Gotham Gazette Mon, 08 Mar 2021 15:38:56 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Ideas for Addressing Food Insecurity may bdb vis

Free food giveaways (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Nine candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to become the next mayor of New York City gathered Tuesday morning in a virtual forum to discuss their visions for the city's food policy and serving the roughly 2 million New Yorkers who are food insecure.

At the "Town Hall on the Future of Food in New York City" -- hosted by Hunter College in partnership with City Harvest, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, Food Bank for NYC, Hunger Free America, and other organizations, and moderated by NY1 anchor Errol Louis -- the candidates discussed the city's urgent need to manage rampant hunger during the pandemic and center it in the recovery effort. But the discussion also focused on the pre-existing problems of food insecurity, inequitable access to nutritious meals, and inefficiencies and lack of sustainability in the city's food use.

The participants, who were selected based on their polling and fundraising standings among a field of dozens of candidates, included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former city sanitation commissioner and "covid food czar" Kathryn Garcia, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former city veterans' services commissioner Loree Sutton, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, small business owner Joycelyn Taylor, and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Louis pushed them to focus on how they would bring anti-hunger initiatives to scale to address the food crisis compounded by the pandemic.

Programs to help feed New Yorkers have often missed the mark, failing to meet adequate health standards and leaving many New Yorkers out entirely. A 2017 study from the Robin Hood Poverty Tracker found 1 in 4 eligible food stamp, or SNAP, recipients -- 700,000 New York City residents -- were not enrolled in the program, less than the statewide participation rate of 93 percent the same year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In September, the Poverty Tracker reporter 1.7 million New Yorkers were getting food stamps, over 200,000 more than last February. During roughly the same period the percentage of food stamp recipients who also used a food pantry doubled, from 27 percent of enrollees to 60 percent.

Nearly all candidates agreed on the need to increase SNAP benefits and improve enrollment in the program; expand community gardens and urban agriculture; and improve access to nutritious food throughout communities and in institutional settings like schools and food pantries. There was also broad consensus around creating a more unified food procurement and distribution system in New York City by strengthening the Mayor's Office of Food Policy. Multiple candidates highlighted the frequent lack of coordination among the myriad city agencies that provide food as part of their services.

"One of the reasons why I needed to step in is that the Mayor's Office of Food Policy is incredibly understaffed," said Garcia, who managed the city's emergency food response last summer before leaving the de Blasio administration last fall and launching her campaign to succeed him.

"[Food Policy Director] Kate McKenzie does an amazing job but she doesn't have procurement authority, she doesn't have logistical of the clear things is how we approach food is very siloed, very fragmented," Garcia said, noting the separate food procurement activities of the Department of Education, Department of Correction, and senior centers. Garcia says the city provided 1 million meals a day and shored up food pantries last summer under her leadership. (Shortly after the forum, Garcia released a multi-pronged platform to fight food insecurity with an emphasis on enrolling more New Yorkers in SNAP and expanding what the benefits would cover.) 

Adams, who repeatedly discussed the need for nutritious food, criticized the nutritional value of many of the government-provided or -supported food services, including Garcia’s covid effort, and said increasing the size of the Mayor's Office of Food Policy would have a limited impact if the city did not also incorporate the new perspectives from food-access "visionaries."

"They don't share the values," Adams said of the city's food-oriented bureaucrats, historically. "I am amazed at the roadblocks, that organizations like Rockaway Youth Task Force are not able to scale," he said during a segment of the conversation on urban agriculture programs. 

Some of the candidates saw the city's food dilemmas rooted in job scarcity and low wages and frequently discussed the importance of building food policy into the city's economic recovery.

"We solve none of this if we don't recognize that fundamentally what is broken and why 30% of our people were not eating through the month before covid is because the rent was too damn high and people were choosing to pay rent instead of buying groceries," Wiley said, adding, "at the end of the day it is about the city's ability to generate new jobs." Wiley has announced a plan as mayor to create 100,000 jobs through a $10 billion capital investment and cited it as an example of how she would leverage existing city resources to bring her approach to scale.

"Fundamentally, food insecurity is about income and it is about the fact that we do not intentionally ensure that our young people have pathways to careers and are prepared for the careers of the 21st Century," said Garcia.

The conversation of workforce development dovetailed with another on building an urban agrarian economy in New York to create good jobs and ensure both sustainable and equitable food access for city residents.

"We need to also think about aligning not just food policy, but the resilience office that exists right now to work more in tandem with each other because we know that food justice is also climate justice," said Morales, who was the executive director of Phipps Neighborhoods in the South Bronx, a social services provider. As mayor, Morales said she would invest $25 million to food innovation and sustainability programs in communities of color.

Multiple candidates, including Stringer, Donovan, and Adams wanted to see a greater emphasis on local and regional food procurement. "If I'm mayor, I really want to create a Mayor's Office of Food Markets because we've got to link farming with communities and for a farm-to-table policy that brings the purchasing power of this city regionally, upstate, downstate, and create those relationships," Stringer said. "Farmers markets should be everywhere."

"There is huge potential to grow, so to speak, the power of locally-grown produce," said Donovan, who was the city’s housing commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg before spending all eight years in the Obama presidential cabinet. "We need innovative approaches to ensure we are using every inch of available space that we can." Like other candidates, he expressed support for ideas like more community gardens and vertical agriculture. Donovan also repeatedly stressed the need to support struggling restaurants and incorporate them into the city's food programs as well as its economic recovery.

While supportive of partnerships with upstate and Long Island counties, Garcia took issue with the notion that New York could achieve a sustainable food market locally. "If we want fresh, healthy food day in and day out, we're not harvesting today in this region, we are going to have to bring it in," she said following Donovan's comments. "We need to make sure the systems go beyond just this region so that we can still be getting lettuce even though it's February."

"That should not hold us back from starting to have a robust agrarian economy in New York City," Adams countered, echoing Donovan's statements about the importance of life sciences in city schools and connecting lessons about food production to healthy eating.

When asked directly whether they would use the city's power of eminent domain to force the sale of private land for the city to use, most candidates raised their hands affirmatively. Adams expressed his dissent, noting that the many existing city resources that he said are being wasted or under-utilized should be tapped before forcing land sales. (Others also raised the importance of better using available land, with Stringer naming a report he issued as comptroller on the number of vacant city-owned lots that could be used to develop housing and noting that many lots could also be used for community gardens.)

McGuire, who recently stepped down from one of the biggest jobs on Wall Street to run for mayor, also criticized the mismanagement of city resources and cautioned on the costs to the city that eminent domain could pose. "It gets expensive so you have to figure out when you exercise eminent domain at market rates who is going to pay for it," he said.

Equity was an overriding theme in a number of areas of the food policy discussion, from eradicating food deserts to ensuring healthy options in schools and pantries.

"I think we do have a moral obligation to ensure that every resident of the city has those basic needs of food and housing," said Taylor, who created the nonprofit NYC WMBE Alliance, according to her website. "We have to make sure that when we look at the budget we look things that are 'nice to have' and things that are 'needs to have,' and if it means that we have to reallocate funds from the things that are nice to have to the needs, then that's what I would do."

"We need to stop leaving communities out of the co-creation process," said Morales, who stressed participation of food advocacy groups.

Wiley and Taylor also discussed the need for community participation in the form of locally-based food councils to inform nutrition, per Wiley, and more active mayoral outposts in each borough, per Taylor. Both also discussed the importance of collecting more targeted data to better determine the outcomes of food programs. Other candidates outlined plans or past work to incorporate cultural sensitivity into food access, including then-Manhattan Borough President Stringer's 2008 "Go Green East Harlem Cookbook" and Garcia's discussion of halal and kosher options in meal services, something others mentioned as well.

The candidates agreed that compounded structural problems of food deserts and the reliance of low-income communities on the city's various food programs exacerbate malnutrition and health outcomes, but not all offered the same solution.

"Today food deserts are such that many of our people don't have access to healthy food. They have access to those institutions that provide food that is pretty low on the nutrition scale," McGuire said. He laid out a more corporate-friendly view of the path forward, that involved rezoning to allow big supermarket chains, hiring gig workers to deliver meals to seniors, and bringing refrigeration resources to bodegas in order to better store fresh produce.

As is often the case, Morales was at the other end of the spectrum, saying she supports community land trusts to create both better access to fresh produce and greater "food sovereignty" in poor communities. Sutton said the solution was to leverage public-private partnerships.

"It's one thing to talk about all these ideas, but in the same breath to disdain, disparage and disrespect the top 1 percent of New Yorkers who bring in nearly 40 percent of our tax base or reject and shun real estate as one example, as a number of my fellow candidate have during this campaign," said Sutton, a former Army psychiatrist who led de Blasio's Department of Veterans' Services. "We are absolutely shutting down those pathways to partnership and prosperity."

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Ideas for Addressing Food Insecurity Wed, 10 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Albany Agendas, Strategies for Accomplishing Them stateofstateadd gov legis

The Governor & Legislative leaders (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)

Eight of the top Democratic mayoral candidates appeared at a virtual forum on Monday to outline their legislative and budget priorities at the state level, and their strategies for achieving those goals. To varying degrees, they laid out tactics for partnering with, even opposing, Governor Andrew Cuomo and corralling the state Legislature to their side. But there were clear differences among the candidates, informed by their own background and experiences, and some seemed to take the candidate privilege of overestimating the heft they would have as the next mayor of New York City. 

Monday’s forum was hosted by Empire State Indivisible, a progressive advocacy group, and moderated by Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max. Empire State Indivisible is part of a coalition that has been urging the passage of the Invest in Our New York Act, a package of six bills to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers, corporations, and Wall Street activity to fill the state’s massive revenue shortfall, prevent cuts to public services and local aid, and provide additional revenue to achieve progressive priorities. Among many other topics, the candidates were asked to weigh in on that proposal.

