Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



Decision NYC: Guiddalia Emilien Discusses Her Run for Mayor

guiddalia emilien free

Guiddalia Emilien (photo: Guiddalia for Mayor)

Guiddalia Emilien, a Democrat running for Mayor in the 2021 election, joined MNN's "Decision NYC with Ben Max" for an in-depth discussion of her candidacy for the city's top job. This interview is part of a series produced by Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Watch:

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Appear at 'Follow Black Women' Forum

Black women lead

Activists (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Seven Democratic candidates running to become the next mayor of New York City appeared Tuesday evening at a virtual town hall event to share their agendas for tackling the systemic obstacles facing Black women, who are doubly affected by racism and sexism and are often referred to as the backbone of the Democratic Party.

At the “Follow Black Women Mayoral Candidate Town Hall,” billed as the first-ever mayoral forum created by and for Black women and hosted by Community Voices Heard Power, the candidates discussed centering Black women on important issues, while also pitching themselves as the most qualified to craft a comprehensive plan that will implement broad and structural change to empower Black women. The candidates discussed a range of topics, including racial disparities in health care, vaccine distribution, job scarcity, affordable housing, economic recovery, the public school system and higher education, police reform and incarceration, homeownership, supporting small business owners, and more.

Participants included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential candidate. (It was one of Yang's first public campaign appearances after having contracted COVID-19 and stepping back from such forums as he dealt with symptoms, but after about 10 days he is feeling healthy again and appeared so at the forum.)

The virtual town hall was moderated by Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, with some questions coming from Community Voices members. Some questions were addressed to all candidates, other questions were directed to specific candidates.

In her opening remarks, Afua Atta-Mensah, the executive director of Community Voices Heard Power, reflected on the importance of Black women voters in the mayoral race. “In New York City, just like in many other communities across the country, Black women are in fact the margin of votes needed to win an election. I have it on good authority that Black women intend to show up and show out in this primary election. We will have something to say about who gets the privilege of living in Gracie Mansion.”

She continued, “Our communities are not a monolith. There is no one answer that is going to magically conjure the Black woman vote. We are sisters, daughters, mothers, essential workers, providers. But most importantly, we are New Yorkers, and we helped build this city.”

After Greer told the candidates to throw their stump speeches out and focus their opening remarks and answers to questions on Black women, some did so more than others.

“My opening statement is relevant to Black women because I am a Black woman, and so everything that I have to say is connected to that,” began Morales, who kicked off candidates’ opening statements. Morales differentiated herself as a political outsider with non-profit expertise “managing large human service organizations because the city’s leadership continues to fail the needs of our people of women, children, Black and brown people, queer people…The time is now, I believe, for those that are closest to the problems drive the solutions.” Morales highlighted her Afro-Latina roots, giving her opening remarks in Spanish as well as English.

Yang, who is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, used his opening statement to acknowledge the record turnout of Black voters in Georgia’s Senate runoff election, in part powered by Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown, and other Black women leaders, which cemented wins by Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the historically Republican state to flip the U.S. Senate to Democrats. Yang spent time in Georgia campaigning with the two Democratic candidates.

“I am totally sure that the next mayor is going to be determined by Black women voters here in New York City,” Yang said before lamenting the gap in maternal death between Black and white women, as well as the disproportionate job losses among Black women as a result of covid. He spotlighted his “anti-poverty agenda,” designed to “change things fundamentally,” before concluding, “you [Black women voters] are going to lead us there.”

Wiley began by thanking the panel of Black women members of Community Voices Heard Power, recognizing Atta-Mensah in particular as “a leader who has inspired me,” as well as Greer. “I’ve been Black all my life,” said Wiley, pitching herself as the best candidate to tackle issues important to Black women because she’s experienced them firsthand. Wiley described growing up as “a little girl in segregated, underfunded, overcrowded public schools.” She also discussed “the trauma of watching my community start to disappear” as a result of rent hikes and displacement. Wiley spoke of herself as a political outsider, citing her experience as a civil rights lawyer and racial justice activist.

