Gotham Gazette Thu, 22 Apr 2021 22:42:10 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Appear at First Candidate Forum of 2021 Race joldc mayoral forum 2021

l-r: Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Shaun Donovan,  Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Carlos Menchaca, Maya Wiley

The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, which bills itself as the progressive LGBTQ political club, hosted the first forum for the 2021 New York City mayoral election Tuesday night, inviting seven declared or exploring Democratic candidates to participate. The Democratic and Republican primaries for mayor will take place in June of next year.

Participating candidates -- who appeared one at a time by Zoom, giving brief opening remarks, then answering a series of yes-or-no questions from the moderator, club president Allen Roskoff, followed by several other questions and answers at greater length -- were, in order of appearance, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; former top Bloomberg and Obama administrations official Shaun Donovan; City Comptroller Scott Stringer; former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales; Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca; and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who recently announced he would not be running for mayor in the 2021 election after planning to and doing initial fundraising for a campaign, gave opening remarks at the forum.

“Even though I am no longer a candidate for mayor, I am paying deep interest in this race,” said Johnson, listing off a number of key issues that the race must focus on and the next mayor will have to deal with. “Many of the issues being talked about tonight are issues that the Council has worked on and is going to work on until the end of our term.”

At one point, Roskoff noted that there were over 1,200 attendees for the forum over Zoom.

Roskoff said that not every declared Democratic candidate was invited to the forum, only those whom his club considered “most relevant to the left.” Loree Sutton, the former commissioner for the city’s Department of Veterans Affairs, was not invited, deemed too conservative by the organizers. Roskoff has cited her remarks earlier this summer suggesting that protesters should be required to obtain city permits, and that idea formed one of his questions to the participating candidates, all of whom disagreed with the concept.

That was among several points of agreement among all the candidates throughout the forum, while there were a number of areas of varying viewpoints, many of both of which were drawn out in the “lightning round” of roughly 10 yes-or-no questions asked to all of them by Roskoff.

Each candidate promised not to take donations from law enforcement unions, yet candidates were divided on the issue of real estate donations. Morales, Wiley, and Menchaca have all pledged not to take donations from individuals associated with real estate, while Stringer has said he will not return real estate donations made to him before he launched his mayoral run and also said that money from big developers is what he has since made off-limits. Garcia, Adams, and Donovan all said they would accept real estate donations, with Garcia noting that she wants everyone at the table and that real estate “has skin in the game” and Adams noting that there are many different types of people involved in real estate, including himself as a small property owner and landlord.

The candidates almost uniformly agreed on not seeking an endorsement from outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, a term-limited Democrat. All but Adams and Wiley said they wouldn’t seek or accept the mayor’s endorsement, while Wiley said she wouldn’t seek it and didn’t mention whether she’d accept it or not.

Unsurprisingly, all seven candidates said they would not keep Dermot Shea on as Police Commissioner if they were elected mayor. Five candidates, other than Garcia and Wiley, stated that they would eliminate the NYPD’s Vice Squad. Opinion was divided over whether a mayoral appointee for police commissioner should be subject to a City Council confirmation. Adams, Morales, and Menchaca said they should be, while Garcia, Donovan, Wiley, and Stringer favored the status quo where the mayor needs no approval.

Donovan, Morales, and Menchaca said that they would be in favor of removing the Columbus statue from Columbus Square and renaming the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge due to Koch’s record on LGBTQ rights and the HIV/AIDS crisis, while Adams was in favor of renaming the latter and Stringer, Wiley, and Garcia would not commit to either. All seven candidates supported requiring all New York City apartment buildings to allow cats and dogs to be kept as pets by tenants.

Garcia, Stringer, Morales, Wiley, and Menchaca are in favor of sex work decriminalization and oppose the Nordic model, while Donovan supports the Nordic model and Adams, a former NYPD officer, said he opposes decriminalization of sex work.

There were mixed comments and significant hedging on the ill-fated Amazon ‘HQ2’ Queens campus deal, with Garcia expressing the most support, given the job promises, she said. Of the governor and mayor striking the deal, Adams said that he “opposed the way they did it,” but indicated overall support for the project. Wiley said “it was clearly a bad deal because people killed it and we need to re-envision how we do development,” but did not directly state her view of the massive project that was said to be able to create tens of thousands of jobs. Donovan said he did not support the specifics of the deal but he believed “we could have gotten to the right proposal.” Stringer curiously called the deal a "failed ULURP" due to it being struck in secret, though the project was never set to go through the city's uniform land use review process, or ULURP, and was instead presented as a state general project plan. Morales and Menchaca said they opposed the deal.

