Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2238 Thu, 03 Dec 2020 14:01:24 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Intense Competition for 'Open' Bronx Congressional Seat: Watch the District 15 Democratic Debate on Thursday May 14 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9378-bronx-congressional-district-15-democratic-debate-2020-house-serrano https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9378-bronx-congressional-district-15-democratic-debate-2020-house-serrano Michael Blake, Renee Chivona, Ruben Diaz Sr., Samelys Lopez, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Tomas Ramos, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres

left to right: (top) Michael Blake, Chivona Newsome, Ruben Diaz Sr., Samelys Lopez
(bottom): Melissa Mark-Viverito, Tomas Ramos, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres


With longtime Representative José E. Serrano retiring from Congress after 30 years due to health reasons, his seat in New York's 15th Congressional District is effectively open and a crowded field has formed in the Democratic primary, set to be decided in June. Given it is one of the most Democratic districts in the country, the winner of the primary is all but certain to be the next member of the House of Representatives from the Bronx district home to some of the highest poverty rates in the country.

With the vote just around the corner -- primary day is June 23, with early voting from June 13 through June 21 and all voters eligible for absentee balloting given the coronavirus outbreak -- 8 of the Democratic candidates will debate on Thursday, May 14, from 6-8 p.m.

The debate, hosted by Gotham Gazette, City Limits, The Point CDC, and other partners, will be streamed via Zoom (at this link) and Facebook (at this link).

The debate will also be translated in Spanish at 1-800-719-6100 followed by the access code of 1157388. Those interested in Spanish translation can watch the debate by Zoom or Facebook while listening via the aforementioned phone line.

The participating candidates include: Frangell Basora; Michael Blake; Chivona Newsome; Samelys Lopez; Melissa Mark-Viverito; Tomas Ramos; Ydanis Rodriguez; and Ritchie Torres.

Ruben Diaz, Sr., also a candidate for the office, has not agreed to participate in the debate. (There will be other candidates on the ballot, but they have not mounted serious campaigns as indicated by a total lack of fundraising: Mark Escoffery-Bey, Julio Pabon, Marlene Tapper.)

Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max will moderate the debate, and panelists will include Sierra Straker of The Point CDC's youth advisory group; reporters Daniel Parra of City Limits and Parker Quinlan of the Hunts Point Express and Mott Haven Herald.

The 15th is the only Congressional district located entirely within the Bronx. It covers Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Melrose, High Bridge, Port Morris, Clason Point, Morrisania, Concourse Village, East Tremont, Tremont, Morris Heights, Castle Hill, University Heights, Bronx River, Belmont, Shorehaven, Claremont Village, Fordham, West Farms, Longwood, Mount Hope, Soundview and Harding Park.

Tune in at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 14 via Zoom or Facebook.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Intense Competition for 'Open' Bronx Congressional Seat: Watch the District 15 Democratic Debate on Thursday May 14 Wed, 13 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Campaign Finance Reform May Come with Mandatory Debates for Statewide Elections https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8302-campaign-finance-reform-may-come-with-mandatory-debates-for-statewide-elections https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8302-campaign-finance-reform-may-come-with-mandatory-debates-for-statewide-elections cr cuomo

2014 NY gubernatorial debate (photo: C-SPAN)


With Democrats in charge of the state Legislature, there’s broad optimism that New York may finally create a state-level public financing system for electoral campaigns modelled after the program in place in New York City, including mandatory debates for candidates for statewide offices who receive public campaign funds.

In his executive budget released last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a voluntary public campaign financing program that would provide a 6-to-1 match for the first $175 of each contribution. The proposal also requires that statewide candidates, though not those running for State Senate or Assembly, participate in official debates before each primary and general election if they receive public funds, unless a candidate does not have an opponent.

Debates at the state level, particularly in gubernatorial contests, have been a thorny issue in previous elections. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, is notoriously averse to debating his opponents and has often limited the number of debates he agrees to participate in, and he almost always attempts to strictly dictate the terms of those debates.

In 2014, Cuomo refused to debate primary opponent Zephyr Teachout and would only partake in a general election debate open to all candidates, something he also insisted on in 2010, instead of any one-on-one with his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino. Cuomo used the messy 2010 debate to justify his lack of participation in debates. “I’ve been in many debates that I think were a disservice to democracy,” he told the New York Times in 2014. “So anyone who says debates are always a service to democracy hasn’t watched all the debates that I’ve been in.”

Last year, Cuomo did agree to one debate with his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, who nevertheless hammered the governor for only agreeing to one, a scenario that played out quite similarly for the general election when Cuomo participated in one debate with Republican Marc Molinaro. The governor’s insistence on a low room temperature at the primary debate venue even triggered a discussion about sexism in the workplace.

Incumbent state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli participated in two televised general election debates last year after facing no primary challenger. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul similarly debated her opponent, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, twice before the primary though only one of the debates was televised. In an attorney general race with no incumbent, eventual winner Letitia James participated in a series of debates and forums in the Democratic primary, then agreed to just one general election debate against Republican Keith Wofford.

In New York City, the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the public matching funds program, organizes two official debates before each primary and general election for the three citywide offices of mayor, comptroller, and public advocate. Participation is determined based on financial thresholds for initial debates and additional nonpartisan criteria for subsequent ones. Participation is mandatory for any candidate receiving public matching funds.

Notably, the governor’s proposal only includes statewide candidates, which is more limited than the Fair Elections Act, versions of which have been introduced in the past in both the state Senate, by now-Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and in the Assembly by Speaker Carl Heastie. Both those public financing proposals included provisions for mandatory debates for all candidates who participate in the public campaign finance program.

But neither Stewart-Cousins nor Heastie have reintroduced the Fair Elections Act and it’s unclear if they intend to do so, indicating that Cuomo’s proposal may form the basis for negotiations with the Legislature. Asked about the Fair Elections Act and the governor’s proposal, a spokesperson for the Senate majority, Mike Murphy, simply said by email, “It is being discussed and we look forward to moving forward.” Heastie’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Jonathan Timm, a spokesperson for Senator Zellnor Myrie, who chairs the elections committee, said Myrie is working with other senators to improve on the governor’s budget proposal but had yet to finalize their plans. “The Senator is a strong supporter of public financing...and he is working with all parties to see how we can get to best system possible. Everything is on the table, including, possibly, debate requirements,” Timm said in an email.

