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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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Costa Constantinides Answers to DFNYC 2013 Candidate Questionnaire


Costa Constantinides is running for NYC Council in District 22 in northwest Queens.   www.votecosta.com 

For more about the district, including neighborhoods, list of candidates, etc., click here

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. As we have seen this week with the arrests of Dan Halloran, Malcolm Smith, and Eric Stevenson, the pervasive influence of big money in our political system brings the potential for corruption at every level. I have been part of the Clean Money, Clean elections programming that DFNYC and Citizen Action has done in the past and will continue to work towards reducing the influence of big money in elections.

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?

I strongly support rent stabilization and rent control laws. I have always believed it important for NYC to reclaim control of its housing laws and will fight for it in the council. We need to fund our city agencies to better control renegade landlords and hold them accountable to the laws of our city. 

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

I have signed a letter in support of paid sick leave and look to strengthen the bill when elected. No one should have to make a choice between their health or the health of a loved one and their job. I am glad that the NYC Council is moving forward on paid sick leave but we still have a lot to do to improve the lives of the middle and working class here in NYC.

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 do not support Stop and Frisk. Public safety is important and that’s why we need to enact policies that treat all members of our community as partners in our fight for a safer New York. But being anti-stop and frisk does not make you anti-police. Our police put their lives on the lines everyday and I am grateful for their hard work for NYC. We need to hire more cops. We need to strengthen national gun laws to get illegal guns off the street. We need to pay our police better and work with all communities to improve public safety. Our S&F numbers have increased as our police force numbers have decreased. Its time to have a real commitment to public safety in this city that is respectful of all New Yorkers. On the issue of OWS, I do not believe the police presence there and the response to peaceful protest was correct. This administration has continuously shown a displeasure for those that criticize or disagree with them. Mayor Bloomberg should not pit the police against protesters in the manner he has. The right to protest is a fundamental part of free speech. I will always working to make sure all voices are heard and that we stand with free speech.

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 do not support mayoral control as it is currently constituted. It has locked out parents, community members, faculty and elected officials from working with our schools. In my community, this Mayor has attempted to close our two High Schools, phase out a G&T program that is a model for the city and ranked nationally and is making noises about bringing two new charter schools into our community, all of which I have strongly spoke out against. Our chancellor gives lip-service to parental involvement but on all of these issues the DOE has blown off our community even when they speak in one voice. I cannot support the dictatorship of any one voice when it comes to education. The stakes are too high. We need to fight to ensure that every student gets a world class public school education and not that they can only pass a standardized test.

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?

The Bloomberg Administration’s hostility to unions is nothing short of despicable. The era of the most broad-based prosperity in this country’s history was built in part by a robust labor movement, and I will fight to make sure that the next administration respects that heritage and comes to the bargaining table in good faith with our unions rather than treating them like thugs. While there’s no reason that any of the listed evaluation criteria should not be used, I do not agree with those who argue that scores on a standardized test should be the primary evaluation tool. Firstly, tying test scores to a teacher’s performance review will only further exacerbate the problems of “teaching to the test” that we’re seeing. Additionally, as was recently seen in the Atlanta School District scandal, it only creates incentives for teachers and principals to cheat to boost their numbers. Any acceptable teacher evaluation plan must be primarily based on collaborative efforts by other teachers and education professionals who can evaluate the work the students have done using their own critical reasoning, rather than some rigid testing algorithm.

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.  In favor: Funding   Space 

I do not support co-location of schools. There once was a time when a decent education for our children was non-negotiable. Now we spend all of our time trying to figure out how to put more children into smaller spaces. We are even educating children from trailers behind school buildings. Our public schools should be given the resources they need to succeed. Co-location does nothing more than divide the school, pitting parents against parents, community members vs. community members and leaves our children with an education that does not meet the standards we should be setting.

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?

It’s quite simple - if you use services regularly, you should have the decency to contribute to their upkeep. If our residents pay city income taxes, and our visitors pay hotel occupancy taxes, there’s no reason that commuters or multiple homeowners can’t help out a little more when they benefit from the hard work of our Finest, our Bravest, our Boldest, and our Strongest. A progressive commuter tax could allow NYC to bring down more regressive tax schemes like sales taxes, which would let lower-income people keep more of their income proportionally as well as give NYC businesses a more competitive edge.

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 support a progressive tax plan. I support Governor Cuomo’s plan on high income earners, though I should note that I would rather see the “millionaires tax” as it was in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Property taxes in NYC are a mess. Homes are seemingly evaluated at random. There were countless examples of homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy that actually saw an increase in their property taxes because the value of their house supposedly was higher. I do support financial transaction taxes. 

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

I am a strong proponent of the programs like Medicaid and food stamps. I would work wherever possible to ensure that benefits are finding the people who need them most. As a city councilman, my primary interaction with these programs would be to vote on budgets that fund them, and I would do just that. People not claiming benefits is a much bigger problem than fraud. 

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

When he proposed what would become Medicare, President Kennedy said that a society’s quality can best be measured by the care it gives its senior citizens. The same is true for the care we give our fellow New Yorkers who are homeless. That the Bloomberg Administration, in a time of increasing need, would try to block those most in need from getting help was inexcusable, and I commend the City Council for suing to block that policy. We need to make sure that the next administration treats the issue seriously, and treats the homeless with respect. The most important thing we can do is ensure that the city and the state fund our homeless services. It’s shameful that, when the numbers of homeless in New York are skyrocketing, programs that can help the homeless long term are cut. Several weeks ago, the Coalition for the Homeless released a report called Homeless Again, where certain recommendations, including new rental assistance programs modeled on Section 8, are proposed. I think that their proposals contain a lot of merit and as a Councilmember, I will work to make those proposals reality. We also need to ensure that affordable housing projects are actually affordable for the people who need them. We need to ensure that our housing policy is in order by strengthening the affordable housing requirements where we can do so ourselves, and work with our state representatives to do the same thing at the state level.

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?

It’s been an honor to work for Councilmember Gennaro, chair of the Environmental Protection Committee. Under his leadership, I have had the opportunity to work to resist the push to frack New York State. New York’s water supply is one of its treasures and protecting it from the harmful chemicals in fracking fluid needs to be a priority. Under CM Gennaro, I’ve also worked on important pieces of legislation that would help preserve our wetlands, strengthen our commitment for dealing with climate change and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions here in NYC by 30%. But there is still more for us to do. I would work with state and city agencies to purchase and preserve more wetlands so we have buffers on our shorelines. I would also work with our city and state elected officials to develop long-term plans for better responsiveness to these types of storms. I also support Governor Cuomo’s buyout proposal for those that were affected by Sandy. I do not support hydrofracking in NYS and have been activist in my community to raise awareness against it.

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 the proposals offered by President Obama, and the examples you provided in the question. On a City level, I would be part of buy back programs and work with local law enforcement to implement whatever local law we are able to pass but also work with our Albany and federal partners to regulate firearms. Encouraging businesses and pension funds to divest from gun manufacturers is another important step. I supported Comptroller Liu’s decision to sell the stock our city’s teacher pension fund held, and I would fight to see that other city and state pension funds do the same.

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 am fully supportive of a woman's right to choose, marriage equality and access to birth control. 

Contact Information

Email: info -at- dfnyc.org
   
   
   

 

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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