Gotham Gazette Sun, 29 Nov 2020 11:14:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Public Safety at Brooklyn Forum Gotham Gazette:

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

Eight Democratic candidates for New York City mayor gathered Tuesday night for another candidate forum in the early phase of the campaign, which will culminate with a June primary and fall 2021 general election. The online forum, hosted by the Central Brooklyn Political Action Association, focused on “The Future of Public Safety” and was moderated by Dr. Christina Pardo and Greg Albro, co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network.

The eight participating candidates were divvied up into two panels, each lasting about an hour. The first panel included former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. The second panel consisted of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and former city Veterans Services Commissioner Loree Sutton.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat running for reelection next year, was also on hand to deliver remarks, telling the audience of about 200 attendees, “the next mayor will inherit a lot” but that “there’s an opportunity for tremendous change.” He also added that, “June seems like a long way away but it really isn’t.” At the end of the night, Williams said “I was disappointed at how many people skirted around the issue of defunding the police, but I was really happy to hear most folks discussing the root causes of gun violence.”

Several of the candidates have some professional background in public safety issues. Adams served for 22 years in the NYPD; Wiley chaired the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), and Donovan participated in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Morales has worked in social services for many years; Sutton is a military veteran; and Menchaca was among the City Council members pushing aggressively for reducing NYPD funding in the most recent city budget negotiations.

The first question put to both panels was about how candidates would address health disparities faced by marginalized communities, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We saw from the federal response how much the federal government is integral,” said Menchaca, but “the things that we can do is communicate to everyone.” It’s essential the city does a better job of translating information for immigrant communities, he said.

“We needed to close the schools faster,” Wiley said, criticizing the pandemic response of her former boss, de Blasio. “We’ve been gutting our public health department for years. It used to do much more programmatic work.”

“The bottom line is that this administration was not ready to meet the challenge of this pandemic,” said Stringer, who noted his office has been investigating City Hall’s response to the early months of the pandemic. “You can’t manage your way out of a crisis if you don’t have the structure in place to do it.”

“The systems did not work together to meet the needs of a massive crisis,” Garcia assessed. “Housing is a health issue. If you do not have stable housing, you will continue to struggle.”

“New York City and New York State took on a Trumpian response to the pandemic, downplaying it and not closing schools soon enough,” Morales said, in an apparent criticism of both de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

According to Sutton, “better planning, coordination, and communication” were needed in the early months of the pandemic, but she also said that “here in New York, we went from worst to first and I think Governor Cuomo deserves some praise for that.”

“When covid hit the city, I was leading from the front,” said Adams, who said he “was demonized for giving face masks to NYCHA residents.” He also asked, “Why did we have a drive-through testing center on Staten Island before Brooklyn? We treated Black and brown people differently.”

“Planning doesn’t start when the crisis hits. It has to be in place before a crisis.” Donovan said, reiterating his crisis management bona fides, which has become a central talking point in this nascent campaign with references to his Obama administration work on the economic recovery from the Great Recession and in response to Hurricane Sandy. He expressed optimism that he would be able to work with the federal government to secure additional relief funding.

The second question focused on relations between police and communities, particularly the merits of calls to “defund the police” and how candidates are thinking about the future of public safety.

Stringer, who cited his participation in protests against police brutality and his move to divest the municipal pension funds from private prisons, said, “New York City’s mayor has a chance to lead the country on police reform and what we saw on the streets of our city is something I haven’t seen at protests.” He criticized how the NYPD treated largely peaceful protestors and said “let’s reduce the NYPD’s role in mental health incidents and traffic violations” and “decriminalize low-level offenses.” He committed to “bring down the rate of incarceration.”

“We have to put the public back in public safety,” said Wiley, calling for the ouster of NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and a “top-to-bottom restructuring” of the NYPD. Her vision of public safety includes “policing is about partnership and problem solving,” with the police focusing on violent crime and other agencies handling lower-level offenses.

“Keeping people safe in their communities is one of the first responsibilities of a mayor,” said Garcia, who said she opposes defunding the police. “We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” she said, citing “simple reforms” that the city can make, including raising the minimum age of officers to 25 (currently 21), a city residency requirement, and increased training across all levels of the chain of command. She wants an NYPD “focused on crime and not other issues.”

Menchaca took the opportunity to lobby Council Speaker Corey Johnson to make him the next chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee (a position being vacated by Donovan Richards when he assumes the Queens Borough Presidency at the beginning of the new year). “I think it’s time the City Council pass a budget that you designed and reflects the people’s needs,” Menchaca said. “That’s how we have a transformational shift.”

“Public safety and justice go together. We can’t have one without the other,” said Adams, who advocates reallocating funds within the NYPD budget and moving officers out of clerical roles into crime prevention. He also proposed promoting school safety officers to police officers after two years of service to increase the proportion of city residents in the force.

“We have a chance to reimagine what modern policing should be,” said Sutton. “Cops need communities as much as communities need cops. We need to rebuild those relationships that have really been shredded in recent months.”

“I was the first mayoral candidate to call for defunding police and I stand by those words and I’m not backing down,” Morales said. She continued: “Policing does not equal public safety. We need to transform public safety,” and advocated using community-based groups to substitute for police in certain circumstances.

“We need to dramatically reduce their role,” Donovan said of the police, speaking particularly about school safety and mental health crisis response. “We need to reimagine the way we respond to violence well beyond policing.” He said that a “dramatic response across the entire system is required” and that “this has to be a public health and all-of-government approach.”

Candidates were asked about economic issues facing New Yorkers and rising levels of income inequality during the pandemic, and how each would protect immigrant communities and other vulnerable populations.

“We have to make sure that we’re using our resources,” Wiley said, noting that thousands of NYCHA units are unoccupied because of uninhabitable conditions. She also said that she would “demand more from for-profit developers because they’re in a position to do more and this current administration hasn’t asked enough of them.”

Garcia recalled her role as “food czar” for the city during the early months of the pandemic, saying she learned that “Our emergency food system is incredibly fragile and not distributed equally across the city.” She also stressed increasing “pipelines to employment.”

“We need to think about how we’re going to build the next generation of low-income housing and we need to do it fast,” Stringer said, criticizing de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program for “building affordable housing that wasn’t affordable to people in those communities.” He also said that vacant land across the city “must go back to the people, with a subsidy” to develop affordable housing.

Menchaca criticized de Blasio for “failing to provide a lawyer for [all] undocumented immigrants who needed one during deportation proceedings.” He criticized NYPD cooperation with ICE and proposed that “the next police commissioner appointment should come from the City Council” to ensure a “civilian approach to leadership.”

Sutton said, “Our elected leaders in Congress should have been raising holy hell” to get more relief funds and “the next mayor has to understand the world we’re looking at now is different from the one even from eight or nine months ago.” She said the city “must partner with the private sector when it comes to housing” because it “can't leave tenants or landlords on the hook.”

“As someone who has worked side-by-side with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I would work effectively with the federal government to make sure we have the support we need,” said Donovan, who added he would focus on English language learners in education to close achievement gaps and expand MetroPlus to ensure health coverage for all New Yorkers.

Morales said that “it is time for banks and developers to pay their fare share” and stressed the need for the state to help, saying “where New York City goes so does the state, so the governor has something to worry about. We need to push for the support from the state and federal level.” She also said “we need to think creatively about spaces available” when it comes to housing.

“We need to expand voting rights in municipal elections,” said Adams. “If you pass that, you start sending a clear and loud message that immigrants are welcome here.” Adams has supported a push to allow non-citizen permanent city residents to vote in municipal elections.

The final question centered on solutions to gun violence, with the moderators noting that it was the issue most put forward by audience members.

Garcia said “the police have to be on the ground in their communities and they have to have people trust them,” citing the Police Athletic League as an example of a program that built strong community relations.

“The way we’re going to stem the tide of gun violence is mentorship of our young people,” said Stringer, stressing the need to give young people “hope and opportunity, while also noting, “You can police, but that’s not solving the systemic issues. We have to invest in our kids.”

“Gun violence fundamentally is about disinvestment in communities,” Wiley said. “You need to go out and get the guns, but we need the dollars in our communities. That’s what solves gun violence.”

“How do you address gun violence? Fully fund our public schools and summer youth programs,” Menchaca said.

Donovan said “we need a mayor who’s going to lead a national coalition of mayors against the gun industry” and that “if we can cut the supply of guns, we can dramatically change this situation.”

“I’ve dedicated my life to the issue of gun violence,” Adams said, adding he “would reinstitute the [NYPD] crime prevention unit, which the specific shooters.” He also said “we need a tristate approach to stop the flow of guns to this city.”

“It’s through partnership that we can lead our country forward,” said Sutton, stressing the need to rebuild trust between communities and the NYPD.

Morales said “police are not the answer,” continuing: “the thing about those models that actually work is that they’re driven by members of those communities.” She stressed the importance of “addressing the root causes.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Public Safety at Brooklyn Forum Wed, 18 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Candidates Pitch Their Resumes and Values to the West Side Democrats 8x8mashup 2

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

With the 2020 elections over -- but for the counting of absentee ballots across the city and state -- greater attention is turning to New York City’s 2021 local elections, including an increasingly-crowded race for mayor. The first candidate forum of the 2021 cycle was held by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club last month, featuring seven Democratic mayoral candidates: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, nonprofit executive Diana Morales, Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, who was counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

On Thursday night, those seven, plus former city Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton, participated in a forum hosted by the West Side Democrats. Former Citigroup executive Raymond McGuire, who is the most recent entrant into the race but like several others in the field has not formally launched his campaign, did not participate in the forum, nor did military veteran and nonprofit founder Zach Iscol.