McGuire credited his mother, a “Black woman who was a social worker, who raised me and my two brothers on the wrong side of the tracks,” for inspiring his mayoral run. “Based on her sacrifices, I’m able to be here, and I’m able to present myself as a leader who can meet the moment, who can lead this city forward in the most inclusive economic recovery that the city has ever encountered.” McGuire centered Black women in his economic- and business-oriented bid for mayor: “I have a history and a track record that says if you invest in Black women, you invest in Black communities, and as a whole, you invest in this city.”

Donovan explained how increased homelessness and witnessing burning buildings in the South Bronx “lit a fire in me to go to work on behalf of the city that I love.” He described working with Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood on rebuilding the South Bronx and other neighborhoods, which Donovan said helped Black women exit public housing and achieve homeownership. Donovan pitched himself as uniquely experienced in crisis management, citing his leadership after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. He argued that these experiences have equipped him to lead during the covid crisis, but he did not connect this particular emergency to the experiences of Black women.

“If we want to have a real and equitable economic recovery, we need to have Black women front and center in our policymaking,” asserted Stringer, who like Donovan is a white man. While he made a point to acknowledge Wiley and Morales right off the bat for “bringing their lived experience to this race,” adding, “I think we’re all better for it,” Stringer did of course argue that he is the candidate with “the skill and experience to help deliver change for Black women and all New Yorkers.” Stringer flexed his history with Community Voices Heard Power, citing his work and collaboration with them from advocacy for NYCHA residents, and developing his affordable housing and childcare plans.

“I am who I am because of Black woman,” said Adams, referring to his mother. Unlike the other candidates, Adams did not spotlight his agenda but used his opening remarks to tell a personal story about a group of Black women he encountered as a child growing up in South Jamaica Queens, could not “afford to buy us food,” but “gave us half of what they had” in a gesture of kindness. “That’s what I know about Black women,” Adams concluded. “They were in front of my house when someone shot up my car. And I didn’t even know them. They were praying for me and hoping for my safety. They've been with me throughout my entire life.”

Equity and accessibility were major themes throughout the forum, especially on eradicating systemic racism in health care. Morales and Adams said they’re equipped to tackle the issue of unequal medical treatment because they’ve experienced it firsthand.

Morales said that she almost died after she was “rushed into emergency surgery as a result of not getting medical treatment when I needed it, despite repeatedly saying that something was wrong.” Disparities in medical treatment among Black women, “even when our socio-economics are the same [as white women]” is why she’s emphasized “local integrated community health clinics that focus on education and prevention first” as a crucial component of her campaign platform. Morales also said she would invest in doula programs.

“They stated that there was nothing they could do for me,” said Adams of health care professionals after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2016 and lost eyesight in his left eye. “Once I made a lifestyle change, I was able to regain my sight. I was able to put my diabetes in remission.” Adams did not propose new policy proposals to address health inequities, but he cited the plant-based nutrition pilot program that he spearheaded at Bellevue Hospital, which has helped patients reverse chronic illnesses, as “the symbol of America’s health-care system improvement.”

Yang expressed his belief that inequities and abuses in the medical field are due in part to “a power dynamic imbalance,” citing his wife, who was “preyed upon by her doctor,” along with 40 other women. He said he would pursue policies that ensured patients have advocates with them as desired and needed.

In addition to Morales, other candidates called for community-based health care, with McGuire pledging to “create primary care facilities” and “increase investment in public hospitals and health care centers.” McGuire also flagged inconsistent pricing as an issue of equity, saying, “You can't go to one health care facility and get one price and go to another health care facility get another price.” Stringer pledged to “expand health care options,” citing the “Go Green East Harlem” initiative that he launched when he was Manhattan Borough President, which created a center dedicated to providing asthma-related services.

Stringer took aim at real estate developers for increasing asthma rates and other pre-existing health conditions in the first place, saying he would “stop this notion that developers and city agencies dump everything in communities that have already been marginalized.”

Morales, Stringer, Donovan, and Yang emphasized the need for more doctors and health care professionals of color. “We need to involve community based organizations in the implementation of training programs for people that look like us to increase their entry into the field,” said Morales. She also called for increased bias training for medical professionals. Stringer proposed leveraging the City University of New York network to create a more diverse workforce.

