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Questions and Answers with Bill de Blasio: ‘Reasserting Fairness’ in NYC

By Clarion Staff
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[The PSC has endorsed Bill de Blasio in the September 10 Democratic primary for mayor. Below are Clarion’s questions, and the candidate’s answers, on some key issues in the 2013 election. For more information, including de Blasio’s views on affordable housing, health care and the environment. See billdeblasio.com.]

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Mayoral candidate and NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio joins a picket line of striking RF Central Office workers on July 1.
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1) How would you take New York City in a different direction from the one we’ve experienced under Michael Bloomberg?

I think this election is about whether we’re going to reassert fairness and progressive ideals into our government, or whether we’re going to continue a Bloomberg tradition that is unfortunately turning New York into a tale of two cities.

Nearly 400,000 millionaires call New York home, while nearly half of our neighbors live at or near the poverty line. Our middle class isn’t just shrinking; it’s in danger of vanishing altogether. Addressing the crisis of income inequality isn’t a small task. But if we are to thrive as a city, it must be at the center of our vision for the next four years.

2) As an advocate for austerity, Bloomberg has often acted to keep down wages for hardworking New Yorkers. Every municipal union in NYC is now working under an expired contract. How would you get city labor relations back on track?

Our workforce is part of the solution, not the problem. When this city has faced fiscal challenges, organized labor helped us through it. Unions brought us the middle class and it’s time to start working with them again. There’s a lot of scare-mongering going on regarding union contacts, but let me tell it to you straight: as mayor, I’ll balance the budget, but I’m not going to demonize teachers, building workers and firefighters in the process. I’m going to sit down at the table in good faith with the workers who keep our city moving and settle on contracts that are fair for all New Yorkers.

3) Unlike some of the other Democratic candidates, you have proposed an additional tax on incomes above $500,000 a year to fund public education. How would your plan work? Are you prepared to introduce other tax policy changes, such as permanently making the current tax structure more progressive?

I have called for an increase in income tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers – changing it from 3.86% to 4.3% on income above a half million a year – to pay for full-day universal pre-kindergarten and for after-school programs for every middle school child. This is a smart and strategic investment in our city’s future. As we move forward, we’ll assess what changes may or may not be necessary to reduce the drastic inequality gap in our city.

4) You’ve highlighted the problem of NYC’s growing income inequality. How can that be changed – and what’s CUNY’s role in changing it?

New York City spends too many dollars in one-off deals for large, well-connected corporations, while too many industry sectors and small businesses are neglected – especially those in outer-borough neighborhoods. We need to diversify NYC’s economic base, expand opportunity by investing in education and workforce development, help small businesses expand employment, and raise wage standards as a bottom-up driver of economic development.

I want to restore CUNY as the central gateway to a quality education and a good job. Decades of State and City disinvestment have undermined CUNY’s historic role as a stepping-stone to the middle class for more than a generation of working-class youth. We need to put CUNY on a more solid budgetary footing, to make sure it can provide high-quality and affordable higher education for all New Yorkers.

The City must also strengthen CUNY programs that can bring underrepresented populations into technology and other key, high-paying sectors of the New York economy. Our goal should be that within eight years, the majority of skilled technology-related jobs in New York City are hiring people educated in New York City.

While we increase New Yorkers’ access to higher-paying jobs, we also need to raise the floor. I will fight in Albany to give NYC the ability to set the minimum wage rate at a level appropriate to the high cost of living. Low-income workers’ own organizing efforts, like Fast Food Forward, also deserve the support of all New Yorkers.

5) You’ve proposed a significant increase in City support for CUNY. What have you called for, and how would it be funded?

I want to restore CUNY’s role as the preeminent pathway to opportunity for all graduating New York City high school students, reversing the cuts of the Bloomberg years.

CUNY’s budget has been slashed by a third in the last two decades, but as mayor, I plan to increase New York City funding of CUNY by 50%. This will help to make CUNY affordable again and help expand critical programs, particularly those focused on “middle skill” Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) training. To do this, I’ll redirect $150 million a year from funds the City gives to big companies in unneeded tax subsidies and shift that money to CUNY, where a new range of educational and training programs can empower New Yorkers with the skills needed to compete for good-paying, family-sustaining jobs.

6) In a referendum among CUNY’s full-time faculty, 92% voted “no confidence” in the administration’s Pathways curriculum. What does that vote say to you?