The online forum, which had a quick pace to ensure the more than 350 viewers could hear from eight candidates in a reasonable amount of time, continued to show the early dividing lines in the Democratic primary field, with candidates staking out different “lanes” based on their political ideologies and personal and professional experiences. The party primaries for mayor and all other elected positions in city government will be held in June of next year, and they will feature ranked-choice voting.

During Thursday’s forum, candidates were given six minutes to speak about their candidacies and priorities for the city and then questioned for an additional three minutes by a group of West Side Democratic Club leaders, who asked questions submitted by club members. The candidates appeared one at a time and answered a different set of questions.

Eric Adams
The candidates went in alphabetical order, with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams kicking off the event. “I think we’re all breathing a sigh of relief, but let’s not kid ourselves, there’s still anxiety in this city,” Adams said, referencing the results of the presidential election.

“I get it,” Adams emphasized, listing a series of quality of life concerns and painting a bleak picture of New York City, from rising crime rates to public drug use and urination. He warned of a possible return of less prosperous times for the city in the wake of the pandemic. Speaking from personal experience, Adams told the audience, “I went through a lot. It’s time to have a mayor who’s gone through a lot to help people who are going through a lot.”

“Our cities are made up of agencies and if the agencies aren’t doing their jobs, it doesn’t matter how much money we throw at them,” Adams said, noting that “inefficiency leads to inequality” and “the inability for agencies to coordinate is failing this city.” He called out the Department of Education in particular for the poor nutritional quality of school meals and “historically failing black and brown boys year after year.”

“You’re doing your job as taxpayers. We’re not doing our job of effectively running this city,” Adams said.

Adams said that his time in the NYPD taught him city agencies need to go from being “reactive to proactive to predictive.” He also said that “Public safety is a prerequisite for prosperity in this city, but I believe we’re slipping back.” He called policing “a noble profession,” but that he believes “we can be safe and we can have the justice we deserve,” which he said means rooting out offices unfit for the job.

On housing, Adams said, “I believe we are failing in NYCHA and real affordable housing” and to combat this, he supports “upzoning all throughout the city” because “the problem of real affordable housing is a citywide problem.” He said that “high transit areas,” presumably including the Upper West Side where the host club is based, “need to share that prosperity with the rest of the city.”

Shaun Donovan
Donovan said he’s running for mayor because he’s a “lifelong New Yorker who grew up in another time of crisis,” referring to the 1970s. A veteran of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, Donovan stressed that he was there for the first and last days of Barack Obama’s presidency, serving that administration in multiple roles.

He said he’s spent his career “on the frontlines of housing and homelessness and racial and economic justice,” while also noting his emergency management experience relating to the federal responses to the 2008-2009 Housing Crisis, Hurricane Sandy, and Ebola.

Donovan said his progressive politics and record of accomplishment in government make him “the best candidate to lead this city because I combine the biggest, broadest vision for change with the deepest experience to accomplish it.” He also claims that he is the “real, true progressive in this race,” which several other candidates would be quick to dispute, based on what he’s actually gotten done.

Donovan discussed several broad planks of his vision for the city, including creating "21st century streets...without cars dominating our streetscape," but didn’t offer specifics for what that would really look like.

On housing, the former HUD Secretary said, when asked about the proposal, that “Land banks are a critically important example of the ways we can ensure public ownership of land.” He said that the city needs to “reimagine our right to shelter as a right to housing” because “if we believe we’re going to solve homelessness with homeless programs alone we’re going to fail.”

While Donovan declined to voice his support for “defund the NYPD” as a slogan, he said he did “support reducing, reimagining, and reinvesting our criminal justice system.” As mayor, he would want to “reduce [the NYPD’s] role and focus them on guns and violent crime,” including by removing the police from schools, homeless outreach, and other tasks.

Kathryn Garcia
Garcia pitched herself as “the go-to crisis manage for New York City” in recent years, citing her role as the “food czar” during the early months of the pandemic and leading the city’s response to the lead crisis at NYCHA, touting a 20% reduction in children with lead poisoning under her leadership. “You won’t find someone with more municipal crisis experience than me,” she said, also referencing her work as sanitation commissioner under Mayor de Blasio and working on clean water under Mayor Bloomberg.

Garcia said that the rising covid rates have “been extraordinarily concerning” and that the only way to end the crisis will be “fast, free, and easy access to a vaccine.” She pitched herself as the best-equipped person to ensure that happens, saying, “I’m an operations person. This is what I do best.”

She also said that in the coming months that the city should keep open “as much as possible, but in a safe way,” noting that visiting a museum is much safer than indoor dining as an example.

Additionally, she proposes free childcare for families with incomes less than $70,000 a year to combat what she describes as a “childcare crisis,” particular for working mothers.

Noting the city’s fiscal woes, Garcia said that she would “prioritize core services,” such as sanitation, fire, parks, water, and education, and to “stop wasting money on ineffective band aid solutions” because “we know tax revenue is down so we can’t afford to be wasteful.”

She mentioned a few examples of where she’s seen inefficiency in city government, including that she believes there are too many different technology offices and chief officers, the city’s resiliency and climate offices should be combined, and that she’s not sure what the public engagement division actually does.

Garcia sounded an optimistic note on the chance for a federal stimulus, saying, “I have a lot more confidence that we will get some relief from a Biden administration.” However, she also said that “it won’t be enough to close every gap.”

When asked if she thought the Office of Public Advocate was unnecessary, Garcia answered “I’d love to keep Jumaane in that role...but it is the question of if you need an ombudsman at that scale.”

Carlos Menchaca
“Covid has changed everything for the entire city,” Council Member Carlos Menchaca said at the beginning of his remarks, but “what I want to bring is a whole different way of thinking about government that starts with community.” He directly criticized Mayor de Blasio, saying his “entire time has really been removing power from communities from making decisions that are best for them.”

He praised Sunset Park, one of the neighborhoods in his district, for building “100% affordable” housing developments and “not waiting for towers of luxury housing to come to displace our communities.” According to Menchaca, “those units went so low in terms of access that local residents are able to afford them.”

The term-limited Council member also said that he wants “to bring universal basic income to the city of New York through pilot programs. I think this is something that can really change how people access not just housing but all the things they need.”

He had harsh words for both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, saying they “represent some of the worst kinds of politics.” As an alternative, he pointed to his opposition to the Industry City rezoning proposal, which he helped kill, telling the West Side Democrats that “we did our homework but I also shared that homework with transparency” and “that’s how I’m going to run this mayor’s office.” 

Dianne Morales
“This is the greatest city in the world but we’re falling short,” Morales told the West Side Democrats. “A system that works for some of us is not good enough,” she went on to say, and “the multiple crises we’ve been navigating are the result of deeply ingrained systems and structures.”

Morales says she’s running because “We’ve got to live up to the rhetoric of being the greatest city in the world.” To do so, she says “it’s time to throw out the old playbook...the people who are closest to the problems need to be part of the solution.”

Asked about the idea of NYCHA public housing becoming resident-run, she said believes that “NYCHA, with the right support, should be handed over to community ownership.”

Additionally, on housing overall, the city “should be adopting models that increase community ownership and community decision-making over their housing”

Morales described the current school year as a “lost opportunity” for desegregation, stating “there’s no reason why we couldn’t have begun to experiment with desegregating classes with virtual learning.” For example, she said that the best teachers on the Upper West Side could have been paired with poor students of color in Brooklyn. 

When asked about municipal property taxes for small homeowners, Morales said that she thinks “the city needs to find other ways to cover those expenses.” She reiterated that “we need to cancel rent,” she said, because evictions are “only going to further compound the issues and challenges we’re dealing with in this city.” She also said something must be done to help make small landlords whole in such a scenario.

Scott Stringer
“For me, this is somewhat of a homecoming,” Stringer said at the start of his segment, noting that his political career began on the Upper West Side and with the West Side Democrats’ forerunner clubs. He told the attendees that the city needs a mayor who “continues to be progressive, but is also competent in management.”

Stringer said that he knows “a mayor needs to be specific,” and highlighted his “25-point small business plan” as an example of his policy specificities. As part of that plan, he said “we’re going to have to incentivize our small businesses to move to vacant corridors,” as well as provide other support for small businesses, such as with technology. Stringer, whose long list of policy plans have been produced through the work of the very large government agency he runs as comptroller, also pointed to his affordable housing plan.

Stringer was among Mayor de Blasio’s harshest critics of the night, particularly when it came to his relationship with the state government, stating that he would “reset the city-state relationship in Albany.” He said “Cuomo’s playing chess, he’s playing checkers,” while promising attendees that “no one is stealing my lunch money in Albany,” in part because of his familiarity with state government -- Stringer was a member of the Assembly before becoming Manhattan borough president, then comptroller. He said as mayor he would work with progressive state legislators to secure the city’s policy priorities.

The term-limited comptroller said that he has opposed rezonings that have occurred during the de Blasio mayoralty because the city needs to “build with communities not against them.” 

“When I open this economy as mayor, we’re not opening the same way we closed it,” Stringer said, continuing that New York will “finally” not be a “tale of two cities” under his leadership. He highlighted his progressive management of the city’s pension system as comptroller, which has included divestment from private prisons and working toward divestment from fossil fuel companies.

