Gotham Gazette Wed, 20 Jan 2021 17:28:54 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Kevin Parker on His Run for New York City Comptroller kevin parker senate

Senator Kevin Parker (photo: NY Senate)

January 19, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Kevin Parker on His Run for New York City Comptroller

State Senator Kevin Parker joined the show to discuss his candidacy for New York City Comptroller.

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 269 Kevin Parker On His Run For New York

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Kevin Parker on His Run for New York City Comptroller Tue, 19 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Hopefuls Appeared at a Candidate Forum; Then the Conversation Got Interesting ray mcguire on zoom

Ray McGuire on a different Zoom (photo: @RayForMayor)

A mayoral race forum on Friday night started with a traditional format, questions asked by journalists and answered by eight candidates seeking to win the crowded Democratic primary set for June, but eventually turned into a late-night, open discussion that became contentious and frank, offering insights into the thinking of some of those seeking to become the next mayor and that of some of the city’s Black civic leaders.

Some candidates -- particularly among the five who stayed on the zoom for the late-night discussion that stretched well past midnight -- found that simply showing up to listen and offering platitudes won’t be enough to convince the city’s diverse Black electorate that they deserve to hold the highest office in the city. The candidates, for their part, offered candid and at times assertive responses to the questions and criticism that they faced from others on the Zoom call.

Former presidential candidate and recent entrant in the race Andrew Yang attempted to tout his record of activism even as he appeared out of touch with issues affecting Black New Yorkers. Former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire and Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who has endorsed Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ mayoral campaign, clashed over McGuire’s lack of experience in city government and more. Former President Obama cabinet official Shaun Donovan defended his work on housing under Mayor Bloomberg. Council Member Carlos Menchaca spoke of “the legacy of white supremacy” in the work of leftist activists while activists on the panel railed against the Democratic Socialists of America and more.

The virtual forum was the latest episode of “The Justice Clapback” hosted by activist and Reverend Kirsten John Foy, founder of Arc of Justice, but was special in that it included a mayoral candidate forum and commemoration of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Candidates were scheduled to be present for a two-hour discussion but several ended up staying the full stretch of just over eight hours of freewheeling conversation as candidates asked and answered questions on education and the Specialized High School Admissions Test, health care infrastructure, policing reform, NYCHA, economic development in communities of color, gun violence, Black maternal mortality, ranked-choice voting and more.

The other candidates who participated were former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, and Comptroller Scott Stringer. They are among still others who are running in perhaps the most diverse mayoral candidate field the city has seen – McGuire and Adams are Black men, Wiley is a Black woman, Morales is Afro-Latina, Menchaca is openly gay and Latino, Yang is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and Donovan and Stringer are white men.

Several elected officials made appearances early in the event, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, U.S. Rep. Greg Meeks, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, State Senators Leroy Comrie and Jamaal Bailey, City Council Members Robert Cornegy and Laurie Cumbo, State Assemblymembers Latrice Walker, Inez Dickens, and Alicia Hyndman, to name a few. A who’s who of activists and political operatives were also present including Gwen Carr, Erika Ford, Jacqui Williams, David Banks, Karen Jarrett, Rev. Kevin McCall, Pastor Kaji Dousa, Patrick Jenkins, Zakiyah Ansari, Khari Edwards, Ifeoma Ike, Rasheida Smith, and others.

After hours of appearances, and the mayoral candidates answering policy questions from several journalists, the evening shifted.

After four hours, Yang, Menchaca, McGuire, Morales, and Donovan remained on the Zoom. Yang left after a little later after getting significant pushback to the question he asked the group. McGuire left at the six-and-a-half hour mark after his extended exchange with Cumbo.

Yang was perhaps the first to face the heat when he spoke of his experience door-knocking in Georgia in support of Rev. Raphael Warnock during the Senate runoffs, alongside Martin Luther King III, who is co-chair of Yang’s newly-launched mayoral campaign. Since he launched his campaign, Yang has faced broad criticism for his seeming lack of touch with everyday New Yorkers and his relative ignorance of local matters.

“You know what that activism resulted in? Reverend Warnock being the deciding vote in the U.S. Senate that could activate tens, hundreds of billions of dollars for New York City, New York State, our communities,” he said. “I mean, like, that's just activism, that's activism at work, like, and I wanted to share that image with you of Martin knocking on doors for Reverend Warnock because like, that is what I believe the legacy that we're celebrating this weekend.”

Yang then proceeded to take his turn, promoted by Foy, to ask the assembled audience about “the one thing” that they would like to see their next mayor really focus on. Though some participants quickly offered up issues like education, police reform, and gun violence, others saw it as a narrow gaze that assumes the Black community is a monolith. “I would say the question is a flawed question,” said David Banks, who is President & CEO of The Eagle Academy Foundation. “There is no such thing as the one issue. New York City is the biggest, baddest city in the country. The whole country needs New York to come back. It is a very complex question. It cannot be reduced to such a simple question. All of these things are connected...There's no one soundbite answer that any of us are looking for. We have no time to play around with this stuff. I'm actually kind of, I'm actually sick of hearing just a lot of talk about a lot of stuff.”

Jacqui Williams, a real estate lobbyist who leads the firm 99 Solutions, said, “I think it's disrespectful to put it in one format as this one question.”

Citing her own experience of running for office and being elected, Council Member Cumbo said any candidate has “to learn how to very quickly chew gum, and to address all of the complex issues in your district right now.”

Yang took the criticism in stride after listening as his prompt got battered a bit. “I agree with you all that the next mayor...needs to be like a Swiss Army knife to the nth degree because at this point we have crises facing us on so many fronts,” he said, before saying goodnight to the group.

McGuire, in response to Cumbo’s remarks, made a comment that set off one of the most contentious exchanges of the night. “I am like the great Shirley Chisholm...unbought and unbossed,” he said, referring to the slogan of the famous Democratic congresswoman from Brooklyn who went on to become the first African-American candidate for a major political party and the first woman seeking the Democratic nomination for president. McGuire was attempting to make the point that he rose from rags to riches and then turned around to help his community.

“[W]e obviously should applaud the people who are in this room, we've been on the front lines forever,” he said, in what could have been a veiled jab at Yang. “This is not new. Clapback is not new. The issues that we're talking about are not new. COVID and George Floyd just uncovered things that we have known for generations. 4,000 years of systemic inequity, so we need to be about it today....We can’t continue to talk about it. We need to be about it.”

McGuire’s analogy prompted a sharp response. “I just want to be clear about something as an African-American woman, and no disrespect, I wouldn't want you to compare yourself to the great Shirley Chisholm, our congress member who spoke very passionately about being unbought and unbossed,” Cumbo said, while also pointing out that McGuire’s campaign fundraising has been largely from wealthy donors, unlike Chisholm’s. “And I'm not knocking the strategy that you've taken but I do take affront to you comparing yourself to Shirley Chisholm,” she said.

“And I would say that I am old school, and I support the candidate who's been in the trenches, who's been doing the work, and who has the longest track record of rolling up their sleeves and getting the work done in our community,” she added of Adams.

Ifeoma Ike, activist and founder of Pink Cornrows, a consulting firm, told McGuire it was a “very far-fetched comparison” and “almost ahistorical,” even as he offered an explanation for his thinking in offering the analogy, in terms of his ascent in the largely white-dominated world of Wall Street, then an apology.

He detailed in firm terms his modest upbringing and working his way to the top on Wall Street, where he has used his position and wealth to boost Black entrepreneurs and businesses, support and sponsor Black artists and curators, create jobs in Black communities, support the education of Black youth, and invest in healthcare and public libraries.

“If I have offended any of the women here, I apologize for that. It certainly wasn’t intentional...It’s on her shoulders I stand,” he said. “It was only out of respect for that.”

Cumbo went on to critique both McGuire and Yang for trying to become mayor when they have failed to be involved in grassroots activism and direct work in communities. She took particular issue with the fact that neither of them voted in recent mayoral elections. “[T]hat's really problematic for me because I feel that voting in elections is at baseline where you begin…When I look at the long lines, particularly in Black communities in this last election cycle, of people that waited on line for ten, twelve hours in the rain, in the snow, in the sleet, in the light, in the dark, with their kids, with walkers. It’s very concerning to me and disappointing frankly that you didn’t see in your time of service that voting is fundamental,” she said.

She also added, “I just feel that people that run for office should be people that have been in the field toiling, doing the work. It’s difficult when you’re an elected official and you go to like maybe ten press conferences a week on issues from lead paint to gun violence to schools not having appropriate computers. And to never have seen many of the mayoral candidates in those years is disturbing because it means that a lot of the issues that have been impacting our community from the killing of Eric Garner to so many other issues that we face, we just haven’t seen you.”

Other panelists did come to McGuire’s defense, however. “Some people occupy the streets, some people occupy the boardroom. We are not a monolithic people...I don’t think it’s fair to hold him to that standard,” said Karen Jarrett, downstate political director of the New York State Nurses Association, praising McGuire for his success on Wall Street.

Rev. Kevin McCall, piggybacking on Cumbo’s comments, posed the same question to Donovan and the other candidates. “He’s not exempt from it. It’s all the candidates that are running for office,” McCall said. “If you’re running for office, you should be involved in everything, not just in economics, not just marching for justice.”

There were several more heated debates and comments during the wide-ranging discussion. For instance, when Menchaca asked how the city could encourage communities of color to agree to be given the covid vaccine, some panellists proposed solutions while others were openly sceptical of the vaccine.

The most intense debate of the evening was about Black elected power and the threat that some of the panellists see in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the introduction of ranked-choice voting in the upcoming mayoral primary.

Foy was the most ardent critic of DSA. “They have declared war on the Black political establishment,” he said. “They have sought to actively displace us in the midst of our most vulnerable time. They have sought to institute ranked-choice voting against our will. They have sought to replace leadership that has fought its way to the top with folks that have just arrived off the boat. And they actively seek to undermine, and I've seen this repeatedly, undermine the character of Black women in particular.”

“And intelligence,” added Cumbo, who has had ongoing disagreements, at times contentious, with members of the DSA, including now-State Senator Jabari Brisport, who won his seat last year with the backing of the DSA, two years after he had unsuccessfully challenged Cumbo in her 2017 reelection bid.

“[T]he DSA is a leftist threat to everything I hold dear, from the church to the school to my communities,” Foy said.

“That's some medieval shit there,” McGuire said.

Foy’s broader question was directed at Menchaca and whether he would side with Black activists over the DSA on any particular issue, considering the Council member’s far left leanings. As Menchaca began his response, Cumbo rubbed her hands with glee.

