About Democracy for NYC

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.

EndorsedLogo PlasticWe work both locally and nationally to ensure that fiscally responsible and socially progressive candidates are elected at all levels of government. We develop innovative ways to advocate for the issues that matter to our members and support legislation which has a positive effect in our communities.  We promote transparency and ethical practices in government.  We engage people in the political process and give them the tools to organize, communicate, mobilize, and enact change on the local, state, and national level.

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Debra Cooper Answers to DFNYC 2013 Candidate Endorsement 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?

Making sure that government at all levels listens to the voice of the people and not the desires of plutocrats is ever more essential after 30 years of ever increasing economic inequality. Accelerating inequality skews political access and political power at ALL levels of government. Reforming campaign finance rules is crucial. Making sure that small d democracy has a healthy prognosis. A crucial component is a campaign finance system which uses the power of public money matched to a small donor strategy. New York City has a very good version of such a system. Politicians are not “bought” by their donors so much as they are influenced by those whom they spend the most time listening to. Raising money means you spend a lot of time listening big donors. Less time fundraising then is all to the good. The Supreme Court has authored 2 decisions which negatively impact the overall ability of localities to actually set their own policies. The more well-known Citizens United decision ridiculously makes corporation people! (Corporations actually don’t die like people so it is like vampires having free speech rights) The 1976 Buckley vs. Valeo decision is much more dangerous. It says that money is speech. It is a marketplace metaphor which basically says that plutocrats like Michael Bloomberg can have more speech because they can buy more of it. And those who remember the blizzard of mailers that landed on their doorsteps and the ads that were ubiquitous on TV and radio.

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?

In 1971 NY passed the Urstadt law which took away from NY City the right to control its rent laws and the right to set much of its own tax policy. I absolutely think it is essential that the law be repealed. And I would work with any coalition to achieve that. Part of that is working to get a Democratic majority not only elected to the NY Senate but in CONTROL of the NY Senate. That means not just local action but working with people all across the state. I was in Albany during the late night session which first imposed Vacancy Decontrol. I was horrified then and remain so now. The largest amount of affordable housing in this city is in the rent control and stabilization system. Yearly we have a significant loss of affordable housing through vacancy decontrol. Raising the number to $2500 is farcical. Even in 2011 when it was increased from $2000, $2500 was less than most one bedroom apts in large swathes of NY. Certainly it doesn’t cover a family apartment.

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  Against

Thanks to a remarkable sponsor, Gale Brewer, the present Councilwoman for this district, and the amazing coalition of grassroots organizations, this bill should pass the Council by the end of the month. I am honored that I was amongst the first to sign onto the wider grassroots campaign. I was one of the very first to be on the original letter which eventually the NY Times published. I was part of the original group of significant women leaders who worked on this bill. I helped write the resolution which was used by political clubs all over the city to advance this bill. Certainly if it doesn’t I would be honored to reintroduce it in the next Council, with a new speaker and under a new Mayor. Even if passed, this is a compromise which in the future could be expanded to other categories of workers and more businesses.

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?

The City should have a new police commissioner. Unfettered access to so much power for so long will make anyone think they are infallible. The police and the City’s response to OWS, the movement of the 99%, was totally out of line with the centrality of free speech in this country. But it was a piece of how this mayor and this police commissioner have treated ALL protests in this city. From the anti Iraq War march in 2003 when protesters were penned into streets miles from the protest assembly site at the UN to the mass. Illegal arrests at the 2004 Republican convention. The right of assembly is merely lip service by this administration. Stop and Frisk is a policy wildly out of control. The Fourth Amendment has a very high standard to meet for stopping people and how they can be searched after they are stopped. I oppose the police turning NY City into a place where your social and racial status predisposes the NYPD predisposes them to act like those they are meant to protect are actually potential criminals. The result is that people, mostly young males of color acquire criminal records that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. I silently marched last spring to stop this invidious policy.

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.)

Every Mayoral candidate from either party wants to keep Mayoral Control of the schools. In my role as a member of the board of NARAL, I was also at the midnight session in Albany when they passed Mayoral Control. Just like vacancy decontrol it was not an idea I was in favor of. I am never in favor of lots of power concentrated in one place. Certainly the first Education Commissioner, Joel Klein, and the Mayor who appointed him, acted more like autocrats than democrats. And their regime has favored some children over the majority of children and some schools, like Charter Schools the public schools. This version of Mayoral control under resources public schools in order to close them and create space for charter schools. One must give very serious thought to what would replace Mayoral control if it was allowed to expire. I do not think enough thought has been given to replacement institutions. It is of course also depends upon who the next mayor is and the degree to which that Mayor is willing to allow others to have meaningful role in setting policy and allocating resources.

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 have a Masters in Education. My specialty was testing. Therefore I am very aware of the value of tests and their inherent limitations. They are but a small part of the picture of effective teaching. Peer reviews, principal observations, and parental and child satisfaction tells you a lot more. Unlike much right wing propaganda which has sadly jelled into conventional wisdom, most teachers care about their students and they do enormously well in the face of large class sizes and limited resources. When I taught I tried to make sure that each of my children were treated as individual with individual learning styles. Mass testing programs do not honor that or cultivate their individual worth. They are unfair to teachers and certainly not in the interests of children.

