NYC’s candidates for mayor, comptroller and district attorney have recently weighed in on everything from ethics to small business to school closures.
McGuire’s housing plan aims for big boost in supply
A chief lesson of Bill de Blasio’s efforts to address housing affordability is that numerical targets (like de Blasio’s 300,000-unit goal) can lead to misaligned policy—to initiatives that generate lots of “units” without necessarily addressing the most pressing housing needs. Former Citigroup financier Ray McGuire is turning that kernel of wisdom on its head by pitching a housing plan with a larger goal than de Blasio’s (350,000 units) but applying that to both subsidized and market-rate housing. McGuire, therefore, had adopted the notion that the city’s housing problem is largely one of supply—an idea that had its detractors even before the city’s population began eroding slightly, and well before COVID-19 threatened deeper changes in population trends. His plan calls for reducing the cost of construction by streamlining approvals and modernizing building codes, and using rezonings to create more moderate- and middle-income housing. McGuire also wants to prioritize senior housing, increase city spending on rental vouchers, permit NYCHA residents to exercise some control over the planning of their communities and create new paths to homeownership.
Wiley throws the book at Cuomo
Hoping to capitalize on last week’s buzz around the allegation that Gov. Andrew Cuomo used government staffers to help write the COVID-19 memoir that earned him a reported multimillion-dollar advance, mayoral candidate Maya Wiley proposed an ethics plan highlighted by the promise that she would “ensure that New York City’s rules regarding outside income prohibit any elected official from being paid with City tax dollars to write a book” and “insist that my Conflicts of Interest Board appointees scrutinize any such book project proposed by a city official or employee.” Given the rarity of city employees writing books about their time in office, that vow was more symbol than substance, but other elements of Wiley’s ethics plan offered more meat. One was her proposal to prohibit any one who works for and then leaves her administration “from lobbying my administration for the duration of my administration,” a significant increase (at least until the final year of her administration) over the one-year “revolving door” ban that is currently in place. Wiley also vows to “prohibit government staff from being paid to do personal or political work for an elected official who they work for in a personal capacity”—which could also be a significant change if it extends to aides who, under the current rules, frequently take a leave of absence to work on their boss’s campaigns.
Yang on energy and Open Streets
Mayoral front-runner Andrew Yang proposed a green-energy plant on the Long Island City coastline that would use geothermal and river power to provide heating and cooling to local buildings, including NYCHA’s Queensbridge Houses, the largest public-housing development in North America. Yang says the proposal could create 1,000 jobs during construction and operation, and could be a model for other “energy districts” using local, renewable infrastructure, as the city of Toronto is currently implementing. Yang also promised to expand the Open Streets program with better signage, more permanent locations, an easier application process and more equity in where they are located. He also proposes using city agency staff to manage Open Streets in areas where there is no business improvement district or community organization to do so.
Donovan vows to help the Jets … and the arts
Back on Feb. 2, this column joked that Shaun Donovan had proposed a lengthy and detailed plan to fix just about everything in New York City except for the perennially disappointing New York Jets: Thanks to Donovan’s April Fools’ Day plan to recapture Gang Green’s Namathian glory by building Rich Kotite Stadium on Governors Island, that joke is now moot. On a serious note, however, Donovan last week issued a plan to rebuild the city’s arts sector that revolves around Donovan personally attending art and culture offerings in the city—something the current mayor has done very rarely. Beyond that symbolism, Donovan’s plan includes issuing health guidelines for reopening that take into account the unique needs of performance spaces, using vacated spaces for arts programming, conducting a promotional campaign to get patrons back into the art scene and tying the art sector into his plans for the school system, affordable housing and internships. (Donovan’s failure to link his NFL proposal to his arts plan by proposing that the entire Jets season be considered a piece of tragic performance art might go down as the butt fumble of this campaign year.)
