Gotham Gazette Sun, 11 Apr 2021 07:16:12 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Teachers Union Grills 'Final Four' Candidates in Its Mayoral Race Endorsement Process UFT Mulgrew schools

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) invited the “final four” Democratic candidates for mayor it is considering endorsing in this year’s election to a public forum on Wednesday as the New York City teachers union determines which of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang it will back in the primary set for June.

Union leaders and the candidates covered a range of topics, including charter schools, gifted and talented programs, high-stakes testing, mental health services for students, teacher retention rates, remote learning programs, WiFi and technology access, PTA funding, and more. Candidates discussed how the city should address learning loss and psychological trauma from the pandemic and closed schools and tried to pitch themselves as the most qualified to develop and execute a comprehensive and equitable educational plan that will address long-standing inequities that the pandemic exacerbated.

Michael Mulgrew, the UFT president, moderated the event, while he and numerous union members posed questions to the candidates and pushed them on the union’s priorities. Throughout the 90-minute forum, a rare such event as part of any labor union’s endorsement process, Mulgrew challenged the candidates to fully explain their viewpoints, often inserting his and the union’s point of view, and asking follow-up questions. Most questions were posed to specific candidates, including on multiple occasions where Mulgrew indicated the union’s skepticism of Adams and Yang, though there was overlapping subject matter.

The forum provided candidates an opportunity to impress the UFT Delegate Assembly, who will issue their endorsement soon, with the union among the last of the city’s largest to choose which candidate it is backing. The UFT has struggled to get its chosen candidate over the finish line in many recent mayoral elections -- in the last open race, it backed Bill Thompson, who lost the Democratic primary to Bill de Blasio, whom the union has mostly had a good relationship with, though it has been deeply strained during the pandemic.

Although Yang is leading in the early polls, he has come into conflict with union, particularly over recent remarks he made to Politico New York that put blame on the UFT for what Yang deemed as a too-slow pace of school reopenings. During his presidential campaign, Yang described himself as “pro-charter” school, which is anathema to the UFT, and questioned how quickly teachers are able to become tenured -- two stances Mulgrew pushed him on during Wednesday’s forum. Adams was also questioned over his support for charter schools.

Stringer and Wiley have stronger apparent alignment with the UFT on policy, and both have proposed expansion of the teacher workforce as part of their campaigns. Stringer is a long-time ally of the union, which helped him win both his highly-competitive first races for Manhattan Borough President and Comptroller. He has been seen as the favorite for the union’s endorsement in this race, but there are many considerations involved. Adams and Wiley have thus far won some of the other major union endorsements, while Stringer has also picked up some, including the union of school principals and administrators just this week.

“We've really robbed our children of the joy of learning with high-stakes testing,” said Adams, who kicked off the forum by describing his third-grade teacher, who “inspired me and placed the joy of learning inside me.” Adams decried the lack of resources available to teachers, saying, “Far too often our teachers must go into their own pocketbooks or pockets, or they have to do without in their classroom.” As mayor, Adams would “give them the tools they need.”

“We should be doing more to provide technical education, apprenticeship and vocational paths to kids in high school, in particular high school is when the rubber hits the road for a lot of these kids,” said Yang when asked how he would increase internship opportunities for high school students. Yang said he would partner not only with large corporations but also small business owners, citing his first job experience as a busboy.

During an early lightning round, candidates were asked to limit their answers to “yes” or “no,” though they often struggled to do so, and in some cases candidates were asked to elaborate on their answers. Candidates were divided in their responses on topics related to mayoral control of schools, the state cap on charter schools, and high-stakes testing.

Asked if they would keep the current model of mayoral control, Wiley and Adams said no, indicating they wanted mayoral control but with changes, and Stringer said, “Yes, with changes.” Yang gave the only unequivocal yes, explaining his belief it “has been a net positive for the city since the change was made.”

Candidates unanimously answered “no” when asked if they would continue testing kindergarteners for gifted and talented programs, although Yang specified, “When asked that way, no.”

Candidates also unanimously answered “yes” when asked if every school deserved a gifted and talented program, though Wiley specified, “Yes, redefined.”

Asked to explain his stance, Stringer emphasized democratizing access and resources, saying, “The ultimate way we're going to make every classroom and every school gifted and talented is by actually investing in the same resources gifted and talented classrooms have, and that starts with investing K-to-5, two teachers in every classroom, a head teacher and assistant teacher, just like they do in private schools.”

Candidates unanimously agreed to keep the cap on charter schools, though the answers held some nuance. “We don't need to increase the number of charter schools that we have,” said Adams. “There are some failing charter schools—people want to believe there aren't, but there are—and let's phase them out and allow those successful schools, those schools that are really focusing on achievement, and allow them to fill those slots.” Yang has indicated he believes that the currently unused but previously awarded charters should be re-issued, so not raising the cap but allowing for the creation of new charter schools.

Asked if they would keep the standardized Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the only criteria for admissions to the city’s eight specialized high schools, candidates had time to answer briefly then elaborate.

Wiley said “no,” explaining, “I think we should actually be talking about how amazing every last one of our high schools should be and how amazing every last one of our students are, and focus on what invests in all of their success.”

Stringer said no and specified that he would “end the SHSAT for specialized schools” and “replace the SHSAT with the seventh-grade test,” arguing it’s more reflective of the content teachers are teaching in classrooms. He noted that the SHSAT “denies kids of color opportunity,” and so replacing the test would “diversity the student bodies of the specialized schools.”

Adams said he would keep the SHSAT test but noted he would “use a cross-section of criteria” to make the admissions process more holistic. “We have a lot of children with special needs that are gifted that are being denied access, or English as a second language,” he said. Adams also called for the creation of five new specialized high schools, one in each borough, arguing, “We put too much of our oxygen in the room for eight schools, when we have over 400 high schools that need the assistance that they deserve.”

Yang took a similar stance to Adams, saying he “would keep the SHSAT, but use other criteria, as well.”

Tensions rose when Mulgrew pressed Yang to clarify his position regarding comments he made during the Politico interview, when Yang said, “I will confess to being a parent that has been frustrated by how slow our schools have been to open, and I do believe that the UFT has been a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open.”

Mulgrew also referenced Yang’s past comments calling himself “pro-charter” and saying, “I think it’s ridiculous that we’re tenuring teachers at like the two-year mark or something, and make it so you can’t be paid or you can’t be disciplined or fired.” Mulgrew asked Yang if he stood by all these stances.

“Mike, you and I had a productive conversation afterwards where you conveyed to me that it’s been a failure of leadership on the part of the mayor and that the teachers need a partner who’s committed to reopening the schools in a responsible way that protects teachers and makes everyone feel safe and secure,” Yang responded, though he did not explicitly amend or retract his original position, reiterating that he was speaking as a frustrated parent. “I agree that the mayor has failed the teachers and public school parents like me at providing the leadership that we needed to get our schools to reopen more quickly.”

Yang also reiterated his original remarks regarding tenure, saying, “I think that teachers are awesome. But there are a lot of teachers that I think could stand a bit more seasoning before you give them a certain degree of tenure or professional assurance, and that statement is something I would stand by.”

Mulgrew pushed back, explaining that teachers receive tenure in four years, not two, as Yang’s original statement suggested (though Yang was talking more broadly than New York City at the time amid his presidential run). “The position of tenure is one of the most misunderstood things, and it's constantly used as a political football against the teachers,” said Mulgrew. “The protection for tenure means that more than 50% of the teachers never reached the tenure decision because they don't last in the profession.”

Yang agreed that teacher burnout was “a structural problem,” saying, “As a public school parent, any parent would agree that we need to do more to support teachers and keep them in the profession.”

Asked how he would manage the Department of Education to lower the rate of teacher burnout, Yang suggested, “If teachers are delivering at a very high level, they should be getting paid more,” or teacher merit pay, on top of smaller class sizes and more teachers in the classroom.

Mulgrew took issue with Yang’s position. “I want to know why you would support something such as individual merit pay when all educational research on it now has proven it not to work for children,” he said.

“I'm not suggesting that the compensation necessarily gets matched to something like, for example, test scores. I'm not for that,” explained Yang. He continued, “If you look at the amount of money we're spending per student, it’s really significant. And then if you look at the proportion of that that's going to actual teachers, it's really low.” Yang went on to suggest “paying teachers more from year one.”

Adams was asked about his plan to fix inequities regarding access to the internet and technological devices for students. He began by citing his opposition to renewing Verizon’s citywide franchise on the grounds that the company has “ignored communities of color in impoverished areas.” Adams went on to criticize the Department of Education for failing to communicate with educators during the remote learning rollout, saying, “We need to really speak to the people closest to the action.” Adams called for “a real-time GIS mapping system to see where WiFi is located” and track when students receive devices. And he called for ensuring high speed broadband access, adding that he has “put over $130 million into our schools to help with technology,” in apparent reference to use of his capital budget as borough president.

Mulgrew pushed back on Adams’ proposals, saying, “If we're going to actually tackle this, there has to be a management plan in place because I'm letting you know there is not one in place to do this systematically.”

Adams suggested utilizing existing resources, such as the NYPD, which has demographics data for all schools, to deliver computers and tablets to students.

In addition to technology, Adams said schools should be places where students can have a range of other health and wellness needs met. “Schools should be the focal point for the full development of the full personhood of our children—eyeglasses, or food pantries in every school, washers and dryers, toiletries, so many things are barriers to education,” said Adams.

Wiley offered a similarly sweeping vision for the public education system, pledging to “build out the community school that they’re also wraparound services for the entire family.”

Yang and Stringer took different stances on accommodating families who want to participate in fully remote learning for the foreseeable future as the city still battles with COVID-19 and new variants.

“We have to recognize that not one size fits all for parents and for students, and we should build that system out,” Stringer said.

Yang, who has been the most vocal of the candidates about reopening schools faster, was reluctant to commit to building out a remote learning program. “I think it's too soon to tell whether a child is thriving,” he said, pushing back against Mulgrew’s assertion that teachers say some small population of students has done very well with remote learning and Stringer’s assertion that one of his two sons has done well with remote learning. Yang noted that the decision to participate in remote learning varied along racial lines. “We can’t force people, obviously, to do something. But we should be doing everything in our power to convey the information, which is that in-person instruction is a better approach,” said Yang, citing studies that have shown “in person-instruction is 30% to 70% more effective at content-based learning.”

Wiley was asked if she would support housing subsidies for teachers. “I am actually putting forth a plan whereby we are going to create much more affordable housing and at the levels of affordability that our essential workers can actually pay,” said Wiley. She noted that she would repurpose at least some of the city’s vacant land to create affordable housing, an idea that has been central to Stringer’s housing framework for several years and he reiterated during the forum as well.

