Lynn Schulman has run for City Council before. But the Covid-19 pandemic gave her a sense of mission and urgency, and the desire for a change.
“The coronavirus laid bare all the inequities of city government,” Schulman told the Chronicle in an interview. “We are going to need to find new ways to approach all kinds of different issues: housing, homelessness, public safety.”
Schulman, who is the Democratic nominee for the 29th District seat held by Karen Koslowitz, likens Covid on her website to her experiences in the LGBTQ community AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, “when I saw a generation of my friends and neighbors die because of the indifference of those in power to those in my community.”
Healthcare, education and small business advocacy were the themes she stressed the most during the phone chat.
“Queens was the epicenter of the virus,” said the decades-long activist. “Over the last 20 years, 10 hospitals in the area have closed, some in this district. There’s a lack of hospital capacity.” She believes real estate interests are behind the closures aside from the former hospitals’ economic viability.
“Hospitals closed for a number of reasons,” said the former 10-year employee in the city’s Health + Hospitals system.
She said the problem can be addressed through existing hospitals expanding their capacity.
“Regardless of how it comes out, if we don’t expand capacity, people will die,” she said.
If Schulman gets elected and has her way, the outgoing mayor’s edict to eliminate Gifted and Talented programs in city schools will be very short-lived.
“Kids only get one chance at an education,” she said. “And no matter what the ZIP code a kid lives in they should have the same opportunity as anybody else. I am a proponent of having Gifted and Talented programs in every elementary school. People forget that in the 1980s and ’90s there were kids, including those in underserved communities who were part of Gifted & Talented programs and classes. The problem is that the slots were reduced over the years.”
Schulman, who enjoys door-to-door campaigning — “That’s my favorite part” — said education is a major concern with those she and her volunteers speak with.
“We’re hearing it from parents,” she said. “We need input. We have an administration that’s too top-down, that does not take into account the parents and the educators. I believe in the bottom-up theory.”
Every candidate for public office in New York City seems to run on reducing costs and red tape for small business, only to have the Council pile on seemingly endless unfunded mandates.
Schulman said there is a pro-business bill before the Council that she could support, titled the Small Business Job Survival Act.
“It levels the playing field between landlords and small businesses in terms of negotiating their leases,” Schulman said. But she was noncommittal to a question about whether such a law might cause landlords to pass on two or three small businesses while waiting for a Rite-Aid or other large chain tenant.
“That’s where, as with all bills, it’s in the details,” she said. “I would have to look at that, but what we want to do is keep small businesses ... I grew up here. I’ve seen small businesses come and go. It’s very sad what happened [to them] with Covid.”
Schulman said she intends to form a small business roundtable for the district.
While Schulman’s opposition to the proposed community jail in Kew Gardens is hardly controversial in the district, she also wants the city to see through its plans to close the jails on Rikers Island, replacing incarceration with a concept called restorative justice.
“I believe our community should have a say in whatever happens in our district,” she says on her website regarding the new jail. “The criminal justice system is in a state of crisis. I understand that people are fearful and angry. Jails like Rikers Island should never happen again. I support community-based restorative justice.
“The primary purpose of justice in the restorative model is to both reduce crime and to repair the harm of the crime to whatever degree possible. We need to change the relationship between the corrections system and the community. The restorative justice framework calls for the inclusion of all stakeholders, especially victims and community members.”
In another possibly controversial stance, Schulman said in a questionnaire for a Democratic club that she supports the idea of safe injection sites for those with substance abuse problems. But she would not commit to locating any in the district.
“I’m open to the conversation,” she said. “There are some problems they’ve had. Here’s the thing — if something is not set up right, oversight, accountability and everything else, it’s going to fail no matter what it is. But that’s not my priority.”
All of the best laid plans of a councilmember eventually come down to money in the city’s case, a $100 billion budget with projected deficits of $5 billion the next three years, according to recent estimates.
Schulman isn’t immediately concerned over such projections.
“It’s hypothetical,” she said. “There are projections that go away, become worse, become better; it’s hard to say,” she said. “There’s a lot between now and then. I, as a member of the Council, want to make sure that what we are paying for is what we are actually getting. A big part of what a councilmember does is oversight. I think there can be more oversight with what city agencies do and don’t do.”
Democrat Eric Adams, considered the favorite in November’s mayoral race, has taken a stiffer approach to combating crime, not to mention Republican Curtis Sliwa; and neither is considered nearly as progressive as Schulman.
The candidate, however said she is looking forward to working with a new mayor — preferably Adams, whom she has known for years.
“At the end of the day we all want to get to the same place,” she said. “It’s just how to get there. We all want to feel safe. We all want to have small businesses. We all want good public transportation. We can work together. [Adams] is somebody who wants to hear from people, who wants to hear their ideas.”
Finally, she said, it all comes down to service, something she said was a gratifying part of her job within the Council Speaker’s Office. She cited the case of a homeless man who met all the qualifications for an apartment, but kept running into the brick wall of city bureaucracy, even after she took the case.
“Then one day he called and said he had signed a lease. He had such joy; he was crying. That’s why I’m doing this.”