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Democratic Comptroller Candidates Spar at Back-to-Back Debates

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(l-r) Brian Benjamin, Brad Lander, Corey Johnson, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, David Weprin

Leading Democratic candidates for New York City Comptroller, the city's chief fiscal officer, met for two debates this past week, just ahead of the Saturday start of early voting, where they laid out a range of positions and occasional attacks.

Candidates discussed how they would use the comptroller's power to audit city agencies, provide oversight of city budgeting, manage the city's sizable pension funds, and more. They also answered questions on hot-button issues like the size of the NYPD budget and the city's total workforce, and the impending fiscal chasm the city is facing when federal covid aid dries up.

The two debates showed most other candidates view Corey Johnson, the current City Council Speaker, as their most formidable opponent, criticizing his record as a progressive, his role in the size of the city budget, his attendance at budget hearings, and inaction on some commitments.

This Democratic comptroller field, unlike the contentious mayor's race, includes several elected office-holders. In addition to Johnson there is State Senator Brian Benjamin, financial journalist Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, military veteran and entrepreneur Zach Iscol, City Council Member Brad Lander, State Senator Kevin Parker, financial advisor Reshma Patel, fiscal analysis Terri Liftin, and Assembly Member David Weprin. Patel and Liftin, who have polled and fundraised at lower levels than the others, were both left out of the first of the two debates by WABC radio, while Patel was included in the second, on NY1 and WNYC, along with the other seven while Liftin did not make the cut based on fundraising thresholds set by the Campaign Finance Board.

Johnson has the greatest backing in the race from major labor unions and political leaders, including many of his Council colleagues, but Lander has been endorsed by The New York Times editorial board and progressive stalwarts like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the Working Families Party, and many others, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Benjamin and Weprin both have their fair share of endorsements, too, with Benjamin finding a lot of support among fellow senators and leaders from Upper Manhattan, and Weprin from fellow Assembly members, Queens leaders, The Daily News editorial board, and more.

The City Comptroller has the power to audit all city agencies, with the obligation to do so at least once every four years. It has oversight over the budget, reviews and approves many city contracts, and sets and enforces the prevailing wage. It is also the fiduciary of the city's five pension funds, worth about $250 billion. The office-holder can use these powers to expose poor performance and inefficiencies in government, hold the mayoral administration to account, and more. In recent years, Comptroller Scott Stringer -- a leading mayoral contender -- has leveraged the pension funds to influence corporate policies related to climate and diversity.

The first of the two comptroller debates was broadcast live Wednesday on WABC radio and moderated by Dominic Carter. The second -- the only televised debate thus far -- was broadcast Thursday night by NY1 and WNYC and co-hosted by several other partners including The City and Citizens Union as part of the city’s official campaign finance and debate program. The two events exposed recurring fault lines amongst the contenders and gave voters just tuning into the important citywide race a chance to get to know the candidates, particularly in the context of the first use of ranked-choice voting for primaries across the city, under which voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference.

Caruso-Cabrera, who primaried Ocasio-Cortez from the right in the congressional primary last year, blasted Johnson for allowing the city budget to grow more than $20 billion in the eight years of Mayor Bill de Blasio's tenure (Johnson has been City Council Speaker for the past three years, and was a rank-and-file Council member previously). "Does this city feel $20 billion per year better to you,” she asked voters during both debates. Johnson, in response, frequently criticized her past as a Republican and backing by Wall Street donors.

Lander was also on the offensive, calling the Speaker out for a stalled report on the Council's sexual harassment policies and missing all 23 of the body's recent executive budget hearings. Johnson defended the sexual harassment work, saying it was important but got held up by the pandemic. He did not directly address missing budget hearings, but stressed his leadership on the city budget continues. Patel also needled Johnson on a domestic workers' rights bill. "We are going to get the bill done very soon, I don't have a date, but we are going to get it done, I commit to getting it done," Johnson said, calling it "incredibly important."

Benjamin, who has made NYPD accountability the centerpiece of his campaign, critiqued Weprin for accepting police union endorsements. Weprin in turn questioned Lander for voting against the city budget last year because it allocated too much funding to the NYPD. Iscol and Parker had mostly nice things to say about the others.

In "lighting rounds" across both nights, all candidates said they supported raising the prevailing wage, keeping outdoor dining sheds, and continuing to grade city agencies on diversity and inclusion goals. All but Weprin said they would specifically audit the use of city-issued parking placards, though he said he would do it as part of agency audits. Caruso-Cabrera, Iscol, and Parker said they were opposed to closing the Rikers Island jail complex.

Between the two debates, candidates were asked which agencies they felt was most bloated and in need of auditing beyond the once-every-four-years minimum.

Patel and Cabrera-Caruso both identified the Department of Education, with its immense budget, huge influx of state and federal aid, and close to 1 million students relying on it. Weprin has been concerned with large outside contracts in general, of which he said the DOE has some of the biggest. He committed to auditing all contracts with outside vendors valued over $100 million. Johnson included the DOE in a list of four agencies he felt most in need of scrutiny and efficiency, along with the Department of Homeless Services, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the NYPD. For the NYPD, specifically, he noted the large settlements the city metes out for police misconduct, though that liability under recently passed legislation falls on the city's general fund.

Parker and Benjamin also cited the NYPD. "The NYPD, as far as I can tell, has never been properly audited," said Parker, who chairs the Senate committee on energy and telecommunications, to moderator Errol Louis during the second debate.

Benjamin, who chairs the Senate committee on revenue and budget, said the next comptroller needs to "take a very close look particularly at some of our cure violence groups...who are doing incredible jobs but we haven't audited them effectively to have a clear understanding of how well they are doing.

For Lander, while the NYPD is in serious need of oversight, DOC needs more: "We actually incarcerate fewer than one half as many people as we did ten years ago but we're spending 20% more," he said. "That's money we could instead be spending on mental health care, supportive housing, and job opportunities."

Iscol said he would take an issue-based audit approach, examining services across multiple agencies rather than within one agency or looking at entire agencies (that position parallels a common theme in the mayor's race: to reorganize City Hall and desilo related efforts, like housing and homelessness prevention).

Relationship to Mayor
When asked in the second debate how they would approach the mayor all candidates suggested they would have a balance between independence and collaboration as is required of the position.

Caruso-Cabrera said she would be cooperative or antagonistic depending on whether the next mayor's actions aligned with her goals of universal broadband access and free CUNY education.

