I’ve been thinking about how I’d write my policy platform. Some of the core message is resoundingly simple – a better funded subway, housing home rule and tenant protection, bringing fairness to the criminal justice system, getting serious about public education, passing single payer universal healthcare, ending corruption and ushering in a new culture of leadership.
The straight-forwardness of these demands can’t be forgotten, and it is one of the central reasons I’m running for state senate: I am fully confident in my ability in voicing those basic concerns in a way our incumbent, Martin Dilan, has failed.
But of course being a good legislator also requires other key traits, including collaboration and preparedness to talk about serious policy issues.
Collaboration is a trait that is especially important, and one that is not often talked about when political candidates unveil their policy platform. But it should be. And I am convinced that I will have the perspective, energy and care to be a good legislator – perspective because I’ll be able to reach across the aisle when Republican support is needed, energy because I will be young and new (and therefore un-subject to the oft disillusionment and boxed-in attitude of long-standing politicians), and care because I will remind myself everyday of what I’m fighting for.
Just as important is that I will come to Albany prepared to talk about the ideas of tomorrow – the ideas that are best for this district.
To be prepared to talk about these issues is both a matter of preparing as well as a matter of thinking on your feet – of legislating – and so with that in mind, I’ve designed a working platform that contains core ideas and pathway as to where I believe our district and state need to go:
Fixing the Subway
The subway was created as a system where people could get around effectively and with limited means. Today it’s not living up to that.
How can we get it back to that? How can we create a system where people don’t have to worry about getting to work on time while also being able to afford transportation costs? How can we create a system where the working people of this community – immigrants, people of color, women, the young, the working class – can move around in a city that promises them, if nothing else, opportunity and future?
The subway is a multi-pronged issue that deals with crises of mismanagement, infrastructure and underfunding, issues that will take money and will to fix. Still, the pathway moving forward will be a difficult but achievable one, and it will start, first and foremost, with the state government assuming its most crucial responsibility: funding.
The 2015-2019 budget dedicates about $32 billion to the Subway system – two thirds for maintenance, one third for expansion. In truth, $500 million more is needed annually – money that should be raised from a millionaire tax or congestion pricing. Further, I argue that more than two thirds of the budget should be put toward maintaining what already works. What we need are not new projects that get stuck in the mud like the Second Avenue Subway. What we need are more As, Ms, Js, Gs and buses when the L shuts down. And when the L is back, add new Ls so that janitors can get to work in the Bronx, teachers to Queens, and bartenders to Manhattan.
Long-term, we must prepare the subway for increased ridership by fully digitizing the signaling system, a project currently underway but which needs to be monitored so it doesn’t become just another boondoggle. Currently the project to digitize the signaling system is supposed to end this year – we have to hold Albany to that.
Sadly, the senate’s new budget offers no new funding for the MTA. Martin Dilan, who sits on the transportation committee, has nothing to show as far as substantive change. This is unacceptable. This needs to change.
As our state senator, I want to celebrate our diversity — the fact that all types of working people come here to rent, commute and live — but I also want to protect the long-time residents of the neighborhood. Right now, we are not being adequately represented. You can see it just by walking in the neighborhood – old wood-paneled and pre-war apartment buildings are being conjoined block by block with luxury buildings. Some of us can afford these. Most of us can’t. It’s not that these buildings are entirely unwelcome —we should welcome wholesome development in our district – but the fact of the matter is that for the average resident of Bushwick or Williamsburg, the pace of development is too fast and too inequitable. People find themselves not being able to afford the subway stop they have lived at for decades, a legacy that our incumbent – who has taken $180,000 from the real estate lobby – needs to take full responsibility for.
Long term, our only true solution would begin with a long-overdue repeal of the Urstadt Law, which for decades has given the likes of Saratoga, Plattsburg and Albany say over policies that should strictly be in the hands of New York City lawmakers. ‘Home rule’ would make it easier to enact the laws that this district so ardently needs in order to relieve residents of the fear of eviction or getting priced out. These laws should seek to achieve rent control for all (not just the 50% of city residents who currently have it) and should include laws against landlord buyouts, laws against raising the rent in the case of a roommate vacancy, laws against unfairly levied maintenance fees and laws against speculating with vacant property.
