Government is 'There to Help People'

Back on the ballot, Cameron Koffman talks about new challenges facing the UES

29 May 2020 | 01:03

At the start of his campaign for New York State Assembly, Cameron Koffman felt an urgency to solve the problems he’d seen eating away at the health and vibrancy of his neighborhood, his city and state and channeled that feeling into a slogan: There’s no time to waste.

Now, in the midst of a public health crisis, Koffman finds this call to action to be increasingly true; the issues that inspired him to run in the first place have been exacerbated by the coronavirus, and the chance to repair the damage is what’s fueling his primary challenge against fellow Democrat and incumbent Assembly Member Dan Quart, who has represented the 73rd District since 2011.

Koffman just recently secured his place on the June primary battle after a court battle with Quart, who argued that 22-year-old Koffman did not satisfy the residency requirements to run for office in New York State. Koffman, who grew up on the Upper East Side and recently graduated from Yale University, had registered and cast votes in Connecticut during his time studying in New Haven. The court, however, did not find this to be disqualifying, and subsequently gave Quart his first primary challenger.

In his bid to defeat Quart, one of Koffman’s primary policy focuses will be on small businesses, which he noted were struggling before the pandemic as the storefront vacancy rate was rising on the Upper East Side.

“We had so many kind of local institutions that were struggling and that were closing down,” said Koffman. “And now it's going to be even harder.”

He said he’s looking at a variety of options to help these businesses, including business interruption insurance, rent holidays for business owners who kept their works on the payroll, property and commercial rent taxes.

“I, for one, think the Upper East Side is really a special community because of its small businesses,” said Koffman. “The virus has closed a lot of them and it's going to be hard for them to come back given the economic situation they've faced over the past few months.”

Loss of Wages

Koffman also said in calls he’s made to residents in the district that many people have not received their unemployment benefits and have found the process to be entirely too slow, making it impossible for some to pay rent. Koffman said it shouldn’t be expected of people to pay a months-long backlog of rent when they’ve also lost months of wages.

“That’s not a viable solution,” he said.

Additionally, Koffman said two of his biggest priorities include tackling climate change and moving on ethics reform within the state legislature.

“I think it's very important now to actually move forward and not get sidetracked [on climate],” said Koffman, adding that in the months that the world has largely been stalled, some climate statistics have improved.

“We've seen less car usage, less emissions, and how can we capitalize on that?”

He said that as New York figures out how to create a sanitized and safer environment for people to live, it can also focus on policy goals like eliminating single-use plastics.

More Transparency

On the ethics reform front, Koffman said he would focus on campaign finance reform by creating a robust public fund matching system at the state level in order to eliminate conflicts of interest and provide more transparency to constituents. He said such a system could be modeled after New York City’s program, which he said works well.

In addition to the conflict in the courts, Koffman has taken issue with Dan Quart’s plan to run for Manhattan District Attorney in 2021, saying it would take his attention away from serving his assembly district.

“We need full time focus, full time representation,” said Koffman. “And that's why I think it would be incredibly concerning to have this community be represented by somebody who would be in the middle of a campaign during a crucial legislative session to bring the city and the state back.”

Although he doesn’t yet have the legislative credentials under his belt yet, Koffman wants voters to know that he has a great interest in the minutiae of local government.

“I actually enjoy going to community board meetings and hearing about a specific issue street issue — that someone’s upset over where a Fresh Direct truck is parking on the street,” he said. “I think that that's kind of how government has to work. We need people that want to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, and listen to all these new problems and help because that's what governments do. It's there to help people. I'm passionate about that.”