“I will absolutely have our Department of Health and H+H track the data, make it public, and hold folks accountable when their numbers don't add up,” said Wiley, citing 30-year-old Rana Mungin, a Black teacher who died from covid after she was denied coronavirus tests.

Wiley and Donovan homed in on health insurance, with Wiley noting that her campaign was “working on a plan,” while Donovan pledged to create a “true public option” that would give people the flexibility to visit their community-based doctors, not just those affiliated with NYC Health + Hospitals, as well as cover “prenatal care, mental health care, all of the services that you deserve.”

Additionally, Donovan reiterated his pledge to appoint a chief equity officer, who “would have power to hold agencies accountable” regarding medical mistreatment and other health-care inequities. He also spotlighted his “15-minute neighborhoods” proposal, which he said would holistically upend medical disparities by providing New Yorkers with quality education, reliable transportation, fresh food, green space, and health care within walking distance of their homes.

There was broad consensus from the candidates on leveraging partnerships with trusted community organizations and faith-based institutions, as well as mobile vans and 24-hour sites, to distribute covid vaccines. Candidates also voiced support for vaccination priority to essential frontline workers, senior citizens, and undocumented immigrants, especilaly those of color. Morales noted that “we should have paid [Black and brown people] to stay home, so we could keep them safe” from the outset of the pandemic. Yang also called for adjusting vaccine eligibility, such as lowering age requirements for high-risk populations and neighborhoods, pointing out that “Black people are at higher risk of covid, so it would be wholly appropriate to do it.”

Adams and Stringer said that they’ve been leaders on safe and equitable vaccine distribution from the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. Adams cited a letter he spearheaded with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and other elected officials in May that called for a federal investigation into covid racial disparities. More recently, Adams said he developed a seven-point plan in January, which he presented to the Department of Health, that would expedite the vaccine rollout “in real time.” Stringer spotlighted his vaccine equity plan called NYC Fair Shot, which would “develop a centralized database” to help hospitals and health care providers track vaccine demand and usage. 

Yang noted that outreach about vaccine education is now part of his campaign, saying, “Over 3,500 volunteers starting today are calling and texting and reaching out to New Yorkers to try and get them the vaccination information.”

Morales pledged to implement NYC5000 within her first 100 days as mayor, which would connect vulnerable populations to covid education, testing, and vaccination.

Morales, Yang, Stringer, and McGuire were specifically asked what two signature initiatives they would implement within their first 100 days in office and how those priorities would benefit Black women. While most of these four candidates broadly emphasized economic recovery as their top priority, their responses revealed differences in how they would try to stimulate fiscal growth.

Morales and Yang pledged to provide economic relief through cash grants, varying in scope and methods. Morales said she would ensure an unspecific dollar amount to “every household,” including “excluded workers and those that we know were left out on the federal and state level” by defunding $3 billion from the NYPD budget, which includes roughly $6 billion in annual operating funds and billions more each year in other costs like benefits and capital spending.

While Yang popularized universal basic income when he ran as a Democratic presidential candidate, his plan for New York City is to launch a version of a grant program starting by providing “$1 billion in cash relief” to “the extreme poor,” effectively providing 500,000 residents with an average of $2,000 per year (up to $5,000 per year), and utilizing the IDNYC municipal identification card program. His campaign website explains that this program would be “grown over time as it receives more funding from public and philanthropic organizations.” Yang also pledged “to reduce the 12% of New Yorkers who don't have access to basic financial services.”

McGuire, the longtime Wall Street executive running on a business- and jobs-focused platform, promised to appoint a deputy mayor who would focus on small, women- and minority-owned businesses. “I would designate $50 million to directly invest in M/WBEs” to access city contracts, added McGuire, referring to the minority- and women-owned business enterprises program. He explained that the M/WBE program has failed to meet its overall goals, noting that Black-owned businesses should be getting 8% in designated M/WBE construction spending. “Right now, we get .5 or .7%. That is not acceptable,” McGuire said. He would only approve contracts that include minority- and women-owned enterprises, he pledged. McGuire also promised to “make sure that we get people back to work,” citing his economic recovery plan, which would bring back 50,000 jobs for small businesses and 500,000 jobs overall.