Candidates were asked about utilizing the coming infusion of funds from the federal and state governments.

Stringer voiced support for UFT’s recommendation that the city allocate $1 billion in federal covid relief funds for students’ mental health. He spotlighted his child care plan, which would “triple the number of kids in child care” by specifically targeting households making up $100,000 a year. He said the city should fund “full after-school programs,” a position he elaborated on later in the forum: “Under my education plan, we're going to equalize after-school funding. If one school gets chess, every school gets chess. One school gets robotics, every school gets robotics.”
“I'm going to make sure we're hiring 1,000 new teachers in order to bring class sizes down,” said Wiley, who noted doing so would “help us confront the reality of a traumatized community because we have to start individualizing our learning for our kids.” Wiley emphasized cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral therapy for students and “more summer youth employment.”

Adams pledged to provide every first-time mother with a doula who will provide nutritional education and prevent “irreversible learning disabilities.” He stressed “real dyslexia screening in schools,” citing data that 30% of detainees at Rikers Island have dyslexia. He said he would expand the plant-based nutrition pilot program that he spearheaded at Bellevue Hospital “that’s reversing chronic diseases. He also mentioned providing children with healthy foods, ensuring every child in the foster care system has a home, and rebuilding trust with law enforcement.

Although Yang decried the departure of what he said was 300,000 families from the city as a result of the pandemic, as well as the loss of 600,000 jobs, he did not directly explain how he would utilize the city’s flush coffers for its recovery.

Wiley was asked to explain her stance on eliminating gifted and talented programs and improving integration in the city’s schools. Although Wiley chaired the School Diversity Advisory Group empaneled by Mayor de Blasio and has reiterated her support for the panel’s recommendations to replace gifted and talented programs with broader models, redraw district lines, and move away from from admissions screens to drive integration in the public school system, she has not yet emphasized school integration in her campaign so far.

Wiley used her response time to primarily explain the panel’s recommendations regarding gifted and talented programs. “We have to expand the opportunity for gifted education, for helping invest in supporting the talents of all our kids, recognizing they all have one or some, and that there are far too many that don't get the benefit of the investments, and we don't have enough programs,” said Wiley. “What we saw was a proliferation of things called gifted and talented in low-income communities of color that actually weren't. That's what we wanted to avoid was the idea that because you slap the label on something, that that's what it was.”

Educators who posed questions to the candidates raised concerns throughout the forum about addressing children’s mental health and trauma in the wake of the pandemic.

“We have to triple the number of social workers in our schools,” said Stringer, who repeated his endorsement of the UFT’s proposal to provide more mental health services in the city’s schools throughout the forum.

Yang joined the call for increased mental health services, saying, “The ratio right now of guidance counselors, social workers, mental health workers, per school, or per child is terrible, particularly when we know our kids are going to be coming back with learning loss, and in some cases trauma, emotional problems.”

Mulgrew quizzed candidates on the UFT’s five-point pandemic recovery plan. While Adams and Stringer confirmed they’d read it, Wiley said she “read the Cliff’s Notes” and Yang said, “I confess I have not read it.”

Adams has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and parent choice regarding where they decide they want their children to go to school, so he was asked if his stance had changed at all in light of a disability discrimination case concerning Success Academy, by far the city’s largest charter school network and which was court-ordered to pay $2.4 million. Adams clarified, “It was not a position on Success Academy. It was a position on charter schools. Charter schools—the successful ones, the ones that have scaled up excellence—we should duplicate just as we do our district schools that are doing an amazing job.”

Stringer said he would implement a teacher’s residency program to reduce teacher turnover and improve diversity.

To this point, Wiley flagged high-stakes testing as a significant cause of teacher turnover. “We've got to stop teaching to the test, and start teaching to our kids,” said Wiley, who said her kids’ favorite teacher left the profession “because of the tyranny of testing, she couldn't teach.”

Asked how he would reduce the number of homeless students, Yang offered the notion of converting vacant hotel and office buildings into affordable housing units, an idea he has supported during other forums, as well. “If you look at a hotel, you can convert it in half the time and at half the cost than if you had ground up construction, even if the incentives were in place,” said Yang. “Even though I'm an optimist about the pace of New York City's recovery, I don't think that these hotels are going to be 100% utilized,” he said. He also called for increasing the value of housing vouchers.

Stringer was pushed on his shifting and complicated stance toward taking real estate industry donations. Stringer took real estate donations until making a new policy to decline funds from large developers. Although Stringer said he has returned some donations, he largely defended his war chest, citing the economic pressures of running as a mayoral candidate against well-funded competition, referencing without names former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire and former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan.

“The reality is I'm now running against a guy who's not in the campaign finance program; 20 billionaires are running super PACs. We have another candidate, who is not here tonight—his daddy is putting in a million dollars a week. And I gotta win this race,” he said of McGuire and Donovan, respectively.

“The issue here, though,” said Mulgrew, “is that we've had 20 years of mayors telling us they’re fixing the homeless problems.”

Stringer reiterated his promise to center affordable housing as mayor, citing his aggressive housing plan, which would require affordable caps for 25% of the housing in any new housing development anywhere in the city and focus on city subsidies to create housing for very low-income New Yorkers.

In another lightning round section, candidates were asked if they would keep the current choice system for high school admissions more broadly, to which candidates unanimously said “no.” Candidates also unanimously said “no” on whether they would keep the current system for funding student sports programs.

Candidates unanimously agreed that the Regents exams should not be reinstated next school year.

Asked if wealthy PTAs should be required to share funds with less-wealthy PTAs, Yang was the only candidate who said “no,” explaining, “it should be voluntary.”

In the final section of the forum, candidates were allowed to pose a question to another candidate of their choosing.

Yang asked Stringer to explain more about his kids’ pandemic experience, noting they both have children around the same age, which led to a friendly exchange about a potential playdate.

Adams asked Yang to explain controversial remarks he made about the difficulty of parenting and working in small New York City apartments during the pandemic, part of his explanation for spending many of the city’s worst covid days at his upstate home, as well as his point of view that UFT was a “significant factor” regarding delayed school reopenings.

“I just need to understand why you felt as though these teachers didn’t put their lives on the line and those who are living in difficult surroundings did not leave the city and why you felt it was okay to do so,” said Adams.

Yang explained, “I care deeply about what families of every circumstance are going through every day,” adding, “You’ve been in this a long time, so you understand what one quote pulled out of context in an interview actually is.” (There is no indication Yang’s quote was taken out of context, and the New York Times reporter whom he said it to disputed his assertion on Twitter.)

Yang also said he had been out of the city campaigning to help elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, then to help Democrats win the two Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs, all of which were successful, though that travel did not occur until after the worst months of the pandemic in New York.

Stringer challenged Adams to explain a position he expressed in a Bloomberg interview that one teacher could teach several hundreds of students remotely. In the interview, Adams said doing so “would be cost-effective,” but during the forum, Adams characterized the position as a “misquote.” Instead, he endorsed the UFT’s proposal of extended summer hours and hiring additional teachers. Although he did voice support for “utilizing remote learning,” he did not go into further detail.

Wiley asked for Yang to clarify his stance on high-stakes testing given his experience as the founder of a test prep company (which was largely for helping people with entrance to graduate school programs, like the GMAT business school exam). “We’re actually outsourcing judgment that would be better in the hands of teachers,” said Yang, who argued that teachers “know who could use an enrichment program” and “you shouldn’t need to, frankly, have that kid sit for a test.” He also said the school system should “lighten up in terms of the kids’ perception of it,” but did not explain how that would be accomplished. He reiterated his point that other factors, such as teacher recommendations, interviews, extracurriculars, and background should inform the admissions process into the specialized high schools.

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Teachers Union Grills 'Final Four' Candidates in Its Mayoral Race Endorsement Process Thu, 08 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: How the Next Mayor Can Listen to the 'Unheard Third' taskforce fl relected

New Yorkers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

April 7, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: How the Next Mayor Can Address the Needs of the 'Unheard Third'

Emerita Torres of the Community Service Society of New York joined the show to discuss how the next mayor should address the needs of New Yorkers living in poverty, and how Democratic mayoral candidates have responded to CSS' survey.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

Max & Murphy · Episode 289

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: How the Next Mayor Can Listen to the 'Unheard Third' Wed, 07 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Dear Next Mayor: Will You Be The Equity-Driven Leader New York City Youth Need? Dear Next Mayor: Will You Be The Equity-Driven Leader New York City Youth Need?

Student leaders (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography office)

Many people are saying that after this pandemic, New York City will never be the same. 

We hope that is true.

Before the pandemic, New York City was one of the most economically prosperous cities in the country but still one of the most inequitable. Almost 1 million households - one-third of New York City’s population - lacked internet service, a digital divide that has disproportionately impacted underserved communities of color. New Yorkers no longer want to live in a rich city that does not provide poor students with the devices and internet they need to thrive academically. We need a mayor that makes sure students still have equitable access to updated compatible devices and free broadband service even after this pandemic ends. It should not have taken a pandemic for New York City leadership to recognize this issue as urgent. We need a proactive, not reactive leader. Are you that leader?

To be the leader of the city that never sleeps, you need to be committed to implementing housing policies that ensure students and their families have a safe space to sleep at night. New York City is renowned for its notorious real estate empire, yet one in ten New York City public school students experiences housing insecurity. This number increases drastically in regards to students attending the City University of New York (CUNY). Up to 50% of CUNY students experience housing and food insecurity. How can students be expected to focus on their studies when they are busy worrying about how they are going to afford food or where they are going to sleep at night? 

The rise of unemployment and racial injustice are also contributing to the mental health crisis students are facing in New York. Students are struggling to find jobs with livable wages that offer them a viable pathway to their career interests, while racial inequity in this city’s education and justice systems threatens the safety and future of our youth.

Our city’s police department continues to disproportionately target Black and brown communities and engages in police brutality without repercussion. What youth in these communities need is a safe space to learn, but the Department of Education invests in body scanners instead of inclusive curriculum and police rather than counselors in schools. As schools continue to be racially segregated by zoning, unequal distribution of academic resources, and discriminatory admissions processes such as the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), we need a leader who is committed to passing policies that eradicate these systemic barriers. Is that person you?