Though a mandatory debate program is a desirable element for any public financing proposal, it’s not a top priority for advocates. “We don’t want the excuse of something not being perfect as a justification for not doing anything, which happens all too often in Albany,” said Alex Camarda, senior advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group that is part of the Fair Elections for New York coalition.

What’s more important, he said, “is establishing the foundation for a public matching funds program in New York State and following the city model of improving it over time.”

He also said that though debates are important in informing the public and for allowing candidates to contrast their policy platforms, they tend to be more essential for elections that aren’t as high profile. For instance, the public advocate special election in New York City, which has 17 candidates, many of whom with little name recognition, running for a seat that many New Yorkers are unaware about. That’s the “poster child for the importance of debates,” Camarda said. Qualifying candidates in that field have now participated in two official, televised debates ahead of the February 26 vote.

At the statewide level, where the stakes are higher, voters tend to be more engaged. “In an era of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, debates are certainly not as critical as they once were,” Camarda said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Campaign Finance Reform May Come with Mandatory Debates for Statewide Elections Sun, 24 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo-Molinaro Debate Analysis https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8015-max-murphy-podcast-cuomo-molinaro-debate-analysis https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8015-max-murphy-podcast-cuomo-molinaro-debate-analysis mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


October 23, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo-Molinaro Debate Analysis

cuomo molinaro debate 277The day after the Andrew Cuomo-Marc Molinaro gubernatorial debate on CBS, hosts Jarrett Murphy and Ben Max break down what went down.

Listen to the conversation with the two candidates 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 wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo-Molinaro Debate Analysis Wed, 24 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Passes Bill Mandating Public Broadcast of Citywide Debates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7688-city-council-passes-bill-mandating-public-broadcast-of-citywide-debates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7688-city-council-passes-bill-mandating-public-broadcast-of-citywide-debates Joe Borelli City Council

Council Member Borelli (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


The general election debates in last year’s mayoral race largely lacked substance and order, as Mayor Bill de Blasio twice faced off against two challengers -- Republican Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl. Perhaps in part because de Blasio was not seen as vulnerable to defeat in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, the debates also lacked a wide audience. But there was another issue at play, for those debates and others mandated as part of the city’s campaign finance system: public accessibility to view them.

City Council Member Joe Borelli and his colleagues seek to expand access to televised city election debates -- which can be held for the three citywide positions in party primaries and general elections -- through a bill passed by the Council on Wednesday.

Borelli’s bill requires that all mandatory debates hosted by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, in partnership with numerous local news organizations, be publicly broadcast at no charge on a city-owned or operated television channel to reach the widest possible audience. This would be in addition to broadcast by any selected network as the CFB typically chooses a lead TV station for each debate.

The bill was prompted largely because some of the debates, including the first general election mayoral debate and the lone general election debates in the 2017 races for comptroller and public advocate, were broadcast on television on NY1 and accessible only to those with cable television packages that include the channel. (NY1 did choose to air its debates live for free on its website and social media, as did other debate sponsors, and archived footage is easily available on the Campaign Finance Board website.)

“This may not be priority one and we’re likely three years away from any city-wide debates, but the fact that we spend so much public money to increase voter turnout to then only allow a small percentage of city residents to see the debate seemed counter-productive,” Borelli said, in a statement after the passage of the bill. “I can’t believe this would have even been allowed in the first place and I’m glad I’m changing the rules.” 

He said that more than half of the city’s residents did not have access to certain debates because they either could not afford or refused to subscribe to Spectrum, NY1’s parent company. In the 2017 election cycle, the debates not televised by NY1 were broadcast on TV by CBS-2 New York, a network typically part of all basic television packages. This included the second of two general election mayoral debates.

A press release from Borelli’s office said the bill is expected to be signed by the mayor. Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson said in a statement, "We look forward to reviewing the final version of this bill that was passed by the Council. The Mayor supports measures to make our democratic process more open and accessible to New Yorkers."

The bill has general support from government reform groups. At an April 26 hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations, Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, said, “Generally speaking, we encourage civic participation in our democracy through the use of modern technology.”

Camarda also urged the committee to consider webcasting debates on one or several city government-run sites. “We think that that’s advantageous, not only because it’s less expensive, it allows for archiving at much lower costs, and it can be watched on smart phones which, more and more, is what people watch their content on these days,” Camarda said. Those proposals weren’t reflected in the final legislation.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Camarda said, “It can’t hurt to expand the TV channels that debates are on but we would prefer webcasting and more modern modes of delivery be mandated.”

“Access to information is essential to make elections fair for everyone,” said Assembly Member Malliotakis, in a statement supporting the bill’s passage. “The more widespread debate coverage is, the more prepared voters will be to make an informed decision of who they want to represent them in government.”

The CFB also came out in support of the bill. Executive Director Amy Loprest said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that the agency is “committed to getting voters the information they need to cast an informed ballot on Election Day.”

“These efforts include helping all New Yorkers view the official citywide debates to learn more about candidates seeking elected office,” she added. “Today’s passage of Int. No. 14-A, requiring these debates to be simulcast on a city-owned or operated television channel, will help ensure that as many New Yorkers as possible have live access to the debates.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Passes Bill Mandating Public Broadcast of Citywide Debates Wed, 23 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Resetting the Mayoral Race after the Final Debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7292-max-murphy-podcast-resetting-the-mayoral-race-after-the-final-debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7292-max-murphy-podcast-resetting-the-mayoral-race-after-the-final-debate mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


November 3, 2017 - Max & Murphy: Resetting the Mayoral Race after the Final Debate

mayoral candidates277

After the second and final mayoral debate among Bill de Blasio, Nicole Malliotakis and Bo Dietl, Max & Murphy break down the debate and the status of the race, while discussing what has made it a lackluster campaign season and what could have made both the race and the debates better. They also look ahead to the final days of the campaign and Election Day.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Resetting the Mayoral Race after the Final Debate Thu, 02 Nov 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Candidates Make Closing Arguments in Frenetic Final Debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7291-mayoral-candidates-make-closing-arguments-in-frenetic-final-debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7291-mayoral-candidates-make-closing-arguments-in-frenetic-final-debate debate Dietl de Blasio Malliotakis mayor

Dietl, de Blasio & Malliotakis on CBS


The second and final mayoral debate of the general election, held Wednesday night, was largely a contest between Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat running for a second term, and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican nominee, as the third candidate on stage, independent Bo Dietl, often struggled to get a word in edgewise.