Garcia was the only candidate not to directly oppose the relocation of homeless men from an Upper West Side hotel being used as a shelter, stating that “using hotels is problematic” and that she “would not have put them there in the first place.”

Some of the candidates were asked whether they would return the CUNY system to being tuition-free for New York City residents. Morales and Menchaca said they would; Stringer said he would make community colleges tuition free; and Donovan voiced support for expanding apprenticeship programs and workforce development. Garcia, Adams, and Wiley were not asked about CUNY tuition.

Kathryn Garcia
“If my name is familiar to you, it’s because I’ve been in leadership positions in New York City government my entire career,” Garcia said in her opening remarks. “You won’t find a candidate with more crisis and management experience than me.”

From early 2014, when de Blasio named her commissioner, until just recently when she resigned to explore a mayoral run, Garcia led the Sanitation Department, which she noted is overwhelmingly male. At the same time, she was repeatedly tapped by de Blasio to deal with crises, including reducing lead paint exposure, especially in NYCHA developments, running the entirety of NYCHA, and implementing the city’s massive emergency food program amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I resigned that post because I saw firsthand a mayor who is unprepared to deal with this crisis, who responds to headlines and made budget cuts that hurt this city,” Garcia said of her departure.

Garcia told the attendees, “Together we can build the right foundation for our city for the next hundred years.” She said she would focus on job creation, noting, “Nothing is affordable if you have no income. We must support job growth.” She also said that efficient delivery of government services would also be a priority, “there shouldn’t be anything you can’t do with a smartphone” when it comes to such services.

Garcia labeled herself a “practical progressive.” When asked by Roskoff what that label was insinuating, she clarified, “I’m about getting things done. I’m about taking progressive policies and making sure we get things implemented.” She was further pressed on a previous claim that she would be an “Ed Koch-like mayor” and she said she was referring to how Koch “always wanted to hear feedback from the public and he was very instrumental in bringing us back from a fiscal crisis.” However, she said, “I don’t embrace all of his policies.”

Eric Adams
Adams has served as Brooklyn Borough President since 2014. Before that, he was a State Senator for seven years and a police officer for over two decades before that, rising to the rank of Captain. In his opening remarks, Adams recalled his own experiences with economic hardship and housing instability as a child and said, “I’ve spent my entire life helping those people,” who are currently in similar situations, as a police officer, activist, and elected official.

“Too many things don’t work for far too many people in this city,” Adams said, continuing that “our city is dysfunctional,” which he says predates the pandemic. “We continue to operate our agencies as silos that work against each other and the city.” He also said that he believes “The lack of education is one of the biggest crimes I see in this city.”

When pressed by Roskoff on his 2018 comments following the Tree of Life massacre that there should be more guns in houses of worship, Adams said that his words were misinterpreted and taken out of context. He said he was referring to “trained law enforcement officers, active or retired, not citizens, coordinated with their pastors and imams, and rabbis.”

Roskoff also asked Adams about the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 in some parts of Brooklyn, particularly Orthodox Jewish communities, and how he would handle that as mayor. Adams said that he would start by “getting on the ground. We unfairly communicate to a diverse city as though everyone in New York speaks one language and watches the evening news.” He also said he would use a civilian team to enforce public health guidelines, instead of the police, and criticized de Blasio’s response, saying, “we have a reactive plan, not a proactive plan.”

Shaun Donovan
Donovan served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and later Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration and, before that, as the Housing Preservation and Development commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He describes himself as a “lifelong New Yorker who became a public servant because I grew up in another time of crisis,” during the 1970s and 1980s. He believes he is the best candidate suited to be mayor at this moment, saying “in more than two decades of public service, I’ve learned to lead through crises,” noting he was city housing commissioner following 9/11, HUD Secretary following the Great Recession, managed the federal recovery response after Hurricane Sandy, and was budget director during the Ebola epidemic.