Stringer was also critical of Mayor de Blasio’s climate goals, saying that focusing on “2040 or 2050 goals is simply kicking the can down the road” and that “what’s happened in this administration is that we’ve been too slow to realize our yearly goals.” He promised that would change under his leadership with “an 8-year plan” and a “fossil fuel infrastructure moratorium,” noting that he has “opposed pipelines throughout the city.”

On affordable housing, Stringer said that the city “needs a reset,” away from the current Mandatory Inclusionary Housing model,  and “to merge a real affordable housing plan to our homelessness plan.” As mayor, he promised to get a law passed that would mandate “25% of as-of-right developments must be set aside for affordable housing.” He said that this key plank of his housing plan would help integrate the city.

Loree Sutton
Sutton noted that three in four registered Democrats in the city have not voted in recent local elections, but now believes many more see the importance of local leadership. She said she would take a “systems approach” as mayor, to develop innovative solutions like the 14th Street busway and Governor Cuomo’s approach to the L-train tunnel repairs that avoided the planned full shutdown.

She praised her fellow candidate Shaun Donovan’s record as HUD secretary of reducing veterans homelessness by 50%, while noting that as the city’s veterans commissioner, she brought down the city’s homeless veterans population by 90%. She believes that her work on veterans homelessness “can be applied to the larger population.”

Sutton, who is clearly running as a moderate Democrat, cited the City Journal, published by the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank, and the business-friendly Partnership for New York City as inspirations for her campaign ideas, though she said she doesn’t always agree with those sources. She also cited Regional Plan Association. She would later name former Mayor Ed Koch as one of her personal heroes, arguing that “to mayor is to walk around - mayor is a verb.”

“There’s so much that we can do together and that requires a kind of leadership that we haven’t seen,” she said.

Sutton criticized Mayor de Blasio, who brought her into city government in 2014, for his handling of the Lucerne Hotel row, specifically the “process that placed hundreds of homeless individuals without preparing the communities receiving them.” She said that “community engagement has to proceed any major shift in a community ecosystem.”

When asked more specifically how she would deal with the city’s homelessness crisis, Sutton said that “we need social workers to work with the police, not send out social workers instead of the police.”

Maya Wiley
“I am running to be the next mayor of New York City because I know our city can become one where all people live with dignity,” Wiley told attendees, in the last candidate segment of the event. She said that the city should be able to “retain what we love about it while fixing what produced so much inequality.” Much of her prepared remarks focused on her lived experiences and history of advocacy, including decades as a civil rights attorney, and the work she did in the de Blasio administration on equity, particularly on broadband access.

Wiley stressed that she did not personally know Mayor de Blasio before joining his administration, but that she was “totally on board with [de Blasio’s] mission” of ending inequality, in an apparent attempt to distance herself from her former boss. She noted she was the first Black woman to serve as counsel to the mayor.

When asked about the NYPD’s disciplinary process, Wiley, who was chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) that investigates some instances of alleged police misconduct, said, “The [NYPD] commissioner cannot solely determine what discipline is” and “I think we need to reimagine public safety top to bottom.”

When asked about how to overcome community opposition to low-income housing and homeless shelters via a “NIMBY” approach, Wiley said that she thinks “it starts with a very engaged process that ensures every community does its part.”

In the final question of the night, Wiley was asked to name one city agency inefficiency that she would solve. Wiley noted that “we desperately need more nursing services,” particularly in schools, and she would accomplish this in part by merging the nursing programs at the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene so as to increase the number of school nurses.

The forum was moderated by Alec Barrett, a district leader; Lauren Brody, interim vice president of the club; and club member Pablo Zevallos. Barrett emphasized that the primary will be conducted using ranked-choice voting.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Mayoral Candidates Pitch Their Resumes and Values to the West Side Democrats Fri, 13 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
New York City Needs a Resiliency Plan that Creates Green Jobs for New Yorkers solar panels green jobs NYC

Solar panels rendering (image: Mayor's Office) 

Eight years ago today, October 29, Hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern seaboard, causing severe flooding and power loss throughout New York City and the entire region. Sandy was very personal to me and my family as I know it was to many of you and yours. Friends nearby in Brooklyn lost their homes and businesses, and one even lost her life. I was honored when President Obama asked me to lead a federal task force to ensure we recovered and rebuilt stronger. The Sandy effort showed how strong and resilient New Yorkers can be. Much was learned, much was done, but unfortunately, as the storm faded from the memory of city leaders, much was left undone.  

Now, New York City is grappling with yet another tragic disaster. We’ve lost nearly 25,000 of our neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family to the COVID-19 pandemic and every day we see the human and economic impact of this disaster on our great city. Sandy and the pandemic share a common theme -- the most vulnerable are disproportionately at risk when disaster strikes, so recovery must help all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable.

There is no doubt that Superstorm Sandy, like COVID-19, devastated the livelihoods of low-income New Yorkers. For example, in the wake of Sandy more than 80,000 New York City Public Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents were left for weeks without essential services, such as electricity, elevators, heat and hot water. After Sandy, NYCHA residents in the Rockaways, Red Hook, and other areas suffered from damaged boilers, hot water issues, and mold, as well as damage to playgrounds and other community gathering spaces, lost access to polling places, and physical isolation in their apartments.

In the name of environmental justice, we must center equity and inclusion in our rebuilding efforts – prioritizing the hardest-hit communities that are often left behind in disaster response. To help protect our fellow New Yorkers from future crises and economic downturns, we can create a pipeline of good-paying jobs that promote clean energy and resiliency. Smart policy can ensure that these jobs are accessible to residents in environmental justice communities.

The process of recovery and rebuilding since Sandy has taken too long. Eight years later, NYCHA is still undergoing Sandy-related repairs and is not prepared to deal with future climate disasters and extreme weather events. We must take necessary measures to enhance resilience, like installing flood barriers and generators and elevating utilities to higher ground. Through close collaboration with tenant associations and robust community outreach, we can ensure that tenant voices are not only heard but are a driving force behind this work. 

The ingenuity of residents has the potential to transform our public housing stock, but it must be harnessed. In the process, we should also create more jobs for public housing residents, by hiring from within NYCHA and from Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises. Better support for community-based organizations that help prepare and place residents into green jobs, and close coordination with NYCHA’s resident employment office, REES, will enable us to do this.

Looking beyond the public housing stock, adapting our city’s buildings to be climate-ready and pollution-free will require a workforce that is skilled and ready to take on the green jobs of tomorrow. Local, state, and federal leadership, both separately and in partnership, must do more to train New Yorkers, especially young people, people of color, and working-class communities to participate in the clean energy economy. 

As mayor, I would establish a NYC Climate Corps, a citywide initiative focused on equity, inclusion, and job creation. The program would focus on equipping diverse young New Yorkers with the skills and experience they need to enter the green economy, while providing support to communities hard hit by climate change. This program would be built off the Clean Energy Service Corps, an AmeriCorps program initiated under the Obama Administration to support participants spending a year working on clean energy projects and creating green housing, via grants to nonprofits. But it would also build on local programs, such as the CUNY Service Corps and CUNY’s existing pathways to the green economy. 

With an expansion and strengthening of AmeriCorps from the federal government, an investment in CUNY, and thoughtful support locally -- led by local nonprofits and hand in hand with communities -- the NYC Climate Corps could provide young New Yorkers the skills and entry-level opportunities to access careers in climate change resilience and clean energy, while supporting New York City communities. Such a program must prioritize recruiting and supporting participants from the communities they serve, and work in close coordination with labor apprenticeship programs, city agencies, and non-profit organizations supporting underserved youth college and career pathways.

I have spent my career building coalitions to solve the challenges of substandard housing, disaster response, and climate resiliency. New York City, one of the most economically unequal cities in the country, needs a mayor who is willing to work creatively across city, state, and federal lines to build a greener city and end environmental racism. Together, we can build a city that works for everyone.

Shaun Donovan was budget director and secretary of housing and urban development for President Obama and commissioner of housing preservation and development for Mayor Bloomberg. On Twitter @ShaunDonovanNYC.

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New York City Needs a Resiliency Plan that Creates Green Jobs for New Yorkers Thu, 29 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Appear at First Candidate Forum of 2021 Race joldc mayoral forum 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Appear at First Candidate Forum of 2021 Race Wed, 14 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Shaun Donovan Makes Federal Experience Focus of 2021 Mayoral Message hud sec bloom

Then HUD-Secretary Shaun Donovan, center, with Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Schumer (photo: Spencer T Tucker/mayor's office)

While he has not officially announced a campaign for New York City Mayor, Shaun Donovan is certainly talking like a candidate, explaining his rationale for running, comparing himself to the rest of the Democratic field, and outlining some of his vision for the city. With just ten months until the all-important June 2021 primary, Donovan recently showed a large initial fundraising haul and is beginning to make public appearances, including as a recent guest on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, where he touted his experience in the Obama administration.

“I believe what I bring to this race is both a broad progressive vision that is more comprehensive, more far-reaching than any of the other candidates, but I also bring a track record that says I can actually get those progressive things done,” Donovan told Max & Murphy. “I believe that I will be the candidate that can make the city work for everyone.”

