Lower Manhattan (Photo: Benjamin Kanter / Mayor's Office)
The six Democratic candidates running for Manhattan President in this year's election appeared on Thursday evening at a forum hosted by the West Side Democrats. The five Democratic candidates for City Council 6, based on the Upper West Side, also appeared outside the club, according to the district president's hopes. Both primaries are part of the June primaries for the entire city government and will include the first full city-wide election round, which will apply to both special and party primaries.
Forum participants answered questions on a range of topics including public and private housing, homelessness, transit, land use and development, small businesses, the city's Open Streets program, concerns about federal aid and more.
Candidates vying for the temporary Gale Brewer for Manhattan District President include Lindsey Boylan, former Assistant Secretary for Economic Development and Housing in Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration; Kimberly Watkins, president of Community Education Council 3, Harlem; District 7 Alderman Mark Levine; Elizabeth Caputo, former Chair of Manhattan Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side; State Senator Brad Hoylman of District 27; and Alderman Ben Kallos of District 5.
Participating candidates appeared in turn and had three minutes to introduce themselves, then six minutes to answer questions pre-submitted by members of the West Side Democratic Club. Candidates were asked mostly the same questions during the forum, which was moderated by club members Pablo Zevallos and Rachel Landis.
In his opening address, West Side Democratic President Richard Oppenheimer reflected on Wednesday's attempted insurrection in the US Capitol, calling it "a moment of darkness and light" for democracy. Most of the candidates also commented on the uprising and agreed that peaceful transfers of power at all levels of government are necessary components of a healthy democracy.
"I came to New York, interested in urban planning, wanted to be the next Jane Jacobs and think about how cities can work for people," Boylan said of her decision to run for president of the district. For Boylan, fair urban planning has never been more important than it is now amid a pandemic that has devastated the city's local economy in addition to the challenges the city has already faced.
“The task of the district president is to use all the tools available to us to make this district and thus the city fairer, more livable and more sustainable. I've done this my entire career, ”said Boylan, referring to two decades of public space management experience, most notably Bryant Park Corporation, 34th Street Partnership and the Chelsea Improvement Company, as well as her most recent position in the Cuomo- Administration. Boylan left that position in 2018 and recently accused the governor of repeatedly sexually harassing her, an allegation he denied.
In 2020, Boylan conducted an unsuccessful Democratic Key Challenge to Rep. Jerry Nadler.
At the forum, Boylan criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio's Billatory Inclusionary Housing program for failing to meet the city's critical needs for affordable housing through "luxury premiums". When asked about single room apartments, Boylan said, “It's an important way people live in the city. And we don't offer any alternatives. "She cited recent housing lotteries, which far exceeded the number of units available, as evidence of the city's need for" deeply affordable housing. "
Boylan also expressed her disapproval of "large-scale luxury renovations" and "gradual development of public spaces and green spaces". When asked about the comprehensive planning legislation recently introduced by Speaker Corey Johnson, Boylan cautiously backed, saying, "I think we need comprehensive planning. I'm still checking whether I think this is the way to go or not."
Watkins, a local parenting education director, posed as a "school candidate" promoting a five-point plan to address the major problems facing the public school system, "beginning with the abolition of mayoral control" of city schools.
Watkins said its "people-centered platform" focuses on solving "funding and resource problems for schools" as well as the intersection between public education and other key sectors such as affordable housing and the labor market.
In terms of affordable housing, Watkins expressed its support for single room accommodation, saying, "I think they are great. We need more innovation in terms of home ownership." Watkins criticized the Obama-era rental program Assistance Demonstration (RAD) in which NYCHA is privatizing the facility management of its properties while retaining ownership and bringing in new revenue. "I also want to fight RAD and find a way to improve public housing without privatizing it," said she.
When asked about comprehensive planning legislation, Watkins spoke out in favor of the concept, saying, "I really think it is good for our city to get behind the idea of wider planning," although she did not specifically support Johnson's proposal. Watkins added, "I would like to see us do more as the conversation extends from the individual ward council to neighboring councils, or possibly the entire ward."
