much I weigh, the color of my eyes, no. They're going to try to assess, am I someone who's going to fight for them? When the chips are down, am I going to fight for them? And is anyone going to buy me off or stop me from doing that? And am I going to fight for them, not just stand up and fight for them, but fight in a way that's going to produce results? That's what people want, and I think that's how people are going to vote.

Ben Max: Just to be clear, I was not questioning your ability to do the job. It was more a question about the decision whether or not to sort of say, ‘OK, the next generation is coming up and I'll you know let the next congressperson be from the next generation’ or something along those lines. But point taken.

Elizabeth Holtzman: But maybe if we weren't in this emergency time, that point would resonate. But it's not resonating with me now because I know how close we're coming to fascism in this country. And everybody basically knows that except the MAGA Republicans, and so we can't go around with business as usual. That's not what's needed now, and I think people in this district understand tha, and that's why I'm running. And I don’t need on the job training.

Ben Max: Do you get a sense of ageism in some of the criticism you're getting?

Elizabeth Holtzman: No, not from the voters. When I go out on the streets, when people see me in the middle of that hot sun, campaigning, handing out leaflets, talking to people, walking around. She can can do the job now. 

Ben Max: What about from your competitors? 

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, none of my competitors have said that to me to my face. I don't know what they say behind my back.

Ben Max: No, no, I haven’t heard anything. I’m just not at every forum or every block party or wherever you might bump into some competitors or be on the stage with them. Alright, so say a little bit about what you've been doing since leaving elected office. I You've been involved in some appointed positions, but you've also been in some private practice. Tell folks just a few highlights of sort of that private sector work and what you've been up to in the recent decades?

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, as people may know, I'm a lawyer. I was one of the women in a very small group of women admitted to Harvard Law School when I went there. There was a quota on the admission of women when I went to Harvard Law School. Anyway, so I've been practicing law, but people just won't let me practice law quietly, so I've been asked to be on several commissions, federal panels. President Clinton appointed me to a panel dealing with secret classified U.S. records on Nazi war criminals. The U.S. government had worked with Nazi war criminals. It was a secret and ugly history, and that required declassifying documents in the possession of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. And I was one of three members on a panel overseeing that declassification effort — one of the biggest in this country's history.

Then I was asked more recently to serve on two panels dealing with sexual assault in the military. That was very interesting. We had to deal with reviewing the military code of justice. We had to review different kinds of procedures that were in the military, some of which did not protect victims properly, and they were trial procedures that were not, in some cases, adequate. So we had to review the entire way in which sexual assault victims were treated, and the process took place, and write reports on it, and make recommendations. That was a lot of work, and I was very privileged to be part of that. I hope we made a difference. And then of course here in New York, I was asked to serve on the transition committee for the Attorney General Tish James and then also for Ken Thompson who became DA in Brooklyn and sadly died not too long after he took office. So I've kept my hand in government, not so much in politics since then.

Ben Max: You could probably list 20 of these, but name one very sort of hyper local issue in the 10th congressional district that you would really pay close attention to. Obviously, listeners here and I heard you speak broadly about climate and housing and gun violence. Those are obviously broad, sweeping issues, but in terms of like a local issue of concern to one of the communities in this NY-10 district, what's something sort of top of mind that you would look to take on in Congress, whether it's securing more funding for something or it's changing regulation, or whatever it might be sort of a hyperlocal neighborhood community issue that's top of the agenda for you?

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, not hyperlocal, but pretty local is the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, which it's a toxic site. It's one of the most polluted areas in the country, and that pollution is something that doesn't stay right in the canal. It affects the surrounding neighborhoods. There's a lot of development going on in connection with that, and there's a cleanup of the canal. There's some environmentalists and local activists who were concerned about that. I want to understand the issues in depth. I want to deal with, if a cleanup is not proper, you can be sure I'm going to fight tooth and nail. I mean, that's one of the reasons that we fought that incinerator plan. We actually went out, my office actually went out, and tested the burn temperatures of the existing incinerators and we saw that the burn temperatures were too low to burn off dioxin, which meant that dioxin was being released right into our own communities in New York City. Wll, we publicized that, and we got that plant shut down,and we got those incinerators shut down. And that's the kind of thing I'm going to do. I'm going to find out the facts. I'm going to meet with the community. And I'm going to try to make sure that whatever cleanup that takes place there is thorough and proper and broadly acceptable scientifically and environmentally.

Ben Max: You're listening to Max Politics here with Ben Max. We're in our last few minutes with Elizabeth Holtzman who's running for Congress in the new 10th congressional district in New York, which includes a large section of Lower Manhattan and a swath of Brooklyn, including neighborhoods in downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus, Park Slope, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Borough Park, and more. Just a few last questions here. A couple of sort of short answer questions I'm asking all the NY-10 candidates that I'm talking with are these following a few. Do you think it's time for the Rikers Island jail complex to be under a federal receivership? There's a monitor, there's some debate with the Adams administration about how much time they should have to enact their reform plans and whether there will be a federal takeover of the jails. Do you think it's time for that, or do you think more time for the Adams administration to turn things around is warranted?

