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Sal Albanese - Answers to the DFNYC Candidate Questionnaire

 

Sal Albanese is running for mayor of New York City. Salalbanese2013.com

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?

As one of the key supporters of NYC’s current campaign finance law, I am a strong believer in getting big money out of our political system. DFNYC members and I agree that the law is flawed and needs to be fixed. I support full public financing and a reduction on contribution caps so that any candidate for Mayor has to generate real grassroots support to win. If a candidate gets elected indebted to special interests and big donors, he or she will be handcuffed and incapable of making decisions in the best interests of the public. From simple incompetence to outright bribery and corruption, New Yorkers have all too often had to endure the results. That is why I am the only candidate not taking contributions from developers, lobbyists, or people who do business with the city. My campaign depends solely on small contributions from average New Yorkers who believe in a government that puts their interests first.

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?

As a City Council member, I opposed vacancy decontrol in Manhattan. As Mayor, I would oppose any effort to reduce rent stabilization or rent control laws. In fact, I believe they need to be expanded. Our city faces a catastrophic deficit in affordable housing for working and middle class families. When people’s ability to put a roof over their heads is at stake, we should take a zero tolerance approach to landlords who try to find their way around existing regulations. Given the stark differences between housing needs in Buffalo and in the Bronx, I think the Urstadt law has disempowered New York City residents and caused more problems than it has solved. I will focus on three areas:

•   Expanding the affordable housing ratio to 70/30. The current 80/20 approach simply cannot meet rising demand. We have to work with developers to ensure that housing is sold at a rate that’s actually affordable to the residents who need it. We also need affordable housing units built on time, not 20 years after other elements of a development project are completed.

•   Compelling NYCHA to repair the thousands of units currently warehoused. It is a travesty that we have affordable apartments off the market because the authority has not made proper repairs.

•   Working with nonprofit groups like IAF, with the city providing land and infrastructure to help them build more housing.

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

Paid sick leave is, to me, a workers’ rights issue. No one should have to choose between getting healthy and getting a paycheck. Unfortunately, the City Council has operated more like a dictatorship than a democratic body, with the Speakers preventing bills they do not like from coming to a vote. It’s a tactic that has been used again and again over the years to prevent progress on critical issues, including the gay rights bill. I share concerns about the impact on very small businesses, many of which are operating on a narrow profit margin that could mean the difference between keeping the doors open or shutting down. The compromise legislation, which sets the number at 20 employees and bars smaller businesses from punishing workers for staying home sick, is the smartest path forward. No matter which legislation passes, we have to keep working to expand sick leave and shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back for something that should have been done years ago.

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?

On commissioners: Having spent 15 years in the private sector, I think it is irresponsible for any candidate to make purely-political declarations about who they would hire. A responsible Mayor would do due diligence and screen candidates before making any personnel decisions. On OWS: Mayor Bloomberg was characteristically out of touch in his approach to Occupy Wall Street. Americans have the right to free assembly in public space, plain and simple. OWS was a legitimate outcry from those that have been ignored by the political class and whose voices have been drown out of the democratic process by big money. I do believe, though, that the NYPD has the authority to carefully limit some events to protect the security and rights of all New Yorkers, protesters and bystanders alike. On Stop and Frisk: We live in the United States, where nobody should be stopped in violation of the Constitution. The current application of stop and frisk, a legal police tactic upheld in the Terry v. Ohio case, has created serious divisions between police and communities that need to be addressed. I propose:

•             Investing in training for recruits and officers to ensure they know what constitutes a legal stop.

•             Hiring 3,800 more police officers and assigning them to patrol to build rapport and trust with community members, which is essential.

•             Legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana, the primary reason for most stop and frisk arrests. Our current drug laws haven’t worked. I’d like to see revenues raised devoted to public safety and schools.

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.)

Having spent 11 years as a New York City public school teacher, I experienced firsthand the chaos of the old Board of Education system. No one took responsibility, and our students and teachers suffered as a result. Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg has done a lousy job with mayoral control, demonizing teachers and locking parents out of the process. I support maintaining Mayoral control, in part so that the next Mayor has the power to fix what Bloomberg broke. I think we must amend the process to allow for meaningful local input, instead of rubber-stamping, on co-locations and school closings. We also have to end a pattern of providing waivers for Chancellors. In an Albanese administration, the Chancellor would be an educator and skilled administrator. To me, the root of our education problems, poverty, has been ignored. That is why I have called for establishing a Department of Early Learning and creating pediatric wellness centers in low-income neighborhoods. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, we can bring teachers, administrators, parents, medical professionals, and communities together to ensure that all of our kids are prepared from the first day they enter school.

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?

Mayor Bloomberg’s failure to negotiate a fair contract with teachers, costing the city hundreds of millions of dollars in education funds, is just the latest in a series of missteps. As a former teacher and a dues-paying UFT member, I am confident that we can reach a deal that is fair to taxpayers and fair to teachers. We simply need a Mayor willing to engage directly and negotiate in good faith. Unlike my opponents, I’m not afraid to disagree with UFT leadership, and I often do. But the union has shown itself to be more flexible in recent years. There is widespread agreement that student test scores should be an important factor in teacher evaluations. Any good educator knows that real classroom success is not limited to test performance. I think peer-to-peer observations, student surveys, and principal evaluations are beneficial to helping teachers improve, but present challenges about how to account for individual bias. While they should be part of the equation, they need to be properly weighted. I do believe that principals should be able to observe teachers in the classroom at will, but that observations done as part of the formal evaluation process should be arranged beforehand. When it comes to teacher evaluations, the elephant in the room is professional development. To properly evaluate educators, we first have to invest in more rigorously recruiting, training, and supporting them. As in any trade, they need quality feedback and the basic tools to succeed in the classroom. I have not directly negotiated municipal labor union contracts. I have negotiated contracts with investment clients in the private sector, including labor unions.

