The seven candidates running to become the Upper East Side’s next City Council member convened Thursday night for a forum to discuss issues important to the community and make their case to voters.
The District 5 forum, hosted by the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association, drew an audience of several hundred neighbors, indicating there’s a great deal of interest in who will fill the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Ben Kallos.
Candidates Billy Freeland, Marco Tamayo, Kim Moscaritolo, Julie Menin, Rebecca Lamorte, Chris Sosa and Tricia Shimamura were quizzed on the issues of homelessness, the New York Blood Center’s expansion plans, police reform and public safety, and the East River Esplanade.
Here are the takeaways from the debate:
Across the board, candidates agreed that the city’s homelessness crisis is directly related to the lack of affordable housing in Manhattan and that in order to create a meaningful change the city would need to build permanent affordable housing.
Moscaritolo said in addition to affordable housing, the city needs to focus on protecting tenants by strengthening a tenant’s right to counsel and cracking down on landlords who are illegally destabilizing apartments.
“Ultimately, the best way to solve homelessness is to keep people in their homes,” said Moscaritolo.
Menin said she wants to re-evaluate every city contract with homeless services organizations and add performance stipulations to new contacts. Additionally, Menin said she would take the nearly $1 billion of annual funding from ThriveNYC -- a city initiative tackling a variety of mental health issues that Menin called “woefully ineffective” – and reallocate the money to mental health services for the homeless.
Additionally, in response to a question on the new Safe Haven shelter planned for East 91st Street, all candidates said they are in favor of building supportive housing in the district.
Blood Center and Comprehensive Planning
All seven candidates spoke in opposition of the New York Blood Center’s proposal to build a 16-story tower to serve as its new headquarters and house several other tenants at East 67th Street. The proposal would require a midblock zoning change due to the height of the design, which all candidates said would be a nonstarter.
“This is going to be the most important and most pressing land use decision that’s going to be before our next leadership,” said Shimamura, adding that more than the construction’s impact on nearby schools or parks, her concern lies mostly with the precedent a midblock rezoning would set.
Freeland, who voted against the measure as a member of Community Board 8, agreed on the rezoning precedent, and said the best way to defeat the proposal is make sure every City Council member knows the precedent could potentially affect every community.
The conversation turned to Speaker Corey Johnson’s comprehensive planning bill, which did not have support among most candidates. The majority said that while in general they support comprehensive planning, this bill in particular would lessen community input in new development.
Tomayo was the only one who said he supports the bill as written, adding that it’s the most reasonable approach to comprehensive planning.
Police Reform and Public Safety
In discussing policing, the moderators asked candidates if they would have voted for cuts to the police budget over the summer, Lamorte and Sosa said the cuts were not enough.
“These aren’t problems we can police our ways out of,” said Sosa, acknowledging the rise in crime in the city during the pandemic. “We need to address these causes of the roots. We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re responding after there are already victims of crime, we want to stop the circumstances that foster crime.”
Lamorte called the budget cuts in the summer “smoke and mirrors” and said she wants to see $3 billion cut from NYPD in the next budget and directed to other agencies, including the departments of health, education, transportation, mental health, and to build affordable housing.
“The root of so much crime and so many issues that put people within our criminal justice system and on the path of police are socio economic,” said Lamorte.
Shimamura and Moscaritolo put an emphasis on the need for better community policing. All candidates said the NYPD should be removed from mental health outreach, and Menin said police should not be involved in routine traffic stops.
East River Esplanade
The candidates all supported robust funding for the esplanade as it is in need of repairs.
Moscaritolo said she was excited about the $284 million the city has earmarked for the esplanade, but that she wants there to be accountability and oversight to make sure that the funding actually goes to the esplanade.
Shimamura, who is the co-chair of CB8’s parks and waterfront committee, said she is in favor of a new engineer report of the entire esplanade to identify any weak points along the waterfront.
Lamorte said repairing the esplanade is also an issue of accessibility.
“Right now, the Esplanade has uneven paving stones, there’s gaps and sinkholes up in the northern portion,” said Lamorte “The small path – if you’re a wheelchair user, you can’t access it. And that’s just egregious and unfair for our disabled neighbors here in the community.”
The East 72nd Neighborhood Association is expected to host a second forum in May ahead of June’s primary election.
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In response to a question on the new Safe Haven shelter planned for East 91st Street, all candidates said they are in favor of building supportive housing in the district.