Photo by Bruce Adler
BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
The PRESS of Southeast Queens and St. John’s University held its 2017 New York City election forum for citywide races on Tuesday, during which candidates for mayor, comptroller, public advocate and Queens borough president addressed everything from education and safety to housing and the city’s homelessness problem as well as how they would combat those issues if elected. Nearly every candidate on stage took frequent shots at Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Participants during the debate included mayoral candidates Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, Sal Albanese, Richard Bashner, Michael Tolkin and Bo Dietl; comptroller candidates Rev. Michel Faulkner and Comptroller Scott Stringer; public advocate candidates J.C. Polanco and David Eisenbach; and Queens borough president candidates William Kregler and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
The debate’s first question concerned the city’s elderly residents and how candidates would work to ensure that all departments of city government are addressing their needs.
Tolkin, a Democrat, said that the city is currently in the midst of a “generation trade.”
“We haven’t inherited a city that is robust,” said Tolkin. “We need greater compassion and empathy in government.”
Tolkin said that seniors face challenges from Access-a-Ride and transportation to doctors.
A majority of the candidates said that de Blasio’s administration had made deals with developers and, as a result, the cost of living in the five boroughs has become nearly impossible for the seniors to afford.
Candidates at the debate pointed out that the city’s Police Department has managed to keep crime statistics down, despite a recent uptick in hate crimes, an opioid crisis and officers’ pay being as much as 30 percent lower than that of the MTA police, Port Authority police and state troopers.
Dietl, who is running as an independent, said that he became a police officer in 1970 and has been stabbed and shot while on duty. He accused de Blasio of having no respect for police officers, adding that eight out of every 10 officers would leave if they found a better job.
“What’s going on right now is we have a mayor who tells his son to be careful of police officers,” Dietl said.
Polanco, a Republican, said that the city should advocate for more money and services for its police officers.
“We need to think about affordable housing for our cops,” he said. “What about making it possible for them to stay in the neighborhoods they patrol?”
Most of the candidates agreed that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) serves an important purpose, but that it has too much influence on how city schools are operated.
“Teachers unions serve an important purpose, but when their decisions and their demands interfere with the education of the children, it’s a problem,” said Eisenbach, a Democrat. “The testing regimes that are implemented create students who are good test-takers, but it’s a dead end.”
Faulkner, a Republican, said that the UFT does a “great job for its members,” but not as much for city students.
“Children have no union representatives,” said Faulkner, who expressed support for charter schools. “New York City teachers are great, but we need to refocus the role the union has in education.”
In regard to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for congestion pricing and de Blasio’s proposal to tax the rich to pay for the MTA, some of the candidates preferred the former, but nearly all of them rejected the latter.
While Bashner and Malliotakis said that they agreed with Cuomo’s plan and opposed de Blasio’s proposal, Polanco and Eisenbach agreed that neither plan would resolve the issue.
“We already tax successful New Yorkers,” Polanco, a Republican, said of de Blasio’s plan. He added that, regarding Cuomo’s proposal, “[it] hurts small businesses. We need to think outside the box.”
Eisenbach said that he doesn’t trust de Blasio, Cuomo or the MTA to come up with a way to fix the system, considering that the MTA spent $1.5 billion for the redesign at Fulton Street and $2 billion at Hudson Yards.
Addressing the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) financing and management, several of the candidates questioned whether it should be privatized.
Bashner, a Democrat, said that NYCHA should not be privatized and that there should be more developments being built on NYCHA property, which would create housing for the city’s estimated 47,000 homeless people and senior citizens.
Stringer, who said that he has conducted more audits on NYCHA than any other comptroller in the city’s history, said that the city’s more than 1,200 parcels of vacant land should be used for affordable housing.
Malliotakis blasted NYCHA’s operation under de Blasio’s administration.
“It’s about time that the city practices what it preaches,” she said. “New York City is the biggest slumlord in New York. You have seniors who live with roaches and bedbugs. It’s disgraceful that people are living in these conditions.”
The candidates noted that the number of families who have moved into city shelters has increased by 23 percent during the past four years, and the length of stay has averaged 431 days.
To reduce the number of homeless families in temporary housing, Albanese, a Democrat, said that he would prioritize giving the approximately 30 percent of working people in homeless shelters rent subsidies, so they could partially pay for rent and get out of hotels.
Stringer said that there are currently 24,000 children in the city’s homeless shelters.
“Let’s move the thousands of people in shelters into vacant [NYCHA] apartments,” said Stringer. “Let’s also take the vacant property and give it back to community-based organizations, so that we can build the kind of housing that people in the shelters can afford.”
During the debate’s lightning round—during which candidates were asked to reply “yes” or “no” to all questions—all of the candidates agreed with raising the city’s minimum wage and disagreed with President Donald Trump’s assertion that “both sides” were to blame for the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Bashner, Stringer and Tolkin supported the closure of Rikers Island, while the other candidates all opposed it.
Queens Borough President
The final 30 minutes of the debate was centered on the race for Queens borough president. Katz said that if she is reelected, she will focus on addressing overcrowding at borough schools. She added that Queens schools are currently operating at 113 percent of capacity.
With plans for Willets Point at a standstill, both candidates were asked how the project should move forward.
“We did not need another mall to give up parkland for a private enterprise,” said Kregler. “We should put up a stadium, which would create jobs. We need to build structures that create jobs.”
Katz said that she has called for a soccer stadium and affordable housing to be built in Willets Point.
To watch the full forum, visit the Queens Tribune’s Facebook page.