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Candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York
2014 DFNYC State Candidate Questionnaire
1. Money in NY Politics / Fair Elections (McCutcheon v. FEC)
This year, Albany gave us a budget that failed to reform the role of big money in New York politics. The sky-high campaign contribution limits weren't lowered, disclosure of outside special interest spending wasn't strengthened, and public campaign financing was limited to the 2014 comptroller race. Responsibility for administering the public financing "pilot" falls to the state Board of Elections, which is regarded as dysfunctional, ineffective and underfunded.
I think steering the Commission away from donors and allies was unethical, and as I’ve stated to the press, I believe actions by members of his staff might have been illegal under state law, as a solicitation of an abuse of government process.
2. Tenant Protection & Cost of Housing / Home Rule (Rent Issue) / Real Estate Development
Do you support rent stabilization and rent control laws? What will you do to crack down on landlords that break the law? Do you support a repeal vacancy decontrol and, more generally, a repeal of the Urstadt Law, so that New York City – and not Albany – can enact its own housing laws?
Yes. I live in Chelsea, Manhattan amidst rent controlled housing and it makes the neighborhood much more diverse and interesting. While I’m not in a position to enforce the relevant laws, I should say I am in general extremely annoyed by instances where Albany has taken too much control over issues that rightly belong to New York city, and I count the Urstadt law as among them.
3. Universal Pre-K & After-School
Generally, we at DFNYC are pleased that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio were able to come together and compromise on a bill for universal pre-kindergarten. While it calls for $300 million in funding for universal pre-K programs the final budget, many of us feel that the funding stream is not sustainable and the budget was unfair to many towns outside of New York City. Would you support state legislation allowing Mayor de Blasio to change the funding stream by raising marginal income tax on the wealthiest residents of the City in order to ensure the long-term viability of the programs?
Yes. Once again, a city issue that the state has wrongly taken on itself.
4. Teacher Evaluation
New York elected officials--through laws, regulations, and negotiation of union contracts-- have sought to enact meaningful evaluation of public school teachers. What is your opinion of using the following factors in evaluation of public school teachers?
a) Improvement in student test scores
b) Professional observations by other teachers
c) Student surveys
d) Whether the teacher has an advanced degree
e) Classroom observations of the teacher by principals or other education professionals
f) Principals’ unannounced observations of teachers.
I can’t say this is an area of real expertise for me, but based on my experience as a Professor, I feel that the best criteria are professional observation, student surveys, and classroom observation. Factors (a) is not appropriate; factor (f) is disrespectful, and factor (d) is irrelevant as compared with performance.
5. Mayoral Control of NYC Schools
Albany granted former Mayor Bloomberg's request for mayoral control of the schools in 2002. In 2009, Governor David Paterson and the state legislature voted to renew mayoral control until June 30th of 2015 (less than a year from now). The 2009 changes included requiring the DOE to keep parents better informed of what is happening in the schools, as well as more transparency in approval of large contracts. Mayor Bill de Blasio is the first NYC mayor to have mayoral control after Bloomberg and has indicated he will have a Department of Education that is different in many ways than Mayor Bloomberg.
• Letting mayoral control expire and going back to a pre-2002 system,
• Renewing mayoral control as is,
• Changing to a hybrid system, where power would be shared by the mayor and a school board, or
• Renewing it, but with significant changes to the current system.
I favor renewing mayoral control as is.
One of the current parts of mayoral control that has caused the most controversy is the public hearing process. When the DOE proposes a change to a school or school building (co-location of a charter school, approval of a new school, phase out or "closing" of a school deemed to be failing), there is a joint public hearing (a "JFH") at the school building, where parents, teachers, students and other community members can voice their concerns. But the ultimate vote is later, with the city-wide Panel for Education Policy (the "PEP"), a Board of appointees from the Mayor's Office and the Borough Presidents' Office. Critics say far from being a democratic process, the structure of the PEP and its hearings make it essentially a rubber stamp for whatever the DOE has already decided. Even some supporters of mayoral control have conceded this point and found PEP hearings to be mostly a waste of time for all parties involved. On the one hand, government officials need to plan and make decisions about schools and buildings in a timely, efficient matter. On the other hand, important decisions about schools should have a public hearing process and be made with community input. What are your ideas for balancing these interests, specifically in terms of changing the mayoral control legislation?
As presented, this is a tricky issue that I admit I do not have direct experience with. I generally believe that these decisions need to have a public hearing process as you describe. All this tends to suggest that the structure of the PEP is wrong, and that it needs to be something other than a rubber stamp.
