Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
“Change is going to come,” said Nicole Monegro, the president of Barack Obama Democratic Club of Northern Manhattan (center), with members Manuel Casanova (left) and Ariel Ferreira (right).
Residents packed into the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center this past Thurs., Jan. 31st were not there for an art exhibit or new play.
It was high-stakes drama of a different sort.
Interested voters from across northern Manhattan came to hear from the five declared Democratic candidates expected to run for mayor in an historic uptown forum that saw all candidates specifically gathered on the same night before residents.
In order of appearance on Thursday, they were: former City Councilman Sal Albanese; City Comptroller John Liu; former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who also ran for mayor in 2009 as the Democratic candidate against the incumbent Michael Bloomberg; Public Advocate Bill de Blasio; and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
The forum was moderated by Carla Zanoni, DNAinfo.com’s Washington Heights and Inwood Editor and Social Media Editor; NY1 Noticias reporter and anchor Juan Manuel Benítez; El Diario-La Prensa’s Editor Marlene Peralta; and Debralee Santos, Editor of The Manhattan Times and The Bronx Free Press.
“I think it’s important for the community to weigh in,” said George Fernández Jr., the Chairperson of Community Board 12.
The forum lasted almost four hours, and touched on education, stop and frisk, and support for small businesses.
Northern Manhattanites gave the forum, and the moderators, generally positive reviews.
“I think it was phenomenal. It was really good,” said Joe Bello, who came from East Harlem. Bello is the founder of New York Metrovets, a veteran’s advocacy group.
Bello said Bill De Blasio was his favorite candidate, and that housing is one of the biggest issues for veterans.
Ed Daniels favored Liu, Thompson, and De Blasio.
“They are all smart and have held a diversity of positions,” he said.
The forum was sponsored by Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change, the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Northern Manhattan, and The Shabazz Center.
“It’s a historic moment at the Shabazz Center,” said Zead Ramadan, the founding chairman of the board of directors at the Center, and a candidate for the 7th Councilmatic District. “It shows the city of New York that Northern Manhattan is a key political factor.”
“This was a great event. People will now know what the candidates will bring to the table,” added Rolando Cespedes, the president of Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change.
Nicole Monegro, the president of the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Northern Manhattan was also thrilled with the forum’s turnout.
“I thought it was a success—they came to the community to listen to questions that concern us,” she said. “This is huge. Change is going to come.”
These are thumbnail profiles of the mayoral candidates, and brief summaries of issues they discussed during the forum. Please visit their individual websites for further information.
Photo: Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
Sal Albanese immigrated to Brooklyn from Italy at age 8. He taught in New York City public schools for 11 years before entering politics. For 15 years, he served on the City Council, representing Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He ran for mayor in 1997, and again in 2000, both times unsuccessfully. His resume in the City Council includes helping to pass the New York City Living Wage Bill in 1996 that required certain city contractors to pay higher minimum wages. He was the original sponsor of the Campaign Finance Reform Bill, and he drafted laws requiring mandatory drug tests for school bus drivers. During his tenure on the City Council, Albanese also increased police presence in under patrolled neighborhoods.
Albanese believes he can appeal to voters in Northern Manhattan because of his work on the Education and Public Safety Committees in the City Council. Furthermore, he plans on being small business-friendly, though did not expound on the subject.
To increase public safety, Albanese says he will increase the police force by 3,800 officers, citing a patrol officer shortage. Under his leadership, Albanese says officers will “not just respond to 911 calls,” but build a relationship of respect and trust with the communities they serve.
“If you don’t have trust between the community and the police,” he said, “you can’t address issues.”
Albanese was also asked about Stop and Frisk. His answer: “It’s a useful tool when used appropriately, but it needs to be tweaked. We don’t have to have a quota-driven policy.”
On education, Albanese says that only in rare circumstances would he close schools. He says the cornerstone of his educational policy would be more teacher training, and more early intervention programs. He also supports funding for after school activities for New York City Public School students.
Albanese is the only mayoral candidate who worked as a teacher.
“I used to have more hair when I was in politics,” he responded when asked how politics have changed since Albanese left the political arena in 1997.
When asked if he would address the issue of MTA fare hikes, he called them “unconscionable.” Albanese says he is going to be rolling out ways on how to reduce fares.
For more information on Sal Albanese, visit www.salalbanese2013.com.
Photo: Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
John Liu, like Sal Albanese, is an immigrant.
Liu, from Taiwan, is the current City Comptroller, and served on the City Council from 2001 to 2009, when he was elected to be the city comptroller. He is the first Asian-American in both positions.
John Liu has not officially declared his candidacy, but has attended numerous mayoral forums. Liu has carved out a reputation for himself as a gadfly of the Bloomberg administration, and he has called the Mayor’s third term illegal.
Despite ongoing federal inquiries that have probed his fundraising, Liu remained optimistic.
“They have thrown everything and the kitchen sink at me. I don’t worry about that, because I know the stove is on the way,” he said, drawing laughter from the audience.
The Comptroller says the city’s budget has doubled—and could increase if it weren’t for at loopholes exempting insurance companies from paying adequate taxes. Liu says such loopholes costs the city $300 million a year.