Menchaca critiqued the DSA as well, particularly for the role it played in opposing the proposed Industry City rezoning in his district, which fell apart last year after he opposed it and rallied other elected officials to call on the developer to pull the proposal.

“Me being progressive in the Council has caused me issues with even members in the Council itself,” he went on to say. “Me standing up and saying this is wrong, the fact that we're building four fuckin’ jails, four new jails in four different boroughs is wrong, and that we haven't closed Rikers and it's not going to close unless we bring a mayor that's going to actually do it. Those are moments where I have confronted power structures and the DSA is not different.”

“I think that there are elements of the DSA as white people that do not understand sometimes that they are...fulfilling the power of white supremacy,” he added.

Donovan, who was largely silent, measured his words carefully as he relayed an anecdote from his time as a top housing official under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Asked by Foy about when he disagreed with Bloomberg on housing, Donovan paused, and took some flak for it, including from McGuire. He then name-checked “Ray” and said that after the Great Recession, when Bloomberg blamed the government for causing the subprime mortgage crisis, Donovan said he pushed back and blamed Wall Street.

“Shaun, you cannot hesitate in the neighborhood. You can’t go down that alley like that,” McGuire interjected.

Donovan responded, “Ray, I don’t think you wanna pick this fight ‘cause I’ll tell you, being very blunt with you, the thing I disagreed with him most on, he thought the government caused the mortgage crisis and I thought Wall street caused the mortgage crisis.”

“That ain’t a real beef Shaun, let me tell you that,” McGuire said. Through laughter and crosstalk, McGuire took another shot at Donovan, asking Rev. McCall, “Was Shaun out there with y’all?”

“Let us put all joking aside here for one second. I am the only white man on this call right now and I want to be careful about what I'm saying,” Donovan said. “I have looked in the eyes of thousands of families that lost their homes in the mortgage crisis. Southeast Queens was Ground Zero. During the mortgage crisis, I was in Southeast Queens starting the Center for New York City Neighborhoods and trying to keep people in their goddamn homes. So when I say the idea that government caused the mortgage crisis, when I've looked in those family's eyes, and not Wall Street, is personal to me. This is not funny. This is not a joke. So the question to me is, I made a choice the last 30 years to be working in neighborhoods around New York City and working across this country to keep people in their homes, not to put them out of their homes. That's the disagreement I had with Mike Bloomberg. When he said to me, this is the government's fault, it was completely unacceptable to me. I’m not bullshitting here. This is not funny to me. This is people's lives.”

Watch the full Arc of Justice event here.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Mayoral Hopefuls Appeared at a Candidate Forum; Then the Conversation Got Interesting Tue, 19 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Candidates Riding Cash Advantages in City's Down-Ballot Races city comptroller candidates 4 Dems

(l-r) Comptroller candidates Lander, Benjamin, Weprin, Parker

This article is published in partnership with City Limits. Also read: The Money Race in the Mayoral Primary: January Filing Sets the Stage for 2021


If money plays a decisive role in the Democratic race for city comptroller, it looks to be a two-candidate affair. But, even in the race to be the city's accountant, money isn't everything.

According to filings with the New York City Campaign Finance Board for the January 15 deadline, just over five months until the all-important primary day in June, Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander now has $2.7 million on hand, fueled by $800,000 of his own fundraising and a $2.3 million dose of matching funds in December.

Manhattan State Senator Brian Benjamin, whose fundraising has been the source of controversy, trails Lander by $100,000 in private donations but did on Friday receive a $950,000 injection of matching funds and had $1.5 million on hand as of the filing.

Queens Assemblymember David Weprin had $295,000 in the bank and Brooklyn State Senator Kevin Parker just over $81,000.

However, Weprin was the most successful fundraiser during the July to January period covered by this recent reporting deadline. He hauled in $292,000 to Benjamin's $244,000, Lander's $173,000 and Parker's $119,000. Both Lander and Benjamin started fundraising well before Weprin and Parker.

As of the filing, Parker had raised $122,711 from 663 contributions for an $183 average. Weprin reported having raised a total of $465,212 from 1,431 contributors, for an average of $318. 

Benjamin reported raising a total thus far of $706,046 from 2,146 contributors, for an $327 average. And Lander has reported raising a total of $858,844 from 4,621 contributions for an $169 average.

Down Ballot But Big Money
In 2021 as in earlier years, the race for mayor usually gets the spotlight. But down-ballot races contribute mightily to the cost of New York City's municipal campaigns and the spending that helps reach voters across the city.

In 2013, the last time a large share of offices were thrown open by term limits, mayoral campaigns comprised just under half of the $122 million spent by city candidates. Races for comptroller, public advocate, borough president and City Council made up the rest.

As in any contests, money is just one factor—always important, but not always decisive—in these races. John Liu outspent the field when he won a crowded 2009 primary race to win the nomination and go on to become comptroller. But Eliot Spitzer's heavy spending advantage in 2013 did not help him prevail over Scott Stringer in that comptroller primary.

Last week's fundraising numbers do indicate something about how the down-ballot races are shaping up. In a year featuring an abundance of open seats, pandemic-related restrictions on campaigning, the first use of ranked-choice voting, and a generous eight-to-one matching ratio for public campaign financing of certain eligible contributions, having the most money might not be crucial, but having enough money to compete will be. It's a long five months between now and the June Democratic primary.

The Hunt for Matching Funds
The threshold for receiving public matching funds in the comptroller's race is raising $125,000 in matchable donations from at least 500 New York City residents. Lander qualified in December and received money based on his fundraising through July. Benjamin received public funds on Friday based on the July numbers.

The CFB will now look at the July through January fundraising reported last week to determine whether Parker and Weprin qualify, and to figure out the amounts any qualified candidates are owed. Benjamin and Lander could receive additional money based on their more recent fundraising. The next payout is in February.

Parker, with just over $53,000 in matchable donations, appears to have fallen short of the threshold. Weprin posted what the campaign assesses as matchable donations of more than $209,000, which is enough to qualify, and his campaign said he's expecting nearly $2 million in public matching funds at the disbursement next month.

As for Lander and Benjamin, they appear to be in line for additional public funds payments of as much as $940,000 and $480,000, respectively, in February, based on matchable donations they received from July on. The Campaign Finance Board will vet the numbers submitted by campaigns, which have made their own assessments that are published upon filing.

While Lander had the smallest average donation thus far in the race, he's raised far more ($38,000) through intermediaries than anyone else in the field, though no single go-between brought in more than $2,500 to Lander.

In the very quiet race for public advocate, there's been modest fundraising. Having raised $106,000 since July, incumbent Jumaane Williams -- the only citywide official eligible to run for reelection this year -- now has $44,300 on hand—a tiny amount for a citywide campaign, but much more than any of the three other candidates registered for that race. Closest to him is Anthony Herbert with nearly $1,500 on hand. The threshold for public funds in the advocate race is identical to the one for comptroller, and with just over $50,000 in matchable donations against the $125,000 threshold, Williams is short of qualifying.

Races at the Borough and District Levels
City Council Member Fernando Cabrera has the biggest bankroll of anyone running for Bronx borough president, with $120,000 on hand. State Senator Luis Sepulveda has the second-most cash ($48,000) but his campaign has been imperiled by the allegation that he tried to strangle his wife. City Council Member Vanessa Gibson has $29,000 to spend and Samuel Ravelo some $16,000. Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez's campaign is in the red by $28.

“Council Member Cabrera has built unprecedented support on the grassroots level throughout the Bronx," Cabrera's campaign manager, Timothy Tapia, said in a statement. "Fernando has demonstrated that his vision for repairing the Bronx has been embraced by residents from every corner of the borough."

In the contest for Brooklyn borough president, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon ($187,599) and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso ($139,089) lead the money race. City Council Member Robert Cornegy, Jr. has raised ($249,640) more than both of them, but spent nearly every dollar he’s raised.

“Raised in just three months, the filing demonstrated strong local support for Simon, with Brooklynites making up over 80 percent of her more than 800 unique contributors,” Simon's campaign said in a statement. But cash position includes a $125,000 loan she made to her campaign.

City Council Member Ben Kallos has a healthy stockpile of cash ($574,139) in the race for Manhattan borough president, but State Senator Brad Hoylman ($278,421) and City Council Member Mark Levine ($235,920) also have competitive cash on hand. They are among six candidates in that Democratic primary, and the only three current elected officials in the race. Former community board chair Elizabeth Caputo has more than $55,000 on hand as of the filing.

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer's bid to unseat newly-elected Queens Borough President Donovan Richards received a boost with the CFB's award of $395,000 in matching funds on Friday, giving him a balance of $384,000—more than three times what’s in the account of Richards, who just won a November special election to serve out the rest of now-District Attorney Melinda Katz's 2018-2021 term. Both are Democrats.

Staten Island borough president candidate Steven Matteo, a City Council member, now has $545,000 to spend. The only other Richmond County candidate registered with the CFB, Leticia Remauro, reported $34,000 in the bank. Both Matteo and Remauro are running in the Republican primary.

Given the low threshold for qualifying for public funds as a borough president candidate (100 donors and matchable donations totaling $10,000 on Staten Island and up to $50,094 in Brooklyn), it appears that multiple candidates will qualify for funds in the borough president races once the CFB goes through the most recent filings and awards new funds in February.

Across the five boroughs, City Council candidates have dropped a combined $4.8 million on the race so far, and have a collective $10.9 million to spend. Ten Council candidates received matching funds payments on Friday based on pre-July fundraising. A few dozen had received public funds in the previous round of awards, in December. Many are on track to receive matching funds in February and others will hope for March.

The best-funded candidate citywide is Erik Bottcher, running in Manhattan's 3rd District, who has raised $133,000, received $160,000 in matching funds, and has $244,000 on hand. However, no one has raised or spent more than incumbent City Council Member Mark Gjonaj of the Bronx, who has already expended $446,000 of the $577,000 he has raised. Four years ago, Gjonaj outspent nearly every candidate in the city by dropping $1.3 million to win his Council seat. He’s again facing tough competition.

Also Read: The Money Race in the Mayoral Primary: January Filing Sets the Stage for 2021

by Jarrett Murphy of City Limits, published in collaboration with Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette @CityLimitsNews

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Candidates Riding Cash Advantages in City's Down-Ballot Races Mon, 18 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Queens Council District Set to Hold City's First Ranked-Choice Election election pres rockaway

New York City voting (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, and in some ways in response to them, 2020 proved to be a historic year for voting in New York City, with 3 million ballots cast in the presidential election in November, including a record-breaking 662,314 absentee ballots after the state eased rules on voting by mail, and unprecedented long lines at early voting poll-sites in the first presidential election with the nine-day period implemented in New York.