As the incumbent, de Blasio was put on the spot several times during the hour-long debate -- on public safety, on the city’s homelessness crisis, on his ethics record, on his relationship with the press -- and he drew upon tried-and-tested responses that he has given on the campaign trail and throughout much of his time in office. Malliotakis consistently tried to challenge the progressive Democrat, waiting impatiently to criticize his policies as he defended them.

And Dietl, who initially seemed more subdued than past public appearances, returned to form with nonlinear responses to questions and a more frantic pace as the debate grew increasingly frenetic and the three candidates fought to be heard. All three wound up speaking loudly and quickly, on several occasions talking over one another and arguing with the moderator, Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 New York, about opportunities to rebut claims made by others.

The debate, coming just six days before Election Day, November 7, covered some new ground but often saw the three candidates using lines of attack or defense those closely following the lackluster campaign have heard many times. De Blasio, who is heavily favored to win reelection and has large leads in the polls, did not appear to do anything to jeopardize his standing, while any hope Malliotakis had for further consolidating the anti-de Blasio vote was severely undercut by Dietl’s presence on stage. CBS exercised its discretion to include Dietl, who has not polled well, but declined to explain its decision when Gotham Gazette inquired.

Hosted at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, the debate began with a particular focus on the NYPD and anti-terrorism, just one day after a terror attack in lower Manhattan in which a man alleged to have been inspired by ISIS killed eight people and injured numerous others by driving a truck in a bike lane.

De Blasio immediately found himself defending his decision to close down an NYPD surveillance program that targeted Muslim communities and had led to a lawsuit over the racial profiling of Muslims. He insisted that intelligence gathering and improved police-community relationships were the solutions to preventing terrorism, and he touted his creation of a new terror response unit at the NYPD and the hiring of 1,300 more officers to the force. “We change constantly with the times,” he told DuBois, who asked why the mayor had not been proactive in preventing the type of attack seen Tuesday by installing more bollards, cement posts that disallow car travel, along the West Side bike route.

Malliotakis and Dietl have both have criticized de Blasio for what they see as his lack of support for the police department. The Assembly member said she would provide more resources to the NYPD to combat terror and said it was it important to not limit the police in their jobs, although she said she does not favor targeting specific groups or religions. She also supported installing traffic bollards where necessary to prevent vehicular terror attacks. “My administration will be proactive, not reactive,” she said. De Blasio insisted that he defers to NYPD experts about all matters of security, including anti-terrorism, and touted his two choices of police commissioner.

Dietl, asked if surveillance of Muslims was necessary, categorically said “yes.” “Just look at this terrorist. What did he look like? This is something we have to get past. Political correctness cannot be there all the time,” he said, adding that the man who committed the truck attack looked like the dictionary picture of a terrorist, referencing the man’s long beard in particular. Dietl’s insensitive stereotyping appeared in stark contrast to his two opponents, who took much more measured paths.

Asked to explain his qualifications for the daunting job of Mayor of New York City, Dietl recounted his entrepreneurial success as a private detective with a multi-million dollar security business and referenced his time as a member of the NYPD.

Malliotakis said she was proud of her record in the Assembly as a “fighter for taxpayers” who has seen the city’s quality of life deteriorate. She threw her typical punches at de Blasio, calling him inept at managing the city and in the pockets of his campaign donors.

The debate was not as instructive in terms of where the candidates would take the city as mayor as it was in relitigating de Blasio’s standing after nearly four years at the helm of a city largely doing well, but facing a number of significant challenges.

Numerous times the candidates quibbled, with each other and with DuBois. Malliotakis was asked about her oft-repeated claim that felony sex crimes have increased 25 percent in the city under de Blasio, with DuBois saying the number was only 4 percent and citing the NYPD. She did not concede the point, insisting that her statement was based on NYPD statistics. De Blasio was dubious of Malliotakis’ response, and pointed out that major crime has fallen consistently over the last four years, reaching historic lows. “The NYPD takes crime against women very, very seriously, constantly moving resources to address this problem” he responded.

Malliotakis appears to be correct in her assertion on broader sex crimes, while de Blasio is also right about the overall direction of major crimes, such as murder. Rape, the most serious of sex crime, is up slightly over de Blasio’s tenure, possibly the statistic DuBois was referring to. The mayor, NYPD officials, and other analysts agree that sex crimes are likely higher because of increased awareness, and encouragement and willingness to report.

The question that put the mayor in the most awkward position, one he has answered several times in the last few days, was about his relationship with Jona Rechnitz, a wealthy campaign donor who is currently a cooperating witness in a federal corruption trial against the former boss of the correction officers union. Rechnitz, who pleaded guilty to fraud himself, has testified that he had regular access to the mayor, which has yet again led to criticism from de Blasio’s opponents of a pay-to-pay culture at City Hall.

De Blasio, who again refused to release his phone records to refute Rechnitz’s allegations of how regularly they spoke in late 2013 and beyond, repeated the defense he has offered before, insisting that he did not have a close relationship with Rechnitz and that his ties to donors were thoroughly investigated with no charges filed by federal or state prosecutors. “He is a liar, he is a felon. Don’t believe anything he says,” de Blasio said.

“I think the question is for the public,” Malliotakis retorted, “if they want a mayor who looks for that little loophole, the way to skirt the law to get an intended outcome for himself and his friends.”

The candidates also argued over gentrification, traffic congestion, property taxes, and homelessness.

Malliotakis said gentrification is beneficial when it raises property values and brings economic activity to neighborhoods, but she decried the displacement of existing residents. She struggled to answer more specific questions about gentrification, but attacked de Blasio for not taking on property tax reform. De Blasio, who promised to tackle the issue if reelected, took to defending his affordable housing policy, the rent freezes his administration pushed two years in a row for rent-regulated tenants, and the implementation of free legal services in housing court for low-income New Yorkers.

