By Danielle Douglas
Declaring himself the candidate of ideas, Congressman Anthony Weiner, 40, formerly threw his hat into the mayoral ring earlier this month. Although the congressman from Brooklyn has been campaigning around the city since the beginning of the year, Weiner’s congressional schedule has prohibited him from campaigning with the same regularity of his opponents. With the end of the congressional session, Weiner has stepped up his campaigning efforts, hoping to raise his profile among Democratic voters.
At a recent Independent Press Association event, the underdog candidate, who remains dead last in preliminary polls, tried to live up to his self-proclaimed title, “candidate of ideas,” with a presentation of his vision for the city.
“We have to stop the closure of hospitals throughout the five boroughs; the majority of the hospitals that are closing are disproportionately in communities of color and low-income communities,” said Weiner. The candidate wants mayoral control over the opening and closing of public hospitals in the city, which is now the responsibility of the State Department of Health. In fact, Weiner wants the state to relinquish much of its control over the city, allowing the city to oversee everything from the MTA to the raising or lowering of income taxes. Historically, initiatives which depend on politicians, especially those in Albany, giving up power tends to be dead on arrival.
Weiner also seeks to utilize state funding, which left $40 million unallocated after it’s first year of operation, to subsidize low-cost health insurance. Modeling his plan after the Brooklyn Healthworks, a local initiative that employs state funding to subsidize low-cost health insurance for small businesses in Brooklyn, Weiner hopes to yield the same results, with insurance offered at less than $120 for individuals and less than $350 for families.
Small Businesses and Unemployment
Citing small businesses as “the bedrock on which this city was built,” Weiner seeks to increase investments and build an incentive program for NYC businesses. Weiner plans to create a $10 million dollar fund to encourage new businesses with $100,000 to $200,000 seed loans, primarily benefitting businesses that don’t qualify for larger venture capital investments.
The congressman also seeks to provide street cleanup patrols, often seen in trendy Greenwich Village, for shopping strips in the outer boroughs. To aid local businesses in competing in the global market, Weiner plans to revive and expand the Digital NYC program, which originally offered landlords incentives to prewire their buildings for broadband and will now include a “ShopNYC.com” program to market merchant’s goods online.
When asked about the racial disparities within the disbursement of city contract dollars, the congressman danced a political shuffle. He urged city agencies and private companies to buy from local business, which just might be minority-owned, “giving [minority businesses] another pot to feed from.” Weiner also said he wanted an incentive program to bridge the contract dollar gaps, but neglected to provide specific information or a plan.
One has to wonder if all of the Democratic candidates sat in a room one night and devised their education platforms together; Weiner, like his revivals, wants to recruit and retain quality teachers, remove disciplinary restriction for principals and revise the “cookie-cutter” curriculum.
To his credit, Weiner has called for some specific alteration to Bloomberg’s education programs that have not been addressed by his opponents. Weiner wants to eliminate parent coordinators, whose very existence he feels is counterproductive to affecting any real change since principals can hire and fire the liaisons they are less likely to criticize the school or the principal. By diverting the $43 million used to pay parent coordinators to create Centers of Parental Involvement in every school – a space where parents can access detailed information on their children’s progress – Weiner hopes to bring every parent into the schools not just a selected few.
A staunch critic of the mayor’s Leadership Academy, Weiner would prefer to use the private donations that fund the principals’ school to address the basic needs, from toilet paper to new textbooks, of students. Weiner is particularly critical of the fact that graduates of the academy were schooled at a cost of approximately $300,000 per attendee.
Weiner also wants to rehire 1,100 special education evaluators, laid off by the mayor to consolidate 32 special education district offices into 10 regional offices. Since the mayor’s reorganization, the backlog of students referred to special education but waiting to be evaluated, has dramatically increased from 12,997 to 28,640.
To create a “comprehensive and reliable” transportation system, Weiner wants to expand ferry service and create a bus rapid-transit system. He wants to build ferry landings in neighborhoods like Red Hook, Long Island, Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, Coney Island and Bayside to provide travelers with multiple options while spurring economic and residential growth. As a member of the Transportation Committee in Congress, Weiner plans to use his clout to obtain federal funding.
Improving the efficiency of the bus system, Weiner proposes a bus rapid transit system, which would create bus-only express lanes in heavily traveled areas as well as prepaid fares.
Weiner’s most attractive plan, a 10% tax break for anyone making less than $150,000 annually, is the linchpin of his campaign. He hopes that voters recognize him as a candidate whose ideas will serve the needs of the city’s economically, racially and socially diverse populations. “I’ve never won in a race where I wasn’t the underdog. I’ve never run in a race where I wasn’t out-spent. I’ve never won in a race where the political organization didn’t support my opponent, and I’ve never lost an election in my life, said Weiner.” We’ll see.