If elected mayor, Fernando Ferrer would not seek to shift the way the city contracts social services with non-profit community groups through quotas to include more minority-run agencies, the Democratic nominee told The Jewish Week in an exclusive interview.
Ferrer said he was confident that Jewish organizations and others were effectively serving people of all ethnic groups.
"When I was borough president of the Bronx, there were Jewish social service organizations that were serving not merely the Jewish community," he said.
Ferrer later added through a spokeswoman that although Ferrer favors increasing access to city contracts by minority-owned small businesses,"we are not in favor of set-asides. We feel that all eligible New Yorkers should have access to appropriate social services and affordable housing, but [there should be] no racial quotas or set-asides."
Set-aside contracts for businesses and community agencies run by women and minorities, which have been banned by federal courts in some areas of the country, were a priority of the administration of the last Democratic mayor, David Dinkins.
Officials at UJA-Federation, the city’s second largest network of social-service agencies, became anxious when Dinkins commissioned a survey to see if minority-operated nonprofits were receiving their share of contracts. Some feared a policy that would require a nonprofit’s board of directors to reflect the communities it serves, which would have excluded many Jewish organizations regardless of the diversity of its clientele.
Dinkins’ successor, Rudolph Giuliani, eliminated minority contracting, but members of the City Council have recently called for its return.
Ferrer also said he would discontinue a program run by his political and financial backers in the Bronx that replaces hot daily meals for the elderly with frozen meals.
"I’d reverse that in an instant," he said.
Ferrer also said he did not foresee a role for the Rev. Al Sharpton, advisory or otherwise, in his administration.
"He’s asked for none, I have pledged none, I contemplate none," said the candidate.
Ferrer spoke to Jewish Week reporters and editors last week in an hourlong, wide-ranging discussion at the paper’s offices.
Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Conservative Party candidate Tom Ognibene also were invited for interviews. Bloomberg’s campaign has ignored the request. (Ognibene interview appears on page 18.)
Addressing the city’s investigation of a mohel suspected of spreading herpes by using a controversial practice, Ferrer said he agreed with the city’s decision to refer the matter to a rabbinical court, but said the city health commissioner should have the final word on the matter.
"At the end of the day, we promote the public health, period," he said.
In his harshest jab at Bloomberg, Ferrer accused the billionaire mayor of violating the spirit of his oath of office by flouting the campaign finance system to fund his own campaign.
"You take an oath to protect and defend the laws and one of the laws in this city is the campaign finance law."
Below are excerpts from the interview.
Jewish Week: Describe the priorities for the first 100 days of a Ferrer administration.
Ferrer: Security in the subways and the mass transit system is absolutely important. … I will work more aggressively to get the MTA and my four new appointees to it to get serious about the training of MTA personnel, to improve communications and surveillance cameras and explosives detection equipment … in stations, on subways and on buses. Then we want to get more police back on patrol. That’s why I put forward a plan to get 1,000 cops out from behind their desks and to get 900 more that the federal government used to pay for back on the streets.
Second is our public schools. There’s a real problem that’s cheating too many kids out of their future and bringing this city down, and it’s not unrelated to problems of chronic unemployment and poverty.
Now that the city is changing demographically, do you feel there needs to be a reorientation of government grants to more reflect the population in the city?
When I was borough president of the Bronx, Jewish social service organizations were serving not merely the Jewish community … If you’re a social service organization receiving public funds … then you have some obligation to serve everyone. That’s the way I saw it when I was borough president. The Bronx Jewish Community Council had very significant caseloads (overwhelming caseloads) in Latino and African-American communities.
Do you have a minority empowerment agenda as the first Hispanic mayor?
I was elected the second Hispanic borough president of the Bronx. When I built housing, I built it for a lot of different people. When I allocated senior funds and youth funds, I allocated for a lot of different people: everything from the PAL in the South Bronx to the kosher Little League, and everything in between. That’s the answer.
Mayor Dinkins had a minority set-aside program. Is that something you would continue?
Mayor Dinkins had minority set-aside program that Mayor Giuliani said was unconstitutional. Whether that is factually true or not, the reverse should not [occur] either, there should not be barriers to contracts with small businesses, because it’s in our interest to help small businesses.
Would you continue a program in the Bronx that provides frozen meals to the homebound which is being run by your supporters, rather than hot meals?
My mother-in-law is one of those who gets them. But we don’t let her operate the oven for a reason. … she burns things more frequently now. The fact that this was done in an effort to save nickels and dimes while [the mayor] was promoting a $1.2 billion Jets stadium was repulsive. I’d reverse that in an instant. … Some of my financial contributors are behind the frozen-meal program, but that has not inhibited me at all in opposing it.
You are often confronted about your support from the Rev. Al Sharpton. What is your impression about why he continues to be such a lightning rod in the Jewish community?
I don’t know … [but] every one of the [other Democratic primary] candidates had said they would welcome and accept the support of Rev. Sharpton. … Mike Bloomberg certainly did not complain when he got Rev. Sharpton’s support for the West Side stadium. More fundamentally, I happened to have been there when Mayor Bloomberg hailed Rev. Sharpton as a civil rights leader on par with Rosa Parks at the Canaan Baptist Church earlier this year.
A second part of the question was what role would Rev. Sharpton play in my administration?
OK, it’s not an unreasonable question and here’s my reasonable answer: He’s asked for none, I have pledged none, I contemplate none.
There was a case recently where three babies were infected with herpes and the city investigated the alleged connection to a mohel who used a controversial procedure. Mayor Bloomberg referred the matter to a rabbinical court for guidance. Do you believe that was the right move?
There are two separate questions. First, should government get in the business ever of regulating religious practice? No. Should we promote the public health? Yes. … So I think it is appropriate to turn to the rabbinical court, but at the end of the day we promote the public health.
We’re talking about a relatively rare circumcision practice. My heart goes out to a child who dies from this. That’s what I’m focused on. … I don’t care to regulate religious practice. What I do care to do is promote and protect the public health.
Did politics play a role in this? Would politics ever play a role in an election year?
Do you feel you are really running against another Democrat?
No, I’m running against a Republican who has been one of the single largest donors to the committee that’s controlled by Tom DeLay (you remember him) who is intent on making state legislatures around this country right-wing congressman factories. So yeah, he’s a Republican. You cannot disclaim the effects of those policies and support the office of them both politically and financially.You have said the mayor has a right to spend his money any way he chooses, but you have also termed his spending ‘obscene.’
How can you reconcile those two statements?
They are completely reconcilable. We have a right to do a great many things. I think in the court of public opinion this level of spending is an obscenity, especially when the mayor takes an oath of office. You take an oath to protect and defend the laws, and one of the laws in this city is the Campaign Finance Law. It doesn’t require him to personally participate; he can opt out. … What he cannot do is make up his own rules as he goes along. There is something offensive about that. So there’s a debate … the Apollo Theater. I’m there; he is not.
In the court of opinion he goes judge shopping … Mike Bloomberg in 2001 spent $74 million to get elected. He said he’d spent it to let people know who he was. Now he is going to spend more than that in an effort to make people forget who he has been for the last 3O years. For example, Ground Zero is still a hole in the ground principally because he and the governor were chasing a West Side stadium for the Olympics and wanted to spend our money doing it.
Staff writer Stewart Ain contributed to this report. For a transcript of the entire interview, go to our website: www.thejewishweek.com.