On homelessness, de Blasio conceded that his administration failed to adequately address street homelessness as it focused on stemming the increase in the shelter population. He insisted that his administration is moving to end the use of commercial hotels to house homeless individuals and families, a practice that has become widespread and very costly.

Malliotakis said the crisis was a “mismanagement issue,” critiquing de Blasio for massively increasing spending on homelessness with little to show for it. She emphasized that she would work with the state to partner on building supportive housing and critiqued the administration’s use of hotels as temporary shelters. The mayor noted, in response, that the city is already committed to building thousands of new supportive housing units and slowly ending the use of hotel shelters.

Congestion pricing was one proposal that none of the candidates seemed to support, though de Blasio was the only one to directly say so. He yet again called it a “regressive tax,” though that claim has largely been debunked, and pushed his proposal to tax the highest-income New Yorkers to fund MTA subways and buses (on this he name-dropped Senator Bernie Sanders, who endorsed the mayor and the “fair fix” proposal earlier this week). De Blasio did seem to leave space to change his stance after the election, saying that he hadn’t seen a plan that he could support. Many New Yorkers are awaiting the expected congestion pricing plan that Governor Andrew Cuomo has empaneled a task force to come up with by January.

Malliotakis said unlike de Blasio, she would work with Cuomo, a Democrat, to fund fixes to mass transit, but did not provide a specific plan that she would implement.

In a brief lightning round near the end, the candidates seemed to find more common ground than could be expected. All three said they are opposed to holding a state constitutional convention, an option that will be presented in a ballot question to voters on Election Day. And none of them were willing to agree to daily press briefings as mayor. De Blasio, who has a famously antagonistic relationship with the press, said, “I’m not gonna have a blanket policy,” preferring to communicate with New Yorkers at town halls and through radio and television appearances. Malliotakis did not give a straight answer, pointing to the mayor and saying, “I’m gonna have to spend most of my time cleaning up his mess.” Dietl promised to post a deputy mayor in each borough that would hear and relay resident concerns.

In closing, de Blasio reiterated his call to voters that he would build on the successes of his first term, noting early childhood education, neighborhood policing, and affordable housing. “I ask for your help to keep this a city for everyone, to keep this a city that’s making progressive change, a city that you know belongs to you,” he said.

Malliotakis vowed to stand up for everyday New Yorkers. “I’m fighting for you because you need a lobbyist,” Malliotakis said, “you need a voice, you need someone who’s gonna put your interests in front of the powerful.”

Dietl, who closed out the debate, said the city was “at a crossroads” and that the only choice was between him and the mayor. Looking and pointing directly at de Blasio, he said, “As a detective, I know a criminal when I see one. Mr. Mayor, you’re a criminal with your corruption and your pay-for-play.”

The election is Tuesday. Along with de Blasio, Malliotakis, and Dietl, the mayoral choices include four other candidates: Sal Albanese, Mike Tolkin, Akeem Browder, and Aaron Commey.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Mayoral Candidates Make Closing Arguments in Frenetic Final Debate Wed, 01 Nov 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Following Up with Comptroller Stringer on Several Debate Moments https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7279-following-up-with-comptroller-stringer-on-several-debate-moments https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7279-following-up-with-comptroller-stringer-on-several-debate-moments faulkner stringer comptroller debate election

Faulkner, left, and Stringer, at the Comptroller debate (photo via @NYCVotes)


It appears that a relatively small number of people watched the lone debate in the election for New York City Comptroller, which occurred on Tuesday, October 17 between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and his Republican challenger, Michel Faulkner. It is one of three citywide races, along with those for Mayor and Public Advocate, happening this fall.

Conventional wisdom is that Stringer will handily win a second term on November 7, as he has the full backing of the Democratic establishment and significant fundraising and name recognition advantages over Faulkner and the other candidates who will be on the ballot: Libertarian Party nominee Alex Merced and Green Party nominee Julia Willebrand.

During the hourlong debate, broadcast on NY1 television and WNYC radio, Stringer mostly played it safe and defended his record, at times, especially early on, barely reacting as Faulkner criticized him from an adjacent podium. But in a handful of moments Stringer said especially newsworthy or curious things, taking positions or making statements worthy of follow-up. Gotham Gazette sent a short series of inquiries to the comptroller’s office for more information.

Closing Rikers Island
The debate moment that got the most attention was Stringer declaring that the Rikers Island jail complex should be closed in three years, far short of the ten-year timeline announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat also favored to win reelection this year. Stringer was well ahead of de Blasio is backing the notion of closing the notorious jail complex, but had not made such a splashy public declaration of his desired timeframe.

“Let’s do it in three years,” Stringer said at the debate, when asked about closing Rikers by WNYC’s Brigid Bergin, one of the panelists asking questions, and raising more than a few eyebrows of those who follow city politics closely. “It is inhumane. I’ve walked those corridors, I’ve talked to inmates. I’ve done the data analysis. And it is inhumane.”

Asked for more detail on how Stringer got to the three-year goal and what that “data analysis” looked like, the comptroller’s office told Gotham Gazette that the ten-year timeline is simply too long, that if New York wants to be a leader in criminal justice reform, it must move faster. A Stringer spokesperson said the comptroller has floated the three-year timeline at community events, but offered no specifics for how the comptroller got there.

NYCHA Home Ownership
At the comptroller debate, Faulkner explained his call for allowing some NYCHA residents an opportunity to own their apartments. Stringer expressed surprising support for the idea, which his office then walked back.

“I believe that the NYCHA residents, the long-term residents should have an equity stake in NYCHA right now,” Faulkner said at the debate.

Asked by moderator Errol Louis of NY1 whether NYCHA residents should indeed have a path to ownership, Stringer said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea, but let’s also figure out a way to actually make that happen. It’s easy to talk about it, but look, we have to get more access to loans, to credit, if we’re really going to change the landscape of home ownership for the people who struggle in our city but are building and investing their sweat equity in our communities. That is something that we have to look at, and I would definitely look towards that.”

In a follow-up to the debate, Gotham Gazette asked Stringer’s office about his apparent openness to some home ownership among NYCHA tenants and what that might mean for a privatization of the nation’s largest public housing system. A spokesperson tried to make it abundantly clear that the comptroller does not believe in privatization of NYCHA in any way. The spokesperson said that Stringer didn’t want to shut the door in principle on encouraging homeownership if there is a viable path that does not eliminate much affordable housing. The details of such a plan would be essential, the spokesperson stressed.

