The city’s largest Jewish nonprofit works closely with the mayor in assisting the neediest individuals with food, housing, and other services. With an election this year, it hosted six mayoral candidates in an online forum on Monday, where they spoke of their vision for post-COVID New York City.
“We are doing all that we can to put out as many fires as we can,” said Met Council co-president Ben Tisch. “We want the next mayor to know exactly what city they will be taking the reins of.”
Questions at this event were submitted by clients of the Met Council and the public with Politico’s City Hall bureau chief Sally Goldenberg as the moderator, alongside Met Council CEO David Greenfield. The first questions concerned the city’s budget, which was hit hard by the loss of jobs during the pandemic, but also boosted by federal support under President Joe Biden.
“The budget is not only a financial document, it’s also a roadmap on how we are going to get out of the pandemic,” said Scott Stringer. “While I haven’t done a deep dive into this budget, it will come out of my office in a couple of weeks.”
Born in Manhattan, Stringer grew up in a family involved in politics. Prior to his current position as Comptroller, he served as the Borough President of Manhattan and as a State Assemblyman.
Another contender with a similar resume is Eric Adams, the current Brooklyn Borough President who previously served as a State Senator. When asked if the city’s budget should be trimmed, he agreed and added that under his watch it would also address “historical inequalities.”
Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur who never served in elected office, took an opposite view. “We can be spending much more than we are spending now. We’re probably spending too little. Are we spending on the right things?” He noted that with two years remaining to spend the federal aid, the city can use the money to revive its economy. “We have to act fast,” he said.
Kathryn Garcia is the highly respected civil servant who headed the New York City Departments of Sanitation, Public Housing, and Environmental Protection in the past 14 years. She argued that strategic investments should be made in sectors that can revive tourism, such as restaurants and cultural institutions. She noted that concerning the City’s payroll, many of the new hires under Mayor Bill de Blasio were pre-kindergarten teachers. Her concern relating to the budget is the rising property taxes that “we need to rein in.”
The City’s rise in crime and distrust in the police among some New Yorkers brought varied responses from the candidates. Adams is a 22-year police veteran prior to his political career. Earlier in the day, at a campaign event in the Bronx, he spoke up for his background and profession. “I am not shaping my campaign based on Twitter. I’m shaping my campaign based on speaking with real New Yorkers.”
In his conversations across the city, he said that the public wants the police to do its job. “Reinstate the anti-crime unit as the anti-gun unit,” he said at the Met Council forum. He proposed checkpoints at entrances to the city controlled by the Port Authority. “Periodic bag checks,” as is done at airports and train terminals.
Garcia’s proposal for combating gun violence involves cooperating with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and rebuilding trust in the NYPD.
Stringer spoke of focusing on neighborhood hotspots and investing in youth programs. He noted that only 13 percent of 911 calls involve crimes in programs, hence not all emergency calls should be assigned to the police.
Yang proposed that all police officers must be residents of the city, as it would mean more off-duty officers walking the streets when they are not working, but able to combat a crime in progress.
The forum did not feel like a Zoom meeting, as only the person speaking appeared on the screen; it felt more like an online meeting. Garcia and Adams apologized for leaving early, and then Ray McGuire joined the meeting. Born outside of the city, he is the other entrepreneur without prior elected experience. The Citigroup executive is also an art collector, serving as chair of the Studio Museum in Harlem. He appeared as the forum addressed school reopening. Could they have reopened sooner? How would the mayor address inequalities among students?
McGuire spoke of an education that is from “cradle to career” with a “fundamental skill set” of reading and math by third grade, summer jobs, and financial literacy upon graduation.
Yang spoke as a public school parent, noting that certain communities had their schools open long before his children returned to their classrooms. Stringer appeared to confront Yang on this point, noting that the outbreak of the pandemic was a “tremendous moment in our city.” He spoke of the failure to provide Internet access and learning devices for students in public housing and homeless shelters as an example of the inequality in education that was exposed during the period of virtual learning.
The moderators asked the candidates how they would work with the governor, in light of the past eight years of bickering between de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. They all spoke of building a constructive relationship, but also on developing a stronger relationship with state lawmakers. “We are the economic engine of New York State. There’s so much that we can offer to the rest of the state,” Yang said.
On the subject of a proposed city takeover of the MTA, the agency that runs buses, subways, and some of the toll crossings, the two capitalists, Yang and McGuire, went back-and-forth on a split screen. “MTA is a $13 billion enterprise running on a deficit. It isn’t clear if the city can afford to take it over,” McGuire said, countering Yang’s call for municipal control of public transit. To make the rides safer, Yang noted that a train with more passengers is safer than an empty train. “A subway fare holiday for Memorial Day, awakening our economy,” he proposed. Yang also proposed to increase the number of city-appointed members on the MTA board.
McGuire spoke of fixing escalators and elevators so that elderly and disabled customers can return to the trains, and mental health professionals taking the place of the police in identifying mentally unstable individuals in the subway system.
The final candidate to enter the forum was Sean Donovan, the former housing and development commissioner who served in the same role on the federal level under President Barack Obama. He spoke of hiring city workers with “experience, accountability, and creativity” in their respective government roles. He also spoke of setting up mobile vaccination sites in communities that need it, with local nonprofits coordinating the effort.
All of the candidates in this forum are running as Democrats in the June 22 primary. Because of the party’s lead among registered city voters, the winner of this primary is expected to become New York City’s 110th mayor next year.
By Sergey Kadinsky