Moving into 2021, the newest change impacting New Yorkers’ ballots is the first-ever implementation of ranked-choice voting (RCV), which applies to special elections and party primary elections for city government positions.

The launch of ranked-choice voting will be a special election to replace the vacant seat formerly held by Rory Lancman in the 24th City Council District, covering parts of eastern Queens including Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Eastchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills, and Jamaica. The ballot is set and absentee voting is underway, while early voting runs January 23-January 31, and election day itself February 2.

The winner will serve out the rest of this term for Lancman, who took a position in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, which means the rest of 2021. Meanwhile, the regularly-scheduled 2021 election for the seat, along with the rest of the City Council and city government, will take place with the primary in June and a fall general election. The winner of the special election, like those in several other City Council districts with special elections from December or upcoming, will quickly have to defend his or her seat.

The race in City Council District 24 will be crucial not only for representation for that district and its residents, but as a litmus test for ranked-choice voting’s strengths and weaknesses in advance of the other special elections set for February and March, as well as the full citywide primaries in June.

Six of the City Council hopefuls in the eight-candidate District 24 race appeared this past week at a forum on ranked-choice voting, hosted by Rank the Vote NYC a coalition of elected officials, business and labor leaders, and other reform groups that led the charge in 2019 to implement ranked-choice voting in New York City, Common Cause NY, the nonpartisan organization behind Rank the Vote NYC that has led education efforts on ranked-choice voting in New York City, the Queens Daily Eagle, Disability Rights NY, and the Northeast Queens Chapter of the NAACP. The event was moderated by David Brand, the managing editor of the Queens Daily Eagle, and Aditi Lamba, an anchor at ITV Gold, a South Asian network.

The six candidates, listed in alphabetical order by last name, included Moumita Ahmed, a progressive community organizer, who is endorsed by the Working Families Party; James Gennaro, the former City Council member for District 24 in Queens, who served three terms from 2002 to 2013; Neeta Jain, a Democratic district leader and practicing psychologist; Dilip Nath, a higher education executive and president of the New American Voters Association; Deepti Sharma, a small business advocate and entrepreneur, including as founder of Food to Eat, a catering platform for small and mostly immigrant-owned restaurants; and Soma Syed, a practicing attorney and Queens County Women’s Bar Association president. Candidates Michael Brown, a real estate agent, and Mujib Rahman, a community activist, were not present at the forum. All candidates are Democratic, and with the exception of Gennaro, all are first-time candidates to the City Council. Special elections in the city are non-partisan, whereby candidates run on self-created ballot lines, so there are no party primaries or ballot lines from the major or even minor parties.

The content of the forum focused on how candidates were incorporating ranked-choice voting into their campaign outreach, including education on ranked-choice voting, how ranked-choice voting would minimize vote splitting, or where ideologically or demographically similar candidates split a base of support, increasing the likelihood of a dissimilar candidate winning instead, and how the new voting system was affecting their candidacies overall, including broaching “taboo” or “hot-button” topics with voters and their interactions with the other candidates. Forum participants were not asked questions about district-specific issues, although candidates nevertheless raised them in their responses.

In the interest of time, Brand and Lamba introduced the candidates themselves. Participating candidates appeared at the same time and took turns answering the same questions. They were each given 1-2 minutes to answer each question.

Kenny Cohen, the president of the Northeast Queens NAACP, opened the forum saying, “NAACP has been fighting for voting rights since its inception in 1909. To see this beautiful, diverse group of candidates running here in this City Council District 24 in Queens is a beautiful sight. And it's a testament to the work that NAACP and all the civil rights advocates in the past have done to get us to this point.”

Before the Q&A portion of the forum began, Sean Dugar, the education campaign program director for Rank the Vote NYC, a citywide education and outreach initiative on ranked-choice voting, explained how ranked-choice voting works with a slideshow presentation, followed by a mock election.

In summary, the new ranked-choice voting process allows voters to select up to five candidates (including a write-in) in order of preference. To win outright, a candidate must reach over 50% of the first-place votes. If a candidate does not win a majority of first-place votes on first count, then the candidate with the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on their voters’ second choices. This process repeats itself until only two candidates are left, and then the person with most votes is declared the winner. The system will apply starting this year to party primary and special elections for City Council, Borough President, Public Advocate, City Comptroller, and Mayor.

The goals of ranked-choice voting include preventing polarized elections, promoting demographically and ideologically diverse candidates and officeholders, increasing voter awareness of candidates who are running, disincentivizing negative campaigning, and eliminating the need for costly runoff elections, which have applied to party primaries for citywide positions. And perhaps most of all, ranked-choice voting is meant to ensure that the winner of crowded elections has broad support among the constituents they are elected to represent.

Although the referendum passed with nearly 75% of the vote when a Charter Revision Commission put ranked-choice voting before New York City voters in the fall of 2019, critics have argued that it was an especially low turnout election given little was on the ballot and that the city has not adequately prepared voters for the change, potentially leading to voter suppression in marginalized communities where voters may not rank as many choices. But proponents of the new system disagree, pointing out that organizers in communities where voter suppression is more common led the charge for ranked-choice voting in the first place and that there is a robust voter-education underway. They also note that the 2019 Charter Revision Commission did painstaking work in a public process before proposing ranked-choice voting.

Brand kicked off the Q&A portion of the forum, saying, “It's a historic moment. It's our city's first use of ranked-choice voting, and it’s cool that it's happening in Queens.”

Lamba added that candidates in the race for District 24 were also scheduled to meet the following night on Thursday, January 14 for a forum co-hosted by multiple local organizations — Chhaya CDC, a housing advocacy organization geared toward low-income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers; India Home, a center for senior care; the Chinese-American Planning Council, an organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of Chinese American, immigrant, and low-income communities; Shetu, a community-based non-profit organization that assists low-income, Bangladeshi immigrant populations; APA VOICE, a non-partisan, pan-Asian coalition that seeks to increase civic engagement in the Asian-American community; and the MinKwon Center for Community Action, a Korean-led community group focused on social services for marginalized Asian Americans — and encouraged audience members to attend.

Brand posed the first question, asking candidates how City Council District 24’s diversity has influenced their campaign outreach. According to 2010 Census data, District 24’s total 167,448 population was 33.2% white, 28.9% Asian, 21.8% Hispanic, and 11.7% Black. District 24 has the largest Bangladeshi population of any City Council District, with over 10,000 people, part of an overall New York City population where Bangladeshis are the fifth largest Asian group overall, with almost 62,000 residents, according to the 2015 American Community Survey..

“I actually helped pass ranked-choice voting as field and education director for Common Cause. I believe in this way of voting; otherwise, I wouldn't have gotten involved,” Ahmed said.

“As the only renter running, I am mobilizing all of our communities around the issue of housing justice,” she continued, listing numerous endorsements from various civic groups, including the Hispanic American Voter Association, the Working Families Party, New York Communities for Change, Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group, and The Jewish Vote. “That's how we're talking to voters. That's how we're advancing the agenda of ranked-choice voting.”

Sharma began on a personal note, saying, “I was born and brought up in this district on 150 Fifth Street, right by Queens College. My son is going to the same school that I went to, and our focus has been talking to every single voter.” Although Sharma is one of six candidates in the race hoping to become the first South Asian elected to the City Council, she also emphasized, “I'm not here to represent the South Asian district, but every single person that makes this beautiful district exactly what it is.” She went on to add that she wants to prioritize her voters' concerns, citing COVID-19 relief, the vaccine rollout, and safe schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods.

“What better place to have ranked voting than here,” said Nath, referring to Queens, which is the most racially and ethnically diverse county in the country. He went on to praise term limits for creating space for new and diverse leadership, saying that “ranked-choice voting will further enhance the concept of diversity and inclusion.” He added, “What matters to you, what matters to Jewish [communities], what matters to South Asian or Latino [communities], is what matters to me.”

While Jain concurred that ranked-choice voting is important for amplifying diverse voices, including immigrants, she disagreed with the question’s premise, saying, “It is not affecting my election.” Jain highlighted her experience of community leadership — 30 years of practicing psychology, four years as a Democratic district leader, eight years as a founder of the civic engagement group International Ahimsa Foundation, and one year as the elected president of Daniel Patrick Moynihan Democratic Club of Queens — for “making a difference in their [people’s] lives.”

Jain stressed the range of problems that she has personally witnessed people facing during the pandemic, citing small business owners who went to her for “help to fill out the forms for SBA loans” and “kids suffering at home” because “schools do not have proper devices” for remote learning.

Gennaro emphasized his political career and the network of contacts he developed throughout his tenure as a City Council member, saying, “I was the one that appointed Kenny Cohen to the community board,” referring to Community Board 8 in Queens, and “I appointed the first Bangladeshi woman to Community Board 8,” alluding to Nargis Ahmed. “I’m quite confident that my relationships will serve me well in the upcoming election,” he said. Recalling his history with the community, Gennaro said, “I've had the ability to immerse myself in every community and really have a profound impact. I think people remember and appreciate that.”

Since his departure from the City Council in 2013, Gennaro has served in the Cuomo administration as the deputy commissioner for New York City Sustainability and Resiliency at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

In contrast, Syed said, “We need leadership that is of the future, not of the past.” Growing up in Jamaica and her experience as an attorney working pro-bono cases, has enabled her to form deep bonds within the community, across racial lines, Syed said. “Whether it be the Black community, Hispanic community, the Asian community, the Jewish community, and the white community — we are all together in one community. We’re all looking to better our lives, and the lives of our future, our children.”

Lamba asked if there were any issues that candidates considered “taboo” or “too hot” that they felt ranked-choice voting allowed them to talk about more openly or even campaign on.

“We have to make sure that we're talking about workers’ rights, and that includes sex workers,” began Ahmed, pointing out how certain groups like undocumented immigrants are excluded from federal aid and government protections. On that note, Ahmed spotlighted the “homelessness situation” as a “top priority,” explaining that “we’re closer to being homeless than becoming billionaires right now.” Even though these topics are often seen as taboo because “we’re talking about working-class Black and brown folks,” Ahmed said she believes they shouldn’t be. “That’s why ranked-choice voting is so great,” she added, “because it allows candidates like myself who come from working-class talk about working class issues.”