6. Implementation of Common Core Standards.
The NYS Board of Regents recently gave New York public schools five more years to fully implement tougher academic standards known as the Common Core. Supporters have argued that the new high standards – which are internationally benchmarked – will ensure that students in the South Bronx will have the same expectations as students on the Upper East Side, and that all students in New York and across the country are college and career ready at age 18. Critics, however – which include a growing movement of principals, teachers and parents that are on the front lines of education every day - point to problems such as a huge amount of disorganization in the implementation in NY (lack of materials and training), concerns about teaching to the test, and the arbitrariness of using Common Core-based test scores to measure student, school and teacher performance.
a. Do you favor continued support of Common Core standards in New York?
No. I think schools should be free to borrow from Common Core standards if they actually like them, but I don’t think they should be mandatory.
b. Do you support the Common Core curriculum that has been developed in New York?
No. While I have not personally been exposed to teachings using the materials, I believe what I’ve read about the overwhelming suggestion that they have not been well implemented.
c. What will you do – or have you done – to assist parents, teachers, and others in the education community that have raised concerns about Common Core?
I would support any efforts to allow schools more freedom to decide whether or not to adhere to Common Core standards.
7. Taxes: City Wage Tax, FTT and general principles.
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.
8. Minimum Wage / Living Wage
New York State's recent minimum wage increased to $8 an hour, 75 cents above the federal minimum and the old state rate. It's the first of three incremental boosts that were approved by the Legislature and Gov. Cuomo . The minimum for most workers will increase at the end of 2014 to $8.75 an hour and to $9 an hour a year after that. The minimums for workers in the restaurant industry who get tips may remain $5 an hour, with employers able to raise the maximum tip credits to $3 an hour the first year, $3.75 the second and $4 after that. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and legislative leaders quickly shot down a proposal by Mayor Bill de Blasio to let New York City set its own minimum wage. Advocates for New York’s working poor were disappointed, saying the minimum wage should be $15 an hour and include workers who get tips. We at DFNYC feel no one should ever endure the kind of economic humiliation that comes with working a full-time job and making a less-than-living wage. Do you support State Senator Daniel L. Squadron’s bill to raise the minimum wage for many low-paid workers, calling for a $15-an-hour “fair wage” for employees of McDonald’s and Walmart and other businesses with yearly sales of $50 million or more?
9. Real Estate Development / Reform of Scaffold Law.
a. We live in a city where livability is a major issue for the vast majority of its residents. There has been a major upswing in development of late, particularly in areas such as Brooklyn and now the Bronx. Residents are constantly getting displaced despite pledges to protect them from such treatment. For example, Bruce Ratner did not live up to his promise to provide affordable housing and aid to residents and small businesses displaced by the Barclay’s Center. What would you propose to ensure that big businesses and developers are able to achieve success at the hands of the rest of New Yorkers?
I’m not sure the question is phrased exactly as it was meant to be, but I take it you mean to ask what we can do to prevent developers from profiting at the expense of all New Yorkers.
I generally think that we are no longer living in the New York of the 1970s, which was desperately in need of redevelopment and investment, and we should stop thinking that we need to be at the mercy at a few big developers to allow the city to thrive. Among other things, while I’m not running for City Council, it strikes me as obvious that the City Council should consider not just conditioning development, but outright blocking more proposals if it is not believed that the developer will actually keep their promises.
b. Much has been made of Mayor de Blasio’s pledge to build or restore 200,000 additional units of affordable housing in New York City. However, another issue that has not received nearly enough attention has been the lack of sustainability in New York City. What would you propose to ensure more green buildings are built and greater energy efficiency is met in existing structures?
There are many ways to incentivize the building of green structures; among them, by making sure that buildings and developers fully internalize the costs of the energy their businesses use. I have some doubts about using tax subsidies to encourage green buildings, based on the danger of abuse; but if done properly, tax credits are the obvious other choice.
c. Another issue in New York City is a lack of sunlight caused by the amount of tall buildings.
Would you support changes to zoning laws for thinner, smaller, greener structures being built?
d. What is your opinion of NY Labor Law 240, otherwise known as the Scaffold Law? Contractors, property owners and insurers argue that the law is antiquated and prejudicial against contractors and property owners, and essentially absolves employees of responsibility for their own accidents, leading to huge settlements. The payouts, they contend, have in turn led to skyrocketing insurance premiums that are hampering construction and the state’s economic growth. But a counter-lobby of unions, workers’ advocates and trial lawyers argue that the law is essential to ensuring the safety of workers in some of the world’s most dangerous jobs, particularly those employed by shoddy contracting firms that cut corners to save money. The law, they say, holds developers and contractors accountable for keeping job sites safe.
