New Yorkers have 17 candidates to choose from in next week’s special election for public advocate. The highly sought after seat, vacated by Letitia James after her election to serve as the state attorney general, is often a clear shot for anyone wanting to be the city’s next mayor.
The AmNews reached out to all of the candidates with questions on several topics such as NYCHA, the MTA and police-community relations. What follows are the verbatim responses of all those who submitted answers by deadline.
1.) As assemblyman, I helped win $250 million in additional funding for NYCHA. With 21 percent of public housing in my assembly district, which is also a gentrifying district, I am deeply committed to affordable housing and fighting gentrification. I supported the recent federal court decision that rejected the city’s proposed settlement of $2.2 billion for NYCHA repairs because it did not go nearly far enough to provide desperately-needed repairs and greater transparency across the agency. As public advocate, I will closely monitor the expansion of the Permanent Affordability Commitment Pact, which will allow nonprofits or private developers to take over the maintenance and operation of public housing buildings through RAD. I will also call for strict monitoring of developers to ensure that they are upholding these tenants’ rights and will also fight for greater transparency of NYCHA work orders, progress, and completion data so that we can celebrate progress but also hold NYCHA accountable where residents are waiting too long for repairs. Finally, our campaign is proud to have the endorsement of Danny Barber, president of the Citywide Council of Presidents, whose expertise and experience I will incorporate in my effort to create a resident advisory committee to better identify systemic problems across NYCHA and its properties.
2.) It is very disappointing that Amazon is canceling their proposed plan to move to Long Island City. A collaborative deal could have brought jobs and justice to New Yorkers. It is a shame that Amazon walked away from the deal and a shame we don’t have more of a strategy as a city around what to do now. Our residents need good jobs and higher wages. Our city needs leadership with a plan for workforce development, including focused on tech sector and related jobs, and greater investments in infrastructure and transportation in order to make deals with companies like Amazon work for New Yorkers. If the deal ensured economic benefits for low-income New Yorkers, Minority/Women Business Enterprises, and labor protections, it could have been an economic game-changer for the city. It is very telling that Amazon would announce its withdrawal when challenged with community and stakeholder accountability. A better alternative would have been to open a dialogue with local leaders, listen to the concerns of residents, and adapt its proposed plan to assuage those concerns.
3.) Transportation is about much more than just getting from point A to point B. It’s about getting to your job interview on time and getting home in time to see your family. We need to make it a lot easier for New Yorkers to get around. As public advocate, I will fight to give the public advocate a permanent seat on the MTA board to advocate for the needs of New Yorkers, pursue immediate fixes to train and bus delays, reject unnecessary and costly construction proposals, and identify underserved areas for transit investment. I will also work to make Fair Fares available as single rides because they should be available to all New Yorkers who need them, not just those who can afford weekly or monthly passes. About 300,000 New Yorkers who struggle to pay rent and buy food can’t afford these passes. Instead, they pay as they go and are forced to spend too much of their income to get to work. I will fight for transit equity and work to make it easier and safer for people, especially women, to get where they need to go. We need to make it easier for our seniors to get around and we need to make our bus system more accommodating because more than 40 percent of our seniors live in areas that don’t have enough public transportation and only 27 percent of bus stops have shelters and benches. I will push for the city to build more benches and shelters at stops and will also be sure the needs of those with disabilities are addressed. A disability is not a barrier to work—ignoring accessibility is. People with disabilities want to work but lack of accessible transportation is the No. 1 barrier to employment and we should refuse to tolerate the high rate of unemployment among people with disabilities.
4.) I will work with the New York City Police Department and the Civilian Complaint Review Board to track the type and quantity of complaints about officers by police precincts and provide public information on the number of police officers in risk management and the actual outcomes of risk management. I also support efforts to make the Commission to Combat Police Corruption permanent and grant the commission subpoena power. I believe we should invest in books, not bars and in jobs, not jails. Too many Black and Brown New Yorkers are being jailed for the crime of poverty and simply closing Rikers is not meaningful criminal justice reform, especially when it is not done right. We have to do more to prevent New Yorkers from becoming involved in the criminal justice system in the first place and do more to provide quality care and support for those like Kalief Browder, my former constituent, who spent three years in Rikers for allegedly stealing a backpack, before he took his own life.