The forum featured two 90-minute panels with four candidates each. The first panel included City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, and former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia. On the second panel were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former city veterans services commissioner Loree Sutton, and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales. Ray McGuire’s campaign did not respond to invitations to the forum and Andrew Yang had been set to participate until he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and experiencing symptoms.

A great deal of what happens in New York City is determined by state law and state government, where power resides on a host of issues from tax policy to education aid and much more. A mayor’s ability to navigate the intricacies of Albany can make or break their overall agenda and have major impacts on the lives of New Yorkers.

New York’s governor and New York City’s mayor have historically had a frosty relationship even when they hail from the same party. That holds particularly true for third-term Governor Cuomo and two-term Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom are Democrats. Over the last seven years, the two have feuded over matters existential and inconsequential to New Yorkers, though most of the slings and arrows tend to fly from the governor’s hands. Cuomo has sought to dominate and undermine de Blasio while showing frustration with the mayor’s often stumbling efforts to manage city government and forge strong intergovernmental relationships -- de Blasio has also struggled to work well with the State Legislature.

With Cuomo expected to run for a fourth term in 2022 and de Blasio term-limited this year, the next mayor of New York City, almost certainly a Democrat because of the party’s heavy enrollment advantage, should have a clear idea of what awaits them in Albany. De Blasio’s dreams often died at the steps of the Capitol, where for years Republicans and moderate Democrats in the State Senate and Cuomo, a Democrat who often takes moderate stances, invariably stood in the way. Cuomo has also repeatedly sought to offload costs onto the city during the state budget process.

There are now allies in both houses of the Democratically-controlled state Legislature that have been friendlier to the city and the mayor. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie represents a district in the Bronx and has a keen interest in ensuring that New York City is protected, and he has been de Blasio’s long-standing top ally among the leaders in Albany. The new-as-of-2019 State Senate Democratic majority includes a number of New York City-based legislators with significant influence and a city-focused agenda.

Even with legislative supermajorities in both houses, Cuomo’s power has far from waned, and it is not always easy for the mayor of New York City to advance priorities in state government. Nevertheless, there is broad agreement that the next mayor has much room to improve upon the approach taken by the current one, making the importance of Monday night’s discussion paramount. 

Articulating an agenda
Most candidates offered specifics about their agenda in Albany while some offered generalities and buzzwords. 

Garcia presented a six-point agenda that included immediate investment in the city’s recovery, expanding healthcare access, passing elements of NYCHA’s “Blueprint for Change” proposal, investing in mass transportation, education, and combating climate change. She said she would push for expanding Medicaid eligibility and greater mental health services, restoring 24/7 subway service, funding for the MTA’s Fast Forward plan, among other items.

“[W]e need to create a strong foundation for the long term so that New Yorkers have the essentials – quality health care, affordable housing, a world class transportation system, a thriving economy, and an education system we can really be proud of,” she said. 

Menchaca said his Albany agenda was three-pronged: “political,” climate change, and equity in the city’s recovery. “I think we have to understand that the political dynamics are shifting,” he said. “The City of New York helped create a supermajority in the Senate. I think we need to continue to support our state legislators to keep that super majority. That's going to continue to shift the way that the governor works.” 

Besides pushing for more climate action at the state level, he said he would advocate for an equitable recovery by through taxes on the wealthy, ‘cancelling rent’ and ensuring that essential workers, particularly undocumented immigrants, receive direct emergency aid. He specifically spoke of a bill sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos that would create an excluded worker fund for those purposes.   

“Our recovery will run through Albany, and we've got to fundamentally reset the Albany relationship,” said Stringer, who cited his own Albany experiences as an Assemblymember for 13 years. “New Yorkers cannot afford to have a mayor walk flat-footed in the capital, especially not now,” he added, in a clear shot at Mayor de Blasio. 

Stringer said he would enlist the help of a slew of progressive legislators, including Ramos, who have backed him to create the largest childcare program across the country, to repeal the 421-a tax credit for building affordable housing, and to raise taxes on the rich. 

Wiley was the only candidate who released a detailed Albany agenda in the hours before the forum, announcing her support for the Invest in Our New York Act along with a large slate of other bills related to housing, worker and tenant protections, education, jobs and small businesses, criminal justice reform, electoral reforms, and climate change policies. 

At the forum, Wiley honed in on issues of affordability, specifically housing, child care, and health care. “Those things were already deeply broken, and deeply broken before covid, for communities of color in particular and for the middle class. And so to solve them, yes, we need to have a partnership with Albany,” she said. 

Adams’ focus was somewhat narrower than the other candidates as he repeatedly said it is essential to push state government to adequately fund education in New York City. He pointed to the State Court of Appeals’ 2006 decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, which has become something of a quagmire. Advocates say the state should provide billions more in foundation aid to struggling schools to live up to the ruling, while Governor Cuomo has largely rejected that argument while attempting to change the formula for foundation aid.

“It is imperative that we get our fair share, and we are not,” Adams said. He said he would establish greater coordination between city and state agencies, which currently “operate in silos,” push for greater city representation on the MTA board with a new member for each borough, and pursue for a real-time monitoring system for affordable housing stock. He also said he wants to see reform at the State Liquor Authority so that it stops targeting Black-owned businesses and changes to how private health insurance is taxed.

Donovan has his own six-point agenda that covers building affordable and supportive housing and tackling homelessness, creating jobs by restructuring tax programs, fair funding for education, a public option for health care that includes undocumented immigrants, investing funds in the MTA in exchange for more seats on the board, and his “equity bonds” proposal to give every child $1,000 when they’re born and $2,000 every year after.

“I think I'm a unique candidate in this race given that I've worked at all levels of government to lead through crisis,” he said. “No one else in this race has that deep experience in working not only with the state, but with the federal government and with the local government as well.”

Morales offered few specific policy ideas but outlined some of her planned tactics for dealing with Albany. “My agenda for Albany aligns with my agenda for New York City. It's centered on the interest of everyday New Yorkers,” she said. “Everything that we do and everything that we need is connected to Albany. Our schools, our housing, our health care, our transportation. Everything needs Albany approval.”

She did say she would work with Assemblymember Richard Gottfried to pursue passage of the New York Health Act, which would establish a single-payer health-care system in the state, along with increased taxes on the wealthy to pay for it. “I think that there is increasing political will towards doing both of these things,” she said. 

Sutton stressed the need to ensure New York’s economic recovery, preventing an exodus of residents, bringing back tourism, repairing the fiscal hole, reopening businesses, and keeping the streets and subways safe. She is among the more centrist candidates and has repeatedly raised concerns about New York’s business friendliness, issued warnings about going too far with new taxes, and pointed to issues with public safety. 

But, while Sutton spoke mostly of what was at stake, she did not offer any concrete solutions or specific policies when asked for her Albany agenda. “[I]f we cannot work together, the city and Albany with our electeds, with the myriad private sector leaders, our philanthropy leaders, our state and federal partners, and treat them truly as respected partners, bringing together community input and community needs, the rest of what we're talking about, it really won't matter, because New York City will not come back,” she said. 

When asked for something specific, she later said her first priority in Albany would be to sit down with Assemblymember Gottfried to discuss his proposal and to explore measures to improve public health infrastructure, linking public health with public safety, both cornerstones of her platform. She also said she would work to create a coalition with the governor and state lawmakers around the state’s recovery while trying to “disrupt” the way state and local governments work. “Let's figure out what are the things that we need to permanently change. Let's look to improvise, let's have a sort of a skunkworks,” she said. 

Approach to Albany
Along with proposing a firm agenda, any successful mayor will have to use their political capital and skills to move the levers of power in Albany. Between the governor and the two legislative chambers, that task is easier said than done and the candidates offered different approaches. They also sought to define how they would specifically deal with Governor Cuomo, who is known for his heavy-handedness and zero-sum approach to power. 

Garcia said she has a track record of bringing people together on “really thorny issues” over the course of her 14-year career. “[Y]ou have to find those key stakeholders, particularly within the Legislature who are going to be advocates for your program,” she said. Mayor de Blasio’s agenda, she pointed out, was often haphazard and created last-minute, leading it to flounder in Albany. She recalled being enlisted in the administration to make last-minute calls for the extension of mayoral control of city schools. “So my approach is we need to be collaborative, but really also clear and long-term in our thinking,” she said. 

Menchaca emphasized the shifting political balance in Albany, and seemed to set his focus on progressives in the state Legislature asserting their power against the governor. But he also stressed the need for the mayor and City Council to present a united front in Albany along with state legislators and congressional representatives, something he said has been lacking under de Blasio. “I think that can really send a message to the governor. And I think his tone is going to change. It's already changing,” he said, though he did not explain what he was referring to. 

Notably, Menchaca endorsed Cuomo’s primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, in 2018, which would likely come back to haunt him if he should win the mayoral primary given the governor is known for his exacting grudges. Asked about what he would say to the governor if he wins, he said, “I'm gonna say both looking forward to working with you and watch out,” (which were the two options offered to him by the moderator). 

Having been members of the State Legislature in the past, both Stringer and Adams fell back on their personal Albany connections and experience. 

Stringer noted that, as comptroller, he already has an agenda that he takes to the capital every year and he pointed out his close working relationship with the younger crop of progressives elected to the Legislature in recent years. He repeatedly mentioned his contributions to helping some of them defeat members of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference, which partnered with Senate Republicans, along with the efforts of the host group, Empire State Indivisible.

“But I also have a relationship with this governor and we respect each other,” Stringer added. “And we will work to build the bridge between our progressive legislators in the Assembly, in the Senate, with the governor, because we have one thing in common: the future New York City.” 