Morales prioritized small business owners, as well, but suggested an approach that differed from McGuire’s, saying, “We need to move away from the historic model of counting on big corporations for jobs, who come into our communities, exploit our labor, and extract our wealth.”

Stringer emphasized investment in Black women through his child care-focused “NYC Under 3” plan, which he says would cut child care expenses for up to 70,000 New York City families and extend child care assistance to families making up to $100,000 a year. “My plan would send 20,000 people, mostly women of color, back into the workforce,” said Stringer.

Morales and Stringer included housing as one of their top priorities. Morales said an unspecified portion of the money defunded from the NYPD would “house everyone who have been unhoused.” She also called for ‘cancelling rent’ and ensuring housing for all more broadly. Stringer called for transforming vacant city-owned land into low-income housing, part of his larger affordable housing plan that would focus city resources on “low-income housing.”

McGuire and Yang said they would broaden internet access, with Yang specifying that he’s “committed $100 million” to this endeavor.

Yang also said he would amend the language in the City Charter to explicitly address ending racial health disparities, as well as “have the DOHMH [Department of Health and Mental Hygiene] and New York hospitals have it actually baked into their DNA,” though he did not explain what this would look like in practice.

Wiley, Adams, and Donovan were specifically asked about their plans to ensure public safety, including whether or not they would commit to defunding the police.

“I'm going to put the public back in public safety,” began Wiley, in her usual tag line on the subject. “We are going to take money from the NYPD,” she continued, though she did not specify how much she would reduce police spending during the forum, she pledged “to invest $18 million in a participatory justice fund” as part of her Gun Violence Prevention Plan, which according to her campaign website, would be created with money divested from the police budget.

“That means communities with high rates of gun violence get to say where those resources get spent, what makes them safe,” said Wiley, listing public school funding, trauma-informed care, mental health crisis intervention and services as possible resources to invest in.

“Reducing the role of the police requires that we focus them on guns and violent crime, not on patrolling the hallways of our schools, not on criminalizing homelessness,” said Donovan. He was vague about how he would “create transparency and accountability,” but he was more specific on his plan to break the cycle of incarceration.

“Today, more than $400,000 per prisoner per year at Rikers. I worked with President Obama to close the most expensive prison in the world: Guantanamo. Rikers is the second most expensive when we get bad results.” He added, “I would dedicate within my first two years as mayor $500 million a year to [reinvesting in communities], and by the end of my first term, $3 billion a year; 20% of our entire criminal justice budget would go to reinvest in communities.”

Adams expressed concern that cutting police spending would adversely impact Black women living in neighborhoods where violent crime is prevalent.

“When you talk about public safety, you are talking about Black women. We saw the case in Harlem where a Black woman was walking out of a store and was attacked brutally — her eye socket was bit out.” He continued, “I know about police abuse. It's no secret I was arrested and beat by police officers. But I also know that we could have public safety and justice. They go together. The prerequisite to prosperity is public safety, and our Black women need to be safe.”

Adams touched on incarceration, as well, noting that 30% of those incarcerated on Rikers Island are dyslexic. “Let’s be more proactive and do dyslexia screening at all of our schools,” he said.

Several candidates pitched ideas for creating pathways to homeownership for middle- and low-income people.

Morales built upon her earlier rallying cry to create housing for all and move away from the “developer-led, for-profit model,” saying she was in favor of “community-led planning that would be focused on” increasing “social housing,” “cooperative housing,” and “the expansion of community land trusts.” She also called to “move away from the shelter-based system to a system that moves to immediately providing permanent affordable housing for everybody."

Morales and Yang voiced support for relaxing zoning regulations and utilizing the city’s power of eminent domain to repurpose covid-vacated commercial spaces, office spaces, and hotel spaces for housing.

“I’ve made a pledge not to accept any real estate dollars,” said Morales, who argued this grants her the ability to be “unapologetic and unabashed about whatever real estate policies I put in place moving forward.”