During the NYCHA discussion at the debate, Stringer touted his many audits of the housing authority and called for new funding streams, including his push for tens of millions of dollars in Battery Park City Authority proceeds to go toward NYCHA fixes.

A Specific Affordable Housing Plan
A large group of churchgoers, NYCHA residents, senior citizens, and advocates recently rallied near City Hall to push for an affordable housing plan from the Metro-IAF coalition led by two Brooklyn pastors and affordable housing builders. The plan, which has been rebuffed by the de Blasio administration, calls for major additional investments in NYCHA repairs, 15,000 new units of senior housing on NYCHA land, and more.

Stringer spoke at the City Hall rally, expressing his support for the plan, and reiterated it at the comptroller debate, referencing it without being specifically asked about it.

“There is a broad coalition of churches that have come together to build, within NYCHA, 15,000 senior housing units,” Stringer said during the debate. “My office is looking at those numbers, I think it’s a realistic plan. I think that anything we do to build within NYCHA developments has to be with the community -- to go back to something that we don’t do a lot of anymore, which is community-based planning.”

Asked why Stringer had come out in support of the plan to then say that his office is still looking at the numbers, the comptroller’s office said Stringer reviewed the Metro-IAF plan and believes it is viable, partly because it requires increased housing subsidies from the city that would allow for deeper levels of affordability, a desirable outcome the comptroller has been calling for more broadly as he has consistently criticized the de Blasio administration’s housing plan. More review is needed on the specifics, including how much more in subsidy the city can afford, the Stringer spokesperson said.

Stringer looks forward to continuing the conversation, Gotham Gazette was told.

The Mayor’s Affordable Housing Plan More Broadly
Including with regard to the Metro-IAF plan, Stringer has repeatedly said that de Blasio’s larger affordable housing plan is not affordable enough, that it is not reaching enough New Yorkers most in need. It has been part of his push to see the city build more affordable housing on city-owned vacant lots, the source of much controversy and back-and-forth with the de Blasio administration.

Stringer said at the debate that “right now” the city is “building luxury developments with some affordable housing that is not affordable.” Apartments being built in East New York, for example, are not affordable to families currently living there, he said, in apparent reference to the neighborhood rezoning plan passed by the de Blasio administration with the City Council. “[I]t’s not adequate,” Stringer said of the overall approach, adding, “we have to be bigger in thinking about housing.”

In response to a follow-up question from Gotham Gazette, Stringer’s spokesperson said that the current city housing plan is not geared enough toward those in deeper poverty and with current subsidies favoring low-income households, those with extremely low-income or virtually no income face even more pressure, especially when the rezonings are taken into consideration, given that they can risk furthering the threats of displacement.

Stringer wants to see more work done with not-for-profit developers, the spokesperson said, and to add anti-displacement zoning to undercut tenant harassment.

[Read: Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record]

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Following Up with Comptroller Stringer on Several Debate Moments Thu, 26 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7259-max-murphy-podcast-analyzing-the-public-advocate-comptroller-debates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7259-max-murphy-podcast-analyzing-the-public-advocate-comptroller-debates mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


October 18, 2017 - Max & Murphy: Analyzing the Public Advocate and Comptroller Debates

brigid at debate nyc votesThe lone public advocate and comptroller debates of the election cycle occurred on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio (pictured, middle) was one of the panelists asking questions at the comptroller debate between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and Republican challenger Michel Faulkner, and she joins this episode of Max & Murphy to recap and analyze that debate and the debate between incumbent Democrat Letitia James and Republican challenger J.C. Polanco in the public advocate race.

Bergin, Max, and Murphy also discussed the state of the mayoral race as we are less than three weeks before Election Day, November 7. The second and final mayoral debate is set for November 1.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates Wed, 18 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7260-comptroller-debate-focuses-on-stringer-s-record https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7260-comptroller-debate-focuses-on-stringer-s-record faulkner stringer comptroller

Michel Faulkner, left, and Scott Stringer at Tuesday's debate


Echoing more the calm and substantive public advocate debate from Monday than the rowdy, unproductive October 10 mayoral debate, on Tuesday evening the Democratic and Republican candidates for comptroller, incumbent Scott Stringer and Michel Faulkner, respectively, met for their sole debate ahead of Election Day, November 7.

The race to be the city’s chief fiscal officer has, like the public advocate contest, been a sleepy one, with the incumbent Democrat holding major financial and other advantages, and heavily favored, as the higher profile mayoral race has sucked up the attention of most of whatever small number of voters is paying attention to the municipal elections. It is expected to be another terribly low turnout election.

Unlike the Republican challenger for public advocate, J.C. Polanco, Faulkner raised enough money to qualify for a debate with Stringer. Polanco was granted a debate by Public Advocate Letitia James, and the two jousted for an hour Monday evening about James’ record, the role of public advocate, and a variety of other issues.

On Tuesday, Stringer and Faulkner competed in a debate largely focused on Stringer’s record over the past four years, with Faulkner accusing him of not being a tough enough watchdog and Stringer showcasing his record of accomplishments. Both advocated for their positions on a wide range of issues, from managing the many-billion-dollar public pension funds to monitoring the city’s ballooning budget, the potential impact of the Trump administration on the city’s finances, and what to do about the city’s public housing, NYCHA, and with the Rikers Island jail complex.

The debate, hosted at the CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown Manhattan, was broadcast on NY1 television and WNYC radio, and moderated by NY1 political anchor Errol Louis, with questions also coming from WNYC’s Brigid Bergin and NY1’s Bobby Cuza. It was a spirited but respectful affair between the two contenders, though at times Stringer appeared to shrug off Faulkner’s criticisms, perhaps evidence of the air of inevitability surrounding the race. With a lot more money in the bank and higher name recognition, Stringer is expected to ride to easy victory with support from many labor unions and given the city’s massive Democratic enrollment advantage.

Faulkner, a pastor and a former New York Jet football player, throughout the night referred to his vision of the comptroller’s office as one of an activist auditor who gets things done, rather than someone who simply releases reports and talks about problems.

