Gotham Gazette Thu, 04 Mar 2021 21:51:07 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Stringer Takes Veiled Shot at Johnson: Being Mayor 'Not About Dancing Around' scott stringer corey johnson insult

Scott Stringer, center, with Corey Johnson, left (photo: @NYCComptroller)
(photo below: John McCarten/City Council)

With just over a year until the 2021 Democratic primary that will likely decide who becomes New York City’s next mayor, one of the leading contenders, Comptroller Scott Stringer, in a recent interview took an unmistakable jab at another, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, while previewing his argument that he is best suited for the job.

Stringer has had his eye on the mayoralty for years and is finally making his run, with Johnson, who recently emerged at the top tier of city politics, seen as an especially challenging competitor given the two white Manhattan liberals are no doubt seeking many of the same voters.

After launching a brief mayoral run in 2013, eyeing a challenge to Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017, winning two citywide elections, and more than six years as a citywide official, Stringer has honed his campaign pitch. He made it evident again in a recent interview on Arena Talks, a podcast hosted by Ravi Gupta, co-founder and managing partner of Arena, a national progressive organization that assists and trains left-leaning Democratic candidates, campaign operatives, and government aides, while also take a shot at Johnson.

When Gupta asked Stringer what he would tell voters who might have lost faith in the progressive vision that de Blasio offered for years but in many ways failed to provide, Stringer offered some praise for the mayor’s accomplishments and his “heartfelt” focus on income inequality, while also offering a typically harsh critique. But he also had veiled criticism for Johnson, whom Stringer has mostly not publicly attacked as the two, among others, are on their collision course.

“But we now have to, I think, have a progressive administration that knows how to govern, especially in these very difficult times. We need a progressive who has real on-the-job experience because you can't leave it to chance. This is not about speechifying, I don’t know, dancing around,” Stringer said, with apparent reference to Johnson’s penchant for public dancing, which has often garnered attention at parades across the city.

Stringer continued, “This is about thinking strategically about the economy we want for younger people, [we] want to make sure that we can safely open our schools and our colleges. We have to make sure that the people who are in the gig economy and the frontline workers, in particular the doctors and the nurses, the people who are today's heroes, we need to get them the resources they need. I mean I love parades, I love ticker-tape parades but man, Ravi, hook up the people who every day go to work not knowing that they're going to ever see their child again.”

Stringer’s comments may seem anodyne but, for those familiar with the City Council speaker, it was a thinly-veiled back-handed critique. Johnson, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive speaker of the Council, is known to some for his outgoing, affable personality, and his dance moves, which he has shown off at several parades, including, for example, the Brooklyn Pride Parade of the last two years, where's he's led a Council pack along 5th Avenue, as he has at other parades in other parts of the city since being elected speaker by his Council colleagues. Some of those dance moves have become sensations on social media, where Johnson has also repeatedly posted himself lip-syncing to pop music and dancing in other venues. At a September news conference when he released a comprehensive plan to combat homelessness, Johnson spoke of his mother, who works with the homeless in his home state of Massachusetts, and how she does a happy dance when she finds a home for one of her clients. Johnson then danced with a reporter.

Corey Johnson dancing parade

Stringer’s ticker-tape comment was a more obvious dig at de Blasio, whose early promise to hold one for first responders and health care workers after the pandemic has passed prompted widespread criticism and ridicule. “I want to guarantee you one thing, that when that day comes that I can restart the vibrant beautiful life of this city again, the first thing we will do is have a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes for our health care workers and our first responders,” de Blasio said at an April 21 media briefing.

Stringer did go on to say in the Arena interview that he was “not thinking about” the mayoral race. A campaign spokesperson said the same when Gotham Gazette asked whether Stringer’s “dancing around” comment was meant for Johnson. “There are almost 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City. We've lost 15,000 of our fellow New Yorkers. The Comptroller is singularly focused on providing oversight and leadership to help New Yorkers get through this crisis. Everything else is just noise,” said Jennifer Galvin, a spokesperson for Stringer’s campaign, in an email.

Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for Johnson’s campaign, said, “The Speaker is focused on the City Council and providing relief to tenants, small businesses, and essential workers during this crisis.”

A Democratic consultant who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely and who is not involved in any 2021 campaigns at this time said there was no predicting how the 2021 race will shape up after the pandemic, but voters will definitely yearn for “competent, steady leadership.”