5.) The public advocate is an important position and should be preserved. It serves as the only other citywide elected position, other than the mayor, and that gives it both independence from the mayor, as well as the vantage point of the needs of all city residents. It serves as an effective voice for the residents, watchdog and advocate. It should, however, have some additional powers, including subpoena power and a seat on the MTA board to better enable the position to exercise its role as a voice for the people.
1.) I will call for a full independent audit of NYCHA and all business transactions with private contractors to see where the money is going. I will demand the dismissal of anyone responsible for waste and call for the prosecution of anyone guilty of fraud and corruption. I will demand the mayor and his agencies turn over all emails and correspondence regarding the lead poisoning of children in NYCHA. I will lead an investigation to find out: What did the mayor know? And when did he know it? I will also appoint a deputy public advocate in charge of NYCHA issues.
2.) We learned that the people have had enough of the backroom deals between the mayor and predatory companies like Amazon including big real estate developers. The fight against Amazon was a fight against the displacement that would have resulted throughout Queens. I believe that rejecting the Amazon deal is a turning point in the fight against Bill de Blasio’s phony progressivism. Now we can fight REBNY [Real Estate Board of New York] and de Blasio’s targeting of our neighborhoods for rezoning that transforms affordable neighborhoods like East Harlem and Inwood so developers can build luxury towers. New Yorkers are finally saying ‘enough is enough’ to de Blasio’s sham affordable housing program and his record of historic displacement and homelessness.
3.) Before we raise fares or give any taxpayer money to the MTA we need a full independent audit of the MTA including all the private contractors to see where the money has been going. Cuomo needs to stop diverting funds for the MTA to upstate highways and ski resorts. Bill de Blasio needs to stop passing the buck and demand an independent audit. Only when we cut out all the waste, fraud, and corruption can we solve the problem.
4.) We need to prosecute any officer who abuses his power especially in acts of police brutality. As Public Advocate I will demand the release of the grand jury transcripts in the Daniel Pantaleo case for the killing of Eric Garner.
5.) Several New York City Councilmembers have introduced a bill to eliminate the public advocate position stating that it has run its course. How would you make the position more effective and remind people of its worth?
Give the public advocate subpoena power
Give the PA the ability to sue the city of New York and DA offices to get grand jury testimony.
I will appoint an anti-rezoning activist to the City Planning Commission and bring transparency to the rezoning process (ULURP).
I will work to reform the ULURP to give communities veto power over rezonings.
1.) Half a million people live in NYCHA housing and they have been failed by the city and state again and again. What’s needed is serious investment. My plan is to stop refunding Wall Street $11 billion in taxes every year and use that money to upgrade NYCHA instead (and the MTA), is the only proposal that would actually put enough money into NYCHA immediately. Once essential maintenance and repairs are done, we should be investing to upgrade NYCHA buildings with solar panels and rooftop gardens. And we should employ NYCHA residents to do the work.
2.) Amazon’s decision shows the company wasn’t ready to commit to the kind of investments that New York deserves, and wasn’t ready to actually sit down with the community and become good neighbors. What we’ve seen is that New Yorkers don’t want this kind of decision made for them, they want a seat at the table. What we’ve also seen is that the mayor and the governor can work together when they want to, like they did to entice Amazon to New York. I’d like to see them work together more often on the problems we’re facing as a city, like transportation and affordable housing.
3.) To fix the MTA we need a plan that sees the city and state government working effectively together. As the only public advocate candidate who has served at both city and state level, I will work to make that happen. My plan to stop refunding Wall Street taxes and invest in the MTA instead will provide 10 times more revenue than the proposed congestion pricing, and it won’t cost everyday New Yorkers a cent
4.) I have seen in my own East New York community that the relationship with the police can be improved, but there is still work to do. I will push for more community policing. When police are part of the local community everyone feels safer.
