Mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan calls himself a public servant and not a politician.
Serving as commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Barack Obama, Donovan now has his sights set on being New York City’s next mayor.
Announcing his candidacy last week at affordable housing project Via Verde in the Bronx, Donovan said his work in the Obama administration and as a public servant put him in the position to fix several of the city’s issues including education, transportation, police reform, homelessness and housing.
One of Donovan’s vocal advocates is the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood, senior pastor of Brooklyn’s Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, who credited Donovan with building 5,000 affordable homes in Brownsville, East New York and South Bronx.
A native of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Donovan holds several degrees from Harvard University, including a Master’s degree in public administration and architecture. He got his start in the mid-1990s working for nonprofit affordable housing developer Community Preservation Corporation. He was later appointed HPD commissioner by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg before working for the Obama administration.
With President-election Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris headed to the White House soon, Donovan has worked side by side with both of them and says he will work to get the federal assistance the city deserves.
In a recent interview with the AmNews, Donovan said he’s running for mayor because of his experience dealing with the crises of poverty and housing and he has what it takes to deal with the city’s current COVID-19 crisis.
“I’ve spent almost 30 years on the front lines of housing and homelessness trying to make sure neighborhoods could be rebuilt and this city could be rebuilt,” he said. “I think in a moment of crisis unlike this city has seen in at least a generation if not more, I’m a unique candidate to help not only repair and rebuild the city, but to reimagine the city to be a city that works for everyone.”
Judging by his résumé, it’s no surprise that Donovan is an expert when it comes to housing. His plans for getting more affordable housing in the city include increased investment from the federal government on affordable housing. Donovan has worked with President-elect Biden on his universal voucher housing proposal that would give low-income residents options for housing. Donovan also worked with Biden and Harris on their $2 trillion infrastructure plan which puts affordable housing at the forefront.
“I am the candidate who can do more for this issue and has done more on this issue and it is at the top of people’s mind,” he said. “I’ve walked the walk on this and have been able to get the most sustainable, the most healthy, the most beautiful affordable housing in the country built in the South Bronx. We can do it across this city with the right leadership.”
Donovan said he’s the only candidate who has gotten “big things done in moments of crisis.” He had major roles during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the city’s Ebola outbreak in 2014. To bring the city back from COVID-19, Donovan said the city needs a mayor who can bring everyone together.
He recently put together an effort called “Common Table” that prepared emergency meals from restaurants to be delivered to people’s homes.
“We need to make sure the recovery is focused on the neighborhoods that were hardest hit and on small businesses,” he said. “We ought to be using this recovery to invest in small businesses and making them part of the recovery rather than leaving them behind.”
A major component to Donovan’s campaign is a strategy he calls “15 minute neighborhoods.” The proposal focuses on making sure every neighborhood in the city has everything it needs within 15 minutes. This includes small business help, healthy food, good schools, health care and transit access.
“We need a strategy to make sure that every New Yorker has access to the kind of shopping, fresh food, all of those needs and if they want to start a business in their neighborhood, they will have the capital, easy approvals from the city and real parter in the city who makes sure that happens for them,” he said.
When it comes to education, Donovan believes even with the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-2021 academic year should have started on time. He said using assets neighborhoods already have would have gotten students back to school earlier this fall.
“Why weren’t we using the gyms in YMCAs? What weren’t we using outdoor spaces more effectively when we opened in the fall? There were lots of ways to make sure we reopen,” he said. “We should have been focused on equity. We should have been making sure that the most vulnerable kids, homeless kids, children with disabilities and second language learners were prioritized for learning in person. We could have made sure that in this moment of crisis closing the achievement gaps among our students rather than widening them.”
Donovan wants to build a cradle to career pipeline in schools partnering with CUNY so that public school students have opportunities for good paying jobs. He also wants to call on CEOs of the city’s biggest companies to make an equity corporate commitment to hire public school students.
A member of Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Donovan worked with mayors across the country to fix policing. He has a three step plan to improve police-community relations in the city.
“We have to reduce what we’re asking the police to do, we have to reimagine policing and corrections, and we have to reinvest in community-based approaches that will break the cycle of incarcerations,” he said. “We should not have the police patrolling the halls of our schools and we shouldn’t have them criminalizing homelessness, and focus them on guns and violent crime.”
The city is seeing an unprecedented rise in crime this year, and Donovan says in his speaking with Black and Brown residents about violence, gun control is at the top of the list. Along with cutting off the iron pipeline he wants to invest more in violence interruption programs.
“Nobody would be better to get the partnership with the federal government and to go after the pipeline to guns in this city,” he said. “We need to be going after the gun manufacturers, dealers in other states where the guns laws are lax and holding them accountable so that guns that are sold there don’t end up in our streets.”
Donovan recently released his climate platform for the city, which emphasizes equal access to healthy air, permanent Open Streets and holding the government accountable in getting to net-zero emissions.