Stringer: Big bucks for small biz
Much of Scott Stringer’s 37-point small business recovery plan is about improvements to the broader city that will also impact small businesses, like putting two teachers in every classroom, investing in infrastructure and restructuring the city’s workforce development programming. The heart of his proposal, however, is a $1 billion recovery grants fund targeted primarily at small businesses, with some medium-sized ones also qualifying; eligible firms would have to prove losses of 35 percent to 50 percent blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’d be multilingual outreach. Stringer also vows to create a single portal for all the permits and licenses a small business needs, with strict time limits on agencies to act on those applications.
Cheech & Chang: Mayoral hopeful’s pot-jobs plan
Art Chang, a mayoral candidate who is trying to break into the pack under serious consideration, says he wants those convicted and incarcerated for “non-violent marijuana-based crimes” prioritized for developing businesses now that New York has legalized the stuff. Chang is proposing free education through college, a $2,000 monthly stipend during their time in the program, legal assistance, use of a shared manufacturing facility, startup grants and priority for permits and licenses.
Lander petitions to kill the 2-case rule
Comptroller candidate Brad Lander has been organizing parents around ending the de Blasio administration’s controversial two-case rule, under which schools close for two weeks if two positive but unconnected COVID-19 cases emerge; classrooms close if the cases emerge and can be connected. The rule has been viewed with increasing skepticism by scientists and is blamed for thousands of temporary school closures since different parts of the system began generally reopening in December. Lander has been railing against the two-case rule for several weeks, and on Monday, he saw victory: Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city will be replacing the policy with a yet-to-be-announced alternative plan. It’s a hot-button issue that has little direct connection to the comptroller’s office Lander is seeking, but City Limits has documented the trend of city comptrollers focusing on a broader policy portfolio than their charter-mandated financial tasks.
Benjamin targets the gender pay gap
According to one set of measures, women earn just $0.89 for every $1 men make. That’s a problem. Comptroller candidate Brian Benjamin is offering a solution, albeit a somewhat indirect one: If elected, he says, he will partner with community organizations, unions and houses of worship to convene workshops that will “find and encourage leaders” and “arm people with financial literacy skills, no matter what they are starting with.” His campaign says, “Brian will participate in these workshops himself so he can share his lifetime of financial experience with the community and receive feedback about the local health of our city’s neighborhoods and families.” Benjamin says his office will track the effectiveness of the workshops; if the idea is that knowledge is power, the meetings will likely be judged successful, but it seems unlikely that pay disparities will change as a result of increased financial literacy.
Caruso-Cabrera wants broadband “outcomes”
Getting more fiber-optic cable in the ground is not going to provide universal access to broadband, says comptroller candidate Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. She’s pledging that, “as comptroller, she will work with City Hall and the City Council to use the leverage that New York City has with internet service providers (ISPs) to ensure that those who qualify for lower cost high-speed broadband are actually getting it.”
Orlins’ plea for fairer plea-bargaining
New York City courts saw more than 259,000 criminal cases in 2017, the last year for which data are available. Only 355 ended in convictions and a mere 291 in acquittals after trial; more than 120,000 cases ended, instead, in plea bargains. Bargaining is an essential component of the criminal-justice system: The courts are bogged down as it is, and without plea bargaining, the idea of swift justice would go from abstract concept to absolute joke. Still, plea bargaining introduces the potential for miscarriages of justice, in which determinations of “guilt” are based not strictly on the evidence but on prosecutors and defendants calculating their odds of success and the costs of waiting for, and maybe failing at, trial. While bail reform and discovery reform have reduced prosecutorial power somewhat, the district attorney’s office still wields tremendous power in those negotiations. Eliza Orlins, a public defender running to be Manhattan’s next DA, wants to jettison many of those powers. She proposes to align sentencing recommendations after trial with plea bargain offers before trial, effectively eliminating the risk a defendant takes by going to trial. She would also ban “take-it-or-leave-it” offers, refuse to require people to waive their right to appeal in order to plea and seek to avoid “collateral consequences” to immigration status or job prospects that sometimes come with pleas.