Donovan was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for over five years and then Director of the Office of Management and Budget in President Barack Obama’s. Prior to that, Donovan served as Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development in New York City for five years during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. Given he’s planning to run for mayor in a Demcratic primary with an increasing energy on the left, it is no surprise that Donovan is much quicker to discuss his work for Obama than for Bloomberg.

Donovan highlights his work as federal housing secretary, a job he was appointed to in 2009, when Obama took office and in which he oversaw the recovery from the national housing crisis and the federal response to 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. As budget director, Donovan oversaw the $4 trillion federal budget and, during his tenure in that office, he was involved in the federal response to the 2014 Ebola scare. He told Max & Murphy that these experiences in particular would help in dealing with the “twin crises” currently facing New York City, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis.

“In so many different ways, in so many different types of crises that are similar to what we’re facing now, President Obama asked me to lead those responses for the country, and for New York City, as with Sandy, and that really is unique,” Donovan said. “There’s no one else in the race that has that depth of experience and vision that I do, to help lead the city back from this moment of peril.”

In the most recent campaign finance filing period, which ended mid-July and was his first as someone officially exploring a campaign, Donovan raised more money than any other candidate in the 2021 mayoral race. He raised $662,003 during the January-July period and has $454,021 currently in his campaign account. Donovan still trails the three current elected officials in the race -- City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- in cash-on-hand. The average contribution to Donovan’s campaign was $1,171 and $314,312 (47.5%) came from outside New York City.

Also in the Democratic primary running are former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former city Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton, and Maya Wiley, a former top aide to Mayor Bill de Blaiso and civil rights attorney, who recently announced she is exploring a campaign and is beginning to raise funds. Other candidates may also join the field.

Donovan has put together a campaign team that includes veterans of Bill de Blasio’s two winning mayoral campaigns, among others, and is pitching potential supporters on his experience and chances of success based on the campaign team’s analysis of the issues and other candidates.

When touting his record on Max & Murphy, Donovan said, “Barack Obama asked me in the moment of the worst housing crisis in our lifetimes to become his Housing Secretary. I worked aggressively with people in New York City and across the country to try to undo that damage and rebuild communities. But, he also asked me because of my work on Katrina and so many other natural disasters around the country to lead the federal rebuilding process after Sandy hit New York and the region.”

While Donovan provided limited specifics for what exactly he would do as mayor of New York City, he repeatedly stressed the value of his experience. “[J]ust three weeks into the president asking me to lead the work on the federal budget, Ebola hit and I had to get deeply involved in everything from contract tracing to all those words that have become all too familiar to us now as well as thinking more broadly about how we build an infrastructure for global health security.”

Donovan recalled training incoming Trump administration officials about the federal government’s preparedness for a global health emergency during the transition period after the 2016 election but before the inauguration. “It’s very clear [the Trump administration] hasn’t learned those lessons,” he said.

Asked about his work under Bloomberg and whether that could hurt him in the eyes of 2021 Democratic primary voters, Donovan was quick to note that “[Michael Bloomberg] and I didn’t agree on everything, but I will say Mike was a very strong leader and a great manager.” Donovan pointed in particular to Bloomberg’s track record on public health, gun control, and climate change. “There were some very, very strong aspects of what Mike did as mayor.”

Donovan did not say specifically where he disagreed with Bloomberg’s approach or track record.

Throughout the interview, Donovan criticized Mayor de Blasio, a term-limited Democrat, and several of the city’s current policies, in regards to gentrification, the city’s preparedness for the pandemic, and school reopening plans, among other issues.

“I’m a progressive who has actually gotten progressive things done,” Donovan said, pointing to his record on reducing homelessness across the country, particularly among military veterans, and being the first-ever cabinet secretary to endorse marriage equality. Additionally, he said “I put real teeth into the 1968 Fair Housing Act in a way no prior HUD Secretary had ever done and President Trump is attacking me for that work now.”

“Housing is the central issue that decides so many other things about your life,” Donovan stressed. “Unfortunately in this country, you can predict a child’s life chances, even their life expectancy, by the zip code they grew up in. And, it really gets to this history of red-lining and government-sponosored segregation and discrimination.”

Donovan said he wants to “make sure we’re building more integrated neighborhoods where we can make sure Black and brown people can stay in New York. Gentrification has been a huge challenge over the last ten years under this mayor.” (De Blasio has been mayor since 2014.)

Pushed on what changed during the Bloomberg administration and what he would do as mayor to address housing segregation in New York City, Donovan said, “We did make progress under Mayor Bloomberg. We had the most aggressive housing plan in the country, but I think we need to go significantly farther than that.”

“We simply don’t put enough resources into housing and homelessness. It’s why we see record levels of homelessness in this city,” said Donovan. Homelessness in the city began to skyrocket under Bloomberg, after Donovan had left the city for Washington, D.C.

“We need to rethink and reimagine land use,” Donovan went on to say, “we have to make sure that affordable housing comes first and that comes with a much more specific, more aggressive way of using zoning in the city for affordability.”

He did not specify what kind of land use and zoning changes he has in mind.

“There’s a lot more we can be doing in this city to make sure that folks aren’t being displaced and that we enforce the laws that we have,” Donovan said. “We can be much more creative about how we preserve existing affordable housing.”

Citing that one in 14 New Yorkers live in public housing, he said “it’s a permanently affordable resource that we can never replace in this city and yet city leaders have done far too little to make sure that that precious resource is preserved.”

When asked about his own record on public housing, particularly the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Donovan cited the passage of the Recovery Act in 2009, which had a large investment in public housing. “The issue is that HUD can provide resources, [but] fixing NYCHA really has to be led by the mayor,” he said. “This is the problem, really fixing NYCHA has to be led by the mayor, and for too long, New York’s mayors have seen NYCHA as a federal problem and it’s never been included in the city’s housing plan. It’s never been led in a way that is seen as integral.”

On the COVID-19 pandemic, Donovan said “in the moment of crisis, if you’re starting to design your plan, you’re going to be too late. One fundamental problem we’re seeing is that the city just wasn’t prepared.” He cited his experience with the Ebola epidemic as evidence that he would be prepared for such a crisis.

“As mayor, I would be making sure we’re preparing while fighting the immediate crisis,” he said. “The idea that we haven’t been able to get ahead of the testing problem is a huge problem.”

“Before we fully open the economy and reopen schools, we need to make sure that we have real safety, real plans, whether it be on the subways, which I’m on almost every day, and making sure that we’re implementing all of the plans that will allow people, both native New Yorkers and those who come to New York, feel confident and comfortable going back to work and back to school,” Donovan said.

Reflecting on the recent Democratic primaries, the changes in the party, and where he may fit, Donovan said, “I think there is a progressive surge in this country and we’re seeing enormously exciting young talent rise to the surface, to win races nobody expected them to win and I think that’s great. We need new voices in New York City, we need new voices in Congress.”

“At the same time, we see deep frustration with the Mayor and with frankly, too many elected officials who put politics before people,” Donovan said.

“I have the track record to show I’ve actually gotten those [progressive] things done in a way that nobody else will and I think what you’ll see is that New Yorkers want a progressive mayor, but they’re also tired of politics coming before people,” Donovan said. “I’m going to show New Yorkers that I’m a public servant not a politician.”

[Listen to the full conversation: Max & Murphy Podcast: Shaun Donovan Explores a Run for Mayor]

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Shaun Donovan Makes Federal Experience Focus of 2021 Mayoral Message Sun, 16 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Shaun Donovan Explores a Run for Mayor housing urb dev

Shaun Donovan at the podium (photo: Spencer T Tucker)

August 5, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Shaun Donovan Explores a Run for Mayor

Shaun Donovan, a former top aide to President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, joined the show to discuss his likely candidacy for Mayor of New York City in the 2021 election.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

Max & Murphy · Episode 239: Shaun Donovan Explores A Run For Mayor

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Shaun Donovan Explores a Run for Mayor Wed, 05 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'I Actually Have to Negotiate a Budget': Corey Johnson and the Challenge of Running for Mayor as City Council Speaker 4 budget deal ptfs

Corey Johnson, with Bill de Blasio watching (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Speakers of the New York City Council don’t fare well when running for citywide office. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who previously held the job, was unsuccessful in a crowded 2019 special election for public advocate. Christine Quinn, the speaker before her, placed third in the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary that saw Bill de Blasio advance toward the mayoralty. Gifford Miller, Quinn’s predecessor, similarly lost in the 2005 Democratic mayoral primary to Fernando Ferrer, and Peter Vallone came in third in the 2001 Democratic primary.

Corey Johnson, the current City Council Speaker, is hoping to buck that trend as he pursues his own mayoral bid in 2021, when both he and de Blasio will be term-limited out of their current offices. But like Council speakers before him, his leadership of the city’s 51-member legislative body is likely to be a double-edged sword.

Johnson has been able to achieve major goals and advance populist ideas that could serve as the foundation of a fruitful campaign platform. But, by nature, his position requires consensus-building among a large, diverse group of lawmakers and compromising with the mayor. That was the case when he brokered the recently approved $88.2 billion city budget and found himself balancing the positions held by Council members and the demands of a movement against police brutality, and delivered a compromise that broadly angered people on the left and the right, and which even he admitted he was disappointed with.

