Health Care and Social Justice Forums kick off Mayoral Campaign Season

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A consortium of health care providers and activists came together to host a forum on NYC’s health care. Former Comptroller Bill Thompson, current Comptroller John Liu and Sal Albanese were the Democratic candidates who came to present their views to a packed auditorium at Long Island University.
Regarding community-based health care facilities, Thompson said “One of the things I did while I was comptroller was point out some of the flaws, as far as I was concerned, in the Bloomberg Administration’s philosophy of consolidation of CBO’s and moving them out of community-based facilities into central locations. It is a policy they have pursued not just in health but in other areas.” Thompson described the impact of removal of HIV/AIDS services from central Brooklyn and other areas and bringing them to downtown Brooklyn. “I do remember one of the dumber comments I heard anybody ever utter: ‘Of course it makes sense. People want to travel out of their communities and be able to see other parts of the borough or city,’” said Thompson. “If it’s a question of resources, we can maintain common back offices in some other places, but we need to maintain services in community-based organizations. I am not looking to create megaorganizations. I am looking to create efficiencies through consolidation of back office services.

Referring to a Cincinnati model, Thompson said he would bring health services in closer contact with the students, particularly minority, immigrant, Black and Brown students by bringing health services to the school, with the proviso that it can’t cost the school system additional money.
On city funding for the Health and Hospitals Corporation, Thompson spoke of the city’s looming fiscal challenges. “I am not unrealistic,” said Thompson. “One of the things we cannot do is manufacture money. One thing that is not spoken about much is the fiscal crisis that faces the city – a budget that is continually balanced with a series of one-shots, fiscal gimmicks and right now at the end of this year every labor contract in the city of NY will have expired. There is no money that has been put on the side for any labor settlement. I haven’t seen that before in my history. I don’t remember seeing that level of irresponsibility. It is going to put extra stress on the city budget,” Thompson added, “What we are going to have to do is work with unions, community-based organizations and communities to try and make sure we address it as best as possible. There have been previous mayors whose intention was to try to sell the hospital system. That isn’t going to occur, not under my watch, not under a Thompson mayoralty.”
On service delivery to immigrant communities,Thompson said, “We need to cast as wide a net as possible to make sure that people who are in hospitals and other organizations are culturally sensitive. We used to watch where a 10-year-old would come in and translate for their parents. That is not a level of health care because there are going to be mistakes made. That needs to end.”
John Liu spoke of shocking audit findings such as many schools that don’t have physical education or know the state requirements and mammograms that are not available on a timely basis, even in world-class institutions. In another example Liu said, “We have seen an example of one of the HHC hospitals that has a contract with a private university to provide medical services — $187 million. Yet, we found that less than 100 million could actually be accounted for in the actual description of the services. Even before we begin to talk about budget increases and additional funding, there are things that can be done at all levels of the city to improve health care.” Liu added that the impact of ObamaCare is uncertain.
When he was in the City Council, Liu said one of the ongoing fights he waged was making sure that critical public services, particularly health care, are provided for people who may not speak English well. His first bill in the City Council was equal access which required the city agencies provide services without discrimination. That bill helped to expand the 311 system that now accommodates close to 200 languages.
As an example of the Bloomberg Administration’s insensitivity to communities with disabilities, Liu spoke of the Taxi of Tomorrow, which “can’t be used by a current 60,000 New Yorkers, a number that is only going to continue to grow in the future. Those who use wheelchairs can’t use this taxi,” said Liu. “The city of New York needs to recognize that anyone of us can become disabled tomorrow. Yet with modern-day advances, even if we become disabled, we are not incapacitated. We become differently abled.”
In commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday celebration, National Action Network hosted a mayoral Democratic candidate forum. Moderated by Rev. Al Sharpton, the forum touched on a wide range of issues and problems confronting people of color in the city – unemployment, education, business ownership and policing. Comptroller John Liu, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former City Councilman Sal Albanese made their case to the uptown audience.
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn generated the strongest audience responses, but for different reasons. When asked who he was considering to be his possible Police Commissioner, the audience applauded when Thompson said, “I’m going to bring in my own team. I’m not keeping other people’s people.” By contrast, Quinn was loudly booed when she said anyone would be “lucky” to have Ray Kelly as Police Commissioner. Quinn actually shushed the audience.
On education, Liu said “the deck is heavily stacked” in favor of charter schools at the expense of noncharter schools. “When the DOE proudly announces it is closing 30 schools as if that is some kind of accomplishment,” said Liu, “that is a mentality that has to change. That’s a shell game.” Thompson said, “School closing is not an education policy.” Quinn said there should be more focus on district schools, and Albanese said, “Charter schools are a distraction.” De Blasio called for a tax on the wealthiest NYers to provide after-school activities for every middle school child who needs it.
Regarding their biggest differences with the current mayor, the candidates answers were diverse.
Thompson said, “The promise of Mayoral Control has not been realized. We have seen a generation of people who have been left behind.” Thompson spoke of his career working with various chancellors while President of the Board of Education, former NYC Comptroller and now working for the largest minority-owned municipal finance company in the country.
A former teacher whose own two daughters are teachers, Sal Albanese expressed disapproval for the “demonization of teachers” and called the overturning of term limits “undemocratic.”
Quinn said she has policy differences with the mayor on economic equality: the Council passed “living wage and minimum wage” bills, which Bloomberg is fighting in court. Quinn also mentioned she is fighting Bloomberg’s homeless policies which keep families out of shelters and on the streets. Seemingly having forgotten the contention she caused by overriding two referendum in favor of term limits, Quinn said she has a “record of bringing people together.”
Liu’s chief complaint about the current administration is the lack of diversity. “The mayor excuses his lack of diversity in his top leadership team with the words that ‘We don’t look at diversity, we only look at merit.’ That is as offensive as things get,” said Liu. “It implies that in a city of 8 ½ million people, you can’t find leaders that actually represent the way the city looks, the way the city thinks, the background of the city.” Liu said his Office of Comptroller reflects the diversity of the city.
De Blasio reminded the radio and in-person audience that the current administration would not be there for a third term but “through ill-gotten gains” and said he “was very proud to lead the opposition in the City Council against the mayor’s subversion of democracy that gained him that third term because we knew it would be more of the same, but a weaker version of more of the same.”
On the economy de Blasio said, “The mayor, you’ll remember, in 2008 said, ‘Look at this tough economy. You need to keep me to handle this tough economy.’ Well, here we are in 2013. Look around you and too often you see a tale of two cities. We don’t have a city government that treats all five boroughs equally. This mayor has engaged in a softer, kinder form of union busting.”

“I have stood up to Mayor Bloomberg every time he ignored the needs of working people, parents and co-locations. I have not hesitated to take him on,” said De Blasio. “I don’t care how many billions he has.”