As mayor, I would take additional steps to evaluate the effectiveness of a curriculum that has been rejected so dramatically by faculty. The experience and training that faculty members bring to their profession must be taken into consideration during curriculum development, or we risk sacrificing the academic quality of our city’s institutions.

7) Seventy-five percent of CUNY undergraduates are people of color, and CUNY students are often among those unfairly targeted by the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policies. How would you change the NYPD’s practices?

Our current administration, through fear-mongering and misleading the public, offers a false choice between public safety and our constitutional rights. As it stands, stop-and-frisk has been disproportionately applied to young black and Latino men – and nearly 90% of those stopped are not arrested or cited for any crime. This overuse of stop-and-frisk, affecting hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers, is having a negative impact on community security by destroying police-community relations.

The City Council recently passed two important pieces of legislation that can change this picture: a strong anti-racial-profiling bill, and a measure creating an independent Inspector General for the NYPD. Both were vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg. Unlike some candidates, as mayor I would sign both bills, and I urge the Council to override Bloomberg’s veto.

We need to be fighting crime with a scalpel – not an axe. That means using technologies like gunshot detection and more street cameras, working with the community to target criminals and gangs, and maintaining a police force that is at least 34,000 strong. With smart policing, we can restore the trust in police-community relations and further strengthen public safety.

8) What would be your approach to issues affecting immigrant New Yorkers, who make up such a large part of CUNY’s student body and workforce?

Immigrants have always been – and continue to be – a valued part of our community, but more than 700,000 hardworking members of our communities live in the shadows. These people are subject to extortion by abusive employers and landlords and their relationship with law enforcement fosters a climate of fear and alienation.

As mayor, I would create a Universal City ID card available to all residents regardless of documentation status. This would grant access to basic services, such as the ability to sign a lease or open a bank account. Additionally, this policy will encourage better immigrant-police relations and increase reporting of crimes, including for immigrant domestic violence victims. I support legislation that would make New York the fifth state to give undocumented workers access to drivers’ licenses.

As Public Advocate, I also supported immigrant groups’ demand for an investigation of abuse allegations in private detention centers. As mayor, I will end cooperation with federal “detainer requests” for minor violations.

9) You have spent the last three years as Public Advocate. What does your record tell us about what you would do as mayor?

My role as Public Advocate is to give a voice to all New Yorkers, help when the bureaucracy fails them, and to serve as a public watchdog.

As Public Advocate, I created NYC’s Worst Landlords Watchlist, which is now one of the most-used resources in city government. Thanks to tenant organizing and media pressure spurred by the Watchlist, more than 320 buildings have been substantially repaired and removed from the list. The Watchlist is now featured on Craigslist.org as a tool for apartment hunters, and it’s been replicated by the City of Vancouver.

I worked with the New York Immigration Coalition and the Korean American Community Foundation to create the DREAM Fellowship – a scholarship and leadership development program for undocumented college students. It’s helped dozens of students, and highlighted the need for national and state DREAM Act legislation.

As Public Advocate I’ve successfully fought unfair school closures, for example at P.S. 114 in Canarsie, Wadleigh in Harlem, and Maxwell High School in East New York. We’ve helped public-housing tenants in need of repairs, and rent-regulated tenants facing unfair evictions. Our office, by its very nature, is not about preserving the status quo. We fight against bureaucracy wherever it fails New Yorkers. I bring this same sense of advocacy to all of my work, and as mayor, I would continue the fight to make sure city government is working for every New Yorker.

10) PSC members want to support a principled, progressive candidate who understands the strategic importance of CUNY, but they also want to support a candidate who they can elect. Why do you think you can win?

Voters are looking for a true progressive voice, one who is not afraid to support a ban on racial profiling or raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-K and after-school programs. Over the last 12 years, New Yorkers have watched as our city’s middle class has shrunk to the point where it is now in real danger of disappearing altogether. While high- and low-wage jobs are growing, middle-wage jobs are becoming harder to find – narrowing the route into the middle class and endangering the stability of those already there. People are feeling squeezed –and that’s why the time is ripe for voters to choose a progressive alternative. The volunteers in our field organization are second to none, and they’ll make sure we mobilize that support on election day.

Related article: PSC Endorses Candidates in September 10 Primary: De Blasio for Mayor and More.