Gotham Gazette Thu, 22 Apr 2021 19:48:30 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) What's Your UPK? Leading Democratic Mayoral Candidates' One Big Idea pre k mayoral candidate big

Mayor de Blasio pushes pre-K (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)

Just three months into his first term in 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio was successful in convincing the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to approve funding for universal pre-kindergarten, still his signature accomplishment after more than seven years in office. It was his boldest policy proposal as a mayoral candidate, one that he talked about incessantly throughout his 2013 campaign, along with the tax increase on high-earners that he wanted to pay for it, and that continues to be hailed as a success, and one he has expanded on by launching free public preschool for three-year-olds.

As the 2021 mayoral race to replace de Blasio progresses, with the June primary just two months away (early voting starts June 12, primary day is June 22), the Democratic candidates are offering extensive platforms of their own as they try to portray themselves as the most qualified and visionary to bring the city back from the brink of the pandemic and usher in a prosperous future. Some of the leading candidates — there’s a top tier of eight — have advanced big, transformative ideas akin to de Blasio’s “UPK” that they are trying to hammer home as defining proposals, while others are pitching their candidacies on more complex multi-pronged plans for the city’s recovery.

Of course, there are many differences between New York City in 2021 and 2013, when the city was in the early years of an economic boom that would last until the coronavirus hit last year. De Blasio won eight years ago on a platform of addressing inequality, with universal pre-kindergarten as his central policy promise, while also stressing police reform and more.

New Yorkers are looking to de Blasio’s successor to fix the city’s multifaceted crises, exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic and for which there is no panacea.

“Things were pretty well, were kind of in an equilibrium and kind of balanced and things seemed okay in 2013, which enabled de Blasio to project Universal pre-K as his signature idea of how to make things better,” said Bruce Gyory, a veteran Democratic strategist with the firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, in a phone interview.  This year, however, “In some sense, there's a higher standard for being able to, in effect, make the case for a signature idea.”

Still, owning a signature policy idea that appeals to a large swath of voters and opinion-makers can be beneficial in any electoral race, just ask de Blasio — or the current frontrunner in the race to replace him: Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur who came to prominence running for president on Universal Basic Income (UBI). Yang, riding high off the name recognition and goodwill from that campaign, has been leading mayoral polls in the early months of his bid, while offering a significantly adjusted cash relief plan.

Here’s a look at how the top Democratic mayoral candidates are pitching a signature idea or set of ideas:

Andrew Yang: Cash Grants for the Poorest New Yorkers
Yang is the early frontrunner, jumping into the race with announcing a mayoral race version of a cash relief plan modelled off the Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposal he ran for president on. His plan for the city would give 500,000 of the poorest New Yorkers an average of $2,000 every year, at a cost of about $1 billion, which Yang has said he would seek to grow through a combination of government and private funds. He hasn’t fully explained how he would pay for the initial $1 billion, though he has pointed to some of the big buckets he says the money would come from, including government efficiencies, and any mayor may be able to figure out how to carve $1 billion out of a $90-plus billion budget for a signature program, especially if it helps create its own savings, as Yang says his grant program would.

Among the other ways Yang proposes raising the money is through eliminating tax breaks for property-tax exempt landlords like Madison Square Garden and Columbia University.

Basic income is by far Yang’s most popular idea, though not an original one, and one that even other mayoral candidates have embraced in some form. Through the program, Yang aims to end poverty in the city, a laudable but arduous goal in a city where about 19% of residents lived at or below the federal poverty line even before the pandemic.

While Yang is clearly still known based on UBI, the mantle for which he says he picked up from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others (Martin Luther King III is a co-chair of Yang’s campaign), he has not made his municipal cash grant plan quite the same focus as he made UBI during his presidential bid. That could change as the race heats up and he starts airing television and other ads. Yang talks about the plan regularly, but has often been much more focused on his broader push for the city’s economic recovery.

Eric Adams: The People’s Plan
Adams’ chief proposal is a three-part “People’s Plan” that directly takes aim at the inefficiencies in city government that he says cause socio-economic and racial disparities. 

At the core of the plan is his proposed MyCity centralized digital portal that would allow New Yorkers to easily access all city services, automatic cash benefits, and free or discounted childcare.

The portal would help with everything from obtaining food stamps and renewing business permits to creating bank accounts and resolving building code violations. 

Adams’ People’s Plan also includes a commitment to universal childcare. Among the measures he has proposed is reducing the costs for childcare programs by setting aside space in city-owned buildings, offering density bonuses to residential developers who guarantee permanently free or low rent to childcare providers, and tax breaks for office building owners to create such space free of charge.

The third aspect of his plan is NYC Advanced Income Deployment (AID), which would increase the amount of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and provide it to needy families in advanced monthly payments. According to his campaign, the credit would increase from about $250 annually to $3,000 annually for a family with two children earning $30,000 a year.

“To reverse inequality and help New Yorkers who are struggling, Eric will launch his People’s Plan to provide cash, benefits, and childcare through one platform, automatically delivering assistance when it is most needed,” said Evan Thies, a campaign spokesperson, in a statement. “This revolutionary approach will lift up working people and people of color to get through this crisis and ensure they have the resources they need after to thrive.”

While Adams regularly talks about these ideas, he has not been beating the drum about them in the way that would make even those following the mayoral race closely able to quickly identify them as his signature ideas.

Scott Stringer: Universal Affordable Housing
At an April 8 forum hosted by The Nation, when asked about his signature initiative, Stringer talked about ending the city’s hoomelessness crisis by addressing the shortage of low-income housing. “I want to make sure that we're finally going to do something that Michael Bloomberg couldn't do, or Bill de Blasio wouldn't do, and that is to build real low-income housing,” he said. “I didn't say affordable housing, I said low-income housing.”

Stringer has been focused on affordable housing as comptroller, repeatedly critiquing de Blasio’s housing plans and approach to homelessness, while offering his own extensive housing platform from the comptroller’s office that became the basis of his campaign plan.

In a statement through a spokesperson on Friday, Stringer added, “My big idea is that New York should be an affordable city for everyone to live in, and my plan is Universal Affordable Housing: require any new building that gets built with more than 10 apartments — anywhere in the city — to make 25% of those apartments actually affordable to middle- and low-income families. It would fundamentally change the paradigm of how we build housing in this city and create affordable housing and greater diversity in every neighborhood.”

Stringer proposed his plan early last year, releasing it officially from the office of comptroller but clearly aimed at the mayoral campaign. His plan would require that all the units built under the Universal Affordable Housing mandate would have to be at an average of 60% of Area Median Income, which is about $58,000 annually for two adults making minimum wage with a child. He would also end the $1.6 billion annual 421-a tax break for developers, he has said, which is supposed to spur affordable housing set-asides in wealthier areas but has been roundly criticized as inefficient. A change would need state approval.

Stringer also pledged to use city capital funding to finance the production of housing for extremely and very low-income households and said he would create a non-profit land bank to build 100% permanently affordable housing on about 1,000 vacant lots owned by the city (a number the de Blasio administration has repeatedly disputed in terms of how many lots are actually available and buildable for housing).

"I've fought for tenants and truly affordable housing from days as a housing activist organizing Mitchell-Lama tenants to my days in the State Assembly and to my time as Borough President and Comptroller,” Stringer added. “Real affordable housing has always been my fight, and I know that we can only address homelessness in this city by creating deeply affordable homes. As mayor, that’s what I’ll do.”

While Stringer has regularly raised his housing plan at events and candidate forums, he has thus far not made a concerted effort to be known by it.

Ray McGuire: The Comeback Plan
Former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire’s major proposal is his economic “Comeback Plan” to fuel the city’s recovery by creating 500,000 jobs.

The three-part plan, which McGuire talks about fairly incessantly, includes small business stimulus, easing the cost of doing business in the city, and an infrastructure plan. McGuire regularly says his “Go big, go small, go forward” plan will foster “the most inclusive comeback” the city has ever seen.

The plan includes a Comeback Job Accelerator to subsidize 50% of wages for 50,000 small business workers for one year. It would target businesses that lost more than 40% of total revenue in 2020, prioritizing the hardest hit communities. McGuire says he could pay for its unspecified cost through city government efficiencies and federal aid that is flowing to the city in the American Rescue Plan recently passed by President Joe Biden and the Congress.

McGuire’s plan also entails allowing businesses to retain the sales tax they collect for a year, automatically renewing permits and licenses without fees for a year, financial incentives for property owners who forgive or reduce rents for small businesses, reducing utility bills for small businesses, and creating a Red Tape Commission to ease regulations, among other measures.

It also includes a Comeback Bank Initiative to extend capital to community banks and expand lending to small businesses. McGuire says he will also create a $50 million fund for advances or low-interest loans through the initiative to help small Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses get city contracts.

McGuire also wants to reduce the cost of the city’s capital infrastructure program while accelerating its pace and the amount of funds spent every year.

Among the eight leading Democratic mayoral candidates, McGuire may be the closest to actively establishing his candidacy around his ‘big idea’ first and foremost, including through the campaign literature he has already been mailing to voters around the city. In doing so, McGuire is trying to best capitalize on his big business background given his decades on Wall Street, where he rose to one of the top executives in the banking industry.

Maya Wiley: Universal Care Economy
Former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley has proposed a plan for Universal Community Care that would cost $300 million to provide $5,000 annually to 100,000 informal caregivers in the care economy. The funds would come partly from the federal government and partly from freezing cadet classes at the NYPD and the Department of Correction for two years. That would reduce the NYPD’s headcount by 2,250 officers and DOC headcount by 750 officers, according to her campaign.

The caregiving industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of employment in New York City and is largely made up of women of color, who Wiley has been concertedly courting in her bid for mayor. “One of the things we know about this pandemic is that it has decimated work, in particular work for women and work for women of color in the care economy,” Wiley said at the forum hosted by The Nation, touting her care economy plan as her signature initiative when asked.

Besides direct cash relief, Wiley has also proposed building Community Care Centers in the highest-need neighborhoods to provide services to 300,000 people in the first year and growing to 1 million young, old, and other higher-needs people once fully built out. The program would be overseen by a newly-created deputy mayor, she has said.

Wiley’s plan also includes stronger wage and pay enforcement for care workers by expanding the Paid Care Division of the Department of Consumer Affairs and expanding who qualifies as a care worker, a portable benefits program for domestic workers, among other steps.

“This really is a game-changer in terms of how we think about care as well as the caring economy,” Wiley said at the forum.

Dianne Morales: Defund the NYPD
Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales’ call to defund the NYPD by $3 billion and to reallocate those funds into communities is central to her campaign, and among her ardent left-wing followers and many others following the race, she has become well-known for that plan. It builds on efforts by criminal justice reformers who escalated the call for reducing police spending after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year, which prompted months of sustained outrage and protest in the streets of New York City, where protesters connected it to local examples of police brutality.

“The most bloated sort of budget in this city is the...NYPD and I’ve talked about that publicly, about what I think, the idea that I feel like we need to divest and reinvest and that sort of would be one of my first priorities, to take a really hard look at that budget,” she said in a video interview with Gotham Gazette in January.

Morales has not been specific about how she would reallocate funds but has outlined various uses for the $3 billion. She wants to create a new Community First Responders Department, distinct from the police, to respond to people experiencing mental health crises or homelessness, for instance. She also wants to remove the NYPD entirely from non-criminal law enforcement purposes such as school safety, traffic enforcement, homeless outreach, or drug intervention. In the video interview, Morales could not say how those changes would affect the NYPD’s headcount. “This isn't a, you know, snap your finger or like flip a switch kind of thing. I think...there needs to be a progressive sort of reallocation. The first hit would probably be the hardest terms of just it's also reflective of a culture shift and decreasing the budget.”

In a subsequent interview on the Max & Murphy podcast, she said of how to execute the $3 billion NYPD cut, "you just do it," but said that any NYPD employees whose positions would be eliminated at the police department could be retrained and provided opportunities at other city agencies.

Morales has also called for an elected Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which investigates certain types of police misconduct.

Among the other uses Morales proposed for the funds are free legal services for immigrants, investments in violence interruption programs and funding harm reduction and safe consumption programs. Along with McGuire’s focus on his economic recovery plan, Morales may be among the candidates most closely identifiable by her signature proposal at this point.

Kathryn Garcia: A True Green Future
At the April 8 The Nation forum, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia emphasized that the next mayor needs to be able to pursue multiple major policies at the same time. But, she added, “I believe that the thing that I want to leave this city is a really true green future.”

That entails, she said, 150 million more square feet of green infrastructure, eliminating peaker plants, turning Rikers Island into a renewable energy hub, a Green New Deal for NYCHA, and a fully-electrified school bus fleet, to name a few things. “Because all of these environmental programs mean not only are we protecting our planet, but we're healthier today. Our air is cleaner today. Our streets are cooler today,” Garcia said. 

Her climate plan is lengthy and intersects with plans for housing, transportation, and education.

To pursue the goal of an economy fully reliant on renewable energy, among the measures she would pursue are tripling the availability of public car chargers for electric vehicles, incentivizing people to install car chargers at home, maximizing offshore wind generation, incentivizing investments in solar power, and converting food waste into energy. 

Garcia aims to make the city greener by replacing 500 blacktop schoolyards with green spaces, renovating 100 parks in communities hit hardest by COVID-19, launching a “Green Boulevard” program across the city, greening school roofs, implementing a “Natural Roofs” program combining green roofs with solar panels, and planting 1 million trees over eight years focusing on neighborhoods with high asthma rates such as the South Bronx and East New York.

She aims to get the city to zero waste by restoring and expanding curbside organics recycling and making it mandatory, opening compost facilities citywide, developing a waste reduction program, and ensuring that the city procurement for construction and equipment requires recycled and post-consumer materials.

Garcia would take a district-level approach to climate resiliency, ensuring closer coordination with communities on the ground. She would also redesign workforce programs to focus on “green collar” jobs.

“As we begin the road to recovery, we face overlapping crises and a loss of trust in government services. Kathryn knows that these challenges will not be solved by one big policy idea or catchy hashtag,” said Lindsey Green, a campaign spokesperson, in a statement on Friday. “Throughout all of Kathryn's proposals she has laid out how she will cut through red tape to make New York CIty more liveable and more equitable. Among her most ambitious proposals is her Reopen to Stay Open plan that will dramatically reimagine our public spaces by removing permitting barriers, help bring back hundreds of thousands of jobs lost to the pandemic while creating over 10,000 new jobs in green infrastructure, and make it easier than ever to open a small business with a single small business permit. Her plan also includes a jobs pipeline from CUNY and trade schools directly to city government and partnerships with the private sector to create 10,000 paid internships for high school students and zero interest microloans to boost thousands of small businesses as they recover.”

Shaun Donovan: 15-Minute Neighborhoods
Donovan, the former federal housing secretary and budget director under President Barack Obama, talked about his “15-minute neighborhoods” plan, when he was asked about his signature issue at The Nation forum.

As Donovan has explained, every person should have equitable access to good public schools, fresh food, rapid transportation, green space, health care, and economic opportunity within 15 minutes of their home. It’s the type of access that already exists in wealthier, whiter communities and is missing in low-income communities of color, he has said.

Citing his decades of government experience, Donovan said at the forum, “I have seen over and over again, the deep injustice of being able to predict a child's life chances, even life expectancy, by their zip code. It's the single greatest predictor in our city, in our country of their life chances and that has to end. And it will only end until we reorient the way we plan our city around 15-minute neighborhoods.”

Donovan, also former housing commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has made the 15-minute neighborhoods idea central to his pitch to voters in a number of settings, though he’s also tried to frame his candidacy as “the man with a plan” for just about everything.

In a lengthy statement to Gotham Gazette through a spokesperson on Friday, Donovan boasted of having proposed more than 200 policy plans so far but insisted that 15-minute neighborhoods “will be the most transformative for our city” and serves as “an intersectional framework” for his other policies.

"During my time as President Obama's Housing Secretary and Budget Director, he would often tell us to never let an opportunity go to waste. At this moment, we have an opportunity as we rebuild following this crisis to completely reimagine New York City as a place that truly works for everyone,” Donovan said, in part. “A city where all New Yorkers have easy access to the resources they need to live healthy lives, and that actively works to address long standing gaps in opportunity, wealth, and treatment. A city where the zip code you're born in can no longer determine your chances for success or your life expectancy, and where the benefits of living in New York normally reserved for a few of our residents are available to all.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

What's Your UPK? Leading Democratic Mayoral Candidates' One Big Idea Mon, 19 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Ideas for Aging New Yorkers and Greying City justin brannan hosts

Seniors at a pre-pandemic party (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Earlier this week, various groups co-hosted a virtual forum with leading Democratic candidates for New York City Mayor on aging issues in New York City. The discussion was moderated by City Limits editor-at-large and Max & Murphy podcast co-host Jarrett Murphy, and co-hosted by City Limits, LiveOn NY, AARP New York, New York Academy of Medicine, United Neighborhood House, Citymeals on Wheels, and Hunter Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging.

Participating candidates were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Several candidates arrived late or left early due to other commitments, as well over 500 people watched a livestream on Zoom or YouTube.

During the event, Murphy asked questions about issues specific to older adults in New York such as caregiving and isolation as well as how broader areas such as transportation and housing impact seniors and aging New Yorkers.

Murphy first asked candidates how they see ageism and believe the mayor can address it. Adams said it is similar to “other -isms” such as racism and anti-Semitism because it denies “people the basic right to move throughout the city.” He said the mayor “must look at every agency…to make sure every agency is not practicing a systemic ageism.” Garcia, citing her own aging parents in New York City, noted that ageism was about who is viewed as a productive member of society and said that if the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) was funded like the Department of Youth & Community Development, it would receive three times the funding it currently does.