I generally support the Scaffold Law based on the tort principle of the “cheapest cost avoider.” However, I would not be opposed to some effort to come up with a workers compensation scheme that made the projected costs of accident slightly more predictable.
10. Albany Corruption
Albany has been the center of corruption scandals in recent years, during which more than a dozen New York assemblymen and senators have been charged with corruption or convicted.
What measures, in your opinion, are necessary to ensure that Albany’s culture of corruption does not continue?
I could write many pages about this, and in fact Zephyr already has. I think you’ll have to settle for the highlights. They would include:
- State Constitutional reform, which would reconsider the legislature, and potentially abolish one of the two chambers, and make the remaining chamber a better-paid and full-time position that might attract the best qualified candidates, as opposed to those looking to profit from their position.
- Public financing of elections
- Enforcement of the election and campaign finance laws
- Potentially, a permanent version of the Moreland Commission, or a periodic version (ever few years) with full powers to refer offenders to criminal trials
- Stronger abuse of process laws
- Stronger revolving door laws that remove the incentive to treat government as a stepping stone to lucrative positions
11. Legalization of Marijuana.
Do you support passing legislation allowing the use of marijuana in New York State for medicinal purposes? Recreational? Both?
Both, though in a phased-in manner. I also am not happy with the version of the medical marijuana law that passed this year.
12. Police Militarization
Eric Garner, a 40-year old African American man from Staten Island died suspiciously while in N.Y.P.D. custody. Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, was shot dead by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Entire mosques in New York and New Jersey were labelled as "terrorist" organizations by an N.Y.P.D. special surveillance unit, as reported by the AP in the fall of 2013. (Mayor de Blasio shut down that unit in April.)
a. What strategies have you taken, or would you take, to deal with the problems of racism and increased militarization of local police?
I believe in body-cameras for police, and also, as the measure below describing, declining to equip a police force with military weapons and equipment.
b. Would you be in favor of using the budget process to ensure that police are peace keepers, as opposed to a quasi-military force (i.e. by limiting local, state and federal budget appropriations for additional weapons)?
I hate the militarization of the various American police forces and consider it a contradiction of the revolutionary spirit. It is embarrassing that we should allow such a thing when, in the country we rebelled against, the police force does not even carry guns!
Long story short: yes. Things have gone too far in this direction.
13. Vision Zero
Are you in agreement with the Mayor that the state legislature should allow the city more control in the administration of traffic safety measures such as speed reduction?
Are you in agreement with the three elements at the center of the Mayor de Blasio’s plan - reducing the citywide speed limit and increasing the number of cameras to catch drivers who speed or ignore red lights?
The City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission has been exploring initiatives to help further the Mayor’s goal of zero pedestrian deaths, such as installing black box recording devices to record driver behavior in TLC-licensed vehicles, forming an enforcement squad with speed guns to enforce speed limits, installing new technology in cabs that could limit vehicle speeds, warn of an impending crash, sound an alarm if the driver speeds and even reduce the fare or shut the meter if the driver is traveling too fast. However, as studies have shown, the crash rate as a result of taxis and livery cabs is actually lower than those of other vehicles. What do you think is most necessary to ensure vehicle safety on the roads and highways?
This is a serious issue and I should add that, as a regular bicycle rider, I am also concerned about cyclist deaths as well as pedestrian deaths.
While I generally think it is a good idea to lower speed limits and enforce the laws more strongly, I do reach certain limit. It seems hard to be concerned with over-policing on the one hand, and then create systems that allow drivers to be arrested willy-nilly, or represent an excessive technological instrusion (many technologies may not work as well as described). I am open to thinking this issue through because I think it is so interesting.
I also look forward to the day that only electric cars are allowed within New York – it will be much quieter!
14. Lightening Round:
Please provide a yes or no answer to the following questions. If you can’t provide a simple yes or no, please provide a brief explanation. (25 words total – all 4 questions.)
2. Marriage Equality: Do you support same-sex marriage? Do you believe all 50 states should allow marriage equality?
3. Hobby Lobby: Do you support the "Boss Bill," which would update New York's labor laws to ban an employer from citing religious freedom as a reason to deny women reproductive health care — including access to birth control and infertility treatments?
4. Do you believe corporations should have the legal status of personhood?
I believe that the corporate use of the Bill of Rights is repugnant to the Constitution.
5. Do you support Net Neutrality, and are you willing to publicly state this position? (For example, in a petition or comment letter to the FCC.)
Do I support it? I created the phrase! So yes, and I’ve already filed multiple comments at the FCC and made repeated ex parte appearances there.
These are the responses of Tim Wu, candidate for New York State Lt. Governor. To read the responses of is opponent, Kathy Hochul, click here.