This pandemic has changed New York City in irreversible ways. It has further exposed the inequities within our institutions and it is going to take a progressive, forward-thinking mayor to find sustainable solutions to these issues. That’s why the next mayor of New York City must be committed to these seven priorities: 

  1. Close the digital divide.
  2. End food and housing insecurity for students and families.
  3. Provide adequate mental health resources for students for free or at affordable rates.
  4. Create more youth employment opportunities.
  5. Make our schools more inclusive and integrated.
  6. Decrease police presence in schools.
  7. Guarantee youth leadership in decision-making discussions that impacts young people.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the #DegreesNYC community recognized the need for youth voices in the decisions that impact their academic future. As a group of youth leaders focused on transforming the New York City education system into one that values the intersectional experiences of students, our aim is to achieve racial equity and economic mobility. The #DegreesNYC Youth Council has been working on amplifying the intersecting experiences students have with education inequity within and outside of their schools; inequities that have been exacerbated due to remote learning.  

New York City will never be the same after this pandemic, but maybe that’s a good thing. Our city was working against the well-being of students before COVID-19. We need to re-imagine a city whose leadership is committed to making New York a better city for our youth. Are you the future mayor our city needs?

The #DegreesNYC Youth Council is committed to making schools and campuses more student-ready by advocating for institutional and political reform. On Twitter @DegreesNYC.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Dear Next Mayor: Will You Be The Equity-Driven Leader New York City Youth Need? Wed, 07 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Choosing Our Next Mayor: The Most Important Issues New Yorkers Need to Hear About from the Candidates us bernie choose

Inauguration Day at City Hall (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

It's often said being Mayor of New York City is the second toughest job in America. The challenges of governing our nation's largest city are enormous, especially now in the wake of COVID-19, the racial justice movement, and increased crime and unemployment. And as the city seems to be tilting even more to the "progressive" left, I'm reminded of the sage advice of one of our greatest mayors, Fiorello LaGuardia, that "there's no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the trash." Competence matters, and we need it now more than ever.

Leaving politics aside, any fair assessment of the last seven-plus years would have to acknowledge the shortcomings of the de Blasio administration. The barometer for judging the success of an incumbent (two-term) administration has become: "Are we better off today than we were eight years ago?" Today, few New Yorkers would answer in the affirmative. But also in fairness, Mayor de Blasio has had some notable successes in achieving his agenda. For example, he did end the "stop and frisk era," and he pushed the state into adopting universal pre-kindergarten. But there have also been major stumbles, such as the ethics scandals that nearly toppled the mayor and administration missteps during the coronavirus crisis, among others.

So what should we be looking for in our next Mayor? An outsider with a fresh perspective (like entrepreneur Andrew Yang, banker Ray McGuire, or not-for-profit executive Dianne Morales)? A long-time public servant with lots of government experience (like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, or former Obama and Bloomberg administration official Shaun Donovan)? Or a de Blasio administration insider who left with reputation intact (like former counsel to the Mayor and CCRB Chair Maya Wiley or Garcia)? Or one of the high-profile Republican candidates long-involved in community organizing (like Fernando Mateo or Curtis Sliwa)?

No matter which of them emerges as our next Mayor, these are the issues that will ultimately define their success, so you'll want to hear from the candidates now about how they'll address them.

Public Safety
The paramount obligation of any administration is to maintain public safety and keep New Yorkers safe. Because of the enormous drops in major crime achieved during the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, that issue seemed, in some sense, under control. Attention shifted further toward police-community relations and police policies that seemed to target people of color. But now, we are at a new crossroads, with violent crime rising again and still fractured relationships between police and communities. This is a particularly daunting task for our next Mayor -- to motivate police to keep us safe yet address the legitimate concerns of communities of color. The current Mayor appears to have alienated both police and communities. We have to do better, and we have to keep our City safe at the same time.

Economic Development
It's still very much "about the economy, stupid." So much of the city's financial success and tax base comes from Wall Street, yet we are a most diverse city where income equity and unemployment remain confounding issues as well, and even more so since covid. Many who could left the city during this crisis, choosing to isolate elsewhere. Now, we need to get them back for the good of all New Yorkers. The challenge for the next Mayor is to strike the right balance between encouraging economic development and job growth, while also lifting up those struggling in our city.

We need to get people back to the office, safely, and restore some sense of normalcy to our daily work lives. It takes a nuanced approach, an understanding that just raising taxes and spending more money doesn't necessarily solve problems; it can create new ones. I am among those to have suggested a major public works initiative like the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) that would directly create construction jobs and rebuild the city's crumbling infrastructure at the same time. That's a win-win. It's how a Mayor can smartly use the city's resources, leverage them into state and federal dollars, make prudent decisions, spend smart, and inspire New Yorkers to work together to achieve common goals good for all.

Public Education
After winning Albany's approval for mayoral control of the public school system 20 years ago, we haven't done enough to capitalize on that opportunity, particularly during the de Blasio years. Good riddance to Chancellor Carranza, who wasted his tenure hiring cronies and trying to change something that wasn't broken -- our elite high schools. Providing a quality education for our children of every community is something we must do better to achieve. It is the great equalizer from which so much future opportunity flows.

The next Mayor must put politics aside and appoint someone of proven competence in administering and improving large bureaucracies -- an Arne Duncan type -- whether or not an educator by background. And set your own course, instead of what the teachers union dictates to you. There's room for great charter schools and great traditional public schools in the same space. Embrace both. And commit to spending resources to improve bilingual education, so that children of every community have equal opportunity within our public school system. But one thing is certain: we have to do better than this for the sake of our children and the larger city.

Health Care
The pandemic has caused us to appreciate how important our healthcare system is and how we need to ensure access to it for all. Our city's public hospital system is by far the largest in the country. Yet quality of care and access to care remain concerns. The rollout of vaccines is a perfect example. Why is it that affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side have a much higher vaccination rate than many poorer communities? That's a problem of administration. But it's also a problem of fundamental fairness. Like the public education system, we need administrators of proven competence to run our public hospital system and health department. New Yorkers should expect and deserve no less, and choose a Mayor who will manage well, including by appointing the right people.

Quality of Life
I don't hear the mayoral candidates talking enough about “quality of life,” yet at its core, quality of life is what ultimately defines a city. Quality of life, of course, includes living in a safe place, having economic opportunity, being able to give your kids a decent education, and having access to good healthcare. But it also means much more.

It means keeping streets clean, maintaining great parks for recreation, and fostering a sense of community that brings neighborhoods together and makes us optimistic about our future. But our quality of life now seems under siege. For example, we are grappling with how to help our vulnerable homeless fellow New Yorkers, who, during COVID, have increasingly been housed in inadequate SRO hotels without sufficient services, overwhelming certain neighborhoods. And there's a growing perception that our city is less safe today than it was eight years ago, that economic opportunities are harder to come by, and that our best days are  behind us. So ask these candidates how important they think it is to improve quality of life in our city. That will tell you a lot about their priorities and understanding of what makes a city great.

At bottom, the Mayor's job is about competence. Delivering services and achieving goals. Done right, it's a 24-7 job. The best Mayors make decisions on the merits, not politics, and they realize they have to work with state and federal officials to get things done for the good of the city. So take a good, hard look at these candidates, and ask yourself -- and them -- what is it about their record that qualifies them to run a $90-billion enterprise, manage a 330,000-person workforce, and serve the needs of 8-plus-million New Yorkers. Because, at the end of the day, there is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the trash.

Randy M. Mastro is a litigation partner at Gibson Dunn and a former Deputy Mayor of New York City who chairs the Boards of Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

This guest column is part of Citizens Union Speakers, a regular series of op-eds written by members of the Citizens Union Foundation community in Gotham Gazette, CUF's flagship public education program. The opinions expressed in these Citizens Union Speakers columns are those of the authors alone, not Citizens Union Foundation, Gotham Gazette, or any other entity.

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Choosing Our Next Mayor: The Most Important Issues New Yorkers Need to Hear About from the Candidates Tue, 06 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Highly Competitive Borough President Race Underway in Brooklyn 4x1 mashup edit

(l-r) Robert Cornegy Jr, Jo Anne Simon, Antonio Reynoso, Khari Edwards

With Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a Democrat, facing term limits and pursuing a bid for mayor, there is a competitive “open” primary race underway to replace him. More than a dozen candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination in the June primary, which is all but assured to decide the next borough president because of the overwhelming majority of registered Democrats in Brooklyn.

The race features three City Council members, a State Assembly member, a former hospital executive with deep community ties, a bishop, a state committee person, a high school English and theater teacher, a daycare teacher and labor activist, a reference librarian and minister, a business administrator for non-profit organizations, and a gang violence activist. Like the rest of the party primary elections for all of city government — mayor, comptroller, public advocate, borough presidents, and City Council seats — happening this June, the Brooklyn Borough President primary will feature ranked-choice voting for the first time.

The office of borough president is a relatively ceremonial role without many concrete enumerated powers. A borough president can appoint members to various local and boroughwide boards, including half of all members of their borough’s community boards, local school boards, one member each to the citywide Panel for Educational Policy and City Planning Commission. 

One of the more important roles borough presidents play, albeit in an advisory capacity, is their voice in land use and development matters through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The process determines how rezonings, changes with development, and city map alterations are made. Borough presidents also control millions of dollars in capital funding that they can allocate for infrastructure including everything from parks and playgrounds to schools and community centers.

While there aren’t many other decision-making powers of the borough president, they can also sponsor legislation before the City Council, often in partnership with Council members, though the borough president can’t vote on those bills. The borough president can also award proclamations to people he or she feels are notable and can convene task forces to discuss issues facing the borough, issue reports and policy recommendations, and advocate.

And that is perhaps the most important power of the borough president, albeit an abstract one: the bully pulpit. The borough president is supposed to be the borough’s strongest advocate, representative, and cheerleader, a champion for diverse communities and for the borough as a whole. They are the link between the local districts and boards and the centralized City Hall and City Council, between their borough and the mayor and governor. A proactive borough president can influence major decisions.

Brooklyn, like the rest of the city, is continuing to struggle with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and faces a long road to recovery. It is home to communities that have been disproportionately affected by the crisis, a result of long-standing inequities that stem from structural socio-economic disparities. There are also the perennial issues that are pertinent to all or most of the five boroughs including the lack of affordable housing, the future of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), large-scale rezonings, criminal justice, transit infrastructure, coastal resiliency, and more.

More specific to Brooklyn, these and other issues manifest in terms of challenges like addressing coastal resiliency in the south of the borough, deciding how to rebuild or reinvent the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the revival of Coney Island’s tourist economy, environmental justice in northern Brooklyn, education equity and safety from hate crimes in the large Orthodox Jewish communities, the plan to build a new downtown jail as part of the closure of the Rikers Island complex, gun violence, poverty, and a lack of health care in parts of central Brooklyn, housing and displacement in gentrifying areas, and much more.