5.) Firstly, I would open public advocate offices across the city in every borough so my staff can help people solve issues and advocate for them. Second, the public advocate’s budget needs to be independent from the mayor.
1.) I think NYCHA should be transferred to the Battery Park City Authority instead of sold off to private developers as is being proposed by Mayor de Blasio under his NYCHA 2.0 plan. The Battery Park City Authority has a stellar track record when it comes to residential development and since 2000, all buildings constructed on the 92 acres are green environmentally friendly buildings. The legislation creating the BPCA mandates that all excess revenue generated by BPCA ground rents be delivered to the city to be used for affordable housing off-site. By transferring NYCHA to the BPCA the asset remains with the city so tenants are protected. Under NYCHA 2.0, more than 60 thousand units would be transferred to private developers under the Federal Resident Assistance Demonstration Program which proved to be unsuccessful in Virginia after developers forced tenants out of their apartments.
2.) Losing the Amazon deal was bad for the governor, mayor, the residents of Queensbridge Houses and the people of New York. As speaker of the City Council and acting public advocate, Corey Johnson should have reduced the level of anger against Amazon during the hearings. The mayor and the governor should have made it clear that the $3 billion wasn’t money coming out of the city and state coffers but were tax deferrals. They also should have dispelled the rhetoric that coming from those who liked to point to Seattle’s dissatisfaction with Amazon as a reason why they shouldn’t come to Queens. Seattle is a small town compared to NYC so Amazon locating disrupted the laid back culture of the city. A 4.5 million square foot plant with 25,000 workers is a blip in New York City. Amazon has a 2.5 million fulfillment center in Staten Island which has had zero negative impact and Staten Island’s public transportation is severely wanting compared to Queens. What Van Bramer, Gianaris, Ocasio-Cortez and the City Council did was tell any large company that was thinking of coming to New York not to bother. Both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio admitted that projected income tax collection is going to fall short. If they decide to raise taxes to make up the shortfall, they will lose even more people and businesses to New Jersey, Virginia, Florida and South Carolina. I would strongly recommend that New York get rid of income taxes and replace it with consumption tax.
3.) The public advocate should have an appointee on the MTA board beyond the influence s/he has through the Transit Riders Council. Until that change occurs, I will create an annual report card on MTA activities.
4.) Bridging the divide between the police and the Black and Brown people of New York City is one of the main functions of Advocates Without Borders (an organization which I founded). As Public Advocate I would host regular town halls so the police and the community can come together to keep the dialogue open.
5.) In order for the office to work as it was supposed to, I would suggest that the Department of Investigation, the independent budget office and the community boards come under the public advocate’s office. These offices exist to be watch dogs for the public and to be advisers to the mayor and City Council. Removing them from mayoral control would ensure that they function properly and that their commissioners do not succumb to pressure from City Hall.
1.) We must stop prioritizing the interests of big corporations and luxury real estate developers. Instead of handing out billions of dollars in taxpayer giveaways to them every year in the name of “economic development,” let’s invest that money back into NYCHA and spur the development of truly affordable housing.
2.) The lesson learned is that politicians need to put people over corporations and that wealthy companies like Amazon don’t get to dictate terms to the people of New York. The HQ2 deal was a race to the bottom which forced New York City and State to bend over backward to accommodate the world’s wealthiest corporation with taxpayer-funded handouts. This was unconscionable, especially at a time when our subways are crumbling and affordable housing is disappearing. The entire situation shows the importance of reforming the system of giving away billions of dollars in taxpayer money every year to multinational corporations. To that end, I have introduced legislation that would create an interstate compact to ban the use of taxpayer giveaways to specific corporations and I will fight to make this a reality as public advocate.
3.) We must end the widespread practice of corporate tax giveaways and use that money to revamp our public transit system. We must also push hard for adequate funding for our transit system, which we must dramatically improve to regain commuters’ confidence and trust.
4.) Repairing police/community relations requires building trust through experience and positive interactions. The public advocate has a strong bully pulpit which can be leveraged to increase public awareness on these issues and push for policy changes to reform our criminal justice system. I support community policing initiatives and would push to expand these measures.