McGuire said older adults in the city are the embodiment of the “shoulders upon which we stand” and discussed the role his mother and mother-in-law have played in his life. To address ageism, McGuire said that the city must ensure that seniors have food, “appropriate care,” and “connectivity” with the outside world.

Senior Centers and Aging Services
Murphy shifted to senior centers, discussing city budget cuts and closures they have faced during the pandemic and asking candidates how they would fund and treat senior centers and aging services as mayor.

Garcia discussed her time last year as the city’s emergency covid food czar and said it caused her to realize, of city government, “we were not actually serving all of the older New Yorkers.” She said that the way the city’s contracts with nonprofits operate currently “don’t work” and “make it so problematic” for them to do their work with older New Yorkers. She touted the work of nonprofit organizations as being on the “front lines” in communities.

McGuire said his four goals as mayor for older New Yorkers were addressing mental health issues and loneliness, increasing access and knowledge of technology, ensuring appropriate caregiving, and providing housing. He would accomplish these goals through device distribution, providing seniors with internet access creating a “Junior/Seniors Corps” to teach seniors how to use their devices, and by doubling the amount of senior housing.

Adams said the city needs to “rethink how we view the social determinants of health” and invest in senior centers and adult daycares.

Asked about senior housing, McGuire said that “New York City’s approach to housing simply hasn’t done enough to prepare for senior needs.” To increase access to senior housing, McGuire would create new affordable housing for low-income seniors with on-site services, work towards a new tax credit to incentivize the construction or conversion of housing for seniors that’s affordable at lower-incomes, provide rental assistance so that seniors can avoid homelessness, and move any seniors who enter a homeless shelter directly into long-term housing. He said that avoiding having older New Yorkers in shelters “needs to be the highest priority that we have.”

Adams called the city’s current approach to senior housing too complicated and inaccessible, particularly for seniors who speak English as a second language. He would have the city provide a MyCity card, which would use the information the city has on file on seniors to automatically connect them to city resources. He also mentioned supporting SCRIE, Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemptions, which helps eligible older New Yorkers stay in affordable housing through rent freezes. Adams concluded by discussing support for rent subsidies for senior citizens and increasing the amount of senior housing available through the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Garcia also discussed the role of NYCHA in providing senior housing, adding that it was important to ensure that seniors “can age safely in those homes,” including by retrofitting units to contain wider doors and grab bars. Garcia echoed Adams about increasing the enrollment of older adults in SCRIE and that this enrollment should be automatic, and said that the city should increase awareness of property tax exemptions, that while the city does have resources “being able to leverage these benefits is a real access issue.” She also would create 2,000 units of deeply affordable housing for older adults experiencing homelessness, she said.

Stringer, who joined the forum in time for this question, touted his experience managing public pensions for the city as comptroller, saying that they have “never been stronger.” He pointed towards the Aging in Place report he issued as comptroller as the “blueprint” of what he would do as mayor. He called automatic enrollment in SCRIE “obvious,” mentioning that the city should increase enrollment in the DRIE — a similar program to SCRIE for those with disabilities.

On housing, Stringer said that the “We can no longer build housing for the wealthiest people in the name of affordability” and that “gentrification is putting people out of the neighborhoods they spent a lifetime building.”

Lessons from the Pandemic
Murphy then asked candidates what lessons they felt they had learned from the pandemic about protecting seniors.

Stringer referenced his mother, who died of COVID-19 in a Bronx hospital, saying that the past year has been “a very rough ride” for his family. He criticized the de Blasio administration’s rollout of the vaccine, saying that while the city could not have foreseen the pandemic,

“we sure knew this vaccine was on the way,” and that as comptroller he had encouraged the city to create a plan for fair vaccine distribution. “We’ve had vaccine inequity, that’s no surprise with this administration,” he said, adding that the rollout has “bungled every step of the way” by de Blasio. Stringer mentioned that his office is investigating the city’s vaccine distribution, but that its results will not be released during the mayoral race. Stringer said that the city could’ve improved the integration of senior centers into the vaccine distribution network and that it could have offered the vaccine “door-to-door” for seniors (which is now happening).

Adams called the city’s approach to using data akin to a plane with no instrument panel, a metaphor he is fond of using. He said that the city should have immediately opened a command center to provide “real-time analysis” of testing, food delivery, and vaccination distribution, and that the city’s response to the pandemic “failed everyday New Yorkers.”

Garcia said that the “next mayor will face something we cannot yet imagine” but that the pandemic provided many overlapping social service challenges. She made a point of saying that if DFTA had been effective at providing food deliveries to seniors, she would not have been appointed as food czar, criticizing how she was “literally designing programs over a weekend that ended up delivering a million meals a day.” To improve vaccine distribution, Garcia referenced her previously-released vaccine plan and also said the vaccinations should be done door-to-door. Garcia added that the city should partner with community-based organizations with “deep relationships” with seniors to help connect seniors with services and overcome vaccine hesitancy.

McGuire said “we have not planned for anything expected or unexpected during this administration” and the question the city faced with seniors is about connecting them to “the real world,” particularly with technology distribution and education.

Murphy asked candidates how they would address connectivity issues with seniors to prevent isolation and loneliness.

Garcia, calling isolation “physically dangerous” as well as mentally so, advocated for providing seniors with tablets and the education on how to use them. She stressed the importance of incentivizing “older adults to take advantage of opportunities to connect” such as by creating event calendars and providing “content that really speaks to them.” If affordability was an issue, Garcia would have the city provide assistance as “writing a check is not having to rewire a building.”

Adams would turn Wi-Fi into a utility, invest in senior centers and adult daycare centers, and support telemedicine.

Donovan joined the event in time for this question and said the biggest issue was affordability rather than technology or wiring, and that the city needs to “make sure in the meantime that we have community-based centers.”

Home Care
The candidates were then asked about low pay and poor working conditions for home care workers, and whether there was anything the mayor could do.

Donovan said that “the next mayor can and must,” and that he would work with home care workers, city agencies, and unions to “create a safety net of benefits that actually work.” These benefits would “create real pathways into jobs that can advance careers” and provide a “ladder of opportunity for folks in home care.”

McGuire would invest in a program to train home care workers, ensure that seniors and home care workers are given access to vaccine healthcare and expand the VOICES program, which is run by DFTA and matches isolated older New Yorkers with volunteers who call or video call with them.

As mayor, Adams would ensure that all contracts for home care work include living wages and look at failure of the city to pay on time. He said that he would “make sure we do right with nonprofits so they can do right with their employees.”

Garcia pointed out that many caregivers are older New Yorkers themselves, and that part of the issue has to do with the state, saying that the city must advocate for “the rightful dollars that we need to ensure that we are protecting our seniors” as well as addressing living wage and contract issues.

Seniors and Work
Murphy then asked how the candidates, if elected to be the head of the city’s municipal workforce, would ensure “age is seen as an asset,” referencing age-based workplace discrimination many seniors can face. McGuire referenced the “richness” and “wisdom” of seniors, and said his administration would “keep them by my side…as long as they are prepared to stay.” As workers transition to retirement, McGuire would look to have them continue to contribute in “active and engaged” ways, mentioning retired educators as an example.

Adams noted that many government employees regularly must handle the “trauma” of the New Yorkers they serve, and that he would provide respite periods and create “user-friendly” working environments.

Garcia answered the question most directly to how Murphy asked it, noting the discrimination older New Yorkers face and pushing for the full funding of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) so that the agency can investigate complaints.

Donovan agreed with Garcia about “enhancing” the work of the CHR, but said there are “many, many steps we have to take to go further.” He said that on the first day of his administration he would issue an Aging Bill of Rights and that he would issue an executive order to require all agencies to annually update their aging plans in every phase of their activities.

Middle-Income Seniors
Candidates were asked to discuss “realistically” what the city could do about the fact that “middle-income seniors are sometimes caught in between” having too little money to be secure in their finances and having too much income to qualify for certain income-based programs for seniors.

Adams touted his MyCity card idea, saying that the city would be able to use users’ data to sign them up for programs such as SCRIE, DRIE, and SNAP (food stamps), and take the burden “off the seniors to go out and seek what’s available.”

Garcia would push to secure already-allocated federal funding for the city and use some of it to assist seniors, and to engage with “all of these different populations in the Mayor’s Office” and work to individualize programs.

Donovan focused on housing issues first, saying that the city needs to make investments to keep seniors in their homes, such as loans and tax exemptions. He also said that the city should invest in programs that serve entire neighborhoods independent from income, such as keeping libraries open seven days a week.

McGuire would fund employment programs and subsidize jobs for seniors. He would support nonprofits and libraries to provide services, and work to make sure older New Yorkers know what programs are available to help them. He raised home-sharing as an option to help keep seniors in their homes, though he warned of predators who may approach seniors to sell their homes at a disadvantage.

Street Safety
The next question, from “Harry of Chelsea,” asked candidates what they would do to make walking streets safer for seniors. Garcia called her transportation plans a “critical part” of her overall platform, and that she seeks to “redesign the entire public realm and put pedestrians at the center of it” through changes such as bike lanes.

Donovan said “we need to recognize that we’re living in a 21st century city with 20th century streets.” He said that the city needs to provide truly protected bike lanes, use Bus Rapid Transit, keep well-maintained sidewalks, and improve bus stops and public benches.

McGuire said he would use “comprehensive community-driven neighborhood planning” as “no one size fits all.” He would look at lowering speed limits, adding red light cameras, closing some areas to vehicular traffic, improving pedestrian signage, installing more countdown clocks and accessible signals. McGuire would also better pedestrian ramps on curbs, pointing out seniors using walkers and motorized scooters need them to be accessible, and strengthen the Open Streets program, installing semi-permanent seating and barriers.

Adams touted his work in the state Legislature to decrease speed limits in the city and his borough president office’s work on an Age-Friendly Brooklyn analysis. Rather than specific proposals, Adams said he would have the city government consult with seniors and “find out from them to make sure that the city is the safest city” to move around in.

The candidates were then asked about easing burdens on caregivers. Donovan would look to “support them financially, support them emotionally, and support them by connecting them to networks that help them get the resources and support they need.” He would want to have the city to look at how to provide a “continuum of care” as needs of seniors increase and connect caregivers to senior centers for resources they could access and to answer questions they may have.

McGuire promoted working with the Biden-Harris administration to steer federal funds to New York City from the administration’s infrastructure plan if passed, which includes millions for caregiving needs. He would partner with nonprofits that provide caregiver support programs and

“empower more New Yorkers to recognize themselves as caregivers” so that they can begin the process of being connected to services. His goals for caregivers would be for them to be “properly compensated” and "properly taken care of themselves.”

Adams pointed out that many people do not know about the extent of resources the city offers and would move to centralize information for caregivers to one place to facilitate ease of access. He would appoint a “caregiver czar” to lead a team to connect caregivers to city resources.

Accessibility and Transportation
Increasing accessibility, especially for the subway system and other modes of transportation, was next on the agenda.

McGuire said that he would prioritize fixing the elevators in the subways and other “things as basic as that” and that his economic comeback plan “has at its core” infrastructure improvements for things such as buses, subways, and vans that transport senior citizens.

Adams agreed with McGuire’s emphasis on fixing “the simple things” such as installing elevators, but also called for creating a ride-hailing app for Access-a-Ride, expanding the Fair Fares program, investing in Bus Rapid Transit, and training cab drivers and limousine drivers to handle older adults.

Donovan said similar things about fixing accessibility issues at the MTA, and said that, given his work in the Obama-Biden cabinet, he was “better prepared than any of the other candidates to work very closely with the administration and with Congress” to secure funding for New York City’s transportation infrastructure from a federal infrastructure package.

Donovan would implement congestion pricing and invest more city revenue into the MTA to gain more control of the state-run agency, where the city does have some influence now, and push for an on-demand Access-a-Ride system.

Lightning Round
The forum concluded with a lightning round with the remaining candidates: Adams, Donovan, and McGuire.

The top three issues affecting older adults? Adams said housing, healthcare, and food insecurity. Donovan said housing, healthcare, and transportation. McGuire said housing, healthcare, and technology.

Would DFTA have a larger share of the city budget in your mayoral administration? Donovan said “Absolutely, and I would ensure through my executive order that every dollar we spend goes to helping our seniors,” while McGuire kept it simple with an “Absolutely, yes.” Adams agreed, but said the agency “would have to show me how they’re using the dollars.”

The third question was about how the candidates’ campaigns have reached out to seniors who are afraid of venturing out because of COVID-19 and/or cannot digitally access information about the mayoral race. Donovan pointed to his food program Common Table, which brought food to seniors in their apartments and allowed his campaign to connect with potential voters. McGuire said tongue-in-cheek that his campaign was employing a “much maligned part of how this country works…the United States Postal Service.” Adams echoed Donovan about using the “opportunity of campaigning” as an “opportunity of providing services.” His campaign has gone door-to-door to hand out masks, food, and PPE and to introduce the Adams campaign to potential voters, he said.

Murphy asked the candidates about the role for the NYPD and prosecutors in addressing elder abuse. McGuire said “we need to be much more attentive” about monitoring for elder abuse, and that the NYPD could help monitor that such as through community policing. Adams also said yes, and that the city should look to being “more proactive” than reactive about catching elder abuse. He also wants to “partner with credible messengers in our community” and use banks to catch early warning signs of elder abuse.

Donovan said that “[we] need not just our police, but all of our law enforcement agencies to really focus on ageism, discrimination, and the safety of our seniors,” and that anything done to make New York a more safe and more fair city will ultimately help older New Yorkers.

Murphy finished up by asking the candidates what they most anticipated and what they were most worried about growing older in New York City themselves. Adams said he looked forward to the “luxury of traveling and spending time” with his grandchildren, but was worried about public safety and the efforts to legalize drugs, which he felt endangered public safety. (Mayoral candidate Dianne Morales, the furthest left candidate in the top tier and who has sworn off Zoom forums, has called for legalizing all drugs as a part of her platform.

Donovan looked forward to “having the time to enjoy every aspect of what makes New York City unique in this world,” but worried about having “a city where quality of life has decreased for everyone.” McGuire, on the other hand, said he anticipated playing more basketball but worried about the “lack of respect that is given to our elders.”

The final question of the forum was about how to treat older New Yorkers as more than just “service recipients'' but as people who had contributions to make to the city. Adams discussed including seniors in jobs corps programs and said, “I believe we should create a real intergenerational relationship with our young people.” Donovan said, “We need a mayor in City Hall who understands we need to be the best city in the world on welcoming, celebrating, and honoring older New Yorkers.” McGuire said that he “harnesses” the power of older New Yorkers by listening to his mother for advice everyday, and that he would seek opportunities for retired seniors to contribute to nonprofits or to the education system, such as retired teachers.

{moduleAuthor Grace Getman}

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Offer Ideas for Aging New Yorkers and Greying City Thu, 15 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Public Funds Payment Gives Big Boost to Yang, Garcia, Morales Mayoral Campaigns yang garcia morales

Andrew Yang, Kathryn Garcia, Dianne Morales

The top tier of the Democratic primary field in this year’s race to be the next Mayor of New York City just became all the more competitive as several candidates received much-needed infusions of public matching funds on Thursday through the city’s campaign finance program. 

The New York City Campaign Finance Board’s voluntary public funds program matches small dollar donations to encourage candidates to reach out to a broader swathe of voters and to avoid the pitfalls of fewer wealthier donors influencing elections. In recent years, the program has been strengthened, matching up to the first $250 of every campaign contribution from a city resident to a mayoral candidate at an 8-to-1 ratio. The new matching ratio also comes with a lower maximum individual contribution limit of $2,000. This is also the last election cycle that candidates can opt into the older system which provides a 6-to-1 match for the first $175, and has a contribution limit of $5,100. 

Of the top eight Democratic candidates, six are participating in the new system – Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan has chosen the lower match with higher contribution limits while former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire is the only top candidate funding his campaign entirely from private donations. 

As of last month, Stringer, Adams, and Wiley were the only candidates to have received public funds, giving them a resource advantage as the race headed into its final several months. They received additional funds on Thursday, while Garcia, Morales, and Yang were awarded their first public funds payments, crucially netting them well over $2 million each with just over two months until primary day, June 22 (early voting will be June 12-20). Yang received over $3 million.

The payments were based on the last campaign finance filings from March 15, with the Campaign Finance Board having gone through its vetting process and making its determinations and payouts now.

Donovan, who had $718,000 on hand as of last month’s filing, had also seemed to meet the qualifying threshold for public funds, but the CFB withheld any payments to his campaign. The Board seems to be investigating whether Donovan’s campaign is coordinating with an independent expenditure committee called New Start NYC, funded with $2 million from Donovan’s father. “The Board is deferring its decision on whether to pay public funds to the Donovan campaign today, but it has not made a determination on public funds payments nor on whether there has been a violation,” said Frederick Schaffer, CFB chair, in a statement. “The Board will seek further information in this matter from the Donovan campaign and from New Start NYC and will review that information promptly.”

Donovan’s campaign did not seem worried about any violations, however. “We are confident that this will be resolved quickly,” said campaign manager Brendan McPhillips, in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Campaign Finance Board, because we believe that New York City’s campaign finance laws are a model for the nation. We are grateful to the thousands of New Yorkers who donated to us knowing that their hard-earned dollars would be a part of this system. We believe that in short order our matching funds will be released.”

The other campaigns celebrated the payments as they touted them both as a show of support from voters and as a crucial assist in expanding their reach in the lead-up to June voting.  