“I love being speaker,” Johnson said in an interview earlier this week, discussing criticism he’s received, including from others in government. “I can't speak to other people's jobs, but as speaker I'm able to have a big impact on policy and legislation and the budget in New York City, and I'm grateful for that. It's a challenging job that requires me to take positions on issues on almost a daily basis. And there's an upside to that but also a downside to that because some of these things are complicated, nuanced, and politically fraught but still exciting and you still have the ability to impact the city and public policy in a significant way.”

Johnson’s potential mayoral opponents, particularly Comptroller Scott Stringer, had harsh words for the budget deal, especially with regard to the NYPD picture.

“Politics is politics sometimes,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s anything new that potential opponents are going to try to use issues and votes and the budget process against me or other Council members. That’s probably happened for time immemorial so I don’t think it’s unique to me. But, at the same time, being speaker, I actually have to negotiate a budget. I actually have to negotiate legislation, I have to support members who are negotiating land use deals. These things are much more under the microscope and politically electrified than what other elected officials have to deal with on a daily basis.”

In past interviews, when asked about the trend of City Council speakers struggling to become mayor, Johnson has pointed out it is a small sample size and that no comptroller has become mayor in decades, while no borough president has become mayor since David Dinkins won in 1989. Along with Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is the other current elected official expected to run for mayor in the 2021 election.

With the city facing a $9 billion revenue gap, Johnson faced the toughest budget that the Council has had to deal with in his time as speaker. The city had been flush with cash for years through a robust recovery after the Great Recession, allowing for massive increases in spending. Now, the mayor was proposing cuts to social services, youth development, education, and more. There was also a growing demand from police reform advocates that the city cut $1 billion from the police department’s nearly $6 billion annual operating budget.

Even as Johnson embraced that advocacy, he could not obtain the level or types of cuts he was pushing for as he cobbled together the votes for the budget. It was ultimately approved 32-17 just past the midnight deadline for the July 1 start of the 2021 fiscal year. It included pledged cuts to police overtime spending with no specific plan to achieve them, a small reduction in officer headcount, and hundreds of millions in costs shifted by moving school safety back to the purview of the Department of Education.

The pieces added up to what the mayor called $1 billion but were marked by the sort of gimmicks that incensed advocates and Johnson acknowledged did not hit that target. (Even the school safety shift isn’t expected to happen within the new fiscal year, a detail that didn’t emerge until after the budget was approved.)

“From the moment George Floyd was murdered at the end of May till when we passed the budget in the hours leading up to July 1, we were able to do a lot while also recognizing you can't do everything in five weeks,” Johnson said.

There has been speculation that the budget vote will come back to haunt Johnson’s mayoral prospects. A bargain frustrating the most fervent activists and made with de Blasio before a change election where each candidate is seeking to differentiate themselves from the two-term mayor could be challenging for the speaker. It’s somewhat reminiscent of what worked against former Speaker Quinn in 2013, who had been an ally of then Mayor Bloomberg and was running to some degree on a continuation of his policies and the broad success of the city. But Quinn, who hasn’t ruled out a 2021 mayoral run, was in part done in by her deal with Bloomberg to extend term limits over the will of voters.

“Chris Quinn...had the problem of being seen as too close to the mayor,” said Jessica Proud, a Republican consultant who helped run Joe Lhota’s 2013 general election campaign against de Blasio. “Corey doesn't necessarily have that problem but the duties of the job and the nature of the job, the decisions that come with it, pose challenges like any leadership position.”

While they have worked together on many things, Johnson has also repeatedly set himself apart from de Blasio and under him the Council has tried to exert its power more often than under former Speaker Mark-Viverito, whom de Blasio helped become the speaker for his first term. Though he has at times made significant concessions when de Blasio has taken issue with his proposals, Johnson has more often than not forged ahead with his priorities and forced the mayor to go along.

The recent passage of a bill criminalizing the use of chokeholds and other harmful restraining methods by police officers is testament to that, particularly as it almost invited the first ever mayoral veto by de Blasio before he begrudgingly agreed that he will sign it over the opposition of vocal police leaders.

It also remains unclear how many voters will broadly attribute the budget deal solely to Johnson or if it will even take center stage in a primary that will occur in the middle of another budget session and, current signs say, while the city is still on its way to recovering from the pandemic. The deal may have alienated some on the far left, but that isn’t far and away the only constituency in the Democratic primary and it's not clear that those voters will have another candidate to turn to given that Johnson has also been competing for the left among the current crop of 2021 candidates.

There are, of course, center-right Democrats, the kind who voted for Bloomberg, who may also be turned off by the NYPD cuts. Moderate and conservative Democratic Council Members including Robert Holden, Chaim Deutsch, Kalman Yeger, and Ruben Diaz Sr. all voted against the budget on those very grounds. As one Democratic consultant said, “I don't know yet if this mayoral race is going to be about, ‘We need a fervent socialist, progressive, Black Lives Matter mayor.”

Johnson believes that voters won’t focus on this one budget vote, but will be looking for a larger vision for the future of the city. He denied conjecture among political observers, reported by Politico New York, that he may opt out of the race because of the fallout of this budget, though as with other candidates, he has yet to officially declare his candidacy. That announcement will likely happen after the presidential election in November, he indicated.

Unlike some of the other declared and potential mayoral candidates whose focus has seemed more defined, Johnson says he isn’t carving out a specific niche for himself. “I’ve never really thought of my campaign for mayor with regards to trying to appeal to one lane or one subset of voters,” he said. But he is clearly running to the left on issues that affect the city’s most vulnerable residents, as indicated by his support for the calls of a $1 billion NYPD budget cut. “It’s really about coming up with big ideas and solutions for the future of New York City, being myself, and seeing if that connects with a broad electorate,” he said.

Stringer has long-standing ties to the political establishment but has been wooing the insurgent left, especially as he has endorsed several female candidates, particularly women of color, aligned and adjacent to the Working Families Party, Democratic Socialists of America, and other groups that have emerged as formidable forces in recent elections.

Adams, a Black former police officer and state senator, now Brooklyn Borough President, leans more moderate, and hopes to win over both Black New Yorkers and the white ethnic voters that helped elect Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Guiliani as mayor.

Loree Sutton, a retired Army Brigadier General and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans Services, is also vying for the center-left, and advocates for a more fiscally restrained government and tougher law enforcement. Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales (who left her job to run) has centered social justice issues in her campaign, including a major rethinking of how public safety is done and the need to create more opportunities for women to thrive and lead.

Former top Obama and Bloomberg aide Shaun Donovan has a lengthy resume as a public servant that has managed fiscal, health, and environmental emergencies. Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, is an accomplished civil rights attorney and activist whose campaign would likely target issues of criminal justice and racial inequity. She has been more outspoken of late, including in criticism of the city budget deal and in calling for the removal of NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Some who observed the budget process, or participated in it, had praise for Johnson’s leadership.

Longtime political consultant and former Mayor Ed Koch spokesperson George Arzt said Johnson did “an exceptional job” balancing the countervailing demands over the budget. “I think all in all, by next year, this will have been forgotten,” he said, noting that between now and the 2021 primary, there will be another budget modification in the fall, a presidential election and, hopefully, a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Arzt also noted that Johnson bore the brunt of criticism because of the public’s lower expectations from the mayor. “I don’t think there has been a mayor in recent times as unpopular as de Blasio, and he still has a year-and-a-half to go. So people look to Corey for leadership on major issues,” he said. “What the budget process showed is that he’s a person that people look up to for leadership and he can work to put together a stable government.”

Council Member Antonio Reynoso was among the half-dozen or so members who voted against the budget because the NYPD cuts did not go further. “I think that the speaker is in an unenviable position,” said Reynoso, a Brooklyn Democrat running for borough president in next year’s election, noting that the speaker’s individual positions can’t override the majority of Council members, who didn’t want to defund the NYPD as aggressively.

“I don’t think there’s any other position in the entire city that has the same role as the speaker,” Reynoso said. “Everybody else – the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, borough presidents, and even Council members can all speak independently about what they want without having to be accountable to anyone except their constituents. He, on the other hand, has to be accountable to these elected officials, to these Council members.”

But Reynoso did say that the police funding issue will continue to be on the forefront if the Council and mayor fail to follow through on the promises made in this budget, particularly relating to changes in how school safety is handled. “If a lot of the stuff that [Council members] thought was going to happen doesn't happen this year, I could see a change in heart [from Council members],” he said, predicting that in such circumstances, there may be even more support from progressive members allowing for greater cuts to the police budget next year.

Advocates are also keeping a watchful eye to see that those pledges, however disappointing, are fulfilled. “We’re in this for the long haul, we're not going anywhere,” said Andréa Colon, lead organizer for Rockaway Youth Task Force, a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition.

Colon faulted all parties involved in the deal – the mayor, speaker, and the Council at large. “Even members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus said, ‘This is a win for our community. This is a first step,’ but so many acknowledged that this doesn't go far enough. So if they’re able to acknowledge that, why vote yes?”

The night of the budget deal there was chatter among activists on Twitter that Johnson’s mayoral campaign was over.

“It was probably one of the most challenging budgets in modern municipal history,” Johnson said in the interview. Having spent weeks dealing with the varying crises the city faced, and having to triangulate what his members demanded and what the mayor was willing to concede, he appeared visibly exhausted and browbeaten in the hours before the budget vote. “My goal was to save as many programs that affect poor New Yorkers, communities of color, and covid-vulnerable communities as possible while at the same time recognizing this moment of national reckoning on police reform and racism and pushing as far as we can go,” he said.