“Now more than ever, New York City needs an active fiscal watchdog. Someone who will manage our finances, who will push back on the mayor, and push back on City Council, and stop this runaway spending,” Faulkner said. “Scott Stringer has not been tough enough. I will be tougher, I will be better.”

Faulkner attacked a record that Stringer spent the night defending, going so far as to say that Stringer misrepresented who he was while campaigning for comptroller four years ago.

Stringer, meanwhile, defended his record as someone who delivered consistent returns for taxpayers and pensioners, and as someone who was not afraid to call out deficiencies either in mayoral policies or in agency mismanagement. He pointed, for example, to his audit of homeless shelters that exposed major problems with conditions and led to the city taking repairs much more seriously. More broadly, however, Stringer pitched himself as someone fighting for New Yorkers, especially for those struggling to afford the cost of living in the city and immigrants.

Much of the debate centered on two key parts of the comptroller’s job: managing the massive pension system and monitoring the city’s budget and financial health.

On the topic of pensions, wherein former public employees who are vested are guaranteed certain payouts, Stringer somewhat tepidly defended his record after Louis noted that this year’s returns have been around 2%, well below the comptroller office’s 7% actuarial target. Stringer noted that, over his tenure, pensions have hit this target, with a 7.4% return rate. When the pension funds themselves don’t adequately meet payout obligations, the city must make up the difference to the tune of billions in its annual budget.

“That is something that’s taken a lot of work,” Stringer said. He said that one reason for the pension fund hitting its target was changing the “internal workings of the Bureau of Asset Management.” The incumbent showed more enthusiasm in describing reforms he’s led to how the pension system is run, including changing the fee structure for investors hired to grow the funds.

Louis also asked Stringer about a movement among municipal pension systems to move towards investing in passive index funds, which, rather than being actively managed by investors, simply follow a market index such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or S&P 500, and tend to outperform actively managed funds.

Stringer stated, however, that if the city had invested in an unspecified index fund over the past few years, the returns would be 6.9%, just below the 7% benchmark.

“So, we can’t just rely on the index,” Stringer said. “And that is why we have a varied asset allocation. We make sure that we protect the fund. We’re long-term investors, we’re not trying to game the system. On average, we’ve hit 7.4% the last four years. This year, we returned 13%. But at the end of the day, our strategy is to secure retirement security. We’re not trying to come in and out of funds, we’re not trying to create risk, and that is a conservative approach that I think has served the people who rely on us well.”

Stringer also stated that money managers would no longer be paid no matter whether they made or lost money for the city; rather, they would now only be paid if they did well. He argued that the city is leading “best practices” for pensions nationwide.

Faulkner said that he agreed with several things Stringer’s office did to “shore up the existing fund.” In fact, he largely strayed away from criticizing Stringer’s record in arguably the most important aspect of the job, instead pivoting to the city’s increased operating budget, though he did say the growing public personnel -- which has increased dramatically under Mayor Bill de Blasio -- has had a negative impact on the city’s pension system by increasing obligations.

Faulkner’s most prominent line of attack was, in fact, concerning the city’s rising budget, which has increased by about 18% since de Blasio assumed office, up to about $85 billion this fiscal year. Faulkner said de Blasio and the City Council had an excessive “tax and spend” approach, and that de Blasio tries to throw money at any problem to make it go away, such as with homelessness. But, Faulkner did not offer areas of the city budget he would cut, instead saying that he is sure there could be some savings to be found, and seemingly indicated he wants the city to actually spend more money on programs -- if only the city could keep more of its own tax money, he said.

Faulkner said that the city should aim to stop relying on the federal government for everything. He praised President Donald Trump’s federal tax reform plan as a positive that would put money in the pockets of average New Yorkers and allow the city to comfortably raise local taxes to fund certain priorities like affordable housing.

When NY1’s Cuza questioned the plausibility of Faulkner’s hope that the city would rely on the federal government to return tens of billions of dollars to the city, Faulkner said that rather than asking for the money back, New Yorkers should simply stop giving tax money to the federal government.

“We don’t have to wait for it back,” Faulkner said. “We just stop giving it to them. If it’s my money, I’m just saying, ‘well you know what.’ We need all of the political will in New York to be able to do that.” It was indicative of a pattern in which Faulkner did not seem to have fully fleshed out plans to present to voters.

Regarding the notion of asking the federal government for tax dollars that go elsewhere to be returned to New York, as advocated by Faulkner, Stringer said “I don’t deal in fantasy.”

“Right now, the Trump proposal would cost middle income New Yorkers billions of dollars,” said Stringer, who has been a frequent critic of Trump, while Faulkner has been supportive of the president. “We would lose $7 billion in New York State to this tax cut; 100,000 people who make less than $100,000 a year would be eviscerated by this tax cut. It is dangerous. It is the greatest risk we have right now, along with issues related to the Affordable Care Act and Health + Hospitals. And in no way is this tax cut a benefit to working people.”

On the growth of the city budget, Stringer defended his oversight work, saying he had pushed the de Blasio administration to find more savings, and said that due to his advocacy the city currently held its largest total amount of savings in its history. He said he is proud of the investments the city has been making, and offered a mix of praise and criticism for de Blasio -- the two have endorsed each other for reelection depsite frrequent sparring, mostly earlier in the term, when Stringer was toying with a 2017 mayoral run.

Also discussed were broader political issues of the day, such as affordable housing. Both Stringer and Faulkner criticized the mayor’s affordable housing plan, with Stringer saying that it is not going far enough in reaching the people who most need it. He reiterated his calls for deeper affordability in the plan, for using land banks, and for more aggressively building on city-owned vacant lots.

Stringer also referenced an ongoing threat of federal funding cuts to NYCHA, while Faulkner sharply responded by noting that Stringer had been criticizing federal disinvestment from NYCHA during the administration of Democrat Barack Obama. Instead, Faulkner said that the city could fund NYCHA through a federal tax cut.

Faulkner called out Stringer for simply releasing reports on NYCHA’s numerous shortcomings without proposing or implementing reforms, and, in cross examination, asked Stringer how he would actually fix the things he calls out. Stringer’s answer was to, first and foremost, elect a new president who will invest in public housing. Stringer also defended the results of his audits, noting that he has spurred action across city agencies, that hundreds of audits have led to 1,000 of his office’s recommendations being adopted.

