There are 15 candidates on the ballot to be New York City’s next mayor, but only four showed up to a June 3 forum hosted by the Queens Civic Congress.
Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, businessman Andrew Yang and former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia took turns answering questions last Thursday night regarding public safety, education and zoning.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer was supposed to join, but canceled at the last minute, according to moderator Charles Ober. Republican businessman Fernando Mateo was also on the itinerary, but didn’t appear.
Republican Sliwa kicked off the evening by promising to vigorously tackle the public safety issue, one that has been near to his heart since he founded the Angels, a volunteer subway patrol group, in 1979.
“The issues in this campaign have to do with crime, public safety, quality of life and the re-establishment of zero tolerance,” said Sliwa, who said he’d refund the police the $1 billion that had been deducted from their 2021 budget and assign 5,000 officers to patrol subways from within the cars.
Yang agreed that defunding the NYPD was a mistake and that subways need to be patrolled more frequently, but added that investments need to be made in anti-violence coalitions rather than having a plethora of cases be burdened onto a handful of detectives who, as a result, are too overworked to see results.
Working with mental health professionals to safely remove aggressive homeless people from streets and subways and into institutions is a major step to reducing crime, Garcia suggested. Another side of addressing crime, she said, is getting guns off the street by fully funding a gun suppression unit, hosting gun buybacks and working with the federal government so that the “iron pipeline is cut off.”
Former police officer Adams shared Garcia’s hope in reinstating a gun suppression unit, and added that he would partner with the city’s district attorneys to establish a special prosecutor for gangs. Adams stated that the city won’t see economic growth if it doesn’t address crime in subways, which he plans to tackle with a plainclothes unit. “The prerequisite to prosperity is public safety,” he said, one of his punchy one-liners of the evening.
When it came to education, both Adams and Garcia agreed that dyslexia screening needs to be a staple in classrooms. Adams, who suffers from the learning disability himself, said that putting children in a situation where they cannot succeed in school can lead to a life of criminal behavior. In addition to providing students with universal tutoring and high-speed broadband, he wants to extend school hours and months so that kids aren’t given the opportunity to lose structure during the summer.
Yang, the father of a special needs child, supports putting more resources into supporting kids who need extra help. However, he believes each school should reflect the unique needs of its own population.
“Bigger picture, we have to give our principals a higher degree of autonomy to do what’s best for their kids in terms of hiring and program decision making,” Yang said, adding that he’s learned as a small business owner to let managers take control for their own staff. “Principals feel they don’t have that agency.”
Sliwa took education in another direction and described the need to expunge critical race theory from classrooms. The academic movement’s core idea is that racism is a social construct, rather than individual prejudice, resulting in systems and policies that favor white citizens.
“They’re teaching this racist theory — that’s what I call it,” said Sliwa, a father of three public school students, “in which whites have to acknowledge that they are beneficiaries of white privilege, they have to prove to everyone else that they’re worthy to be in their company.”
The Republican said the focus should be on providing classrooms with the right equipment, rather than having teachers pay out of pocket for supplies, and promised to flush the bureaucrats out of the Department of Education, or what he called the “Dumbest Organization Ever.”
One thing all the candidates agreed on was that City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s (D-Manhattan) Planning Together land-use initiative isn’t right for New York City.
“I love the idea of big planning, but I have been a little resistant to the speaker’s approach because I’m afraid it will be more bureaucratic and additional bureaucracy in this environment is not, I think, helpful,” said Garcia, who offered alternatives to rezone neighborhoods in ways that wouldn’t alter their characters, such as downzoning mid-block and upzoning avenues. That method would prevent out-of-scale buildings from popping up in single-family-home neighborhoods, but would still add much-needed apartment buildings to address housing scarcity.
Adams and Sliwa rejected Johnson’s plan for similar reasons — the former cop called himself a “big community board person,” who saw the proposal as taking power away from local government; and Sliwa said the plan would “wreck” the residential flavor of the outer boroughs.
Though not entirely convinced of Planning Together, Yang is “sensitive to both sides of” the issue — community members should have a voice in what happens in their neighborhoods, but something needs to be done to address the massive affordable housing crisis, he said. Because communities generally don’t want affordable housing in their backyards, the issue presents an “eternal tug of war,” he said, but promised to find a middle-ground solution if elected to office.