By Chris Engelhardt
Following Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement of a $20 billion plan to protect the city from future storms, mayoral candidates were grilled last week on how they would leverage those funds to create jobs, expand affordable housing and invest in neighborhoods.
Democratic candidates Anthony Weiner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, city Comptroller John Liu and Bill Thompson tackled questions at the June 13 Reviving Our City Mayoral Candidates Summit at First Baptist Church of East Elmhurst. Republican Joseph Lhota was invited, but did not attend. Republican John Catsimatidis and Democrat Sal Albanese were not invited.
Faith in New York, a new citywide faith-based organization in partnership with the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, the Sandy Regional Assembly and the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, hosted the event.
Some 1,400 people attended the event, making it the most heavily-attended mayoral forum to date.
Several clergy members and Hurricane Sandy victims shared personal stories about their encounter with the storm. Moderators asked the candidates several questions, including how they would use their existing status and influence to mobilize assistance for Sandy victims in various communities, including the Rockaways, over the next three months.
“We immediately got to work in the comptroller’s office approving emergency expenditures so we could get the assistance out to people as quickly as possible,” Liu said, noting he would continue such action if elected mayor.
De Blasio said he and his staff have worked to ensure residents receive Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance monies, and have gone door-to-door to residents’ homes to assist seniors and the disabled.
Weiner focused on the issue of health care, and said that with 1.2 million people throughout the city who have no access to health care, a top priority of his, if elected, would be to establish for the first time, a single-payer health care system.
Thompson said his goal is to bring attention to specific issues in communities and to support small business owners to help businesses get back on track and keep residents employed.
Quinn said her team has fought to prevent displaced Sandy families from being evicted from hotels.
“We need to make sure we have case workers working with nonprofits and those individuals in hotels to come up with individual family plans, to make sure they’re getting the help they need,” she said.
Moderators cited the billions in Sandy recovery funds the city is about to receive and highlighted quality jobs, affordable housing and infrastructure investments as priorities for long-term growth and recovery. Candidates were then asked how they would leverage those funds to assist working families and storm-affected communities.
Thompson called for building new, affordable moderate- and middle-income housing on the grounds of the city Housing Authority.
“Let’s make the Housing Authority and its buildings and other city buildings sustainable, greener, healthier for the people who live there,” he said.
Thompson added that if elected, he would create a deputy mayor for infrastructure who would ensure city and FEMA monies were properly used.
De Blasio said establishing a system under which Sandy victims would receive assistance in finding employment and retrofitting buildings while restoring wetlands and dunes would be some of his priorities to assist residents and communities.
Quinn stressed job creation and more resilient housing.
“We need to make sure we are fixing all of the housing that was damaged, but also need to make sure we are bringing more housing resources to neighborhoods,” she said.
Weiner said redevelopment spending on community needs is crucial.
“One of the things we did in the Rockaways was a big mistake — we put public housing down there to provide people housing, but we didn’t create any commercial infrastructure jobs,” he said. “Let’s think about not how we build what got washed away, but how we build up things that will last us generations. And that means making jobs for young people, making places where senior citizens can go shopping.”
Liu said employing local residents and pushing for an increase in the minimum wage were his goals, along with affordable housing. According to Liu, a billion dollars has been committed to rebuilding and recovery — funds he was able to have approved by pension boards within three months of Sandy that has been invested in areas in south Queens.
But Liu, like his fellow candidates, also emphasized the significance of quality infrastructure, especially given the possibility of future storms that could hit the city.
“The MTA still has a lot of work to do,” he said. “And we have to make sure our utility companies are rebuilding our communications and electrical grid, so that way, when the next storm comes, these infrastructure elements are not going to be wiped out.”
Reach reporter Chris Engelhardt by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.