‘Policing is one of those issues that I've noticed that does alienate a few people, or groups of people,” said Sharma, ““one of the most important things that we need to think about.” To illustrate her point, Sharma described an incident as told to her by a Queens College student, who experienced a panic attack during finals. He called 911, but instead of a mental health professional or social worker, police officers responded to the call, and they handcuffed him. According to Sharma, “That didn’t help the situation. That made it worse.” She explained that the crux of the problem is funding, and then she centered Pomonok Community Center, which “used to have programs like taekwondo, gymnastics, and dance” but now “the only thing that exists there is homework help.”

“When we talk about investing in our communities, we need to keep talking about where the money is going to come from,” Sharma said, though she did not explicitly raise support for the “defund the police” movement.

For Gennaro, “Nothing is taboo. Nothing is off the table. Everything has to be discussed.” In response to Sharma’s mention of the Pomonok Community Center, where she said she personally benefited from its enrichment programs, Gennaro said, “I was happy to fund the good programming that she enjoyed.”

Sharma clarified by saying, “I did that in the 90s, though,” predating Gennaro’s tenure on the City Council.

On the question of taboo issues, Syed said, “I haven’t shied away from any issue. Everything that’s happening to even one person in our community needs to be discussed.”

Jain flagged mental health as a conventionally taboo subject that she believes needs to be discussed more on a political scale. “School children are growing up with anxiety. Our youth are out on the streets, and they are doing more drug abuse. Our seniors are going through depression.” She warned, “We really have to pay attention” because “it’s not going to go away that easily.”

Nath decried the state of remote learning, calling out the economic pressures placed upon low-income families who cannot afford high-speed broadband or laptops or iPads. He also pointed out that the closure of three hospitals in Queens in 2009 effectively transformed the borough into the epicenter of the pandemic a decade later.

Brand then asked candidates how they thought ranked-choice voting might serve voters and how it has affected the way they talk about themselves, as well as other candidates.

Candidates seemed to unanimously agree that ranked-choice voting creates a more level playing field for candidates in the electoral process. “RCV is giving a broader platform to everyone,” said Jain.

Candidates also agreed that the new voting system allowed them to focus more on the issues rather than political attacks. “It's giving a chance for voters to actually research and look up every single candidate because now that they know that they're not just voting for their number one,” said Sharma. She also said that these conversations with voters in which she’s able to focus solely on the issues, have enabled her to squeeze into voters’ number two slots in cases where she isn’t their top pick, thereby securing as many votes as possible.

Lamba asked candidates how they thought ranked-choice voting minimized the spoiler effect, or vote splitting between candidates who share similar demographics or ideologies.

“We are trying very hard through RCV not to split votes,” began Jain, “but I think that it’s still going to happen.” Jain said she has conducted an educational seminar for voters on ranked-choice voting and is planning another one soon, which she hopes will minimize vote splitting.

Syed expressed some doubt over the abilities of the New York City Campaign Finance Board and New York City Board of Elections to “invest enough resources and time to educate voters about RCV.” She went on to say that these shortcomings are “going to affect our minority communities who are already marginalized, who are afraid of the voting process. It falls on the candidates to pick up the slack and educate the voters.”

Gennaro said he didn’t think significant vote splitting would occur, saying, “I think that the whole idea of ranked-choice voting is to turn that splitting phenomenon on its head.” He did concur with Syed that “there has not been enough education by the Board of Elections and by the Campaign Finance Board,” concluding that “this election is going to be a little bit of a shakeout.”

Nath did not directly answer the question but voiced praise for the “many minority candidates running for office” compared to when he ran in 2005 for the same seat.

Sharma said she’s hoping to mitigate vote splitting by staying focused on the issues rather than identity politics. “I don't just talk about my race. I don't just talk about my gender. I talk about the things that are affecting them.”

“The beauty of ranked-choice voting is, yes, it diversifies the slate in terms of our identity. But issues, as well,” added Ahmed, citing her pro-worker platform.

Brand then asked what was possibly the most controversial yet straight-forward question posed during the forum: who is your second choice?

Sharma answered, “We are still analyzing our second choice based on how these forums go. I want to know that people are the same in every room, and don't pick and choose what they say, when it's convenient.”

Jain also said she was in the process of evaluating her candidate picks.

“My ballot is private,” said Gennaro, “but I will keep my eye on the candidates as the race progresses.” When Brand called this a “cop-out answer,” Gennaro told him, “I reject your characterization,” claiming that revealing his second choice would in effect attempt to “manipulate the voters.”

Syed also said she has not yet decided on a second choice candidate, saying that she is going to wait for more debates to hear other candidates’ platforms.

Nath did not explicitly share any names, but named top priorities: education, health care, and housing. He also said he’d rank candidates with “roots in the community.” Nath said he’s undecided on his fifth choice.

Ahmed was the only one who shared her candidate picks, saying, “I like to walk the walk.” She went on to disclose that Sharma will get one of her votes because of her detailed housing plan, Nath will also get a vote from Ahmed, who praised his work with New American Voters Association, and she also committed to voting for Jain because she supports taxing the rich. She didn’t name a fifth vote.

For the final question, which was submitted by a member of the audience, candidates were asked how they were educating voters on completing their ballots under the new system.

Gennaro, Nath, and Syed all identified reminding voters to vote for up to five different candidates as part of their education on ranked-choice voting in order to maximize the potential of the new voting system.

Sharma said her campaign volunteers have been taught how to educate voters on ranked-choice voting through a script and training sessions.

“We have literature in multiple languages explaining how ranked-choice voting works,” said Ahmed, who also pairs this education with reminders about her platform and endorsements, so that they will think of her on Election Day.

In addition to educational seminars, Jain also said that she has a sample ballot on her phone, which she uses to demonstrate for voters how the ballot will look and how to use it.

The forum on Thursday night, hosted by Chhaya CDC, India Home, Chinese-American Planning Committee (CPC NYC), Shetu, APA VOICE, and the MinKwon Center for Community Action, also began with an educational presentation on ranked-choice voting. After that, the candidates each had one minute to introduce themselves. The Q&A portion of the forum was divided into four rounds including questions from members of the organizations sponsoring the event; a “lightning round” requiring short answers; audience questions; and the candidates selecting an opponent of their choice to ask a question.

The questions posed to candidates touched on plans for social services, language accessibility, gentrification and displacement, land use, housing, tenants’ rights, senior care, the city budget, and more. The forum was moderated by Habib Rahman of TBN24, a Bangla language live television channel.

Although originally scheduled to appear, Gennaro cancelled an hour or so before the event, according to organizers. Habib called this news “disappointing” a few times throughout the forum, and said, “We’d like to thank all of the candidates who saw it important to come to the forum and speak to everybody who’s here.” Candidates Mujib Rahman and Michael Brown were also missing.

When asked how they would enhance professional development programs geared toward immigrant and undocumented communities, all of the candidates agreed that language accessibility was a crucial aspect of this and proposed different strategies.

Syed suggested coordinating with the Small Business Administration to “connect with employers to see what needs they have, and we train and provide funding simultaneously.” Additionally, Syed proposed “investing in trade schools,” as well as educating those with foreign degrees about the existing system for certificate conversion.

On language accessibility, Nath took a few shots at Gennaro, saying, “Today, we have somebody who is running for this seat who voted against a language assistance program. Apparently, he’s not even on this panel. Maybe I’m missing him.” If elected to the City Council, Nath said, “I want to specifically work with CUNY and SUNY and create a center at York College and Queens College” that would help immigrants with their certifications.

Jain emphasized funding, citing her experience as a Democratic district leader and a delegate for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the most recent presidential election. “I know how much money is sitting there for our adult education program. I want to bring that money to my district. I want to bring the fair share to my community,” she said.

Sharma said she would create a task force of community leaders to strategize “innovative solutions” that are “on par with what’s happening in the community,” including making sure that “language accessibility is part of [job training].”

Ahmed said her personal experience of providing translation for her immigrant parents has informed her understanding of the need for language justice, saying, “When you can't understand, you can't participate.” But the clock ran out before she proposed specific strategies.

When asked how they would assist first-time homebuyers, Ahmed, Nath, Syed, and Jain all agreed that basements should be legalized as separate dwelling units.

Ahmed went on to say, “And we need to work with state legislators to tax the rich and make sure there's funding to give a stipend to homeowners so that they're able to pay their mortgage.”

Nath emphasized his commitment to helping homeowners, saying, “I have not taken a single dime from developers,” which he criticized for artificially inflating prices. He added that taxes should be suspended for first-time homebuyers and that the process by which to secure loans for homes should be easier.

“There’s already a program that exists, which provides $40,000 for the first-time homebuyer,” began Jain, referencing the HomeFirst Down Payment Assistance Program. “It should be extended more, and there should be some more educational programs also to be funded by the City Council,” added Jain.

If elected, Sharma said that she would work with the state on property taxes, although she didn’t specify. She also proposed “creating a New York City public bank, where we can actually provide capital that goes to a more diverse group of people.” She identified loans at the “number one problem” for first-time homeowners.

“Since 2002, property taxes have increased almost 18%,” began Syed. “When I get to City Council, I’m pledging not to increase property taxes on one-to-three [family] homes.” She also emphasized the need for seminars on purchasing homes and spotting predatory lending.

On gentrification and displacement as a result of rezonings and real estate development, all candidates agreed that input from the community is vital.

Both Nath and Jain called for the creation of more affordable housing.

Sharma, Ahmed, and Soma said that racial impact studies, as suggested by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and some City Council members, should be required on major rezoning proposals. In addition to racial impact reports, Soma emphasized the need for environmental impact statements. Sharma and Syed also criticized what they say is a one-size-fits-all approach of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program. “AMI, the average median income is the same across the board” when it should vary neighborhood by neighborhood, said Sharma.

Ahmed called for reforming the entire land use review process overall, saying, “I would not vote for any rezoning under our current ULURP process,” which she said “prioritizes developers over our community.”

On supporting tenants, Sharma said she would start with holding “problematic landlords” accountable by “taking them to court,” referring to Zara Realty, a real estate company that faced a lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James over violations of rent stabilization and tenant harassment laws.

Syed, who has represented tenants against Zara Realty, said she would cancel rent “for those tenants who are not able to pay rent.” On this point, Nath disagreed, saying, “If we do that, that will hurt some of our small landlords.”

“What I will do is work to continue the moratorium on evictions during the pandemic by working with state legislators, expand ‘right to a lawyer’ for all renters in housing court, encourage the creation of more tenant unions…and expand community land trusts to help working class families afford a home,” said Ahmed.