Even as the full scope of proposed NYPD cuts weren’t realized, the speaker emphasized that the Council managed to save vital programs and services to the tune of about $700 million that were on the chopping block in the mayor’s proposal, besides the funding that was reallocated from the police. “The mayor wasn't there and the Council was divided,” he said on the NYPD budget. “So I had to try to find consensus. And I think we were able to do a lot of good in this budget, and I look at this as really the beginning, not the end.”

Ravi Gupta, co-founder and managing partner of Arena, a national organization that trains and supports progressive Democrats running for office and those seeking to work on campaigns, said that though Johnson could be hurt by carrying the weight of the budget vote, he can also benefit from it.

“I think given the trauma that this city has been through over the past year and even longer, superficial politics are going to be a thing of the past,” he said. “Straight rhetorical politics aren't really going to carry people very far. And [Johnson] will have a case to make that he has had to make tough decisions, which is not something that everybody in the race, either now or in the future, not everybody's going to be able to say that.”

He also noted that Johnson’s potential opponents will have to explain their own records. “Not all, but many of the people critiquing Corey don't have very long histories of being aggressive for reform of the police,” he said.

“The '$1 billion cut' to the NYPD proposed by the Mayor and the City Council is not a $1 billion cut—it's a bait and switch and a paper-thin excuse for reform,” Stringer said of the budget, though he had proposed a more modest NYPD cut than Johnson’s plan, and Johnson acknowledged before the budget vote that the deal did not include $1 billion in cuts.

Adams said, “The city is in crisis, inequality is deepening, New Yorkers are marching every day against injustice — and instead of forging change and lighting a path to a brighter future, this budget simply maintains the status quo.”

On Twitter, Wiley wrote, “Today’s deal isn’t a cut. It’s moving the deck chairs around. We have to stop tinkering and start transforming public safety.”

Morales, in a statement, said the budget “failed those whose lives have been lost at the hands of the NYPD and communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by violence and brutality.”

Johnson’s “greatest advantage,” Gupta said, is the various proposals he has advanced at the Council, particularly his Streets Master Plan (though that has been delayed because of the pandemic’s impact on the budget). “I think there's a huge constituency in the city for that kind of vision right now,” he said. Johnson was also successful in convincing the mayor to fund the Fair Fares discounted MetroCard program for low-income New Yorkers and in getting more funds to provide pay equity to early childhood educators. He has proposed major plans to address homelessness and food insecurity.

“This is an existential election for the city. So people are going to be looking for truth-tellers, not performers,” he said. “I think people are going to be looking for somebody that they trust. And I don't know who that person is yet but I certainly don't think that this past week has been disqualifying [for Johnson].”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

'I Actually Have to Negotiate a Budget': Corey Johnson and the Challenge of Running for Mayor as City Council Speaker Thu, 09 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Can Shaun Donovan Win the 2021 Mayor's Race? Campaign Pitch Charts Path donshaun3

Shaun Donovan (photo: Shaun Donovan for NYC)

As the 2021 mayoral election begins to heat up, with rumors of more candidates jumping into an incredibly consequential race, former Obama and Bloomberg aide Shaun Donovan’s campaign is making a confident pitch to potential supporters and donors that he has a viable path to victory.

While Donovan, a Brooklyn native with a long history as a public servant but never in elected office, has not officially declared his candidacy, he’s been taking many of the essential steps toward launching a run.

If he does run, one challenge will be introducing himself to voters. Donovan led the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for five years, from 2004 to 2009. He then served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2014, before being elevated to director of the Office of Management and Budget, which he headed for three years till the end of Obama’s tenure in early 2017. 

Donovan’s campaign had been pitching his credentials in a 29-page slideshow obtained by Gotham Gazette that analyzes the state of the race, possible turnout and the areas of the city where Donovan is likely to receive votes, and the candidate’s key credentials.

Next year, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of office and there are several candidates besides Donovan who have either declared or are exploring a mayoral bid. Among the active candidates are City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services Loree Sutton. Maya Wiley, a civil rights lawyer and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, is also now considering a run, according to Politico New York.

The Donovan campaign isn’t shy about playing up Donovan’s association with President Obama, whose name appears six times and whose picture appears twice in the document. The “electability deck,” as it was labeled by the Donovan campaign, opens with a quote from the former president from when he nominated Donovan to become OMB director, alongside a photo of the two seated next to each other at a news conference.

“Now here’s the problem. When you’re good at your job, people always want you to do even more,” Obama said at the time. (The document makes little mention of Donovan’s work with Bloomberg, who is unlikely to be a popular figure in the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary.)

The campaign touts Donovan as “The right candidate at the right moment” and identifies the six top issues that the next mayor must urgently address: inequality, the city’s housing crisis, the budget deficit caused by the pandemic, the relationship with the federal government, education and homelessness.

“New York City Needs a Leader,” the document declares in bold letters, along a list of reasons why, including, “To pull us together, address centuries long inequities, and make fairness real, not a slogan.” That line is no doubt a dig at de Blasio, who has repeatedly said he wants to make New York the “fairest big city in America,” but has struggled on a number of policy and political fronts. 

The campaign also points to other issues where city leadership is sorely lacking. Policing needs to be reformed substantively, it states. It warns that the city’s health systems “are stretched to the breaking point” while people are out of work and businesses are shut down. Evictions, foreclosure, and homelessness are rising. It does not point to any proposed solutions that Donovan may offer if he launches a campaign.

But the document delves into headlines of Donovan’s resume and his role in the federal government overseeing the response to several crises including the housing crash, the Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks, and Hurricane Sandy. 

“Shaun’s record of progressive accomplishments is second to none,” it states, listing various policy decisions and positions. He was the first cabinet secretary ever to endorse marriage equality, it highlights. He reversed a HUD policy that prohibited ex-offenders from moving in with family members in subsidized housing. He worked with 32BJ, the prominent property service workers union, to raise wages for workers in affordable housing. And so on. 

The document, labeled "path to victory," reiterates what most political experts and consultants agree on, that the 2021 race will be a change election with voters looking to candidates who can set themselves apart from de Blasio. “After 8 years of Bill de Blasio, New Yorkers are looking for something different. They want a Mayor with vision, experience, and the ability to get us out of the crises we face and make this a city that works for everyone,” the document reads. “Shaun Donovan is that candidate.”

The document -- which is the type of literature presented to community, labor, and political leaders, among others, as relationships are cultivated -- takes stock of the competition, particularly the perceived top tier of current candidates: Adams, Stringer, and Johnson, who are all term-limited next year, though they aren’t named. The campaign notes that the three previous comptrollers ran for mayor and lost and the three previous Council speakers ran citywide and lost; it wrongly states that no borough president has ever won the mayoralty, though David Dinkins and Robert Wagner pulled off that feat (no borough president since Dinkins and no Brooklyn borough president has become mayor). It even looks at mayoral races in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta to note that perceived frontrunners rarely win the election. For instance, Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot won the mayoral election last year with 73% of the vote in a runoff, even though she placed at 7th place with just 3% of the vote in early polling. De Blasio himself was initially written off by most people who watched the early 2013 race, and received only 7% of the vote in a poll that put him at 5th. He eventually won the all-important primary with 41% of the vote. 

Donovan’s campaign emphasizes that those candidates won because they demonstrated competence, presented bold ideas and a vision for the future, while communicating to a broad electorate in the finishing stretch and running lean campaigns to save their funds for when they will need them. They also garnered effective endorsements from community groups and newspaper editorial boards. 

Each of those campaigns also had the same team that is now working for Donovan, the document explains somewhat dramatically.

Both BIll Hyers and Rick Fromberg, who ran de Blasio’s campaigns in 2013 and 2017, respectively, are on Donovan’s team. Other operatives signed on in the early phases include Amelia Adams, who was political director for former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and worked on de Blasio’s reelection; and Mike Fishman, former president of 32BJ SEIU who is the campaign co-chair. The campaign is also relying on an “exhaustive network” of experts, fundraisers and policy wonks from the Obama and Bloomberg circles. 

One major change in next year’s election will be the first-time implementation of ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, which will require candidates to make their case to a broader swathe of voters beyond their traditional bases. In a ranked-choice system, voters choose candidates by order of preference and a candidate must meet a certain threshold of first-preference votes to win. If no candidate meets that threshold in the first round, the one with the least first-preference votes is eliminated and those votes are redistributed to second-preference candidates and so on until a victor is declared.  

The Donovan campaign examined the 2013 mayoral election, the last time it was an open contest, and concluded that Donovan will have support in some key areas where turnout was high. Donovan has lived in Brownstone Brooklyn for years, and it accounted for 15% of the vote. He grew up on the east side of Manhattan, which contributed 9% of the vote. The Bronx is “wide open territory” with 12% of the vote, the campaign believes, and its where Donovan’s early career was in rebuilding housing. Other areas they will have to target include Southeast Queens (9.5% of the vote), South and East Brooklyn (9% of the vote) and Harlem (8% of the vote). 

In other communities such as the west side of Manhattan, Central Brooklyn and Flushing, Corona, Elmhurst, and western Queens, the campaign estimates that Donovan will be an appealing second or third choice for voters.

