UES Progressives, a chapter of New York Progressive Action Network and an affiliate of the Bernie Sanders founded Our Revolution, picked two candidates to support in the District 5 City Council race following a forum last week.
Six candidates – including Julie Menin, Kim Moscaritolo, Chris Sosa, Tricia Shimamura, Billy Freeland and Rebecca Lamorte – participated in Wednesday night’s forum, answering questions on ceding public space to private businesses during the pandemic, the use of member deference in the Council, reducing fossil fuel infrastructure on the UES, and defunding the police. Freeland and Lamorte ultimately won the endorsements from the organization as the candidates they believe to be best-suited to replace the outgoing Council Member Ben Kallos.
“UES Progressives is proud to have endorsed such principled and accomplished local organizers as Billy and Rebecca,” the organization’s executive committee said in a statement. “Each has a long track record of fighting on behalf of the people in District 5 and both have articulated clear and progressive visions for how we build back a better, stronger, fairer Upper East Side.”
Here’s what all of the candidates had to say on the issues facing the Upper East Side:
Public Space & Private Business: During the pandemic, expanding outdoor dining onto sidewalks and parking spaces was viewed as a lifeline to financially struggling restaurants. But as the city recovers, the moderators asked, does it become problematic to cede public space to private businesses?
Across the board, the candidates agreed that it was a necessary measure that helped keep a lot of small businesses afloat. Both Shimamura and Freeland said the city needed to further in offering businesses economic support, with Shimamura calling for rent forgiveness and Freeland saying the city should have canceled rent.
But Lamorte, Sosa and Freeland expressed a skepticism of allowing the city to allocate public space to private businesses. Sosa said it could easily become a status quo policy if it’s not considered carefully. Freeland said he would like to see some of the public space reclaimed for pedestrian use, bike parking, and protecting bus lanes and bike lanes.
Member Deference & Land Use: The candidates had mixed philosophies on the use of member deference – the practice in which most Council Members vote as a block with the local representative when their district faces a land use decision.
Moscaritolo said she’s strongly come out against the practice as it’s currently employed, saying it essentially gives veto power to particular members to scuttle whatever projects they choose. At the same time, she did think it is important to confer with the local member and give their viewpoint extra weight.
Freeland believes member deference can be an important tool, and that it may be the only way to stop projects such as the New York Blood Center expansion on the UES and the midblock rezoning that project would require. Menin and Shimamura agreed. All three admitted that the practice can become problematic if it’s used in ways to benefit a member and not the district.
Lamorte and Sosa, on the other hand, said member deference is wholly harmful to communities, workers and the city.
“I don’t know why we’re talking about member deference like it’s some kind of law or rule – this is a precedent. It’s a bad precedent,” said Sosa. “It’s just an idea. Vote your conscience.”
Rather than having members “fall in line,” Lamorte said she would approach land use decisions rather by collaborating with colleagues and organizing around what she feels is best for the community.
Reducing Fossil Fuels and Carbon Emissions: Candidates agreed that the single most important way to cut down on pollution in the city would be to reduce people’s reliance on private vehicles. Shimamura said the best way to do that is to make sure the city’s public transit system is accessible, affordable and efficient. Lamorte agreed, adding that she wants to expand fair fares and move toward offering free public transit for all. Freeland said congestion pricing will help reduce the number of cars on the street and simultaneously fund the MTA. He also has a transportation proposal that includes replacing the FDR Drive – the district’s biggest piece of fossil fuel infrastructure – with a space integrating the East River Esplanade with nearby streets.
Menin said on top of reducing the city’s reliance on cars, the city needs eliminate all fossil fuel plants, including peaker plants. She added that she wants to restore cuts made to the sanitation budget that took money from recycling and composting programs.
Defunding the Police: On policing, the candidates were asked if they are in favor of defunding the police, which was defined as taking funding from the NYPD and redirecting it to other city-funded agencies, and if they support using the phrase “defund.”
Moscaritolo, Freeland and Sosa all said they supported the policy and using the phrase defund. Freeland and Sosa called for at least $3 billion to be reallocated from the police and Moscaritolo called for at least $1 billion.
“For too long we have ... thrown policing at every problem and social challenge in our city instead of actually funding public health, mental health, education and summer youth employment,” said Freeland. “Why is it that we never ask why we’ve been defunding those programs for generations?”
Shimamura said she is aligned with the policy and reallocating $1 billion, but said she’s found that community members are sometimes confused by what “defund” means in practice and takes issue with running on the slogan alone.
Menin did not address whether she supports taking money away from the NYPD or if she supports the phrase coined by activists (though she had to leave the forum before she could receive a follow up question to clarify her position). She did say that she would remove NYPD from traffic stops, mental health calls and homeless outreach.
Lamorte went the furthest of the candidates, calling for the NYPD to be defunded and abolished.
“We cannot fix a broken system,” said Lamorte. “We need to tear it down and create a new one centering those harmed most by NYPD’s brutality.”
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