Though there are 14 candidates running to be the next Brooklyn Borough President, the top tier — as determined by candidates’ public profiles, political experience, endorsements, fundraising, campaign activity, and more — consists of six: State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, City Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr., City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, City Council Member Mathieu Eugene, nonprofit executive Kimberly Council, and former Brookdale Hospital executive Khari Edwards. The other candidates include Robert Elstein, Pearlene Fields, Anthony Jones, Shanduke McPhatter, Robert Ramos, Jr., Trisha Ocona, and Lamor Miller-Whitehead.

Gotham Gazette spoke with five of those leading candidates running for Brooklyn borough president, while Eugene did not respond to multiple inquiries. Highlights from those interviews and other key information about the six leading candidates are below, followed by, on page two of this article, information about the other candidates in the running for Brooklyn Borough President.

Robert Cornegy, Jr.
Robert Cornegy, Jr., a two-term Democrat in office since 2014, represents Council District 36, which includes the neighborhoods of Bedford Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights.

In the Council, Cornegy chaired the Committee on Small Business in his first term and now heads the Committee on Housing and Buildings. He championed several initiatives and bills to support small businesses including the Chamber On-the-Go mobile business support program and a bill to penalize landlords who harass commercial tenants. He also successfully sponsored a bill that requires the city health department to provide lactation rooms for breastfeeding mothers at government agencies and offices where many New Yorkers get services.

Among his more prominent achievements is the Kalief Browder law, which mandates that any person detained or incarcerated at Rikers for more than 10 days should receive the necessary vocational, educational, and health care services they need. He’s also been a proponent of expanding gifted and talented programs in elementary schools.

Cornegy touts his experience in the Council as key to being successful as the next borough president, particularly his leadership on small business and housing issues. “I believe that those are the actual pillars by which recovery and resiliency will take place not only in the city, but also in the borough of Brooklyn, which to me drives the city,” he said in an interview.

As with most candidates, Cornegy wants to pursue a new approach to land use and development, focused on creating truly affordable housing. “The three components to affordability in this borough are going to be the ability to access and utilize the powers in land use and zoning, but also the almost $100 million annually of capital funding that help reshape every corner of the borough,” he said.

He wants to strike a balance in how development occurs in the borough, seeming to criticize both as-of-right market development and the major city-led rezonings aimed at encouraging new housing, including a portion that is rent-restricted. “The private-public partnership is what's really going to get us to affordability in this borough,” he said. “We've seen, when it’s driven by the private sector, abuses that are far too many to document. And we've also seen inequities when it's been led solely by the public sector,” he said.

Cornegy did promise that before his term is up in the City Council, he would “reshape” ULURP to make the process more inclusive for communities on the ground, though he did not specify the legislative changes he would propose to do so. “I intend to do that as a legacy project before I leave the City Council,” he said.

Among the ways that the Council is already considering changes to how the city pursues the larger context of housing development, rezonings, and all sorts of borough and local needs is comprehensive planning legislation championed by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and originally proposed by Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso, another contender for Brooklyn borough president. Cornegy did say he supports “portions” of the bill, but could not say specifically which parts of it he opposed.

But Cornegy repeatedly emphasized the need to ensure greater community input in rezonings. “It’s really important for us to look at rezonings and make sure they don't favor one demographic over another, and to make sure to give community viability and input in every single project. That's where communities have taken exception, not to the process in and of itself,” he said.

That dynamic also played out in the city’s plan to build a borough-based jail in every borough except Staten Island, to replace Rikers Island, which is slated to close in 2026. Cornegy voted for the plan in the Council and takes pride in playing a role in the closure of Rikers.

(In terms of changes to how the city does development, there is also a Council bill, pushed by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, to mandate a racial impact study as part of all rezoning proposals, but Cornegy did not mention it.)

On the power of making appointments to community boards, which play an advisory role in land use at the hyperlocal level and where new term limits start being implemented next year, after a charter change was approved by voters in 2017 with the goal of seeing more turnover and diversity, Cornegy said he supports term limits but worries about completely replacing current members from the boards.

“There are people who have institutional knowledge who we don't want to throw out. You don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater,” he said. “However, there should be a healthy mix of past, present and future community residents on these boards…Yes, we want fresh blood and fresh eyes but getting rid of tremendous institutional knowledge in the process is not the best thing ever.” (Community board term limits will be implemented on a staggered schedule and members can reapply to boards after being off for one two-year term.)

Asked how he would ensure that community boards don’t become roadblocks to local projects like busways and bike lanes, as happens fairly often, Cornegy said there is no “blanket” approach. “Every community has their needs, and they're able to articulate those needs,” he said.

As with most candidates, he expressed reservations about the NYCHA rescue plan being pursued by the de Blasio administration to raise funds for the struggling public housing authority and renovate and rebuild its many developments. On one portion of the plan, often called infill development as it would allow the lease of unused or underused NYCHA land to private developers to build housing, including or at times fully rent-restricted housing, Cornegy expressed opposition. “So in its current form, I'm not thrilled with that,” he said, “because of the concerns that I have around keeping those employees and labor members who have been a part of NYCHA, and those families who've lived in NYCHA.”

Cornegy has been a clear supporter of charter schools and believes the state cap on their growth in the city should be lifted. “As a parent of six, I think it's important to give pathways for all children to be successful,” he said, noting that three of his children attend charters. “I think that there are solid arguments for raising the charter school cap,” he added.

As borough president, Cornegy also said he would pursue a “comprehensive transportation plan” for the entire borough, assessing which communities need dedicated busways, which ones need protected bike lanes, and such. “A real robust program that can be driven actually, by the borough president's office, that incorporates the use of public transportation, protected bike lanes, and access to the waterways, is what's going to be necessary to get this entire borough moving,” he said.

Cornegy’s campaign hasn’t been without controversy. The City reported in February on a complaint filed by a former Cornegy staff member alleging that he used official resources and staff for his campaign. Then in March, The City also reported on a verbal scuffle between Cornegy’s staff and a constituent.

Still, Cornegy is seen as among the frontrunners in the race. He had about $493,000 in cash on hand as of the last campaign finance filing from March 15 (Due to a filing error, the CFB's database incorrectly showed he had more than $1 million). He has also received several prominent endorsements including from State Senators Diane Savino and Roxanne Persaud, Assemblymembers William Colton, Jaime Williams, and Erik Dilan, and City Council Members Chaim Deutsch, Alan Maisel, Laurie Cumbo, and Darma Diaz. He even has the backing of director Spike Lee and comedian Tracy Morgan.

Jo Anne Simon
Since 2015, Simon has represented State Assembly District 52, which covers Downtown Brooklyn, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, and parts of Park Slope. A lawyer by training, she previously ran a disability civil rights practice and is also an adjunct assistant professor of law at Fordham University.

Before her time in office, Simon built her reputation as a community activist opposing large scale developments in the borough including Atlantic Yards and the closure and sale of Long Island College Hospital (LICH). That second project led her to introduce and pass through the Assembly a bill called the Local Input in Community Healthcare (LICH) Act, to ensure that the state health department cannot close hospitals without assessing the community’s health care needs. The bill has stalled in the State Senate.

Simon has generally been anti-development over the course of her activism and elected career, even speaking up against the recently scrapped Industry City rezoning and the proposed Gowanus rezoning. She previously served as President of the Boerum Hill Association, chaired its committees on traffic and transportation, land use, and Atlantic Yards. She also chaired the Gowanus Community Stakeholder Group and Gowanus Expressway Community Coalition. In 2004, she was elected female District Leader and State Committeewoman for the 52nd Assembly District, and would go on to win the Assembly seat.

“I am running because I am really tired of issues being categorized as women's issues and therefore being given less credence and less value,” she said in an interview. “It's time, I think, for some ‘good trouble,’ as Congressman [John] Lewis used to say. Women's issues are small business issues, they’re education issues, they’re health issues, they’re immigration issues, they’re environmental and economic and social justice issues. And it's time for women's leadership in Brooklyn.” As Simon noted, she would be the first woman ever to serve as Brooklyn Borough President.

Simon said the borough president’s office is only limited by the way its holder uses it. “The real power is in the ability to lead by convening, by coalition building, and by a strategic use of capital funding, for example, to help shape and support issues that are consistent with policy,” she said.

As with Cornegy, Simon wants to see changes to the ULURP process, though she said it should happen through an amendment to the city charter. “My approach to land use would be very different from what is currently in the charter,” she said. “[W]hat we have right now under ULURP isn't working really well for anybody, and nobody involved with that process is particularly enamored of it. What we really need is sort of smart, responsible and community driven development.” It was a veiled critique of the top-down approach employed by the de Blasio administration, which has often seen rezonings delayed or even derailed because of community opposition. More often than not, communities feel they have not been heard and several communities have even attempted neighborhood-led rezonings to meet their demands. “The ULURP process does not really involve the community. It was designed to make it look like it involved the community, but it doesn't actually involve them. So that sets up the community to be unhappy because somebody else came in with an idea and he's trying to sell it to them,” she said.

The comprehensive planning legislation before the City Council ostensibly seeks to fix that issue by giving communities a greater voice. But Simon disagrees with the legislation as it stands. “I think we need comprehensive planning,” she said, “My concern about the speaker's approach at this juncture, without some modifications, is that it still ends up putting the development community in the driver's seat.”

Besides giving communities more power, she also wants developers to give them more resources. “We need to find a way that developers when they develop, that they put in some money that goes to public services,” she said. “We need water and sewer, we need to build out our broadband seriously... That's infrastructure, right? We should be putting money into a pot to build schools where we need the schools.”

But that wasn’t her only critique of the major neighborhood rezonings pursued by de Blasio, most of which have been focused on low-income communities of color. They come with the threat of accelerating gentrification and mass permanent displacement, she said, without adequate planning for community benefit. “The problem with these big rezonings is that everything's up for grabs in other words,” she said.

A central concern for Simon is environmental justice, which  runs through issues of land use, public health, transit and waterfront infrastructure. “To the extent that the borough president has a role in any kind of proposal, what is the impact on climate and climate justice?...That's the North Star there. And so everything then has to point in that direction,” she said, promising to strategically use capital funds to ensure all new projects are climate resilient.

Though Simon may not be able to affect the borough-based jails plan, she nonetheless opposes it, insisting that the “critical flaw” was that the city did not place a facility in each borough. More facilities would have meant a more spread out jail population footprint and smaller facilities, she said. “I came out against that particular proposal, ultimately, even though I had wanted very much to be able to support it,” she said. “And so I think it could be improved significantly...I don't know what another administration would do to modify that.”