He had harsh words for the mayor. “I think time and time again, the mayor's lunch money was stolen even before he walked into the state Capitol,” he said. “He was constantly with a limited Albany agenda because he did not do the groundwork to create a specific legislative agenda and rally people around it.”

Wiley said she would prioritize partnerships with the leaders of the Legislature and create a “shared agenda” with rank-and-file legislators. But she stressed the greater importance of building groundswell support for policies among communities that are affected. “[I]t's fundamentally about partnering with the people who are impacted, who have a voice and should have a voice in Albany, and we should be facilitating that voice,” she said. 

She particularly went out of her way to distance herself from her old boss. “First of all, I have a very different personality from the current mayor,” she said, underscoring that she would not undermine senior leadership in her mayoralty like de Blasio has done. 

Of all the candidates, she seemed most willing to let the governor take center stage. “You have to have a relationship with the governor, you have to have a back channel with the governor,” she said. “You have to recognize there are times when you're going to get what you want done because you'll let the governor take credit. But that's not every time and it's not the only way to work.”

Morales presented the most critical approach, decrying the preferred tactics of politicians. “We've been getting our asses kicked, and it didn't start with Cuomo and it's not going to end with him,” she said. “I don't want to work within this broken system that has repeatedly and consistently failed our people. What we have seen work is exposure and escalation,” she said of how to get the political best of Cuomo. 

She said she would marshal everyday New Yorkers, rather than lobbyists, to advocate for her agenda. “My agenda and more importantly, my approach will not be driven by inside baseball machinations that have gotten us nowhere. I'm not going to focus on bragging about my network or making backroom deals or holding private meetings at the Fort Orange club,” she said. “I'm an organizer on issues, it's what I do best. So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to bring the fight to Albany if I have to.” But she did concede that her approach would also be “relational” and that, as an organizer, she shares common interests with elected representatives.

Adams took a middle-of-the-road approach, speaking of the need to “mobilize people” as well as forging alliances with legislators, visiting their districts and inviting them across the city. “But have well thought out plans with some clear results in mind that they can look at and see as we move our target forward,” he said. 

Adams noted that passing legislation through Albany would require aligning the interests of legislators from diverse parts of the state, particularly in the state Senate where moderate Democrats tend to be wary of progressive legislation. 

He also insisted he would never feud with the governor. “Leadership is not only substantive, it’s symbolic,”he said. “I am not going to have public disputes with the governor. We'll have our disagreements behind closed doors, but we will have a united front.”

Though Donovan has experience working with elected officials on policy, he said his approach would also start with the people. “A wise person once told me politics is felt need, and unless you feel the need, unless it is organized and relentless, you are not going to get things done to build those coalitions,” he said. He also took a shot at the mayor for always planning during crises rather than having comprehensive plans ready proactively. “If you believe that you can plan in crisis and get things done, you will fail. You need to have those plans ready before the crisis hits,” he said. 

Donovan noted in particular that he has worked with the governor in the past. “When Sandy hit, and President Obama asked me to lead the recovery efforts, I worked very effectively with Andrew, to get stuff done,” he said of Governor Cuomo. “We didn't agree on everything. But we were able to work out those differences, and get the biggest, most important things we needed to get done, done.”

Sutton didn’t shy away from criticizing de Blasio’s relationship with Cuomo, which she witnessed firsthand in the mayor’s administration and described as “a dysfunctional relationship that was grounded in disrespect and disdain even for each other.” “That just has no place in our public life and New Yorkers in the city and the state paid a huge price for it,” she said. 

Invest in Our New York Act
The forum was an opportunity for Empire State Indivisible to gauge the candidates’ support for the Invest in Our New York Act, which could raise as much as $50 billion in revenue for the state at a time when it faces a roughly $60 billion shortfall over four years, according to the coalition pushing the package of six bills. 

There were varied opinions among the candidates on the tax package, though they all agreed on the need for a more progressive tax system. 

Wiley, Morales, and Menchaca all unequivocally expressed support for it in full. Stringer hedged during the forum, but a spokesperson later clarified that he is in full support.

Adams would not commit to supporting the heir’s tax or the billionaires tax, and raised concern about the legality of the corporate tax bill. Instead, he discussed finding ways to cut city agency spending and find savings through attrition. 

Donovan too did not support the full slate of bills. But he, like Adams, focused on the federal government instead. “Fundamentally, the place we need a far more progressive system is in Washington, so that we're not disadvantaged in New York City or New York State compared to other places around the country,” he said. 

Sutton took issue with the Invest in Our New York campaign, saying its rhetoric demonizes the rich rather than including them in the city’s recovery. “I think that New York City doesn't work without all of us working together in an inclusive, respectful process,” she said. Though she said she supports parts of the package, she did not make clear which ones. 

Garcia hedged in her response. “I absolutely think that revenue is going to be essential. I also think growing our economy is going to be essential to get through this fiscal crisis,” she said without directly saying whether she supports the package. She also raised a warning about the exodus of rich New Yorkers during the pandemic, citing a large drop in residential trash pickup from Manhattan. 

Various Other Issues of State Policy
The candidates varied on several other issues as well. 

Stringer, Donovan, and Adams warned against the city taking over control of the subways or a large chunk of what is now the MTA. “That would be a recipe for disaster,” Donovan said, noting that it is part of a regional system. Stringer said, “I've done the numbers, and maybe in a utopian society, we could control the MTA but we can’t. The debt service would crush the city.” 

Garcia and Morales, similarly, said municipal control of parts of the MTA would be ideal but not without the revenue to support it. Sutton was among several candidates, including Donovan, Adams, and Stringer, calling for greater city representation on the MTA board. Adams’ push for five new borough-based appointees would also mean the city would have a plurality and significantly more authority on the board. Donovan said his goal would be for city and state appointees to have equal footing on the board and a clearer power-sharing agreement, with the city contributing more capital funds to the agency through several mechanisms including congestion pricing and value capture funds. 

Menchaca was the only one to unreservedly call for city control of the MTA

Nearly all the candidates supported repealing the Urstadt Law, which gives the state control over rent regulation and prevents the city from establishing its own rent rules. Donovan, however, had concerns about it. “I think there are real issues about the city taking over Urstadt given the rent control and rent stabilization powers that exist outside of the city,’ he said. “I am certainly open to more control. I don't think you would be able legally to give the city full control on it.” 

When asked about the law, Sutton instead said that recent rent regulations passed by the state Legislature went too far, particularly in the burdens they placed on small landlords. 

Most of the candidates extolled the virtues of mayoral control of city schools, with several saying it should be permanent. Only Adams suggested that the regular expiration and renewal of mayoral control was necessary. “I believe we should every two years, go back and see it for review. You should earn the right to have that level of power,” he said. And Morales was again the only candidate who expressed an interest in doing away with the current model of mayoral control of schools and establishing a new, more community-focused model.

Only three members of the second panel were asked whether they would support repeal of the 1971 Hecht-Calandra Act, which created the Specialized High School Admissions Test as the sole entrance criteria for the city’s three most selective high schools (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech) that has become a subject of intense controversy in recent years. They were also pressed on whether the city should have the authority to control the cap on charter schools rather than the state. Stringer, who was on the first panel, volunteered his support for repealing Hecht-Calandra to give the city the power to determine admissions to all the specialized high schools.

Donovan and Morales both said they support repeal and said the city should have control of the charter school cap.

“I believe the state should make that determination,” said Adams, who also called for creating five more specialized high schools in the city. “I'm not running for state office. I'm running for city office. They need to decide and debate that and give them the opportunity to come to a conclusion.” Asked if he thought the mayor’s voice was important in the debate, he said, “No, I don't.” Similarly, on the charter school cap, he said, “I believe that should be a state decision. They should make the determination.”

The candidates were also somewhat split on the bail reforms approved by the state Legislature in 2019 that were subsequently partially rolled back in 2020 after significant opposition from law enforcement officials, Republicans, and some Democrats.  

Both Menchaca and Morales said they were disappointed that the law was watered down. Adams and Garcia seemed satisfied with where the law stands now. And Donovan and Stringer said they would have to wait to see how the law is currently working -- though a Stringer spokesperson again clarified after the forum that the comptroller still opposes the rollbacks and would prefer the original reforms passed in 2019 to be the law.

Watch the full forum here.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Albany Agendas, Strategies for Accomplishing Them Tue, 09 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
WATCH: Democratic Mayoral Candidates Outline Their Albany Agendas 4x4mashup edit

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

Eight leading Democratic mayoral candidates appeared in two sessions at the "Albany Agenda" forum hosted by Empire State Indivisible and moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max. The candidates — Kathryn Garcia, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, Carlos Menchaca, Shaun Donovan, Eric Adams, Dianne Morales, and Loree Sutton — discussed their state policy agendas and how they would navigate the processes, politics, and personalities of Albany to accomplish their goals. They also weighed in on issues from tax policy to mayoral control of city schools, MTA governance, and more. Watch:

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

WATCH: Democratic Mayoral Candidates Outline Their Albany Agendas Tue, 09 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
WATCH: 30 Minutes with the Candidates for New York City Mayor 9 watch minutes office

The race for City Hall is on (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

With all of city government on the ballot, 2021 is an immensely important election year in New York City. New York voters will elect a new Mayor, and many other new officeholders for citywide, borough-wide, and City Council positions. In partnership with Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Gotham Gazette is producing "Decision NYC with Ben Max," a series of in-depth 30-minute video interviews with candidates for Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough President, and Manhattan District Attorney. This series will complement Gotham Gazette reporting on the 2021 city elections, the Max & Murphy podcast, our 2021 video issue briefs, and more.

Below, you'll find all of the Decision NYC interviews with candidates for New York City Mayor. More interviews will be added as they are completed and published, including those with Ray McGuire, Andrew Yang, and others. (Interviews with candidates for other offices will be posted elsewhere soon.)