Faulkner proposed that, in order to lift them out of cyclical poverty, NYCHA residents should have the ability to own equity in their homes. In something of a surprise moment, Stringer said that it was an impossibility today, but that he was open to exploring a path to that outcome.

On Rikers, Faulkner gave roundabout answers: he said that the facility should eventually be closed and that the way it’s operated needs to be immediately reformed, but that a closure plan being developed by de Blasio was not trustworthy. However, on the question of housing pretrial detainees within the boroughs rather than on Rikers Island, Faulkner was supportive, saying they should be held near courthouses.

Stringer, who proclaimed that he was the “first elected official to step up and say shut [Rikers] down,” took it a step further on Tuesday. “Let’s do it in three years,” Stringer said, significantly undercutting de Blasio’s ten-year timeline. “It is inhumane. I’ve walked those corridors, I’ve talked to inmates. I’ve done the data analysis. And it is inhumane.”

While Stringer and Faulkner were the only two candidates to qualify for the debate, two others will be on the ballot in November: Alex Merced is the Libertarian nominee for comptroller, and Julia Willebrand is the Green Party nominee.

Near the end of the debate, Louis moderated a “lightning round,” asking Faulkner and Stringer for quick answers to a series of rapid fire questions on a variety of topics, some personal or frivolous, others more substantive. The candidates were asked about ten questions, including whether they had ever ordered from Fresh Direct (Faulkner has not, Stringer has); whether the mayor should use taxpayer dollars to fund his legal defense from investigations that closed without charges (Faulkner gave a resounding no, while Stringer refused to comment because his office is involved in the process). Asked whether the proposed BQX streetcar was a wise use of taxpayer dollars, Faulkner said no while Stringer said “there’s a long way to go” and the project needs “vigorous review.”

Asked for the most recent book both had read, Faulkner answered with If They Can Keep It, by Eric Metaxas, a book about American exceptionalism. Stringer said Shark Detective, a children’s book he had read to his young sons.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Comptroller Debate Focuses on Stringer's Record Tue, 17 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Public Advocate Debate Shows Stark Differences Between James and Polanco https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7256-public-advocate-debate-shows-stark-differences-between-james-and-polanco https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7256-public-advocate-debate-shows-stark-differences-between-james-and-polanco Tish James JC Polanco public advocate debate via nyc votes

James & Polanco at their debate (photo: @NYCVotes)


Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat running for reelection, squared off against her Republican opponent, J.C. Polanco, in a friendly yet competitive debate on Monday that highlighted substantive differences, and some shared opinions, between the two candidates on a range of policy issues. Given the race features an incumbent, the debate centered in large part on James’ record as public advocate over the last four years, especially her performance in holding the mayoral administration accountable.

Hosted at the CUNY Graduate Center in front of a small, closed audience, the debate was the first and only to be held in the public advocate race leading up to Election Day, November 7. It was held at James’ discretion -- she agreed to debate Polanco despite his failure to meet the financial thresholds to qualify for an official Campaign Finance Board-sponsored debate.

The two candidates butted heads, albeit respectfully, through the hurried hour-long debate, articulating sharp contrasting opinions on rent regulations, charter schools, criminal justice issues, and the overarching role of the public advocate’s office as an ombudsman for the city. While James touted her record, Polanco referenced his qualifications stemming from his work for the state Assembly minority conference and his past role as president of the city Board of Elections. He called himself a “common sense” Republican.

Early on, Polanco sought to paint James as a too-close ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio who has failed to stand up to the mayor and the progressive-dominated City Council, a pitch that has been at the center of his campaign along with proposals to strengthen the independence of the public advocate’s office. Polanco believes the office should have investigative and subpoena powers over city agencies, which would require a city charter revision approved by voters, as well as funding equivalent to the much larger comptroller’s office.

James, an experienced litigator, has used her legal skills to inform the core functions of her office. Over the last four years, she said she has worked “to transform the office into a vehicle for social and economic justice for all,” claiming to have resolved more than 30,000 constituent complaints and touting the passage of more legislation than all her four predecessors together. She highlighted her signature legislative achievement: a new law that bans employers from asking job candidates their salary histories, which is aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

James has sued the city 11 times, but has been bounced from several cases for lack of standing. James had to defend her approach early on in the debate when asked by moderator and NY1 anchor Errol Louis whether she sought to win those lawsuits or just make headlines by filing suits.

“I make no apologies for standing up for those without a voice,” James responded, insisting that she would continue to do so and noting that she is working with members of the City Council on a potential legislative solution to codify her ability to sue the city and its agencies. She also cited several instances where she had been victorious, including a lawsuit to make Department of Education School Leadership Team meetings open to the public and another in favor of seniors who were being denied rent increase exemptions by the city.

Polanco agreed that the public advocate should have broader standing in the right to sue the city administration, but pointed out that James would continue to fail until given the statutory authority. Himself an attorney, Polanco sharply stated that it was obvious that James did not have standing in cases. “You’ve had over two million minutes in office, I know in my first minute, as soon as I get there, that we have to work very closely on a public education campaign to get this question on the ballot so that cases stop getting thrown out of court,” he said.

It was one of the few issues the two candidates agreed on. James has called for subpoena power for the office in the past, which she repeated Monday, and said the mayor “should not hold the purse strings to the office of the public advocate.”

Both candidates disagreed with debate moderator Brian Lehrer from WNYC, when he suggested that perhaps the public advocate might be more effective if they represented a different political party than the mayor. James has been a close ally of de Blasio and endorsed him for reelection. “I stand with the mayor when I agree with him, and I oppose him when he’s wrong,” she said, pointing out instances when she has critiqued his administration, such as when the mayor opposed creating a stand-alone agency for veterans affairs or when she challenged him over the lack of air-conditioned buses for disabled school children.

“I don’t think that Tish has been as independent of the mayor as she claims,” said Polanco, stressing that he had heard little consternation from James when the mayor and his administration were embroiled in a pay-to-play scandal. “There’s a whole myriad of times where I think this public advocate has been very quiet and silent to make sure that the mayor’s on her good side and that the voters who are constantly with the mayor are with her in four years.” He said he would have no problem “going toe-to-toe with Republicans” if he were in the office.

