Robert Jackson's Responses to DFNYC's 2014 Candidate Questionnaire

Robert Jackson, former City Councilmember

Candidate for State Senate - Dist. 31 - Uptown & west side of Manhattan

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.

   a. Would you support a change to full public financing of campaigns, similar to the Clean Money Clean Elections programs in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine?


   b. What is your opinion of the Supreme Court’s decision of McCutcheon v. FEC and its potential impact on NY campaigns? 

  It doesn’t really effect the need to set real limits on contributions and closing corporate subsidiary and LLC loopholes.

   c. What is your opinion of Governor Cuomo’s actions toward the Moreland Commission?

Responses: It should not have been disbanded.

Only by taking the money out of politics can the people get their government back. My five point plan includes: Establishing a public financing program modeled on the successful NYC program; Setting real limits on contributions and closing corporate subsidiary and LLC loopholes; Restricting fundraising during the legislative session, instituting fixed limits on those doing business with the government; Increasing reporting, transparency and enforcement; Prohibiting the use of campaign funds.


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?

Response: We must preserve the affordable housing we have, particularly through strengthening rent laws, repealing vacancy decontrol and the Urstadt law, and providing resources and representation to threatened tenants.. We must fix-up existing housing, particularly through better management of NYCHA. And we must build new housing, through inclusionary zoning and innovative approaches like the effort I lead to build the Sugar Hill project.

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? 

Response: I support universal pre-K, worked on the Council to successfully create new Pre-K openings and believe that the City should be able to have a dedicated tax.

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 teachersc) Student surveysd) Whether the teacher has an advanced degreee) Classroom observations of the teacher by principals or other education professionalsf) Principals’ unannounced observations of teachers.

Response: I support the recent legislative agreement saying teachers rated ineffective based on state Common Core tests this year or next will not face negative consequences. Teacher evaluation should be geared to improving teaching and student outcomes, not based on student test scores alone. We must move away from all these high stakes testing. The best evaluators are fellow teachers who participate in a collaborative process of reviewing student work, improving lessons and fine-tuning instruction. The measures of teacher success are well-educated students. We must have a more broad-based measure of teacher effectiveness.


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. 

     a. When mayoral control of the schools is up for renewal next June, it seems likely that it will be renewed, but with significant changes. Do you favor:

• 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.

     b. Additionally, 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?

Response: I oppose Mayoral control. Under Bloomberg Mayoral Control, parents, teachers and students were shut out of the decision making process and it was more a “do as we say [not as we do]” attitude and system.  We need a governance system that respects the people directly impacted and involves them as stakeholders in shaping important educational decisions.


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? 

  b. Do you support the Common Core curriculum that has been developed in New York? 

  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?

Responses: While I'm generally in support of common core standards, New York's implementation has been terrible. Before the test go into effect, we must first get teachers the curriculum and materials they need to help their students succeed.


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.

   a. Would you vote to allow NYC to collect the tax from people from the suburbs who work in NYC and benefit from our services (police, fire, etc.)?

Yes, and was mistake of my opponent to vote to repeal the commuter tax. His vote has cost NYC $9.7 billion paid by commuters that could help fund our schools, the arts and essential services.

   b. 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?


   c.  Do you support progressive taxation?


   d. Would you support a federal financial transaction tax to either raise revenue, reduce the practice of high frequency trading, or both?



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?

Response: Yes, I support the statewide increase in minimum wage, and giving local municipalities the power to further increase their wages. I support the Squadron bill.

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?


 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? 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?

Response: Manhattan will continue to grow, but it is important that it grows in the right way that protects neighborhoods, promotes diversity and sustainability, ensures more green buildings are built and greater energy efficiency is achieved and protects existing residents. Instead of giving large tax breaks to luxury developments, we should be using that money to create affordable and sustainable housing. Instead of sitting back and letting Albany control our housing decisions, we must fight for Home Rule, repeal of the Urstadt Law and ending vacancy destabilization. Instead of selling off public land wherever he can find it for luxury development, we should be more concerned with the existing residents. And instead of letting developers off the hook when they fail to meet their commitments, we should be going after them to claw back the benefits they received.

    c. 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.

Response: We need the Scaffold Law to help level the playing field and protect workers.


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? 

Elected officials must be role models and held to higher standards. We need more transparency and there should be no tolerance for misconduct. Public officials must set a positive example. I'm proud of who I am and what I have done. That's why I always wore a button, so people can come up to me and tell me what is on their mind. And I'm proud that I've built a record of integrity

11. Legalization of Marijuana.

Do you support passing legislation allowing the use of marijuana in New York State for medicinal purposes?  Recreational?  Both?


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?   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)?

Response: As Chair of the Council Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, I took the lead advocating an end to “Stop and Frisk”  as it was performed and that the Department’s own numbers showed that hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year were being stopped, and the vast majority are black and Latino.

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?

Response: Through neighborhood based traffic initiatives, we must make the streets safe for all. It means more enforcement, more education and more cooperation and understanding by pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.

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.)

  1. Abortion - Do you support a women’s right to choose? Yes
  2. Marriage Equality:  Do you support same-sex marriage? Do you believe all 50 states should allow marriage equality? Yes. And Yes.
  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? Yes.
  4. Do you believe corporations should have the legal status of personhood? No.
  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.) Yes.

These are the responses of former Councilmember Robert Jackson, candidate for state senate in District 31. To read the responses of his opponent, Adriano Espaillat, click here.