Benjamin said he would need to collaborate with the mayor on his goal to finance the creation or preservation of 500,000 units of affordable housing.

In the first debate, Benjamin, Caruso-Cabrera, and Weprin each said outright that they had no intention of becoming mayor themselves, despite the fact that every comptroller for decades has run for that higher office.

Pension Funds
Candidates were divided on whether the comptroller should use their sway with the city pension funds, which are governed by their own boards, to maximize returns or to consider certain non-fiduciary causes when making investments, though some argue it is a false choice.

Most candidates said it was possible to do both, noting that many progressive climate goals will in the long term help industries and thus investments.

"Protecting our retirees is of utmost importance to me but I don't believe that it's a trade-off between taking a position and climate change on investing in companies that are trying to do social good," said Patel on Thursday evening, in response to a question from The City's Rachel Holliday Smith.

"Our pension investments are long-term investments, they're 40-year investments, and in the long-run those are the things that are going to produce the best results for us," she said in a statement echoed by Lander, Parker, and Johnson.

Iscol agreed that fossil fuel divestment could be prudent if done carefully and emphasized the importance of the office’s Bureau of Asset Management, while touting his experience managing nonprofits. Benjamin also indicated he supported divestment and pointed to his own background at Morgan Stanley and on the board of trustees at Brown University. Caruso-Cabrera said she would follow so-called "environmental, social, and governance" standards, a set of criteria to guide socially-positive investments.

"First and foremost its fiduciary obligation and I would try to get the best returns on the assets," Weprin said Thursday.

Post-Federal Aid
The city has received billions of dollars in direct and indirect aid from Albany and Washington to provide relief to people and businesses, and fund services depleted by the pandemic. Brigid Bergin of WNYC pressed candidates at Thursday’s debate on what the city needs to do to continue paying for those programs when the federal aid runs out.

Johnson said the city needs to put more money in reserves, and said he would "push for that in the upcoming budget," which is due by July 1, while making sure those funds don't come out of education or healthcare budgets. Lander has proposed a bill to track federal American Rescue Plan dollars and blamed Johnson for holding it up. "I've asked the speaker when we can pass it. I don't know what's going to happen first: releasing the Redwood report, releasing his schedules, passing human rights for domestic workers, or tracking the American Rescue fund," he said.

Benjamin also talked about the importance of reserves, having sponsored legislation to create a Rainy Day Fund for New York City after it was approved by voters in a referendum in 2019.

For Patel, "what we should do during this time is figure out how to create recurring revenues to support programs such as universal pre-K, such as the Summer Youth Employment Program."

Iscol criticized de Blasio, Johnson, and Lander (though not all by name) for their roles in the city's predicament. "Somehow this administration and some of the folks on this stage have taken these bailout funds and used it to march off a fiscal cliff," Iscol said, outlining the steep hill of savings and job creation the next government faces. Parker also said the city needed to focus on creating quality jobs.

Caruso-Cabrera also blamed Johnson "who has presided over this debacle," she said Thursday. "The power of the audit, financial statements. They are tools, they are revealing, and in the right hands they can be weapons."

"We have to get our finances under control," said Weprin on Thursday, going on to talk up his experience chairing the City Council finance committee post-9/11 and during the 2008 recession. "We made some tough decisions," he said, adding, "I'm not looking to lay off city employees…but I'd like to see more efficiency and saving money." Weprin later indicated he supports shrinking the city workforce. Caruso-Cabrera and Iscol were the only others to join Weprin in that stance when all the candidates were asked it as a yes/no question on NY1.

NYPD Budget and City Workforce
In response to questions from Bergin about what the comptroller can do to shed light on police spending, Benjamin reiterated support for fully auditing and evaluating non-police responses. Parker called for a cost-benefit analysis of education and crime-reduction programs. Caruso-Cabrera also supported a broad "full-scale" audit of the police department.

Patel supports cutting the NYPD budget. She said she would look at what recent budget increases have gone to "and show what kind of services we need to be providing instead of having a militarized police force."

"The comptroller needs to be someone that takes a holistic approach at looking at how the NYPD is functioning and making recommendations to the Council and to the mayor on an annual basis, and I would do that," said Johnson, who agreed with broader audits and the "need to demilitarize the NYPD."

"I would take a different approach. I'm not a fan of the ‘defund the police’ movement," said Weprin, who has been endorsed by all of the police unions, claiming a reduction in the NYPD budget was contributing to an increase in gun violence.

Lander, who voted against the budget last year over concerns that too much had been allocated to the NYPD, disagreed. "More police doesn't equate to more safety. We already have more cops per person than any other big city in America, according to the Vera Institute of Justice," he said."

According to Iscol, "the NYPD has too many bank accounts," making it "incredibly difficult to audit."

[WATCH: 30 Minutes with the Democratic Candidates for New York City Comptroller]

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Anna Kaufman contributed to this story.

Crowded Field Competes to Represent Brooklyn Waterfront in City Council

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(l-r) Elizabeth Adams, Victoria Cambranes, Sabrina Gates, Toba Potosky, Lincoln Restler, Stu Sherman, Benjamin Solotaire & April Somboun at June 6 debate

As Stephen Levin nears the end of his three terms in office representing Brooklyn’s 33rd City Council District, eight Democratic candidates are vying to replace him — bringing varied resumes and competing visions on key issues like policing, the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and the recent tide of development in the district’s neighborhoods.

The 33rd District stretches along Brooklyn’s East River waterfront, from Greenpoint to Boerum Hill. It straddles an eclectic group of neighborhoods, including Brooklyn Heights, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and parts of Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and Gowanus.

With eight candidates running, Democrats in the 33rd District will choose from a larger-than-usual slate of potential Council members at this month’s election (with early voting June 12-20 and primary day June 22), reflecting the groundswell of candidates across the city this year. The new slate of City Council members will serve a two-year term instead of the usual four years, as the city must perform redistricting based on the 2020 Census results.

Over the past two decades, Census data shows that the council district has seen a significant influx of white residents, while Black and Hispanic residents have moved out. As of 2010, Census data showed residents of the 33rd City Council District were 73.5 percent white, 13.5 percent Hispanic, 5.7 percent Black, and 4.8 percent Asian and Pacific Islander.

During the term-limited Levin’s time in the Council, he has advocated for environmental health protections, mandating regular reporting of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in schools and banning the dispensation of oil and natural gas-related waste in city water, according to his website. He also chairs the Council’s General Welfare Committee, where he has focused on the city’s homelessness crisis and child welfare. 