Through these crises, Donovan said that he learned “the most vulnerable before the crisis are the worst hit.” He says that the pandemic presents an opportunity for New Yorkers to “reimagine this city together as a city that works for everyone.” He believes he is the “true progressive” in the mayoral race due to his track record of accomplishments.

Roskoff pressed Donovan over his work in the Bloomberg mayoral administration, asking when Donovan ever disagreed with the former mayor. Donovan called stop-and-frisk “a mistake” and said he disagreed with Bloomberg’s handling of the mortgage crisis and its causes. However, he said, “I’m proud of the work I did under Mayor Bloomberg” and that “we created a tool that could lock in affordable housing in neighborhoods permanently,” referring to Inclusionary Housing, calling it the “most aggressive affordable housing plan in the country.” This may have been true at the time, but it has since been surpassed by de Blasio’s.

Donovan also outlined broad housing policy principles, saying, “I believe the right to legal counsel is important, I believe that the strengthening of rent stabilization and rent laws at the state level is important and the strong enforcement of that, and the right kind of community-oriented planning when we rezone.”

Scott Stringer
City Comptroller since 2014, Stringer was previously Manhattan Borough President for two terms and served seven terms in the State Assembly. At the forum, Stringer touted his long record of being an early endorser of progressive causes, including being one of the original sponsors of marriage equality in the State Legislature.

“Our work is far from over but the stakes could never be higher,” Stringer said. “We cannot open the economy the way we closed it.” He noted he was the only Democrat in the State Assembly to vote against weakening rent control laws in the 1990s, which he attributed to “starting the gentrification spiral.”

When pressed on his support for Hudson Yards and other development deals as Borough President (while he criticized the Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal as Comptroller), Stringer said that he worked with local communities and that there were “times we won, and times we lost.”

Dianne Morales
Morales has spent much of her career as a nonprofit executive, resigning from a position running a social services organization in the Bronx in order to run for mayor. She said her campaign is “reflective of New Yorkers ready to build a new social contract” and highlighted -- just after Stringer spoke -- that she is not a career politician and will not be indebted to political machines or special interests.

“My personal and professional experiences have made me acutely aware of longstanding and structural barriers,” said Morales, a Black Latina who has “called out the NYPD for profiling and assaulting my son.”

“We’re living in unprecedented times and that calls for a radical reimagining of what’s possible,” she said, calling for defunding the NYPD and reinvesting in communities that have historically been marginalized and prejudiced. Morales would be the first woman and woman of color and Latino person to be mayor of New York City.

Carlos Menchaca
The most recent entrant into the mayoral race, at least in exploration of a run, is Menchaca, who has served in the City Council since 2014, representing the 38th district -- largely Sunset Park and  Red Hook, with a portion of Borough Park. Like Stringer and Adams, he is term-limited and cannot run for reelection to his current position next year. Prior to his Council tenure, Menchaca worked in former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s office and then for former Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

A Mexican-American, Menchaca would be the first Hispanic mayor of New York City. He would also be the first openly gay mayor. (Sutton is also openly gay.)

Menchaca noted his support for Cynthia Nixon in the 2018 gubernatorial primary against Governor Andrew Cuomo, part of what he believes is a long track record of progressive bona fides. He explained his reasoning for jumping into the race, saying, “some of you have watched the mayoral race emerge and evolve, and like many of you I just wasn’t happy.”

“The covid pandemic has really given us an opportunity to think about how we restructure this city,” Menchaca said. He criticized wealthy New Yorkers for leaving the city during the worst of the pandemic, while essential workers “stayed and are rebuilding.”Asked about increasing taxes on the wealthy, Menchaca said “we gotta do that” and that “the Council has been trying to figure this out but we need a willing partner. I will be that.”

Menchaca, who was one of only nine Council members to vote against this year’s budget because they believed it did not sufficiently reduce the NYPD budget, linked the issue to the rest of the budget. When asked about CUNY tuition, he said, “this is about prioritizing our city budget” and “this is why the defund [the NYPD] movement was so important.”

Maya Wiley
Wiley served as counsel to the Mayor and chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates some forms of police misconduct, during the de Blasio administration, but since 2018, has worked as a professor at the New School and a legal analyst on MSNBC. She recently left those roles to run for mayor.