In addition to funding and creating more co-op housing models, Wiley targeted home loss and deed theft among Black homeowners as a serious issue. She called for “building up community-based organizations, both for the education support to prevent the scamming, as well as the enforcement to prevent the home loss.”

Wiley voiced support for property tax reform, an effort Mayor de Blasio recently promised to revive, which Wiley said she would “see it through to its end,” though she did not get into specifics. Wiley pledged “$2 billion will be earmarked for NYCHA for renovation and rehabilitation, and I won’t need agreement from Albany or dollars from D.C. to get it done” as part of her larger $10 billion “New Deal for New York” economic recovery plan using the city’s capital budget.

Wiley and McGuire said the homeownership gap between Black and white New Yorkers is entrenched in job scarcity and low wages and said a jobs-focused economic recovery plan was essential to building wealth and homeownership. “Jobs give people the income so that they can afford homes, so they can move from no-class to middle-class, which is homeownership,” said McGuire.

“Many of the underserved pay 50% to 60% of their income on rent,” McGuire pointed out, adding, he would extend the moratorium on evictions, as well as “make sure that they can continue to rent.”

Adams cited his personal experience “of growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, carrying a garbage bag full of clothing to school everyday because Mom thought we were going to be thrown out by the marshals, and she did not want us to be embarrassed by not having a change in clothing,” saying this shaped his “concept of what we must do when you talk about Black women around homeownership.”

As Brooklyn Borough President, Adams flexed his experience conducting “first-time home buying seminars” and “a series of financial literacy programs to show people how to navigate the complexities of filling out a mortgage.” Adams decried development in the city that displaces poor communities, saying, “We should be developing affluent communities with great access to transit, great schools, great access to healthy food, and allow poorer people to move into those communities.”

Adams also called for reviving or building upon programs like the Tenant Interim Lease (TIL), which enabled tenants in certain city-owned buildings to develop low-income, tenant-owned cooperatives, as well as Mitchell-Lama, which provides government subsidized housing to middle-class residents. Wiley expressed support for this, as well, citing her personal experience living in Mitchell-Lama housing when she was an infant and as a law school student at Columbia.

Donovan promised to tackle gentrification and displacement, saying, “In this city, the first Great Black Migration was into our cities. Now, Black folks are being pushed out.” He cited Rev. Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood, who Donovan said he worked closely with to build 5,000 affordable homes in predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods when he was New York City’s Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, saying this experience influenced his “citywide inclusionary housing program with homeownership opportunity.”

Donovan said he was the only candidate with a design for a program that would “keep housing permanently affordable and still allow real wealth-building.” He said his housing initiative would include “housing counseling to build financial knowledge and the savings to be successful homeowners,” as well as “equity bonds,” which would give every child $1,000 when they’re born and $2,000 every year after.

Stringer expanded on his earlier plan to return vacant-city-owned land to community-based organizations for low-income housing purposes, saying it would “flip the script on developers and speculators and build more opportunity for homeownership.” He added that “when it comes to as-of-right development, no more luxury buildings without affordable housing.” Stringer also pledged to “improve Black homeownership by helping renters grow their credit scores with their rent payments,” explaining that “Black women are denied mortgages, and they have to pay higher mortgages due to discimination.”

All candidates pledged to schedule a session to hear the NYCHA division of CVH Power’s plans for public housing.

Adams, McGuire, and Donovan were specifically asked about their plans for ensuring the academic success of immigrant children, with a consensus that the education system is plagued with systemic inequities.

Adams and McGuire stressed early childhood education, with some differences. “The first classroom is in the mother’s womb,” said Adams, who pledged to provide every first-time mother with a doula and to focus on prenatal care. McGuire advocated for a “cradle to career” plan that ensures students entering pre-K are on a level playing field.

As mayor, McGuire said he would ensure that every child can read by the end of the third grade. McGuire also proposed “public-private partnerships” that aid students between the 6th and 12th grades in finding summer jobs “in whatever career path they decide to choose.”