Levin’s successor will need to confront a new wave of controversial office and residential developments, a soon-to-be-hazardous Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a rezoning effort affecting the district’s southernmost neighborhood of Gowanus, and the stakes of rising sea levels along the district’s waterfront.

Whoever succeeds in replacing Levin will represent a very politically active set of neighborhoods, particularly in the south end of the district. The New York City Campaign Finance Board found that Brooklyn’s 2nd community district — which covers part of the Council district, including Brooklyn Heights, parts of Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard — was the third-highest voting district across the city in 2019. 

On Sunday, June 6, all candidates gathered amid heavy heat for a debate in front of Cadman Plaza Park’s Brooklyn War Memorial. While the candidates had gathered for a previous online forum, the Cadman Plaza Park event was the first in-person debate for the district’s contenders.

The Candidates
Two of the candidates seeking to replace Levin are currently members of his staff. Elizabeth Adams, who hails from Greenpoint, currently serves as Levin’s Legislative Director. She was formerly the Director of Government Relations at Planned Parenthood of New York City and served as a co-chair of the Sexuality Education Alliance of New York City. A self-described “lifelong tenant,” Adams has pledged to create a “community-driven” counterpart to the City Planning department, push for rent stabilization for small businesses, and defund the NYPD by $1 billion. 

As of May 21, the Campaign Finance Board reported that Adams had spent $119,442 during the campaign, with $99,124 remaining funds. She has been endorsed by the Freelancers Union, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Progressive Women of New York, Brooklyn Young Democrats, NYC Kids PAC, and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ Courage to Change PAC, which gave its seal of approval to several candidates in the race.

Benjamin Solotaire also works for Levin, as Community Liaison and Director of Participatory Budgeting. He served for eight years on the steering committee for Participatory Budgeting NYC; ran community engagement efforts at the Fortune Society, which provides prison re-entry services; and led policy initiatives at the Brooklyn Food Coalition. Solotaire has focused on land use and city planning reform during his campaign, voicing strong support for non-profit development and for rezoning efforts to create more affordable housing in Gowanus. 

According to the Campaign Finance Board, as of May 21 Solotaire had spent $47,934 and had $59,321 funds remaining. He has been endorsed by Pastor Karen Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church.

But the apparent frontrunner in the race is Lincoln Restler — a former  de Blasio aide and a District Leader representing Greenpoint and Williamsburg for the Brooklyn Democratic Party. Restler, who grew up in Brooklyn Heights and now lives in Greenpoint, co-founded the New Kings Democrats organization in 2008, and the reform organization has pressured the local Democratic Party to become more transparent and accessible while infusing younger, more progressive activists into Brooklyn politics. Working for de Blasio, Restler did intergovernmental affairs and special projects, including, he noted at the debate, work on IDNYC, the city’s municipal identification program that included undocumented New Yorkers. Restler promises to increase green space and decrease lanes on the BQE; revive empty storefronts with “good small businesses that meet the needs of the neighborhood,” as he said at Sunday’s debate; and collaborate with the state Legislature to lower rents of apartments that remain vacant for certain periods of time. 

As of May 21, Restler had spent $118,306 and had more than any other candidate — $127,518 — left to spend. He has been endorsed by the Working Families Party; U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez, Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, and State Senator Julia Salazar, who all represent 33rd Council District residents; Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; TenantsPAC; Independent Neighborhood Democrats; Stonewall Democrats of NYC; a long list of labor unions, including the United Federation of Teachers, the 1199 SEIU healthcare workers’ union, National Association of Social Workers, and Teamsters Local 202 union; many progressive activist groups, and all seven NYCHA tenant organizations within the district. He was also given the deal of approval from Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC, and he has received significant support from Orthodox Jewish leaders in the district.

Others running include neighborhood activists, such as Toba Potosky, who served as the president of Cadman Towers, the Mitchell-Lama affordable co-op where he lives, for 16 years. According to his campaign website, Potosky has worked an array of jobs ranging from street vendor to screenwriter. As an activist, he co-founded the Cadman Park Conservancy, where he led efforts to rehabilitate the Brooklyn War Memorial, and pressed for elevator accessibility at the Clark Street subway station. Potosky has pledged to create pathways to homeownership through Limited Equity Co-operatives like Cadman Towers; lower affordable housing rents; and make the Coalition for the BQE Transformation, a community organization, an advisory committee to the city. 

Potosky had spent $119,650 and had $111,870 remaining as of May 21. Potosky has been endorsed by City Council Member Robert Cornegy and former State Senator Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn.

Victoria Cambranes, a Greenpoint resident who previously challenged Levin in 2017, is running again this year and has also focused on land use and the environment in her campaign. She proposes the creation of a new Office of Community Planning to oversee development and a hyper-local “Green New Deal” to create eco-oriented jobs. Cambranes, whose parents are Guatemalan and Polish immigrants and also live in the district, said she became galvanized to enter the political arena after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. She is a former marketing consultant who now works as a community organizer. 

Cambranes had spent $87,905, and had $51,896 left to spend as of May 21. Her endorsers include the Brooklyn Progressive Alliance, the student activist group Future Steps US, and a number of unions including the Laborers’ International Union of North America, IATSE Local 798 (representing makeup and hair stylists), Local 1 New York (bricklayers and similar trades), DC9 (painters and similar trades), and BAC Local 7 (tile, marble, and terrazzo workers). She also has the support of Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC.

Legal aid attorney Stuart Sherman, who goes by Stu, is running on a platform centering healthcare equity.  Sherman is a senior attorney with New York Legal Assistance Group’s health division, offering legal aid at various healthcare centers. He also started a free legal clinic for seniors experiencing dementia and their families. He has cited his own experience with diabetes as well as other chronic illnesses in his family as a motivating force for his campaign. Sherman has proposed the creation of a public pharmacy, the expansion of home health care access, and reforms that would require land rezoned as residential to provide 100% affordable housing. 

Sherman has been endorsed by the Black Lives Caucus, In the Fight North Brooklyn, Voters for Animal Rights, and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America. He also has the support of Ocasio-Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC. Sherman had spent $123,025 as of May 21, more than any other candidate. He had just over $79,000 remaining funds at that filing.