On senior care, Sharma proposed distributing the COVID-19 vaccine via a mobile van, and Nath agreed, saying, “We need to bring the vaccine into the local community.” Syed promised using $750,000 in discretionary funds allotted to City Council District 24 to fund senior centers. Ahmed concurred, adding, “We also need adult daycare centers to provide help for our seniors, whether it's physical therapy, mental health support.” Jain, who serves as chair of the community advisory board of India Home, cited her experience in the role, including mental health counseling for seniors, providing hot meals, and vocational skills programs.

When asked how they would approach the city budget in the midst of the fiscal crisis caused by the pandemic, Sharma, Ahmed, and Jain called for new revenue streams. Sharma and Ahmed suggested redirecting a portion of the NYPD’s budget toward social services, with Ahmed pointing out, “The city spent $230 million in 2018 alone on lawsuits against the NYPD for misconduct. It's clear that we need to stop pumping billions into a policing system that's broken and plagued with lawsuits and human rights violations.” Ahmed and Jaim also proposed taxing billionaires. Additionally, Ahmed said she would “work with state legislators to pass marijuana legalization,” “take away tax abatements so corporate landlords can’t avoid taxes,” and “make sure New York City collects fines for permit violations and tax commercial property warehouses.”

While Sharma said that the city needs “to stop relying on federal funding,” Syed said that she would “push the Biden administration to provide state funding.” She also added, “We need to look at the entire city budget and make the appropriate cuts,” but she promised those cuts would not impact essential social services, such as senior care, mental health services, and support for the unhoused.

“What I'm proposing is suspending the commercial rent tax for at least one year, and giving a grant to the small business owner, so they can open the business and create jobs,” said Nath. He also said he was “supportive of Amazon” building a massive new campus in Long Island City, but in lieu of that, “We need to make sure we invite companies who will create jobs that are going to help the middle-class American. Of course, they have to be union jobs.”

During the lightning round, candidates were unanimous in their support of “people over profit,” Medicare for all, affordable housing, ranked-choice voting, and working-class communities. When asked to choose between investment in community programs and services or investment in law enforcement, most candidates chose the former, except Syed, who said she supported both.

During the final round, in which candidates asked another candidate of their choice one question, Sharma kicked things off, asking Nath for his stance on the Black Lives Matter movement. To this, he said he was supportive. “We cannot end [systemic racism] by electing the same people year after year who violate term limits, who just treat politics as a career,” he said, seemingly referring to former City Council member Gennaro, who served three terms and is now running for his old seat in District 24. (The current law limits officeholders to two concurrent terms, but there is nothing barring Gennaro from running again. He was among those who approved a term-limits extension in 2009 that allowed Mayor Bloomberg and City Council members like himself the possibility of an additional term.)“By electing one of us, we can bring diversity and inclusion to the City Council. That's how we end systemic racism in this country,” Nath said.

Syed asked Jain how she thought white supremacy affected immigrant communities, to which Jain replied, “This is a democratic country. What happened in Washington, that should not have happened.” She added, “Of course it affected our immigrant community,” highlighting immigrant concern over safety.

Next, Ahmed asked Nath what his favorite Bangladeshi restaurant was on Hillside Avenue, and he answered, “Sagar Chinese.”

When Nath asked Ahmed if she would pledge to not work with candidates “who violated the term limit,” seemingly another reference to Genarro, Ahmed said, “I absolutely support term limits and would not want to work with anybody who's exploiting a loophole.”

For the last question of the forum, Jain asked Syed what she would do differently from the previous Council member, Lancman, for immigrant communities. Syed said, “We need to equitably distribute discretionary funds into communities that really need them.”

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

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Queens Council District Set to Hold City's First Ranked-Choice Election Sun, 17 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
The Money Race in the Mayoral Primary: January Filing Sets the Stage for 2021 Gotham Gazette:

l-r: (top) Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Carlos Menchaca, Zach Iscol (bottom) Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley, Ray McGuire

With under six months until the 2021 primary elections, candidates running for mayor filed their January campaign finance disclosures. The disclosures were due on Friday, covering the last six months of fundraising and spending activity. For a number of candidates, it was their first filing.

There are well over a dozen candidates running in the Democratic primary, the winner of which will likely be the next mayor because of the overwhelming number of registered Democratic voters in the city. The January deadline was crucial, as candidates attempt to show the support they’ve garnered among voters and campaign donors, and particularly because it will help determine the next round of public matching funds payments made to candidates by the city’s Campaign Finance Board on February 16. Only two candidates -- Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- have qualified for matching funds prior to this upcoming assessment by the Board based on the new filing.

The Democratic candidates include Stringer, Adams, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former city veterans services commissioner Loree Sutton, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, veteran-turned-entrepreneur Zach Iscol, entrepreneur Joycelyn Taylor, former Campaign Finance Board member Art Chang, attorney Isaac Wright, Jr., and several others.

Former presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang also jumped into the race last week, just one day before the campaign finance deadline, and has just begun raising funds, though he is expected to be able to raise them quickly given his base of support and the fundraising he showed in his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Stringer and Adams received public matching funds in December through the city’s program, putting both candidates well ahead of most others and nearing the money to hit the original spending threshold for the primary, though that ceiling is set to be lifted based on the fundraising by McGuire, who is not participating in the matching system and can therefore accept larger individual contributions. 

The matching funds program’s rules have been amended in recent years, setting a maximum individual contribution limit of $2,000 and matching the first $250 of every donation from city residents with public funds at an 8-to-1 ratio. Candidates must meet a dual threshold of raising a minimum of $250,000 from at least 1,000 donors who are New York City residents. Before any adjustments based on the fundraising of non-participating candidates, mayoral candidates who participate in the program can spend up to $7.3 million in the primary, as well as another $7.3 million in the general election. They can receive a maximum public funds payment of about $6.47 million for each leg of the race.

To even the playing field with participating candidates, CFB rules mandate that if a non-participant (here, McGuire) raises or spends more than $3.6 million in the primary, 50% of the $7.3 million spending limit for participating candidates, then that limit will increase by 50% to just under $11 million. If a non-participant raises or spends three times the limit, almost $22 million, then the limit will be eliminated entirely for all candidates.

Wiley is the only other candidate besides Adams and Stringer who has apparently qualified for public matching funds and expects a major windfall when payments are made in February.

Adams has raised more than $3 million in total and has spent about $746,000 as of the filing. He received nearly $4.4 million in public funds last month, giving him a hefty campaign balance of more than $6.6 million. In the last six months, he raised more than $426,000, and spent about $334,000. His latest disclosure also includes more than $122,000 in matching claims, which could mean roughly another $980,000 in public funds. Those claims are estimates from the campaign and are likely to change after they are audited by the Campaign Finance Board.

In total, $1.9 million of Adams’ fundraising came from New York City residents and about $750,000 from outside the city. He has 6,261 contributors, with an average donation size of $424.

Stringer is in second place in campaign funds. He has raised more than $3.25 million and spent about $820,000 overall. He got $3.37 million in public funds in December and another $38,000 payment on Friday. He has about $5.8 million in cash on hand as of the filing. In the last six months, he raised about $458,000, and spent a little more than $400,000. His campaign estimates that about $194,000 of that fundraising qualifies for matching funds, which could bring in almost $1.6 million for Stringer next month.

In total, Stringer raised about $1.4 million from city residents and $445,000 from outside. He has 5,517 contributors for an average contribution size of $329.

McGuire is the only major Democratic candidate not participating in the public funds program, which means he faces no limits on his spending and can raise $5,100 from individual contributors. He has already raised nearly $4.9 million and has spent about $1.1 million, all in the last six months, leaving him with about $3.75 million in cash on hand.

McGuire has raised most of his funds, $3.3 million, from city residents and about $1.5 million from outside sources. He has 3,709 donors and an average contribution size of $1,317.

Donovan, a former housing commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a top official in the Obama administration as housing secretary and budget director, has raised more than $1.6 million for his campaign and has spent about $690,000, for a remaining balance of about $913,000 as of the filing. He has $152,000 in matching claims, which falls well below the $250,000 threshold for public funds.

Donovan raised $938,000 from city residents and $664,000 from outside the city. He has 2,044 donors for an average contribution size of $784.

Iscol is a relatively unknown first-time candidate but he has connections that have apparently helped him out-raise a number of other Democrats. His mother, Jill Iscol, is a major Democratic Party donor with ties to Hillary Clinton, and his father is a mobile technology entrepreneur. He has raised more than $746,000 and has spent just over $261,000, leaving him with about $485,000 in cash on hand as of the filing. His campaign estimates it has more than $229,000 in matching claims, just short of qualifying for public funds.

City residents donated $409,000 to Iscol’s campaign while $336,000 came from people outside the city. He has 1,943 contributors and an average donation size of $384.

Wiley has some name recognition from her time as a contributor on MSNBC, her previous role in the de Blasio administration, and her work as a civil rights attorney. She has raised more than $720,000, spent about $404,000, and has $316,000 in cash on hand as of the filing. Her campaign has made more than $287,000 in matching claims, which crossed the public funds threshold and will likely net her a major windfall of $2.3 million in mid-February, a major achievement.

Wiley raised $451,000 from city residents and $269,000 from noncity sources. She also has 6,976 contributors, the most of any candidate so far, with an average donation size of $103.

Morales has raised more than $336,000, spent more than $208,000, and has $127,000 in cash on hand as of the filing. Her campaign’s matching claims of nearly $180,000 are about $70,000 short of the public funds threshold. Morales raised $235,000 from city residents and about $100,000 from outside sources. Her campaign has 4,423 donors and an average contribution size of $76.

Garcia, who is running on management and having been Mayor de Blasio’s go-to fixer for several crises while also heading the sanitation department, has raised about $304,000 and spent only $27,000, leaving her with more than $277,000 in campaign cash as of the filing. Her campaign claims only $151,000 in qualifying contributions, which means she will not receive public funds next month

Garcia raised $224,000 from city residents and about $80,000 from outside. She has 1,572 donors with contributions averaging $194. 

Sutton is the only candidate who opted into the public funds program but chose to follow its older rules, which are still an option till the end of this election cycle. That means she can raise a maximum of $5,100 from individual contributors but will only receive a 6-to-1 match on the first $175 of every contribution. She has raised about $192,000 overall and has spent nearly all of it. She only has about $398 in cash on hand as of the filing. She has just $14,228 in matching claims. She raised $117,000 from city residents and $73,000 from outside sources. She has 448 donors and an average donation size of $425. 

Menchaca has raised about $62,000, spent $48,000, and has about $14,500 left as of the filing. Taylor has raised $60,000, spent $51,000, and has about $8,400 left. Chang has raised $57,000, spent $39,000, and has $18,011 left. Wright has raised $50,000, spent about $8,800, and has roughly $41,000 left. None of the other Democrats have raised $50,000.