With the 2020 primaries now over (though votes are still being counted) and the next 2021 campaign finance filing deadline imminent, the mayoral race will soon pick up steam. There has been added scrutiny of the current mayor over the city’s response to multiple crises, including the coronavirus pandemic, responses to protests against racist policing, and a massive budget gap, with a new city budget passed this week, and several likely or declared candidates like Donovan have been staking out positions while plotting their next moves.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to reflect that the campaign incorrectly stated that no borough president has been elected mayor when David Dinkins and Robert Wagner were both Manhattan Borough President and became mayor. 

Note - this article has been updated to correct the name of Chicago's Mayor. It is Lori Lightfoot, not Laurie Lightfoot. 

Can Shaun Donovan Win the 2021 Mayor's Race? Campaign Pitch Charts Path Thu, 02 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The 2021 New York City Mayoral Race, One Year to the Primary inauguration mayor

City Hall on inauguration day (photo: mayor's office)

It’s election day, and all eyes on the 2020 party primaries in New York, though the results won’t be clear for at least one week. But one year from now, New Yorkers will cast their ballots in another primary election, one that will likely determine the slate of leadership of New York City for the next four years, including the next mayor. With Mayor Bill de Blasio term-limited, the stage is set for a fierce competition, which may not really take off until just after this year’s presidential election but has already begun.

With the economy in shambles and the streets echoing with the exasperated cries of a city disillusioned with current leadership, political analysts say New Yorkers will look for a steady hand to guide them through the city’s many crises, whether it’s the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural and systemic racism, economic devastation, perennial unaffordability, entrenched homelessness, crumbling public housing, and more.

Observers admit that there are no easy predictions to be made about the 2021 mayoral race, particularly at this early stage while the city is still trying to overcome what has proved to be the greatest public emergency in its modern history. Candidates, some of whom have spent years preparing to run to become the city’s chief executive, are eyeing the future of the campaign while continuing to make their aspirations clear to voters. Now with just under a year to the primary, fundraising urgency will pick up, as will the need to hold house parties where candidates interact with small groups of voters, even if they must be virtual for the time being. Campaign teams must be built, volunteers recruited, labor leaders schmoozed.

There are so far six Democratic candidates who have declared or are actively exploring runs for mayor: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Comptroller Scott Stringer; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; Loree Sutton, former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services; Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive in the Bronx; and Shaun Donovan, who served as HUD Secretary under President Barack Obama and was previously an aide to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

There are several other individuals either rumored to be considering a run or being pressed to do so, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, and Citigroup executive Ray McGuire. With Democrats holding a 7-to-1 voter enrollment advantage over Republicans, it seems all but assured that the winner of the Democratic primary will win the November general election, but nothing in politics is ever guaranteed.

On the Republican side, there has been little movement so far. Billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis has raised speculation that he may run, announcing he is formally exploring another campaign. He ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary in 2013, losing to Joe Lhota, and was reportedly considering doing so again in 2017 but chose not to jump into the race. Perhaps the best-known Republican in city government, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, has ruled out a run. There are few other Republicans who hold elected office in the city, though Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich also toyed with a 2017 campaign but decided not to run.

What remains to be seen is how the political winds will blow. Will today’s anger on the streets carry through to poll sites next year? Will voters choose experienced leadership from those who have long served in elected office or will they look outside for fresh faces and perspectives? Are they more focused on the city’s economic recovery or will social justice be the driving force behind their votes? What specific issues will emerge as paramount? Which policy proposals will gain the most momentum? What impact will labor unions have?

What role might “identity politics” play -- will voters choose an openly gay white man (Johnson) or an openly gay white woman (Sutton) or a Black man (Adams) or a Black Boricua (Morales) after nearly three decades of a heterosexual white man running City Hall and no Latino or woman or openly gay peson ever elected mayor? How will the new ranked-choice voting system for primaries (and special elections) play out?

As the Democratic field currently stands, and perhaps even with additions, Johnson and Stringer will likely compete for the most progressive parts of the Democratic Party, with other candidates also trying to make headway there. Johnson, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive City Council Speaker (and only open HIV-positive elected official in the state), has focused heavily on the social safety net in his time as speaker, promoting populist policies to lift up the city’s most vulnerable. Stringer, as the city’s top fiscal officer, has acted as a foil to the mayor’s spendthrift policies, released a long list of policy proposals, and shrewdly cultivated allies in labor and among insurgent Democrats at the state and local levels.

Adams, a former NYPD captain, tends to appeal to the more moderate viewpoints among Democrats but does not easily fit descriptors, and has reportedly proclaimed that he wants to “out-white” Stringer, an apparent plan to appeal to white ethnic voters key to the elections of Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. The borough president has tried to walk the fine lines of promoting law and order with police reform and real estate development without displacement. He has already outlined his platform for instituting “real-time governance,” pledging to modernize how city government operates.

As the calendar has inched toward 2021, and as de Blasio ran for president leaving more of a leadership vacuum and the coronavirus crisis hit, Johnson, Stringer, and Adams have been staking out more positions on major issues and through their official jobs auditioning for the role of mayor.

Morales is a proponent of strong social justice policies that said she will reduce the “inequality and inequities” that have been exacerbated in the last few months and which “I've been talking about forever.” She pointed out that her campaign has been built on the very issues that have inspired the recent mass protests. “I am a reflection and representation of the communities that have been disproportionately harmed or left behind,” she said. 

Morales hopes that the electorate will have its eyes open to the failures of the city’s political leadership. “There is an increasing recognition that while the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented, that we weren’t prepared,” she said. “There are so many things that were done the way things have always been done, that left us unnecessarily vulnerable, not just from a health perspective but from an economic perspective. And my hope is that people will come out of this ready for a different kind of leadership with a new lens on what we really need.”

Sutton skews more centrist and promises “seasoned leadership,” which she says has been sorely lacking during the current crises (and those preceding them) and that she can bring after a career in the Army then her time in city government. She admits she has a big hill to climb to raise her profile and build her campaign coffers. And she also differentiates herself from de Blasio, her former boss. “In a Sutton administration, you will see a very different dynamic,” she said, “between the mayor and the media, between the mayor and corporate leaders in New York, between the mayor and communities of color, between the mayor and my own administration and the types of leaders that I will bring in and will build upon.”

She would also welcome the unenviable challenge of running the city during this pandemic, a task that would test even the most effective leaders. “I would give anything to be the mayor right now...This is my burning building. This is what I run towards,” she said.

Donovan’s resume lends him a credible campaign platform, particularly during the recovery from the pandemic since he was intimately involved in the federal response to the Great Recession and the recovery effort from Hurricane Sandy. Rick Fromberg, a spokesperson for his campaign, said he can easily make a compelling argument to voters. “Shaun’s experience and bio are so far and away better than anybody else in this race that it's just a matter of us telling people,” he said. “Nobody who has ever run for this office has this kind of experience in dealing with such analogous kinds of situations.” 

“Shaun’s not a politician,” Fromberg continued. “He never has been. He's always been a public servant. And I think that is something that we will certainly hang our hats on.”

Most observers agree that the election will inevitably be tinged with resentment of de Blasio, an increasingly unpopular mayor who, despite his progressive accomplishments, has only cemented his status as a lameduck in his struggles to respond to COVID-19 and the mass protests against police brutality and racism.

“New York is a progressive city and is one that has been dealt an enormous body blow over the last four months, and is looking for someone who is progressive but who has a vision on how to manage and lead this city at this really dark period,” said Chris Coffey, a veteran of the Bloomberg administration, consultant with Tusk Strategies, and ally of Speaker Johnson but not working on his campaign. 

“I think New York needs a cheerleader and wants a cheerleader,” Coffey said, alluding to what many have observed as de Blasio’s apparent lack of interest in celebrating the many particularities of New York as well as Johnson’s apparent penchant for such enthusiasm. “I think every mayor is in some ways a reaction to the last mayor...being a progressive who can govern and manage the city and be a cheerleader and give people some hope and confidence in their mayor is what I believe this election will be about.”

George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant who has previously worked for Stringer, echoed that view. “I expect a lot of de Blasio-bashing and I don’t expect anyone to come out and say that [they are] the successor to the policies...that de Blasio espoused,” he said.  

Over the next year, who emerges on top will depend in part on which of the largely unknown candidates can garner the necessary name recognition as well as the fundraising to get their message across to New Yorkers. To an extent, the fundraising field can be levelled by the city’s voluntary public matching funds program, which matches small-dollar donations at high rates through the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

On name recognition, the sitting electeds do already have an advantage by virtue of their positions in government. They have each been in the limelight and continue to be during the pandemic and its fallout. The other candidates may have to work harder for it, though their respective messages -- of competent leadership challenging the very people in power that are responsible for the state of the city -- could resonate. 

Fordham professor Dr. Christina Greer said the next few months will be crucial as the city heads through summer, a season that is usually accompanied by an uptick in crime (a trend that has already begun). Rampant unemployment and a prolonged recession could only exacerbate that, she noted, and could determine the type of candidates and campaigns that gain traction. Then there’s the presidential election in November, which will likely have its own impact on local races. 

“Will we see someone who is very progressive, say a ‘defund the police’-type candidate? Let's just say there's an uptick in crime in the next few months, will we see someone who is a little more centrist in their thinking? Will we see someone who wants to be a little more of the Bloomberg model, which is fully economic, trying to get the city back on track financially, or will we see someone who is more of a social justice candidate who's trying to bring all these things together in a more holistic way?” 