Sabrina Gates, a self-employed graphic designer with her company SunSum Design, said at Sunday’s debate that her top priority is to improve communication with neighborhood residents. She has proposed mandating Mental Health First Aid training for public employees, reviewing small businesses’ needs block by block with attention to home-based businesses, and expanding outreach to residents who cannot attend traditional public forums like Community Boards. Gates had spent $3,084 over the course of the campaign and had $3,774 left to spend as of May 21.

As she also seeks the Council seat, Brooklyn Heights resident April Somboun has cited her involvement with community organizations including the North Heights Community Group, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council, the Bridge Harbor Heights Condominiums’ BQE initiative, and the Poplar Street Community Garden. A refugee from Lao who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, she works as a marketing and communications consultant. Somboun supports transforming the BQE into a “greenway belt” from Sunset Park to Queens, expanding childcare access, and increasing funding for the Parks Department. On the campaign trail, she has emphasized her experience as a mother in the district. 

Somboun had spent $78,698 and had $119,057 left to campaign with as of May 21. She has been endorsed by State Senator John Liu, Moms in Office, and mayoral candidate Ray McGuire.

A Hot Debate
The Cadman Plaza Park debate was generally congenial, save for a brief exchange between Cambranes and Restler.

Cambranes accused Restler of levying personal attacks against her privately to endorsers and staff members, and creating “overall a really threatening environment that is not conducive to working with women and for women.” (She declined to put Gotham Gazette in contact with the endorsers and staff members in question, stressing that she wanted to protect their privacy and safety.)

At the debate, Restler responded, “I want to be clear that there has not been one iota of negative campaigning from me or anyone associated with my campaign. I promise that if any issue is brought to my attention where somebody says anything inappropriate, I will address it and they will no longer be associated with the campaign.”

Housing and Development
In recent years, the 33rd City Council District has seen a surge of high rises and luxury developments across its various neighborhoods. This trend has loomed heavily over the Council race.

The controversial 1 Clinton Street project stands feet from where Sunday’s debate took place at Cadman Plaza, rising where a former Brooklyn Public Library branch once stood. (Developers have promised to provide new — sleeker but smaller — library space on the building’s ground floor.) Nearly every candidate named housing and land use reform as a top priority — offering different visions for increasing affordability and bringing community voices into development decisions.

Sherman and Restler both called for government bodies to contribute more pressure and resistance to private developers’ demands. 

Restler spoke out against a culture of “member deference” in the City Council, in which development decisions are generally decided according to the position of the Council member representing the district at hand. He called out back-end deals between developers and Council members.

Sherman focused his critique on the City Planning Department. “I’ve been at Planning meetings in which it was difficult to tell the difference between those people that work for the city and those that work for the developers, and that needs to end,” Sherman said at Sunday’s debate. He advocates for reforming the department so that it is organized around a singular focus on affordable housing and homelessness. 

Some candidates proposed revamping or supplementing the City Planning Department with alternative community-driven approval processes altogether. Cambranes said she would work to amend the city Charter to create a new “Office of Community Planning” in order to center neighborhood residents’ input in new developments. Meanwhile, on her website, Adams calls for a similar “independent, community-driven planning process” to replace City Planning. 

In order to bring in beneficial development, Sherman called for the city to prioritize non-profits over for-profit developers. 

Potosky offered a different approach. “Forget about developers,” he said, suggesting that he would instead focus on using city-owned land — “like what has now become One Clinton” — to create housing that is 100% affordable.

Adams echoed this strategy of focusing on city-owned land, adding that community land trust lots could also be a focus to create 100% affordable housing complexes.

Solotaire highlighted his work as part of Levin’s staff leading the Gowanus rezoning effort that would create more affordable housing in the neighborhood. The rezoning in Gowanus has been controversial partly because it would place a 950-unit fully affordable housing development at Public Place, where a defunct gas plant once leaked environmental toxins into the soil. The city plans to remediate the site, although some opponents have questioned whether those efforts will be effective. The effort has mostly been the purview of Council Member Brad Lander, however given that most of the rezoning area is in Lander’s 39th District.

On his support for the rezoning, Solotaire received some pushback from Cambranes and Gates.

“Toxic vapors which will be escaping through vents for hundreds of years,” Cambranes argued. She alluded to the fact that Black and Latino New Yorkers are significantly overrepresented in Section 8 homes and public housing.

Gates echoed this concern: “We have to stop doing this to the same communities over and over again.”

Solotaire conceded that the placement of the affordable housing complex on the site of a former gas plant is “problematic,” but maintained his faith in the area’s environmental cleanup. “I would want to make sure that all the remediation efforts that we can possibly put in and constant monitoring are in place,” he said.

Still, he noted that Gowanus is a predominantly white and affluent neighborhood. “If we want true diversity in our neighborhoods, we need to build affordable housing,” he said.

Amid these policy discussions, Gates and Somboun called for greater transparency and communication between developers and community residents.

Somboun promised a “one-stop destination on my website” for information about upcoming developments.

Gates stressed the need to reach out to residents beyond formal meetings, which not everyone can attend. “You cannot solely rely on the voices of Community Boards, because they only represent a fraction of the community,” Gates said. “You have to ensure that engagement processes are diversified and encompass all of the people of the community in a timely manner.”

One of the clearest divides among the candidates emerged with the issue of restructuring the NYPD and strengthening public safety. It was lost on no one that one year ago, just after the police killing of George Floyd, Cadman Plaza had been filled with hundreds of police brutality protestors. At that protest, the NYPD arrived with riot gear and deployed a strategy known as “kettling,” encircling and arresting hundreds. 

Adams, Cambranes, Restler, Solotaire, and Sherman have expressed strong support for reducing NYPD funding and redistributing mental health response, school safety, and traffic enforcement to other entities. The department currently operates on a $5.35 billion budget.

Addressing the citywide spike in gun violence and some other crimes since the pandemic, Sherman argued that more policing does not necessarily lead to a drop in crime. “The equivocation between police and public safety for too long has led to the violence we’ve seen against Black and brown communities,” Sherman said at the debate.

“Public safety is all about housing stability, it’s about good jobs, it’s about a good education, it’s about mental health services,” Solotaire added.

Restler, who said he had to leave the debate early and departed before the topic of policing came up, proposes creating “a new public safety agency made up of social workers, mental health professionals, and credible messengers” on his website.

Cambranes, who has pledged to cut police funds by $3 billion, joined Sherman in proposing to expand the city’s emergency mental health pilot program, which will send EMTs and social workers to non-violent mental health-related 911 calls in Harlem and East Harlem.