There are few Republican candidates in the race and none have shown any significant fundraising.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Money Race in the Mayoral Primary: January Filing Sets the Stage for 2021 Sun, 17 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Brad Lander on His Run for New York City Comptroller 2 cmplander

Brad Lander (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

January 6, 2021 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Brad Lander on His Run for New York City Comptroller

City Council Member Brad Lander joined the show to discuss his run for New York City Comptroller in the 2021 election.

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 268 Brad Lander On His Run For New York City Comptroller

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Brad Lander on His Run for New York City Comptroller Wed, 13 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Andrew Yang Announces Candidacy for New York City Mayor Andrew Yang prez trail Iowa

Andrew Yang on the presidential campaign trail (photo: Gage Skidmore)

Entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang announced that he is officially running for Mayor of New York City on Wednesday in a campaign video posted online. Yang followed the launch with a Thursday morning press conference in Upper Manhattan, after which he was slated to attend events in three other boroughs.

“New York City always felt like the center of the universe,” Yang says in the video, which was directed by famed Hollywood filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Yang appears with his wife, Evelyn, and two young children, interspersed with shots of him speaking with everyday New Yorkers, eating a slice of pizza, riding a skateboard, and playing a piano on the Coney Island boardwalk. Yang grew up in upstate New York, where he owns a home, and has lived in the city for 24 years, he says. “I came of age, fell in love, and became a father here,” he says of the city.

Yang is joining a crowded and diverse field of Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination to replace the term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio. The primary -- likely to determine the city’s next mayor given Democrats’ massive voter enrollment advantage -- will feature two important firsts: it is happening in June and will feature ranked-choice voting.

Yang is running as an outsider candidate and has the advantage of broad name recognition, a large social media following, and the likely ability to raise massive amounts of funding for his campaign, as he displayed during his aborted presidential run. In the lead up to making it official Yang has all but acknowledged his plan to seek the mayoralty and created a lot of strong feelings about his run: excitement among supporters, trepidation among competitors, and many questions from the news media and other interested parties.

He’s also had some bad initial headlines as he teased his mayoral bid. City & State reported that he hasn’t voted in the past four mayoral elections. Then Politico New York found that he was among the wealthier New Yorkers who fled the city during the pandemic, temporarily relocating to his second home upstate. His defense of the move, in an interview with the New York Times, prompted widespread criticism that he was out of touch with the majority of working New Yorkers. “We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. And so, like, can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself?” he said. He later explained that he made the move to help one of his sons, who is autistic.

Yang is attempting to quickly amend any negative initial impressions by relying on his significant base of supporters, his exuberant personality, and his signature universal basic income (UBI) proposal – which earned him popularity during the presidential race as he talked about lifting people out of poverty and combatting changes in the economy – but tailored for New York City. He will pitch the updated version of the idea, which he notes has been championed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the past, in an announcement at Morningside Heights Park in Manhattan on Thursday morning, according to the campaign. Yang is also launching his campaign with several other eye-catching ideas: city control of the subways, a pledge to "name a civilian Commissioner of the NYPD," new specialized high schools with a revamped admissions process, and more.

Yang’s UBI proposal, which he called the Freedom Dividend in the presidential campaign, originally entailed giving every American adult $1,000 each month with no strings attached. Running for mayor, he has tweaked that idea and is proposing to spend $1 billion annually to give the 500,000 New Yorkers who most need it an average of $2,000 and up to $5,000 each year. Undocumented immigrants and those with past criminal convictions would qualify, his proposal says.

In his launch, Yang also advanced a proposal for a “people’s bank,” which will automatically enroll those who receive the universal basic income. In the campaign video, newly-inaugurated U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres from the Bronx praised the proposal. “Your advocacy for universal basic income is so critical,” Torres said in conversation with Yang. “The surest way to end poverty is to put money in people's pockets. It’s that simple.” At the Thursday press conference, Yang revealed that Torres is serving as the co-chair of his campaign along with Martin Luther King III.

Queens Assemblymember Ron Kim, a progressive who strongly advocates for raising taxes on the wealthy and a larger social safety net, is also seen in the video with Yang. Kim is one leader of the city’s large Asian population that Yang, who is the son of Taiwanese immigrants, may be able to excite about his mayoral campaign. The city has never elected an Asian person as mayor.

Yang will have a lot of work to do to catch up to the rest of the Democratic field, some of whom have been angling for City Hall for years, have far more experience with municipal government, have millions of dollars in the bank, and have been working in communities across the city during the emergency of the pandemic and years prior. They include Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former veterans services commissioner Loree Sutton, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, military veteran and entrepreneur Zach Iscol, and others.

But Yang is likely to roll out many ideas for the future of the city and have the strengths to make up any ground on campaign funding and familiarity with voters. The question will be whether he can convince enough of them to choose him to lead the city in the next phases of its recovery. That conversation will include Yang’s resume, which includes his presidential bid, but also his work in start-ups, nonprofits, and leading a Manhattan test prep company where he found financial success. Other Yang ventures have sputtered, but he has found a large following talking about the struggles of everyday people, those struggling to find work and pay the bills, and those leery of a future economy more dependent on automation.

Though his launch video is brief, Yang did touch on a series of issues that are likely to be central to the mayoral race. He is seen with Kim at a restaurant, discussing the plight of small businesses that have shuttered because of the coronavirus, and pledged to help bring the local economy back. He spoke with two Black New Yorkers about the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, which prompted months of protests in the city and reinvigorated police reform movement last year. He stressed the need for high-speed internet across the city, a lack of which has been one of the main obstacles to remote learning as schools closed during the pandemic. His wife prompts him to pursue smaller class sizes in part by hiring more teachers. Yang said he wants to "take back control of our subway," seemingly a reference to altering the structure of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state-run entity. He even joked about saving the Knicks.

On his initial campaign website, Yang has several policy-focused pages with mostly broad language, promising detailed plans in the coming weeks, but some do offer specific proposals and his "relief for our small businesses" page has a number of planks, including passage of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which has, in different iterations, been in the City Council for decades and would in its current form mandate new lease renewal terms to help protect small businesses. Yang also has a number of education-focused proposals, including "at least two specialized schools in each borough and holistic admissions to specialized schools, combining students’ SHSAT performance with other forms of evaluation - grades, interviews, essays, and more."

Yang's first full day as a mayoral candidate will be full: he's scheduled to appear on The Breakfast Club radio program in the morning, followed by the launch event in Morningside Park, then a visit to a Bronx food distribution center, lunch with Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, a walking tour of Brownsville, Brooklyn with Assemblymember Latrice Walker, an interview on NY1's Inside City Hall with host Errol Louis, and finally a virtual town hall with New Yorkers.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

This article has been updated several times since it's publication with additional information about Yang's campaign launch.

Andrew Yang Announces Candidacy for New York City Mayor Wed, 13 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Video Brief: Policing and the 2021 Election 1mx vid

Mayor de Blasio with NYPD Commissioner Shea and officers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As the 2021 New York City elections unfold, voters will want to hear from candidates for Mayor, City Council, and other offices on a wide variety of issues. In this video brief, hosts Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits reset the discussion on policing and other aspects of the criminal justice system, and how it may factor into this year's races:

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Video Brief: Policing and the 2021 Election Tue, 12 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Manhattan Borough President Candidates Pitch West Side Democrats lower manhattan skyline

Lower Manhattan (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

The six Democratic candidates running for Manhattan Borough President in this year’s election appeared Thursday night at a forum hosted by the West Side Democrats. The five Democratic candidates running for City Council District 6, based on the Upper West Side, also appeared before the club, following the borough president hopefuls. Both primaries are among those happening for all of city government in June and will feature the first full citywide round of ranked-choice voting, which applies to special and party primary elections.

Forum participants answered questions focused on a range of issues, including public and private housing, homelesssness, transit, land use and development, small businesses, the city’s Open Streets program, concern over federal aid, and more.

Candidates vying to succeed term-limited Gale Brewer for Manhattan Borough President include Lindsey Boylan, former deputy secretary for economic development and housing in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration; Kimberly Watkins, president of Community Education Council 3 in Harlem; City Council Member Mark Levine of District 7; Elizabeth Caputo, former chair of Manhattan’s Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side; State Senator Brad Hoylman of District 27; and City Council Member Ben Kallos of District 5.

Participating candidates appeared consecutively and were given three minutes to introduce themselves, then six minutes to answer questions pre-submitted by West Side Democratic Club members. The candidates were asked mostly the same set of questions during the forum, which was moderated by club members Pablo Zevallos and Rachel Landis.

In his opening remarks, West Side Democratic President Richard Oppenheimer reflected on Wednesday’s attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, calling it “a moment of darkness and light” for democracy. Most of the candidates commented on the riot, as well, agreeing that peaceful transfers of power at all levels of government are necessary components of a healthy democracy.

Lindsey Boylan
“I came to New York, interested in urban planning, wanting to be the next Jane Jacobs and think about how to make cities work for people,” said Boylan, discussing her decision to run for borough president. For Boylan, equitable urban planning has never been more important than it is now in the midst of a pandemic that has devastated the city’s local economy on top of all the challenges the city already faced.

“The borough president's job is all about how to use all the tools at our disposal to make this borough, and as a result the city, more equitable, livable, and sustainable. I’ve been doing that my whole career,” said Boylan, noting two decades of experience managing public spaces, primarily the Bryant Park Corporation, 34th Street Partnership, and the Chelsea Improvement Company, as well as her more recent position in the Cuomo administration. Boylan left that position in 2018 and recently accused the governor of having sexually harassed her repeatedly, a charge he denied.

In 2020, Boylan ran an unsuccessful Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Jerry Nadler.

At the forum, Boylan criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program for its failure to address the city’s critical need for affordable housing via “luxury bonuses.” When asked about single-room occupancy housing, Boylan said, “This is a critical way that people live in the city. And we're not offering any alternatives.” She referenced recent housing lotteries in which applications far exceeded the number of available units as evidence of the city’s need for “deeply affordable housing.”

Boylan also expressed her disapproval of “large-scale luxury redevelopments” and “piecemeal development of public spaces and green spaces.” When asked about Speaker Corey Johnson’s recently-introduced comprehensive planning legislation, Boylan was cautiously supportive, saying, “I do think we need comprehensive planning…I'm still exploring whether or not I think this is the right avenue for it.”