Adams had nearly $7.6 million in cash on hand as of March 15 and received another $317,295 in public funds on Thursday. 

Stringer had more than $6.8 million and got another $589,230 in public funds based on the last filing.

“We’re building a multiracial, intergenerational, people-powered coalition to go the distance and win this race. And we’re in the public matching system because campaigns should be about the people and their needs—not big corporations or wealthy donors,” said Tyrone Stevens, a campaign spokesperson. “This latest round of public matchings to our campaign speaks to our building momentum and adds to our campaign’s resources. Scott is a true progressive who has what it takes to win this race and be ready on day one at City Hall.”

Wiley, who got her first public payment of $1.9 million last month and had $1.65 million on hand as of the filing including that payment, received an additional $906,437 in public funds on Thursday. 

Yang, the apparent frontrunner in the race, made the biggest fundraising leap despite his late entry into the race. Since declaring his bid and starting to raise money, Yang has shown prodigious fundraising prowess, in large part building off of his network established during his presidential campaign, during which he raised over $40 million.

In mid-March, Yang had just under $1.3 million in cash on hand. On Thursday, he received a whopping $3.7 million in public funds. In a statement he said, “Let’s go New York! I am so proud of the outpouring of support from New Yorkers across the city that helped us unlock over $3.7 million in matching funds today. These funds will be critical to getting our message out to every New Yorker about our vision for building a vibrant, hopeful, and thriving city over the next four years. Our people powered campaign is just getting started — I can’t wait to keep meeting and talking to all of you in the weeks ahead!"

Garcia -- who along with Wiley, Donovan, McGuire and Morales has never run for elected office before -- had about $393,000 on hand at last month’s filing. On Thursday she received a big boost with a public funds payment of $2.26 million.

“The public finance system gives candidates like Kathryn—a public servant who has never run for office—the opportunity to compete against political insiders and millionaires,” said Monika Hansen, campaign manager, in part, in a statement. “Kathryn doesn’t come from a family with millions to funnel to her campaign through a Super PAC. Instead, she has the enthusiastic support of New Yorkers in all five boroughs. Today’s announcement is yet another testament to the energized, people-driven campaign Kathryn is building across all five boroughs, and a clear sign that New Yorkers are hungry not for politics as usual, but for experienced, crisis-tested leadership.”

Morales, who is running a progressive grassroots campaign relying on small-dollar contributions, was at the bottom fundraising rung within the top tier last month and had just about $260,000 in her campaign account at the March filing. But on Thursday, she received a major needed boost with nearly $2.25 million in public funds for her campaign.

“New Yorkers are ready to radically reimagine what our City can be. These funds will expand the reach of our organizing power and help fuel this movement, a movement to transform our City into one of dignity, care and solidarity,” Morales said in a statement. “I’m so humbled by every single dollar and every drop of support that New Yorkers have given to this campaign so far. We have a responsibility to continue fighting for these communities who have been historically marginalized, made vulnerable by oppressive systems, and ignored by the establishment in power. The People have made a decision that something must change, they have found inspiration and hope in this movement -- we will not let them down.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Public Funds Payment Gives Big Boost to Yang, Garcia, Morales Mayoral Campaigns Thu, 15 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Making the City More Business-Friendly warby parker business nyc

A Warby Parker event (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

This past week, advocacy group Tech:NYC and glasses company Warby Parker, among others, co-hosted a forum with seven leading Democratic candidates for mayor, who appeared one at a time to answer questions from Business Insider columnist Josh Barro about the city’s future and their agendas.

The participating candidates, in order of appearance, were entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio. The event was co-hosted by AT&T, Bowery Farming, Etsy, Harry’s, Via, WeWork, and Zola, among others.

The questions, somewhat uniform to each candidate, focused on issues relevant to the tech and business communities, such as how to attract business to New York City in the post-COVID-19 economy, the failed Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal, housing development, and expanding broadband access.

Andrew Yang
Barro asked Yang as a businessman how he thought that businesses choose to locate in New York, and how as mayor Yang would make them more interested in the city. Citing his experience in start-ups, Yang argued that the location of companies depends on where their employees would like to be. He said that “if there’s one thing that makes the world goes around for founders, it’s talent.”

To make the city more attractive to employees, Yang honed in rectifying quality-of-life issues such as “getting schools open to garbage pick up to public safety concerns.” He reiterated his oft-cited stance that the city must restore its “value proposition” to business owners and others alike to make some of the challenges of the city, like cost and commutes, worth it.

Barro asked why “garbage is piled high on the sidewalks” and why the city has not moved to containerized pick-up. Yang called out the cuts to the Department of Sanitation budget, saying that “if you’ve noticed more trash on the street, that’s why,” and saying that is something he would restore funding to.

Barro moved on to ‘HQ2,’ which was slated for Queens before activists and elected officials who opposed the Amazon deal pushed the company to back out, and the role of subsidies in attracting major technology companies to New York City. Saying that “Manhattan has a natural draw,” Yang acknowledged the role of subsidies in attracting companies to the other boroughs.

Yang said that he supported ‘HQ2’ for Queens, and falsely said, “I’m one of the only mayoral candidates who’s said on the record that losing Amazon was a mistake for the city.” Barro pressed Yang on whether the “billions in subsidies” that Amazon would have received would have been worth it. Yang said it wasn’t great policy. “You can’t just let them walk away,” Yang said, citing the many thousands of jobs the campus was slated to create and support of the service industry it would have provided.

Barro then asked if changes to corporate structures that allow for remote work, accelerated by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, affected the city’s ability to attract tech companies. “New York City is fundamentally a place-based economy,” Yang said, and “the New York City advantage will still be there.” Barro pressed Yang further on the difference of attracting workers versus attracting firms, asking Yang how his strategy to attract companies would change. Yang admitted that the city will have to “compete and make its case” in a way it did not have to in the past, adding that he is exploring “incentives” for workers to commute to the city five times a week, mentioning gift cards to New York City bars and restaurants as a possibility, and making investments to increase tourism.

Barro asked Yang about reducing the sky-high costs of the city’s capital projects. Yang said he would have the city “be more disciplined” about having contractors focus on the quality of their work rather than sub-contracting. He also mentioned he would streamline bureaucracy, saying that it was not user-friendly for small businesses.

Asked how many housing units the city should build over the next ten years, Yang did not present a specific figure, saying only that it would be in “the tens of thousands” for his first term and that he would want to increase the rate of housing development in the city. Seemingly underprepared to discuss housing development goals, Yang pivoted to his pledge to reduce street homelessness “by 50%” over his first term, and said he would want to convert some vacant hotels into affordable and supportive housing.

Barro concluded by asking Yang if he had connected with any of the other mayoral candidates, to which Yang responded that he was “a huge Kathryn Garcia fan” and that she was someone he “admired a great deal.”

Kathryn Garcia
Asked why she is the best candidate for mayor, Garcia told Barro that “understanding how the city works is absolutely critical, because then you can actually fix things” and “know where the pain points are.” She said her managerial experience in various roles in city government made her the strongest potential next leader for New York City.

Barro asked Garcia about the city’s garbage situation, asking if it was possible to “get it off the sidewalks and into closed containers,” to which Garcia said it was fully possible, and that part of that effort would require the city “rethink the public realm” about how street space is used. She mentioned that as sanitation commissioner she had launched a pilot program for commercial corridors that is being implemented.

Asked how she thought public spaces were being underutilized, Garcia advocated that “you need people walking the streets of New York, spending money” and that public space management efforts should look at “Open Restaurants, Open Culture, but also thinking about greening the city,” with references to two recent pandemic-era public space programs launched by the city.

On attracting companies to the city, Garcia said she would focus on a “liveable city,” as companies “locate where they have really strong labor forces.”

“We have to do way better” building housing, Garcia said, adding that her efforts would target “unlocking the private sector by getting rid of the bureaucracy” and building between 20,000 and 30,000 units a year. Citing that “time is money in construction” and that “we don't actually do good planning,” Garcia said she would increase community input and reduce bureaucracy. Barro challenged her on this point, asking how she would resolve situations where increased considerations would conflict with expeditiousness, citing her support while working under de Blasio for special construction permits for hotels. Garcia sidestepped the first part of the question, only defending her support of special permits for hotels.

On expanding broadband access, Garcia said she would target lowering costs, facilitating rule changes to make the expansion of broadband easier in communities, and having the city connect residents to broadband themselves if companies did not create broadband access where the city would like.

Eric Adams
Adams said that he is the best candidate for mayor because of his life experiences from growing up in poverty, experiencing police brutality, becoming a police officer himself, and his diabetes diagnosis that he went on to beat through a healthy lifestyle. As “someone who has gone through a lot,” Adams said he was in the best position to help other people “going through a lot.”

On how companies should be “respectful” in the city and be good neighbors, something Barro brought up as Adams has discussed it in the past, Adams said he would challenge corporations to think on the question “how do I involve myself in the communities put in place long before me?” such as working with the Department of Education to teach children life skills. On how he would actually accomplish these partnerships, Adams pointed towards working with specific organizations and not “demonizing companies” and creating “this synergy that we are in this together.”

Examining his stated plan to name an “efficiency czar” to make city government work better, Barro asked how Adams’ approach to reducing waste differed from past tactics under Bloomberg and de Blasio. Adams argued that “the city is dysfunctional” because “agencies are not aligned” and pointed to his record in the NYPD using data and technology as part of the department’s modern evolution. When pressed by Barro on how agencies would operate differently, Adams cited his mother saying “What gets measured, gets done. If you don’t inspect what you expect, it’s all suspect,” and said he would want real-time data for examining basic city services.

Barro gave Adams the same question he gave to Yang on whether the city should push for tech companies to locate in boroughs other than Manhattan and whether Adams would support subsidies to make that happen. Adams denied that the city needed a subsidy program, and turned to discussing quality-of-life issues. To “build the proper environment” for companies to locate all over the city, he would focus on providing services such as access to transportation, public safety, and high-speed internet, he said.

Barro brought up the defeated Industry City rezoning in Brooklyn, an expansion and development proposal promising thousands of jobs and more economic activity along the Brooklyn waterfront that was ultimately defeated by local activists and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “It’s really unfortunate that we could not seal the deal in Industry City,” Adams said, adding that on development projects in general he would want to focus on being inclusive but also on “how can we get to a yes.” On whether or not local Council members have too much power to kill projects in their districts, Adams argued that for projects that affect the entire city, one member of the City Council should not have the power to shut them down, an informal practice known as “member deference” where the full Council defers to the local member whose district the proposal is slated for.

On housing, Adams told Barro that asking how many units of housing to add was “the wrong question” and that the city should audit its current housing to see where there are vacancies or lack of use and go from there. Barro pushed back, saying that even with auditing vacant housing more housing must be developed because of the city’s growing population, on which Adams deflected and instead pressed his desire to identify unused housing.

Shaun Donovan
Barro opened his conversation with Donovan, the former head of housing in the city and nationally under Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama, on housing. Donovan said the city should add 50,000 units per year, a very large goal, and touted his “15-minute neighborhoods” plan to ensure every New Yorkers lives in a great neighborhood with access to everything they need.

On rezonings, Donovan said he was open to upzonings for more housing, such as what the de Blasio administration is currently attempting in SoHo. He added that there should be a “citywide land use budget” to “make sure every community is doing its fair share,” through looking at ways to add density and using citywide inclusionary zoning.

After Barro asked what he would do differently to add housing from his time under Bloomberg, Donovan said the scope of the city’s housing problem is wide enough that “changing the trajectory” for the city takes years. He also said he was proud of the Bloomberg legacy on upzoning wealthier communities.

On lowering the cost of construction, Donovan discussed “building differently” such as using new technologies and having an administration “that brings innovation to every phase of what government does.”

On attracting increasingly mobile workers and firms to New York City, Donovan called himself “an urban optimist” and that the question was about whether or not specifically New York City could manage the challenge. New York City can become the “tech center” of the world, he said, and he would make it happen through his specific plans and by focusing on quality-of-life issues.

Ray McGuire
McGuire argued that he was the best candidate for mayor because of his private sector experience, where he was one of the top executives at Citi and on Wall Street more generally, saying that “this is not the time where someone gets to the mayoral spot to learn how to manage or lead.”

On attracting businesses, McGuire said that the city should “incentivize businesses to do more business here, not less” and that he would work on uniting business interests with the rest of the city, rather than pursuing divisive measures such as increasing taxes.

To move “job centers out to the outer boroughs,” McGuire supported using subsidies, which he referred to as incentives. McGuire said the collapse of the Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal was a mistake and that the project would have been a big net positive for the city, even with the subsidies.

On expanding broadband access, McGuire said it’s essential for education, and pointed to his economic comeback plan, which would include efforts to create universal broadband access.

To improve the efficiency of the city’s capital projects and “to bring costs under control,” McGuire said he would “bring all constituents to the table.” He said that he “wasn’t in anyone’s pocket” and that his “sole focus” is on what is best for the city, that he’s not “focused on sub-agendas.” He referenced de Blasio’s tagline of the “Tale of Two Cities,” saying that now New York City was a “fractured city.”

Calling his answer “nonspecific,” Barro pushed McGuire to elaborate on what made his leadership skills unique. McGuire said that, having led a global business, he was the only candidate with the skills to unite the diverse constituencies of New York City and focus on “shared prosperity.”

On housing, McGuire said he would like to increase the city’s housing units by 10%, or 350,000 units. Barro asked McGuire for a timeline on such development, which McGuire side-stepped, pointing to lowering construction costs and the economic benefits new construction would bring.

Scott Stringer
Stringer said he should be the next mayor in part because he is a “real seasoned government leader, who has vision and experience.”

Barro asked Stringer how he would seek to regain jobs lost in the COVID-19 pandemic, confronted with “an economy that may be permanently different in certain ways,” citing business travel as something that may permanently decrease.

Stringer replied that he would focus on small businesses, including by directing $1 billion from the city’s federal stimulus money to them. He would provide tax incentives for new businesses to locate in the city in "vacant corridors” and would make sure small businesses are not “fined and fee-ed into oblivion.” He said small business owners would not need to hire an expediter to get projects approved in the city and he would create a tech platform for small businesses to use to efficiently navigate city processes.

Asked what he would do differently from Bloomberg and de Blasio on the issues of inefficiency in small business processes, Stringer lambasted de Blasio by saying “what he didn’t do was govern.” Saying “you gotta manage this town,” Stringer said that he would focus on actually accomplishing goals that the city sets for itself.

On attracting tech companies to boroughs other than Manhattan and the role of subsidies in those conversations, Stringer said “it’s exciting that we’re spreading our economy out,” that “if we build it, they will come,” that he would focus on quality-of-life issues such as transportation, and that attracting businesses relies on the “value proposition” of what the city can offer businesses.

On how many housing units he would seek to create as mayor, Stringer said “as many as possible,” but he said key to his vision is creating enough “low-income housing” to actually meet the need in the city. Looking at the legacies of Bloomberg and de Blasio, he said, “We’ve had mayors talking about these big numbers, but they have not helped people get housing.” His efforts would focus on housing that targets those close to homelessness and would focus on true affordability. He would create 10,000 units of low-income housing and “catalogue” the vacant parcels the city owns for potential developments.

Maya Wiley
Saying that the COVID-19 pandemic “pulled the curtain back” on the issues the city faced, Wiley said that the challenge for the next mayor would be to “create a more unified city.” Doing this requires “very different leadership” to pursue “transformative policy,” Wiley said, adding, “I’m not a politician, and I think that’s the point.”

On expanding broadband, Wiley pointed to her work on universal broadband when working for de Blasio at City Hall by soliciting input from outside groups such as Girls Who Code, and by unifying the efforts of different agencies to work on the project. When Barro pushed Wiley for concrete steps for accomplishing universal broadband, she said she would focus government efforts on the “last mile problem in highly, highly, underserved areas” by “asset-mapping” current city resources that could be used to provide universal broadband. She would also pursue public-private partnerships, and look at technological innovations, she said.

On small businesses, Barro asked about why Wiley’s platform would have the city increase the number of restaurant health inspections, but to have those inspections announced in advance. Wiley said sometimes the city’s efforts to protect health can backfire by “jeopardizing the business rather than serving the public,” and that her plan would maintain restaurants’ compliance with health code violations while

Adding to her response, Wiley said she would streamline small businesses’ interactions with the city and grow their relationship with the city. She would want the city to be more proactive in their assistance to small businesses, so that they work together to solve problems rather than having the city shutting down actions after the fact. As an example, she mentioned having the city release blueprints for COVID-19-safe outdoor dining vestibules, rather than punishing restaurants for non-compliant vestibules after those businesses spent thousands of dollars “that they don’t have” on them. This would be “business-friendly, without sacrificing the issues we have to protect for the public,” she said.

Barro asked Wiley if there were other “big pilots” such as Open Streets she would want to pursue as mayor. “City government is a city unto itself,” she replied, and said that it is important to “recognize where government needs to partner with itself” better. To that end, she mentioned her plan to create an Office of Public Space Management, which would unite different agencies to create a centralized approach.

by Grace Getman for Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Making the City More Business-Friendly Sun, 11 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Teachers Union Grills 'Final Four' Candidates in Its Mayoral Race Endorsement Process UFT Mulgrew schools

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) invited the “final four” Democratic candidates for mayor it is considering endorsing in this year’s election to a public forum on Wednesday as the New York City teachers union determines which of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang it will back in the primary set for June.