“I am running for president (district) to fight on behalf of the West Side, this district and the city. It's a struggle I've been engaged in all of my adult life, ”said Levine, who represents a district that spans parts of Washington Heights, West Harlem and the Upper West Side. Levine, a former teacher who now chairs the council's health committee, extolled his success as a nonprofit founder of a credit union that resulted in "$ 25 million microcredit to low-income families." As an example of his qualifications, he also cited his first term as chairman of the city council's parks committee, in which he "fought to allocate millions of dollars for green spaces".
He commended Morningside Heights, one of the neighborhoods in his district, for working with him in developing community-oriented planning. After the heated debates about developments that have taken place and continue across town over the past year, Levine steadfastly advocated comprehensive planning, promising, “If it doesn't happen all over town, I'll push it as a district-wide, comprehensive plan. In terms of urban planning as a whole, Levine believes in “balanced development that protects the integrity of neighborhoods but gives priority to creating more affordable housing”.
Levine highlighted improving transport as a key aspect of his political platform. He noted that bus drivers tend to include lower-income people, the elderly, people of color and people with disabilities: “I am a big advocate of investing energy and resources in buses to speed them up. I think this is probably the biggest bang for the buck. "One of his goals is to equip every bus route with TSP (Transit Signal Priority) technology, which glows green when a bus approaches a certain intersection and" saves 21% of travel time, "he said. Levine also said he had plans to propose a bill to create a free bus fare in New York City, and said this will "increase passenger traffic and get people onto local transit" after the pandemic.
When asked about the pandemic-time Open Street program, Levine said, "It's a policy that should stay." He also advocated a vacancy tax for property owners in hopes of lowering rents and revitalizing the small business sector.
Citing her experience as the longest-serving chairman of Community Board 7 in Manhattan and other leadership roles she has held, Caputo said, "I'm running because we need strong innovative leadership right now." She continued to criticize "career politicians" and made herself a "bridge builder".
When asked how she would improve garbage collection in the city, Caputo told the West Side Democrats that "composting and justice, how garbage and sanitation are created in these parts of the city, would be a major priority for me as district president." She cited her work as an example of creating a task force to provide service and assistance to NYCHA residents, including sanitation.
Caputo said one of her top priorities as the district president would be to improve transportation through an increased Select Bus service. "I work every day on safer, cleaner, greener, and fairer modes of transportation around the world," said Caputo, referring to her full-time position at the World Economic Forum, where she leads the US government's engagement. Caputo called for more Select Bus Service and promised: "Local transport is the greatest compensation in our city, and I will be the candidate who will bring it back and make it fair for everyone."
When asked about the crisis of the more than 200 men who are seeking refuge in the Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side, Caputo said: “I am the only candidate who has actually represented this district in which we have one in the last 10 years Quality had the living and homeless crisis for a very long time. "
"These men and the people who lived in Lucerne have the right to stay there," she said.
Caputo also advocated the Open Streets program, referring to her track record as a transportation and safe roads advocate securing bike lanes for Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue and bringing Citi Bike to the neighborhood.
"I took pride in promoting some of the most important laws in Albany over the past few years with our new Democratic super-majority," said Hoylman, the only openly LGBTQ candidate in the running for the district's president and the only openly LGBTQ up to this year -Senator in New York. He went on to cite his work as a senator, including the Child Sacrifice Act, which allowed victims of child sexual abuse to bring charges against their abusers dating back decades, as well as a number of other bills.
"I have a record of how things get done in Albany," Hoylman told attendees before highlighting small businesses, public spaces, affordable housing, the revitalization of the arts and economic justice as key aspects of his platform in the race for the district president.
