My Vision for Brooklyn

Illustration by Chris Carfolite

We invited mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota to contribute essays outlining their policy visions for Brooklyn. Both agreed to participate, but we did not receive a response from Lhota. To provide some context on de Blasio’s contribution, we’ve added notes on his record and rhetoric.

Our city is suffering from a crisis of inequality. While nearly half of our neighbors1 live at or near the poverty line, almost 400,000 millionaires2 also call New York City home. Community hospitals are shuttered in favor of luxury condos3 and, over the last twelve years, funding cuts to outer-borough transportation and public spaces have made New Yorkers outside of Manhattan feel increasingly like second-class residents.

During my time as a Brooklyn city council member4 and now as public advocate5, I have led the battle against this inequality crisis: fighting to keep neighborhood hospitals open6; working to build quality public schools in every neighborhood; calling on City Hall to end the overuse and abuse of stop and frisk; and leading the fight to end the war on small business and outer-borough transportation cuts.

As mayor, I will continue this fight. I have lived in Brooklyn for the last 20 years and, as a proud public school parent, I know first hand the challenges facing working families in the outer boroughs. In Brooklyn and across the city, many of our community hospitals are at risk of complete closure or loss of major facilities — falling victim to real estate interests, mismanagement, and predatory consultants that drain millions in fees. Losing these hospitals would mean shuttered emergency rooms, clinics, and doctors’ offices — affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhoods, including Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, and Bushwick. Over recent months, I have succeeded in staving off the closure of Long Island College Hospital and Interfaith Medical Center7, and I have a plan that would create a new health authority to oversee Brooklyn hospitals and help them modernize and keep their doors open.8

As I would be the first New York City mayor in history to serve with a child attending our public schools 9, I am also personally invested in preparing New York’s young people for a prosperous and productive future. By asking the wealthiest in our city to pay a little more, we can provide access to pre-K for every child and after-school programs for all middle school students. This modest tax10 on those making $500,000 or more will provide our children with environments that keep them on-task, off the streets, and out of harm’s way.11 This investment is not only critical for those who are struggling, but will help all New Yorkers — because we all benefit when the middle class is growing, and more of our fellow citizens are lifted out of poverty.

Affordable housing is also fundamental to the strength of our city, but too many of our fellow citizens are currently being priced out of their own homes.12 That needs to end. I have called for stabilized rents to be frozen at their current level, and, as mayor, I will mandate affordability from developers to help create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.13 I also have a plan to advocate for better rent laws, so that every resident can live in the neighborhood they love.

Service cuts to outer-borough communities since 2010 have meant longer walks to the nearest bus stop and more time waiting for a bus to arrive.14 As mayor, I will phase in15 the creation of a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 lines16, linking communities underserved by transit to the city’s primary transportation and employment hubs. These routes will offer one-seat commutes from Bay Ridge to Jackson Heights and other community centers. This system has the potential to save outer-borough commuters hours off their commute times every week and stimulate economic activity in neighborhoods the subway system doesn’t reach.

As mayor, I will also continue to fight to end the overuse and abuse of stop-and-frisk.17 Mayor Bloomberg and my opponent are offering a false choice between public safety and our constitutional rights. To improve upon our current level of public safety while also bringing cops and neighbors closer together, we need a new police commissioner18, an independent inspector general to oversee NYPD policies, and a strong ban on racial profiling. This approach will allow us to further strengthen public safety and restore police-community relations by ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk and divisive racial profiling.

Finally, I will end the dramatic increase in inspections and nuisance fines on small businesses. I have proposed a five-point plan19 for small business fine enforcement, based on public safety and not the need to pad the city’s budget, that creates a tiered system and reduces penalties for nuisance fines. And, to ensure this abuse does not happen again, I would create a group of Red Tape Cutters, whose responsibility it is to track trends in the city’s enforcement of business regulations and collect input on ways government can help businesses add jobs.

These investments won’t simply set Brooklyn on the path for an even brighter future. They will send a signal to families across our city that beyond the skyscrapers and high-rises that paint our magnificent skyline we haven’t forgotten what New York City is really about, a city of neighborhoods.

A city that understands our economic might isn’t measured solely by the number of millionaires who call New York home, but by the promise that every family has a shot at living and working and raising children in our five boroughs.