Echoing these calls, Adams argued that the city could dramatically increase funding to community-based violence intervention organizations like Save Our Streets. Those organizations focus on “preventive work and care,” she said, rather than reacting to crime that has already occurred.

Somboun issued a more cautious promise to cut NYPD funding, stating that she would “reexamine the budget and figure out where the inefficiencies are.” She would cut the budget by up to $1 billion, she said, and “reinvest it in this community.” 

Somboun noted her experience as an Asian-American woman, alluding to the spike in hate crimes against Asian New Yorkers this year. “I understand that the Jewish Community, the Black community, and the Asian community also want safety,” she said. “We got to talk to the people who are actually living it, rather than implementing it without community feedback.”

Gates took a somewhat different approach. “I don’t necessarily believe in defunding the police, I believe in refunding communities,” she said. “We need a system of enforcement in this city.” She called for the police to develop more neighborhood ties and community policing practices, and for more thorough mental health screening and resources for officers.

“I have been stopped by the police,” said Gates, who is a Black woman. She called for the police to “demilitarize,” saying, “It makes absolutely no sense that we have some of the equipment we have in this city.” (The department recently got rid of a newly-acquired armed robotic dog.)

Instead of reducing police funds, Potosky promised to replace top police officials, increase legal accountability for officers, and bolster training. 

“I am genuinely concerned that social media starts becoming policy,” he said of the movement to defund policing. “Every day, we see more violence against people in the street, people in the subway, so we have to find where that balance is.”

Fixing the BQE
Candidates have also offered diverging visions for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the section of Robert Moses’ I-278 that has run through Northern Brooklyn and Queens since the 1960s. The part of the BQE stretching between Atlantic Avenue and Sands Street has been deteriorating, to the point at which it may soon need emergency repairs. To address engineering concerns, the city has suggested replacing the Brooklyn Heights Promenade — located above the BQE’s triple cantilever section — with a temporary road as the highway is fixed. As a more time- and resource-consuming alternative, the city has suggested repairing the highway lane by lane.

The city’s proposals have angered environmentalists and park enthusiasts who want continuous access to the promenade; public health advocates concerned about pollution elevated near people’s homes; and preservationists who seek to keep the waterfront park intact. Activists and planning companies have put forward an array of counter-proposals, including turning the middle level of the Cantilever into a High Line-esque park; diverting traffic to an expanded Furman Street while turning the entire expressway into green space; and creating a tunnel alternative to the highway.

The 33rd district’s City Council candidates have supported plans that leave the promenade intact, and that generally add park space to the area.

Adams, for instance, told the North Brooklyn Open Space Coalition that she would “explore options for the BQE that redirect some of its freight traffic to our waterways, and that covers the BQE with green space where possible.” 

Somboun has suggested incorporating a “greenway belt” from Sunset Park to Williamsburg into plans for the BQE.

Gates said she supports plans to extend the promenade over the highway, connecting it to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Echoing this vision, Potosky specifically named the Bjarke Ingels Group’s “Tri-Line Plan,” which would enclose the highway in a three-level greenspace connected to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Both Gates and Potosky promised to continue dialogue with Furman Street residents, whose street would be incorporated into the proposed park.

Sherman, meanwhile, expressed support for a “covered highway” or tunnel alternative to the BQE, an approach he admitted might be limited by funding.

Both Adams and Somboun have expressed support for BQGreen’s proposal, which calls for a platform-park to be built over the part of the BQE that runs below street level in Williamsburg.

Restler has shared general support for renovations that would add more greenery and reduce traffic. Meanwhile, Solotaire and Cambranes came out staunchly against the city’s plan to replace the promenade, but said they would seek to listen further to neighborhood voices before supporting a particular plan.

The words “strong community input” recurred in every candidate’s response.

Future of Immigrant Communities the Focus of Brooklyn City Council Race

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Council Member Menchaca & others at a community fridge (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

With City Council Member Carlos Menchaca among the three dozen members of the 51-seat Council facing term limits this year, there is a competitive Democratic primary unfolding to replace him in Brooklyn’s 38th District, which is centered in Red Hook and Sunset Park, and also includes parts of Greenwood Heights, Windsor Terrace, Dyker Heights, and Boro Park. Menchaca, a Democrat, has held the seat for two terms, nearing eight years. Given the district’s overwhelming Democratic voter enrollment, the winner of the fast-approaching June primary is all but certain to take office come January as part of the new Council and new city government being elected this year.

City Council members write, sponsor, debate, and vote on legislation that affects city life in any number of ways; negotiate and vote on the city budget in conjunction with the mayoral administration; perform oversight of city agencies and the mayoral administration; allocate discretionary funding to local groups and causes; weigh in on land use decisions — with particular sway, by Council tradition, over proposed projects within the member’s district — and more. Constituent services and local problem-solving are also essential parts of the job.

As the Council member for the 38th District, Menchaca has focused on issues including immigration, affordability, and small businesses. 

His work as chair of the Committee on Immigration for both terms includes securing budget funding for a public defender program for immigrants facing deportation and for adult literacy services. Menchaca also helped lead the effort on the establishment of the IDNYC municipal identification card program, which has been accessible to all New Yorkers regardless of immigration status, and he’s run one of the more active participatory budgeting processes, including constituents regardless of immigration status. He was also part of the city’s efforts on the 2020 Census, co-chairing the Council’s task force.

At times controversially, Menchaca has been an opponent of what he sees as over-development. The most contentious example was the 2020 Industry City rezoning proposal, which he ultimately torpedoed. Some in the city, including fellow City Council Members Donovan Richards, Robert Cornegy, and Ritchie Torres, were vocal in their support for the massive plan, which would have overhauled some of the Brooklyn waterfront and created chain stores, academic space, and more with the promise of thousands of new jobs. Others, however, feared that the new complex would provide mostly low-paying jobs and spur gentrification in the area by bringing in high-end amenities that would lead to increased rents and overall cost of living.

As Menchaca’s second and last term in office comes to an end, he ran for mayor for a time before dropping out of the race and endorsing Andrew Yang, whose potential administration Menchaca said he would like to work in.

Seven Democratic candidates are running to replace Menchaca in a competitive primary set to be decided through early voting June 12-20 and primary day, June 22, as well as absentee voting. Menchaca has not made an endorsement in the race.

