He grew up in public housing, got into trouble as a kid, then became a Marine, and after that an elected official — City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) has lived a varied life. At one point he even wanted to be a preacher, but he ended up choosing a different path.
Still very much a philosopher and thinker, Sanders sat down for an editorial meeting with the Queens Chronicle on Thursday to discuss his bid for the seat occupied by state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), and talk about his vision for the 10th Senatorial District in the primary on September 13.
“Somebody needs to go to Albany, roll up their sleeves and shovel out the barn, and I am suggesting that I am that kind of guy, and I have a history of bucking whatever powers that be,” Sanders said firmly. “We are going up to Albany, not to make friends and kiss babies, but to get some stuff done.”
And what he wants to get done includes improvements to economic development and increased job creation as well as crime reduction. He already has legislation planned on the city, and if elected, state levels that will build on his previous work in helping Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises.
Sanders wants to strengthen Local Law 129, which is legislation that he authored and which he says is the city’s only “affirmative action” policy. He says it gives everyone a shot at the American dream and doesn’t consider it a leg up, but a helping hand to level the playing field. And he said it would help poor white people too.
“I personally favor a class-based approach to dealing with the problems of America,” Sanders said. “I think affirmative action must go to the next level. It must go to the next step. We simply can’t look at race alone.”
Right now city contracts for MWBEs are capped at under $1 million, but Sanders’ City Council bill, which he plans to introduce this week with Speaker Christine Quinn, would allow them to exceed $1 million and have no ceiling. On the state level, he would go even further by holding agency chief contracting officers, those who buy the goods and services on behalf of the city, accountable through a transparent tallying system similar to the one used by police to keep track of felony crimes.
“Every three months the different agencies are going to be quizzed on how they are doing, reflecting the diversity of the city in these contracts,” Sanders explained. “This report will go to someone who reports to the mayor, preferably a deputy mayor. God willing, a friendly prod can allow all of New York to share in its wonders and move forward.”
Furthermore, Sanders said it is important to “incentivize not penalize,” and for the ACCOs to see working with MWBEs as part of their goals. And their numbers would be evaluated when they come up for a promotion. Sanders also noted that his plan is good for the city because the more people bid, the lower a price becomes.
Sanders, a three-term councilman, said there is $5 billion in economic development taking place at JFK Airport, and while residents get plenty of noise and traffic, they don’t reap any of the benefits as far as job opportunities — something, he said, that needs to change.
In addition to jobs, crime reduction is another big issue for Sanders. He said he supports the “proper use” of stop and frisk, but feels it is being vastly abused. He believes it would be more effective to start attacking some of the causes of crime and some of them have to do with poverty, the inability to get jobs and a lack of community policing.
With regard to pending technology that would allow officers to detect a gun from a distance, eliminating the need for an invasive pat down, Sanders said at present “safety is trumping privacy,” but added that such a tool should be used only when appropriate and in high-crime areas as revealed by Compstat reports.
Asked if he would support legislation proposed by state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica) that would significantly increase the penalty for illegal possession of a weapon from a one-year prison sentence to five to eight years, Sanders said it would need to be modified first.
He said while he understands the aim of the bill, he does not agree with its one-size-fits-all approach to justice, meaning that “a first-time offender should not be given the same punishment as a career criminal.”
“By itself, legislation will not be enough to stop this plague,” Sanders said of the violent crime in the district. “We need preventive services for misguided youth.”
Sanders is not only a man with a plan, he also believes he is a candidate with natural advantages, noting how part of his councilmanic turf was recently drawn into the senatorial district and citing what he called Huntley’s “questionable” character, as demonstrated by her ties to three state investigations and poor attendance record in Albany.
“The people’s money should not be used as your private piggy bank,” Sanders said. “This is not a friends and family program. This is money that is supposed to pay for elders to have a better life, and young people, so that they can be mentored. We can’t say the government is not giving us enough money to do things, if we are not using that money wisely.”
Sanders considers himself a part of what he calls “a clean-hands movement,” striving for dedicated, honest government, that “works hard on behalf of hard-working people.”
Due to redistricting, the 10th Senatorial picked up a considerable portion of the Rockaways, an area that Sanders has already represented as councilman for about 11 years. He went so far as to call himself the incumbent in the race, stating that the area is as much his as it is hers.
“I’m running to make a difference,” Sanders said. “I’m running because we can’t go on this way. Our district is crying out for change.”
Sanders also criticized what he considers Huntley’s lackluster contributions to the community and inability to cite major accomplishments. He also handed the Chronicle a resume-style list citing his achievements.
He has sponsored a gun buyback program, which took 922 firearms off the streets, is responsible for improvements to Brookville Road and for getting a new traffic light on 149th Street, led the fight opposing the opening of a “hot sheet” motel in Springfield Gardens, co-sponsored a bill requiring the NYPD to report noise complaints quarterly, authored “the toughest predatory lending law in America,” and the list goes on and on.
“My Bible teaches me that we judge a tree by its fruit,” Sanders said. “And I don’t see the fruit. While I’ve given you a list of things that you can touch, feel, kick — that I have done, my opponent is putting out materials that say ‘I fought for, I advocated for’ — things that have no meaning. I can fight to pave the streets with gold. I can fight to make sure the air is perfumed with raspberry scent. I can fight for many worthy things that simply won’t happen.”