Neither James nor Polanco supports de Blasio’s homelessness-fighting plan that includes opening 90 new shelters while halting the use of hotels and cluster site apartments. Polanco was direct, blaming the mayor’s mismanagement for the problem and insisting that new shelters would burden neighborhoods that are already inundated with shelters. “This is gonna just help two people,” Polanco said, “One, the mayor because he’s gonna get this problem off his back. And two, wealthy developers that are gonna benefit from building these new shelters.”

James, on the other hand, delivered a meandering response that delved into the need for “bold leadership” and housing bond legislation to encourage the creation of affordable housing in the city. When NY1’s Louis sought more clarity, she said, “I think at this point in time what we really need to do is look for other initiatives in the city of New York to address homelessness...what we really need to do is think bolder and we need to make sure that the two individuals, the governor and the mayor of the city of New York, two individuals with oversized egos, resolve this issue so that we don’t have countless numbers of individuals that are homeless this evening.”

“So I’m gonna take that as a ‘no’ on the 90 shelters,” Louis noted.

A clear distinction emerged between the two candidates on how they view the public advocate’s office as a voice in police accountability. James has been a vocal proponent of criminal justice reform and she recounted her efforts to unseal the grand jury transcripts from the Eric Garner case, touted her support for reforming the grand jury system, for releasing the disciplinary records of officers charged with misconduct, and for advocating for the NYPD’s body camera program and shot-spotter technology. She noted that she led the movement for the city’s pension funds to divest from gun retailers as well.

“It’s really critically important that we be a voice in the criminal justice system,” she said. She also said that she is still reviewing the City Council’s long-proposed Right to Know Act -- that would require officers to identify themselves during certain street stops and inform people of their right to refuse a search in some instances -- but said she supports its objectives.

Polanco sought yet again to tie James to de Blasio, critiquing the mayor for creating a hostile attitude toward the NYPD and criticizing James for standing with him. “Frankly, this city has gone through an enormous political campaign against police,” he said, “including adding all of these layers and layers of actually monitoring their job performance, which really strangles the police from active policing.” He did concede that in cases where an officer violates a person’s constitutional rights, the release of disciplinary records is warranted.

The candidates had an opportunity to cross-examine each other, which Polanco seized on to question James’ support for de Blasio despite his proximity to lobbyists and consultants with clients who had business with the city. “How could you in good conscience endorse the mayor for reelection?” he asked. James deflected, speaking of the larger issue of campaign finance reform and the need to repeal the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Polanco jokingly praised her masterful deflection. “That was good, how you did that,” he chuckled.)

James asked Polanco about his position on workers’ rights, and whether he would picket with the employees of Spectrum, currently in the seventh month of a strike against their parent employer Charter Communications, which owns NY1. Polanco agreed that labor unions have the right to strike, but said elected officials should stay out of this case, which involves a private union.

Asked about the rent freezes that de Blasio has repeatedly touted as one of his biggest achievements for low-income New Yorkers, Polanco called them a mistake and made a forceful argument against rent regulations and other policies, referencing what he called the city’s “army of social engineers” that he said have exacerbated problems. He said the city’s policies were disincentivizing landlords who are “hard-working people just like ourselves” and that not all of them are “evil landlords” that should be put on a list, taking a sly dig at the public advocate, whose office famously puts out the “100 Worst Landlords” list every year. “We really have to take a look at the way we’re getting involved in engineering the market to create a social outcome,” Polanco said, offering a somewhat typical conservative assessment of meddling in the free market.

While James agreed with Polanco that the city needs to reform the system of tax breaks given to luxury developers in exchange for creating affordable housing, she staunchly backed the rent freezes enacted under de Blasio’s administration. “I think it’s really critically important that we stand up and strike back against market forces and gentrification,” she said.

The issue that divided James and Polanco the most was charter schools. Earlier, the debate briefly veered into the issue when Polanco suggested James’ opposition to them was because of her partisan affiliation with the mayor. James insisted, “All I want charter schools to do is play by the same rules and to be held accountable and obviously to be accessible to all children in the city of New York.” She later criticized charter networks that have zero-tolerance discipline policies and high staff turnover, and that tend to exclude homeless and disabled students. She emphasized instead that the state should live up to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling and provide sufficient funding to all public schools.

Polanco, a long-time educator, disagreed. “This is not an issue about money, this is an issue about the culture of education in our inner cities,” he said. He decried the “ultra-left” city leadership, particularly the City Council, that he said conflates discipline with racism. Polanco promised that as public advocate he would push for a major expansion of charter schools. James said she has been supportive of some charter schools in the past and is a proponent of school choice, but that she maintains her critiques of some charter schools and networks.

There were some moments of levity at the debate, particularly during a lightning round of mostly “yes” or “no” questions near its conclusion. Polanco said that in November he will vote for a constitutional convention while James said it was “too risky.” Both were critical of district attorneys being allowed to accept campaign donations from people with business before them. James supports the legalization of small amounts of marijuana while Polanco opposes it. And while James had never voted for a member of the opposite party, Polanco said he had.

“Wanna tell us who?” Louis ventured.

“Tish!” Polanco said, with a wry smile, eliciting laughs from the entire room.

The exchange was perhaps telling of the fact that Democrats have a massive enrollment advantage in the city. Combined with her immense lead in fundraising, James is a heavy favorite to win a second term come November, though Polanco has proven a substantive and thoughtful candidate. Other public advocate candidates who will be on the ballot include Green Party nominee James Lane, Libertarian Devin Balkind, and Conservative Party nominee Michael O’Reilly.

The James-Polanco debate concluded much as it had begun, with James stressing the importance of the checks and balances provided by her office. “You can get work done and be quite effective, but you need to reimagine the office,” she said. For Polanco, winning the office itself will be a battle, in a city where there are six registered Democrats to every registered Republican. He readily acknowledged that Monday night. Everyone knows trying to win citywide office as a Republican is an uphill battle, he said, but it’s much more challenging than that. “This is climbing Mount Everest in December,” he said, “This is tough.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Public Advocate Debate Shows Stark Differences Between James and Polanco Tue, 17 Oct 2017 01:23:06 +0000