And most of all we all share a belief: that New York City is the greatest city in the world — not simply because of our economic might and stunning skyline and vibrant culture, but because we are a city that leads the nation and the world in remembering that we are bigger and stronger and better as a city when we make sure everyone has a shot.

Editors’ annotations

1. The poverty rate in the city was 21.2 percent in 2012, according to the US Census Bureau. 1.7 million New Yorkers live below the federal poverty line.
2. A recent study by Wealth Insight counted 389,000 millionaires in the five boroughs.
3. During the campaign, de Blasio has frequently derided “luxury condos,” a phrase that has become shorthand for the influence of real estate developers and the increasing inequality in New York. As a city councilman, de Blasio supported several controversial development projects, including the Atlantic Yards project, as well as the 447-unit Toll Brothers development in Gowanus.
4. From 2002 to 2010, de Blasio represented the 39th City Council district, which included parts of Borough Park, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Kensington, Windsor Terrace, and his own neighborhood, Park Slope
5. For the past four years, de Blasio has served as the city's Public Advocate. In August, Capital New York's Dana Rubinstein examined his tenure.
6. In May, we reported on the crisis in Brooklyn's health care system.
7. As public advocate and as a candidate, de Blasio has been active in the political and legal fights against the closure of LICH and Interfaith. For now, court orders have delayed the hospitals' closure, but they remain in dire financial straights.
8. De Blasio's plan for a Brooklyn health authority won praise from some Brooklyn health care watchers, including City Councilmember Letitia James, who is running to succeed de Blasio as public advocate, and two major health care unions. But the plan has also been criticized for failing to address fundamental structural problems, including the heavy burdens of uninsured and underinsured patients, that underpin the borough's health care crisis.
9. Of recent mayors, only Abe Beame sent his children to public school, but that was before his mayoralty.
10. A tax increase would require approval from state lawmakers — a major obstacle, especially with the 2014 election looming.
11. De Blasio's plan to raise taxes to fund universal pre-K has been both lauded and derided. Asked about the plan, Mayor Bloomberg replied, “He wants to drive everybody out of the city.” Meanwhile, education policy analyst Diane Ravitch wrote, “Those who care about education and kids should be cheering.
12. Housing prices have been at the center of the heated debate over the city's affordability. A recent study from New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy found that in 2011, 24 percent of New Yorkers were “moderately” rent burdened (defined by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development as spending between 30 and 50 percent of household income on gross rent) and 31 percent were “severely” rent burdened (defined as spending 50 percent or more of household income on gross rent).
13. For context, the Bloomberg administration promised 165,000 affordable units created or preserved by 2014.
14. In 2010, the MTA approved major service cuts and a fare increase to fill a $900 million budget gap. Last year, the authority reinstated some bus service and made the G train extension permanent.
15. As mayor of New York, de Blasio would have limited power to influence the decisions of the MTA, whose seventeen-member board is selected by the governor. (The mayor of New York recommends four candidates for the board). Joe Lhota has advocated for mayoral control of the MTA, as did Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner during the primary campaign. It's an idea popular with city policymakers who believe the city's transit system, which comprises the vast majority of the MTA's operations, gets short shrift from the state. But it's also a long shot — Mayor Bloomberg, who unsuccessfully lobbied for city control, said the idea is a “non-starter” for Albany.
16. There are currently five operating Select Bus Service lines, with four more in development. In a 2010 “Phase II” study of bus rapid transit, the MTA identified sixteen additional corridors for potential expansion of Select Bus Service. It released its most recent plans for SBS service in July.
17. De Blasio has been an outspoken critic of “stop and frisk” in the mayoral race. As public advocate, he issued a report blasting the practice for its “disproportionate racial impact” and calling for legislation to end it.
18. As a candidate, de Blasio has promised that he'd jettison Commissioner Ray Kelly if elected. But it's unclear how great a break he would make. In a July interview with Salon's Joan Walsh, he mentioned Kelly deputy Chief of Department Philip Banks III, as a possible successor to Kelly. He's also spoken highly of Bill Bratton, who served as police commissioner in the mid-1990s.
19. De Blasio issued a similar plan as public advocate.

Bill de Blasio is the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City. He currently serves as the city’s public advocate.

Chris Carfolite is an illustrator, designer, and record collector living in Bed-Stuy. His work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators and Telegraph Gallery.

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