Simon also promised to provide more resources to community boards to strengthen their ability to weigh in on land use matters “because we're asking people to evaluate incredibly complicated projects, beyond their area of expertise, and we're not giving them any help.”

She believes NYCHA infill development is misguided. “You may have what looks like a lot of room. But the reality is, you'd have to build too close to the existing buildings and it would just be awful,” she said. “And it also just engendered a lot of fear and distrust in the part of the residents and I think that was unnecessary.”

She is opposed to raising the charter school cap. “It’s a legislative decision as opposed to a borough president’s,” she said. She is supportive of building more dedicated busways and protected bike lanes, she said.

Simon’s bid has been endorsed by several fellow elected officials and political clubs including State Senator Andrew Gounardes, Assemblymember Robert Carroll, former State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, 504 Democratic Club, former Assemblymember Joan Millman, Union of Arab Women of NYC, the Bay Ridge Democrats, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, Brooklyn Young Democrats, Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn and Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats. She is in second place in fundraising and had over $727,000 in campaign cash as of March 15, but her filings also show an outstanding loan of $125,000, which Simon lent to the campaign.

Khari Edwards
Khari Edwards was the vice president of external affairs at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center for more than seven years, where he was the first person of color to hold the position, according to his website. In this role, he worked with various community-based organizations to make the hospital a fixture of the local community, his site says.

Before working at the hospital, Edwards served as a special advisor to the Democratic leader of the New York State Senate for nearly four years and as the regional representative for the Office of the New York State Executive Chamber for about two years, per his LinkedIn page.

Edwards’ main four borough president campaign issues, according to his website, are housing and homelessness, healthcare, small businesses, and opportunities for youth.

His main goal when it comes to housing is to ensure the creation of more units for families, meaning three to four bedroom apartments, which would benefit families that have children or extended family members living with them.

“My first piece of legislation is any new city-funded development should be three or four bedrooms,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “We haven’t built three and four bedrooms since, I think, 2006. I tell the story all the time that my wife and I, my three children, and my 85-year-old dad, we had a fire in our home, and while we were waiting to move back into our house, we couldn’t find a place that all of us could stay together.”

For NYCHA, Edwards said he is not supportive of the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program that encourages private management of public housing and the city is utilizing and expanding, and that more of the money that’s going to the public housing authority should be used to renovate existing properties and eliminate issues such as lead and mold inside the apartments.

“I believe that public housing should remain public. It is the last frontier for affordability. I do think that, however, NYCHA needs to be fully renovated, fully invested in,” Edwards said, though he did not say where he believed the money should come from.

Additionally on housing, Edwards wants to change how Area Median Income is determined and used for setting housing affordability thresholds.

Edwards proposes using the AMI of each individual ZIP code, and then only approving affordable housing development projects if they include housing for people who make 50% of the ZIP code’s AMI.

When it comes to the land use review process, ULURP, Edwards said that he believes it should become more community-based.

“What I want to do is put the power back into the community’s hands and to make sure that our community boards have a vote in ULURP,” Edwards said, offering a major proposed change to how land use decisions are made given that community boards, like borough presidents, are currently in an advisory capacity.

Edwards also wants to create a screening process to ensure that members of community boards are diverse and reflective of the district they serve. The screening committee would be made up of stakeholders — community members, churches, teachers and business owners — who would interview the candidates to help him make appointments.

And he plans to promote community board meetings through newly-created marketing teams, as well as making sure those meetings are recorded and posted online for those who cannot attend in person.

Edwards also wants each community board to set aside two positions for members 18 years old and younger and two positions for people ages 19-25.

Other opportunities Edwards wants to provide for youth in the borough, according to his campaign website, are creating a youth job and internship portal and covering the costs of community-based organizations housed in city school buildings, like after-school programs.

Edwards said he does not support raising the cap on charter schools. “I feel that charter schools, even though they’ve played their role, have really kind of decimated our public school system and I feel that charter schools have the ability to pay for their own space, but right now, with COVID...I don’t feel that all charter schools have our students’ best interests at hand,”  he said.

In terms of small business, his campaign website states that Edwards will use the borough president’s nonprofit fund to provide relief to small businesses and will create incentives to and a portal for businesses to collaborate with one another.

Edwards has been endorsed by the large and influential DC 37 labor union as well as Brooklyn City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Assemblymember Nick Perry. As of the mid-March campaign finance filing he had raised a total of $673,204 in public and private funds.

Antonio Reynoso
Reynoso, also a term-limited Democrat, represents City Council District 34, which includes parts of Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Williamsburg. Through his two terms in office, he has chaired the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, while he has focused on those issues, environmental justice, police accountability, and transit.

Reynoso is framing himself as the progressive champion in the race and pitched his campaign for borough president in deeply personal terms. “I'm a son of two immigrant parents that got here with very little money,” he said in an interview. “Whether it was welfare, Section 8, food stamps, Medicaid, you name it, if there was a government aid that existed, my family had to take advantage of it just to give us a fair shot at life. So I knew from a very young age what government can do for people in need. And I want to make sure that I can pay that forward.”

Reynoso wants to be the borough’s cheerleader, evoking the popular former Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was Adams’ predecessor. “Brooklyn gave me everything and Brooklyn is my home. I love it dearly. I want to bring a little bit of the Marty Markowitz back,” he said. But it’s not just the best bagels or pizza in town that he wants to promote. “I also want to make Brooklyn the model for progressive politics and progressive policy,” he said.

Reynoso acknowledges the limited charter-mandated responsibilities of the office, with the focus on community board appointments and land use recommendations. “I think the strongest and most important responsibility is the bully pulpit,” he said. “You are representing Brooklyn, the largest county in the country, and you're representing an area that is larger than some states in some cases and definitely larger than most cities in itself.”

At the top of his list for using capital dollars is creating more health equity across the borough, particularly for Black women who have historically suffered worse health outcomes. “I'm looking to outfit every single public hospital in Brooklyn with a state of the art birthing center,” Reynoso said. “I really want to start talking about Black women's health during childbirth. I think it's one of the most significant gross inequities that exist in our city, but definitely in Brooklyn.”

As one of the original sponsors of comprehensive planning legislation that has been introduced in the City Council, Reynoso has long been a critic of the city’s current land use and development processes. The problem he sees is that the city looks at blocs of development rather than borough-wide needs, imposes rezonings rather than soliciting community input on their demands.

“We could spread this burden of building housing in the city,” he said. “The comprehensive planning idea here is to allow for every community board to send us information about where they think potential development can occur, and then encouraging the city to build more equitably, as opposed to just cramming all their housing in these poor Black and brown neighborhoods,” he said. The legislation, championed by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is running for Comptroller, has had one Council hearing and is among the major proposals that could be passed before the end of the term this year.

Reynoso wants to expand the land use and planning expertise in the borough president’s office to provide technical assistance to community boards.

The lack of comprehensive planning is also why Reynoso believes the rezonings pursued by the de Blasio administration in places like East New York are flawed, though he did reserve some judgement. “It's hard to determine whether a rezoning is good or bad in short order...The outcomes I guess dictate whether or not it was a good rezoning. So the jury's still out on these,” he said.

“The rezonings are a product of a flawed process and a flawed process is going to have a flawed outcome,” he said. “So I think we need to start rethinking about how we're doing rezonings, rethinking the process. And until then, I can't necessarily say that I think any of these rezonings are beneficial to communities.” Last year, Reynoso was the leading elected official urging the administration to study a community-led rezoning plan for Bushwick, in his district, instead of an administration-led proposal. The rezoning was ultimately put on hold after the two sides could not come to an agreement on the scale and scope of the rezoning.

Another failure of city government is that the administration tends to promise large-scale community investments only when proposing major neighborhood rezonings. “Why is it that we need a rezoning before they can start dealing with our sewer lines? Why is it that we need a rezoning before we can get transportation options or MTA stations or housing development?” Reynoso said. “There's just so many things that the city should be taking care of independent of rezonings.”

He extended the argument to borough-based jails as well, calling them “a result of a flawed process,” though he does not regret voting in favor of the plan.

“It's very hard to say that you want to build more humane jails, because jails in themselves are inhumane,” he said, explaining his conflict about the jails plan. “It's hard to make it independent,” he said of closing Rikers and not building new jails, “but we closed Rikers. That's what we set out to do. I am very happy and very proud of the vote. It was tough. It was a tough vote, but we closed Rikers...These new jails, there's still opportunities to have conversations about exactly what we want them to look like.”

As borough president, Reynoso said he would be deliberate about diversifying community boards “with perspectives, with professions, with ethnicities and race, religion, age, income.” He also wants to ensure they do not prevent beneficial projects that he supports. “I don't want any community boards to be like the first stop of NIMBYism,” he said, referring to the oft-used community board philosophy of “not in my back yard.”

He was direct about his opposition to the NYCHA infill development as it’s currently taking place, with mixed-income projects being pursued by the city. He insisted that private for-profit developers should not benefit from public land and should particularly not get an opportunity to build more market-rate housing there. “100% affordable housing done by not-for-profits is the way to go,” he said. “We need more affordable housing. Anything less than that is a big problem for me.”

He went further, saying the infill program should be put on hold until a new administration comes to power.  “I don't think that we should be having this conversation under this current mayor and his current leadership, because they just don't manage well,” he said. “And I think that this new election is going to be a mandate to do something different, and it not be this business as usual.”

Reynoso is opposed to raising the charter school cap. “The issue that I have is that there's a double standard when it comes to these charter schools. There are things that are accepted there that are not accepted in public schools.”

Reynoso, who has been a long-time proponent of public transit and of bike-riding in the city, supports building more dedicated busways and protected bike lanes. “Yes, 100%,” he said when asked about expanding both.

Having championed successful legislation to create commercial waste zones across the city that will cut down on truck traffic and limit the over-saturation of low-income communities of color with waste stations, Reynoso said the approach to infrastructure, particularly climate resiliency, needs to be boroughwide, not based in individual communities along the waterfront. “Right now, every single community along the waterfront is having their own individual fight for resiliency up and down along the coast…What we should have is one coordinated effort where the city goes to the federal government and asks for funding for the entire coast of Brooklyn,” he said. “That is not what happens right now. When we don't coordinate our work together, the inequities start existing. The people who have more money or more political capital, end up getting more resources than the people that don't have that. And I don't want that to be the case.”

“For me, it’s not so much about necessarily where you land on policy, because I don’t think many of us are going to be too far away on too many issues,” he said of the many candidates in the race. “It comes down to who do you think can deliver.”