Have feedback? Tweet us @GothamGazette and @TweetBenMax.

Eric Adams (D)

Scott Stringer (D)

Kathryn Garcia (D)

Maya Wiley (D)

Shaun Donovan (D)

Ray McGuire (D)

Carlos Menchaca (D)

Dianne Morales (D)

Loree Sutton (D)

Joycelyn Taylor (D)

Quanda Francis (D)

Isaac Wright Jr. (D)

Art Chang (D)

Paperboy Prince (D)

Eddie Cullen (D)

Guiddalia Emilien (D)

Aaron Foldenauer (D)

Fernando Mateo (R)

Curtis Sliwa (R)

Bill Pepitone (R)

Zach Iscool (D) (dropped to Comptroller race)


More interviews will be added soon.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

WATCH: 30 Minutes with the Candidates for New York City Mayor Wed, 03 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Several Points of Conflict and Differentiation at Brooklyn Democrats' Mayoral Candidate Debate NYC Mayor 2021

Top: Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Andrew Yang, Ray McGuire; Bottom: Eric Adams, Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer

Eight leading Democratic candidates for New York City mayor participated in what was billed as the first debate of the primary, hosted Sunday evening by the Kings County Democratic Committee and moderated by NY1 anchor Errol Louis.

The hour-long debate moved quickly and covered a lot of ground, while also featuring rare bouts of direct interaction between candidates, some of it quite pointed, as a result of the “cross examination” round where each candidate was allowed to ask another candidate a question.

Participants included former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former city veterans’ services commissioner Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The primary will be decided in June and will be the first mayoral election to include ranked-choice voting, which is in play for primaries and special elections only starting this year and is supposed to encourage more positive, widespread campaigning.

On Sunday night, there were several moments of tension. Yang was the first to be put on the defensive by an opponent, when Wiley confronted him about reports, made public this past weekend by Business Insider, from people who had worked on his presidential campaign describing a culture where women felt harassed and dismissed. 

"I was shocked to hear about, in a MeToo era, in an era where we have Access Hollywood, that in your [presidential] campaign there was a culture that was very harassing and demeaning for women and you admitted to leading that," Wiley said. 

Based on Daily News reporting, Wiley also criticized Yang for news that his mayoral campaign was requiring some aides to sign non-disclosure agreements and asked if he would commit to allowing his campaign staff to complain publicly. Wiley attempted to draw a line between Yang and former President Donald Trump in referencing the infamous Access Hollywood tape and by calling the reported non-disclosure agreements "Trumpian."

Yang responded that the non-disclosure agreements were only asked for from those handling sensitive campaign data but that their use had already been discontinued by his campaign. 

"I'm on the record saying everything works better when you have great women leaders, like the many of the people on this call tonight, leading in tandem," Yang said. He went on to say, "I couldn't agree more with the fact that you need to have women in positions of leadership in order to actually operate at the highest levels."

He did not directly address the allegations about his presidential campaign. In a statement to Business Insider, Yang admitted that his management team was flawed and that the campaign had failed to ensure every employee was heard and respected. 

"When there were conflicts, we did not have a sufficient process to resolve them," his statement read. "Although we terminated employees involved in reported issues, we didn't have supportive systems in place to expedite and prioritize reporting. We didn't account for how much our male-dominated culture alienated female and non-binary employees. I wish we had. For that I am deeply sorry."

At the forum, Yang attempted to prove his commitment to female leadership by stating the demographics at organizations he ran. He said that when he was CEO at Manhattan Prep, there were many female leaders across offices. At the nonprofit he ran, Venture for America, he said most of the leadership team was women, including his successor as CEO. He added that one of his co-campaign managers is a woman of color. 

In another intense exchange, Donovan tried to turn viewers against McGuire's long career on Wall Street, particularly his role as Citigroup vice chairman during the mortgage crisis. 

Donovan called attention to the devastating impacts in Brooklyn of the crisis and asked McGuire his understanding of what caused the crisis and how he acted as a leader during that time. McGuire appeared to take exception to the question, initially calling Donovan “Shaun Obama” for Donovan’s propensity to cite his old boss, former President Barack Obama, and McGuire emphasized that his work was in investment banking rather than mortgage lending and said he believed Donovan was already aware of that. He went on to explain his efforts to personally help communities following the crisis. 

"As one of the leaders on Wall Street and certainly one of the only ones who looks like me, who as long as I have been on Wall Street, I made sure that we began to address that by becoming one of the leading lenders in truly affordable housing, making investments in the communities, making investments in summer jobs, making certain that the firm committed to folks of the neighborhood and making sure that I continued to invest, with a verifiable track record, into the communities, especially those that were hardest hit," McGuire said. 

Sutton set her sights on Adams, asking about a speech he gave on Martin Luther King Jr. Day last year when he said some New Yorkers from places like Iowa or Ohio should go home. She asked if he would have a different message for all New Yorkers. Adams countered that the speech was addressed to those in New York who rush to call the police on Black New Yorkers, who move into communities and want to displace and criminalize neighbors as opposed to engaging them.

"It is the belief that you can displace communities instead of engaging communities and the spirit of my whole speech, if you had listened to it, and I hope people will go back to it because it was an entire speech of how we define crises and how we are displacing the ideas and communities of long-term residents who built this city," Adams said. "Not only Brooklyn, they built this city and now that we have become a popular place we have attempted to displace everyday New Yorkers through high property rentals, through not engaging in the local stores and businesses, not being part of New York."

Yang brought up Stringer's role as city comptroller and noted that the city’s unfair and antiquated property tax system has not been reformed in decades, creating inequities. Yang asked Stringer if he has looked at property tax as a means for reducing inequality. 

Stringer said he had been chair of a property tax commission in Albany when he was an Assembly member.

"I have seen the disparities in the system, it's a system of winners and losers in the four classes," Stringer said of property types. "The mayor and the City Council proposed changes to that system, they had a commission, but nobody has acted on that since the onset of covid. As mayor I'm going to look at those recommendations, continue the work of holding hearings, building consensus. I think part of the key to getting a more fair property taxation system is to get away from that winner or loser mentality, to make sure that we don't overburden the poorest people in the city, we make it fair and equitable, and it's going to take a lot of political will to have those conversations."

Stringer then took over the questioning, asking McGuire how he would help the city handle homelessness and move people out of shelters. McGuire said his approach would tailor aid to what each community needs and the centerpiece of his plan would be building truly affordable housing. McGuire emphasized the need for support services for homeless people, especially those suffering from mental illness, and said the excessive money being used to pay for shelters should be going into permanent affordable housing.

"We have a moral and legal responsibility for the homeless," McGuire responded. "We need funding and we need leadership and clear strategy and accountability." He mentioned his newly-released economic recovery plan.

McGuire turned the conversation in a more optimistic direction, asking Garcia what is working well in the city. Garcia led with her management of the Department of Sanitation.

"Tonight Sanitation will do an absolutely phenomenal job plowing snow,” Garcia said of her former colleagues. She said she had modernized operations in the department. “When I started there it was all paper," Garcia said. "You would have walked indoors, gone into a spreader, and been given a sheet of paper to follow along. Now they all have turn by turn directions. That's the type of change I made in the Department of Sanitation."

She went on to say that most other things are not working well right now, including online schools, rollout of the vaccine, and making healthcare accessible. She said people throughout the city are not receiving the services they need.

"People in New York City want essential services done well," Garcia said. "They want to be safe in their communities, they want their kids to go to school, and they definitely want Sanitation to be plowing tonight, and that is the type of experience that I have and that I bring to the table. I know how to make it work, I have made it work in extremely challenging situations."

Garcia directed her question to Wiley, asking how she would address the $40 billion NYCHA public housing needs to get to a state of good repair. Wiley returned to the idea of including communities in governance, advocating for a system that allows NYCHA residents to understand what money is available to them, see where the money is going, and weigh in on how it should be spent. As mayor, she said she would rally for the federal government to contribute more funding and use $10 billion the city spends on capital projects to create 100,000 jobs focused on communities of color and communities hardest hit by covid.

"We don't need anyone's permission for that $10 billion. We can do that right now," Wiley said. "We've committed at least 2 billion of that to actually start bringing back public safety and dignity to residents and giving them some opportunity to say what that money should be spent on."

Adams said McGuire’s “Shaun Obama” quip was funny and then asked Donovan about his views on what support the city should provide to pregnant women and young mothers. As he has before, Adams emphasized the importance of prenatal care to the brain development of unborn children and asked if education conversations are ignoring the science behind prenatal care being essential to childhood development. 

Donovan said Adams has been “eloquent” on the subject and that there is much more the city should be doing to support mothers-to-be, citing his and his wife's experience working with a midwife for the birth of both their sons. 

"We miss so many opportunities to work more effectively with women before they give birth to make sure that we have all of the healthcare, all of the nutritional needs met," Donovan said.

Donovan used the example of prenatal care to convey his vision for how city agencies would work together under his administration. He explained that while working to implement a lead paint law as housing commissioner under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg he realized that apartment inspectors could be used to call mothers' attention to available programs, like nurse-family partnership.

"We needed to do much more to break down the silos across government and work much more effectively to reach people," Donovan said. "We touch people over and over again in this city and we need a mayor and a government that works to connect those services much better than we do today."

Affordable Housing
Louis asked candidates about how they would target affordable housing. Noting that one metric for defining affordable housing is area median income (AMI), he asked how candidates would decide what areas to include in calculating that average, which currently includes city suburbs. 

Wiley called for a long-term planning process to enable city officials to reach all people in need of affordable housing and urged including communities in the planning process, a theme that spanned across many of her responses. She added that one of the principles of building has to be that every neighborhood has affordable housing options. 