Liu is also a critic of Stop and Frisk, saying, “It has no place in the city of New York. Period.”
Liu said the police department should focus on the “bad apples” rather than stopping and frisking random passerby. He also said rather than keep Ray Kelly as NYPD Commissioner, he would find someone else, saying that the NYPD in general “needs new blood.”
Liu also denounces school closings, and is critical that Mayor Bloomberg failed to appoint someone with an education background as the school chancellor.
John Liu has not yet officially announced his candidacy for Mayor, and his campaign does not yet have a website. To learn more about his tenure as City comptroller, visit www.comptroller.nyc.gov.
Bill Thompson was City Comptroller from 2002 until 2009. Before that, he served as President of the Board of Education and as Brooklyn’s Deputy Borough President.
Thompson ran against Mayor Bloomberg in 2009. He was asked about how that race compares to this one.
“I took on the richest person in the city of New York,” said Thompson forcefully. “Last time, the playing field was a little uneven. This time, grassroots and people on the ground will determine this election.”
Thompson started by attacking Mayor Bloomberg’s appointees to fill the post of Chancellor of New York City public schools. If he were mayor, he said, he would chose an educator for the position. He would also try to limit the amount of testing that happens within public schools.
“Our schools have become test prep factories,” he said.
Thompson, also spoke of the importance of bringing art back to schools—revealing that he learned to play the viola as a public school student. Thompson believes more money for art in schools would be available is less money was spent on test prep.
Thompson said he is “not scared of charter schools, but I’m not going to let public schools fail to make room for [them].”
As for small businesses, Thompson feels that New York City should follow the lead of New York State and make sure at least 20 percent of their citywide contracts go out to minority and women-owned businesses. It was Thompson who helped get the measure passed in New York State after he was appointed head of the Minority and Women-Owned Business Task Force by Governor Cuomo. The measure is not a law, however, and the noncompliant go unpunished.
As for the issue of affordable housing, Thompson noted that the state, not the city, is in control of rent control guidelines, but that he would to preserve units that are already rent controlled. Thompson believes that billions of dollars in the pension fund could be used to create more affordable housing.
For more information on Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign, visit www.billthompsonformayor.com.
BILL DE BLASIO
Photo: Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
Bill De Blasio is the current Public Advocate of New York City.
He has served as a staffer to former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, and worked in the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. He has also worked on the school board in Brooklyn, and was a member of the City Council for eight years.
De Blasio said the cornerstones of his platform were neighborhood, family and public schools.
Stop and Frisk, he said, is undermining the safety of neighborhoods.
“I know we’re overusing stop and frisk. It’s undermining the future when police and communities don’t work together.”
De Blasio has stated that he won’t increase the city’s police force, since the city can’t afford it. He believes bringing back the beat cop will help foster a trusting relationship between the police and the community, and make the police more effective.
De Blasio also believes the city needs a new police commissioner.
As for education, De Blasio believes in making early childhood education available to all students.
“We really missed the boat on pre-K,” he said.
De Blasio proposes an income tax surcharge on New Yorkers making $500,000 a year or more to help cover the cost of early childhood education for all.
To help small businesses, De Blasio would try to reduce fines and increase support. He said that 92 percent of small businesses reported no help from the city. De Blasio hopes to change that, and increase services that help small businesses find loans and get legal help.
For more information on Bill de Blasio’s campaign, visit www.billdeblasio.com
Christine Quinn has been on the City Council since 1999, and was elected Speaker in 2006. She is the first woman Speaker as well as the first openly gay speaker.
Quinn supported Mayor Bloomberg in overturning voter-approved term limits, allowing him to run for mayor a third time. While Quinn and the Mayor are often seen as allies, Quinn was quick to distance herself from him on certain issues.
The City Council and the Mayor are in court over whether or not homeless individuals should show proof before entering homeless shelters. The Mayor supports, it, but the City Council, led by Quinn, does not.
“Who’s showing up at homeless shelters for fun?”
During her tenure as Speaker of the City Council, she said she had led efforts to make food stamps available at green markets, and averted the layoff of 4,000 public school teachers and save 20 firehouses that were slated to close. Quinn also passed the Safe Housing Act to improve conditions in the city’s worst buildings.
She also explained her opposition to the Paid Sick Leave Bill, saying that the timing was off, and the legislation would hurt small business.
“I think if we implement sick leave right now, I think we’ll get paid sick leave, but we’ll lose small businesses.”
Quinn says that in order to help more small business, each industry will have a representative in city government. She also cited New York City Business Link as a successful endeavor that has reduced the startup phase by three months.
Quinn also supports early childhood education, and would advocate for less testing. While it is up to the state how many tests students are mandated to take, Quinn will seek to reduce the amount of pilot tests students will have to take.
“Immigrant students are most impacted by over-testing. Cut out test testing,” she said.
Quinn also supports a longer school day.
Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign does not yet have a website. Visit http://council.nyc.gov/d3/html/members/home.shtml for more information about her tenure in the City Council.