According to 2010 Census data, the 38th City Council District had a population of 157,282 people. Of them, 43.9% were Hispanic, 32.7% Asian-American, 17.2% white, and 4.6% Black. Out of the 47,971 occupied housing units in the district as of 2010, 37,328 of them, or 77.8%, were occupied by renters.

Running to succeed Menchaca is a Scherman Foundation program director, the director of the Immigration Advocates Network, a small business owner, an adult day care center operator, an environmental designer, an NYPD lieutenant, and the director of research and evaluation at the ParentChild+. Below is a brief overview of each candidate, including excerpts of interviews with three leading candidates as judged by fundraising, endorsements, and campaign activity.

Alexa Avilés
Avilés is the program director for the Scherman Foundation, where she helps direct funds to local and national organizations working on human rights, the arts, and New York City community issues. She is also president of the P.S. 172 Parent-Teacher Association, a parent representative of the M.S. 88 School Leadership Team, and vice-chair of the education and youth committee for Community Board 7. 

As of June 4, Avilés had raised $232,355 in private and public funds and has been endorsed by a long list of progressive and far left elected officials and groups, as well as others, including Congressional Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez; State Senators Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport; State Assembly Members Marcela Mitaynes, Zohran Mamdani, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Emily Gallagher, and Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas; City Council Members Carlina Rivera and Antonio Reynoso; the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Working Families Party, New York Communities For Change, the New York City Central Labor Council, and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Senator Bernie Sanders of Verment, a hero to many on the left, also endorsed Avilés this week, just after Ocasio-Cortez announced her support.

In a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, Avilés said that her two decades living in the district have connected her to the community and informed her campaign in ways that will benefit her constituents if she’s elected. She stressed her policy work and active community membership.

“As a Latina, a mom, and your neighbor, Alexa is sensible and pragmatic — seeking to leverage what the district has to offer to the community’s collective benefit,” the candidate’s campaign website reads in part. “Alexa’s husband Frankie is a TWU Local 101 Member and lifelong resident of Red Hook and Sunset Park, and her intensely political 12- and 14-year-old daughters fuel her fight for a radically different world. Inspired by her family and neighbors, Alexa is fighting for a society where every person can live with dignity in a healthy and safe community.”

Education, a people’s budget, and affordable housing are what Avilés cites as the top three priorities for the district, calling them “intersecting.”

“Working-class communities face compounding issues all the time — from not being able to pay their rent, to food insecurity,” she said. “We need to address people’s material needs, and budget justice, housing justice and education justice are all interconnected. Every working person deserves access to the social and essential services they depend on. What will be critical to addressing that is viewing these interlocking issues together, not a piecemeal approach.”

On education, Avilés said the goal is to reach educational equity and justice, which would be achieved in part by fully funding public schools, including the City University of New York (CUNY). It doesn’t end there though, she said, as the money has to go toward things that will benefit students and teachers, such as smaller class sizes and culturally informed education. Additionally, Avilés wants to expand and fully fund the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and other workforce programs; to bring more special education programs to the district, including bilingual programs; and to make CUNY tuition-free again.

To create “a people’s budget,” Avilés wants to cut NYPD spending in half and redirect the funding toward community services. She said she would like to reallocate $1.5 billion from the NYPD budget in her first year in office, and $3 billion over two years. This money would go toward health care, mental health care, and housing, she said.

On Affordable housing, Avilés wants to create a renter and small homeowner relief and recovery plan, to expand the right to free legal counsel to all renters in the city so they can fight against potential evictions, and to push for a “national homes guarantee.”

“As a representative from our nation’s most populous city, Alexa will join Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others in calling on the federal government to deliver a massive expansion in federal funding for public housing and the creation of new social housing,” her housing platform explains. “The Guarantee also demands reparations to redress explicitly a national history of racist dispossession, exclusion, and exploitation of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.”

On the related topic of land use and development, the candidate told Gotham Gazette that she wants the city to totally redesign land use by making it community-led and giving the community control over the land and assets. She said that she sees this as a way to make more affordable housing and more opportunities for working class people to become homeowners possible.

On the Industry City rezoning proposal she said the proposal did not have community interest at the forefront and that there had not been meaningful enough community outreach on the developer’s part to see what Sunset Park residents actually wanted. Avilés said that she would have done the same thing as Menchaca, but would have come out in opposition to the proposal sooner than he did.

On immigrant rights, Avilés said that she wants all adult city residents to have municipal voting rights. She also wants to get the city to provide more English language lessons, legal services, and immigration centers.

“District 38 is diverse and beautiful; I know because I’ve lived here for two decades,” she said. “We have so many community members who do everything that a citizen does — they pay taxes, contribute to our neighborhood — but aren’t able to vote. We need to open up democracy to enfranchise the residents who have been actively engaged in our community but barred from voting. Every [District 38] resident deserves a voice in the issues that affect their lives. And they’re going to be the Council member's constituents. How can we serve and organize our constituents if they can't hold us accountable?”

When asked about Menchaca’s tenure, Avilés said that, while he did spearhead important initiatives like IDNYC and participatory budgeting, she would have a different leadership style. She said she would work more to balance her citywide responsibilities with her local role and that she wants her office to be an organizing space for the community.

Cesar Zuniga
Zuniga is the director of research and evaluation at the ParentChild+ and chair of Community Board 7. He has raised $216,994 in private and public funds, according to the campaign finance board, as of June 4, and has been endorsed by State Senator Andrew Gounardes, Assembly Member Peter Abbate, and Council Member Justin Brannan.

Zuniga told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview that his experience makes him the best candidate to succeed Menchaca as the local Council member. His time at Community Board 7 taught him about the district’s issues, but has also gotten him thinking outside the box for solutions. His personal experience living in the district prepared him for the role and the issues faced by the constituents, he said.

“From my own personal lived experiences growing up in a household of working class immigrants from Mexico, I really see a lot of my own lived experiences are some of the lived experiences of the people that I’m seeking to represent,” he said. “I lived in a very overcrowded apartment with my immediate family and two other families, and those experiences sort of were seared into my consciousness around ‘how could it be that in the richest country in the world that people are forced to live in such horrible conditions?’ I also witnessed my parents wake up every morning and go to these underpaid jobs and really be sort of taken advantage of.”

For him, the three most important issues for the district are housing, waterfront planning, and schools. On housing, Zuniga said that while the city can’t completely cut out development, it’s not the solution to New York’s housing crisis. He plans to double down on tenant rights and resources, like rent and mortgage relief; to protect the existing stock of affordable housing; and to explore new tools that he believes the city hasn’t been using enough, such as land trusts, a people’s bank, increasing taxes on the wealthy, and a marijuana tax.