Adams and Donovan emphasized supporting immigrant students by recruiting more racially diverse teachers and staff, with Donovan noting in particular that he would build training programs to leverage CUNY as a source of diverse hiring. Donovan pledged to create “450 new dual language programs across our schools” and ensure more broadly that all immigrants, regardless of their documentation status, have the right to vote.

Morales, Wiley, Stringer, and Yang were specifically asked what strategies they would implement to help small businesses reopen and what agencies they would trust to carry out their visions, revealing differences among the candidates.

Morales argued that creating a “solidarity economy” would support Black women, who “have always had a much higher rate of participation in the labor force than white women, despite the fact that we actually have had much higher unemployment rates.” She said a solidarity economy would tackle citywide problems systemically, but she did not provide details about how this transformation would be actualized. “We need to extend full protections to all of our workers,” said Morales, citing the Fair Labor Standards Act, social security protections, and unemployment insurance protection as measures that should be rigorously enforced. Morales reiterated her mission to provide New Yorkers with a minimum guaranteed income “and then supporting them with incentives and subsidies, so that they can get back on their feet.” 

Yang criticized the city’s current relationship with small business owners. “Right now if you’re a small business, you’re hearing from the city about whether you’re complying with various regulations. We need to be a partner in helping people stay open.” As an example of this partnership, Yang proposed the city buying “heaters, dividers, and air filtration systems in bulk” and distributing them to small businesses.

Yang pitched the idea of appointing a “small business recovery czar,” who would help 15,000 small businesses reopen. Lastly, Yang said he would implement a People's Bank of New York, which would “guarantee a certain level of risk, and then free up a lot of capital from community development, financial institutions, and other lenders to actually make capital available” to small businesses.

“Black women as entrepreneurs are 42% of new businesses in this country, but we also saw more shrinkage during recession of earnings. That was before covid,” Wiley said. She went on to argue, “It’s not one-size-fits-all because it depends what the business model is.” Wiley proposed implementing “programs to foot the rent, pay it, and keep them open, so that they can come back when they reopen.”

Stringer identified wealth creation as a broader economic issue adversely impacting small business owners, pointing out that the city’s agencies spend a total of $20 billion on contracts, but only 5% of that spending is awarded to M/WBEs. As comptroller, Stringer said, “I took my spending on M/WBEs from 30% to 50%,” which he credited to the chief diversity officer he appointed, who monitors and oversees the city’s M/WBE programs. As mayor, Stringer said he would appoint a citywide chief diversity officer. Stringer also called for creating additional tax breaks and tax incentives for small businesses.

The last question was addressed to all candidates except Adams, who had just left by this point in the forum to appear at another event. On addressing the rising cost of tuition and curbing budget cuts at CUNY, candidates pitched distinct strategies, some more specific than others.

Wiley expressed support for the Invest In Our New York Act, a six-bill state legislative package that would raise tens of billions of dollars in new revenue and is designed to fund $2 billion into the CUNY and SUNY systems. Of her $10 billion city capital construction “New Deal New York” plan, Wiley said, “We’re looking at how that also helps CUNY,” but did note, “We're going to put $5,000 in 100,000 families’ pockets to recognize that it is our caregivers that need taken care of and that will help with CUNY.”

Morales identified the lack of funding for CUNY as an issue with historically racist roots, saying, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that CUNY, like NYCHA, the disinvestment in the system started when the ratio of Black and brown students to white counterparts started to get a little bit too high.” Morales was the only candidate to bring up support for adjunct professors in her response, noting, “We know that they're the ones that are also bearing a significant brunt of the challenge right now,” but she didn’t say what form this support would take.

Candidates broadly homed in on CUNY as a rich source for hiring opportunities. McGuire said he planned to make the school network the primary supplier of tech talent to New York City companies. Stringer also called for creating “a worker program that will allow people to do real job training for the post-pandemic economy,” including jobs in telehealth and IT. Donovan said, “I've committed to creating the New York City Job Corps, the biggest commitment to apprenticeships that the city’s ever seen, and this would be a huge opportunity for CUNY students, as well.” Morales said, “CUNY would be the critical center where we could incentivize the labor force.”