“As someone with no political background, I am an unconventional candidate,” Wiley admitted, but said she decided to run “because I saw firsthand that city government has the power to impact people’s lives directly.”

Wiley is actually in a lot of company in the current field as a candidate who has not run for office before, along with Morales, Garcia, Sutton, and Donovan.

In her introduction, Wiley said, “This must be a city where we can all live with dignity,” citing her personal experiences growing up in a Black community and segregated public schools. Though she worked for the current mayor, she has frequently criticized him in her early campaign.

“We need a transformational leader who gets us off the treadmill of incrementalism,” said Wiley, who would be the first Black woman and first woman to serve as the city’s mayor. When asked about her association with Mayor de Blasio, she said, “I’m a woman who stands on her own two feet” and cited the increase of broadband access and city contracts awarded to Minority and Women-Owned Enterprises as her top accomplishments in City Hall.

When asked by Roskoff about her originating the “agents of the city” designation, which was used to shield the mayor’s email conversations with outside advisors from Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, Wiley said, “attorneys offer advice and the client makes the decision. As mayor, it is critically important to restore trust.” She said that she would not have made journalists sue for those records.

When asked about taxing the rich, Wiley said this current crisis necessitated an “all hands on deck approach” and that “everybody in this city has something to contribute.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Appear at First Candidate Forum of 2021 Race Wed, 14 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
All 9 Democratic Candidates for Manhattan District Attorney Appear at LGBTQ-Focused Forum 5x4

Top (l-r): Tahanie Aboushi, Alvin Bragg, Eliza Orlins, Janos Marton, Tali Farhadian Weinstein
Bottom (l-r): Liz Crotty, Dan Quart, Diana Florence, Lucy Lang

The nine Democratic candidates currently running for Manhattan District Attorney in next year’s June primary shared the Zoom debate stage for the first time Tuesday night at a three-hour forum hosted by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, an LGBTQ-focused political organization. Each candidate was asked questions individually on a wide range of issues relating to LGBTQ rights, police accountability, and more, but there were some instances in which candidates challenged each other.

The forum came a month after the NYC Program Council hosted the first five declared candidates for the inaugural forum of the 2021 Manhattan District Attorney race, which is unfolding amid uncertainty about whether incumbent Democratic District Attorney Cy Vance will seek another term.

The nine candidates participating Tuesday night were Assemblymember Dan Quart; former Chief Deputy State Attorney General Alvin Bragg; former ACLU attorney Janos Marton; former Assistant District Attorney and criminal defense lawyer Liz Crotty; Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the former general counsel in Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez’s office; former Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence; public defender Eliza Orlins; civil rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi; and, Lucy Lang, a former Assistant District Attorney and the director of John Jay College’s Institute for Innovative Prosecution.

Quart has made his name in the Assembly sponsoring criminal justice reform laws like reducing the use of cash bail. Bragg touts his work in the State Attorney General’s office, investigating Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and others. Marton helped lead the Close Rikers campaign and organized decarceral efforts nationally with the ACLU. As an ADA, Crotty prosecuted street crime, among other offenses, and represented families of 9/11 victims in private practice.

In the Brooklyn DA’s office, Weinstein created the Post-Conviction Justice Bureau to review previous convictions for possible exonerations. Florence, who left the Manhattan DA’s office earlier this year over allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, touts her leadership of that office’s Construction Fraud Task Force. Orlins says her decade defending low-income New Yorkers makes her the best candidate to lead the office in a new, more progressive direction. Aboushi has sued the NYPD over misconduct allegations. Lang touts her leadership in developing data-driven criminal justice reform.

District Attorney Vance did not participate in the forum and has not stated whether he will run for reelection. The entry of Lang, a Vance ally, into the race last week and Vance’s paltry fundraising numbers in the first six months of the year are believed to signal that Vance is unlikely to run, especially given the all-important Democratc primary is now less than 10 months away. Lang’s Institute for Innovative Prosecution is funded in part by grants from Vance’s office, which funds many causes, mostly through massive settlements it has reached with financial institutions.

The Jim Owles Club, the forum host, advocates for the decriminalization of sex work and repeal of the “walking while trans” law, among other criminal justice reforms, as well as LGBTQ rights, universal healthcare, and reproductive rights, among other progressive causes. The club is one of New York’s two major citywide progressive LGBTQ political clubs affiliated with the Democratic Party, along with the Stonewall Democrats.