Donovan cautioned candidates against being overzealous in changing the structure of calculating area median income housing, arguing that changes could mean many New York families who rely on federal section 8 vouchers facing vast restrictions on where they could move. 

"We need to attack this in the right way, not just saying AMI is wrong because if you change AMI overall, you're actually going to hurt hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers," Donovan said. "What I believe is that we need to have a plan that gets to more deeply affordable housing and the only way to do that, we know that it costs more than $500 a month to run an apartment in New York whether you're a non-profit, the city, or a for-profit owner. We need more section 8 housing."

He added that section 8 housing needs more operating assistance and infrastructure to help residents build towards home ownership. Stringer clashed with Donovan by calling out housing policies under the Bloomberg administration, in which Donovan served for some time as housing commissioner, as well as the de Blasio administration, arguing that the approach was too unit-based rather than focusing on affordability.

"When Bloomberg was mayor and Shaun was at his side it was all about creating units of so-called affordable housing," Stringer said. "De Blasio becomes mayor, Maya knows this, he wanted to double Bloomberg, so it's this whole fight about how much unaffordable affordable housing can we build."

Stringer outlined elements of his housing plan, which would include building on vacant lots and investing in community-based organizations rather than relying as much on private developers to make way for mandated affordable housing, though he is also calling for mandating affordable housing in all new housing development. Stringer said he is for repurposing the 421a tax abatement that is meant to encourage affordable housing in wealthier areas but is widely seen as having underperformed for its large cost. He is also calling for creating a land bank to help integrate neighborhoods and moving away from upzonings in communities of color. Stringer criticized de Blasio for only rezoning those neighborhoods and noted that de Blasio had not proposed such upzonings on the Upper West Side or Upper East Side, though he stopped short of saying he would upzone such neighborhoods himself if elected.

McGuire started out noting that the demand for housing in New York has far outstripped supply, citing that for every new job the city used to build 2.2 units of housing and today it builds only .5 units of housing. This imbalance means housing has become very expensive and led to many families using more than half of their income paying rent. 

"We do need to restructure, with the federal government's help, AMI, and we need to make sure that we can build," McGuire said. "This is the most expensive city in which to build, it is also the most archaic when it comes to all the things you need to get in order to get a place built. It also comes down to how houses are built and sustainability, we are way off the mark."

Adams emphasized the preservation of affordable housing already in place, including NYCHA public housing, as crucial. He called for selling the air rights over NYCHA, which he projected would bring in $8 billion that could be put back into repairs in the developments, which need a sum of roughly $40 billion to bring them to a state of good repair. He echoed Stringer's earlier point about too much development in poorer communities, and that people in those communities are pushed out by gentrification and rising housing costs. He added that there needs to be a range of housing options available so that the widest swath of New Yorkers can stay in the city. 

"When we talk about housing we have to stop ignoring the middle class, that teacher and accountant, we want them here in the city so we have to ensure we have low-income and middle-income," Adams said. 

Garcia agreed with others on the panel that the city cannot chase a unit number goal when building affordable housing. She made the case that the city needs to focus on building fewer units of truly affordable housing, rather than many units of more expensive housing that is supposed to be affordable. She pointed attention to her plan to build 50,000 units of "deeply affordable housing." She also cited the importance of diversifying who lives in the housing being people and the importance of people of different income levels living together.

"We also have an opportunity right now with the challenges the hotel sector is facing, as well as the office building sector, to rapidly convert those into housing for people and not let those assets just sit there empty," Garcia said.  

Sutton agreed with Garcia that crisis can bring opportunity and with other panelists' points that engaging with communities should be a central point of procedure. However, she stated that city government needs to think harder and more creatively about how to help low-income communities and communities of color, which have often been left out of these conversations. 

"The pandemic, while it has been devastating, it has not brought every problem to our doorstep," Sutton said. "We were 48 out of 50 states being the least business-friendly, we are still that way. As far as social and upward mobility, we are at the very bottom."

Yang agreed that the cost of affordable housing needs to come down and said New Yorkers need to become more accepting of affordable housing in a practical way. 

"Everyone is for affordable housing in the abstract until it's pitched to their neighborhood and then they are less for it and that's been the reality in New York for a long time," Yang said. 

He went on to say that hotels, in addition to commercial spaces left vacant due to the pandemic, need to be repurposed for housing. He said Midtown Manhattan office space is 82% unoccupied and that following the pandemic businesses are going to be less dependent on office spaces. He added that Manhattan needs people in offices to fuel the economy so public safety must also be a priority. 

Candidates were also asked to address public safety, particularly how candidates would balance the increasing calls for police accountability following Black Lives Matter protests over the summer with the rising rate of shootings in New York City. Louis first addressed Adams, pointing out that his proposal for community precinct councils to review precinct commander nominees had just been adopted by the mayor. One objection to the policy has been that allowing community leaders to play a heavy hand in policing personnel decisions could potentially lead to corruption.

Adams called for taking the mayor's plan further by having civic council organizations meet with precinct commanders to discuss how to police in each community. Additionally, giving these organizations the ability to background check commanders and decide if they are a good fit for the community.

"We can't let the fear of corruption get in the way of having real community input in the process of choosing the powerful position of precinct commander," said Adams, who spent two decades in the NYPD before being elected to the State Senate.

Wiley also called for putting communities at the forefront of designing policing policies, adding that there needs to be clear rules for what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior from police officers. 

"We should be making sure that the rules of the road, the patrol guide, are bright and clear and not allow so much grey that police officers get off when there has been misconduct," Wiley said. There must be public engagement and clarity of priorities, she said, “but it does take a strong mayor who is willing to stand up to police unions as well as willing to engage with communities in ensuring true oversight on what police are doing; how, why and what they're not doing." 

Sutton called for creating a public safety coordination council composed of the NYPD and seven other city agencies run by the mayor. She noted that the council would bring community members and advocates in quarterly to contribute.

Garcia led with her experience managing the Department of Sanitation and highlighted that she is the only candidate who has managed a uniformed force of 10,000-plus. She added that public safety is about more than just the NYPD, but also about coordinating all of New York City's agencies.

"It's also about management. It's about management of a uniformed agency and making sure that they are doing what they're supposed to do at the direction of the mayor and ensuring that the community is part of that conversation," Garcia said. 

To facilitate reform, McGuire also called for creating venues where police and community leaders can meet to create or strengthen relationships. He placed reforming NYPD culture as the top priority in handling the rising calls for police accountability. 

"I would make sure that the culture in the NYPD was one that reflects my values. That'll be a culture of respect, accountability, and proportionality," McGuire said. "There's no trust, there's no respect between the police and the community. We need to restore that by putting police and people who represent the greatest need in the community like mental health care professionals in."

Stringer had a somewhat different perspective.

"There are different views of policing in different communities," Stringer said. "The leadership has to come from the police commissioner and the mayor. What we've seen right now is the mayor has lost control of the police department."

Stringer released a plan for $1 billion worth of cuts to the NYPD’s roughly $6 billion operating budget over four years, money he would reallocate to mental health services and community organizations.

Yang reiterated his pledge to name some as police commissioner who had not been part of the NYPD, arguing that it would quicken the pace of reforms. 

"It's very difficult to reform a culture if you are of that culture and right now far too many New Yorkers fear that if they encounter a police officer in the wrong circumstances then they're going to end up with their rights infringed on instead of protected," Yang said. 

Yang added that speeding the pace of recovery from the pandemic would help to lower the spike in gun violence seen in the city last year, and he has said he is best suited to speed the economic recovery.

Donovan took issue with the fact that police are not required to live in New York City, unlike most other city employees. 

"Why is the police the only agency that doesn't have a requirement to live in those communities?" Donovan said. "If there is any agency, any issue in this city where making sure people understand the communities they are in and can build relationships, policing is it. So I would change that and make sure there is a residency requirement."

The candidates were also asked about the city's rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines and how they would handle the crucial task. Donovan highlighted his history as a part of former President Barack Obama's cabinet, noting that he has worked with Dr. Anthony Fauci before on the containment of Ebola and Zika viruses. He emphasized the need for a mayor who can build vaccine site infrastructure and who understands large complex problems, skills he says he honed while working for the federal government. 

Garcia pointed to the fact that she released a vaccine distribution plan in response to the city’s initial choppy rollout and said the approach to distributing vaccines needs to be able to reach the largest number of people and meet New Yorkers where they are. She said she would accommodate disabilities, language barriers, and time constraints by setting up mobile vaccination centers to be dispatched to communities.

"We need to bring vaccinations to these people via mobile trucks," Garcia said. "I've set these types of systems up and we need to lean on the nonprofit sector, who are key trusted people. They know these people. They could have been setting up appointments before the vaccine even got here and we would be making strides in its rollout."

McGuire criticized health-care deserts in the city, stating that he would prioritize these areas and communities in vaccination. 

"Today we have a situation where of the people who have reported their race, 300,000 or so, 48% of people who have received the vaccine are white, 11% are Black," McGuire said. "What this has identified is systemic inequities."

Stringer called out the current administration for not being better prepared to launch a vaccination plan. 

"This now is life or death. We really didn't know that this virus was here, but we knew when the virus hit that a vaccine was on its way, any medical journal would have informed City Hall that it was coming and it certainly was here by November, and the fact that we have not been able to manage a two-car funeral to get this done has to change," Stringer said. 

He went on to say that his plan would feature 24/7 vaccination sites and that he would ramp up capacity so that the city is ready once the federal government sends more vaccination doses (which de Blasio says is already the case).

Sutton, who is running on her military background and experience in leadership in city government, agreed with other candidates that a strong managerial skill set would be required to effectively vaccinate New Yorkers. 