Kimberly Watkins
Watkins, a local parent education leader, pitched herself as “the schools candidate,” touting a five-point plan that will address the biggest issues facing the public school system, “starting with the abolishment of mayoral control” of city schools.

Watkins said that her “people-centered platform” is focused on solving “the funding and resource issues for schools,” as well as the overlap between public education and other major sectors like affordable housing and the jobs market.

On affordable housing, Watkins expressed support for single-room occupancy housing, saying, “I think they’re great. We need more innovation in terms of increasing home ownership.” Watkins voiced criticism of the Obama-era program called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) in which NYCHA privatizes building management of its properties while maintaining ownership and bringing in new revenue. “I also want to fight RAD, figure out a way to improve public housing without privatizing it,” she said.

When asked about comprehensive planning legislation, Watkins voiced support for the concept, saying, “I really think getting behind the idea of broader planning is a positive thing for our city,” although she did not endorse Johnson’s proposal in specific terms. Watkins added, “What I would like to see us do more of is have the conversation sort of expand out from the individual community board, to neighboring boards, or potentially even the full borough.”

Mark Levine
“I'm running for [borough] president to fight on behalf of the west side, this borough, and the city. It's a fight that I've been engaged in my entire adult life,” said Levine, who represents a district including parts of Washington Heights, West Harlem, and the Upper West Side. A former teacher who is now the chair of the Council’s health committee, Levine touted his success as a non-profit founder of a community credit union, which resulted in “$25 million in micro loans to low-income families.” He also cited his first-term work as chair of the City Council's parks committee, in which he “fought to deliver millions of dollars to green space,” as an example of his qualifications.

He praised Morningside Heights, one of the neighborhoods in his district, for working with him to develop community-driven planning. In the wake of heated debates over development that played out all over the city this past year, and are ongoing, Levine voiced steadfast support for comprehensive planning, promising that “if it doesn’t happen city-wide, then I’m going to push it as a borough-wide, comprehensive plan.” On urban planning overall, Levine said he believes in “balanced development, which protects the integrity of neighborhoods, but prioritizes creating more affordable housing.”

Levine highlighted improving transportation as a key aspect of his policy platform. Noting that the ridership of buses tends to include lower-income people, seniors, people of color, and those with disabilities, he said, “I'm a huge advocate of investing energy and resources into buses to speed them up. I think that's probably the biggest bang for the buck.” One of his goals is to see every bus line outfitted with transit signal priority (TSP) technology, which turns lights green when a bus approaches a given intersection and “shaves 21% off the travel time,” he said. Levine also said he has plans to push a bill to create free bus fare in New York City, saying this will “boost ridership and get people on mass transit” post-pandemic.

When asked about the pandemic-era Open Street program, Levine said, “It’s a policy that should remain.” He also voiced support for a vacancy tax on property owners in hopes of lowering rents and reviving the small business sector.

Elizabeth Caputo
Caputo, citing her experience as the longest serving chair of Community Board 7 in Manhattan and other leadership roles she’s held, said, “I’m running because we need strong innovative leadership right now.” She went on to criticize “career politicians,” pitching herself as a “bridge-builder.”

When asked how she would improve garbage collection in the city, Caputo told the West Side Democrats that “composting and equity, how trash and sanitation gets built in those neighborhoods, would be a huge priority of mine as borough president.” She cited her work creating a task force to provide services and support to NYCHA residents, including sanitation, as an example.

Caputo said that one of her chief priorities as borough president would be improving transportation through increased Select Bus Service. “I work every day working on safer, cleaner, greener, and more equitable forms of transportation all over the world,” Caputo said, referring to her full-time position at World Economic Forum, where she runs its U.S. government engagement. Caputo called for more Select Bus Service and promised, “Mass transit is the greatest equalizer of our city, and I’m going to be the candidate that brings it back and makes it equitable for everyone.”

When asked about the crisis over the more than 200 men sheltering at The Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side, Caputo said, “I'm the only candidate who has actually represented this district for the last 10 years, where we have had a quality of life and homelessness crisis for a very long time.”

“Those men and those people who have lived in Lucerne have a right to stay there,” she said.

Caputo also voiced her support for the Open Streets program, citing her track record as a transportation and safe street advocate in securing bike lanes for both Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue, as well as bringing Citi Bike to the neighborhood.

Brad Hoylman
“I've been proud to sponsor some of the most consequential legislation in Albany over the last few years with our new Democratic supermajority,” said Hoylman, the only openly LGBTQ candidate in the race for borough president, and until this year the only openly LGBTQ state senator in New York. He went on to cite his work as a state senator, including the Child’s Victim Act, which allowed child sexual abuse victims to pursue charges against their abusers going back decades, and a number of other bills.

“I have a record of getting things done in Albany,” Hoylman told attendees before highlighting small businesses, public spaces, affordable housing, revitalizing the arts, and economic equity as key aspects of his platform in the borough president race.

On revitalizing small businesses that have taken a severe economic hit during the pandemic, Hoylman said he has sponsored legislation called “Save Our Storefronts” that “would allow tenants to pay a percentage of their revenue to their landlord with support from the state of New York to make up the difference.” Hoylman continued, “I piloted that at Grand Central Station, where we saved a number of small businesses that couldn’t pay rent.” He complimented outgoing Borough President Gale Brewer for her “landmark legislation” regulating retail zoning on the Upper West Side, which his new legislation expands upon.

“We certainly need to get rid of the commercial rent tax below 92nd Street, at least during the pandemic,” he added.

Hoylman also adamantly opposed the idea of moving the current residents out of the Lucerne Hotel, saying, “We cannot move New Yorkers like they are chattel.”

“It certainly has a lot of merit,” said the state senator when asked if he supported comprehensive planning legislation, championed by Council Speaker Johnson, who represents an overlapping district with Hoylman. “Community-based planning is really the heart of the borough president. I'd like to replicate and actually have every community board, should they choose, institute a 197-a community based planning process. There is no more important time than now to get planning right. We risk either becoming a burnt-out shell from the 1970s or Disneyland for the super rich.”

Ben Kallos
City Council Member Kallos represents parts of the Upper East Side, Midtown, El Barrio, and Roosevelt Island and is the co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. He’s been known for a focus on campaign finance reform, among other issues, during his two terms in the Council.

At the forum, Kallos said his firsthand experience with a variety of challenges, from the stigma associated with food assistance programs to the affordable housing crisis exacerbated by sudden rent hikes, have influenced his progressive policies and focus on trying to solve problems through legislation, citing his several laws and resolutions on campaign finance reform as examples.

Noting that he has refused money from developers, corporations, and lobbyists since his initial bid for City Council in 2013, Kallos said that as borough president, he will “prioritize a worker-led recovery.”

On housing, Kallos criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio for failing to build affordable housing in his district on the Upper East Side. “All the affordable housing initiatives that have happened in my district, I’ve had to do working with everyone but this administration,” Kallos said, touting 1,000 new units of affordable housing during his Council tenure. That is why he’s been a long-time supporter of legislation for comprehensive city planning, he said. A bill to mandate such planning was recently introduced to the Council by Speaker Corey Johnson and other members.

According to Kallos, solving the city’s homelessness crisis has been one of his chief goals since he was elected to public office. He co-founded the East Side Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) in 2016 with Borough President Brewer, which connects city agencies with non-profits and faith-based centers providing services to the unhoused and to build new supporting housing on the Upper East Side. “They’re going to the same school my daughter will go to, and that’s a city I want to live in,” he said of children who have received housing support via this taskforce. Kallos also expressed support for getting unhoused people out of shelters and into hotels, explaining that when a hotel the size of The Lucerne (the west side hotel that has been the focus of controversy over its housing homeless men offered departure from group shelters during the outbreak) in his district opened to homeless people, he greeted them “with open arms,” adding “they are still there, and they can stay there forever.” He also wants to go a step further, citing an opinion piece he co-authored arguing that the city should buy and lease the 10,000 vacant apartments in the city to unhoused people.

“This is personal for me,” said Kallos, who said he heavily relies on public transportation and biking to get around the city, when asked if he saw more opportunities for Select Bus Service on the Upper West Side. According to Kallos, he “created a new technology system” that uses “bus time transponders to track every single bus in the system” and leverage traffic improvements.

Kallos said he is the only candidate in the race who has ever led a community-based rezoning, citing work to stop development of super-tall buildings in the Sutton Place neighborhood. Kallos voiced his support for a resident-led rezoning proposal in Morningside Heights, focused between 110th and 125th Streets, that would reduce density along the side streets and increase density along the avenues, and create affordable housing as dictated by Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. “You better believe that if I'm the next borough president, we will get this rezoning done,” he said.

Kallos also emphasized that he’s “the only candidate in this race who voted to defund the police,” referring to his vote against the current city budget, which he and several other members who voted in opposition said didn’t go far enough to reduce NYPD spending, while several others voted against it because they felt it went too far.

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

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Manhattan Borough President Candidates Pitch West Side Democrats Sun, 10 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Democratic City Comptroller Candidates Appear at First Forum of 2021 Race city comptroller 2021 parker lander benjamin weprin

(l-r) Kevin Parker, Brad Lander, Brian Benjamin, David Weprin

The four Democratic candidates running in this year’s election for New York City Comptroller appeared one-by-one Sunday afternoon at an online forum hosted by several downtown Manhattan Democratic clubs. The comptroller is the city’s chief fiscal officer, responsible for auditing city agencies, leading management of the public pension funds, analyzing the city budget, approving city contracts, and providing broad oversight of city government and other entities that impact New Yorkers.

It was the first forum of the comptroller race, which will be decided in a June primary featuring ranked-choice voting, followed by a fall general election. There are Republican candidates declared at the moment, and the Democratic primary winner will be heavily favored to win given the city’s massive voter registration imbalance.

The four participants were, in order of appearance, State Senator Brian Benjamin of Manhattan, State Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn, State Assembly Member David Weprin of Queens, and City Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn.

The clubs hosting Sunday’s forum were Downtown Independent Democrats, Coalition for a District Alternative, Grand Street Democrats, New Downtown Democrats, United Democratic Organization, Village Independent Democrats, and Village Reform Democratic Club. The moderator of the forum was Cameron Krause, co-president of Village Independent Democrats.

Along with the forum, the candidates were asked to fill out a lengthy policy survey from the Downtown Independent Democrats, covering a wide range of topics, and all but Parker submitted it to the club.

During the forum, candidates were allowed an initial five minutes to present themselves and their candidacy. That was followed by ten minutes of Q&A from forum attendees.

Brian Benjamin
Benjamin, who represents District 30 in the State Senate, appeared first and said he was “the only candidate running in this race who has relevant investment management experience.”