Elizabeth Holtzman: I think it's long past time for the federal government to have taken over Rikers Island. I'm sure that the mayor is doing this in all good faith, even though the Corrections Department and they're committed to do the right thing, someone after the court denied a federal takeover, someone else died. I mean, that's unacceptable. We cannot have people dying because corrections officers or this system in the jails is not adequate to provide proper medical care. We cannot have that happen. That's unacceptable, and it's been going on too long. So as far as I'm concerned, something's wrong with what happened with the monitor. The monitor should have been out there screaming and yelling. I don't know why the federal government wasn't more insistent. Maybe they should have thought about appealing the order of the judge, but I think it's an emergency situation when people are dying, and unnecessarily so. And I don't know what the city government is doing about it. Maybe they ought to be taking some more action with the City Council and state government, where were they in all of this? So I really just think that the action should have been taken before, and it's too late. I mean, it's not too late. It's delayed. It should have been done, and it still can be done and should.

Ben Max: The New York City Housing Authority, public housing, obviously, there's a federal monitor there as well. There's tens of billions of dollars that have been part of different drafts of the Build Back Better plan that we were discussing earlier. There's a lot of hope that somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 to $40 billion would be heading to NYCHA from the federal government for much needed capital repairs. But short of that type of immense funding, is there a NYCHA revenue-generating strategy that you support? There's a variety of methods that are either partly underway right now or that have been long debated. Is there anything to bring revenue in for NYCHA repairs that you're particularly supportive of that isn't just the federal government sending an immense amount of aid?

Elizabeth Holtzman: Well, I mean, I have to study the various proposals further. I think they should be reviewed. But I think one of the things that has to also be examined very carefully is how the money that they're already getting is being spent and how those repairs are being done right now. I mean there is maintenance going on right now, but it's apparently quite horrible and totally inadequate. So a lot has to be done with regard to public housing.

Years ago, public housing was a gem, not just for New York City, but for the country, providing safe, clean, affordable housing to people in need in New York, and that's what it has to be and it's been neglected for too long. It's going to be something that I will pay attention to, and if I can be helpful, you bet I will be. I think we can look for new sources of money, that's important, but we also have to make sure that the monies that we're spending are being spent properly. I mean, what I mentioned to you before about auditing oil company royalty payments. Right now, we're subsidizing the oil industry in many ways, and one of the ways that we may be subsidizing them is they pay a certain royalty on the gas and oil they withdraw from federal lands, but nobody's auditing them. So how do we know that they're telling us the truth? I mean there could be billions involved there. We can't just let money go without checking and that's the kind of thing I think we need to be doing because you've got that money, you could then use it for mass transit, you can use it maybe for non-climate cleanups things, such as housing.We need the money and we can use it, we can put it to very good news. But we got to make sure also that the money is used properly when it gets to the object.

Ben Max: I mentioned in the introduction that former Mayor de Blasio dropped out of this race recently. You've seen a lot obviously in your time and in your government tenure and since. What do you make of what happened to his prospects and his political standing? This was obviously someone ushered into office as a progressive response to the Bloomberg years. He had eight years as mayor, which until the covid crisis, he had many advantages in a robust economy and low crime. And now he enters this congressional race and drops out after receiving so little support in an area that includes his original political home base in Park Slope. Any sort of takeaways that you have of that arc for him and what sort of went so wrong for him?

Elizabeth Holtzman: I don't really want to comment about Mr. de Blasio. I like to talk more about questions about what can be done in the district and what needs to be addressed. I mean one of the other issues that has come up has to do with this new park that's going to be created on the Lower East Side that apparently is designed to be very resilient. In the process, 500 trees were cut down. I mean to me, cutting down trees, why are we doing that?

Ben Max: I think most, if not all, were being moved as part of the construction process. 

Elizabeth Holtzman: No, no, no, no, no. You can’t replace old trees with new trees. Read a book called “The Hidden Life of Trees” and that'll tell you that it's not a substitute. And I just remember when I was a congresswoman and the Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, wanted to give us money to repair Ocean Parkway, which is a beautiful street design by one of the great designers in our country's history. He designed Central Park and Prospect Park. They said, ‘Oh, well, we're going to put up jersey barriers and we're going to cut down the trees. And guess what? I said, ‘You're going to do the highway and you're going to repave Ocean Parkway and make it a beautiful street, but you're not cutting down one tree.’ And that's what happened. So if you put your foot down about cutting down trees, you can succeed.

Ben Max: Your understanding is that a major resiliency project there could have been done without cutting down trees.

Elizabeth Holtzman: I don't know that it could have been. All I know is that if I were a congressperson, and somebody came to me with a project that involved cutting down 500 trees, I'd look at it not once and twice. I'd look at it 100 times before I went ahead with something like that. And I'll tell you something, if you tell people they can't cut down the trees, they can always figure out another way to do it.

Ben Max: Alright, well, we will leave it there. Interesting thoughts from Elizabeth Holtzman, my guest today. Thank you for taking the time. Elizabeth Holzman is of course a former member of Congress, former Brooklyn District Attorney, former New York City Comptroller and now a candidate for Congress again in the new 10th congressional district of New York spanning parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Thank you for the time and be well.

Elizabeth Holtzman: Thank you very much.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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