New York, NY—He’s running for City Council because he has a few big and bold ideas he’d like to pursue as the next Council person representing District 5, but he also notes that it’s important to pay attention to the little stuff when it comes to governing.
Billy Freeland lives on the Upper East Side, but knows the Sutton Place community well as his parents live on 52nd Street and 1st Avenue. He was recently interviewed by members of the Sutton Area Community board where he had a chance to explain why he’s running and declare his position on issues important to the Sutton Place community.
Freeland has lived in Manhattan his entire adult life. He came here to study at Columbia University as an undergraduate and then enrolled in law school. He’s been practicing as an attorney for the past five years, including representing as general counsel his family’s small business.
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“New York City represents hope and opportunity to me. I love this city; this is the place where my dad drove a yellow cab to pay his way through school. This is the place where I had the privilege to become a lawyer and stand up for clients in housing court and stand up for clients in voting rights and LGBTQ rights cases,” said Freeland.
Freeland, who is also a board member of Community Board 8, says he is running because he strongly believes that the city is in need deeply of a new generation of leadership. And with the right leadership the city can start to turn the tide from the ravages of the COVID pandemic by empowering the city’s agencies to do the big things that the city needs while also paying attention to the details.
What does that look like? For starters, Freeland noted it requires helping small businesses stay in business with items like a vacancy tax on landlords and/or commercial rent tax reform or repeal. There also needs to be help for renters.
“One of the best ways to help renters is by expanding the right to counsel because we know that people who have a lawyer in housing court, 80 percent of the time they’re able to stay in their home,” Freeland said.
Second, zoning reform. He’s proud that he is running a campaign that isn’t accepting contributions from real estate developers, lobbyists or PACs.
“It’s important to draw a clear line in our politics because REBNY [Real Estate Board of NY] is trying very hard to put up luxury towers across our city and this district. I think we can really regain control and leverage from developers, but we need leaders who are going to first reject their money and then stand up to them,” added Freeland.
He’s a proponent for more money invested in infrastructure and would like to electrify the city’s entire bus fleet by 2029.
In addition, quality of life is an important issue. For example, he’s been hearing from voters about potential improvements to sanitation. He envisions borough-wide “sanitation strike teams” that can respond quickly to garbage piling up.
But he has an even bolder idea: Underground tubes to collect waste and trash, and transport it underground like they do in other cities around the world. He recognizes that it may not be doable here because of all the utilities right underneath the surface, but bold ideas have to be on the table.
“These are the type of ideas that we have to talk about and get excited about, and I’m excited to talk about them. I want to emphasize that I’m trying to run an ideas-oriented race, and I’m very proud of how we’re doing it, not just rejecting money from deep-pocketed real estate, but we’ve done it with the most individual contributions in the entire field. We’ve maxed out our fundraising,” Freeland said.
Freeland was then asked for his position on a couple of issues. Sutton Place is unique in many ways and one unique attribute of the neighborhood is that it is home to an older demographic. Therefore, the issue of pedestrian safety is paramount in light of the growing use of e-bikes by delivery workers.
For Freeland, if delivery workers were paid a higher salary, it could very well mean safer streets because they wouldn’t be rushed to make as many deliveries as possible.
“When we live in a society that expects delivery cyclists to make a living on tips, what do we expect? I don’t mean this to excuse the conduct we see, I mean it to say let’s have a living wage, let’s have workers’ rights for delivery cyclists who sometimes average $4 an hour in income,” Freeland said.
“I think if we have real rights for delivery cyclists and make it less dependent on how fast you deliver my Seamless order, we’ll see a bit more control on the streets.”
Also, it’s not just about slashing the NYPD’s budget by an arbitrary number when it comes to the issue of defunding the police, but rather removing some functions that aren’t necessarily central to policing.
“I think the police need to be supported, the way I want to support the police is encouraging them to do what they do best, which I believe is solving violent crimes, rapes and robberies,” said Freeland.
“Personally, I think there are some functions that you can take away from the NYPD—those functions would be homeless outreach, mental health calls, traffic enforcement. I think this would actually save us money as a city because of the typical overtime costs associated with policing.”
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