Public advocate candidate Ifeoma Ike speaking (right), with moderator Linda Rosenthal (left). Photo: Erica Overton
When New York City Public Advocate Tish James is sworn in as the new State Attorney General at the beginning of next month, Mayor DeBlasio will call a special election to fill her current office, which is first in line of succession to the Mayor. Candidates will then have a short time to get 7,000 petition signatures, and the election will likely occur in February.
Local Manhattan Democratic clubs organized a candidates’ forum last Thursday at the Goddard Riverside Community Center on the UWS, and 13 candidates showed up. Each of them was asked to do a two minute presentation followed by a three minute Q and A with the audience, a standing-room crowd of about 200 people. Manhattan State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who is affiliated with Community Free Democrats, the lead organizer of the event, was the moderator.
Candidates who participated were: Bronx State Assemblymember Michael Blake; Bitcoin businessman Theo Chino; Columbia University Professor David Eisenbach; Brooklyn City Council Member Rafael Espinal; attorney Ifeoma Ike; investigative journalist Nomiki Konst; former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell; Manhattan City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez; Attorney Dawn Smalls; Brooklyn Assemblymember Latrice Walker; Brooklyn City Councilmember Jumaane Williams; and State Democratic Committee member Ben Yee.
In the lively give-and-take, several themes emerged repeatedly, both from the candidates and the audience:
The need for the public advocate to be independent of the mayor: One of the event’s strongest themes was directed at an effective check on the mayor and his agencies when necessary. Several candidates said they would seek subpoena powers and the right to bring lawsuits. (As public advocate, James sued several times only to have the lawsuits thrown out by the courts because she lacked standing to sue.) Also discussed was a need for the public advocate to have a bigger budget and investigative staff, and for that budget to not be decided by the mayor, as it currently is.
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments: Problems with heat, hot water, lead and mold were on the agenda for candidates and audience. Some NYCHA residents pressed candidates about their positions on the de Blasio administration’s plans to sell off open land in NYCHA developments to private developers, who would presumably construct buildings containing some luxury residences, along with more affordable ones. Residents were clearly looking to get pledges of opposition to these plans from the candidates.
Zoning issues: There were complaints, and agreement, that the administration is not inclined to put the brakes on “too tall” buildings, such as those now underway at 69th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and 66th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue — even when the developer bundled zoning lots in a questionable way, in the first instance, or led the city to believe that his building would be much shorter, in the second. Candidates and audience members criticized the re-zonings of some neighborhoods according to the mayor’s formulas, supposedly designed to produce affordable housing, on the grounds that they lead to increased density and gentrification. Participants also attacked the recent announcement by de Blasio and Governor Cuomo of the Amazon plan for Long Island City.
The fate of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act: First proposed by then West Side Councilmember Ruth Messenger more than 30 years ago, this would give small business owners the right to negotiate with landlords about terms at lease renewal time, something they currently lack. Advocates say this would help stem the tide of vacant storefronts, preserving “mom and pop” businesses and the jobs that go with them. The bill recently had a City Council hearing, its first in many years, but has never advanced to the stage of an actual vote in all the years since its introduction, a situation which advocates say is the result of the outsized influence of the real estate industry.
Rosenthal, the moderator, said about the event, ”The huge turnout was an inspiring moment in local politics. I am heartened to see that the new sense of civic activism has extended past the midterm elections. My hope is that this spirit of activism will continue and the new Public Advocate, whomever that may be, should know that the citizens are paying very close attention.”
Joining Community Free Democrats as co-sponsors of the forum were: Ansonia Democrats, Broadway Democrats, Columbia Law Democrats, Hell’s Kitchen Democrats, Manhattan Young Democrats, the Manhattan Policy Forum, Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change, and Park River Independent Democrats.