“Saying ‘no’ to development is not a plan,” he said. “Engaging in responsible, people-centered, community-centered development — that is a plan.”

As for the waterfront, Zuniga sees it as an opportunity for jobs and community-based planning.

“I see the waterfront as, perhaps, the most valuable physical asset that we have in the district, and so we need some comprehensive planning, again, planning that centers the needs of the community, that brings the community to the table,” Zuniga said. “And, for me, if we do that, if we do it well, there are so many opportunities along our waterfront to generate economic development and job creation opportunities.”

On the related topic of the failed Industry City rezoning proposal, he said he is proud of the way that he and the community board handled the situation, which was by centering community opinions and hearing from underrepresented members of the community. Zuniga explained that he focused on reducing barriers to universal participation in meetings regarding Industry City, including by having simultaneous translation at the community board meetings on the rezoning so that non-English speakers could participate and providing free dinner and childcare so working people and parents could attend the meetings. As Council member, Zuniga said he would use the same process to engage his constituents.

“The thing that we have to stop doing is we have to stop pretending that, somehow, developers don’t have a much greater advantage in this rezoning conversation, and that’s the thing I want to put an end to in structural reform and policy that are going to bring resources and build the community’s capacity to actually engage in these conversations.” He mentioned community-centered conservation and access to experts and legal counsel, among other tools and resources.

His education plan centers around the importance of infancy through five years old when it comes to development and future success. He wants new investments in education to benefit low-income students and students with disabilities, but did not provide details.

If elected, Zuniga wants to increase accountability within the NYPD, in part by dismantling the “white supremacy” that he said has taken root in the police force’s ranks. He also does not believe that the police should be mediating domestic disputes and supports reallocating funds from the NYPD toward community services.

On immigrant communities, an area Zuniga says is very personal for him, his plan is to make municipal elections open to all, regardless of immigration or citizenship status; to invest in more resources that benefit immigrants, like adult literacy programs and removing language barriers; and not allowing the NYPD to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

When asked what he thinks of Menchaca’s time in office, Zuniga said that he has “a great deal of respect and gratitude for him” and that he’s grateful for the funding he provided Community Board 7. 

“I think he, overall, really represented the issues of the district in a way that I respect and am super grateful for,” Zuniga said.

Rodrigo Camarena
Rodrigo Camarena is the director of the Immigration Advocates Network, an organizer with the Sunset Park ICE Watch, and a former executive director for business growth at the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS). As of June 4, he has raised $195,734 in private and public funds, according to the campaign finance board website.

In a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, Camarena said that he thinks he is the best fit for the Council seat because he has worked in government before as part of SBS in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, while also being an advocate and organizer.

“This is a moment where experience, a track record, and leadership really matters,” he said. “It’s not enough to just be progressive or to be on the right side of issues. We need people in office that are ready to execute on big plans and big visions, and I think I’m that leader.”

For Camarena, the top three most pressing issues for the 38th Council District are housing, a just recovery, and a fair budget. His detailed “Housing for All” plan includes a number of policy ideas, including: repairing and fully funding NYCHA by passing a “people’s budget”; reallocating funding from the NYPD and the construction of planned borough-based jails; higher taxes on large corporations and the rich; advocating for state and federal resources to retrofit and fully-fund public housing in New York City; and accelerating the Social Housing and Community Land Trust (CLT) movement.

“We live in the richest city in the richest country in the world,” he told Gotham Gazette. “There’s no reason why anyone should have to live on the street or why anyone should have to be burdened by the rent increases that we’ve seen in the city in the last couple of decades.”

More of his plans for housing include making sure that new housing built is 100% permanently affordable; ensuring that New York City has the “right of first refusal” that would allow the city to acquire recently vacated land to use for public and community use; abolishing the tax lien sale; and ensuring that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) holds landlords accountable.

Camarena’s COVID-19 recovery plan consists of making municipal worker benefits portable so that they travel with the worker and aren’t dependent on employers; funding universal childcare and 3-K; and encouraging young workers to take advantage of green jobs in the district, such as at Sunset Park’s wind turbine assembly plant on the waterfront, by creating a Green Jobs Career Pathway program with the state. He also wants to invest in the city’s union apprenticeship program; to have community-controlled retail and residential spaces to create permanently affordable rents; and to create a commercial rent stabilization program that would also allow tenants a 10-year lease with the option to have it automatically renewed. Camarena wants to invest $2 billion of the city’s budget in new and existing community services.

On Industry City and the attempted rezoning there, he said that overall he is happy with how the situation played out, that the developer was imposing a vision on the community that it didn’t have a say in. Camarena said that, while Menchaca ultimately did the right thing opposing the plan, he feels that the Council member could have been more clear on his stance from the beginning.

“I want to make it clear to developers that this community has its own ideas about how it should be developed, that we are not going to let any private developer just walk in and propose a rezoning as they’ve been very accustomed to,” he said. “As Council member, I’ll be even clearer that business as usual as it pertains to development and land use is not going to continue when I’m City Council member.”

On immigrant rights, Camarena brought up the fact that he is an immigrant himself who became a citizen 10 years ago. He wants to extend the right to vote in municipal elections to non-citizens and to expand the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) — which offers universal representation for detained immigrants — and ensure it receives long-term funding.

On the subject of the NYPD and its budget, Camarena explained that he wants to reorient the $331 million in school safety officer funding toward school counselors, nurses, and supportive youth programs. He wants to remove the NYPD from homeless outreach. Overall, he has a goal of reallocating at least $2 billion from the NYPD’s budget within his first term in the City Council.

“We have thrown every issue in our city for the NYPD to resolve, and that clearly hasn’t helped or worked,” he said. “Whether it’s mental health, whether it’s school safety or traffic enforcements or homeless outreach or street vendor enforcement and support, we have given license to the NYPD to be the service provider in all these spaces, and that’s clearly not working and won’t be something I will support.”

When asked about his thoughts on Menchaca’s two terms in office, Camarena said that while Menchaca wasn’t as assertive on land use as he could have been, he was successful at championing the IDNYC and NYIFUP programs.

Yu Lin
Yu Lin is an adult day care operator who immigrated from China as a child. He has raised $201,256 in private and public donations, according to the campaign finance board. His campaign did not respond to an interview request.