While reviving small businesses that suffered a major economic blow during the pandemic, Hoylman said he sponsored laws called "Save Our Storefronts" that would allow tenants to sell a percentage of their revenues with New York state support to pay their landlord to make up the difference. "Hoylman continued," I piloted this at Grand Central Station, where we saved a number of small businesses that couldn't pay rent. " He congratulated outgoing district president Gale Brewer on her "landmark legislation" regulating retail zones on the Upper West Side, which his new legislation will expand.
"We definitely need to get rid of the commercial rental tax under 92nd Street, at least during the pandemic," he added.
Hoylman also firmly opposed the idea of removing the current residents from the Lucerne hotel, saying, "We can't move New Yorkers like they're chatter."
"It certainly has a lot of merit," the Senator said when asked if he supported extensive planning legislation advocated by Council spokesman Johnson, who represents an overlapping district with Hoylman. “Community-based planning is really the heart of the district president. I would love to replicate each community board and actually have a 197-a community-based planning process if they so choose. There is no more time than now to get the planning right. We risk either a burned-out shell from the 1970s or Disneyland for the super-rich. "
City Councilor Kallos represents parts of the Upper East Side, Midtown, El Barrio and Roosevelt Island and is co-chair of the City Council's Progressive Caucus. He was known to focus on campaign funding reform, among other things, during his two terms on the Council.
Speaking at the forum, Kallos said that his firsthand experience of a variety of challenges, from the stigma associated with food aid programs to the affordable housing crisis exacerbated by sudden rent hikes, has influenced his progressive policies and focused on issues to resolve through legislation Its various laws and resolutions on campaign funding reform as examples.
Kallos noted that he has turned down money from developers, corporations and lobbyists since his first bid for the city council in 2013, and said that as district president he will "prioritize worker-led recovery."
Regarding housing, Kallos criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio for failing to build affordable housing in his district on the Upper East Side. "In all of the affordable housing initiatives that have taken place in my district, I've had to work with everyone but this administration," said Kallos, pointing to 1,000 new affordable housing units during his tenure on the council. That's why he's long been a proponent of comprehensive urban planning legislation, he said. A bill to mandate such planning was recently presented to the Council by Spokesman Corey Johnson and other members.
Resolving the city's homeless crisis has been one of his primary goals since he was elected to public office, according to Kallos. He co-founded the East Side Homeless Service and Services Task Force (ETHOS) with Borough President Brewer in 2016, which connects city authorities with nonprofit and faith-based centers providing housing services and building new supporting homes on the Upper East Side. "You go to the same school my daughter is going to and that's a city I want to live in," he said of children who have received housing support through this task force. Kallos also expressed support for unhodged people being moved from emergency shelters to hotels, stating that a hotel the size of Lucerne (the hotel on the west side that was the focus of controversy over its homeless) was in disrepair during the outbreak offered to leave group accommodation) in his area open to the homeless, he greeted them "with open arms" and added, "they are still here and they can stay there forever." He also wants to go a step further, citing a statement he co-authored in which he argued that the city should buy the 10,000 vacant apartments in the city and rent them out to people who are not housed.
"This is personal to me," said Kallos, who said he relied heavily on public transportation and cycling to get around town when asked if he saw more options for Select Bus service on the Upper West Side . According to Kallos, he "created a new technology system" that "uses bus time transponders to track every single bus in the system" and takes advantage of traffic improvements.
Kallos said he was the only candidate in the running to ever lead a community-based rededication, citing work to halt development of super-tall buildings in the Sutton Place neighborhood. Kallos advocated a resident-led rededication proposal in Morningside Heights that would focus on 110th through 125th streets and decrease density along the back streets and increase density along the avenues and create affordable housing, like this through compulsory inclusive accommodation is required. "You'd better believe when I'm the next district president we'll do this reallocation," he said.
Kallos also stressed that he is "the only candidate in this race who voted to disappoint the police," referring to his vote against the current city budget, which he and several other members who voted in the opposition, did not go far enough to reduce the NYPD's spending while several others voted against it because they felt it was going too far.