As the daughter of immigrants, Felicia Singh wants voters to know that she understands the difficulty of navigating New York City’s systems as well as the middle-class struggle.
Her father, who is a Sikh from Punjab, is a taxi driver who lost his medallion during the pandemic and had to file for bankruptcy. Her mother, who is Muslim and from Guyana, is a school bus matron.
“These are the stories that I want to center in City Hall because they’ve been missing due to lack of representation,” said Singh.
Previously an English teacher, she is now running in the City Council race for District 32, in arguably the most competitive race in the city. The seat has been held by Republican incumbent Eric Ulrich (Ozone Park) for the past 12 years and he is backing Singh’s opponent, Queens GOP chairwoman Joann Ariola.
“The best advocate is someone who’s had to navigate the same systems everyday New Yorkers have to,” Singh said in an exclusive sitdown interview with the Chronicle. “We need folks who have the world view of being working class, of being a daughter of immigrants.”
Singh is running on a platform centering education and the environment. She served in the Peace Corps and taught in India, Thailand and China for a cumulative two and a half years. Her teaching experience includes time at schools on Long Island and at Coney Island Preparatory Public Charter School.
As part of her education platform, Singh supports a cap on charter schools, removing mayoral control of schools, free CUNY and SUNY tuition and more investment in the public school system.
“Why can’t I be able to send my child to the local school that’s in my neighborhood? Why are we not fixing that issue?” asked Singh, calling the New York City school system “one of the most segregated in the nation” and adding that the Gifted and Talented program adds to that.
“If you are a student who would love that opportunity to participate in Gifted and Talented, you have to be lucky enough to have it in your school,” said Singh. She calls for investing in the schools in people’s own districts. The conversation, she said, is similar to the law enforcement conversation of “preventing crime versus responding.”
As for law enforcement, Singh proposed reallocating at least one billion dollars from the police budget and putting that toward programs like violence interrupters who intervene in conflicts and B-HEARD, the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division, which handles mental health crises.
She said the system in which police are called for violent situations is “not going anywhere” and that her opponent is a one-issue candidate who wants to put police on every corner. She assures that she will expand public safety, but through alternative means.
“I talk about us preventing crime in a different way than we always have,” she said.
“I believe that law enforcement absolutely is a system that really needs some overhaul because of the behavior in which we’ve been policing Black people and brown people in New York City. It’s inhumane, it’s unacceptable and we need to find other ways to make sure our community members feel safe because not everyone feels safe calling the cops.”
Domestic violence is another one of her priorities and she said she would allocate a $10 million emergency fund to help get victims out of harmful situations.
She would also push for grants or loans for seniors to help them renovate their homes to be more accessible, such as with ramps and handrails. She supports abolishing tax lien sales, wherein the city sells delinquent liens to a buyer who purchases the right to collect the money owed plus interest, often ending in foreclosure of the property. It often effects elders, she said, who fall victim to predatory lending. District 32 was among the top Queens districts for the most tax liens in 2020.
Singh said the problem is that people cannot afford their property taxes in the first place, which could be addressed by raising the minimum wage on the federal and state levels, investing in more jobs and changing and lowering proerty taxes.
As for small businesses, she proposed more Council oversight hearings and decreasing fines. In addition to job creation from public safety patrols, climate resiliency would offer opportunities for new jobs, too, she said.
Additional jobs could come from community cleanup programs provided by the City Cleanup Corps, said Singh, who also promises to increase garbage cans around the district.
“When you look around and you see whether or not your neighborhood is clean, whether or not there’s trash on the ground or Sanitation has picked up the garbage on time or people are illegally dumping, it tells you everything about your city’s values,” she said.
Singh seeks to bridge the gap between owners of small properties and their tenants, make renting and home owning more affordable and to utilize the City Council as a space for nonprofits that help people apply for relief. As for basement apartments, funds must also go to landlords to make the spaces legal and codes must be updated to accommodate them, she said.
“It’s not about actual experience in government, it’s about how you build relationships and what gets passed and what doesn’t,” said Singh.
Singh’s endorsements include U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Jackson Heights) and the Courage to Change Political Action Committee, affliated with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Queens).
Her fundraising has surpassed her opponent’s with almost $100,000 more public and private dollars raised and over $80,000 more spent so far.
When asked if she is too progressive, Singh said, “I don’t think wanting more for our education systems, wanting more for our working-class families, wanting real, affordable housing for renters and homeowners is radical or too progressive. It’s actually the right way to go in a city where we are going to have a majority Democrat, women of color City Council.”
While doorknocking recently, Singh said a constituent told her he felt Councilman Ulrich “did OK” despite the majority Democrat City Council.
“Do we just want OK? Or do we want something better than that? That’s what I’m offering. Something better.”
This article originally misstated the status of Felicia Singh's parents in their respective occupations; they are currently in them. Also, Singh was endorsed by a PAC affiliated with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We regret the errors.