Reynoso has been endorsed by a ‘who’s who’ of progressive organizations and elected officials including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, fellow City Council Members Brad Lander, Margaret Chin, and Helen Rosenthal, State Senators Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, Assemblymembers Marcela Mitaynes and Maritza Davila, the Working Families Party, Make the Road Action, and the New Kings Democrats. As of March 15, Reynoso’s campaign had about $618,000 in cash on hand.

Kimberly Council
Kimberly Council has worked for roughly two decades as an associate minister at Historic Berean Baptist Church and as a senior reference librarian at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, a New York City-based international law firm. She has also run for several elected offices in recent years, including City Council and State Assembly.

Council is running for borough president in part based on her lived experience of being raised in a publicly-subsidized home with her parents and four siblings, and dealing with food insecurity and poverty. She highlights her membership in the NAACP, Church Women United, and the National Council of Negro Women, and as the former president of the Law Librarian Association of Greater New York.

Council’s top campaign issues are affordable housing and health care, but her website provides issue stances for an array of other topics as well.

When it comes to housing and land use, Council said that the overarching goal is to make dealings more transparent and community-involved. “Typically by the time it gets to the community level, it’s already been through several different areas and we want to make sure that the community is involved in the project from the beginning and that the developer solicits their input as they’re developing the project,” she said in reference to the ULURP process and development proposals.

She told Gotham Gazette in an interview that she would demand that 60% of all new housing projects that come to her for input as borough president be affordable at a lower, more localized Area Median Income (AMI).

Additionally, Council’s borough president campaign website says that she plans to “Ensure that all proposed zoning changes consider educational infrastructure, healthcare infrastructure, impact on first responders, access to transit, impact on utility service, and environmental sustainability in the scope.”

On the related topic of community boards, Council said that she wants the boards to be more diverse and to actually be representative of their communities. She also said that she feels communication is the key to ensuring that community boards work on behalf of their constituents.

For NYCHA, the candidate said that she supports legislation by Reps. Nydia Velázquez’s and Yvette Clarke, both New York City Democrats, that would put more money into the housing authority, but she also wants to use the bully pulpit to push the mayor and governor to invest more money into NYCHA. By doing so, she said, the city would be able to ensure public housing facilities are environmentally sound and would be creating jobs around the developments.

“We want to make sure that we are investing not just in the projects but in the people that live in those projects,” she said.

When it comes to the closing of the Rikers Island jail complex, Council said that she is in favor of a community-based jails plan, but emphasized that community input needs to be taken into consideration when developing the plan (the city’s plan already went through the ULURP process and passed the City Council).

“This will be something that you will see throughout every answer is that we want community input,” she said. “I want the community’s input in what it is that we’re going to do, don’t want this to be something where we come in and dictate, ‘This is what’s gonna’ happen,’ but that we have them involved in the process from the very beginning.”

Council’s education plan is based on her experience as “a member of the White House Community Leader Briefing Series, where she advised high level Obama Administration officials on educational policy,” she says. According to her campaign website, she will fight for increased baseline funding from the city and state to hire more teaching assistants, librarians, nurses, and social workers.

On the subject of charter schools, Council told Gotham Gazette that she does not support raising the state-imposed cap on charter schools that prevents new charter schools from being created in the city.

Another component of her campaign is transit infrastructure, specifically to add more bus stops and lines, more ferry stops, and more protected bike lanes throughout the borough.

She would like to see more stops added to the city’s five current ferry lines, especially in south Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Coney Island and Mill Basin. A Coney Island ferry line is already planned for a 2021 opening, which will have a start/end point in Coney Island, a stop in Bay Ridge, and start/end at Pier 11 in Manhattan.

Council said that while she would push to expand the number of bike lanes, she would also make sure that all bike lanes, both old and new, are clearly marked.

She also plans on creating a “Mobile Borough Hall,” which would consist of social services that can be brought into communities so that they don’t have to go to the physical Borough Hall building for help.

“I want to make Borough Hall a one-stop-shop for small businesses, for people in the community, for social services, for everything that everybody needs,” Council said. “They should know that they can come to Borough Hall to have their issues dealt with.”

Council had raised about $84,000 as of the March campaign finance filing.

Mathieu Eugene
Mathieu Eugene is the term-limited City Council member for the 40th District, which includes the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park South, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

He has held this position since 2007, when he won in a special election, making him the first-ever Haitian-American elected to the New York City Council. Eugene chairs the Council’s Committee on Civil and Human Rights and previously chaired the Committee on Youth Services.

Gotham Gazette was unable to find a borough president campaign website for Eugene, and he did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this article. Eugene has been sending fundraising solicitations to his supporters by email, though his fundraising has been lackluster, and he has appeared at some candidate forums, but he does not appear to be campaigning aggressively.

As of the March campaign finance filing, Eugene had raised about $54,000.

While the candidates discussed above are the apparent top six contenders for the position, there are still six other candidates vying for the role of Brooklyn Borough President.

Go to page two of this article to read about the remaining candidates and their backgrounds, past accomplishments, issue stances, and plans for the borough. READ MORE.

by Samar Khurshid & Amanda Salazar

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to reflect accurate campaign fundraising numbers for Robert Cornegy. He has about $493,000 in cash on hand, not more than $1 million as previously stated.

Highly Competitive Borough President Race Underway in Brooklyn Mon, 05 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Dianne Morales Lays Out Initial Policy Vision for Progressive Mayoral Campaign dianne morales

Dianne Morales (photo via campaign)

Promising a “platform for radically shaping our future through policies centered around dignity, care and solidarity,” Dianne Morales is widely considered among the top eight Democratic mayoral candidates in this year’s race to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Morales’ professional background is in nonprofit work and education. For the past decade before leaving the position to run for mayor, she worked as CEO and Executive Director of Phipps Neighborhoods, a Bronx social services organization. Describing herself as a “a learner, a survivor and a working single mother of two trying to do her best,” Morales has sought to gain attention in the crowded 2021 field with her emphasis on centering “the needs of those disproportionately underserved” through the elimination of barriers and of oppressive systems.

Of the top eight Democratic candidates as judged by public attention, fundraising, and polling, Morales is running the campaign furthest to the left, with her view of where New York City needs to go under the next mayor in part influenced by the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and all it has wrought and further exposed about racial, ethnic, and economic inequality in the city.

During many candidate forums and individual interviews, Morales, who is Afro-Latina of Puerto-Rican descent, regularly argues that New York City needs nothing less than a complete overhaul, whereby marginalized communities are finally empowered, and that effort needs to be led from City Hall. This extends throughout housing, policing, education, and other topics where the mayor is responsible for setting policy and executing laws and mandates from all three levels of government.

Morales is a first-time candidate for any office who said of pursuing the mayoralty was a “go big or go home” moment, that to effect the kind of change she thinks the city needs, she could only put her executive and lived experiences to work running to become the city’s top government official.

Much of what Morales’ supporters appear to be responding to is both the candidate’s passion in describing the deep problems facing so many New Yorkers and her framework for what the future should look like, the kind of approach she would bring to City Hall if elected the city’s first woman, first Latino, and second person of color to be mayor.

She is pitching voters on a major defunding of the NYPD, on making CUNY once again tuition-free, allowing voting in municipal elections regardless of citizenship status, free municipal broadband and advocating for the public takeover of utilities, among other signature policy plans to establish a “care economy” and “city where all people can live in dignity.”

With under three months until primary day, June 22, Morales has recently fleshed out, to an extent, a number of policy principles and published outlines of her plans on a number of key issues. But her campaign website offers only sketches, at most, on many issues. Like some of the other leading candidates, Morales has not published detailed policy plans, opting for outlines that can offer key insights into what she plans to do if elected mayor but leave a lot of questions on how and when the goals would be achieved, what they might cost, and where the funding might come from.

Morales has not, for example, outlined how she would approach balancing the city budget or addressing NYCHA’s $40 billion in capital needs beyond saying she would pursue tax increases on the wealthy at the state level and massive federal funding for public housing. Morales turned a lot of heads when she said she would defund the NYPD by $3 billion, but did not immediately offer any details for how and what the plan to do so would look like, only offering some additional aspects of her thinking when pushed in interviews and forums.

Morales’ policy platform is organized under three principles — dignity, care, and solidarity — under which she organizes her various platform sketches. On her website, there is a link to her “100 Days Dignity Now Platform,” and links to 15 topics of her “intersectional agenda.” As of April 4, one third of the links to those 15 topics on her campaign website platform page led to pages only saying “Coming soon.” Those pages include “Small Business and Cooperative Economy,” “Wealth Tax,” and “Green Jobs, Green Food, Green Justice.” Some of the issues that do have policy plans, like “Defund the Police; Fund the People,” offer brief bulleted lists.

But Morales has released outlines of her policy priorities on an array of topics such as gender equity, healthcare, education, housing and land use, and immigration that help, along with the many stances she has taken at candidate forums and in interviews, provide a sense of her vision for the city. Most of her sketches are bullet-pointed sentences that are given little explanation, but contain statements of principle and brief promises, altogether making a platform that has been attracting large numbers of volunteers and donors and a campaign surprising many close watchers of the race.

The issues she lists and solutions she offers connect toward “undoing normalized policies that destroy opportunity and reduce the quality of life for millions of New Yorkers,” the platform page says. “Dianne Morales, however, knows that our city is used to extracting from communities their art, labor and even their bondage, without acknowledging their human rights. While not exhaustive, the following outlines her intersectional agenda built upon dignity, care and solidarity.” Here are some highlights:

100 Days Framework
Morales touts her ‘Dignity Now’ platform to accomplish within her first 100 days as mayor, a mix of specific and vague promises. On the vague side, she commits to “[a]dvocate for basic income relief,” “[p]rovide mental health and grief support services,” and “ensure language justice.” She also commits to a citywide rent moratorium, though it isn’t clear what power she has to enact such an edict or where the funding would come from to make landlords whole. (It’s also unclear what the city’s situation will be come January 1, 2022 when the next mayor takes office. A massive rent relief allotment was included in the recently-passed federal American Rescue Plan.)

Morales pledges to issue an executive order on educational equity, in order to “desegregate schools, eliminate disparities and hold agencies accountable for inequitable educational outcomes.” She will also create a COVID-19 Equity & Data Response Unit and release NYC 5000, a health navigator program to “connect uninsured, housing unsecured, and other vulnerable populations to COVID-19 education, testing and vaccines.” 

Health Care
In order to confront what she calls “our city’s generational indifference to shrinking the gap in accessible healthcare and addressing the inequities that reduce the quality of life within communities,” Morales is offering a wide-ranging health-care platform.