Union leaders and the candidates covered a range of topics, including charter schools, gifted and talented programs, high-stakes testing, mental health services for students, teacher retention rates, remote learning programs, WiFi and technology access, PTA funding, and more. Candidates discussed how the city should address learning loss and psychological trauma from the pandemic and closed schools and tried to pitch themselves as the most qualified to develop and execute a comprehensive and equitable educational plan that will address long-standing inequities that the pandemic exacerbated.

Michael Mulgrew, the UFT president, moderated the event, while he and numerous union members posed questions to the candidates and pushed them on the union’s priorities. Throughout the 90-minute forum, a rare such event as part of any labor union’s endorsement process, Mulgrew challenged the candidates to fully explain their viewpoints, often inserting his and the union’s point of view, and asking follow-up questions. Most questions were posed to specific candidates, including on multiple occasions where Mulgrew indicated the union’s skepticism of Adams and Yang, though there was overlapping subject matter.

The forum provided candidates an opportunity to impress the UFT Delegate Assembly, who will issue their endorsement soon, with the union among the last of the city’s largest to choose which candidate it is backing. The UFT has struggled to get its chosen candidate over the finish line in many recent mayoral elections -- in the last open race, it backed Bill Thompson, who lost the Democratic primary to Bill de Blasio, whom the union has mostly had a good relationship with, though it has been deeply strained during the pandemic.

Although Yang is leading in the early polls, he has come into conflict with union, particularly over recent remarks he made to Politico New York that put blame on the UFT for what Yang deemed as a too-slow pace of school reopenings. During his presidential campaign, Yang described himself as “pro-charter” school, which is anathema to the UFT, and questioned how quickly teachers are able to become tenured -- two stances Mulgrew pushed him on during Wednesday’s forum. Adams was also questioned over his support for charter schools.

Stringer and Wiley have stronger apparent alignment with the UFT on policy, and both have proposed expansion of the teacher workforce as part of their campaigns. Stringer is a long-time ally of the union, which helped him win both his highly-competitive first races for Manhattan Borough President and Comptroller. He has been seen as the favorite for the union’s endorsement in this race, but there are many considerations involved. Adams and Wiley have thus far won some of the other major union endorsements, while Stringer has also picked up some, including the union of school principals and administrators just this week.

“We've really robbed our children of the joy of learning with high-stakes testing,” said Adams, who kicked off the forum by describing his third-grade teacher, who “inspired me and placed the joy of learning inside me.” Adams decried the lack of resources available to teachers, saying, “Far too often our teachers must go into their own pocketbooks or pockets, or they have to do without in their classroom.” As mayor, Adams would “give them the tools they need.”

“We should be doing more to provide technical education, apprenticeship and vocational paths to kids in high school, in particular high school is when the rubber hits the road for a lot of these kids,” said Yang when asked how he would increase internship opportunities for high school students. Yang said he would partner not only with large corporations but also small business owners, citing his first job experience as a busboy.

During an early lightning round, candidates were asked to limit their answers to “yes” or “no,” though they often struggled to do so, and in some cases candidates were asked to elaborate on their answers. Candidates were divided in their responses on topics related to mayoral control of schools, the state cap on charter schools, and high-stakes testing.

Asked if they would keep the current model of mayoral control, Wiley and Adams said no, indicating they wanted mayoral control but with changes, and Stringer said, “Yes, with changes.” Yang gave the only unequivocal yes, explaining his belief it “has been a net positive for the city since the change was made.”

Candidates unanimously answered “no” when asked if they would continue testing kindergarteners for gifted and talented programs, although Yang specified, “When asked that way, no.”

Candidates also unanimously answered “yes” when asked if every school deserved a gifted and talented program, though Wiley specified, “Yes, redefined.”

Asked to explain his stance, Stringer emphasized democratizing access and resources, saying, “The ultimate way we're going to make every classroom and every school gifted and talented is by actually investing in the same resources gifted and talented classrooms have, and that starts with investing K-to-5, two teachers in every classroom, a head teacher and assistant teacher, just like they do in private schools.”

Candidates unanimously agreed to keep the cap on charter schools, though the answers held some nuance. “We don't need to increase the number of charter schools that we have,” said Adams. “There are some failing charter schools—people want to believe there aren't, but there are—and let's phase them out and allow those successful schools, those schools that are really focusing on achievement, and allow them to fill those slots.” Yang has indicated he believes that the currently unused but previously awarded charters should be re-issued, so not raising the cap but allowing for the creation of new charter schools.

Asked if they would keep the standardized Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the only criteria for admissions to the city’s eight specialized high schools, candidates had time to answer briefly then elaborate.

Wiley said “no,” explaining, “I think we should actually be talking about how amazing every last one of our high schools should be and how amazing every last one of our students are, and focus on what invests in all of their success.”

Stringer said no and specified that he would “end the SHSAT for specialized schools” and “replace the SHSAT with the seventh-grade test,” arguing it’s more reflective of the content teachers are teaching in classrooms. He noted that the SHSAT “denies kids of color opportunity,” and so replacing the test would “diversity the student bodies of the specialized schools.”

Adams said he would keep the SHSAT test but noted he would “use a cross-section of criteria” to make the admissions process more holistic. “We have a lot of children with special needs that are gifted that are being denied access, or English as a second language,” he said. Adams also called for the creation of five new specialized high schools, one in each borough, arguing, “We put too much of our oxygen in the room for eight schools, when we have over 400 high schools that need the assistance that they deserve.”

Yang took a similar stance to Adams, saying he “would keep the SHSAT, but use other criteria, as well.”

Tensions rose when Mulgrew pressed Yang to clarify his position regarding comments he made during the Politico interview, when Yang said, “I will confess to being a parent that has been frustrated by how slow our schools have been to open, and I do believe that the UFT has been a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open.”

Mulgrew also referenced Yang’s past comments calling himself “pro-charter” and saying, “I think it’s ridiculous that we’re tenuring teachers at like the two-year mark or something, and make it so you can’t be paid or you can’t be disciplined or fired.” Mulgrew asked Yang if he stood by all these stances.

“Mike, you and I had a productive conversation afterwards where you conveyed to me that it’s been a failure of leadership on the part of the mayor and that the teachers need a partner who’s committed to reopening the schools in a responsible way that protects teachers and makes everyone feel safe and secure,” Yang responded, though he did not explicitly amend or retract his original position, reiterating that he was speaking as a frustrated parent. “I agree that the mayor has failed the teachers and public school parents like me at providing the leadership that we needed to get our schools to reopen more quickly.”

Yang also reiterated his original remarks regarding tenure, saying, “I think that teachers are awesome. But there are a lot of teachers that I think could stand a bit more seasoning before you give them a certain degree of tenure or professional assurance, and that statement is something I would stand by.”

Mulgrew pushed back, explaining that teachers receive tenure in four years, not two, as Yang’s original statement suggested (though Yang was talking more broadly than New York City at the time amid his presidential run). “The position of tenure is one of the most misunderstood things, and it's constantly used as a political football against the teachers,” said Mulgrew. “The protection for tenure means that more than 50% of the teachers never reached the tenure decision because they don't last in the profession.”

Yang agreed that teacher burnout was “a structural problem,” saying, “As a public school parent, any parent would agree that we need to do more to support teachers and keep them in the profession.”

Asked how he would manage the Department of Education to lower the rate of teacher burnout, Yang suggested, “If teachers are delivering at a very high level, they should be getting paid more,” or teacher merit pay, on top of smaller class sizes and more teachers in the classroom.

Mulgrew took issue with Yang’s position. “I want to know why you would support something such as individual merit pay when all educational research on it now has proven it not to work for children,” he said.

“I'm not suggesting that the compensation necessarily gets matched to something like, for example, test scores. I'm not for that,” explained Yang. He continued, “If you look at the amount of money we're spending per student, it’s really significant. And then if you look at the proportion of that that's going to actual teachers, it's really low.” Yang went on to suggest “paying teachers more from year one.”

Adams was asked about his plan to fix inequities regarding access to the internet and technological devices for students. He began by citing his opposition to renewing Verizon’s citywide franchise on the grounds that the company has “ignored communities of color in impoverished areas.” Adams went on to criticize the Department of Education for failing to communicate with educators during the remote learning rollout, saying, “We need to really speak to the people closest to the action.” Adams called for “a real-time GIS mapping system to see where WiFi is located” and track when students receive devices. And he called for ensuring high speed broadband access, adding that he has “put over $130 million into our schools to help with technology,” in apparent reference to use of his capital budget as borough president.

Mulgrew pushed back on Adams’ proposals, saying, “If we're going to actually tackle this, there has to be a management plan in place because I'm letting you know there is not one in place to do this systematically.”

Adams suggested utilizing existing resources, such as the NYPD, which has demographics data for all schools, to deliver computers and tablets to students.

In addition to technology, Adams said schools should be places where students can have a range of other health and wellness needs met. “Schools should be the focal point for the full development of the full personhood of our children—eyeglasses, or food pantries in every school, washers and dryers, toiletries, so many things are barriers to education,” said Adams.

Wiley offered a similarly sweeping vision for the public education system, pledging to “build out the community school that they’re also wraparound services for the entire family.”

Yang and Stringer took different stances on accommodating families who want to participate in fully remote learning for the foreseeable future as the city still battles with COVID-19 and new variants.

“We have to recognize that not one size fits all for parents and for students, and we should build that system out,” Stringer said.

Yang, who has been the most vocal of the candidates about reopening schools faster, was reluctant to commit to building out a remote learning program. “I think it's too soon to tell whether a child is thriving,” he said, pushing back against Mulgrew’s assertion that teachers say some small population of students has done very well with remote learning and Stringer’s assertion that one of his two sons has done well with remote learning. Yang noted that the decision to participate in remote learning varied along racial lines. “We can’t force people, obviously, to do something. But we should be doing everything in our power to convey the information, which is that in-person instruction is a better approach,” said Yang, citing studies that have shown “in person-instruction is 30% to 70% more effective at content-based learning.”

Wiley was asked if she would support housing subsidies for teachers. “I am actually putting forth a plan whereby we are going to create much more affordable housing and at the levels of affordability that our essential workers can actually pay,” said Wiley. She noted that she would repurpose at least some of the city’s vacant land to create affordable housing, an idea that has been central to Stringer’s housing framework for several years and he reiterated during the forum as well.

Candidates were asked about utilizing the coming infusion of funds from the federal and state governments.

Stringer voiced support for UFT’s recommendation that the city allocate $1 billion in federal covid relief funds for students’ mental health. He spotlighted his child care plan, which would “triple the number of kids in child care” by specifically targeting households making up $100,000 a year. He said the city should fund “full after-school programs,” a position he elaborated on later in the forum: “Under my education plan, we're going to equalize after-school funding. If one school gets chess, every school gets chess. One school gets robotics, every school gets robotics.”
“I'm going to make sure we're hiring 1,000 new teachers in order to bring class sizes down,” said Wiley, who noted doing so would “help us confront the reality of a traumatized community because we have to start individualizing our learning for our kids.” Wiley emphasized cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral therapy for students and “more summer youth employment.”

Adams pledged to provide every first-time mother with a doula who will provide nutritional education and prevent “irreversible learning disabilities.” He stressed “real dyslexia screening in schools,” citing data that 30% of detainees at Rikers Island have dyslexia. He said he would expand the plant-based nutrition pilot program that he spearheaded at Bellevue Hospital “that’s reversing chronic diseases. He also mentioned providing children with healthy foods, ensuring every child in the foster care system has a home, and rebuilding trust with law enforcement.

Although Yang decried the departure of what he said was 300,000 families from the city as a result of the pandemic, as well as the loss of 600,000 jobs, he did not directly explain how he would utilize the city’s flush coffers for its recovery.

Wiley was asked to explain her stance on eliminating gifted and talented programs and improving integration in the city’s schools. Although Wiley chaired the School Diversity Advisory Group empaneled by Mayor de Blasio and has reiterated her support for the panel’s recommendations to replace gifted and talented programs with broader models, redraw district lines, and move away from from admissions screens to drive integration in the public school system, she has not yet emphasized school integration in her campaign so far.

Wiley used her response time to primarily explain the panel’s recommendations regarding gifted and talented programs. “We have to expand the opportunity for gifted education, for helping invest in supporting the talents of all our kids, recognizing they all have one or some, and that there are far too many that don't get the benefit of the investments, and we don't have enough programs,” said Wiley. “What we saw was a proliferation of things called gifted and talented in low-income communities of color that actually weren't. That's what we wanted to avoid was the idea that because you slap the label on something, that that's what it was.”

Educators who posed questions to the candidates raised concerns throughout the forum about addressing children’s mental health and trauma in the wake of the pandemic.

“We have to triple the number of social workers in our schools,” said Stringer, who repeated his endorsement of the UFT’s proposal to provide more mental health services in the city’s schools throughout the forum.

Yang joined the call for increased mental health services, saying, “The ratio right now of guidance counselors, social workers, mental health workers, per school, or per child is terrible, particularly when we know our kids are going to be coming back with learning loss, and in some cases trauma, emotional problems.”

Mulgrew quizzed candidates on the UFT’s five-point pandemic recovery plan. While Adams and Stringer confirmed they’d read it, Wiley said she “read the Cliff’s Notes” and Yang said, “I confess I have not read it.”

Adams has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and parent choice regarding where they decide they want their children to go to school, so he was asked if his stance had changed at all in light of a disability discrimination case concerning Success Academy, by far the city’s largest charter school network and which was court-ordered to pay $2.4 million. Adams clarified, “It was not a position on Success Academy. It was a position on charter schools. Charter schools—the successful ones, the ones that have scaled up excellence—we should duplicate just as we do our district schools that are doing an amazing job.”

Stringer said he would implement a teacher’s residency program to reduce teacher turnover and improve diversity.

To this point, Wiley flagged high-stakes testing as a significant cause of teacher turnover. “We've got to stop teaching to the test, and start teaching to our kids,” said Wiley, who said her kids’ favorite teacher left the profession “because of the tyranny of testing, she couldn't teach.”

Asked how he would reduce the number of homeless students, Yang offered the notion of converting vacant hotel and office buildings into affordable housing units, an idea he has supported during other forums, as well. “If you look at a hotel, you can convert it in half the time and at half the cost than if you had ground up construction, even if the incentives were in place,” said Yang. “Even though I'm an optimist about the pace of New York City's recovery, I don't think that these hotels are going to be 100% utilized,” he said. He also called for increasing the value of housing vouchers.

Stringer was pushed on his shifting and complicated stance toward taking real estate industry donations. Stringer took real estate donations until making a new policy to decline funds from large developers. Although Stringer said he has returned some donations, he largely defended his war chest, citing the economic pressures of running as a mayoral candidate against well-funded competition, referencing without names former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire and former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan.

“The reality is I'm now running against a guy who's not in the campaign finance program; 20 billionaires are running super PACs. We have another candidate, who is not here tonight—his daddy is putting in a million dollars a week. And I gotta win this race,” he said of McGuire and Donovan, respectively.

“The issue here, though,” said Mulgrew, “is that we've had 20 years of mayors telling us they’re fixing the homeless problems.”

Stringer reiterated his promise to center affordable housing as mayor, citing his aggressive housing plan, which would require affordable caps for 25% of the housing in any new housing development anywhere in the city and focus on city subsidies to create housing for very low-income New Yorkers.

In another lightning round section, candidates were asked if they would keep the current choice system for high school admissions more broadly, to which candidates unanimously said “no.” Candidates also unanimously said “no” on whether they would keep the current system for funding student sports programs.

Candidates unanimously agreed that the Regents exams should not be reinstated next school year.

Asked if wealthy PTAs should be required to share funds with less-wealthy PTAs, Yang was the only candidate who said “no,” explaining, “it should be voluntary.”

In the final section of the forum, candidates were allowed to pose a question to another candidate of their choosing.

Yang asked Stringer to explain more about his kids’ pandemic experience, noting they both have children around the same age, which led to a friendly exchange about a potential playdate.

Adams asked Yang to explain controversial remarks he made about the difficulty of parenting and working in small New York City apartments during the pandemic, part of his explanation for spending many of the city’s worst covid days at his upstate home, as well as his point of view that UFT was a “significant factor” regarding delayed school reopenings.

“I just need to understand why you felt as though these teachers didn’t put their lives on the line and those who are living in difficult surroundings did not leave the city and why you felt it was okay to do so,” said Adams.

Yang explained, “I care deeply about what families of every circumstance are going through every day,” adding, “You’ve been in this a long time, so you understand what one quote pulled out of context in an interview actually is.” (There is no indication Yang’s quote was taken out of context, and the New York Times reporter whom he said it to disputed his assertion on Twitter.)

Yang also said he had been out of the city campaigning to help elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, then to help Democrats win the two Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs, all of which were successful, though that travel did not occur until after the worst months of the pandemic in New York.

Stringer challenged Adams to explain a position he expressed in a Bloomberg interview that one teacher could teach several hundreds of students remotely. In the interview, Adams said doing so “would be cost-effective,” but during the forum, Adams characterized the position as a “misquote.” Instead, he endorsed the UFT’s proposal of extended summer hours and hiring additional teachers. Although he did voice support for “utilizing remote learning,” he did not go into further detail.

Wiley asked for Yang to clarify his stance on high-stakes testing given his experience as the founder of a test prep company (which was largely for helping people with entrance to graduate school programs, like the GMAT business school exam). “We’re actually outsourcing judgment that would be better in the hands of teachers,” said Yang, who argued that teachers “know who could use an enrichment program” and “you shouldn’t need to, frankly, have that kid sit for a test.” He also said the school system should “lighten up in terms of the kids’ perception of it,” but did not explain how that would be accomplished. He reiterated his point that other factors, such as teacher recommendations, interviews, extracurriculars, and background should inform the admissions process into the specialized high schools.