"This is not a problem that should surprise us,” Wiley said, “because it really is about our failure over and over and over again to recognize that it is communities of color — Black, Latino, Asian — that are always hit first, always hit first in every single disaster and we never prepare in advance.”

She blamed the current administration for not learning lessons from the inequalities seen in access to COVID-19 tests and reaffirmed the criticism that the city should not have taken contact-tracing from the Department of Health and moved it to Health + Hospitals.

Yang said he was frustrated that even if vaccination sites were prepared with doctors and doses, they may not have patients ready to get their shot. He said that there needed to be a systemic way to distribute vaccines, even if it meant changing age restrictions in certain neighborhoods. He reiterated his call that there needs to be a way for people to record, verify, and demonstrate that they have been vaccinated so that people can begin re-entering schools and other settings.

"At this point any delay in vaccine rollout is costing us lives and any chance at getting on to recovery," Yang said. "My job as mayor will be to excel recovery as quickly as possible and do it in an equitable way."

by Emily Mason for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Several Points of Conflict and Differentiation at Brooklyn Democrats' Mayoral Candidate Debate Tue, 02 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Decision NYC: Loree Sutton Discusses Her Run for Mayor 2 higher ed comm

Loree Sutton (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

Loree Sutton, a Democrat running for Mayor in the 2021 election, joined MNN's "Decision NYC with Ben Max" for an in-depth discussion of her candidacy for the city's top job. This interview is part of a series produced by Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Watch:

Decision NYC: Loree Sutton Discusses Her Run for Mayor Wed, 27 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Candidates Discuss Addressing City’s Health Care Gaps After Covid 5x5mashup 1

Top (l-r): Carlos Menchaca, Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley,
Bottom (l-r): Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Ray McGuire, Andrew Yang

Eleven Democratic candidates for mayor appeared at a virtual forum on Tuesday focused on how they would shape health policy to be more equitable in New York City, especially amidst and in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought the city’s health care infrastructure under considerable strain and has had a starkly unequal racial impact. The pandemic has thrust the issues of health-care infrastructure and equity to the forefront of the wide-open race to lead the city, which will be decided in the June primary and fall general election.

Black and Latino New Yorkers have been hospitalized and/or died from COVID-19 at rates twice that of white and Asian New Yorkers, according to city data, even though disparity in case rates is not nearly that high. The same goes for people living in “very high poverty” ZIP codes, who have been hospitalized or died at rates twice that of “low poverty” areas but have only marginally higher case rates. And the so-called outer boroughs all have higher rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths than Manhattan, which is home to several of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Nearly 22,000 New York City residents are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, with an additional 5,000 having likely died from the disease.

The data shows the highly disparate health outcomes between the haves and the have-nots in the city, a fact which, as noted by the mayoral forum’s hosts, was true before the pandemic but has been exposed and exacerbated by it.

The forum was hosted by the Community Service Society, City & State, Community Voices Heard, and Make The Road New York, and was moderated by Sheryl Huggins Salomon of the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research. Like some of the other forums, the large number of candidates led organizers to split the event in half, with five candidates appearing in the first session and six in the second.

Participating in the first session were City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former city veterans’ services commissioner Loree Sutton, and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio. The second session included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, and Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate and entrepreneur. (Military veteran and former nonprofit executive Zach Iscol was scheduled to participate, but he has just announced he is dropping out of the race to run for city comptroller.)

The first hour of the forum occurred simultaneously with another mayoral candidate forum, hosted by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union representing administrative staff in city schools, and moderated by CUNY professor David Bloomfield. That forum focused on education. The two events are indicative of the pace and quantity of digital appearances that candidates are now making with under five months until the all-important Democratic primary.

A recurring theme throughout the health care forum was the lack of trust that marginalized communities have in the health care system, for a variety of reasons.

"Our communities lack trust in the institutions that are supposed to be charged with caring for us,” said Morales, who is Afro-Latina. She and others noted that the city, during the pandemic, had failed to engage communities in meaningful ways, such as through “credible messengers” who are culturally competent and speak the language of those they’re engaging with, and said that those messengers are crucial in distributing the vaccine in marginalized communities.

Menchaca noted in particular that language access had posed a challenge in the city’s outreach efforts to combat the spread of the virus, and that the city had failed in efforts to engage in languages other than English.

“One of the things that we need to do is to ensure that all the languages are included as we bring good information, solid information, dispelling all the myths,” Menchaca said. He said that whenever he makes any public statements, he would assemble a team to translate it before the statement is released so there is no information lag for non-English speaking communities. “That one thing can be transformative.”

Adams also stressed the importance of engaging non-English speaking communities.

“We continue to run this city like it’s an English-speaking city,” Adams said. “Forty percent of Brooklynites speak a language other than English at home. We need to reach out to those credible messengers, similar to what we saw during the Census drive.” Menchaca had made a similar point about learning lessons from the 2020 Census drive for pandemic-era outreach.

Adams also said that the racial disparity in vaccinations should be made transparent by having every vaccination recorded and put in a city database so the data can be analyzed and released.

“Right now today, after repeated calls, we have yet to know who is actually vaccinated and the ethnicities,” Adams said. “That is wrong.”

Adams had announced on Monday that he would file a Freedom of Information Law request for the data. Mayor Bill de Blasio said at his daily briefing Wednesday that the city is planning to release the data in the coming days.

Several of the candidates pitched their experience as well as relationships with state and federal leaders as key to their success in various initiatives, such as getting adequate funding for the city’s public hospital system, New York City Health + Hospitals, which was deeply strained during the first wave of the pandemic last spring.

“The city is the majority of the economy of the state, and the fact that the governor and the mayor have not been on the same page has been very, very negative for the folks who live right here in the city,” Yang said. “We’ve all seen it, we’ve all felt it. I aim to be a friend and ally and sidekick, if necessary, to the governor to make this case to the feds.” Yang noted that he is “friends with his brother from CNN,” referring to Chris Cuomo, and said he is “very easy to get along with” and willing to give the governor all the credit. He also noted his relationships with federal officials made during his presidential run.

Donovan also frequently pitched his connections to federal officials from his years serving in the Obama administration, where he was Housing and Urban Development secretary and also budget director.

“With all due respect to their rolodexes, there’s no one [else] in this race who actually has worked side-by-side with these folks,” Donovan said.

Beyond using connections to gain more funding, the candidates presented other ideas to stabilize the finances of Health + Hospitals, the city’s sprawling public health system that includes 11 full hospitals and many other facilities. Donovan argued that the city should use its bargaining power to force private hospitals to share in the burden of caring for the city’s destitute, rather than forcing them into H+H and thus creating its financial instability.

Wiley made a similar argument, noting that the city’s status as the insurer of hundreds of thousands of people with the MetroPlus system and the large tax breaks that private hospitals receive mean the city has large bargaining power, not only to force private hospitals to share the burdens of caring for the most vulnerable, but also to prevent price gouging and enforce price transparency.

“There is price gouging, but we can make that transparent, we can make it public, we can call attention to it, and we can use collective bargaining power also to create more accountability in the system,” Wiley said.

Throughout the event, candidates pinned many of the issues of health inequity brought up by Huggins Salomon, such as the disparate impact of COVID-19 on low-income communities and communities of color and the financial difficulties of H+H, on the fact that low-income people often lack access to primary care, allowing health issues to stew undetected until requiring a more expensive emergency room visit, or, in the case of the pandemic, making death from the disease more likely.

“One of the things we saw in covid is that there were lots of underlying conditions that made you so much more vulnerable,” Garcia said. “If they are not managed, you put your life at risk. It also is more effective than them ending up in the emergency room.”

Stringer made a similar point.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Stringer said. “Obviously prevention is the key.”

Stringer pointed to the need for greater cooperation among agencies, and proposed merging the city’s health department and Health + Hospitals in order to prevent health disparities from manifesting in unequal outcomes in the inevitable next pandemic.

“We’ve got to get the Department of Health back in the game,” Stringer said. “We’ve got to merge H+H and DOHMH so that they are proactively looking at ways to prevent the next virus or the next health-care crisis. And that means we also have to not just invest in hospital or local clinic infrastructure, but we have to invest in personnel. The nurses, the doctors, how are we going to grow that health care in the communities.”

McGuire made a similar pitch, calling for incentives to build primary care clinics in poorly served outer borough neighborhoods. “I would incentivize the development of primary care facilities within the boroughs,” he said, “so that the people in the boroughs have a primary care physician.” He also supported increasing ER capacity in low-income neighborhoods by expanding H+H Express Care Centers, as a means of alleviating the shortage of beds seen during the pandemic at public hospitals serving marginalized communities.

Every candidate except for Sutton committed to creating a commissioner-level position, or even higher, in city government solely devoted to ensuring equity across the work of city agencies. Sutton said that she did not want to create an extra layer of bureaucracy, but that she herself would be the top advocate for equity in the administration.

“That would be one of my core values that I would lay out in a values manifesto, and would share with city government,” Sutton said. “And make sure that all of city government understands that these are the values of a Sutton administration.”

Donovan said he’d go further than a commissioner-level position, and instead create a position reporting directly to the mayor at City Hall that is responsible for creating equity across city agencies, rather than reporting to a deputy mayor. Yang said that he would go a “step further.”

“I think we need to amend the city charter to include addressing the racial health gap as a central mission of all of our agencies, especially the DOHMH,” Yang said. “It’s unconscionable the disparities we’re seeing.” 

Morales and Wiley, while committing to create the position, noted that having a commissioner tasked with enforcing equity will accomplish nothing if the mayor herself isn’t committed to that push.