To varying degrees, Wiley, Morales, Stringer, and Donovan voiced support for free tuition for CUNY students, with Wiley saying that she believes in “the free-tuition movement” broadly. Stringer pointed out that “debt is crushing our Black women,” but only called for making community colleges tuition-free, a point Donovan also made, while he also said students at the four-year CUNY schools should be able to graduate debt-free. Morales proposed the most far-reaching reform, calling for free tuition across “all of CUNY,” though she did not mention any ideas for how to fund that shift.

Wiley noted that implementing free tuition “means we do have to work with D.C. to make something real for us,” referring to federal funding. Donovan grabbed onto this point, saying of himself, “No one can work better with the Biden-Harris administration or our leaders in Congress to get us the help that we need to do that.” Morales asserted that she would be “unabashed about taking on the forces and the powers that be in Albany” to achieve her policy goals.

Yang said, “We need to make sure that CUNY is affordable for everyone moving forward” and that students “emerge debt-free.” On how to achieve this, he said, “This is something that we have to work out with Albany to some extent, and there may be some money coming in from the feds.”

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

To Avoid More Cuomo 'Supplanting,' De Blasio Pushes for Direct Aid to New York City in Next Federal Package

Cuomo de Blasio presser

Mayor de Blasio & Governor Cuomo (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

With so much on the line, Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing leaders in Washington, D.C. to allocate direct aid to New York City in the next big federal stimulus package, currently being negotiated among President Joe Biden and members of Congress. At the same time, de Blasio is calling on the State Legislature to help him stop Governor Andrew Cuomo from continuing to syphon off hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid coming through Albany.

Both de Blasio and Cuomo have said billions of federal dollars will be essential to the region's economic recovery and necessary to prevent city and state budget cuts. With $350 billion in the stimulus plan proposed by Biden going to state and local governments, New York City and State officials are waiting to see what the final package looks like, including the formula for how the proposed funds will be distributed and whether aid for the city will flow directly rather than through the state. After federal aid from the CARES Act, passed in March 2020, and other sources was used to supplant, rather than supplement, over $700 million in state aid to the New York City school district last year, the mayor is leery of aid going through the state.

"The federal government recognized the challenges our schools faced and gave the state funding for schools," de Blasio told legislators during his annual state budget testimony last Thursday.

The city is facing a $10.5 billion revenue shortfall across fiscal years 2020 to 2022, de Blasio said last month when he unveiled his $92.3 billion preliminary budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins this July 1. That budget is more than $4 billion larger than the current budget, which was cut to account for major drops in revenue, a situation that was improved by federal aid and higher-than-anticipated tax revenue. The last stimulus package, passed in December, included a total of $54 million for New York overall. But there are still major concerns about what tax receipts, especially property taxes, will look like next fiscal year and beyond.

"Last year, the state supplanted over $700 million in education aid. And now, the State is proposing to supplant again – taking almost $800 million in funds away from our students," he said, adding that Cuomo’s new Executive Budget plan proposes pushing another $279 million in additional charter school costs on New York City in fiscal years 2021 and 2022.

The latest federal projections came in a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to New York's Democratic delegation Thursday, outlining roughly $12.7 billion in direct aid to New York State and another $10.6 billion to local governments. New York City is on track to receive $5.62 billion directly under the House proposal, which passed the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by New York City Rep. Carolyn Maloney, last week and is subject to change as the package moves through Congress and onto the president's desk. Cuomo has said if New York State does not receive $15 billion in the next federal package, programs will come onto the chopping block, but his claims of the state facing that large of a two-year deficit have been debunked, in part given the major federal aid that has already flowed to New York.

In total, the House bill includes over $70 billion to New York with $23.3 billion going directly to state and local governments, according to a statement from Maloney's office.

With stimulus aid coming to states and localities "some goes to the state for the state to dole out, some of it goes directly to cities for cities to use for their own want, if you will," explained Bill Neidhardt, de Blasio's press secretary, in an interview with Gotham Gazette last week.