In addition, a Morales administration would provide greater protections for domestic workers and access to healthcare for undocumented residents, though specifics are not offered. Morales says she would work to provide more financial support and career training opportunities for primary caregivers. She promises “universal access” to doulas and midwives, in addition to physicians, nurses, and prenatal care for expectant mothers.

She would also push to create paid sick leave, maternity leave, and family leave for gig workers and independent contractors, but does not identify through which government mechanisms. A Morales administration would create a citywide “network of integrated community health clinics” for preventative primary care, as well as “access to affordable and quality” child care, disability and long-term care, elder care, home care, and early childhood education. Morales would provide further support to the CUNY School of Medicine and the Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness, which is part of the city Health Department that seeks to “use a racial and social justice approach to eliminate health inequities for those most marginalized in New York City.”

Housing & Land Use
A Morales administration would “declare housing a right,” and focus its efforts on ending homelessness, reforming NYCHA, and providing “public oversight and democratic control” to community planning and development. In a February interview on the Max & Murphy podcast, Morales said on affordable housing, “I think we need to go to deeper affordability. One of the flaws of the de Blasio plan is that it relied too heavily on developers whose priority is ultimately the bottom line.”

She has said she would dedicate city housing subsidy dollars toward that deeper affordability, pledged a focus on “social housing” and to fund efforts like community land trusts.

To end homelessness, Morales would convert hotels into housing and places to provide services for “families of our 100,000 unhoused school-aged youth.” Morales would appoint a deputy mayor responsible for “a citywide, cross-sector effort addressing housing, opportunity and social mobility.” In the same February Max & Murphy interview she said that her administration would make sure that “we’re moving people to permanent housing, not creating this industry…where we’re spending so much money and people don’t feel safe and people don’t want to be in shelters anyway.”

This deputy mayor would be responsible for seeing the shift of $3 billion from the shelter budget into preventative efforts. Morales would “repurpose” the city’s Economic Development Corporation to disrupt “poverty from a root cause lens” and prioritize the development of social housing, cooperative housing, and affordable housing. 

For renters, Morales says she would streamline applications, ban criminal checks, “fight housing court evictions” by funding Right to Counsel services and advocating for the state-level Good Cause Eviction Act, and support the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase.

A Morales administration would seek a New York City where “our communities have livable neighborhoods and that the City has a vested interest in the well-being of our people over profit and luxury developments.” To that end, Morales as mayor would “[r]adically reimagine and re-center the Universal Land Use Review Process,” “[c]reate a data-informed, community-centered Comprehensive City Plan” and build more open spaces, particularly in “park-starved” neighborhoods.

This redistributional energy would also manifest itself in a Housing & Reparations Taskforce, which would identify “affirmative policies and programs” for communities negatively impacted by “discriminatory and predatory” practices. 

On zoning, Morales wrote that she would work towards “a fairshare frame, ensuring equity goals and making sure that marginalized communities are brought to the table beyond the Community Board.” On the Max & Murphy show she said that “The zoning process and conversation in and of itself needs to be restructured from top to bottom. Zoning and rezoning should really be driven by communities…giving them a leading voice at the table.” During that same interview, she said that she would want to move away from the practice of deference to City Council members about rezonings in their districts, saying, “we all have to put some skin in the game.”

She would support a moratorium on all luxury rezonings and developments, ban the City from selling or leasing city-owned land to private developers and end tax breaks for developers and “[r]equire Department of City Planning to provide staffing support with planners and lawyers to local community boards during any rezoning planning process.”

Morales said city housing subsidies need to be targeted to provide deeper affordability and that she would create a city land bank to “acquire and repurpose distressed property,” pursue social housing and “[p]urchase vacant apartments, hotels, commercial and office spaces facing foreclosures to turn them into housing.” Social housing is rental housing that may be owned and managed by the city or non-profit organizations.

She would advocate for the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA), implement a citywide Basement Apartment Safe for Everyone (BASE) to “legalize and protect basement apartments” and “work alongside Albany” to end the much-derided 421-a tax break. COPA, sponsored by Carlina Rivera, the Councilwoman of Manhattan’s 2nd district, would give nonprofits a right of first refusal on property. The state 421-a tax break seeks to reward developers who create affordable housing in the most expensive areas of the city, which critics have labelled as ineffective.

Morales would also support the use of “Racial Impact Studies” to obtain “real data around how rezonings will affect gentrification and displacement, especially in low-income communities.” A bill to add Racial Impact Studies was introduced to the City Council by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in 2019.

While Morales has provided few specifics on how she would carry out her housing and land use vision, with no cost estimates or timelines, it is another area she is promising sweeping change. She said on the Max & Murphy podcast in February that housing would be an area she aims to make “a big difference in the first year” in shifting resources.

Morales would appoint a NYCHA resident to be the chair of the public housing’s Board, to appoint a NYCHA Board with a majority of NYCHA residents, and to “Pilot a resident management corporation (RMC) in a NYCHA complex in each borough.” Morales would “Prioritize connecting NYCHA residents with career readiness strategies” and “end the criminalization, over-policing and surveillance of NYCHA communities.”

Unlike several other candidates, Morales would not use the rental assistance demonstration (RAD) federal voucher program to help alleviate cash-strapped NYCHA’s financial woes. RAD is an Obama-era program that allows private entities to operate public housing buildings. Morales instead would advance “an aggressive state and federal campaign calling for $35 billion in funding from [sic] the authority.”

She also pledges to align NYCHA with the federal Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, sponsored and championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx and Queens.

Policing and Criminal Justice
Writing that “it is imperative that we finally address the root causes of violence and move from the myth that we will police our way to safety,” Morales reiterates her pledge for a $3 billion reallocation from the NYPD’s overall budget, which in sum is over $10 billion annually, including operating, capital, and pension costs. She would also seek cuts to District Attorney budgets. 

Morales has given limited explanation for how she would cut the $3 billion from the NYPD budget, but has indicated she would not fire officers, instead offering those whose positions she would cut from the force the opportunity to be retrained and deployed in other agencies doing different types of social service work to make investments in her vision for creating greater public safety. During her interview with Max & Murphy, she said that “I don’t think of it as layoffs…we’re just creating jobs that are much more connected to the care economy” and that “we could repurpose and retrain people…we’re not eliminating jobs, we’re just shifting them from one function to another.”

Morales would create the Community First Responders Department, which would “act as part of a larger ecosystem to connect New Yorkers with program and services to address their needs.” It would be separate from the NYPD, and would respond to mental health and wellness calls that have been handled by the NYPD in the past.

Morales says she would remove the NYPD from the “social services” they currently provide, including as school safety officers, traffic enforcement, drug intervention, and outreach to homeless populations.

Morales would also push for full elimination of the use of bail, and “[f]ind City-led ways to begin to eliminate pre-trial detention,” such as calling on district attorneys to vacate and decline to prosecute more offenses. She would also advocate for “reducing the number of people subjected to pretrial detention by 80% immediately.” In addition, Morales says she would push ahead the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex, but not build any new jails (four are planned, three of which would replace existing jails), and end civil asset forfeiture.

A Morales administration would “Advance a democratically-elected” Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) as well as “empower” it to discipline officers.

To fight crime, Morales would create more “gun-free” zones in partnership with communities, grow the Cure Violence program and “[i]nvest in restorative alternatives to disrupt violence within communities.”

In one of her more sweeping promises, Morales would “Decriminalize all drug use, as well as possession of limited amounts. End arrests and violation-level enforcement for drugs and decline to prosecute all drug charges,” though the mayor is not in charge of what district attorneys may prosecute.

Touting her background as a former New York City public school educator, Morales seeks a “community-centered governance focused on parents, educators and students that has not existed in New York City schools.” She has said she is interested in exploring an end to mayoral control of city schools, replacing it with some kind of new community-based model that she has not offered details on.

A Morales administration would put $450 million into “mental health services, student support positions and restorative and transformative practices,” as well as remove NYPD officers from schools. Morales pledges to “fully fund the school capital plan” (about $20 billion over five years, though there’s no indication it is not fully funded) in an effort to reduce class sizes and overcrowding, remove mold, asbestos and lead, and make schools better accessible to students with disabilities.

While Morales has called herself a big proponent of school choice, she says she would take or seek several steps to curb charter schools, such as ending their co-location in public school buildings, capping their expansion, preventing the sharing of recruitment data to charter schools without parental consent, and “advocating for the city’s ability” to shut down “non-functioning” charter schools.

As mayor, Morales would attempt to diversify teachers in city schools by creating a Peer Educator Summer Program for high-schoolers and offering “applicable CUNY college credits to pursue a career in teaching.”

Calling CUNY -- which is funded through tuition and fees and all three branches of government, particularly the state -- “the vehicle to our collective recovery and economic growth,” Morales seeks to “reduce any barrier to higher and continuous learning at CUNY.”

A Morales administration would seek to make tuition again free at every CUNY school, provide free or heavily subsidized childcare for CUNY students and increase salaries for CUNY faculty and staff, including the $7,000 per course demanded by the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing faculty in the CUNY system. In addition, she would “provide MetroCards, books and supplies stipends, and further support” for low-income students, “decentralize classes” throughout the city and employ a five-year strategy to recruit a more “culturally diverse trauma-informed workforce, including specialists in mental health, education, social work and the arts.”

The big question for Morales’ CUNY plan, as well as other pieces of her platform, is cost.

While she declines to provide a cost estimate or a timeline for her wide-reaching program, she attempts to answer the question that may be first on her critics’ minds by listing several potential sources of funding. Among the ways to fund her CUNY program would be the $3 billion she says she would reduce from the NYPD budget; funds through the Invest in New York Act, a package of six tax-increase bills that progressives are attempting to pass through the New York State Legislature; and unspecified cuts by eliminating “waste from our current budget in areas that aren’t serving our communities.”

In a video interview with Gotham Gazette, Morales said that she’d look to reclaim money dispensed to agencies for city jobs that are still vacant after six months, and to reduce the contracts given to consultants who make studies just to “sit on the shelves.” 

Public Infrastructure
Arguing that New York City’s public spaces have been “neglected, seized, politicized and controlled by a privileged few,” Morales says her administration would push for the public takeover of utilities such as electricity and provide free municipal broadband citywide.

She would also invest in Fair Share Planning, an idea in the City Charter that has historically been ignored that directs neighborhoods sited for undesirable or burdensome facilities to also receive an environmental benefit.

Morales’ emphasis on New Yorkers with disabilities runs throughout her platform. She says she would increase Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance at bus stops, ferry stops, and green spaces, add curb cuts and Accessible Pedestrian Signals across the city, and require all public meetings to have open captions, sign language interpreters, and large-print format.