“Having been in the job,” Wiley said in apparent reference to her time at City Hall, “if the mayor doesn’t hold that work central, that lens and those principles central, does not know exactly how to tell city government ‘here’s the thing you’ve never done before that we’re gonna now do…,’ it doesn’t matter that you have that position filled.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Discuss Addressing City’s Health Care Gaps After Covid Wed, 27 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
The Money Race in the Mayoral Primary: January Filing Sets the Stage for 2021 Gotham Gazette:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Money Race in the Mayoral Primary: January Filing Sets the Stage for 2021 Sun, 17 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Pitch Upper Manhattan Club 9 mayoral candidates

(l-r) top: Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer, Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Carlos Menchaca

bottom: Dianne Morales, Loree Sutton, Ray McGuire, Shaun Donovan

Nine Demcocratic candidates for mayor of New York City appeared one-by-one Thursday night at an online forum hosted by the Uptown Community Democrats. The moderator of the forum was Kyle Ishmael, a club leader who also serves as both Executive Director of the Manhattan Democratic Party and Executive Director of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.

The nine participants -- part of an even larger field trying to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio by first winning the June primary -- were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, former city veterans services commissioner Loree Sutton, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, and Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca.

It was the latest in a series of local and issue-focused candidate forums that began last year and the pace of which will likely accelerate as the primary approaches.

Each candidate appeared for about 15 minutes, with time allotted for an initial pitch, five standardized questions from Ishmael, three questions from the audience (entered into a virtual chat), and closing remarks. The five standard questions dealt with how candidates would return trust and respect to the government, what issues they would commit to completely resolving in their tenure, their thoughts on the state Hecht-Calandra Act and other education issues, if the New York Police Department’s budget should be reduced, and if New York City should be “a more progressive city.”

Maya Wiley
First to appear at the forum Wiley pitched herself as an “unapologetic progressive” and said she’s running because she saw the government being a “treadmill of incrementalism rather than beating a path to transformation.”

Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio and chair of the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board with oversight of some police discipline investigations, among other roles, said some societal issues most important to her campaign are fighting street homelessness, improving public safety through community input and investment, and expanding access to health care.

In her allotted sixty seconds to describe her top priorities, Wiley called the shelter system ineffective, and said the city must prioritize placing homeless people in homes. Wiley also said she wanted to improve public safety by targeting gun violence and making sure “it’s easier to get a job than a gun.”

Regarding health care, Wiley noted that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers lacked health insurance prior to the pandemic, and she would provide support to health clinics and independent hospitals.

A former co-chair of the New York City School Diversity Advisory Group, assembled by de Blasio and the city schools chancellor, Wiley said she stands by the sweeping recommendations the group made but the de Blasio administration has given limited attention to.

When asked, she expressed support for state repeal of the Hecht-Calandra Act, which would return the power of admissions to the city’s top specialized high schools to the city, though she did not outline a plan for changing admissions at those schools, which admit very low percentages of Black and Hispanic students. She said schools “should reflect our population and how we look” and advocated for student support teams in every school and furthering resources across the board.

Wiley said the budget of the NYPD “absolutely should be reduced,” moving some of its funding to other departments and services. She cited the gun violence reduction platform she has released, and mentioned it includes a participatory justice fund, where communities most impacted by gun violence can specify “the kinds of social and emotional trauma informed supports they need.”

While Wiley praised de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten program, she criticized him for the lack of transparency regarding opening and closing public schools during the pandemic. And she advocated for more transparency across the board, saying that “without consultation, people feel like decisions are made without any explanation or clarity or they're not made at all,” and that the solution was “being straight up, honest, telling it like it is.”

When asked if New York City should be a more progressive city, Wiley said “progressivism is government seeing its people as its greatest resource and asset,” and said solving issues like crumbling public housing would benefit the city as a whole.

Loree Sutton
Sutton, a self-described “moderate liberal,” served for over 20 years in the U.S. military and was most recently the founding commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services, appointed to the position by de Blasio.

A psychiatrist, Sutton said her top priorities revolve around determinants of health, citing housing conditions as “unacceptable, unconscious,” nutritious food as not widely available, and inequities in access to transportation across the city.

While Sutton said she supports repealing Hecht-Calandra, she sees it as “[bringing] control over who gets admitted to which school” back to the city. However, she explicitly noted that she’s “not going to get involved in what I see as false choices between charter schools versus conventional public schools, or the specialized high schools versus other types of experiences.”

Despite that, Sutton said there should be more specialized schools, particularly in the Bronx and Queens, and there should be expansion of gifted and talented programs in underserved communities. She advocated for partnership between public schools and the private sector, including “adopt-a-school” programs, and said she wanted to see schools open year-round and become “[some]where parents and kids and teachers and community civic leaders can all come together.”

Sutton said she has “been adamantly opposed to the movement to defund the NYPD,” but added that in talking to senior leadership, both active and retired, “they know that there needs to be reforms.” She doesn’t see it as a budget issue, advocating instead for police teams to be trained and incorporating social workers.

Sutton also said she was willing to work with members of the community regarding rezoning in Inwood, but did not express a position on the rezoning. She supported investing in the arts, and suggested she would try to incentivize landlords so that creators had “space to be able to do their craft and their art.” Sutton would also fund efforts to reduce and eliminate homelessness, she said, including peer based coordinators, a hotline for landlords, and would additionally look to address the mental health side of homelessness.

When asked about progressivism, Sutton said she’s “not big on political labels,” but highlighted that she was excluded from an earlier forum for being “too conservative because I stood up for public safety in the face of what was going on following the George Floyd murder,” when she had called for protestors to get city permits. She said her political beliefs meant she “values community over everything,” specifically mentioning the private sector, nurses, police officers and teachers as key stakeholders.

Shaun Donovan
A former Obama cabinet official as housing secretary and as budget director, and housing commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Donovan said he wants to be mayor as a native New Yorker and lifelong public servant. As he often does, he repeatedly stressed his ties to Obama, as well as other national figures, including incoming President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Donovan said he was committed to creating “15-minute neighborhoods” for every New Yorker, which would guarantee that “within 15 minutes of your front door, you have access to a great school, good transportation to get you to a job, fresh food, a park.”

Donovan pledged to make sure every New York City high school student has a paid internship before graduation, and all students have the option of attending a CUNY school after high school or are able to find employment. He also expressed support for repeal of Hecht-Calandra, but he is not in favor of scrapping the SHSAT exam, instead seeking to broaden the admissions metrics for the specialized high schools. He said admissions screens for middle schools should be eliminated, and those for high schools should be reduced., and that it is important to increase diversity in student teachers.

Citing his experience leading the Obama administration’s strategy that eradicated military veteran homelessness in more than 80 cities and states, Donovan said he would commit to not only ending veteran homelessness, but ending street homelessness in the city within eight years. He would also follow through on the plan to close the Rikers Island jails, he said.

Pointing to his experience in Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force, Donovan said the NYPD budget should be reduced, though he didn’t specify an amount, and added, “we need to reimagine policing and criminal justice” by investing in “community-oriented solutions.”

And again citing his past experience, Donovan said he believed he was “the most progressive candidate in this race because I've actually gotten big progressive things done in this city and across the country.”

He also said he was against the tax cuts passed under President Trump and Republican Congress, and added that “we need to ask more from those who have the most” when asked about taxing the wealthy.

Eric Adams
Adams opened discussing his philosophy about turning around what he describes as dysfunctional government, saying that “instead of going upstream and giving families and children the support they need, we feed our crises.”

"The first classroom is in a mother's womb," Adams said when discussing his top priorities, touching especially on education and health care. He said children need nutritious food and access to high-quality education from as early as possible and pledged to focus on maternal care.

When it comes to Hecht-Calandra, he said, “I'm not running for state office, I'm running for citywide office. Let [the state] address that problem.” Adams said his focus was on prevention, upstream work, and “focusing on the 90 percent of students [that] are not receiving a quality education.” Adams has taken a position to eliminate the SHSAT admissions exam and then reversed his position. He now appears interested in avoiding the topic of specialized high schools admissions.

Adams, a former NYPD officer who rose to the rank of captain before retiring and running for elected office, supports reducing the NYPD budget, but stressed it “should be no reduction that will impact on public safety.” He said policing is currently too reactive and not proactive, and as mayor he would change that. Adams suggested reallocating some of the $400 million spent on officer overtime and using it to fund civilian work instead. He said there is “no reason an officer has to go to a vehicle accident or past crime. A civilian can do that.”

Adams said there should be higher taxes on top earners, which he defined as those earning $5 million or more per year.

He also wants to increase governmental efficiency by clarifying the missions of each agency and making sure no agency is carrying out tasks that are in conflict with the mission of another.

Adams also stressed his background, as a CUNY graduate and former police officer. “We have not had a blue collar mayor in this city over 70 years,” he said. “It's time we have a mayor that has gone through a lot, so he can help people who are going through a lot.”

Ray McGuire
McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who left his job to run for mayor and bundler to Obama’s presidential campaigns, pitched himself both as a candidate who comes from the underprivileged class, that he knows “what it's like to wash the tinfoil,” and who has risen to success that shows he has the skills to manage the city and the relationships to make big things happen for New Yorkers.

McGuire said his priorities revolved around the economy, safety, and education. His economic plan is “going big and going small.” He said he would make sure projects like Amazon and Industry City go through so those jobs and revenue can bolster the local economy. The “small” part of the plan is investing in and incentivizing small businesses — the city needs “to give them a lifeline,” he said. He did not provide details on either side of the equation.

When asked about Hecht-Calandra, McGuire pitched his “cradle to career” education vision but did not directly discuss the law or specialized high schools admissions. He said he would implement a tutor core so that every child would be able to read at grade level by the third grade. After he’d met that standard, McGuire said he planned to start exposing students as young as in the sixth grade to different opportunities such that by the time they graduated high school they could get employed. He added that he wants “to bring the private sector into this.”