“The case that Stringer can make to people is that he has worked his way through the rungs of government, that as the comptroller he understands the fiscal side of the city perhaps better than anyone else, and he's been a legislator and he's been a borough president. So he's got a good grasp of how the different pieces of this all fit,” the consultant said. “Clearly, he's making the case that whoever the next mayor is, they need to be someone who has the experience at all these levels of government, and can corral the city's bureaucracy while at the same time projecting a steady hand.”

The consultant said Stringer was making a contrast with Johnson, “who has made a brand of cheerleading for New York, of being an unapologetic New York ‘nationalist,’ someone who wears New York on his sleeve. And there’s definitely a need for that.”

The consultant said the goodwill Johnson has experienced may evaporate at some point. “Corey has had a pretty good run of noncritical press for a long time now and as the campaign eventually heats up, that's gonna go away,” the consultant said.

Though the coronavirus has upended New York City politics, subsuming focus on future elections, the June 2021 primary nonetheless looms large over the city. Every seat in municipal government will be on the ballot, and the mayor, comptroller, four borough presidents, and dozens of City Council members face term limits disallowing them to run again and provoking additional competition. In a heavily Democratic city, the winner of that primary is all but assured to win the general election for almost every seat.

Stringer abandoned a short-lived bid for the mayoralty in the 2013 election that saw de Blasio win the first of two terms as Mayor. Stringer instead successfully ran for comptroller, winning reelection in 2017.

Before that reelection run, Stringer eyed a run for mayor in 2017, when de Blasio faced dual ethics investigations by federal and state prosecutors over his fundraising activities and relationships with donors. But Stringer again demurred when the investigations closed and no charges were filed.

Now Stringer finds himself in the top tier of candidates seeking to become the city’s chief executive, alongside Johnson and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, another two-term Democrat. All three, along with de Blasio, are term-limited from running again for their current seats. Several other candidates are also in the running or exploring a mayoral run, including Loree Sutton, a retired Army Brigadier General and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services; Dianne Morales, a nonprofit executive in the Bronx; and Shaun Donovan, a former high-level aide to President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Stringer Takes Veiled Shot at Johnson: Being Mayor 'Not About Dancing Around' Wed, 13 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Ruben Diaz Jr. on the Bronx Jail Plan, Specialized High Schools and His Initial 2021 Pitch rdjr sotb

Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: Victor Chu/Bronx BP)

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is in favor of closing the jails on Rikers Island but vehemently opposed to the joint de Blasio administration-City Council plan for a new jail site in the Bronx. Diaz Jr. isn’t against a new jail in his borough. Instead, he wants the city to use a different location, closer to the courthouse where defendants must appear, but that city officials say is less workable than their chosen site.

Diaz Jr. made his case during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio just after the jail plan begin to move through the city’s official land use review process, known as ULURP, in which the borough president will have a formal but not binding say. In a unique twist, the city is also moving four jail projects -- one for each borough other than Staten Island -- through ULURP at the same time, which Diaz Jr. says “sets a bad precedent.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Ruben Diaz Jr.]

During the interview, Diaz Jr. also addressed admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and several other topics, while also giving, when asked, an early version of his 2021 mayoral pitch to voters. Diaz Jr. has said he plans to run for mayor in the next election, when Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration ends due to term-limits––part of what is likely to be a fairly crowded field of Democrats.

The city’s current plan to shutter Rikers Island jails includes building a new jail on an empty NYPD tow pound in Port Morris, a neighborhood in the South Bronx, but Diaz Jr. protests the lack of input from Bronx residents when the city decided on the plan. He said residents of Kew Gardens in Queens and Chinatown in Manhattan, where other jails are planned, have also protested the lack of community input. In both Brooklyn and Manhattan currently used jails will expand under the city’s plan.

As an alternative to the tow pound, Diaz Jr. pointed to lots on 161st Street in the Bronx, where the Bronx Supreme Court and family court are located. Criminal justice reformers advocate for close proximity between jails and courthouses and public transportation, which can alleviate detention time and ease access for families and defense attorneys. This level of access has posed a challenge on Rikers Island, which is considerably difficult to reach.

In response to Diaz Jr.’s plan, a de Blasio spokesperson said that a jail demands more space than is available on 161st Street, including some owned by the state. “What data do they have? They haven’t even examined the site,” Diaz Jr. countered. “Some of that space belongs to the state––and maybe they don’t want to get into it with the governor, because the mayor and the governor don’t get along,” he said, referring to the notoriously contentious relationship between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. But, Diaz Jr. said he already secured a commitment from the state -- he’s close with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- to relinquish the state property at his preferred site.

