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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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Mel Wymore Answers to DFNYC 2013 Candidate Questionniare

 

Mel Wymore is running for NYC Council in the 6th District, Upper West Side of Manhattan. www.MelWymore.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?

I am in full agreement with those who believe that, even in our system, large donors hold disproportionate sway in elections, and that candidates must spend too much of their time fundraising at the expense of community work and engagement. My approach to alleviating the problem would be to lower contribution caps and hold candidates to the same caps as their donors; ensure a reasonable threshold to receive public matching funds, based on the number of donors rather than the total raised; and make participation in the public financing system a requirement for running for office in New York City.

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?

My campaign is focused on engaging my community and empowering us to play a larger part in the legislative process. There are fewer things more contrary to my understanding of effective government than the current state of affordable housing jurisdiction. The makeup and diversity of a community is a decision that its members should be able to decide, not Republican lawmakers from upstate. Vacancy and luxury decontrol regulations, rent pricing, and any other aspect of our affordable housing makeup should be the purview of city government, in partnership with the relevant community board. The time is right for comprehensive review and realignment of rent stabilization laws that reflect the need for a continuum of affordability in our districts, which landlords must participate in and abide by.

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 am in favor of the Paid Sick Time Act. As alluded to in the question, this bill is not merely a matter of basic fairness for our city's workers, it is also a necessary public health initiative. Workers such as school janitors, restaurant workers, and store clerks must be able to keep themselves away from others if suffering from contagious illnesses. Further, this bill has the support of a vast majority of New Yorkers and elected officials. It deserves a vote in the city council as soon as possible.

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 the NYPD's "Stop and Frisk" policy exhibits clear racial profiling against Black and Latino men and the communities they live in, and must be corrected. It can also prove traumatic for members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender women and gender-nonconforming people of color. When dealing with protests of any sort, it is critically important for the city to support the full constitutional rights of assembly and free speech that we all share. Particularly with regard to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the city should have been more proactive in reaching out to the protesters to facilitate conversation, as well as provided basic infrastructure assistance to ensure the health and safety of the protesters. The city must be willing and able to respond when its citizens demand action.

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 support letting mayoral control of NYC schools expire in 2016. While it may appear to create efficiencies in the system, its primary effect is to disempower parents, teachers and students from determing the best education policies for themselves and their neighbors. Schools are communities, and communities always work best when they have ownership of their choices.

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?

Teacher evaluation should be based less on test scores and more on peer and principal evaluation—including when gleaned through unannounced observations. We should implement a more formalized system of mentorship between young teachers and more experienced teachers. While I have not personally negotiated labor union contracts, I have acted in support of the teacher's union's positions in negotiations with my children's school, the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

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

The original mission of charter schooling in New York was to serve as a small-scale testing ground for innovative teaching methods, which, if successful in charter schools, would be implemented in public schools as well. Co-location goes far beyond this initial remit—rather than improving our public schools, co-located charter schools drain them of crucial resources. The DOE's unilateral decision-making with respect to co-location or any other substantial change to a public resource is high-handed and dismissive of any genuine concerns held by those who rely on them. It is a community's right, and the responsibility of its residents, to forge a vision for their own community—a vision that defends, maintains, and shares common assets in a manner consistent with the fabric and values of that community.

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 am fully in favor of collecting taxes from everyone who works in New York City. They benefit from the services the city provides, and it only stands to reason that they should participate in the funding of those services. And, of course, I support all efforts to collect taxes from those who would use their wealth to avoid them.

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?

Progressive taxation is the fairest and most equitable way to fund the city services we all rely on. Our focus must always be on quality of life, first and foremost, and the impact of flat taxes on a middle-class or poor family's quality of life is much greater than the same on a high-income family. Governor Cuomo's marginal tax rate on high incomes is a step in the right direction, but we still have further to go in making our tax code more progressive. The city property tax is articificially skewed high by the fact that we do not have home rule with respect to other forms of taxation, such as income tax. The result is that the city uses the property tax to raise revenue when necessary—a blunt instrument that must be comprehensively analyzed to determine who is most affected by those increases, and whether different applications are progressive, flat, or regressive. It is also important for us to identify and eliminate loopholes in our property taxation system that may be exploited for profit. I fully support a federal financial transaction tax, both to raise revenue and to help curb disruptive high-frequency trading systems.

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

The city's social services are hard-fought and hard-won, and it is our duty to ensure that they are there for those who truly need them. Heavy-handed practices, inscrutable forms and endless red tape are not just annoying or unnecessary, given the low level of fraud in larger federal programs—they are also the failures of those who have been entrusted to lead the city. We must make every effort to simplify the process of asking for the help we have guaranteed our citizens.

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

My approach to the issue of homelessness is three-fold. First, our social safety net is not adequate for keeping people on the brink of homelessness in their homes. We should study the most common causes of homelessness in our city, and reinstall programs such as Advantage that work with this exact goal in mind. Second, we must expand the affordable housing stock in the city. If someone is no longer able to afford the home they currently live in, there should always exist a cheaper option for them. And third, we must strengthen our mental health services citywide to better support people who are having a difficult time keeping their lives together. Only by addressing the immediate, long-term, and systemic causes of homelessness can we put an end to it.

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 saw firsthand the destruction that Hurricane Sandy wrought on our city, particularly in the outer boroughs. It moved me to secure a $250K donation from Fairway to bring much-needed supplies to Staten Island and Far Rockaway. But above all, it impressed upon me the need to make changes to better respond to this type of crisis. The city must have in place a better structure for managing the groundswell of volunteers from the community. We are a city that cares about one another, and the city should not be caught off-guard when tens or hundreds of thousands ask to help. We can also create natural barriers and ecosystems along the coastline to absorb the majority of flooding in future hurricanes. But we also must address the "why" behind our newfound extreme weather. Burning fossil fuels is not a sustainable source of energy, nor a sustainable practice for the habitability of our planet. Fracking has no place in our energy plan, and the Spectra pipeline is short-sighted and dangerous. We must make a priority at all levels of government of exploring new sources of energy, like geothermal and anabaric digestion; of expanding use of tried-and-tested alternative energy sources, like solar; and of using less overall, by encouraging public transit and bicycling over private automobiles and weatherizing our buildings. We have the ability to change our impact on the Earth—what we need is the courage to implement.

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 been a supporter of more sensible gun control for my entire live. When Senator John Thune proposed an amendment that would force all states to recognize concealed carry permits in other states, I was instrumental in unifying the community boards to stand together against it. I support all of President Obama's proposals on expanding the scope of gun control, and would support any effort to limit and lower the number of guns in our community.

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)

All are sovereign over their own bodies. All must be treated equally. I support marriage equality, full abortion rights, and guaranteed access to birth control.

~ Mel Wymore, candidate for NYC Council, 6th District, UWS of Manhattan: www.MelWymore.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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