5.) I would transform the office of the public advocate’s focus toward ending the practice of giving away billions of dollars in handouts to large corporations each year and push to reinvest that money into our communities. It is essential to have a broader vision for this position, and as public advocate I will put people over corporations.
1.) NYCHA is the cornerstone of affordable housing in our city, and the current conditions of NYCHA are completely unacceptable. We need a public advocate who will stand up for NYCHA residents, demand more funding from the federal government and the state, and actively work to improve the conditions of these homes.
To do this, I am calling on the city to form an emergency war room to address the ongoing crisis. I am also calling for NYCHA to expand their rapid response repair team to tackle the backlog of repairs. The city could save money by rehabbing vacant NYCHA apartments and providing permanent, subsidized housing to homeless families instead of relying on shelters.
Lastly, we also need more citizen involvement in finding solutions, which is why I am calling for the expansion of the Resident Leadership Academy and the Resident Training Academy, so residents are equipped with skills to advocate for themselves. I also proposed that CUNY establish a public housing institute to study NYCHA and propose solutions so this crisis never happens again.
2.) This deal shows what happens when our elected officials do not involve the community in decision making. Instead of allowing the deal to face community review by the Council and local residents, the mayor, the governor, and Amazon made an undemocratic backroom deal that gave away billions in subsidies to a trillion-dollar company. The mayor and the governor can’t seem to come together to fix NYCHA or our crumbling subway system, but came together for this? It shows where their priorities lay. They need to get serious about fixing New York City’s real issues: our subway and our public housing, not giving away corporate subsidies.
3.) I’m running on the Fix The MTA party line to call attention to the fact that our transit system is in crisis, and we must find ways to increase funding for repairs immediately. That’s why I proposed Weed for Rails—a plan to legalize marijuana and use 50 percent of the tax revenue to immediately fund MTA fixes. I also support congestion pricing, and support more investment from the state. Enough bickering between the city and the state—it’s time for real solutions and real investments, now.
4.) As speaker, I fought hard to improve the relationship between the police and Black and Brown communities. I stood up to the NYPD’s opposition and successfully decriminalized low-level offenses so that New Yorkers would not get a criminal record for sitting in the park after dark or drinking on their stoop. I also cleared thousands of old warrants, created a bail fund, and forced the mayor to commit to closing Rikers Island, where the majority of people locked up are people of color awaiting trial. I also pushed to increase community based policing, so that officers actually look like the communities they serve. As public advocate, I will continue fighting to improve relations between the police and Black and Brown New Yorkers by calling for district attorneys in all five boroughs to follow one equal and consistent policy that reduces our jail population, prioritizes fairness and combats racial disparities in policing. From fare evasion to marijuana possession, prosecution policies currently vary widely by borough, and the burden often falls on people of color.
5.) Our city needs a public advocate now more than ever to speak up for New Yorkers who are sick and tired of the lies and excuses coming from elected officials in our city and state. The public advocate serves as a direct link to the people. As public advocate, I will be a voice for the voiceless and continue to fight for the betterment of our city. I will use the bully pulpit to demand a subway that works and for safe NYCHA housing. Lastly, I will investigate where our agencies fall short and fight for a city that works better for all of us.
1.) We need to see increased investments from all parties involved—city, state and federal governments—so that we can address the lead paint, heat issues, water shortages, leaky roofs, and other issues that too many NYCHA buildings have. I believe we must make the repairs systematically—ensuring that all developments get new roofs, windows, furnaces, etc. Additionally, we need greater accountability from the mayor’s administration.
2.) I think this entire debacle demonstrated the importance of transparency and community input —New Yorkers will fight back if they are not included in the process. Businesses that want to come to New York need to take steps to work with elected officials at all levels and commit to being good neighbors, which includes being pro-union.