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Teachers Union Grills 'Final Four' Candidates in Its Mayoral Race Endorsement Process Thu, 08 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
How Much Trouble Is Scott Stringer's Mayoral Campaign In? 3 how much

Scott Stringer (photo: Stringer 2013)

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer is the only candidate in this year’s Democratic primary for mayor who can boast of having won a citywide race. But after many years laying the groundwork for a mayoral run and now in his eighth and final year as the city’s chief fiscal watchdog, he isn’t making the kind of splash in the 2021 race that most observers and even his campaign had expected.

Though according to a new poll half of likely Democratic voters remain undecided and the final three months of the race before the June primary will be determinative, Stringer has been in third place in most of the limited polling thus far, and seems to have lost ground as entrepreneur Andrew Yang leads and lesser-known candidates who have never run for any office before, like civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, pick up steam.

Stringer and his campaign are showing concern but also cautioning political insiders from developing any conclusions or narratives about his demise, stressing his strong history as a campaigner, that very groundwork he has been laying for many years, the millions of dollars he has in the bank, and other potential advantages.

“The winner of the Democratic Primary on June 22 will be the candidate with the resources and the receipts to persuade New Yorkers of true readiness to lead the biggest city in America — and Scott Stringer is, by far, best positioned to do so,” said Micah Lasher, Stringer’s campaign manager, in a memo sent out after the recent poll.

They are of course right to say that the race has only just begun, with campaigns now starting to spend their money on voter outreach and most likely voters barely paying attention to the primary, if at all. Still, there are some troubling signs for Stringer.

The poll released last week by lobbying firm Fontas Advisors and opinion research firm Core Decision Analytics, which are unaffiliated with any campaign, found that 50% of likely Democratic voters were undecided. Yang, the recent Democratic presidential candidate, was in the lead with 16% of the vote and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams second with 10%. Yang and Adams have held those two spots in every recent poll seen publicly.

In this latest Fontas/CDA poll, Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, was third with 6% and Stringer fourth with 5%. Other candidates considered in the top tier who have yet to break through include former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales.

It’s not that Stringer struggles for name recognition. He has been involved in New York politics for decades, including hard-fought wins in highly-competitive primaries for Manhattan Borough President and Comptroller, the latter victory coming in 2013 over former Governor Eliot Spitzer. Stringer had briefly launched his own run for mayor in 2012 before dropping to the comptroller race and by many accounts he’s been eyeing the top spot at City Hall for much of his adult life, if not longer — Stringer comes from a political family and was appointed to a community board at 16 years old.

It’s not surprising that of the likely voters in the Fontas/DCA poll, 64% said they had heard of him, second only to Yang’s 85% name recognition owing to his high-profile presidential bid. It was the second poll conducted by the firms, following one released in February, which had different methodology. The shift appears to have at least in part led to a loss of vote-share by several candidates. In the February poll, where the candidates were briefly described to voters being polled, Yang was leading with 28%, Adams was second with 17%, and Stringer was in third place with 13%.

There’s no telling what will happen in the final months of this election, New York City mayoral races are known for breaking late, and predicting anything this year is further complicated by the first use of ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, where voters can rank five candidates in order of preference in primary and special elections. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-place votes, the detailed counting process will unfold whereby some voters’ second and even third preferences may determine the winner.

The mayoral field includes a diverse group of candidates, many of them with ideologies and platforms similar to Stringer’s, at least in broad strokes. Even though Yang, Stringer, and Adams have fairly strong name recognition, almost none of the candidates have started to spend any significant money, with many millions about to flow into mailings, TV, radio, and digital ads, and other forms of campaigning. Most voters, even those who vote in every Democratic primary, do not seem to have really started paying close attention to the race.

With ranked-choice voting in play, the day after the Fontas/CDA poll came out, Yang’s campaign released another of its own internal polls showed Yang as the first choice for 25% of voters; 15% said Adams was their first choice; and Stringer, again in third place, was the first choice for 12% of voters — 20% were undecided. All polls, especially internal campaign polls and those conducted long before voting will occur, must be taken with a grain of salt, but there has been some consistency early on across the various polls seen publicly, giving some indication of where the race stands as its central phase is about to unfold.

After the most recent Fontas/CDA poll, it was again clear that the Stringer campaign is concerned about the developing narrative that he is struggling to gain a foothold, that Yang has eclipsed him, or that the race is looking like it will really be between Yang and Adams.

“Despite a concerted effort by the Yang campaign to convey a sense of inevitability, today their candidate has just 16% of the vote,” said Lasher, in his campaign memo. “With no other candidate north of 10%, fully half of voters undecided, and the ultimate winner needing to break 50% of the primary vote in a Ranked Choice Voting system, this race is wide open — and it will remain so for some time.”

Lasher also pointed out that Stringer is one of four candidates – besides Adams, Yang, and McGuire – who have raised enough funds to blanket the city with ads over the next few months (McGuire and Donovan have already begun advertising). As of the latest campaign finance deadline, March 15, Stringer had $6.8 million in cash on hand, Adams had $7.5 million, and McGuire had $3.6 million. Yang had about $1.3 million, but is continuing to raise money and is expected to receive public funds through the city’s campaign finance program through the next payment to be made April 15.

“In other words, Scott Stringer is the only progressive in the race with the resources to win,” Lasher wrote, attempting to differentiate Stringer from the more moderate threesome of Adams, Yang, and McGuire, though the lines are not so clear-cut. Broadly speaking, Stringer is indeed running on a more progressive platform, as are Wiley, Donovan, and Morales to varying degrees. Garcia is in more of the moderate lane, though all of the candidates have taken stances that span easy ideological categorization.

Lasher also noted that though the change in methodology in the two Fontas polls could account for the drop in voter support, Yang saw a larger decrease, which “suggests the start of a Yang decline.”

“After excitement attached to the celebrity of Andrew Yang’s candidacy begins to fade, voters will look for the candidate who is tested, steady, and ready to lead the city out of crisis. That candidate is Scott Stringer,” he added.

Spokespeople for Stringer declined to provide any additional comment for this story beyond what is in the lengthy memo.

Even before the Fontas poll, Stringer seemed to sense the threat of Yang’s campaign more than others. Stringer and Adams, and their representatives, have been the most open and public in their critiques of Yang, including questioning his commitment to the city and his lack of involvement in local civic affairs.

In an interview with Politico New York earlier this month, Yang had blamed the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), for slowing down the pace of school reopenings. “I will confess to being a parent that has been frustrated by how slow our schools have been to open, and I do believe that the UFT has been a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open,” Yang said.

The comment quickly drew broad condemnation from several mayoral candidates. In an appearance before the Association for a Better New York the next day, Stringer went directly after Yang.

“Perhaps Mr. Yang wouldn’t have said what he said if he had stayed in New York last spring and seen an entire city of teachers make the best of the worst to teach our kids, even as everything they knew changed overnight,” he said, referring to Yang’s decampment from the city to his upstate home during the height of the pandemic. “Perhaps Mr. Yang wouldn’t have tried to score cheap political points at the expense of our teachers if he had come back this fall, and seen them take their lives in their hands again to go back to school, when no other big city in America was doing it.”

The comment was also an apparent attempt by Stringer to further endear himself with the UFT, which represents 190,000 members and is one of the largest and most prominent public unions in the city. Stringer has longstanding ties to the UFT and is hoping to land its endorsement in the race. Thus far, several of the city’s other major labor unions have supported Adams or Wiley, no doubt adding to the sense among some that Stringer is in precarious position and among his supporters that he needs a shot in the arm. Stringer has been backed by a number of labor unions, including the retail workers, and Garcia has been backed by the sanitation workers and others.

Observers of the mayoral race say Stringer is clearly losing ground to opponents but could still be competitive. “He’s still alive in my view. Things are quite fluid. But he has no question had to deal with real incursions in his own base,” said Neal Kwatra, founder of Metropolitan Public Strategies, in a text message. “Yang and Wiley and to a lesser extent Donovan are all playing on his side of the field with his white liberal base. That dynamic has prevented him from focusing on broadening that base to other key voter groups he needs to win. I also think frankly it created a bit of a perception problem for him with some key unions he likely was hoping would back him. But there is still ample time and I think his race against Spitzer is instructive for his more tortoise approach to building and peaking.”

Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran political consultant, was far more blunt about Stringer’s chances, pointing to several reasons why the two-term Democrat has stumbled. He pointed out, for instance, that historically comptrollers tend to not win the mayoralty.

“The Stringer strategic gamble was that he would move to the left, be able to then create relationships that would be useful with the Democratic Socialists and others,” he said, citing Stringer’s endorsement of several progressive candidates, particularly women of color, in state elections in 2018. That included now State Senators Jessica Ramos and Alessandra Biaggi, who have endorsed him in this year’s race, and then Tiffany Caban, who nearly won the race for Queens district attorney in 2019 and is now running for City Council but has not endorsed Stringer. The comptroller also backed and then received the backing of now Rep. Jamaal Bowman, among others who Stringer is hoping will pay dividends as the mayoral race unfolds and he attempts to build support among voters of color.

“He tried to move to the left. It wasn’t believable and what politicians should learn from this is you cannot make deals with deep pocket left people. It doesn't work with ideologues. So Stringer’s gambit failed,” he said.

Stringer’s campaign sees it differently, of course, “[O]nly Scott Stringer has an energetic, citywide coalition of progressive supporters — more than 25 elected officials representing more than 50% of the city’s primary voters — who can credibly validate his message to voters. That coalition was on display this week as our campaign wrapped up a petitioning effort that gathered more than 25,000 signatures — more than any other candidate and twice as much as the Yang Gang,” Lasher wrote.

And though Stringer’s original political base on the Upper West Side is a strong bastion of Democratic primary voters, many of whom elected him to the Assembly then borough presidency then comptroller’s office, Sheinkopf said Stringer hasn’t run as a West Side candidate for nearly 16 years and that it’s a “faulty presumption thus far” that the West Side will vote for Stringer.

While Stringer often touts the many reports and plans he has released as comptroller and now as a candidate, Sheinkopf said voters don’t tend to focus on those academic elements of a candidate’s campaign. “Look, after 700 races around the world, I can tell you one thing: People vote out of gut, out of emotional attachment,” he added. “Yang is fresh, the others are tired...What this may also be telling you is that we are rapidly coming to a conclusion of the ability of the old style political class to move up the political ladder.”

Stringer is running on his plans and his experience, with tag lines like “ready on day one” and a regularly-repeated pledge to “manage the hell out of this city.”

“If Stringer had the emotional argument, and he could light some fire, and he had the union endorsements, he would appear to be powerful and dynamic,” Sheinkopf said. “But Stringer’s problem is he doesn’t appear to be powerful. He doesn’t appear to be dynamic in a very changing environment. And that's why he’s not catching on.”

This is where Stringer believes his endorsements from many younger, dynamic elected officials will help him connect. “[Stringer] has experience winning tough debates in the spotlight. He has built a multi-ethnic, intergenerational coalition of support to get the word out in neighborhoods across the city. And he can most naturally build support around his message of “Ready on Day One” from all corners of the city to win 51% of the vote in a final, head-to-head round of Ranked Choice Voting against either Adams or Yang,” Lasher said.

“He's doing a frontrunner strategy,” said a staff member of a rival campaign, “And he is not the frontrunner. He's the underdog.”

During a mid-February interview on the Max & Murphy podcast, Stringer was asked about the state of the race with four months to go and his standing especially given Yang had been in the lead in some of the early polling. The comptroller quickly referenced his come-from-behind win against Spitzer in 2013.

"[T]he Spitzer upset for me changed how I look at campaigns," Stringer said, "run your best race, ignore the pundits, like when the polls say you're doing well, but don't get carried away when they say you're not doing well. Because at the end of the day, the reporters are responsible for the analysis, and I like when the analysis sides with me and I roll my eyes when I think it's going in a different direction, but that's just part of being a candidate. I think this is going to be a very competitive race."

He expressed confidence about his track record and the appeal that he is "not a candidate that's going to need training wheels to be mayor...It's up to the voters and that's why we campaign, we have a whole lot of convincing to do, throughout the five boroughs."

Asked if he had moved too far left and was not speaking to a big group of Democratic primary voters clearly being targeted by Adams and others, Stringer said, "I've been in citywide elective office for eight years and I have literally been in almost every church, shul, civic association, from Staten Island to Queens. I've been in neighborhoods that are considered more progressive, I've been in neighborhoods considered more moderate. I've been in communities of diversity, whether that's the Muslim community, the African-American community, the Latino community...I'm the only candidate who's actually run and won a citywide race. I feel I'm connecting around the city - it's not like I have to introduce myself. I won these voters when I ran for comptroller; I got reelected with a huge, huge majority."

[Read: Scott Stringer's Strengths and Weaknesses as He Runs for Mayor]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

How Much Trouble Is Scott Stringer's Mayoral Campaign In? Sun, 28 Mar 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk 'Future of Transportation' in New York City bus rider nyc

Bus riding in NYC (photo: Edwin J Torres/Mayor's Office)

Leading Democratic candidates for mayor discussed their ideas and beliefs on the future of transportation in New York City at a forum this past Thursday.

“Safe, Equitable, and Accessible Streets: A Mayoral Forum on the Future of Transportation” was co-hosted by transit advocacy groups Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, Regional Plan Association, Straphangers Campaign, Families for Safe Streets, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and StreetsPAC. The forum was moderated by Dana Rubinstein, a New York Times reporter who has covered transportation and politics for years.

The event was divided into two hour-long panels with different groups of candidates. The first panel featured Maya Wiley, Dianne Morales, Shaun Donovan, and Andrew Yang. The second panel included Eric Adams, Scott Stringer, Kathryn Garcia, Art Chang, and Joycelyn Taylor. Some candidates, such as Garcia, Stringer, and Donovan, have already released robust transportation plans, while others have released sketches or minimal policy platforms on the subject. A few of the candidates either came late or left early due to another forum happening somewhat concurrently.

Questions spanned the future of the Vision Zero road safety program, transportation access for people with disabilities, control of the MTA, and more.

Vision Zero
David Shephard of Families for Safe Streets, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed in 2009 by a speeding driver in a crosswalk in the Bronx, asked the candidates what they would do to further implement Vision Zero and “make the streets safer for all New Yorkers.” Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Vision Zero in 2014 to stop all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024. While traffic deaths have dropped since 2014, crashes and injuries have risen, and there have been jumps in recent years in certain categories of fatalities, such as bike-riders and pedestrians. Rubinstein followed up on Shephard’s question by asking the candidates whether they would “commit to fulfilling” de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan by 2024 and whether they see it as a reasonable goal.

Donovan said that as mayor he would “focus on infrastructure to calm and slow traffic” rather than policing to make walking and bike-riding safer. Touting his federal experience, the former Obama housing secretary and budget director added that there is “potential” with the Biden-Harris administration to “accelerate that work and re-envision our streets” by securing federal funding. He committed to meeting the 2024 deadline.

Morales said she would target reducing car reliance in the city, which she called “the majority of the cause” of traffic accidents. She would accomplish this by improving the subway and bus systems, adding bus and bike lanes, expanding the Freedom Ticket program and the use of greenways, and focusing on reducing car reliance in “areas more subject to transportation apartheid than others.”

“We need to do everything we can to reduce and disincentivize the use of cars,” said Morales, who added that she would implement the 2024 Vision Zero deadline.

Wiley said that “enforcement shouldn't be held by the New York City police department” and Vision Zero implementation should be in partnership with local communities to “make them safer and in the ways communities need.” She also said expanding public transportation and solving transportation deserts were key, adding that solutions “need to be localized.”

“That's the mayor I will be,” Wiley said, about securing the input of local communities in street redesigns and Vision Zero projects. She also committed to the 2024 Vision Zero goal, adding, “if we lose a life we can't get it back. It's not a question, it's an imperative.”

“We need to see each accident as a tragedy and an opportunity,” Yang said, calling for reducing speed limits, greater traffic camera enforcement, and eliminating incentives from vehicle companies for delivery drivers to rush. He also said of the NYPD and traffic enforcement, “they don’t understand the issues,” and that their role in investigating traffic crash sites should be moved to the Department of Transportation (a move that appears to be happening through City Council legislation).

Unlike Donovan, Morales, and Wiley, however, Yang demurred from supporting a 2024 Vision Zero timeline, saying, “I want to say something that's going to be difficult to hear. Come 2024 we are almost certain to have someone die in a vehicle accident that year in New York City.” Rather than committing to the elimination of all traffic fatalities and serious casualties by 2024, which he said is in essence impossible to achieve that year or ever, Yang would focus on “avoidable and preventable” deaths, because “The goal is reducing injuries and fatalities and then say we did do everything in our power.”

Adams said that he would use “redesign and reinforcement” to target streets identified by data as dangerous for traffic crashes. He sees the 2024 deadline as “feasible and real,” based on “proper allocation of enforcement, redesign, and making our streets safer for pedestrians.”

Chang responded to Shephard’s prompt by noting that of many problems in the city “we know about them in advance but do nothing to prevent them,” and that he would solve the problem of traffic casualties in an “integrative fashion.” Looking at “street issues, an intersection between the NYPD, the DOT, the designs of the streets” he would also use data to begin driving traffic fatalities down. Chang agreed that the completion of Vision Zero in 2024 was doable, but that “it will take huge effort and a different approach from government.”

Stringer would “look at how we design streets through the lens of 8-year-olds.” Saying that “New York City is about sidewalks and streets but we give all this space to cars,” he would add bus and bike lanes and “make the vision of Vision Zero work and invest the capital, engineer design, and the will to change the streetscape.”