“While it’s literally been my business to take care of people, namely, the elderly and the most vulnerable, with my businesses forced to temporarily close, I turned my attention to public service, to lead the change we so need, to advocate for our community,” Lin’s campaign website reads in part. “There remains distance to go, when we talk about a ‘good life,’ so let’s walk this walk together.”

On the subject of environmental and public health, Lin wants to invest in garbage collection and sanitation, community resources, and parks. He also wants to speed up the delivery of vaccines in the district. His housing plan is to regulate processes between tenants and landlords, though he does not offer details. For education, he wants to keep the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) and expand gifted and talented programs (G&T), as well as secure more funding for schools so that families have an affordable preschool option.

For business and the economy, Lin’s plans include expediting COVID-19 reopening plans so that there’s more indoor dining; establishing communications between “community enterprises” and the government to reduce red tape; promoting skills training and entrepreneurial loans; developing more unused land, such as into parking lots; opening private commercial buses; and developing the district’s Industry City.

Regarding policing, Lin wants to increase the NYPD’s resources in the district, cooperate with the police, and put up more street security surveillance cameras.

Victor Swinton
Victor Swinton is an NYPD lieutenant commander of the Detective Squad, an adjunct professor at CUNY’s John Jay College, and a long-time resident of Sunset Park. As of May 29, Swinton had raised $119, 602 in private and public funds, according to the campaign finance board website.

“Growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Sunset Park, Vic Swinton experienced how a strong and vibrant community contributed to the overall wellbeing and progress of the people who live there,” his campaign website reads in part. “Now, more than ever, a strong, vibrant, resilient, innovative, and involved community is needed to effectively address many of the unique challenges facing us today.”

Swinton’s ‘affordable, reliable, and humane’ housing platform includes mandating that a portion of any new multi-unit residential housing has to be low-income and making sure that NYCHA doesn’t lose any of its properties to privatization. 

On immigration, Swinton wants to advocate for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and ensure it isn’t repealed, as well as to “establish an expedited process to eradicate the bureaucratic red tape delaying immigrants from becoming American citizens,” by working with the state and federal governments.

His health care plan includes making sure that COVID-19 testing and vaccinations are continually available to the 38th District; ensuring that the district has access to reputable and affordable physical and mental health care; and expanding community involvement and medical outreach to communities by the district’s health care facilities.

On public safety, Swinton’s plan says he wants to foster community buy-in and support for policing. Specifically on gun violence, Swinton believes precision policing and cooperation with the Brooklyn District Attorney office are necessary, and he wants people who were arrested for alleged gun violence to be ineligible for bail.

Jacqui Painter
Painter, a lifelong Red Hook resident, is an environmental designer, a county committee member, and the founder of Red Hook Relief, a neighborhood mutual aid group. She is also the vice president for communications and strategy at Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, which also endorsed her for the seat. 

As of May 29, she had raised $110,414 in public and private funds, according to the campaign finance board website. According to her campaign website, she does not “accept any money from corporate PACs, corporate lobbyists, real estate developers, fossil fuel companies, Police unions, racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ or xenophobic organizations, and any for-profit entity.”

The top campaign issue for Painter is climate. Her detailed climate plan includes the goals of fully decarbonizing New York City and New York State by 2030; prohibiting the creation of any new fossil fuel manufacturing plants or pipelines; supporting the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for NYCHA to prioritize affordable, sustainable housing with green roofs, rainwater collection, and solar energy; increasing funding for city parks, waterfronts, and gardens; and supporting the Upland Connector Streets program to connect Sunset Park to the waterfront more easily.

“Our district has seen firsthand the effects of climate change when Hurricane Sandy inundated us with a toxic sludge of oil, runoff, and seawater,” her website reads in part. “Eight years later, Red Hook and Sunset Park still haven’t fully recovered, with black molds and water damage threatening historic structures and affordable housing alike. Meanwhile, City Hall cares more about protecting the monied interests of multi-billion dollar boondoggles like Industry City than actually helping the most vulnerable in the district.”

Painter’s housing plan includes fighting for rent-stabilization and rent controls for small businesses; creating a citywide income tax credit for renters, with prioritization of renters with dependents living in their homes; establishing and implementing the NYCHA Preservation Trust; mandating scheduled soil and air quality tests financed by NYCHA; and requiring NYCHA to remove all mold and lead from its buildings, among other things.

For immigrant rights, Painter wants to bar the sharing of arrest records in New York City with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by “sealing the courts”; to ban U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from using any city buildings, including but not limited to hospitals, schools, subway stations, and buses; and to fully fund organizations that provide undocumented immigrants with free legal representation.

Her criminal justice plan includes making the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) an elected body with the authority to fire officers after investigations; creating a “Duty to Intervene” law to mandate that officers who don’t intervene when another officer is committing an illegal act will face criminal penalties; banning facial recognition software and surveillance technology; closing the Rikers Correctional Center but not replacing it with new jails; and expanding CURE Violence programs, among other things.

“I support reducing the budget of the NYPD by at least 50% in the next fiscal year, with the ultimate goal of abolishing the NYPD and their budget,” Painter’s platform reads in part. “I support not just a hiring freeze, since with a 3%-5% rate of attrition per year, a hiring freeze is not enough; we need to substantially reduce the force that is currently working.”

Painter’s LGBTQ+ protections platform includes decriminalizing sex work; creating a task force to report human rights violations from the NYPD against LGBTQ+ people; expanding SAGE housing to create more affordable housing for LGBTQ+ people, including elders; and restoring funding to LGBTQ+ nonprofits that lost funding in the last fiscal year.

For public transportation, Painter wants to decriminalize Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) fare evasion; to work toward a fare-free system; to pass a fare hike moratorium to prevent any increases to bus and subway fares; to expand the Fair Fares program to all essential workers, which would provide them with a 50% fare discount; and to expand the CitiBike and NYC Ferry programs.

Finally, her education equity plan includes expanding extracurricular, counseling, and tutoring programs in schools; removing NYPD officers from schools; making sure that all schools are accessible to people with disabilities by creating ramps, elevators, and other forms of accessibility adaptations; and eliminating screens based on state test scores, specialty exams, grade point average, SHSAT results, punctuality, ZIP codes, in-person interviews, and attendance.

ElectNYC is your guide to the June primary elections, with in-depth information about all the races and candidates. Visit today. Gotham Gazette:

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