3.) I sponsored the bill to create a Millionaire’s Tax in Albany that would generate revenues for the much needed upgrades to our public transportation system and I would continue to advocate for that plan, along with congestion pricing, so that we can start to pay for the much needed infrastructure repairs. I believe that we need to
4.) We need major criminal justice reform to address the current discriminatory effects of our justice system. In order to improve relationships between the Black and Latino communities and law enforcement, there needs to be an emphasis on transparency and reform. I believe neighborhood policies and clergy councils within local precincts would help foster relationships with police officers and the communities they serve. Additionally, the NYPD must be more transparent about disciplinary records and punishments for officers who break the law. As public advocate, I would work to create opportunities to open dialogue.
5.) This first piece of legislation I would introduce would be to grant the public advocate subpoena power. We need to give this office some real teeth so that we can fully investigate and serve as the watchdog New Yorkers need
1.) As an experienced litigator, I have vowed to sue NYCHA and the de Blasio administration within my first 30 days in office for access to agency records and information about how tenant complaints are handled and why requests aren’t responded to in a timely manner.
In addition, given my background in philanthropy, I will also consult with pro-bono efficiency experts on how to resolve NYCHA residents’ safety and livability problems faster, and hold NYCHA leadership accountable to adopt reforms. I will also hold monthly NYCHA Town Halls to ensure that all residents feel they have a forum in which to express their issues with NYCHA management.
2.) The governor and mayor should not have done a deal with Amazon behind closed doors. A deal this big, with such a major impact on the community, deserves city council and community involvement. It was especially disappointing that the proposed site would have displaced units of affordable housing without a plan for making up for the number of lost units.
Additionally, business should consider added investments in infrastructure, education and other challenges the city is facing. For instance, I proposed that Jeff Bezos should have committed at least 10 percent of his Day One Fund, which is dedicated to solutions for homeless families, to NYC’s homelessness crisis.
Businesses that want to approach dealing with the city should understand that community engagement is necessary on the front end of any deal.
3.) Public transit is the heart of the city— without it, the city cannot survive. I have a four point plan to addressing our Transit system.
Transparency and Accountability:
For the last several years, New Yorkers have been left behind while the mayor and governor squabble about who is responsible for fixes to our public transportation system.
As public advocate I will work with any elected official or government executive who impacts the MTA, be it the governor and state legislature in Albany or government agencies in DC. As public advocate, I will reach beyond our city limits in any capacity necessary to make sure New Yorkers get a transportation system that works, including ensuring the Fast Forward plan is fully funded and advocating for a real congestion pricing system.
More and better buses:
According to the Regional Plan Association, less than two-thirds of New Yorkers live within walking distance of a subway stop. New Yorkers living in these transit deserts rely on buses to get where they need to go. The city should stop eliminating bus lines with low ridership which only makes the system slower and more unreliable for people who depend on that mode of transportation. Getting more people to ride the bus will make the system better and provide a needed alternative to subway lines that will have to be closed for much needed fixes to modernize the infrastructure.
To enable buses to move more quickly through the city, we should prioritize dedicated bus lanes (with enforcement!), transit priority signaling, all door boarding, and redesigned bus routes that reflect equity and fairness.
The Fair Fares program is a great start to making sure people have access to the transportation they need to get around the city. However, the current implementation is leaving many New Yorkers behind.
As public advocate, I will work to ensure the program reaches all 800,000 low-income people advocates say should be eligible, expand the program to single-ride MetroCards favored by low-income individuals, and hold the mayor accountable for fully funding the program.
Over 75 percent of subway stations are not ADA compliant, and even those that suffer frequent elevator outages. Access-A-Ride can be slow and unreliable, leaving many New Yorkers stranded.
To increase the reliability of Access-A-Ride, vehicles should be able to use the dedicated bus lanes. To increase availability of these limited services, the city should begin working with ride-sharing services to provide city-subsidized rides for disabled individuals when AAR isn’t available.
4.) Our communities are safest when the people living there feel that they can trust the police to keep them and their communities safe. This is not currently the case for many communities of color in this city and that has to change. The NYPD’s Neighborhood Policing model is a good step toward a community policing model. As Public Advocate I would monitor the progress of this program and ensure that it is being used as intended.