Stringer also said he believes the 25x25 plan, put forth by advocacy group Transportation Alternatives to take 25% of New York City’s streets from automobile uses and give it to bus, bike, and other non-car transportation methods by 2025.

Stringer would “try to get to de Blasio's deadline but not in this incrementalist approach.” Citing the pandemic, Stringer said that this is the “one chance to rebuild our city into what we want it to be,” and that he would work with transit advocates to “truly do something big at this moment in history.”

Taylor said she would “implement and expand Vision Zero” with an emphasis on increasing communication between communities and officials and on being “proactive and not be reactive.”

“It's not enough to be punitive but we need the proper communication to keep these accidents from happening,” she said. She went on to say that “2024 from my perspective is too far along. We need to look at established best practices and use it as a means to get it done quicker.  Don't wait to 2024. Let's implement what we know and get it done.”

Role of Community Boards
Moving from Vision Zero to community boards, Rubinstein asked candidates about their views of the role of community boards in road infrastructure, whether it should be advisory or come with veto power. Community boards, which often disproportionately represent car-owners, have at times held up bike and bus projects through their opposition and influence on local elected officials like City Council members.

Donovan didn’t answer directly, but referenced his recently-released Plan for the City of New York and its section on how to “restructure our community boards and make them more representative.” But the plan only says he would “work with the City Council and borough presidents to reform the appointment process and ensure that community board meetings represent an accurate reflection of the opinions of the community.”

Morales was somewhat more explicit in her view of community boards, saying, “while very useful in gathering information and representing a community, they are not the be all, end all.” Instead, she would “cast a wider net” to get input from local communities, through “education and outreach,” she said, though she did not provide details.

“These questions include community boards, but it's not about veto power,” Wiley said. “It can't be about saying no to something that will deliver.” She also said she would focus on community outreach and involvement to help inform decisions.

Yang said he would attempt to strike a balance between community feedback and actually accomplishing projects. “Two things are true. People know best what they need in their community,” he said. “The second thing is it's difficult to do a lot of things in New York City because there are different groups who can say no.”

Transportation and Accessibility
Eman Rimawi, an Access-a-Ride campaign coordinator at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, joined the discussion to ask candidates about what they would to do “to ensure cities, streets, and sidewalks are more accessible for people with a disability,” citing poor Access-a-Ride conditions, inaccessible city sidewalks and snow blocking her home as obstacles she has faced as an amputee with lupus.

Donovan said that making transportation accessible to people with disabilities is “a central part” of his plan to change New York City’s streetscape. Touting his experience working on street accessibility as a part of a Sustainable Communities Partnership he led as federal housing secretary, Donovan said that the city must prioritize “reimagining our streets, building the infrastructure for everyone to move,” although he did not provide detail on what this would look like outside of shortening Access-a-Ride wait times.

Morales gave a detailed response, committing to keeping public pathways clear of obstructions, making all subway and bus stations wheelchair-accessible, redesigning crosswalks to be safer for those who are blind, and integrating the taxi fleet into the Access-a-Ride program for on-demand service rather than the current 24-hour request window.

Wiley again provided limited specifics, instead arguing for the elevation of the voices of people with disabilities about what changes they would like to make, saying “unless we have the voice of people with a disability at the table telling us what needs to be done, we won't get it right.” As mayor, she would “elevate the power” of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. As a candidate, Wiley cited the fact that she held meetings with disability activists about what direction her campaign platform should take.

Yang concurred with Morales that accessible taxis should be integrated into the Access-a-Ride program, and that streets and sidewalks should be cleaned more quickly to increase access for those with disabilities, implying that cuts in the Sanitation Department budget were to blame and that the department’s budget should be restored. Yang then moved into his argument for a city takeover of the MTA, saying of being mayor, “You can't control how people get to work and school and you're managing the recovery?” He didn’t fully connect the points but seemed to be implying that mayoral control of the MTA would make it easier to make accessibility upgrades.

Taylor echoed the earlier comments of Morales and Yang about decreasing the long wait times for Access-a-Ride, saying that “If Uber can be at my door in five minutes, no one should wait for Access-a-Ride for an hour.”

Stringer said he agreed that Access-a-Ride should be on-demand and touted his experience auditing the Access-a-Ride program. He called its failures “unbelievable” in the 21st century and said he would work with the MTA on broken elevators and that as mayor, he would “manage the hell out of transportation and make sure everyone can obtain it.”

Noting that “things that benefit people with disabilities benefit everybody,” Chang said that he would look at the example of London’s “flexible bus that operates as a taxi.” It was unclear to what program Chang was referring to, but Citymapper’s experiment with a bus-taxi hybrid, Smart Ride, in London shuttered in 2019 after failing to find enough riders.

Adams would also reform the Access-a-Ride program, saying that “You should be able to get a ride when and where you need it.”

Control of the MTA
Candidates were asked about increasing the city’s influence over the MTA, which is a state-run agency under the ultimate control of the governor but with mayoral and other appointees to its Board.

Referencing Yang’s call for a city takeover of the regional MTA, which includes subways and buses in the city but also commuter rails, as unrealistic “soundbites,” Donovan said “it is completely unrealistic to say that the mayor should take over the MTA.” Donovan said instead of a city takeover, he would “put more skin in the game” by pushing for more funding of MTA projects through revenue from congestion pricing and marijuana legalization, and “would look at value capture and other innovative mechanisms” to add city funding in exchange for more power and control at the MTA.

While Morales would want city control of the subways as a long-term goal, she believes that the city would need an expanded taxing authority to do so in order to have “the revenue and the responsibility.” Morales would bring funding for the MTA to fix the subway system through the planned but stalled implementation of congestion pricing, and she would add more metered parking, and a wealth tax to also fund upgrades to the system.

Wiley talked about the need for more city “home rule” overall, and for the subways at “the end of the day,” but said “the MTA is something that Sean is right about,” and that she would focus on securing infrastructure money from the federal government as “the state can’t do it alone.”

Yang returned to his argument for a city takeover of the MTA, though he did not provide details on how it would work, how he would convince the state to give up control, or how he would fund it. But he did say “I’m the sole mayoral candidate saying that the city must control our own destiny,” and that he would ask Albany to let him “have the responsibility...have the headaches” of transit in New York City.

Ferry Subsidies
Rubinstein moved on to de Blasio’s ferry program, one of the mayor’s signature accomplishments, though controversial based on its limited ridership compared to other forms of mass transit and how much attention and city funding the mayor has put into it. Candidates were asked if they would keep it as is or modify it, especially with regard to the high per-ride city subsidies involved. According to a 2019 report by the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan think tank, per-ride subsides for ferry rides were $10.73 for the 2018 fiscal year, ten times higher per rider than the subsidies for riders on subways and buses, and for the ferry ridership population that is whiter and wealthier than New York City’s overall population.

Yang said he loves the ferry but that he would cut routes that go underused while supporting the routes that are in demand.

Wiley would expand the ferry system, focusing both on “where we need it to make sure we have that service because of usage...but also increase the rates like we do for express bus service.” Without commenting explicitly on ferry subsidies, Wiley said that she would consider ferries in her analysis of transit equity in the city. Morales “would not expand the ferry system,” and would “prioritize funding the systems that people use,” starting with buses and the subway system.

Donovan said he likes the ferry and thinks it’s important no matter the high subsidy, mentioning that the city also subsidizes car use and mass transit systems. He said he would focus more on other modes of transportation.

Adams said he would maintain the ferry program services, but made a vague commitment to making it more cost-effective and connecting it to transportation hubs.

Chang would be open to eliminating inefficient ferry lines, and would want to see the data about supply and demand for various ferry routes, and whether there’d be ways to increase ferry demand.

Stringer criticized the ferry subsidies saying that he’d “rip up the mayor’s contract with the ferry operator,” which includes boat purchases, and that the program was a “boondoggle like no other.” He would keep the existing service areas, but would want to completely renegotiate the contract, which he sees as bleeding money from the city unnecessarily, and would prioritize buses and other forms of non-car transportation more broadly.

Taylor quickly moved beyond the ferry subsidy conversation to transportation deserts and whether buses are more effective means of transportation than ferries.

The Fate of the BQE
Rubinstein asked candidates their thoughts on renovating the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), a Robert Moses-era project in need of renovation and perched on cantilevers below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Its rebuild has been delayed due to significant tensions over what direction those renovations should take and its potential impact on the promenade.

Calling the original BQE renovation plan “a terrible idea,” Adams would want to take a regional approach and would “look at using the space for a park space.” Saying that he “completely agreed with Eric,” Chang sees the BQE as key for trucks to have access to the industrial waterfront and would want to incorporate more parkland and community input into the final BQE design.

Stringer, without giving details, said that he has a plan he likes for the renovation but will need federal dollars. The city “doesn’t understand that we can’t replace the BQE with another super highway,” he said, but he did not describe his vision.

Taylor believes that replacing the cantilevers as “nice to have” but that the city doesn’t “do anything for communities that are disproportionately affected” by transportation access issues in the neighborhood.

Bus Access and Bike Lanes
On the question of how to prioritize buses, candidates took varying approaches.

Yang would want to build on the successes of programs such as Select Bus Service and Bus Rapid Transit corridors. Wiley would expand bus lanes, expand rapid transit, and to “focus on where the commute times are the longest and to connect folks to where they have to get to and where they have to get home.”

Morales joined Wiley and Yang in calling for expanding busways, express lanes, and Bus Rapid Transit corridors, but would want to do so in a way that “prioritizes low-income and transit apartheid communities and neighborhoods specifically.” She would also expand the Fair Fares program to ensure economic as well as physical access to transit routes. Donovan, calling himself the only “transportation wonk” in the group, agreed with the other candidates on Bus Rapid Transit and bus lanes, but would want to “solve these issues more broadly” by working with the MTA to add more priority signaling for buses and implementing bus route redesigns.

Taylor would speed bus service by providing bus-only space during peak transit hours. Stringer cited his “19-point plan to massively expand buses and make them faster” without giving many specifics, though he did say he is in favor of dedicated bus lanes, and changing bus routes due to the diverse places and times for which people use the bus system.

Garcia, who was late coming from another panel, joined in time to answer this question. She said that she would expand Select Bus Service, add protected bus lanes, and give priority signaling for buses. Chang said he would use cell-phone data to determine how New Yorkers use the bus system to commute, and then modify the bus system to help them get there.

Using most of his time to discuss his bus usage growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, Adams said he would expand bus lanes and rapid bus service. 

On bike lanes, Garcia touted her explicit commitment to build 250 miles of protected bike lanes. “We can’t depend on driver behavior to keep people safe,” she said, and argued that paint on the ground is not protected, that bike-riders need to be separated from cars by barriers.

Stringer promised 350 miles of bike lanes, and to give Citi Bike access to all high schoolers.

Taylor, on the other hand, argued for more community involvement in locating bike lanes so that they go to the places with the most need.

Commuting Plans, Cops in Subways, BQX - The Lightning Round
During a lightning round of brief questions with brief answers, Rubinstein asked if the candidates would if elected mayor commute to City Hall by one of bus, bike, or train; whether they would reduce the city speed limit to 20 miles per hour from 25; if they would change the number of NYPD officers in the subways; if they would support eliminating minimum parking requirements at new housing developments; and whether they would attempt to salvage de Blasio’s stunted BQX light-rail proposition for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront.

The first panel saw departures by Donovan and Wiley just before the lightning round, leaving only Morales and Yang. Morales would take the subway, while Yang would ride his bike. Yang and Morales would support lowering the speed limit, kill the BQX project, and eliminate parking minimums. Morales and Yang split on the NYPD question, with Morales saying reduce NYPD in the subways and Yang saying that the NYPD should not be ticketing turnstile jumpers but that at times like now more police presence is needed in the system.

Adams was the only candidate to leave before the second lightning round. All candidates in the second panel committed to not using a car to commute. Taylor and Garcia would not lower the speed limit to 20 MPH while Stringer and Chang would. Garcia was the only candidate in the second panel to advocate for more police in the subway — all other candidates argued to decrease the number of NYPD officers, with Stringer saying it is important to send more mental health professionals into the system. Chang, Stringer, and Taylor but not Garcia would eliminate the parking requirements. The second panel candidates all agreed to “cut bait” on the de Blasio light-rail proposition.

by Grace Getman for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk 'Future of Transportation' in New York City Sun, 28 Mar 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Advocates Press Democratic Mayoral Candidates on Drug Policy, Homelessness, and Policing Reform 8 Democrats mayor nyc

8 leading Democratic mayoral candidates

During a forum Wednesday night hosted by VOCAL-NY, leaders of the statewide grassroots group questioned eight leading Democratic candidates on their plans to tackle the intersecting issues of drug policy, homelessness, and policing. The forum was centered around the group’s newly-unveiled “Caring & Compassionate New Deal for NYC” report, which calls on elected officials to adopt a new framework for addressing complex problems and invest in social services instead of relying on policing, criminalization, and incarceration.

Candidates were pressed on the extent to which they would incorporate the group’s policy suggestions into their platforms, featuring questions on the decriminalization of drugs, the reallocation of funds from the NYPD to housing, social services, and other concerns on homelessness, substance use, policing, incarceration, and more.

The forum was moderated by Alyssa Aguilera, the co-executive director at VOCAL-NY, and Jawanza Williams, the director of organizing at VOCAL-NY, both of whom often challenged candidates to clarify or elaborate on their responses, though as is often the case at these candidate forums, candidates’ time to speak was fairly limited.

The eight participating Democrats appeared in small groups: former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire and city Comptroller Scott Stringer appeared together early on; then Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, former federal housing secretary and city housing commissioner Shaun Donovan, and former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia appeared together; followed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and former presidential candidate.

Most candidates found agreement on increasing preventive and supportive services to reduce homelessness, replacing police intervention with mental health and social services in response to non-violent calls, decriminalizing marijuana, and implementing overdose prevention centers, also known as safe injection sites, while also providing different specific solutions and taking some varied stances on other topics. Candidates were clearly divided on defunding the police department.

'Caring & Compassionate New Deal for NYC'
Wiley, Donovan, and Morales pledged to remove police intervention from all responses related to homelessness, drug use, and mental health crises, but proposed different strategies, some more specific than others, for restructuring city government in order to increase its efficiency and reduce reliance on policing.

“I would start by making sure that the NYPD is not getting 911 calls related to mental health crisis intervention,” said Wiley, who pitched “crisis response teams made up of mental health professionals, as well as peer counselors” as an alternative. In addition to creating “supportive housing” and increasing “safe havens and urgent care centers,” Wiley said her administration would “start to solve” the issue of 500,000 New Yorkers who are without health insurance, though she didn’t go into specifics. She called for defunding the police to create “a participatory justice fund, where communities can direct resources to what they need,” as well as implementing “trauma-informed care in our schools.”

Donovan spotlighted his “15-minute neighborhoods” policy proposal, which would “make sure that every New Yorker, within 15 minutes of their front door, has emergency 24/7 mental health care available to them.”

Donovan also said he would establish greater coordination between city agencies. “Every time someone leaves Rikers, every time someone leaves the mental health wing of one of our hospitals, they [should be] directed immediately through a coordinated entry system, to the housing and services that they need, rather than what happens now, which is they fall through the cracks,” he said.

“It’s still very devastating to me to me that the recent subway stabbings were framed by some of my colleagues in this race as incidents that should be criminalized versus being seen as a public health and transformative justice issue,” said Morales, who praised VOCAL-NY’s “Caring & Compassionate New Deal for NYC” plan for its intersectional approach to key issues and was the most clear of all the candidates that she is fully embracing it.

Morales went on to say that her administration would “declare housing as a human right” within the first 100 days of office and “really ensure that every city organization and agency was focused around housing as one of the most single important physiological needs that addresses a multitude of issues that we know.” She also reiterated her pledge to defund the NYPD by $3 billion.

McGuire, Garcia, Adams, and Yang were less committed to adopt VOCAL-NY’s framework in full. They all indicated they were not comfortable fully removing the police from calls related to homelessness, mental health, and drug use.

“I agree with much of your framework, although I would not commit to everything you laid out,” said McGuire, who said he would “create a 24-hour Emergency Social Services Bureau” (with units in every precinct across all five boroughs, according to his public safety plan) that would “respond either with or before the NYPD,” especially in situations involving mental health crises, homelessness, or substance abuse.

Additionally, McGuire said he would appoint “a deputy mayor for public safety,” who would “help the day-to-day management of the NYPD.” He also said he would require the NYPD to provide requested body camera footage within 48 hours; his public safety plan notes that in 2019, the average time it took for the CCRB to receive body camera footage was 42 days (the de Blasio administration has announced changes to the policy since).

“I believe that we need mental health professionals embedded within our [police department] to ensure that when they are responding to a mental health crisis that they have the resources that they need,” said Garcia.

Yang said “we’ve been underinvesting in mental health resources,” but also argued that a police presence was necessary in some cases.

“The vast majority of cases would not warrant a police officer's presence,” Yang said, “but there are some cases where it might be useful to have a police officer somewhere in the vicinity.” He did not explain what those instances would be.

Adams, who spent two decades in the NYPD, took a similar stance, saying, “I would strongly believe that the overwhelming number of times, that I remember as a police officer, not having the need of the police officer being there.” But he went on to add that some cases, such as recent subway stabbings, require a police response in conjunction with that of mental health professionals. The violence of that incident means the instance would not have fallen into the question from the group, though.

Stringer was said to be experiencing technical difficulties during this portion of the forum, and so did not answer this question, but he addressed the topic of replacing police intervention with mental health services later in the forum, saying that law enforcement should not be responsible for responding to mental health crises.

