Although Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October the devastating aftermath still persists and the next mayor will need to address the issues arising from it.
That was the foundation of last Thursday night’s mayoral forum hosted by Faith in New York, an organization of 53 congregations, and three other foundations focused on post-storm rebuilding in hard-hit and lower-income neighborhoods — the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, Sandy Regional Assembly and NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.
“You can’t declare victory on the storm just yet,” candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said. He compared Mayor Bloomberg’s saying the storm’s worst is over to President Bush declaring victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointing out the prevalence of mold in the neighborhoods that were under 8 feet of water during the hurricane is a growing health problem.
The storm’s continued effects were why about 2,000 church, synagogue and union members crowded into the narrow pews of the First Baptist Church of East Elmhurst.
Unlike other mayoral forums, vague and grandiose statements were not allowed from each of the five Democratic candidates who were given just 10 minutes — broken down into two 90-second and one four-minute answer and a short closing response to if they would pledge to visit the affected area once elected, which all answered with yes — to respond to questions. Republican candidate Joe Lhota declined the invitation to participate in the forum.
“We are looking for substance,” the Rev. Marvin Bentley of Antioch Baptist Church of Corona said, “not empty promises, not rhetoric, but substance.”
Even with the time limit, a man from Far Rockaway said in Spanish, “They are all equal. They just talk, talk, talk.”
The candidates said they would have hired solely New York City-based contractors for the repairs. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former city Comptroller Bill Thompson wanted more than just New Yorkers, but New Yorkers with an emphasis of women and minority individuals. Twenty percent of the state’s contracts are done with women- and minority-run businesses, whereas the city employs only 3 percent, Thompson said.
City Comptroller John Liu made a point to say that Sandy contractors should have been paid higher wages and benefits — a prevailing wage.
Former Congressman Anthony Weiner said contractors who paid more and provided benefits to their workers would save money for the government in the long run because those people would not need as much or any public assistance and could seek preventive care instead of waiting until an illness required emergency care, which carries a high price tag.
Quinn and de Blasio set out plans to create more housings and keep it affordable for middle- and low-income New Yorkers. de Blasio said as mayor he would use Sandy aid and other city money to build 200,000 units of affordable housing in the next 10 years. Quinn would set in motion a plan for 40,000 units during that time period for the middle class.
Quinn also noted an income tax break for residents of the Seagirt Marine Terminal houses in Rockaway that the Council approved last week.
“We have to see all the money coming in as a way to fix other areas. We need to take the money and change the rules of the game,” de Blasio said. The audience responded to him as a father figure as he said he sympathized with mothers who had a hard time paying the bills. He also emphasized that if he were mayor, he would have had his office go door-to-door after the storm to check in on everyone’s needs.
The forum came just days after Mayor Bloomberg released a $20 billion rebuilding plan including levies, sand dunes, sea walls and a new luxury residential complex on public housing land by Battery Park in Manhattan.
“It would be terrible to put luxury housing on housing authority land,” Thompson said. “Put middle-class housing on that ground.”
Weiner spoke about how the hurricane illuminated the lack of healthcare and said that would be a prime focus.
Overall, the crowd responded to Weiner the best. He got loud cheers. He was funny, even addressing the spiritual crowd as “brothers and sisters” and then later making fun of himself for getting carried away.
“He addressed the needs of the people,” a woman from East Elmhurst said.
She also liked Thompson, saying, “He also knows what he’s talking about.”