Sparks Fly at ‘Low-Income’ Mayoral Debate

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The Community Service Society, in collaboration with 32BJ, Center for Popular Democracy and United NY held the first of two forums designed to inform voters of mayoral candidate’s visions for low-income New Yorkers.

Located in Harlem, the forum was moderated by WNYC host Brian Lehrer. In attendance were Democratic candidates Sal Albanese, Bill de Blasio, John Liu, Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson, as well as Adolfo Carrion, who has secured the Independence Party line, and Tom Allon, who is seeking the Republican line. Other Republican hopefuls Joe Lhota and John Catsimatidis were conspicuous by their absence.

The candidates opening statements were met with loud applause in Harlem at the Harlem venue.

“We need a change in our economic development policy. This administration has spent way too much money. They give subsidies to major corporations and large developers with the promise that they are supposed to create jobs. Through my audits, we have found that after hundreds of millions of dollars have been taken, they have created little or no jobs in the process. It’s been corporate welfare at its absolute worst,” said Comptroller John Liu.

“We are living a tale of two cities; this is the world that Michael Bloomberg helped to create. Policies in this city have helped to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The things we need to do to address income disparity are not being done. We need real living-wage legislation, not the watered-down version we got last year,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Addressing Speaker Quinn, de Blasio said, “We need paid sick leave. You’ve got to give us a vote on sick leave.”

“The Bloomberg Administration has failed the vast majority of the people of the City of New York. After the recession, we have replaced 150% of the jobs that were lost. We are bringing opportunity to the City of New York. But, opportunity for who? We are creating jobs for people not in our city. What we are doing is pricing our working and poor and middle-class families out of the City of New York each and every day,” said former Comptroller Thompson. “We need to do better.”

Quinn’s assertion that if she were mayor she would end the lawsuits against the living and prevailing wage was met with audience skepticism. The irony is Bloomberg would not have had the opportunity to take court action against the council’s wage bills if Quinn had not overturned two referendum and millions of votes in favor of term limits. Quinn knew Bloomberg’s MO; she was in the council when he vetoed, and then sued to block the council’s 2003 legislation to prevent the city from doing business with banking institutions that engaged in fraudulent sub-prime mortgages – five years before those same risky bank gambling practices led to the global financial meltdown and a $700 billion bailout in 2008.

Lehrer pointed out that Quinn was the only one to not support on immediate sick leave vote. He directly asked Quinn for any specific economic metric that would trigger sick leave. Quinn said, “We are evaluating that. I can’t tell you there is one.” (For all the talk of a frail city economy — too frail for sick leave — this week it was announced that Bloomberg’s personal fortune increased by $5 billion during the past year and the stock market reached its highest gains since 2007.)

De Blasio pressed further: “In times of crisis (for the working class and poor) we need to pass sick leave,” he said. “Quinn’s answer ignores reality on the ground.” Taking a conciliatory tone, Thompson said, “Business and workers aren’t at odds. They work together.”

Albanese brought up the issue of who funds campaigns, and then said de Blasio took contributions from Cablevision, suggesting he should give it back.

Lehrer took the opportunity to ask all candidates about donor bases. Carrion said his is full spectrum, yet independent published reports reveal a large portion of his financial support comes from real estate interests.
De Blasio said much of his support comes from the outer boroughs. Referring to his request that the NBA All-Star game be moved to the Barclays Arena from Madison Square Garden in show of solidarity with locked-out and fired Cablevison workers, de Blasio said he will keep attacking Cablevision owner Dolan, an “unfair employer oppressing labor rights”.

Quinn said her donations are part of the city’s campaign finance structure that bans contributions from individuals doing business with the city. Allon shot back, saying that much of Quinn’s campaign chest was obtained prior to the change and that she should give back any donations from people doing business with the city then.

Thompson said he is “proud to stand with organized labor” and that he has a diverse donor base. When running against the richest campaign ever, Thompson said he learned the “importance of small contributions.”
Liu said the smallest percentage of his contributions were from midtown and real estate interests. Then Liu took the opportunity to launch a sustained defense against an FBI investigation into his 2009 campaign’s fund-raising. In audible frustration that generated applause from the audience that recognizes unfairness Liu said, “Three years of investigating. They wiretapped my phones for 18 months. They reviewed a million documents and messages. They interrogated thousands of my supporters. And yet, what do they have to show for it? It’s time to put up or shut up already!”

32BJ asked about unions working without a contract for 4 years. Allon said the next mayor will have a gift from Bloomberg: no contracts. Thompson said all union contracts will have expired by the end of the year. “The next mayor and unions are going to have to work collaboratively,” he said. “Open up the books.” De Blasio called for “fairness in years ahead”. He added, “Get away from contracting out.” Offering a structural perspective, Liu said the absence of contracts was not just about the city budget. “NY is the wealthiest city in the world where most residents have been kept in poverty,” said Liu. “The city gives away huge subsidies with nothing in return.”

A United NY carwash worker said he makes $5.50 per hour and the owner told him he only made $3.00 in tips. Thompson said he supports a fair minimum wage, that carwashers should be allowed to unionize, and the city needs to enforce violations. Quinn said the carwash industry needs to be held accountable since the city uses them to clean city cars without contracts. De Blasio answered in Spanish to applause: “It disgusts me that a hardworking man gets $5.50 an hour. Support efforts to unionize. Liu also answered in Spanish, calling it a wage violation. He said the comptroller’s office has secured record settlements for cheated workers. “NYC needs a minimum wage of $11.50,” said Liu, which would be beneficial because of the multiplier effect of workers having more to spend. Albanese said he didn’t know what colleagues have been doing. As a council member, he worked on a $12/hour minimum wage 15 years ago. Carrion said the minimum wage should be pegged to the cost of living. Allon called for a dual minimum wage.

Make the Road NY asked about stop-and-frisk. Carrion, Albanese and Quinn said they would hire more police. Allon was booed when he said Kelly and Bratton made the city safer. De Blasio said civil liberties and public safety are important, then referred to his teenage son who has a giant, Jackson Five-style Afro and expressed concern about him being confronted by police. Thompson said his 15-year-old stepson asked why should he be stopped and frisked if he did nothing wrong. Thompson had to tell him, “Because you are Black.” Liu said stop-and-frisk must end.

The Community Service Society will host a mayoral forum on NYCHA housing in April.