Andrew Yang talked traffic on Staten Island. Kathryn Garcia called for letting bars and restaurants use more public space. And both Loree Sutton and Mark Levin have called for new czars of public safety and COVID-19 recovery.
March has arrived, and with it comes harder tests for the many candidates seeking municipal office in 2021. Petitioning to get on the ballot begins this week. A major campaign finance deadline looms on March 15. Big endorsements are starting to come down the pipe. Perhaps because those coming challenges might separate the serious candidates from the rest, the flow of policy ideas intensified this week.
Wright: Let NYCHA tenants buy-in-place
Attorney and mayoral candidate Isaac Wright Jr. wants NYCHA residents to be allowed to buy their apartments in order to open up a new path to homeownership in a city where affordable options are disappearing, especially for people of color. Under his plan, moderate-income tenants could take out mortgages; lower-income residents would enter a rent-to-own program. The idea would not address NYCHA’s fiscal problems; in fact, Wright says it will be necessary to increase federal funding to the authority. Under Margaret Thatcher, the United Kingdom let a huge number of tenants purchase their “council homes” in the 1980s, to mixed results: Homeownership swelled, but investors gobbled up batches of homes and prices sometimes soared when later generations of owners sold their property. Wright’s program would limit each buyer to one unit, addressing the first problem. The second one—how to include more families in the investment benefits of homeownership without creating tomorrow’s unaffordable property—is one all affordable homeownership programs must wrestle with.
Donovan’s ‘innovation’ plan gets big-name backing
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Partnership for New York City president Kathryn Wylde are among those backing mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan’s new technology and innovation policy, which includes a pledge to bring “quality and high-speed broadband into every single residence in New York City,” starting with the areas that are now least connected. He’d also start a Mayoral Innovation Fellowship program to “bring mid- to senior-level leaders from other sectors into the public sector” and create a fund for developing innovative ideas by city employees. The plan also includes bulking up the city’s defense against cyber threats and an ambitious promise to provide “every single student the chance to gain hands-on work experience through at least one guaranteed paid career opportunity while in high school.”
Stringer’s housing plan goes broad and deep
There is a lot of detail in Scott Stringer’s new housing plan, which runs to 47 pages. The commitment to require developments of 10 units of more in every neighborhood to set aside 25 percent of units for affordable housing is a highlight, as is the promise to build 30,000 units of supportive housing over a decade and raise the value of rental vouchers to reflect market realities. He also wants to build more “social housing” (stuff that never goes market-rate) on vacant, city-owned land, end lien sales and create a “shared equity” homeownership model. Stringer echoes a common, long-shot vow to press Washington to fully fund NYCHA; when it comes to funding mechanisms like RAD or the newly proposed public trust, Stringer says decisions will be “made in consultation with NYCHA residents by providing them a democratic voice in their own development decisions,” a move that would increase tenant power but also allows the candidate to punt on embracing or rejecting those new approaches.
Yang proposes a menu of fixes to transit on Staten Island
Traffic and transportation are perennial hot issues in Staten Island, the city’s most car-dependent and isolated borough. Andrew Yang, Democrat for mayor, wants to restore overnight ferry service, create a “bus rapid transit” route on the West Shore and solicit community input on a second route along the North Shore. For disabled commuters, he proposes expanding the Access-A-Ride E-hail program and upgrading two Staten Island railroad stations to make them more accessible. Expanding sidewalks, building more bike lanes and studying a bike and pedestrian path on the Verrazano Bridge are steps that will endear Yang to transportation advocates but shifting an street space from cars to other uses is always controversial in Richmond County.
Garcia eyes new city role in boosting small business
Microloans, a streamlined city permit (accessible via smartphone), and more city purchasing from local small businesses are among the list of policies mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia wants to implement as part of her plan to “jumpstart” the city’s economy after COVID-19. She also wants to donate the city’s advertising space to cultural institutions and team up with streaming services to get more New York City performances viewable online. In her most ambitious idea—and the one most likely to lead to fights over the principle and practicalities of using public space for private concerns—Garcia wants to “reimagine how the city uses public space to give local businesses and art organizations a bigger footprint in their communities,” arguing that, “With enough park space to cover the size of Boston, NYC can host thousands of pop-up dinners, theater performances, installations and commercial markets” and vowing, “The Garcia administration will empower local restaurants, stores, artists, and theaters to take over hundreds of thousands of square feet of public space in parks and plazas to add seating, grow sales, and host shows and exhibitions.”