Additionally, the Civilian Complaint Review Board was a good step forward. Civilian oversight of our police force has been instrumental in cases such as the complaints against Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who held Eric Garner in a banned chokehold that led to his death. However, the CCRB needs prosecutorial authority that is codified in the Charter.
5.) In many cases, candidates have been using the public advocate position as a steppingstone to higher office. If candidates are using the office as a trial run for mayor—then I do believe the office should be abolished.
However, when the office is used as intended, I believe it is an important position to make sure New Yorkers are getting the government services promised to them. That is what I intend to bring to the office, an independent check on the mayor and city agencies to make sure New Yorkers have a government that works and works to serve them.
Additionally, I believe the office should be strengthened with subpoena power, a charter-mandate to sue on behalf of New Yorkers, and authority over the Department of Investigations.
1.) As public advocate, I would open a full investigation and sue NYCHA. It is the responsibility of the public advocate to be the bully pulpit for the people of New York, especially those who are most disenfranchised. Tenants of NYCHA have for decades been forced to endure inhumane living conditions that endanger their health, tenant harassment, overpolicing, and a lack of access to resources afforded to those who live in more affluent parts of the city. At times the treatment of NYCHA tenants could be considered in breach of their human rights. They deserve someone who will stand up and hold the city accountable for their neglect and carelessness in their management of NYCHA.
2.) Communities throughout New York City are in need of economic development, and I had hoped that if Amazon expressed interest in expanding in the city, a productive conversation could be held between the city, state, community, unions, local business owners, advocates and more.
It is clear that Amazon attempted to move forward in its plan without adequate dialogue and compromise. The governor, and the mayor alongside him, have been willing to circumvent that conversation for expediency and at the expense of community involvement, lured by promises Amazon made when offered extravagant incentives and disregarding the basic responsibilities of the process. It is telling to me that these two executives could not get together to help struggling NYCHA tenants or to fix public transportation, but were able and eager to arrange this deal.
Moving forward our government should be taking steps to act as a check on rampant corporate expansion, to ensure that any new development is designed with the greatest possible benefit to New Yorkers in need and to prevent any unintended consequences. Small businesses must be given the tools to survive and thrive, and economically disadvantaged New Yorkers need to be given enhanced opportunity in this new development. We must put community interests over corporate interests.
3.) In #CuomosMTA, New Yorkers are losing. One of my top legislative priorities is to bring transparency and accountability to our government, which includes fixing the MTA crisis. I support both a millionaire’s tax and congestion pricing as part of this effort, and believe we must ensure that workers receive fair wages by making the proper investment into creating a better functioning subway system.
4.) Redefining policing and increasing police accountability has been one of the defining issues of my time in public life. Five years ago, I passed the Community Safety Act. This package of legislation, which overrode a veto by Mayor Bloomberg, ended the abuse of stop, question, and frisk in New York City, created an enforceable ban on bias-based policing, and established an inspector general over the NYPD. Our current mayor has a worse track record on police accountability and transparency than Bloomberg and Giuliani. I believe that these successes can be expanded, and that transparency and accountability are vital areas in stopping abusive practices by police. We need to repeal 50-a, which has been willfully misused by this administration, and increase oversight both by the public and intergovernmental.
Additionally, I have a policy plan to enact reforms in the New York City Police Department, fix our broken criminal legal system, and prevent gun violence in all of our communities across the five boroughs.
5.) The office needs to be strengthened because a lack of oversight is the fastest way to the exploitation of already-burdened communities. When it was created in 1989 the office was created to “rise above politics.” It was intended to “rise above politics” using five primary roles, to serve as a legislator, ombudsman, charter cop, pension trustee and appoint individuals to a variety of positions. From day one, I would make sure to effectively serve in each of these five roles. As a charter cop, enforcing that agencies are executing their charter-mandated responsibilities, has been little deployed. Especially now, in a time of expanding progressive legislation and policies, there must be a force actively guaranteeing that the intentions of the people’s representatives in council are being felt on the streets and in the lives of the people of New York. I would eagerly embrace that role as public advocate. This makes a very powerful position if used correctly.