"That is what we're calling for in this upcoming stimulus. We think there should be direct aid to cities," he said. "We've been pushing leadership in the Senate and I'm pretty sure they hear us," he added, in apparent reference to new U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of Brooklyn.

Neidhardt said the city was seeking "significant" direct federal aid but that there was not an exact figure attached to the request. 

In a January 20 interview on the Max & Murphy podcast, Neidhardt discussed the HEROES Act, which passed in the Democratic majority in the House last May but died in the then-Republican-controlled Senate, as an example of what the city was hoping for. That bill included over $1 trillion in state and local aid, including direct aid to New York City, according to Neidhart.

"The HEROES Act, which was passed by the House months ago, had a really good formula that directly gave to cities because they know federal aid going direct to cities can implement that money quicker, more equitably, and more justly," he said.

But the state could reduce their allocation to the city whether or not federal aid flows through the state, according to Ana Champeny, Director of City Studies at Citizens Budget Commission, the fiscal watchdog.

"Even if the education aid had come straight to the city [the state] could have done the same thing," Champeny said in an interview. "The direct doesn't necessarily mean that you're not going to have a reduction in state aid."

Aid to New York City in Cuomo's Executive Budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins April 1 of this year, is expected to top $19.7 billion -- a nearly $1.7 billion increase over the previous year, according to the budget briefing book from the state Division of the Budget. Most of that increase -- over $1.4 billion -- is from a bump in education aid.

The portion being contributed to New York in that budget plan from state dollars is virtually flat -- an increase of $53 million, according to Champeny. The remaining increase comes from a jump in federal school aid from $721 million in the current fiscal year to $2.15 billion projected in the next, which totals just over $1.4 billion, Champeny says.

Total school aid to New York City in the Executive Budget -- which is now the subject of legislative hearings and negotiations before an adopted budget is due April 1 -- is over $13 billion in fiscal year 2022, according to state budget officials. The Division of the Budget accounts for another $2.4 billion in aid to New York City from the state covering growth in the city's Medicaid costs, a state initiative dating back to 2015.

Overall, state aid as a percentage of total city revenue has shrunk over the last ten years but a bigger proportion of city revenue last year came from non-city sources than in previous years.

After four federal stimulus packages in the first half of 2020, the New York City budget got a boost of $5.3 billion, according to an analysis from the Independent Budget Office last May.

Last month, the United States Conference of Mayors sent a letter to Congress urging federal help to local governments with signatures from de Blasio and about 400 other mayors across the country.

"The lack of adequate support has resulted in budget cuts, service reductions, and job losses," the letter read, in part. "Providing direct, flexible aid to cities is the most efficient and immediate way to help families and their communities who have been suffering for far too long."

Complicated budget maneuvering can make it difficult to track exactly how much state aid is supplanted using federal aid but efforts have been made to prevent it in previous stimulus packages. The CARES Act, for example, included a stipulation that costs had to have been incurred since the pandemic in order to be covered and could not include spending previously budgeted for.

"The devil is in the details and it depends on how the federal legislation is written," Champeny told Gotham Gazette. For money flowing through the state, "that can have more of an impact on the extent to which the state has or does not have flexibility in making decisions and the extent to which the state can use it instead of state funding rather than in addition to it."

Doling out money to cities and localities with varying governmental structures can be a cumbersome task for federal lawmakers and giving on a state basis to be disbursed locally can be a matter of expediency. But a municipality as big as New York City can coordinate with Washington as well as many state governments, budget experts say.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: 
CUNY and New York City Could Recover Together, or the Public University System Could Be Left Behind
CUNY and New York City Could Recover Together, or the Public University System Could Be Left Behind
Gotham Gazette: 
Amid Another Poorly-Run Election, Top New York Officials Point Fingers, Offer Plans, or Say Nothing
Amid Another Poorly-Run Election, Top New York Officials Point Fingers, Offer Plans, or Say Nothing
Gotham Gazette: 
Big Flushing Project Up Next in City Debate Over Development Big Flushing Project Up Next in City Debate Over Development Gotham Gazette: The Max & Murphy Podcast The Max & Murphy Podcast