Fairer Criminal Justice Laws
How long can people in this district sustain a reality where indefinite detention is accepted in the form of cash bail and backlogging and where the system is rigged toward prosecutors? Eliminating cash bail entirely – which Albany once again failed to do – is needed immediately. Discovery laws need to be overhauled entirely so that defense attorneys are not blindsided by same day evidence. Solitary confinement should only be used when absolutely necessary. The Attorney General’s office should be better equipped to responsibly investigate cases of police brutality and overstep. The need for criminal justice reform is necessary, apparent and long overdue. A district in which people can walk down street in peace, without anxiety, is long-owed.
Single Payer Health Care
I am tired of Massachusetts and California being the leaders when it comes to issues like health care and the environment. New York must become the first state to pass single payer universal healthcare, period. No longer should district residents be forced to go to the emergency room at Woodhull or Wyckoff Heights to get good health care. No longer should health clinics be underprovided and underfunded.
Here in New York we’ve passed a single payer bill through the Assembly, and as with most issues of vital progressive importance, the Senate now blocks the opportunity to pass the bill and consequently, to establish New York as a leader in the structuring of America’s next generation of health care.
Health care in America is set to take a turn, and that turn is going to start in New York with a new generation of leadership that once and for all pass public healthcare.
Prioritzing Public Education
Kids in this neighborhood deserve a public education that they can count on and is guaranteed to give them opportunities to pursue CUNYs and SUNYs much like my Mom and brother had. Like with the subway, progress in regard to our public schools starts with funding. It starts with re-considering the Foundation Aid formula so that more money is given to the schools that need it.
The governor is right to highlight how educational money is spent, but he should also be looking at how it is effectively allocated. Currently, about half the new funding allotted to education in the governor’s proposed budget is given to the Foundation Aid program, a formula that has a reputation for stiffing underserved communities. The formula should be comprehensively re-assessed. More money must be given to Bushwick and Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Cypress Hills and East New York K-12.
Help is also needed for both public school and community school pre-K. This can be achieved through funding for public schools, scholarships for non-public schools, and an expansion of Mayor De Blasio’s citywide early education infrastructure.
Fostering a Transparent and Equitable Albany
The last issue I want to highlight – overarching and reflective of the bigger issues at hand – is reforming Albany’s unacceptably sketchy culture of governance. More than anything, corruption is the result of a system where lawmakers are convinced they can’t accomplish anything through intended channels, and so they re-direct their energy to seek payoff elsewhere.
A similar byproduct of such a system is callousness and abuse, which leads to outcomes like allowing our leading state senators to harass women and excluding our most respected politicians from vital conversations about budget and policy.
The misconduct of Senator Klein and the exclusion of State Senator Cousins from the budget negotiations are the result of a political culture more secretive and male-dominant than that which exists in your average American state capitol. They are also reflective of why sexual harassment transparency and the banning of non-disclosure agreements (which I was happy to see the governor highlighted in his most recent budget) are so essential.
Additionally, it is time we started to have a serious conversation about campaign finance reform and electoral reform, subjects which were totally dashed in the most recent negotiations.Why were they dashed? Because the governor and Senate know that efforts like early voting will help attract new types of voters – young people and women and the working class – from across the state, and in that regard it would be the realest and least predictable type of threat to the status quo in Albany.
It will be on the backs of new legislators, therefore, to pass what the current class of legislators has failed to. Because above all else, what we need, if we really want to become a capitol of true leadership, is a change in democracy itself.
There aren’t six issues in this campaign. Discussion must be had on how to fairly levy a payroll tax that best serves employees as a result of unjustly levied federal taxes. As per our public infrastructure, we must begin considering a statewide millionaire tax and closing the carried interest loophole. We have to protect our environment by stewarding formerly green spaces like the Newtown Creek, passing a congestion-pricing scheme and getting companies to pay for their dumping.
However, the six issues that I highlighted are the gateway toward protecting District 18 and revamping our local politics. Things that we need aren’t getting done, and our incumbent is inextricably tied to that prevailing culture of ineffectiveness – siding with the real estate lobby, utterly failing to fix the subway, neglecting universal health care and reflecting the corrupt ‘side-pay’ culture in Albany by funding district projects with Vito Lopez money. Such a prevailing attitude has never been the recipe of a state that gets things done, stays ahead of the times, and plays an impactful role in the lives of people in our district.
Let’s change the decades-long status quo. Let’s fix and truly fund the subway; let’s bring tenant law back to the city where it belongs; let’s properly fund our schools; let’s usher in single payer universal healthcare. After all, we’re New Yorkers. We are upfront and brutally honest. We never shortcut or beat around the bush on anything. Why then should we do so in Albany?