The club’s president, Allen Roskoff, said in a statement that the forum was “a historic opportunity to get an early look at the candidates for one of the most important offices in the country.” The forum had about 100 digital attendees throughout the three-hour event.

“We consider this one of the most important races of 2021,” Roskoff told attendees at the start of the forum. He noted that the club distributed over 50,000 pieces of literature in support of candidates during the 2020 state primaries and would be making its endorsement in the Manhattan District Attorney primary coming months.

“We don’t want a district attorney who is just qualified…and continues to do the status quo. We want a district attorney that people across the country will take note of,” Roskoff said, pointing to San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez as models. “We want a district attorney who’s going to get people out of prison and not spend all their time locking people up.”

There was widespread agreement on many of the issues brought up during the forum. All nine candidates voiced support for Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman’s elder parole bill and for repeal of the “walking while trans” law, and promised to visit constituents serving prison terms and to at minimum continue the current sanctuary city policies in the borough.

All but one candidate, Weinstein, expressed support for sex work decriminalization and were against the Nordic model. Florence said that the state “needs to be mindful of the way we draft the bill,” voicing concerns about human trafficking, and said she would “tread lightly” on the issue. Weinstein said she “was not there yet” on sex work decriminalization but that she was “open to revisiting her position” and supports the Nordic model, which maintains the criminalization of buyers of sex while decriminilizing sex workers themselves.

On police funding, several candidates called for the city to reduce the NYPD budget. Florence said that the police department’s nearly $6 billion annual operating budget “makes no sense” when other agencies are underfunded. Aboushi said that “the city has come to rely on the NYPD to enforce social inequities and make them crimes.” Lang called for “community-coordinated responses to conduct that doesn’t need police involvement.” Bragg said he’d advocate to “undo Bill de Blasio’s bloating of the NYPD budget” and denounced the “funny budget math” on moving school safety officers to the Department of Education.

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) was a contentious issue at the forum, with several candidates promising not to join the organization, which has come under scrutiny by criminal justice reformers. Orlins, Aboushi, and Quart said they would not join the association. Quart said “it’s a fallacy to believe anyone can join that organization and reform it.” Aboushi called it “the antithesis of what I stand for.”

Lang said she would join the DAASNY because a “diversity of voices makes a difference” and she would try to change others’ minds. Bragg said that he would have an “adversarial relationship” with the group while joining it. Florence said she would join, but said she had “brought other DAs to more progressive stances” and would do the same at the DAASNY.

When asked whether they would support the abolition of mandatory minimum sentences, all the candidates in attendance at the time (Weinstein was not yet present) said they would, except Crotty, who said “jails exist for a reason” and that mandatory minimums “only exist for violent crimes.”

Lang called for more “judicial discretion” in the sentencing process, to which Aboushi pushed back, saying that “guardrails” were necessary to ensure that judges did not impose overly punitive sentences. Marton promised not to seek sentences longer than 20 years, except under extraordinary circumstances. Marton has also pledged to reduce Manhattan’s prison population by 80% during his tenure.

“I’m running for district attorney against some very good lawyers who would all make a better district attorney than Cy Vance,” Quart said at one point during the forum, an acknowledgement that many of the candidates running had similarly-progressive answers to most questions asked Tuesday night.

With his 80% decarceration goal and other proposals, Marton has tried to establish himself as the furthest left, most radical candidate in the race, while Quart repeatedly pointed to his legislative record as evidence of his own progressive bona fides, as well as his calls for Vance and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea to resign. Bragg, the lone Black candidate in the race, often cites his lived and prosecutorial experiences as reasons that he would make an effective DA. Similarly, Aboushi noted that she would be the first woman and person of color to hold the position. Other candidates, notably Crotty, dissented from the consensus progressive stances on issues like mandatory minimums and cautioned against defunding the NYPD budget.

Each candidate was asked to fill out a lengthier questionnaire and return it to the club before they make their endorsement in the race before petitioning starts for the primary.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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All 9 Democratic Candidates for Manhattan District Attorney Appear at LGBTQ-Focused Forum Wed, 19 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000