A Lively Time Was Had at the MTOPP / Our Time Press Forum
By Maitefa Angaza
The NYC Council Primary candidates’ forum sponsored by MTOPP (Movement to Protect the People) and Our Time Press on Thursday, June 3rd brought together via Zoom the top four contenders for the 35th District seat. The district includes Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. Early voting starts June 12th and the New York State Primary Election Day is June 22nd.
Invited to take part were those who’ve raised the greatest amount of money for their campaigns — with or without City matching funds — an indicator of the viability of their campaigns moving toward the primary. Making their case before the voters and the press were: Renee Collymore, Curtis Harris, Michael Hollingsworth, and Crystal Hudson. Although scheduled to appear, Hudson canceled 15 minutes before the forum started, citing a scheduling conflict.
Informative, engaging, and at times surprising, the forum, led by Alicia Boyd of MTOPP and David Greaves, publisher of Our Time Press allowed attendees to place rank-choice votes at the end for those who “won” the evening. The candidates answered questions resulting from the work of the sponsors’ team of researchers. There was a Jeopardy round, a Follow the Money segment, an opportunity to question their fellow contenders, and queries about their views, regarding affordable housing, healthcare, policing, crime, business and more.
Boyd asked the candidates how they would use their City Council deference to represent the district when a luxury real estate development project is proposed. The question was posed first to Michael Hollingsworth.
“Right now, they hire a lobbyist, who goes right away to the councilmember and their staff and the borough president, and starts lobbying them,” said Hollingsworth. “And they basically do a runaround the community. I want to have a process where developers have to come to the community first.”
Renee Collymore said she’d call for a “district statement,” a set of rules developers follow, designed to thwart displacement and corruption. Curtis Harris said, “I sat on Community Board 8 for a number of years… On a number of occasions developers would come there and tell us what they were going to do. They came in a very dictatorial manner and attempted to — and many have — circumvented the entire community board process!”
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Greaves asked the candidates to speak about independent expenditures. Harris said they are monies spent by a PAC, (political action committee) in support of a candidate or in opposition to that candidate’s opponent. PACs are meant to act independently, with no ties to any campaign, but that’s often not the case, Harris insisted. He told voters to check the NYC Campaign Finance Board website for additional developer money he predicts will come Crystal Hudson’s way.
When asked to disclose independent expenditures made on their behalf, all three denied any such. Harris, who says he takes no money from the real estate industry, police or special interest groups, does expect to see PAC money spent to attack him. Collymore believes accepting PAC money depends on where the money is coming from; that a group with a reputation for doing good should be okay. She also said rumors that she’s taken real estate money are untrue.
Boyd added that the team’s research revealed that Crystal Hudson is the only one of the four invited candidates to have independent expenditures spent to support her campaign. Among these are Empire State 32BJ.
The candidates were asked how they would use the discretionary funds given to council members to dispense to nonprofits in the district.
Hollingsworth pointed out that the city council speaker can override funding decisions, altering the amount of money given a nonprofit. He’d do an audit and reassessment of each group currently receiving money, prioritizing distribution of funds to high-poverty areas of the district. Collymore says many wonderful 35th CD nonprofits never receive funding from the City Council. She said, “I would spend my discretionary funding on supporting the labor unions’ pathways to apprenticeship programs, where you can take a course and after five years, get a union job.”
On the topic of campaign contributions. Harris was asked why 25% of his donations were in the exact amount of $100. “My contributions have been grassroots,” he replied. “Retirees, family and friends, strangers. I’m a first-time candidate and I’ve gotten over the fear of asking people for money. We’re in the top three (funds-wise] and I’ve done this all myself.”
Hollingsworth was queried about the 95% of his donations that came in really small amounts. He said he didn’t enter the race until mid-October. “I had been part of the housing movement. That includes tons of other organizations. We have the most in-district donors in this race, and I believe there are around 400 candidates who are running for city council overall, and we have the second-highest number of donations.” He attributes this to his message — which he says is resonating — of being a champion for the common citizen.
Historic districts and neighborhood preservation are critical issues for District 35. Collymore said landmarking must be continued and supported. Hollingsworth said, “There’s this false narrative that everyone who lives in an historic district are white NIMBYs, he said, “but here, in some neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Prospect Heights, historic preservation can actually save Black homeowners. And, there are also tons of rent-stabilized units that are in these historic districts as well.”
As for the newly proposed property tax increases, Boyd shared what she knew and asked contenders to share their opinions. The narrative is: coops, condos, and 1-3 family properties in the area have been under-assessed, so caps should be removed, and full-market value applied. Owners’ taxes would raise 20% each year for five years, until a 100% increase is reached. If an owner makes under $100,000, the property tax would be 5% of their income. But owners who make more could potentially go from paying $3.000 to $30,000.
“It’s the old sleight of hand,” said, Harris, noting many owners of 1-3 family properties, condos and coops are not wealthy. “We have to stop allowing the rich to dump on the poor and middle class.” Collymore said this is similar to tax increases placed on small business while establishing the Fulton BID, a process she says that eliminated 80-85 businesses on that strip. It’s imperative for council members to construct more protective legislation for homeowners and small businesses, she said.
Hollingsworth agrees, “A Black family that moved into a coop in the ‘80s or ‘90s, maybe they were both municipal workers and they’re both now retired and living on a fixed income,” he said. “The amount of taxes they pay, compared to someone who may be in their 20s or 30s and is an engineer — maybe shouldn’t be the same. I like the idea of a progressive tax.”
The candidates were asked if they would support a reinstatement of the former New York City residency requirement for NYPD officers, applied to new hires going forward. All were in immediate and emphatic support.
As the forum concluded, attendees cast their votes for the first-, second- and third-place-ranked candidates. Michael Hollingsworth came in first, followed by Curtis Harris and Renee Collymore.