Drug Policy
Asked if they support decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs, most candidates emphasized treatment over criminalization in their responses, to varying degrees.

Morales was the only candidate who explicitly supported decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs, saying, “Yes, I think we need to move towards that.” She called for the expansion of the 2019 bill that decriminalized small amounts of cannabis in New York, as well as working with the state government to fully legalize it.

“We have to start with where we already have a lot of public support, with marijuana and NARCAN,” said Wiley. She did not disclose whether she was supportive of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs in the future, but rather argued that public opinion around drug decriminalization would shape her drug policy moving forward.

Stringer implied some degree of support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs without outright commiting to the policy, saying, “We can’t just simply incarcerate; that’s what we did with the Rockefeller Drug Laws.” He added, “We need to provide places where people can get the services they need.”

Although many candidates said they supported decriminalizing marijuana, Donovan, Garcia, Yang, and Adams varied in their responses on decriminalizing possession of small amounts of other substances. Some candidates also appeared to use the terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” interchangeably, though they are two different legal concepts, and the question posed was specifically about decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs.

“I do have some concerns about decriminalizing completely all substances,” said Donovan, who cited fentanyl as particularly concerning. “I would ensure that we are directly connecting those who are struggling with the housing and the services that they need,” he added.

“There are other substances, not only fentanyl, but even things like cocaine, where you don’t know how your body is going to react,” said Garcia, who cited decades-old examples of “young basketball players who died of heart attacks after their first use.” Garcia said the city needs to “connect people who are addicted to services and also make more available the chemical substances that we know are helpful,” citing SUBOXONE and methadone, “to get people off of drugs permanently.”

Aguilera pushed back on Donovan and Garcia’s responses, saying, “Drugs have always been illegal and the devastation and the overdoses are continuing to happen. Clearly, 40 years of [criminalization] hasn't worked. We're hopeful that the next mayor will take a different approach.”

Yang said he was supportive of “the decriminalization of many of these prescription opiates,” as well as the “legalization of psilocybin mushrooms.” More broadly, he said, “I’m open to the public policy impact of legalizing other substances.” On criminalization, he said he would instruct district attorneys to not prosecute “personal possession,” though the mayor does not have control over district attorneys, who are elected officials. Yang added, “We need to be getting people that are trying to frankly profit and getting other people hooked.”

Adams said he was outright against decriminalizing all other drugs, citing his background as “ex-po-po,” meaning part of the police department. He went on to say, “We need to make sure that people who were demonized and criminalized are able to make their lives whole again, such as cleaning credit reports, having some of the first licenses,” most likely referring to those who have experienced criminalization for marijuana possession and the ability to sell legalized cannabis.

Unlike other candidates, McGuire did not specify his stance on decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, although he did say he was unsupportive of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs. “We need to recognize a difference between the substance abusers, who need help and support, versus organized trafficking rings or doctors who illegally prescribe opioids,” McGuire said. “We need to focus NYPD and prosecution on those responsible for the spread of drugs in the communities.”

Stringer, Wiley, Donovan, Morales, Adams, and Yang pledged to implement overdose prevention centers, also known as safe injection sites, within their first year in office, while McGuire and Garcia expressed reservations.

“We should go one step further,” said Adams, who cited his experience opening Brooklyn’s first “shower bus,” which provided hot showers, toiletries, peer counseling, housing support, and employment resources to the borough’s homeless population. Adams also called for “wraparound resources,” but did not specify further.

Yang honed in on the intersection of stigma and classism associated with overdose prevention centers. “People are not excited about having an overdose prevention center in their neighborhood,” said Yang, “but they wouldn't object to having a hospital in their neighborhood. This, to me, has the exact same purpose, which is to keep people alive.”

“In order for us to truly move forward, to move away from the criminalization of poverty and the criminalization of existing while Black, we need to prioritize care and the preservation of Black lives,” said Morales.

“I was the first candidate to call for Safe Use Centers to be established here,” said Donovan. “I would also ensure that we are directly connecting those who are struggling with the housing and the services that they need.”

“Overdose prevention centers are something that is proven to work around the world,” said Stringer, “but in addition to the centers, I do think you have to incorporate supportive housing, you have to create jobs and services.”

Just before Stringer said that, McGuire cast doubt on the efficacy of overdose prevention centers, calling evidence from centers worldwide “mixed.” He pledged to “invest in whatever strategies we can employ, that are proven effective,” adding “we’ll have to look into it.”

Williams pushed back on McGuire’s response, pointing out that the city conducted a feasibility study in 2017 that found overdose prevention centers are “viable” and should be implemented. They have not moved ahead for a combination of reasons including a lack of state government sign-off.

“I will advocate for [overdose prevention centers],” said Garcia, “but the [City] Council member in the local area has the final say on changes in land use.”

“We have to actually reform our land use policies because we can’t have the kind of NIMBY-ism that prevents us from making progress,” Wiley said in apparent response to Garcia’s point.

McGuire, Morales, Adams, and Yang unanimously pledged to double the city Department of Health’s funding for harm reduction programs and interventions in their first term. (Stringer, Wiley, Donovan, and Garcia were not asked this question because of time constraints.)

McGuire, Morales, Stringer, and Yang unanimously pledged to eliminate the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, an office dedicated solely to prosecuting drug crimes and originally created at the start of Nixon’s War on Drugs.

“I can't answer yes or no to that because there's too many caveats,” said Adams. (Wiley, Donovan, and Garcia were not asked this question because of time constraints.)

Asked what policies they would implement to curb homelessness in the city, candidates called for the city to increase preventive and supportive services, while highlighting their housing plans in the process.

McGuire emphasized prevention services, such as “rental subsidies, legal assistance, and advocating for additional Section 8 vouchers.” Additionally, McGuire said he would invest in mental health services, job training, placement, and childcare. The third prong of McGuire’s housing plan also calls for “pathways to permanent housing” and “expanding affordable housing through quality basement apartments, accessory dwelling units, and communal housing.”

“What I would do on day one as mayor is initiate my housing plan to build 400,000 low-income housing units,” said Stringer. He added that he would use parcels of vacant city-owned land, via community organizations, to build low-income housing.

Donovan, Wiley, and Morales invoked housing as a human right as part of their policy platforms, with some differences. Donovan said he would “create an interagency council on homelessness that would bring everyone to the table,” citing a similar measure he implemented while a member of Obama’s Cabinet, while Morales said she would shift “the $3 billion annual shelter budget towards providing and supporting permanent housing,” as well as increase rental assistance.

Although Wiley, Donovan, Stringer, Yang, and Garcia said they would increase housing voucher values, they did not addressing tackling rampant discrimination by landlords against people with those vouchers.

Some candidates, such as Donovan, Wiley, and Yang, expressed support for more supportive housing. Garcia said she would implement a “three-step process” that would create “drop-in centers, so that [unhoused people] can begin to trust the providers,” then “move them to safe haven beds as the next step, and then into supportive housing.”

Adams and Morales called for a deputy mayor position to oversee all aspects and departments dealing with housing — something other candidates have indicated they are planning or considering. For example, Garcia’s housing platform proposes that homeless services, economic development, and housing agencies all report to the same deputy mayor, who would oversee and coordinate the city’s housing-related issues and departments, including NYCHA public housing.

Most candidates pledged to guarantee access to emergency “on-hand” housing, called “safe havens,” including for people who use drugs or are struggling with unmet mental health needs, within the first year of their administrations, with some variations.

McGuire, Donovan, and Wiley voiced support for expanding access to safe haven beds, but also said such measures should ultimately lead into supportive or permanent housing.

Stringer did not say whether he would expand the supply of safe havens, but instead emphasized increasing the safety of homeless shelters and ensuring tenants stay in their homes.

Adams pledged to go further, saying he would expand emergency housing for those leaving correctional facilities, “so they can transition back into society.”

Morales pledged to meet the goal, saying it reflected her “housing for all” platform.

Although Yang agreed to expand and guarantee access to safe haven beds for all, he declined to commit to the timeline, saying, “I would certainly love to make that happen because we need those beds, but I do want to be realistic. It’s hard to go from 1,200 to 20,000 in the timeframe that you’ve described.”

Garcia was against expanding and guaranteeing access to supportive housing for all, arguing, “Some folks just aren't ready for supportive housing.”

Wiley disagreed, saying, “One thing we know is that everybody's ready for housing.”

Candidates unanimously pledged to grant a right to youth shelter to all youth up to the age of 25, with Stringer and Donovan highlighting how this issue disproportionately impacts the LGBTQ community and those who have aged out of the foster care system. Donovan also said, “We have to go upstream and solve these problems.”

Candidates were divided on whether they would reduce the NYPD budget and how much would be reallocated to address social problems. Although Stringer, Wiley, Donovan, Morales, and Yang said they would reduce NYPD funding to varying degrees, McGuire, Adams, and Garcia either would not commit to cuts or would not specify by how much.

Morales cited her plan to create a Department of Community First Responders that would respond to non-violent calls and connect people to social services and programs. She also reiterated her commitment to cut $3 billion from the NYPD budget but has not laid out a roadmap for how to do so.

Wiley reiterated her plan to divest $18 million to create participatory justice funds “in communities that have high rates of gun violence” to fund various social services. She also pledged to cut “incoming cadet classes and use that money for community care centers.” She voiced support for eliminating VICE and said she hasn’t put an overall number on how much she would cut from the NYPD budget because the budget itself is too opaque.

Stringer pledged to cut $1.1 billion over four years from the NYPD, adding he would model his police department after the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon, so police officers are not responsible for responding to mental health crises. “These police officers are simply not trained to do that,” he said, adding he would dispatch “guidance counselors and mental health experts” instead.

Both Donovan and Yang said they would divest from the city’s overall criminal justice system budget, though Donovan was more specific on exact dollar amounts and the timeline.

Donovan said he would cut half-a-billion dollars within his first two years to fund “community-based programs that end the cycle of incarceration.” He also said he would increase that by 20% by the end of his first term.

Yang was more vague on the extent to which he would reallocate city funds, but suggested the money would go toward mental health and substance abuse resources, as well as education. He cited Los Angeles, which reallocated their discretionary local budget by 10% as a benchmark for New York City to beat.

“My commitment is ensure the police funding isn't going to useless programming,” said McGuire, who added that he would reimagine policing so officers are held accountable and their responses are proportionate. “I would reallocate the budget,” said McGuire, who emphasized reducing violent crime and increasing “community policing,” although he did not specify how much would be reallocated and to where.

Garcia would not commit to making cuts, arguing, “We can have both reform and safety in our communities,” though she did not explain in detail how she would accomplish that dual task other than to say she has experience leading a uniformed city agency and would run the department with accountability it has lacked. Garcia did allude to prevention in her response, saying, “The first time a kid shoplifts something — what is going on, that needs to be an alarm bell going off across all of our services to make sure we are addressing that.”

“I can't give you a dollar amount of how much I'm going to take from the police budget,” said Adams, “but I'm telling you, I'm going to deal with the $400 million in overtime, I'm going to deal with the civilian organization to get police officers out of those civilian assignments, I'm going to change the ecosystem of public safety.” Adams said he would invest in foster care so youth can stay in the system until the age of 26, and he would also demilitarize law enforcement.

Although candidates unanimously called for closing the Rikers Island jail complex as is planned, they offered distinct responses on reimagining incarceration in the city.

“89% of the population at Rikers is Black or brown,” said McGuire, who went on to say that he was against building the new planned jails and would build “restorative justice centers” instead. “We need to find a way to accommodate those who are high-level crimes, those who are mid-level and those who don't deserve to be in jail.”

Garcia, Stringer, Donovan, and Wiley said they did not support the city’s current plan to build four new borough-based jails on the grounds that the city should build smaller jails. They also voiced their approval for the “Renewable Rikers Act,” which would transform the island into a renewable energy hub and create new green jobs instead.

“I would support building a modified version of new jails,” said Adams, a point Yang agreed with, but because of time constraints, they were not able to elaborate on their responses.

Morales was also unsupportive of building new jails, but because of time constraints, she was unable to elaborate on her reasoning.

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Advocates Press Democratic Mayoral Candidates on Drug Policy, Homelessness, and Policing Reform Fri, 19 Mar 2021 04:00:00 +0000
The Money Race in the Democratic Mayoral Primary: March Filing Key for Matching Funds 5mashup 27

(l-r) Maya Wiley, Andrew Yang, Kathryn Garcia, Shaun Donovan, & Dianne Morales all appear on track for matching funds

The top tier of candidates in this year’s Democratic primary for New York City mayor continues coming into focus through a variety of metrics, including the latest campaign finance filings, which help indicate which candidates have gained traction with voters and will have the financial means to compete ahead of the June vote. In the heavily Democratic city, the party’s primary winner is the odds-on-favorite to become the city’s next mayor.

Monday marked the latest campaign finance disclosure deadline as candidates declared their fundraising and expenditure from the last two months. The filing is of particular importance to candidates trying to hit the city’s public matching funds threshold, which can result in a windfall of well over $1 million the next time public funds are disbursed by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which will examine the filings.

Candidates can opt into the city’s matching funds program, which has new rules that give them the option to receive an 8-to-1 match for up to the first $250 of qualifying contributions from city residents. The candidates have to meet a dual threshold of raising and spending at least $250,000 from a minimum of 1,000 qualifying donors. (Candidates can also choose to follow older rules that come with a lower matching ratio and higher contribution limits, though few have made that choice.)

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Comptroller Scott Stringer, the two high-profile elected officials in the race and candidates who have been raising money the longest, continue to lead the pack in overall fundraising. They had been the first and only two candidates to qualify for millions in public matching funds.

The Campaign Finance Board also made another round of public fund payments, based on filings from January, and civil rights attorney Maya Wiley became the third Democrat in the race to receive public matching dollars. Both Stringer and Adams have now raised more than the $7 million spending limit for the primary for those participating in the public funds program, though that limit may increase depending on the spending of non-participant Ray McGuire, a former banking executive. It is also the first real campaign finance filing of the race for Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur and former presidential candidate who has made a big splash in the race and is continuing to cement his status toward the front of the pack with a record-breaking fundraising period.

Adams has raised more than $8.5 million in total – having raised $3.3 million and having received $5.2 million in public funds – and has more than $7.5 million in cash-on-hand going into the final three months of the primary, according to the filings. His campaign raised about $330,000 in the last two months and expects to receive roughly $420,000 in additional public funds at the next disbursement in April. He has 6,816 donors for an average contribution size of $440. Of his fundraising, $2.1 million came from New York City residents and $867,000 came from non-residents. 

“I am overwhelmed by the support our campaign has received from every corner of this city,” Adams said in a statement. “Working people -- everyday New Yorkers -- are propelling this campaign, and our contributors represent the beautiful diversity of New York. Our campaign has the most support because we are a movement to deliver what hard-working New Yorkers deserve: a fair, safe, prosperous city that puts them first.”

Stringer has raised more than $8.1 million so far, including about $4.6 million in public funds. His campaign estimates it will receive another $720,000 in matching funds next month. He has about $6.8 million in cash-on-hand. He has 6,647 donors who gave an average contribution of $306. He has raised $1.5 million from city residents and about $480,000 from outside the city. 

“We’re building a multiracial, intergenerational, people-powered coalition to go the distance and win this race,” Stringer said in a statement. “New Yorkers want a progressive leader to rebuild New York City fairer than ever before — and they know I’ll be ready on day one to do it. It’s time for a mayor with the vision, skills, and experience to lead our recovery. That’s why I’m in this race, and it’s why I’m so proud of the growing support we’re receiving across the city.”

Wiley, former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, got the big boost of public funds on Monday, continuing her recent momentum that included key recent endorsements. She has raised a total of nearly $3 million, including the $1.9 million public funds payment. Her campaign reported raising about $330,000 since January, of which about $125,000 was in matching claims, which means she could receive another $1 million in public funds next month. She currently has about $1.7 million in cash on hand.

“This campaign has tons of momentum coming off another successful fundraising period and catalyzing endorsements from 1199 SEIU and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez,” said Maya Rupert, Wiley’s campaign manager, in a statement. “With less than 100 days left in this campaign, we will have all the funds we need to speak to New Yorkers across the five boroughs about why Maya Wiley is the changemaking woman we need at City Hall.”

Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang all claimed to have also qualified for public funds in their new filings, though their claims have yet to be audited by the Campaign Finance Board. Should they hold true, they would receive public funds when the next round of payments is made on April 15.

Yang's campaign claimed to have garnered 15,600 donors in just two months, the most individual donations received by any mayoral candidate ever, though the actual number was 14,758 in his final filings with an average contribution size of $145. About 6,300 of those donors live in New York City, the campaign said.

Yang’s campaign has raised more than $2.1 million, including $1.09 million from city residents and $1.04 million from outside the city. His campaign claims just over $591,000 in matchable contributions from city residents that will qualify for nearly $4.7 million in public funds, for an estimated overall sum of $6.5 million. He has about $1.3 million in cash-on-hand. 

“In 57 days Andrew has visited all 5 boroughs, held dozens and dozens of public events, and built a first rate grassroots campaign with the expertise, volunteer muscle, and message needed to win,” said Sasha Ahuja and Chris Coffey, Yang’s co-campaign managers, in a statement. “Andrew’s message – that hope is on the way – is resonating with New Yorkers who are ready for the City they love to be back bustling again. With 100 days left, we have built the foundation and energy to win.”