Chang still backs big NYPD budget trim
Art Chang, a mayoral candidate, is reissuing a call he made last June for the city to cut $1.3 billion from the NYPD budget—a plan he says he developed based on combining proposals by Comptroller Scott Stinger, Communities United for Police Reform and his own children. He proposes cutting 2,300 new cops, slashing the number of transit cops by 500 and using attrition to reduce the NYPD’s uniformed headcount to 32,026 by 2024—as well as reining in the department’s capital expenditures. The 2021 city budget did make cuts to NYPD spending, like cancelling on academy class, but the Independent Budget Office labeled those cuts “modest and largely non-recurring.” Through Feb. 21, crime was down 15 percent this year, including a 15 percent drop in murders, although the number of shootings is up by 25 percent.
Benjamin sees comptroller role in redefining policing
If elected and sworn in Jan. 1, 2022, state senator and Democratic comptroller candidate Brian Benjamin pledges his first act will be to launch an audit of the NYPD budget—and not just the dollars and cents. “The fiscal performance of each program will be measured alongside their impact on communities by grading them in … Equity and Sustainability Audits,” he promises in a new public safety plan. Benjamin also vows to appoint an Assistant Comptroller for Public Safety to work on “mental health, safety, equity and workforce development as New York City works to redefine public safety and our police force for the 21st century.” In addition, Benjamin’s plan offers more transparency about NYPD procurement, and more public information about the lawsuits the city settles involving allegations of police misconduct. Benjamin’s campaign literature also mentions his advocacy at the state level for divesting pension funds from private prison stocks; all five city pension funds have already done so.
Czar Trek I: Sutton wants new public safety boss
Gen. Loree Sutton has registered perhaps the strongest endorsement of a continued role for traditional policing than any other mayoral candidate. In a recent white paper, she argues: “The NYPD must have a continued and leading role in all public safety issues, supported by strong partnerships and coordination with the other city agencies whose responsibilities intersect with public safety.” While Sutton does agree that other agencies, such as those dealing with mental health, must also be involved, she writes, “We must resist the temptation to weaponize political rhetoric by diverting millions from the NYPD budget in the hopes of advancing policies based on academic research that sometimes lack proper context or appear to be offered as ‘all or nothing’ prescriptions to complex public safety challenges.” After critiquing “the chorus disparaging wealth,” bail reforms that have “put more people charged with gun possession back on the street,” discovery reform “that have made it more difficult to obtain witnesses to testify” and “the release of inmates accused of violent crimes who are awaiting trial from city jails due to COVID-19 outbreaks,” Sutton calls for reimagining policing and rebuilding relationships between police and communities. Exactly how to do so would be the work of a new oversight infrastructure: a Public Safety Coordination Council, Public Safety Action Teams and a Public Safety Czar.
Czar Trek II: Levine seeks COVID-recovery overlord
Manhattan Borough President candidate Mark Levine wants to appoint a deputy borough president as “COVID-19 Recovery Czar” charged with advancing health equity, supporting small business, workforce development, public-health preparedness, bringing back the arts and simplifying bureaucracy.
Bragg cites personal history in gun violence plan
Manhattan district attorney candidate Alvin Bragg says he’s had guns pointed at him six times in his life—three times by cops, three times by other people. He says those traumatic experiences inform an anti-violence plan that mixes holistic remedies (like hospital-based interventions and cure violence) with targeted policing and new efforts to reduce the flow of guns to New York. Some of those efforts echo what city candidates have said for years: Washington must impose universal background checks, ban assault weapons and take a list of other steps that the gun lobby has fought. But Bragg also proposes several local moves to choke off the supply of weapons, like a crackdown on gun smuggling and an interesting if potentially controversial idea to “[reduce] the potential for future gun violence in non-gun cases by taking guns away from those who pose a risk to themselves and others.”
Lang targets economic crimes
A running theme of the crowded race for Manhattan district attorney is that the next DA is likely to have a whole lot of new units and bureaus working on priority policy areas. Lucy Lang has proposed combining the existing Major Economic Crimes Bureau and Financial Frauds Bureau into a single Economic Crimes Bureau, which would then be divided into a series of units covering tax fraud, elder abuse, worker protection, immigration scams and animal welfare. She proposes staffing the bureau with social workers as well as working with social service agencies and community-led social service groups that might identify crimes and victims.
Orlins pledges 80 percent reduction in incarceration
Eliza Orlins, a public defender running for Manhattan district attorney, was not the first candidate to pledge an end to all cash bail when she issued a pretrial detention policy last week: Tahanie Aboushi and Lucy Lang have made similar pledges. But Orlins’ platform does include four interesting specifics. First, she opposes a “dangerousness” test for pretrial release. Second, she allowed that in some cases, remand—where a person is held without bail before trial—might be necessary. Third, she noted that electronic monitoring, while useful as an alternative to bail, could itself be overused. And fourth, she has committed to “reducing the number of people incarcerated by 80 percent.”