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 (pdf)

One would hope that the new Mayor would make a commitment to the educational success of ALL children and not just some children. Part of that is putting a stop to co locations and saving increasingly rare school space for charters over public schools. At the least there should be a moratorium on charter co locations which should blossom a wholesale reconsideration and rejection of this policy. School resources like money and committed parents should not be leached out the public system by a charter schools which are often privately managed and owned and are some corporations profit centers. The City’s success in many areas like crime reduction has meant that many more families are staying in the City in order to have a more cohesive family life. That means the school age population has grown and will grow enormously. Right now there is an elementary school bulge which will be succeeded by a middle and then a high school bulge. The City should expend lots more effort on securing MORE school space not on putting elementary charters into public High Schools. On a simple level that space is needed for high schools not given to any elementary schools. Most certainly charter school are neither accountable in the same way as public schools nor are they as resource constrained as public schools with which they share space.

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?

I do support the reinstitution of the Commuter tax. I also support strengthening the City’s ability to collect taxes from those with the financial resources to have second and third homes. Commuters and second home owners benefit from all this city has to offer and they should participate in ensuring that this City is place they can live and work in. In my role as a member of the NY State Democratic Committee, 68th AD, I was the sponsor of the Millionaire’s Tax resolution, which did have an impact on Gov. Cuomo changing his own opposition to this higher progressive taxation. I most certainly support progressive taxation for the City itself. Last week the Governor actually not only extended this progressive tax, he boasted about it.

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?

As I said above, I wrote the resolution extending the Millionaire’s tax in the NY State Democratic Committee, the party’s governing organization. I know that this had an impact on his change of mind. And he now is extending it and boasting about his embrace of progressive taxation. I think that we should consider more and higher marginal tax rates on very high incomes…at all levels of government. Long term city property taxes have long favored one and two family properties over coops and condos. I think we should look again at how to more reasonably, equitably and with an eye to what we want this city to look like in terms of the distribution of tax burdens between residential and commercial buildings. I do support a financial transaction tax. I think the federal government should impose it as well as many foreign exchanges already have instituted such charges.

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

The contention that there is an enormous amount of fraud in the use of safety net programs has long been a rationalization to cut these programs and stigmatize those who need help the most. Ronald Reagan started that meme and this administration has just continued it. It is beyond question that this recession has increased poverty and homelessness. These programs should be increased to meet the increasing need. Sanctions are a method too often used to deny people the very help they most need. This administration uses them to decrease the number of needy people not by helping them but by throwing them out of the program often on specious grounds. The goal of HRA should be to helping people get out of poverty not to reduce their rolls by pretending that poverty is merely an act.

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?

Homelessness in NY is the result of the combination of high rents in NY City, and wages that are too low to sustain people so that they can have a roof over their head and food in their stomachs. The City’s policies compound that problem by refusing to have a coherent policy to prevent homelessness. They exacerbate it by then spending enormous sums that rewards politically connected individuals who supply inadequate housing at exorbitant prices. On 95th St in this district, the City wants to spend 47 million dollars putting a few hundred people into temporary housing. It goes to just such a landlord for 10 years. 47 million dollars buys one a lot of permanent housing for homeless families. It is ill considered policy. It is also one of the drivers of economic inequality when politically connected players profit from the public purse.

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 co sponsored the ban on fracking in the NY State Democratic Committee and have done so for the last 3 years. I am against the Spectra pipeline. I am against both not just because they will have immediate negative environmental impacts on our water supply, our health and our safety. They do. We should NOT be using up all the carbon we have in the ground. At present trends we will heat 2 degrees Celsius which is the outer limit to which society as we know it can adapt to climate change. The president is rightly promoting energy efficiency for cars, but he is also promoting drilling and fracking and the total utilization of all our carbon energy. If we do that then we will hit 4 degrees Celsius of warming or more. At that number, the basic structures of civilization as we know will not stay intact. In NY the watch words are Prevention of further climate change and the Mitigation of the effects which are now irreversible. We have to prepare for a stormy future. We must retrofit old buildings and hold new buildings to standards that both limit their carbon footprints and can withstand the storms of the future. City building codes and zoning rules should be brought into line to help promote green energy proposals and storm preparation demands. The good news is that such needs should generate enormous numbers of jobs and other economic activities that cannot be outsourced. This is needed by the entire east coast of the US and so becomes an essential responsibility of the federal government to protect one of the main economic engines of the United States. This is part of what I call Fix the Future. Essential and urgent infrastructure needs can be funded via the federal government directly or via bonds or bond guarantees issued at all levels of government. Interest rates are so low that the actual real rate is less than zero. NOW is the best time to actually Fix the Future.

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 am proud to say that Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy has endorsed me. She more than anyone has fought valiantly for many years to combat the evil of gun deaths. I certainly support measures like background checks, the ban on assault rifles and large magazines. I support microstamping bullets so that they can be traced. Certainly there is the technology to make sure that guns only work when the owner picks it to limit accidental shootings one of the largest sources of gun deaths. Just like cars require insurance then guns should be insured. The Heller decision was a 5-4 decision by the same Supreme Court that stated that corporations are people. If the First Amendment can be restricted in certain reasonable ways then the Second Amendment should have no more special a place. One of the reasons the NY City has become and will stay a safe place to live in and raise one’s family is that this City has long had strict rules about who and why one can own and carry a gun. Most of the illegal guns come from states with purposely lax rules about guns. Those states endanger the more than 8 million people in this great metropolis. My synagogue, on which I am a member of the Social Action Committee, has made the issue of gun violence the focus of their social action work.

 

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 on the board of NARAL ProChoice NY for 20 years. I have long been considered a thought leader on this issue in the Choice community. I said more than a decade ago that if we don’t move our pro Choice agenda forward then the right wing will push us back. I said more than decade ago if we compromise on abortion rights then the right wing will be coming after contraception. Sadly I was right. I have long supported marriage equality and I did so by co sponsoring the resolution in the Democratic State Committee on marriage equality.

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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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