Donovan has raised a total of $2.2 million so far and has about $718,000 in cash on hand. His campaign claims $283,000 in matchable contributions, which would give him $2.26 million in public funds at the next payout if the Campaign Finance Board agrees with the campaign’s numbers. He had 3,438 donors and an average donation of $641. He has raised $1.4 million from city residents and about $802,000 from non-residents. 

Morales has raised nearly $548,000 and has about $260,000 in cash-on-hand. She has 7,387 donors who contributed an average of $74. She raised $421,000 from within the city and about $127,000 from outside. Her campaign estimates that it received $328,000 in matchable contributions which would lead to a $2.6 million public funds payment next month.

Garcia’s campaign has raised about $590,000 in total, including more than $324,000 in matchable contributions. She would receive nearly $2.6 million in public funds if that estimate is accurate. She currently has just under $400,000 in cash on hand. She had 3,173 donors and an average contribution size of $184. She has raised $467,000 from within the city and $117,000 from outside donors.

“Our campaign is building support from a broad coalition of New Yorkers across the five boroughs,” Garcia said in a statement. “We know this race is about who is offering voters the experience and the vision to lead NYC out of crisis and into a better tomorrow. It’s not about who spends the most money. It’s about who spends money the most effectively--which is what we’ll need from our next Mayor and what I will deliver.”

McGuire, the former Citigroup executive, is the only major Democratic candidate who is not participating in the public funds program. He’s been raising a large overall sum, including from many maximum $5,100 individual donations from wealthy individuals. He has raised nearly $7.4 million, including almost $2.5 million in the last two months alone. He has 6,029 donors that gave an average contribution of $1,222. He has raised $4.7 million from within the city and $2.6 million from outside of it. 

The March 15 deadline is also crucial for candidates to qualify for the first official televised Democratic mayoral primary debate scheduled for May 13. It’s likely that all eight aforementioned candidates -- Adams, Stringer, Wiley, Morales, Garcia, Donovan, McGuire, and Yang -- will be on stage for that debate based on the criteria. They had to have raised and spent $182,150, or 2.5% of the $7 million spending limit for the race.

[Debate Schedule Set for New York City Mayoral Race]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated with the latest campaign finance numbers. 

The Money Race in the Democratic Mayoral Primary: March Filing Key for Matching Funds Mon, 15 Mar 2021 04:00:00 +0000
At Televised Debate, Democratic Mayoral Candidates Outline Housing, Homelessness Plans Gotham Gazette:

(top: Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Andrew Yang, Ray McGuire; bottom: Eric Adams, Dianne Morales, Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer)

Eight leading Democratic candidates in the race for mayor appeared in the first televised mayoral forum of the 2021 race to share their policy proposals for tackling housing and homelessness in New York City. The discussion had a particular focus on the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which has added a new layer of concern regarding homelessness, evictions, rent and mortgage debt, housing segregation, affordable and permanent housing, NYCHA, the shelter system, land use, and tenants’ rights — all of which and more was discussed during the forum.

The 90-minute forum was co-hosted by United for Housing, New York Housing Conference, and NYU Furman Center on Spectrum News NY1 and moderated by NY1 political anchor Errol Louis.

The eight participating Democrats, invited based on polling and fundraising criteria, were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary and city housing commissioner Shaun Donovan, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, and Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and former presidential candidate.

While candidates found broad agreement on most topics, such as divesting from and scaling back the city’s shelter system in favor of rental subsidies, creating more affordable housing, and preventing evictions, they offered some different specific solutions and were notably divided on managing and funding NYCHA public housing.

Candidates unanimously identified preventing tenants from eviction as one of their top housing priorities, citing the citywide residential eviction moratorium that is expected to expire in May, which could force people who owe back rent as a result of pandemic-related joblessness out of their homes, though the new federal relief package is in part aimed at heading off a flood of evictions.

Wiley, Morales, Donovan, McGuire, and Yang explicitly called for extending the eviction moratorium. Garcia called for the creation of a “pathway to prevent further evictions” through “targeted property tax relief and ensuring federal dollars are flowing to tenants.”

Candidates proposed other various strategies for preventing an eviction crisis.

Wiley, Morales, McGuire, Donovan, and Stringer said they would increase rent subsidies and other rental assistance measures for tenants, with Donovan specifically calling for the expansion of Section 8, the federal rent assistance program.

But several candidates expressed concern for small landlords, as well, many of whom are people of color and struggling to make ends meet amid the backlog of unpaid rent and utility bills from tenants.

Wiley pointed to her plan to increase subsidies for tenants and landlords, saying she would leverage $251 million in federal funding that already exists, even before the newly-passed Biden American Rescue Plan, and she briefly mentioned “tax abatement opportunities” for small building owners. She also spotlighted her $10 billion capital spending program plan, which she says would create 100,000 jobs and help stabilize the local economy.

Adams said relief should take into account “the cost that is associated with running [small unit housing].” Adams and Morales both own small multi-unit buildings in Brooklyn and rent to tenants, experiences that came up during the forum as candidates again discussed whether they are renters or home-owners. Six of the eight candidates own their New York City homes, while Yang owns a home upstate, where he and his family controversially spent the bulk of the worst of the pandemic’s impact on New York City last year, and of the eight only Stringer is without a real estate holding.

“We are about to receive $6.1 billion in federal stimulus aid, with more likely to come,” Stringer said of the money that will flow directly to city government. He went on to say “that money must be set aside to cancel rent for the poorest New Yorkers,” though he seemed to ignore that there is other federal money heading to New Yorkers for such purposes. “We have to work with our small landlords to make sure that their mortgages are whole,” he added. “The next mayor is going to have to bring the banks, the mortgage lenders, the tenant advocates into City Hall and figure out a package that is going to make the city whole.”

Like Stringer, Yang said he would “set up a relief fund for the landlords,” though he did cite the $1.3 billion in federal aid that Congress has already designated for rent relief. Yang said the city should “trust the landlords to go get it” because “having tenants try and scramble for those resources, in my mind, isn’t the right approach.”

Several candidates called for more legal assistance for tenants. Morales and Yang said the city’s ‘right to counsel’ law should be expanded, meaning city-funded free legal representation should be provided for more of those tenants facing eviction, a service that has been launched and significantly expanded over the last several years, helping to prevent tens of thousands of evictions. Donovan also proposed “[investing] more in housing counseling and protection so [tenants] know their rights.” Morales called on the city to ban criminal background checks on tenants.

Candidates unanimously stressed the creation of more affordable housing, but their plans revealed some differences.

Stringer reiterated his pledge to use hundreds of parcels of vacant city-owned land, via community organizations, to build low-income housing. The subject has been a matter of long-standing dispute between the two-term comptroller and the de Blasio administration, whose housing department has said almost all of the city-owned vacant lots are in the pipeline for development or are not suitable for housing. The conversation has mostly been frozen for the past few years.

Stringer also mentioned the marquee aspect of his extensive housing plan, which is to pass a law requiring affordability caps for 25% of the housing in any new housing development anywhere in the city. He says this would over time significantly impact the city’s racial and ethnic housing segregation.

In broad terms, Morales emphasized sweeping housing reform overall, saying, “We have to move away from a for-profit speculative housing development model” to one that creates partnerships with non-profit, community-led organizations “to adopt a social housing model.” She stressed the importance of putting more control “in the hands of tenants,” but did not explicitly define what this transformation would look like.

Wiley and Adams, respectively, brought up partnerships with non-profit developers and faith-based institutions.

Candidates broadly expressed support for converting hotels and office spaces into affordable housing units.

McGuire suggested that it would cost approximately a billion dollars to create 5,300 units of low-income housing for those making about $30,000 a year, then Yang said this was not cost-effective. Yang argued that his housing plan would subsidize hotel conversions, ultimately creating 5,000 units for $250 million. “Then we still have money left over to work on supportive housing” to move unhoused people out of shelters, Yang said. He dubiously argued that supportive housing isn’t being built because “the mayor and the governor have not been able to get on the same page,” which ignores that while the two parties have not come together on the traditional city-state supportive housing agreement (known as New York-New York over several iterations), they are each moving ahead with their own supportive housing development plans.

Louis asked Yang specifically how converting hotels into housing units would impact the recovery of the tourism industry, including rehiring of furloughed hotel workers. “Would you rather they lay empty for three years in the hopes that eventually they become used again?,” Yang asked. “Or would you rather use them to address the crisis we see around us every day?”

As with previous housing-focused forums, most candidates avoided specifying a concrete income figure for households to qualify for affordable housing, although candidates mostly agreed that tenants should not pay more than 30% of their incomes on rent, the threshold generally used to determine whether someone is “rent-burdened.”

“Ideally, I would like us to move to a place where we are not charging anyone, who is low- to moderate-income, more than 30% of their income for the rent. That is an established metric,” Morales said.

“Everyone keeps looking for this magic dollar amount, but in actuality, if you are a teacher or an accountant and you have four, five children and you’re paying above 30% of your income on rent, that is unfair,” said Adams when pressed to define a dollar amount. “The real number is: we shouldn’t have New Yorkers who are moderate-income or low-income paying more than 30% of their income on their rent.”

Louis also challenged Stringer to provide a specific income range, as well, and also asked him about whether his calls to further involve community boards in planning would have a positive impact on getting more affordable housing built in the city. As Manhattan borough president, Stringer sought to overhaul and improve the function of community boards, he said, and stressed that as mayor he would use a similar “community-based planning” approach that led to success in getting projects done with consensus.

“Community boards shouldn’t have the final say,” said Stringer, “but we certainly need communities to be part of this.” Stringer, who has indicated he is interested in adding housing density in higher-income and wealthy communities, said affordable housing should prioritize low-income New Yorkers to reduce the homelessness crisis.

Louis posed a series of lightning round questions, during which candidates answered with only yes or no responses. Along with discussing whether they rent or own, as previously discussed, candidates were asked if they have ever been landlords. Morales, Donovan, Yang, and Adams said yes, while Stringer, McGuire, Wiley, and Garcia said no. Asked if they had ever lived in a rent-regulated apartment, all but Yang, Morales, and Garcia said yes. Asked if they had ever been involved in a legal dispute with a landlord or a tenant, all but Adams said no.

On quelling the homelessness crisis in the city, which has grown over the last several mayoral administrations, though there have been halting efforts proven to make progress, candidates called for the city to increase preventive and supportive services, while highlighting their housing plans in the process.

“We need to prevent the homelessness dynamic from occurring in the first place,” said McGuire. “Once we prevent it, we need to make sure we have the services that are necessary, and that services go to mental health care services. We need services for those who are formerly incarcerated, we need services for drug abusers.”

Morales, Wiley, and Garcia called on the city to scale back the shelter system and “shift existing funds, $3 billion, into providing long-term permanent housing,” as Morales said.

There was broad agreement among candidates for expanding and increasing the value of housing vouchers as a way to prevent homelessness, which along with eviction prevention and providing supportive housing is shown to be one of the most effective strategies.

“Spending a little bit more money on the voucher would save us all the shelter cost. It’s a win-win,” said Garcia.

Yang reiterated his earlier point about building more supportive housing, and then called on the city to double the supply of “safe haven” beds, which are often provided by community-based institutions like houses of worship and have fewer restrictions for housing-insecure residents than traditional shelters. Safe haven beds are seen as transitional, a way to help people experiencing homelessness to get off the streets and subways and be offered a safe place to be along with other options for their next phase.

Adams, Garcia, Morales, and Donovan proposed reshuffling various city agencies to different degrees. Adams said he would establish greater coordination between city and state agencies, which currently “exist in silos.” Adams and Morales also called for a deputy mayor position to be responsible for overseeing all aspects and departments that deal with housing — something other candidates have indicated they are planning or considering. Garcia’s housing platform, for example, proposes that homeless services, economic development, and housing agencies all report to the same deputy mayor, who would oversee and coordinate the city’s housing-related issues and departments, including NYCHA public housing.

“We need to make sure every time someone leaves Rikers, every time someone leaves a mental health wing of our public hospital, we have a coordinated entry system directing them immediately to supportive housing and services they need,” Donovan said.

While candidates found broad agreement on most issues throughout the forum, they were divided on NYCHA. A lack of investment and mismanagement over the decades has led to about $40 billion worth of needed repairs, both large and small, to the housing authority’s buildings and apartments. According to NYCHA estimates, this deficit goes up by another billion each year.

A fiercely debated topic in the city is whether to allow private management of public housing developments, with some residents who have experienced it indicating they are very pleased with the accompanying upgrades, while others have voiced concerns about evictions. Several of the candidates who have the most experience with NYCHA, such as Donovan, Garcia, and Adams, have expressed support for taking advantage of the federal program that helps fund such efforts through that private management, call Rental Administration Demonstration (RAD). Others have been skeptical, warning of any type of privatization of NYCHA.

Garcia and Donovan expressed support for the larger NYCHA turnaround plan, “Blueprint for Change,” arguing that it is the only way to generate enough money to make much-needed repairs to the housing authority’s buildings.

“This allows us to leverage federal money. We don’t have to use more city money,” said Garcia, who served as interim chair of NYCHA. “We have tried going to the federal government since the Carter administration,” she pointed out, “we've always come up empty.”

“It is the only pathway where we can truly get to scale,” agreed Donovan.

“Otherwise, the choice is we are condemning [NYCHA residents] to live in buildings with no heat, no hot water, no elevators, mold, vermin, and lead,” Garcia concluded.

“I agree that there is a lot to commend the Blueprint,” said Wiley, “but sadly, there has simply not been sufficient trust.” She, among other candidates including Yang, want to give NYCHA residents a stronger decision-making voice. “I do not agree with Kathryn on giving up on the federal government,” added Wiley, who cited legislation introduced by Congressional Rep. Nydia Velázquez that would allocate $32 billion in funding for NYCHA repairs. (Garcia did not indicate she was giving up on the federal government, but instead focusing on the plan that is in place, which includes leveraging federal dollars, and moving ahead on more of what is under the control of the city and NYCHA, which are under a federal monitor due to the lead paint crisis and scandal.)

Despite the long history of federal disinvestment from the housing authority, Yang also voiced optimism that the federal government would allocate major funding for large-scale NYCHA repairs within a much larger infrastructure bill that is being discussed under President Biden and the Democratic Congress. Yang spoke his most passionately during the forum about fighting for NYCHA funding from the federal government in such an infrastructure package. He, like Donovan, regularly stresses his federal connections -- Yang cites his relationships with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and others built up during his run for president, while Donovan worked closely with Biden in the Obama administration, and he cites extensive relationships with many who are now running the Biden administration, including Harris, whom he says he worked closely with on the nationwide housing crisis when she was California attorney general.

Morales and Stringer pledged to dedicate $1.5 billion annually in city funding to address NYCHA repairs, while also pushing the state government to match that figure. Wiley and Donovan have both earmarked $2 billion annually in city capital for public housing repairs. Stringer also reiterated his proposal for moving $40 million a year away from the Battery Park City Authority and redirecting those funds to NYCHA, which needs multiple approvals and among them only de Blasio has opposed.

Meanwhile, Adams reiterated his focus on selling NYCHA’s air rights to local community developers for what he says would bring in $8 billion. Adams is also among those, like Donovan and Garcia, who are open or supportive of allowing existing NYCHA land to be leased to private developers for new housing development, thought viewpoints vary in terms of how this should be executed.

“I fundamentally reject the Blueprint for Change, the RAD agreement, the RAD deal,” said Morales, who was the only candidate to outright reject the plan. “We need to put NYCHA back in the hands of the residents,” she said, before proposing that tenants be given a majority on the NYCHA board, including a tenant chair. Morales has not outlined how she would fund NYCHA’s needed upgrades.

Candidates were asked how they would handle the long-standing New York City affordable housing policy of community preference, which reserves 50% of new affordable units in city-subsidized development for residents of the community district home to the development. The policy is in litigation, with plaintiffs arguing that it perpetuates racial segregation. Asked directly about whether they would continue to fight the litigation and keep the community preference policy, and about their approach to housing segregation, most candidates did not take a specific stance on the lawsuit and community preference policy.

Most spoke broadly about addressing housing segregation and fostering integration.

“Instead of having affluent New Yorkers moving into poor communities, we should have those low-income new New Yorkers moving into affluent communities,” said Adams, who explicitly called for upzoning wealthier communities to add housing including mandated affordable housing.

Morales said, “I think we need to increase and expand the availability of real affordable housing units in high-income, white neighborhoods predominantly.”

“Anything that discriminates, anything that continues segregation, I will not support,” said Wiley, though she did not specifically discuss the lawsuit or policy, and did not say what changes she would implement to foster integration.

“I think the data clearly shows that it is contributing to segregation and therefore really needs to be fundamentally changed,” said Garcia, and while she took a more definitive stance than most on the community preference policy, she did not say what those changes would involve.

“We have to change it,” said Yang. “I will suggest that if we're successful in converting these hotels and new affordable housing units, some of these hotels are going to be in very nice areas,” he added, indicating that the hotel conversion plan is as of now his main idea for integrating communities.

Stringer called the community preference plan a byproduct of “building out of a segregated city for far too long,” which he added was “wrong.” Stringer then reiterated his policy plan to set aside 25% of any new development’s units for low-income housing.

“We know that a pathway to really attacking the racial wealth gap and inequality in our city is homeownership,” said Donovan, who then highlighted his “equity bonds proposal that would give every child in the city $1,000 and up to $2,000 a year by the time they graduate.”

McGuire honed in on the historic roots of the problem, connecting the desegregation of housing in the city to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools. “We need to do whatever we can at once to address segregation,” McGuire said.

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

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At Televised Debate, Democratic Mayoral Candidates Outline Housing, Homelessness Plans Sun, 14 Mar 2021 05:00:00 +0000