A key known wild card in the election will be ranked-choice voting, which will be implemented for the first time next year. The system allows voters to cast votes in order of preference and a candidate must cross a certain threshold of first-preference votes to win. It’s hard to predict the effect it will have in a crowded field as New Yorkers vote their values. 

As Greer noted, if moderates come together behind one candidate and progressives go for another, a more consensus second-choice candidate could end up claiming victory. 

“In 2021 we need a Mayor who will meet the imposing challenges in New York City that 2020 has exposed,” said Maya Wiley, now a New School professor and MSNBC commentator, in an email. “New York City needs a Mayor who will see that the twin pandemics of virus and brutality require history-making, not deal-making. We need a Mayor who will get us off the treadmill of incremental reform and command an all-of-government response to structural disparities. We need a Mayor who gets that New York doesn’t work in isolation and that we need an urban policy humbly led by the chief executive of the greatest city of the world.” 

She did not address the candidates directly, however. “It’s not for me to say whether the current crop of candidates includes that Mayor. That's for New Yorkers to decide.”

Wiley also did not respond to the question of whether she is considering a run.

“It’s a free-for-all right now,” said J.C. Polanco, a Republican attorney and strategist who ran for New York City Public Advocate in 2017. He noted that the closed primary process will affect who comes out to vote. In both parties, that is usually the most active, motivated and “ideologically purist” voters, he said. The Democrats, he said, will “fight hard to see who can captivate that ultra, uber-progressive wing of the party because those are the voters that come out for sure.” 

The one almost certain bet is that Republicans will have a hard time running a competitive campaign against a Democrat. “Our numbers are dwindling a great deal. It’s difficult for a Republican to have a fair shot at winning a citywide election,” Polanco said. “As you know I could attest to that.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The 2021 New York City Mayoral Race, One Year to the Primary Tue, 23 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Where the 2021 Mayoral Candidates Stand on Removing School Safety from the NYPD's Domain NYPD in schools

Police in schools (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

As the City Council is pushing to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget for next fiscal year, City Council Members Mark Treyger and Donovan Richards have proposed revoking the police’s role in school safety and restoring it to the Department of Education. The proposal has been a top priority for some police reform and education activists for years and has taken on renewed urgency in the wake of the countrywide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio may be hesitant to support it, several candidates running for mayor in 2021 say it’s high time that the city remove police officers from schools.

Treyger, who chairs the education committee, and Richards, who chairs the public safety committee, are not among those mayoral candidates, though Richards is currently running for Queens Borough President in a primary this month. The Council members released their proposal on Monday, decrying “zero tolerance” discipline policies that have created a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately harms black and brown students and those receiving special education services. While most schools in the city don’t have “zero tolerance” policies, the presence of police officers in schools has led to many more arrests of students than would otherwise occur, reform advocates point out.

Though the Council has over the years sought to make changes to the NYPD’s role in schools, it has only so much power over the police department or education department. The Council has passed reporting bills requiring greater disclosure but the police department has always been reluctant to abide by those measures. The Treyger-Richards proposal constitutes a much broader move, removing the Division of School Safety from the NYPD’s purview and returning it to the Department of Education, where it was originally headquartered before being relocated by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1998.

“Enough is enough. Incremental reforms to a system that does not want to be reformed are futile. We need nothing short of structural change,” Treyger and Richards said in a joint statement.

They pointed out that the city spends more money on school safety agents than it does on counselors, social workers, and psychologists all together. But those roughly 5,000 school safety agents are not accountable to school principals. 

“At a time when students are experiencing more trauma than ever, we need to make sure that our approach to school safety is aligned to meet the holistic needs of children. School Safety Agents, most of whom are doing their best to keep kids safe within a broken system, are too-often called upon to intervene in behavioral crises because the vestiges of Zero Tolerance prioritize punitive interventions over social emotional supports,” Treyger and Richards wrote.

“A seven-year-old having a bad day in a school without a social worker is not an NYPD issue,” they added.

The call for removing police from schools has been championed by groups like Dignity in Schools, which coordinates efforts by several local groups to advocate against the school-to-prison pipeline.

The NYPD’s budget allocates as much as $331 million to school safety, which would make up a significant chunk of the $1 billion that the Council wants to cut from the police department’s funding. The Council is also looking at reducing the overall headcount of the NYPD, cutting overtime costs and shifting other duties away from the department, among other measures.

Mayor de Blasio has pushed back against both removing school safety from the NYPD and cuts of that scope to the police department budget, though he did recently announce he is ready to move some NYPD funding to reinvest it in youth and social services. He has not offered a dollar amount, but said it would be part of negotiations with the Council as the two sides must craft a new city budget by July 1.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, among the most prominent likely candidates in the 2021 mayoral race, is backing the contents of the Treyger-Richards letter.

“I’ve said repeatedly that we need to reimagine policing in New York City, and this is one way to do that,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, when asked about the letter from two of his members. “I’ve also said I will listen to communities most impacted by over policing, and this is one of their big concerns. I want to thank Council Members Treyger and Richards for their advocacy, and I look forward to working with them to convince the de Blasio administration that this is both urgent and necessary. We need big changes, and we need them now.”

[Read: ‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget]

Johnson is among the top contenders seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2021, along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Comptroller Scott Stringer. Other candidates include Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive in the Bronx; Loree Sutton, former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services; and Shaun Donovan, a former aide to President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Though Adams and Stringer are not as intimately involved in the budget process as Johnson, both have also been vocal about the need for police reform, and Stringer released his own plan for shifting NYPD funds about eight days before Johnson and other Council leaders called for the $1 billion NYPD cut in the coming fiscal year.

On June 4, Stringer proposed a $1.1 billion cut to the NYPD over four years, largely through a headcount reduction by attrition, and cuts to overtime and ancillary expenses. On the issue of the NYPD handling school safety, Stringer called for ‘rethinking’ the paradigm, but did not make his position fully clear.

“As we reimagine policing in our city, we must rethink the role of NYPD in our schools,” he said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “For too long, our city has over-invested in punitive policing - while systemically disinvesting in programs and services that can actually address the poverty, trauma and structural racism that impact Black and Brown communities and complicate the trajectories of children of color. It is not enough to shift the budgetary line item from one agency to another. Real school safety goes hand in hand with transformative investments in the social-emotional health of schools - including in social workers, school psychologists and other mental health professionals, guidance counselors, restorative justice coordinators, and regular training for all school staff to support a school climate that is welcoming and safe for all students.”

Borough President Adams, a former NYPD officer and captain, did not return a request for comment for this article and his position on the role of the NYPD in school safety.

In an op-ed on Monday in the Daily News, Morales called on the city to reprioritize how financial resources are distributed. “The next step in addressing the problem of policing should pursue a harm reduction approach that removes police from schools and disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline that criminalizes student’s behaviors and puts them into contact with law enforcement,” she wrote. “Those resources should instead be directed toward educational supports, mental health services and other needs that must be addressed in order for students to succeed in schools.”

Donovon, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, also said the city needs to end the school-to-prison pipeline and reevaluate whether certain roles of the police could be given to other agencies that are more suited to handle them “without the use of force and without overly punitive repercussions.”

“School safety is just one such area,” he said, applauding Treyger and Richards’ proposal. “An investment is urgently needed in intervention programs that are educationally oriented. We know that the consequences rendered by police enforcement are disproportionate relative to the severity of the infractions of young students, and disproportionately applied to Black students and students of color.”

Sutton was the outlier among the mayoral candidates who have made their positions at least somewhat clear, expressing wariness of the proposal to remove school safety from the NYPD’s domain.

“This proposal strikes me as a superficial hasty move which risks further polarization during this highly charged period marked by community distrust, civic unrest and pandemic-related public health concerns,” Sutton said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “The task of restoring trust and building community partnerships is paramount and will not be achieved through reactive proposals, however well-intended.  Leadership is needed to engage all stakeholders -- families, neighborhoods, community-based organizations, schools, law enforcement, academic institutions, essential workers, small business and corporate leaders, as well as elected and civic officials.  This thoughtful process should explore a variety of options, shared values, conflicting opinions, desired outcomes and potential unintended consequences as a vital means for informing and strengthening the decision-making process. All voices matter. What NYC needs is a new way of thinking about policing, not a rushed maneuver to move budgets.”

The proposal, and Johnson in particular, came under fire from Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents 5,000 school safety agents, most of whom are black or Hispanic. “If this was a union with a white labor leader and with a mostly white membership, Speaker Corey Johnson would have called me to discuss his plan,” said Floyd, according to a New York Post report. Floyd singled out Johnson for the plan and called him “a racist” for supporting it. In a letter to Johnson and other Council leaders, Floyd said that "The inconvenient truth is that there are New York City school children who seek to harm their classmates and school staff. And is is the enormous responsibility safety agents to protect New York City's 1.1 million school children and 135,000 school staff members from that harm."

In response to Floyd’s comments, the Urban Youth Collaborative, a coalition of youth-led organizations in the city, issued its own retort. “Let’s be serious: Maintaining a system designed to criminalize Black and Brown youth is racist. Finally heeding the calls of Black and Brown youth, clamoring to dismantle this system, is not,” the statement reads. “The evidence shows that no matter how interactions with police change, Black and Latinx students are disproportionately criminalized and harmed by School Safety Agents. We are sick and tired of Black and Latinx students being criminalized for being children and adolescents. We demand police-free schools.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Where the 2021 Mayoral Candidates Stand on Removing School Safety from the NYPD's Domain Tue, 16 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000