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Mark Levine Answers to DFNYC Candidate Questionnaire

 

Mark Levine is running for City Council in District 7, in upper Manhattan. VoteLevine.com

For more about District 7, including other candidates, click here for our CD 7 page.

Mark Levine's answers to DFNYC's 2013 Candidate Questionnaire:

1. Money in NYC Politics. Large donors, specifically real estate developers and landlords, have a huge amount of influence in NYC politics due to their campaign contributions. While NYC’s matching funds programs is seen as one of the most innovative public funding campaigns in the country, many DFNYC members feel that big money donors still have too much influence and candidates still spend too much time fundraising. Would you support a change to full public financing of campaigns, similar to the Clean Money Clean Elections programs in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine?

Yes! I am currently facing an opponent who is pulling out of the City's campaign finance program, so I know from personal experience how unlimited money flooding into a race can distort democracy. I would support a law similar to the Clean Money Clean Elections program because it rewards candidates with a broad base of small contributors, as opposed to those with a small number of wealthy donors.

2. Tenant Protection & Cost of Housing. Do you support rent stabilization and rent control laws? What will you do to crack down on landlords that break the law? Would you call on the state legislature to repeal vacancy decontrol and more generally, the Urstadt Law, so that New York City – and not Albany – can enact its own housing laws?

Yes! Thousands of tenants in my district are experiencing a crisis in affordable housing. Unscrupulous landlords are resorting to extreme measures to push out tenants who pay below-market rents, including harassment in many forms. I support creation of a fund to ensure tenants in housing court have attorneys (currently only 10% do). I firmly believe New York City should control its own housing laws, and support the repeal of Urstadt.

3. Paid Sick Leave. There is currently a bill in the city council that would require companies in NYC with 5 or more employees to give 5 paid sick days per year to each employee (if they do not already). While many councilmembers support this, it has not been brought to a vote. Supporters feel this is much needed public health legislation that would only minimally raise labor costs, while opponents say that it would be an unfair financial burden to small business. Do you support the bill and will you actively work to get it passed? Sources: ~For: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/news/2012/11/16/45152/myth-vs-fact-paid-sick-days/ ~Against: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/why_we_reject_sick_leave_bill_03pE50CZMFiHFhXzasDMLL

Yes I have been a long-time advocate of mandating paid sick leave. While the compromise reached this week is not perfect, it will ultimately give 1 million New Yorkers paid sick days, so I consider it a significant victory.

4. Fair Police Practices & Occupy Wall Street. The New York City Police Department has been highly criticized for its Stop & Frisk policy, which disproportionally affects racial minorities and poor and working class New Yorkers. The NYPD has also been criticized for its treatment of activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Do you support ending or modifying Stop & Frisk? If running for mayor, will you keep Ray Kelly or appoint a new police commissioner? Do you think Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD should have handled events in the OWS movement differently and what measures will you take to protect political demonstrations?

I believe NYPD was unacceptably harsh on the OWS movement, as well as on press covering the protests. I believe Stop and Frisk should be dramatically reformed to more narrowly define when a stop can be made. There also should be stricter guidelines for how officers should behave during stops. Finally I believe there needs to be more reporting, transparency, and oversight of stop and frisk and other department policies. I strongly support the recently passed law creating an inspector general for NYPD. I would not rehire Ray Kelly, we need someone who will be better at building bridges to communities.

5. Mayoral Control of Education. Mayoral Control of NYC schools is set to expire in 2016, but the state legislature can renew it. If elected to city government, you will not directly vote on mayoral control, but you will have a ‘bully pulpit’ as renewal is discussed in the next 3 years. Do you support keeping Mayoral Control as is, letting it expire, or making changes, for example to the hearing process for controversial decisions? (Examples: Co-locations of multiple schools in one building, providing district school space to charter schools, phasing out schools that have been labeled as “failing” due to high dropout rates, low test scores, or other factors.)

I favor continuation of mayoral control but with important modifications, including giving a greater voice to parents. I think the PEP is the proper body for approving school closings and co-locations, but I believe the PEP should be reformed so that members are more independent and cannot be fired at will as is currently the case. I also would decrease the portion of PEP members appointed by the mayor.

6. Teacher Evaluation. A key area where the mayor has influence in public education is in the negotiation of a contract with NYC’s public school teachers. Please give your opinion on the following proposed ways to evaluate teachers for the purpose of tenure, salary and other job benefits: Improvement in student test scores, observations by other teachers, student surveys, whether the teacher has an advanced degree, a principal’s evaluation of a teacher. Should principals be allowed to do unannounced observations of teachers? Do you have any experience negotiating labor union contracts?

I am a former public school teacher, having taught math and science in the South Bronx at JHS149. I was the youngest members of my school's union consultation committee. I believe that teachers should be evaluated on a combination of all the criteria mentioned, including unannounced visits by supervisors. I have managed scores of employees in the non-profit sector, but never have overseen a unionized workforce.