He previously worked for Morgan Stanley and served as a delegate for President Barack Obama and as a member of Obama’s National Finance Committee. Benjamin’s campaign was recently in the news because of a potential straw donor scandal, as reported by The City, that the campaign is attempting to deal with.

In his introduction, he discussed his “overarching fundamental principle” to his candidacy as “holding the Mayor of the City of New York accountable for the billions of dollars that are spent on the city budget and safeguarding over $230 billion pensions.” He said because the comptroller is the chief investment officer of five separate public pension-related funds, his experience in finance would help secure the mandated 7% returns on them. If those return goals aren’t met, the city has to support the pension fund using “dollars that can go towards other resources.”

Benjamin said another key tenet of the comptroller’s job generally holding the mayoral administration accountable. He said the NYPD “needs a lot of management,” and that he has been “very, very forceful” in saying part of the department’s budget should be reallocated elsewhere. Benjamin said there need to be specific audits of the police department budget to have a better sense of what the next steps are.

The NYPD “is a part of our public safety plan,” he said, adding that it “must also include investing [in] our communities, investment in education, investment in economic development,” specifically in marginalized communities.

Benjamin said the city has “a crisis when it comes to homelessness” and that the comptroller’s office could assist through creative management of the public pension funds. He suggested, through the pension funds, purchasing distressed hotels across the city and converting them into permanent supportive housing. He said the plan would “make good returns for the retirees, and at the same time provide [an] important, useful service.”

Benjamin also said the city “has to have a strategic plan around our nearly 600,000 families that need affordable housing.”

When asked about what current Comptroller Scott Stringer, a term-limited Democrat now running for mayor, was doing right, Benjamin said Stringer had “done a very good job in terms of shareholder activism.” He pointed to Stringer’s work in divestment from fossil fuels, commissioning a study on the topic that will be presented to trustees of the five funds.

When asked about what he’d do differently, Benjamin said he wanted to hold the NYPD accountable, as the department has “been running amok for too long.” He said he would audit and investigate the department, and “be very clear about what we’re getting for the resources that we’re spending.” Benjamin has had a focus on policing and criminal justice reform at the state level. He also said he wanted to be more active than Stringer in approaching the homelessness crisis and referencing his previously-made point said he could make the case to trustees that the issue was one to invest in, and how to invest, because his knowledge meant he could advocate effectively and that he “actually understands” the issue.

Benjamin said the city needs a comptroller “who has the values but also understands the nuts and bolts of financial analysis and financial management, in order to move the ball forward.”

Responding to a question about mental health challenges among homeless people, Benjamin said “obviously there's a very important role for the mayor to play here.” He suggested the comptroller could investigate spending and make sure some was properly disbursed to mental health providers, as he’d personally heard of providers not receiving funding. He again advocated for looking for long-term solutions and permanent housing for homeless people.

Asked about using hotels as supportive housing, Benjamin said key issues were making sure they provided necessary services to individuals that end up there: he pointed to there being “some folks who just need a permanent place this day,” versus “some folks who need a lot more targeted help.”

He also pointed to the city’s $6,000 in spending per month for each family in temporary shelter and said he “cannot be convinced by anyone that we can’t figure out a way to do that on a permanent level that's less expensive to the city [and] provides a return from a pension standpoint.” He said “public pension funds should protect the retirees but also have a public sort of benefit.”

Kevin Parker
Parker, who represents the 21st District in the State Senate, said the city needs “somebody with experience, knowledge, and understanding of the system, but more importantly, the vision of how to lead us forward.”

Parker currently serves as Majority Whip and Chair of the Committee on Energy and Telecommunications. He previously served as Special Assistant to Comptroller H. Carl McCall. Parker has faced criticism for his history of violent and volatile behavior.

In his introduction, Parker highlighted his experience — his tenure leading the Energy and Telecommunications Committee, two years on the Finance Committee, over a decade on the Banking Committee, and over a decade on the Insurance Committee.

While he said New York cannot “tax our way out of this crisis,” it’s important to raise taxes on multi-millionaires. Of the pension fund, he said “if it doesn't make dollars, it doesn't make sense,” and he wants to use it “to invest in funds that invest in New York businesses.”

Parker also wants to put together an Economic Justice Council of business leaders, labor leaders, community leaders, and clergy leaders to start “working together to build a way forward.” He also committed to auditing the NYPD and making sure it continues “to protect and serve every single New Yorker, but to do so in a way that's transparent that provides accountability.”

Parker supports investing in young people by expanding activities like middle school athletics and he suggested that boosting youth engagement in extracurricular activities “will decrease the amount of gang activity, which will decrease the amount of crime and violence that we're seeing in our communities.”

In response to a question on if state legislators should receive outside income, Parker said he personally doesn’t but that it’s been legally approved by an ethics panel (Benjamin and Weprin both earn outside income). He said officials should make sure to disclose that income in the filings required of them, which are public information.

When asked about potentially interfering in plans to tear up East River Park, Parker called it “the best question I’ve gotten in the entire time I’ve been through this process.” He promised to look into it, as he would “have to learn a little more about it.”

When asked if he would consider having the office administer the pensions of all taxpaying New Yorkers who wanted that, he said “absolutely,” and it “would be a fantastic opportunity particularly to build wealth over time.” He said there would have to be a legal mechanism passed to allow this to occur.

Parker said that from the comptroller’s offer there should be “specific attention paid to women- and minority-owned businesses,” and that minority groups should have more access to city contracting opportunities. He also said payments need to be consistent, as late payments are the “kind of things that kill small businesses in general, and Black- and Latino- and women-owned businesses in particular.” He also pointed to the lack of pension plan investments in businesses owned by people of color, and said “we have to change that.”

When asked about pension divestment from fossil fuel stocks, Parker pointed to his experience on the Senate energy committee, and that there’s “nuance that needs to happen.” He discussed National Grid, a large utility firm, and said you can’t “cancel” the company for using gas when it “is also the largest sustainable energy producer in the entire state.” Parker said that because of this nuance, it had to be looked at in a “company by company, investment by investment” method.

David Weprin
Weprin, who represents District 24 in the State Assembly and before that represented a similar swathe of Queens in the City Council, said he was running for comptroller “because I really feel I can contribute to rebuilding New York City.”

Weprin’s former roles include Mario Cuomo’s appointed Deputy Superintendent of Banks and Secretary of the Banking Board for New York State, and New York District Chairman of the Securities Industry Association.

In his introduction, Weprin pointed to experience, including that he chaired the City Council Finance Committee from 2002 to 2009, where he said he helped transform the post-9/11 deficit into a surplus and which he said gave him deep familiarity with the city budget and city finances. He also noted his more recent work chairing the Assembly Corrections Committee for the last four years and serving on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. He stressed his work on criminal justice reform and oversight of the state prison system.

When asked about upzonings for more housing, Weprin said he supports increasing transparency, looking into the economic impact of the process, and making sure there is significant community input. He said that he “was not as involved in [this] issue” of land use during his time in the City Council, “but I think it's certainly something that we should be looking at.”

When asked about auditing, Weprin said currently, all New York City agencies are audited once every four years, but he would do it annually, though he noted more personnel would be needed. He said there is a lot of financial waste in the city, and he would audit to make sure that was minimized, especially in contracting. As an example, he pointed to the Department of Education's contracting budget, which “could be used for teachers and support personnel to actually provide teaching in our classrooms, during normal times as well as during the pandemic.”

He said he has supported small property owners during legislation passed at the state level in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which helps renters as well as smaller landlords and homeowners who have “to make their payments” too. He added that he was “less worried about these multi-billion dollar landlords.”

In response to a question about jails, Weprin said he supported closing the Rikers Island jails and auditing the correction department budget.

Weprin, who unsuccessfully ran for city comptroller in 2009, recently had to pay down a significant campaign finance debt from that campaign and did so in order to start this election with a clean slate.

Brad Lander
Lander, who serves as Council member for the 39th District, said there were “hard and important years ahead” for the office of comptroller and the city.

A co-founder of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, Lander was director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Fifth Avenue Committee before being elected to the Council. While Lander has experience with city agency oversight and the city budget, he does not have the finance experience that the other three candidates have to varying degrees.

In his introduction, he pointed to a 15-year career in community development and planning, running the aforementioned nonprofits. He mentioned that the City Council had recently passed his bill to protect fast food workers from unfair firing without just cause, and he pointed to a long list of progressive policy efforts he had been involved in, including the fight for a $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, and better protections to Uber and Lyft drivers and freelancers, as well as legislation for safer streets, banning plastic bags, implementing participatory budgeting, and strengthening campaign finance laws.

He said his achievements were the result of working closely with activists and community leaders and taking “a good hard look” at data. Lander has worked toward greater transparency and accountability in the city’s capital budget, though that remains an ongoing challenge. Lander said at the Sunday forum that he wants to look at investing capital budget dollars in projects to stem the climate crisis and create green jobs.

Lander said he has already supported investments in clean energy, culture and the arts, affordable and supportive housing, and in “sustainable innovation to bring our city back to life and create hundreds of thousands of good green jobs.”

He said his job as comptroller would be to make sure the city was “spending our dollars smarter” by carefully investing public pensions and responsibly auditing agencies, and those tools “can help us confront our biggest challenges,” which he said were economic recovery, the affordable housing crisis, and public safety.

In response to a question about auditing city contracted organizations, Lander said while the city collects information on what organizations are effective and which provide proper services and use money effectively, “it doesn't share that information with the public enough.” He said that was true “across a lot of the areas where we contract for services.” Particularly regarding homelessness contracting, Lander said “the public absolutely has a right to know” about the organizations being hired by the city.

Lander mentioned his support for a comprehensive planning process in the city, with legislation he’s pushed for recently introduced at the Council. He said that included asking how much additional housing the city thinks it needs, areas for job growth, preservation efforts, and how to factor in concerns about the future of the planet. He said given that set of inquiries, they would make decisions on how to allocate funding such that it’s distributed fairly, increases equity in communities across the board, and ensures permanent infrastructure is created and supported.

Asked about the city’s fiscal future, Lander called it “a day-one job” and pointed to the possibility of more federal aid for local governments, especially given the Democrats’ recent electoral wins in Georgia Senate races. He said he supports revenue-raising proposals at the state level, especially by closing the loophole on carried interest for hedge fund and private equity managers, and taxing billionaires, though he also acknowledged the city would have to make budget cuts.

by Nuha Dolby for Gotham Gazette

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Democratic City Comptroller Candidates Appear at First Forum of 2021 Race Mon, 11 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000