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

Charter schools are useful for experimenting with new ideas, but they are no replacement for high-quality public schools in every neighborhood. I’m concerned about anything that creates a sense of segregation in our schools, and oftentimes co-located charters have done just that. There is no room in a fair society to have school resources available to charter students and not to their non-charter peers. Co-location and school closings should be done with the consensus of the community. That sort of local control has been missing during the Bloomberg era, but would take on a central role in an Albanese administration.

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 would call on the state legislature to allow NYC to tax suburban commuters and other individuals who work in the city and benefit from our services. When it comes to people using an out-of-city home to escape taxes, the current 183-days rule should be vigorously enforced. At this point, I do not think the city wage tax should be increased or reduced unless unforeseen sources of revenue make reduction a viable option.

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 in progressive taxation and agree with the Governor’s approach to marginal tax rates on high-income earners. Inequities in property tax assessment must be addressed. It’s unfair and counterproductive to have one property across the street from another paying significantly different rates. The comparables are a mess. As Mayor, I plan to set the right tone and create a more transparent and equitable system. First, I will appoint a Finance Commissioner who actually understands the problems with property tax assessment. Under my administration, his or her mission will be to create a uniform assessment within each class. Second, I will make transparency a top priority. We should expand the information already available online to include information on assessments by neighborhood, so property owners can confirm for themselves that they are receiving a fair assessment. We also need to post signs in every building and send letters to every tenant to let them know how much of their rent is going to city taxes. I have long supported and would continue to support as Mayor a federal financial transaction tax, both to raise revenue and reduce high-frequency trades.

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

As Mayor, I would work diligently to remove obstacles that prevent anyone eligible for and interested in assistance from receiving it. To me, income inequality and poverty are the root causes of most of the problems facing our schools and our society in general. I plan to offer incentives to companies that commit to hiring unemployed New Yorkers and provide a living wage for their workers. I also plan to work closely with CUNY and other higher-ed institutions to create training programs so that, in addition to providing a well-rounded education, our graduates are equipped with the skills needed to take on new jobs in tech, engineering, and other sectors. To maintain a strong social safety net for those who need it, we have to fight against a trend of offering only low-wage work, limiting access to healthcare for immigrants and low-income New Yorkers, and allowing youth unemployment to skyrocket.

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

First of all, we need a Mayor who believes that homelessness is a real problem! The best approach to addressing homelessness in the long-term is to build a fairer society. By expanding access to better schools, health care, housing, and jobs, we can prevent thousands of New Yorkers from entering the vicious cycle that leads to homelessness. That is why my initiatives on housing, job creation, and education are so critical. A high number of New York’s homeless suffer from mental illness or addiction. Unfortunately, we have eroded our treatment options for them. I have family members that have suffered from mental illness, so I understand first hand how devastating that approach is. As mayor, I commit to reinvesting in mental health services and advocating drug law reform so that addicts can seek proper treatment without shame or stigmatization.

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?

Hurricane Sandy goes to the core of why I am running. We have a reactive government that reacts to crises instead of preparing for them. In the aftermath, it hasn’t done enough to help residents recover. I have called on the Mayor to create an interagency task force with boots on the ground to provide assistance and clarity with flood insurance issues, rebuilding, etc. In the wake of the storm, I have serious concerns about the environmental and public healthy safety of a number of industrial projects, including the Spectra pipeline, and plan to reassess them as Mayor. I plan to appoint a Deputy Mayor for Infrastructure to work with communities and coordinate agencies in a creative rebuilding process. We will restore natural barriers and construct sea walls to protect much of our coast. On land, homes and businesses will be elevated. Mass transit entrances will be raised and floodgates installed to protect our trains and tracks from being forced offline every year. Major redundancies will be put into place to protect power stations and waste facilities. And we will craft an evacuation plan that accounts for medical patients, public housing residents, disabled New Yorkers, and seniors to prevent the tragic conditions endured post-Sandy. Until the data is absolutely clear that no harm will be done to groundwater, I will oppose fracking. We simply cannot risk the drinking water of 8 million New York City residents to provide a temporary fix to our energy problems.

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.

As the only Democratic candidate to support President Obama when he was an underdog in 2007, I’m proud of his recent push on gun control. I support a stronger assault weapons ban, a ban on high capacity magazines, and universal background checks. I think the city should continue gun buy-back programs and, as already stated, increase access to mental health care. The debate over guns is one of the best examples of the corrupt power that big money has in our political system. When 85% of Americans support an assault weapons ban and 90% support background checks, it is a tragedy that Congress cannot pass legislation.

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)

Am I pro-choice? Absolutely. Do I support equal marriage rights for same sex couples? Yes. To me, marriage is a basic right. Do I support access to birth control? Absolutely. It's the right thing to do and good public health policy.

~Sal Albanese, Candidate for Mayor, 2013.  SalAlbanese2013.com

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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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