Like many other mayoral candidates, Morales supports the expansion of the pandemic-era Open Restaurants and Open Streets programs.

Morales’ transportation-related proposals include expanding the Fair Fares program to provide free public transportation for all New York City “students and low-income New Yorkers,” taking steps to make the whole public transportation system free for all, and attempting to make the Citi Bike program a free public utility for all city residents.

Morales has also said she would like to move toward city control of the subway system.

The Morales administration would support the 25x25 Plan, a plan to reduce car usage by 25% by 2025 put together by advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, and backed by over 80 organizations. The 25x25 plan would convert 25% of streetspace into non-car uses by 2025, meter 1/4 of all free parking in the city and add 500 lane miles of new protected bus-only lanes with the space created by the removed car space. She would strip new buildings of parking requirements, instead replacing that requirement with car-share or bike-share spaces instead.

Unlike the majority of the leading 2021 mayoral candidates, Morales has at least an outline of an immigration policy platform. She would expand the New York Immigrant Family Unit project, a public defender program for immigrants facing deportation run by the Vera Institute of Justice, which has been funded by the New York City Council since 2014. Morales would also increase funding to allow for legal services for non-detained immigrants, as well as for “trusted community-based organizations with proven records of providing free and accessible healthcare to immigrants.”

Most of Morales’ ideas on immigration in New York City pertain to limiting the power of the NYPD and ICE, the federal immigration enforcement agency. She would prohibit the NYPD from providing aid to ICE or “inviting ICE into the City,” and from “practices that target undocumented workers, including street vendors.” In addition, Morales would ban all city-level agencies from asking about immigration status other than in order to provide “resources and legal services” to undocumented New Yorkers.

As mayor, she would also “invest in real language access professional support” and “establish the right to vote in city elections regardless of citizenship,” which would need to be passed through the City Council.

Labor Rights
A Morales administration would also take on the issue of workers’ rights. Morales says she would protect workers against wage theft, provide “affirmative human rights protections of undocumented, domestic and low-wage workers,” and “prevent citywide work layoffs and create solutions in collaboration with union leadership”

She would expand the Freelance Isn’t Free Act and “better enforce protections for independent contractors and freelancers,” trying to ensure those workers are paid and paid on time.   

As mayor, Morales pledges to ban “waivers of workplace rests,” expand just cause workplace protections, and permit qui tam enforcement, lawsuits where whistleblowers sue an organization they know to be committing fraud against the government and reap financial rewards if successful.

Morales would provide “aggressive monitoring and enforcement” of pay equity laws and establish a “Pool Benefits Fund” for informal and domestic workers to provide healthcare, among other benefits.

Gender Equity
A Morales administration would decriminalize sex work and advocate for the rights of sex workers, and expand free abortion and contraception in New York City. In addition, she would entrust NYC’s Health and Human Services, Center for Health Equity, and the Commission for Gender Equity to eliminate “preventable causes” of Black maternal and infant mortality by creating a “multi-agency and community expert task force” to work on the issue.

To expand resources for LGBTQ New Yorkers, Morales would “prioritize the funding of trusted healthcare providers,” and mandate diversity and inclusion curriculum in New York City schools, including for teachers and administrators. Morales also pledges to expand housing opportunities and safe spaces.

Writing that “New York State must also be a partner with the City of New York,” Morales says she would advocate for the State Legislature to pass the Hate Crimes Analysis and Review Act, which would require the state to release the demographic information of both perpetrators and victims of hate crimes; The Long-Term Care Facility Residents’ Bill of Rights, to ensure LGBTQ elderly people are protected from discrimination; and a bill that would “vacate sex trafficking-related convictions from people’s records.”

by Grace Getman for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Dianne Morales Lays Out Initial Policy Vision for Progressive Mayoral Campaign Sun, 04 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Can a Long-Shot Candidate Still Win New York’s Mayoral Race? may wiley city

Mayor de Blasio with Maya Wiley in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

How long can pundits wait before they can safely write-off long-shot New York mayoral candidates like Maya Wiley, Kathyrn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Shaun Donovan, or Dianne Morales? The historical answer is: it ain’t over till it’s over. Twice in the last half-century, long-shot candidates ultimately won New York's mayoralty. Ed Koch in 1977 and Bill de Blasio in 2013 each climbed from poll numbers in single digits all the way into Gracie Mansion. And to understand how they did it, it helps to realize that “back-of-the-pack” mayoral wins like Koch’s and de Blasio’s aren’t a phenomenon that’s exclusive to New York City.

Several big U.S. city mayors won after starting from a fourth, fifth, or even ninth position in initial polls, including Miami’s Manny Diaz (first elected 2001), Kansas City’s Sly James (2011), Salt Lake City’s Jackie Biskupski (2015), and Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot (2019). None of these future mayors had more than 5% when they first launched. Other longshots came close. St. Louis Treasurer Tishuara Jones came less than two points of a back-of-the-pack win for mayor in 2017, starting from fourth place with single digit support. (She is now on her second try, hoping to win the St. Louis runoff for mayor on April 6.)

The back-of-the-pack phenomenon crosses borders, too. I’m writing from Canada, where Toronto’s David Miller tied for a distant third place in single digits in early polls before he ultimately defeated four other major candidates in 2003. Both Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Winnipeg’s Mayor Brian Bowman barely registered any support before they surged to win their first runs for office, in 2010 and 2014, respectively. Even the current Mayor of London, England – Sadiq Khan – was a dud in various polls before he began his campaign for Labour’s mayoral nomination in 2015.

If you’re leaning toward a situational explanation for why lightning would strike in the same way so many times, none is obvious. Some of these races were open, but not all. Ed Koch beat an incumbent, Abe Beame, in his primary, as did Biskupski, James, and Diaz in theirs. Having a non-partisan primary helps as a sort of rest-stop for back-of-the-pack candidates on their rise to the top, but it’s not essential; Canadian races don’t have primaries, and yet back-of-the-pack mayoral wins happen there too.

It's easier to point to factors that make mayoral elections distinct from other more traditional partisan races. As New York’s most recent polling shows, the pool of likely but undecided voters tends to stay high for months into a marathon race.. In campaigns to lead cities of millions of people, turnout might only be in the hundreds of thousands, boosting the value of unexpected mobilization and GOTV tactics.

If New York mayoral election pundits are looking for some way to predict whether candidates in single digits can pull off a similar feat in 2021, the good news is that there are some historical patterns to work from. No back-of-the-pack-to-winning campaign is identical to another, but most winners share a combination of similar features. They include:

Hockey-stick support growth. Back-of-the-pack campaigns rarely build support incrementally. Instead, their support simmers up a little before it boils over late in the campaign. In his memoir, Transforming Miami, Diaz described his low polling as “a blessing in disguise…my opponents wrote me off,” while Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown noted in 2019 that Lightfoot “peaked so late that those other candidates never felt it necessary to train their negative advertising on her.”

 A (relatively) positive tone. Studies and memoirs of back-of-the-pack wins almost always emphasize positive messaging. In 1977, even the famously caustic Ed Koch was under orders from his campaign team to avoid quips and sarcasm to project an image of steady competence. Leading with positivity is important, since the end-of-campaign surge usually depends on a growing reservoir of goodwill for the long-shot’s candidacy.

Retail campaigns that prioritize quality engagement. Both the Nenshi and Biskupski campaigns relied on unusually flexible scripts for phone and field canvassers, encouraging volunteers to use open-ended questions to let voters lead the conversation. Nenshi’s “Purple Army” prioritized his time for coffee parties. Koch was constantly accessible on New York streets, while Diaz built early support on foot, door to door, as if he was running for a council seat. Positive word-of-mouth built up over time is critical to scale up at the right moment.

An issue that taps the electorate’s real mood. Almost every back-of-the-pack winner started with - and stuck to - a defining policy issue that was outside the day-to-day consensus on issues at City Hall, but ultimately proved to be a savvier read on what voters wanted to see as a ballot question. For Diaz, it was education. De Blasio famously set himself apart by criticizing stop-and-frisk policing as part of his "tale of two cities" refrain. For Lightfoot, Miller, and Bowman, some variation on ethics policies was decisive, while Koch’s law and order push separated him from a field of more classically liberal Democrats.

Financial stamina. Back-of-the-pack winners aren’t usually the biggest spenders, nor the best fundraisers. Yet| their campaigns never starve, either. In virtually every historical case, candidates relied on a personal network of contributors to maintain steady cash flow through the lean marathon months of their run. It’s not an accident that many such candidates - including Miller, Diaz, Bowman, Khan, Lightfoot, and James, for example - worked for at least a few years as lawyers in private practice.

A distinctive candidate. Almost all back-of-the-pack mayoral hopefuls had some aspect of their personal story that helped them personify political change. Nenshi is North America’s first big-city muslim mayor, Lightfoot and Biskupski became Chicago and Salt Lake City’s first lesbian mayors, and de Blasio’s bi-racial family was front and centre in late-campaign advertising.

A breakout moment. Candidates in single digits inevitably break out and scale up after one or two decisive events at the right instant, bringing the goodwill they’ve built to the attention of unsure voters shopping for better alternatives. Sometimes, it’s an editorial or political endorsement from an unexpected source. Sometimes, it’s a candidate’s attention-grabbing response to a major citywide event, like Koch’s call for a crime crackdown during a mid-campaign blackout. Occasionally, leading candidates take so many hits that it clears a path for the long-shot to step out with a well-timed ad at just the moment when voters are starting to move, as de Blasio did in 2013.

The good news for the long-shots is, it’s still possible. The bad news for them is that they’ll have to keep working, and waiting for luck to strike, to be sure.

The breakout moment often comes very late in the campaign, demanding nerves of steel for the rare few who actually pull it off. In 2013, de Blasio did not top a public poll until August 13th - a mere four weeks before voters confirmed his primary win. Ed Koch polled in fourth place just two weeks before he actually won his bitter primary showdown against future Governor Mario Cuomo. Most of the other mayors mentioned above did not even lead a single public poll before pulling off their respective primary or general election wins. Leading candidates like Andrew Yang, Eric Adams and Scott Stringer will have to keep at least one eye on their rear-view mirror for now, since the breakthrough window for most historic back-of-the-pack wins can be measured in weeks or even days before election day rather than months. And New York’s primary is still more than eleven weeks away.

Brian Kelcey is a Canadian writer and consultant specializing in urban politics and policy. On Twitter at @stateofthecity.

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Can a Long-Shot Candidate Still Win New York’s Mayoral Race? Sun, 04 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
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