7. Co-location of charter schools. City officials do not decide how many charter schools can exist, or grant requests to be a charter school. However, the Department of Education - currently controlled by the Mayor - may decide to provide charter schools with space, usually by "co-location" with district public schools. While more than half of NYC schools (not just charters) are co-located, it is a controversial topic when a charter school is involved. Critics argue that cash-strapped district schools should not be forced to share resources with charter schools and that co-location creates a morale problem when students and parents see the contrast. Co-location advocates argue that charter schools are public schools and should have an equal right to publicly owned resources such as buildings, charter schools do not receive funding for space and therefore operate at a severe financial disadvantage if they have to find private space, and that differences between co-located schools result from decisions the principals make about how to spend their per-pupil funding. Do you support the DOE giving public school space to charter schools? Sources: ~ Against - funding and space arguments: http://www.classsizematters.org/our-lawsuit-vs-the-doe-regarding-charter-co-locations/ ~In Favor: Funding: http://www.nyccharterschools.org/resources/school-funding-comparisons-nyc-independent-budget-office-ibo-2010-11 Space (pdf): http://dl.dropbox.com/u/87134745/media/nyccsc_colocation.pdf

As a general rule I support vacant classroom space being used for new, growing, or co-located schools. However because of its problematic history, I support co-location only when very strict conditions are met. These include: a fair accounting of "vacant" space; equal sharing of common building spaces (gym, library, etc.); equal physical improvements to all parts of the building; effective joint governance structure for the building which includes parents and teachers of all the component schools.

8. The City Wage Tax. New York City’s budget depends in large part on the city wage tax, which is only paid by residents, not everyone who works in NYC. Would you call on the state legislature to allow NYC to collect the tax from people from the suburbs who work in NYC and benefit from our services (police, fire, etc.)? Would you support efforts to collect the tax from people who actually live in New York City but use a second home (a loophole not available to middle class New Yorkers with just one home) to avoid the city wage tax? If these efforts work, would you be willing to reduce the city wage tax so that workers would have more take home pay, and there would be less incentive for people to move to the suburbs, reducing our tax base?

Yes, I feel the repeal of the commuter tax was a terrible mistake, and I would push for its reinstatement. I feel the threat of city residents moving to the suburbs to avoid high taxes is greatly overstated (in fact property taxes are lower in the city). I would not support reducing the city wage tax in the current fiscal climate.

9. Other Taxes. Do you support progressive taxation? Do you support Governor Cuomo’s approach to the marginal tax rate on high incomes? What is your opinion on the current property tax in NYC? Would you support a federal financial transaction tax to either raise revenue, reduce the practice of high frequency trading, or both?

I believe strongly in progressive taxation. Gov. Cuomo has somewhat reduced the tax burden of the very rich, a policy which I oppose. I would consider increasing the City's property tax rate if faced with extreme fiscal challenges. I would likely favor a financial transaction tax, though want to learn more about the issue.

10. Poverty & the Social Safety Net. According to a 2012 report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, many struggling New Yorkers are eligible for welfare, but have not been able to obtain it due to onerous application requirements, and the excessive and arbitrary use of “sanctions” by the City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA). These obstacles have caused very little increase in welfare cases during the recent recession, as contrasted with large increases in Food Stamps and Medicaid. Would you change HRA to make it easier for eligible families to obtain cash assistance, connect them to jobs or meaningful job training, and reform the improper use of sanctions? How would you manage New York City's social safety net programs to ensure that people get the help they need, while at the same time preventing fraud? Report: http:/www.fpwa.org/cgi-bin/iowa/policy/article/218.html

Yes, I believe Giuliani-era reforms meant to reduce the welfare rolls have had the effort of blocking access for many families with legitimate need, and I would favor removing these obstacles. I believe there should effectively be zero barriers to access job training. The city needs to proactively reach out to low-income families so they understand which benefits they are eligible for. The "single stop" program is an effective model for achieving this and should be expanded.

11. Homelessness. When Mayor Bloomberg first ran, he promised to introduce policies to drastically reduce the numbers of people who are homeless in our city. But during the twelve years of his administration, the numbers of homeless have increased dramatically each year. This is in addition to the approximately 50,000 people sleeping in shelters on an average night, according to a recent report by the Coalition for the Homeless. What would you do to deal with this sad situation? Sources: http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/pages/state-of-the-homeless-2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/20/nyregion/20homeless.html

We must restore and expand programs to provide transitional housing to individual exiting the shelter system.

12. Hurricane Sandy & Environmental Protection. The devastating impact that Hurricane Sandy had on New York City poses short term and long term challenges: immediate support for those who lost their homes and businesses, and climate change, respectively. What measures do you support for helping Sandy recovery efforts, as well as energy conservation and reducing the carbon footprint of New York City? What is your position on hydraulic fracturing and the Spectra pipeline?

I believe that families which lost their homes in areas considered likely to flood again should be offered fair market compensation so they can move to safer areas. I support congestion pricing or a similar policy to incentive more New Yorkers to take mass transit instead of driving, those lowing greenhouse gas emissions in our city. I oppose both fracking and the Spectra pipeline.

13. Gun Control. While DFNYC members have long supported gun control, the December 14th shooting in Newtown, Connecticut seems to have changed the debate on the national level. Do you support the proposals President Obama made to (a) renew and fix the assault weapons ban, (b) ban high capacity magazines (limit the number of bullets that can be shot before reloading), and (c) improve the background check system? Please indicate any other methods you would support to reduce gun violence, including how you would implement them, for example: gun buy-back programs, training programs for gun owners, improved access to mental health care, and involving the business community in gun safety.

I support all the provisions you mention. I also believe that we should divest NYC pension funds from any gun manufacturers.

14. Choice & Marriage Equality. Please briefly state your position on the following three issues: marriage equality for gays & lesbians, a woman's right to choose, and access to birth control. (25 words or less)

I have been an outspoken supporter of all three for many years.

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Contact Mark Levine through his website at VoteLevine.com.

Click here to return to the DFNYC page for Council District 7.

Contact Information

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A local coalition group of Democracy for America since 2004

Democracy for NYC (DFNYC) is committed to the ideals espoused by Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean, and the national network of local coalition groups dedicated to the same.

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