Asked about the disconnect between his rhetoric and the views of City Council Member Diana Ayala––who represents parts of northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, including the neighborhood with the tow pound in question, and has voiced her support for the new plan––Diaz Jr. said, “Respectfully, she doesn’t live in the Bronx part of the district.”

As conversation switched gears to the broader role of a borough president, Diaz Jr. said his team was putting forth recommendations to bolster the office’s legislative, voting, and budgetary power to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, particularly concerning land use. His comments came two days after the charter revision commission’s final “expert” hearing, which focused on the role of borough presidents, during which several experts agreed that a revised charter should strengthen borough presidents’ legislative authority (some of the panel’s experts were former borough presidents themselves) but not make drastic changes to the limited powers of the position.

Diaz Jr. said he and his appointee to the commission, James Vacca, a former City Council Member from the Bronx, are still brainstorming proposals, but promised to publicize suggested reforms once they have formalized them. During the commission hearing on borough president powers, Vacca did not pose any questions to the expert panels about the position. Time is running thin for Diaz Jr. to make his recommendations and preferences for charter reform known.

The hosts also asked Diaz Jr. about one of the other hot recent political issues, that of standardized testing for the city’s highly-segregated specialized public schools, two of which are located in the Bronx. Currently, admission to eight of the nine specialized schools is based on a single test: the SHSAT (Laguardia High School is a specialized performing arts school). Mayor de Blasio is seeking to scrap the test and move to multi-measures and a system whereby the top 7% of each middle school graduating class has a seat at a specialized school, but received significant blowback from the city’s Asian-American community, which is significantly overrepresented in the schools relative to broader city population, while black and Hispanic communities are severely underrepresented.

“I agree that the status quo is not working. When you have slightly less than 11 percent of all seats at the eight specialized high schools offered to black and Latino students this year, there’s something fundamentally wrong with what we’re doing,” said Diaz Jr.

He suggested a more holistic admissions process, akin to Ivy League universities, that considers students’ GPA and extracurricular activities. “We should not be putting one community against the other. And this is where I disagree with the mayor and his rollout,” Diaz Jr. said. Last summer, when de Blasio announced his plan, Diaz Jr. released a statement calling it a “welcome step forward for fairness and equity in the public education system.” He has since changed his tune.

“What we need is to increase the amount of seats,” he said on Max & Murphy. “Only three of the high schools are codified by state law. The other five were created and we need to just create more if we have to.” He also called for more access to gifted and talented programs for students in every community.

Diaz Jr. also discussed the Jerome Avenue rezoning in the Bronx. The project, launched last March, promised to create new retail opportunities and thousands of new affordable housing units while protecting the tenants who were already there along the way, and making investments in the surrounding community as new population density was welcomed in.

Asked for his assessment of the initial year after the rezoning passed, Diaz Jr. said he was working with tenants rights organizations like CASA to prevent displacement (CASA leader Carmen Vega-Rivera recently told the charter revision commission she felt that the city’s outreach has been insufficient), but on the project’s overall effectiveness and the city’s ability to keep its promises, Diaz Jr. said, “The jury’s still out.”

Lastly, in light of Diaz Jr.’s less than covert plans to run for mayor, he spoke about his vision for New York City, when asked for his initial pitch to voters ahead of the 2021 election, which is expected to feature Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Diaz Jr., and perhaps others.

“We’re the best city on the planet. And yet, you have so many different communities in all the different boroughs who don’t feel they’re benefitting from the progress they see throughout the city,” Diaz Jr. said, in part, highlighting his efforts to bring jobs and housing to the Bronx, which he called “one of, if not the most, challenged borough in the city.”

Earlier this month, Diaz Jr. released his 2018 Bronx Annual Development Report, boasting high levels of investment and development in the borough, which he highlighted during his ninth State of the Borough address.

“As we speak of equity, that’s going to be the message here," Diaz Jr. said on Max & Murphy. "This is a city where we can provide a better future not just for some, but for all. And we can do this in a practical, pragmatic, progressive way.”

Ruben Diaz Jr. on the Bronx Jail Plan, Specialized High Schools and His Initial 2021 Pitch Wed, 03 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000