Gotham Gazette

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Gotham Votes 2013

NYC Candidates 'Living The Experience'

This election cycle has seen candidates challenge themselves to experience the issues New Yorkers face first hand — from spending the night in public housing to living off of food stamps.

The newest challenge? Making it through a week on the minimum wage pay of $7.25 an hour.

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and candidates for City Council, public advocate, and borough president have said they will participate in the Rising Workers challenge that requires them to live off $92 for a week.

Among the candidates who have agreed to the challenge is Councilman Stephen Levin, the incumbent running for the 33rd district in Brooklyn.

“While living on $7.25 per hour for just one week cannot come close to the reality of living without financial security for months and years at a time,” he said in an emailed statement to the Gotham Gazette, “it is still critically important that elected leaders understand how a person lives at this level of income.”

Challenge participants can spend on food and transportation for the week. Fundraising money used for campaigning can still be spent throughout the week, The Daily News reported.

City Councilman Jumanee Williams, who is up for re-election in Brooklyn’s 45th district, has also chosen to participate in the challenge, citing his desire to raise awareness for the issue.

“In a city like New York, making minimum wage does not provide for one to adequately support themselves, let alone a family,” Williams said in a statement emailed to the Gazette. He added, “I hope that my experiences will bring awareness to this major issue and help to catalyze the movement to create a livable wage in NYC and throughout the country.”

Ydanis Rodriguez, the City Councilman running for re-election in Manhattan’s 10th district, is also participating in the challenge.

“The experiences brings him down to the level of his constituents so that he knows exactly what they face," said Russell Murphy, a spokesman for Rodriguez. “It’s one thing to talk about those realities, but it’s another thing to live those realities.”

The participants are all hoping to raise awareness for New York Workers Rising, a campaign that began in 2012 and that is aimed at garnering support for contracts, better pay and conditions for minimum wage workers. Minimum wage workers earn between $10,000 and $18,000 a year.

Earlier this week, several Democratic candidates participated in a sleepover at public housing to learn how residents in the city’s residential complexes live. And, earlier this year, Democratic mayoral hopefuls John Liu and Anthony Weiner lived off of food stamps for a week.

A report released last year by Comptroller John Liu, also a Democrat running for mayor, detailed the disparity in the city, finding that the top one percent of income tax filers received one-third of all personal income, a share almost twice the national average.

As of Tuesday morning, De Blasio, who earned $165,000 last year as public advocate, had $68.52 left for the remainder of the week.

The seven participants will be tweeting their progress under #canyousurvive. Below are a few recent tweets from participants De Blasio, Manhattan borough president candidate Jessica Lappin and Queens Councilman Donovan Richards:

Bill de Blasio:

Donovan Richards:

Jess Lappin:

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