Regarding the NYPD budget, McGuire said he’s against defunding the NYPD but for reallocating some of the budget and for reforming and restructuring aspects of the department. He supports funding mental health officials to go into communities, returning to community policing initiatives, and an overall push to get guns off the streets, he said, though he offered few details for how he would accomplish that latter goal.

McGuire also said focusing on precursors to violence is important, and that “some tough things are taking place because of tough circumstances.” By using his education initiatives and making sure students have opportunities during school and post-graduation, he said, it would address some stem issues of citywide violence.

When asked about Inwood zoning, McGuire said he believed those issues were being resolved in court. However, he added that the city’s land use review process needs to be reevaluated, and said he would advocate for more community involvement in the zoning process.

Scott Stringer
Stringer painted himself as someone with “vision and experience in government and politics” ready to lead the city after the devastation of the pandemic.

Stringer said his main priority is addressing affordability across the city. He said he would create a land bank and a land trust and would give community organizations the opportunity to build housing for low-income people. He reiterated his key policy plank that he will work to require all new development to set aside 25% of units for affordable housing.

Stringer also pointed to his record as having voted against weakening rent laws twice as state Assembly member, and called de Blasio’s housing plan “a failure,” saying it “basically built unaffordable affordable housing...we did it in the name of building luxury development, and look where it's gotten us: more homelessness, no real ability to create housing with supportive services.”

Stringer supports the repeal of Hecht-Calandra, and said “we just have a broken admission process” for specialized high schools, but he did not offer a plan for what admissions should look like. He said the city has an obligation “to make sure that every kid accesses schools so everyone has a fair chance to make it.”

He said the city “can and we should ship responsibilities and dollars away from the NYPD towards vulnerable communities most impacted by police violence and structural racism.” He cited his record as being the first elected official to put forth a detailed proposal to reduce the police budget by $1 billion. Stringer said he would look to fund mental health professionals to work with quality of life or mental illness concerns — calls about which he said comprise 40% of 911 calls.

Stringer also opposes the Inwood rezoning “because it makes no sense to price out the people who built up Washington Heights and Inwood.”

When asked about progressivism, Stringer said a progressive city or government “is simply helping people.” He added that being progressive meant taking real action “because talk is cheap in a pandemic,” and said he had the skills to attract diverse leadership to the city.

Dianne Morales
Like Wiley, Morales stressed her background of not having come from public office, and that her “candidacy is 100% rooted in a grassroots, people-powered movement.”

Morales said her priorities lay in defunding the police and housing. She said she’d reallocate funds from the NYPD, replacing cops in school with social services, mental health counselling, and educational enrichment. Other uses of those funds would be investing in local small businesses and job training for young people, she said.

Morales calls for housing for all, stating she believes you cannot separate issues of public safety and public health from everyone having access to housing.

A graduate of Stuyvesant High School, Morales said she not only supports the repeal of Hecht-Calandra, but she wants the removal of all admissions screens from schools so students could have equal access. She added that she wants to redraw districts to encourage school integration.

Morales says she wants to overhaul how education is structured, creating a new curriculum that centers three core areas: digital literacy, financial literacy, and civic and democratic literacy.

She also said she wants to change how land use decisions are made to put community members at the forefront and she re-committed to the creation of a public bank, stating it is “a critical pillar” in keeping and growing the local economy.

When asked about progressivism, Morales said “we need to move towards a whole new model of leading this city.” She said that entails “a radical reimagining and transformation of the way things have operated.”

Kathryn Garcia
Garcia opened by noting she’s a lifelong New Yorker and her vision of a city where “every family can do what my family did, which is raise a family, be able to take care of them, be able to send them to college.”

Garcia said her priorities would be a strong recovery, economic mobility, and fighting the climate crisis. She said she would look to create connections between public education and the private sector to provide employment opportunities to students. She said her climate priorities “in all honesty won't be solved in two terms,” but progress needs to happen, like moving towards clean energy.

She supports expanding bike lanes and making sure that there is rapid mobility for buses, including further utilizing technology that allows traffic lights to turn green when buses approach. Garcia said she prefers dual-stream recycling in the city, in part because it saves money.

Garcia supports repeal of Hecht-Calandra, and suggested implementing the “Texas model,” where a certain percentage of top-performing students at every middle school is offered seats at specialized high schools. But she said she would still look to invest in early literacy, and like McGuire, make sure every student can read at grade level by the third grade.

Regarding the NYPD, she said the department needs to raise the minimum age of recruits to 25, that new recruits should be mandated to live in the city, and that officers need to be held “rigidly accountable.”

Carlos Menchaca
Menchaca said he has the kind of energy and “fresh approach” the mayor’s office needs.

He said his priorities include making sure everyone can get vaccinated against COVID-19 as well as public safety. He pointed to his current work in the City Council in engaging with hard-to-reach communities such as immigrants, public housing residents, and undocumented workers. He said he would make sure language barriers are overcome in the vaccination process.

Menchaca said he is the leading member in the defunding police movement inside the Council, and suggested a $3 billion budget cut to the NYPD, which would halve the department’s annual operating budget. Those funds would be reallocated to housing, food, and vaccination projects he said.

He said he supports repealing Hecht-Calandra. While he did not outline a plan for reforming the specialized high schools admissions process in the allotted minute answer, Menchaca said he would look to work he took part in in District 15, where schools removed screens from the admissions process in middle schools and saw greater integration. Menchaca said he would also prioritize increasing resources at all high schools.

He repeatedly pointed to the areas he currently represents, Sunset Park and Red Hook, as a “very high need immigrant, public housing community that has learned how to get responses from city agencies,” and that experience would serve him well as mayor.

When asked, Menchaca said he feels most politically aligned with opponent Morales, saying they both prescribe to “rethinking how we understand our government and its connection to our communities and our neighbors.” The question was prompted by the fact that New York City is about to implement a new ranked-choice voting system for special and primary elections.

by Nuha Dolby for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Pitch Upper Manhattan Club Sat, 09 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Our 2020 Conversations with the 2021 Candidates for Mayor 10 2021 mayoral candidates nyc

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

New Yorkers will elect a new Mayor in 2021 and a large and growing field of candidates is forming in the race to replace term-limited Bill de Blasio, a Democrat.

Most of the action through 2020 has been in the Democratic primary, which will take place in June and is very likely to annoint the next Mayor given the party's overhwhelming voter registration advantage in the city (though New York City is no stranger to electing its Mayor outside of the Democratic Party, given the 20 years' reign of Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat/Republican/independent Mike Bloomberg).

As candidates declared their campaigns or explorations of a run for Mayor of New York City, we invited a number of those who appear most formidable to appear on the Max & Murphy podcast, co-hosted by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits. As we move into 2021 we will no doubt have some of the candidates back on the show while welcoming new guests -- for example, we're eager to have city Comptroller Scott Stringer back on the program for the first time since late 2019 and to welcome Rep. Max Rose and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, among other returning or first-time guests.

But as the calendar turns from 2020 to what will be one of the most consequential election years in the city's history, we have had several interesting in-depth conversations with Democratic mayoral candidates, beginning to get to know them (better) and hear about their qualifications and vision for the immense job of New York City Mayor. Find links to listen to those interviews below, or find them all at Max & Murphy wherever you get podcasts, and look for new episodes starting in early January (the show typically first airs on WBAI radio at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, then interviews are posted to the podcast streams and to the Gotham Gazette and City Limits websites shortly after).

Before we get to the candidate interviews, as 2020 was coming to a close we had a great conversation with Mara Gay of the New York Times editorial board and Sally Goldenberg, Politico New York City Hall bureau chief, in which we previewed de Blasio's final year as Mayor and broke down the race to replace him in broad strokes -- listen to that conversation here:

Max & Murphy Podcast: Previewing Bill De Blasio's Last Year as Mayor and the Race to Replace Him

Also in December, we spoke with candidates Ray McGuire, a finance executive of Citigroup, and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to de Blasio:

Max & Murphy Podcast: Ray McGuire is Running for Mayor

Max & Murphy Podcast: Maya Wiley Runs for Mayor

In November we welcomed three different mayoral candidates soon after their official announcements, including military veteran Zach Iscol; City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams:

Max & Murphy Podcast: Zach Iscol is Running for Mayor

Max & Murphy Podcast: Carlos Menchaca on His Campaign for Mayor

Max & Murphy Podcast: Eric Adams Launches His Campaign for Mayor

In September we were joined by Kathryn Garcia, who had just left her jobs in the de Blasio administration as sanitation commissioner and emergency food "czar" to explore a mayoral run:

Max & Murphy Podcast: Kathryn Garcia on Trash, Food, & Possibly Running for Mayor

In August, Shaun Donovan, a former Obama cabinet official and New York City housing commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg, joined the show to discuss his planned mayoral bid (he has since formally declared his candidacy):

Max & Murphy Podcast: Shaun Donovan Explores a Run for Mayor

In May BP Adams joined us to discuss the city's response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and we spent a short time discussing the upcoming campaign:

Max & Murphy Podcast: Brooklyn BP Eric Adams on the City's Coronavirus Response

In February, before everything changed due to the covid outbreak, we talked with two candidates who declared their candidacies fairly early on and have kept campaigning since, Dianne Morales, who left her job as a nonprofit executive to run, and Loree Sutton, the former New York City Department of Veterans' Affairs commissioner under de Blasio:

Max & Murphy Podcast: Mayoral Candidate Dianne Morales

Max & Murphy Podcast: Mayoral Candidate Loree Sutton

And in late 2019 we spoke at length with Comptroller Stringer, now a candidate for Mayor (and likely an early 2021 guest on Max & Murphy):

Max & Murphy Podcast: Comptroller Scott Stringer

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Our 2020 Conversations with the 2021 Candidates for Mayor Wed, 30 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000