The Jewish Week asked the top candidates in June’s Democratic primary for New York City mayor where they stood on a range of issues. Find the other candidates’ responses here.
Dianne Morales, a native of Bedford-Stuyvesant, is a former NYC public school teacher and the former executive director of The Door, where she launched a street outreach program on the Christopher St. Pier for homeless LGBTQ+ youth and established the strategic plan for what would become Broome Street Academy, a public high school targeting homeless and foster care youth. Most recently she was executive director and CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, the nonprofit developer of affordable housing.
After a year in which concerns about anti-Semitic hate crimes rose, we are now seeing increasing reports of attacks against Asian Americans. How would you prevent and punish hate crimes, and how would you balance calls for solutions from law enforcement with those that seek less police involvement and more education and community outreach?
The recent events in Georgia are all too familiar to other marginalized communities, such as the Jewish community, the Muslim community, and the Black community. The increase in hate crimes against the Jewish community and others is a symptom of the white supremacy in this country. No one should have to live in fear of others — especially of law enforcement. I do not believe that increased policing makes our communities any safer, and, for Black and Brown individuals specifically, it puts them in more danger.
I will divest from the NYPD and reinvest that money into our communities. Police respond to crime, they don’t prevent it. I will work to build a city that ensures everyone’s basic needs are met in order to prevent crime and build safer communities. A step in this direction is my plan to reinvest money into education, healthcare, and housing for all. I would also increase funding to and work with the NYC Human Rights Commission and community based organizations to create and enact a comprehensive plan to protect vulnerable communities. We must invest in public services to build stronger communities based in solidarity, despite efforts to divide us.
This summer, the relocation of homeless men to hotels on the Upper West Side became a topic of debate within the Jewish community living there. Some supported the move as a gesture of compassion and a necessary solution to a housing crisis, and others objected that it had been done without sufficient community input and it presented a danger to the area’s permanent residents. How do you intend to address the plight of those sleeping unsheltered on the streets and in the subways, along with the safety and quality of life concerns of the city’s residents and business owners?
While the effort to house people without shelter in hotels was a step in the right direction, it was poorly executed. There was not enough done to address other hardships facing the individuals, nor did it create a pathway for permanent housing. Our whole community is safer when everyone has access to dignified housing. It’s time to get serious about ending homelessness.
As mayor, I would bring together a commission tasked with providing a pathway to totally eliminate homelessness in New York City. This commission will work closely with communities across the city to address safety concerns, but my administration will always center the most vulnerable New Yorkers, and recognize that being unhoused is far less safe than living near a supportive housing facility. Broadly, we must bring a substantial part of housing development out of the speculative for-profit market and instead prioritize developing social and public housing. These developments will be truly affordable and controlled publicly, rather than by for-profit developers. We will ensure the city’s supportive, permanent housing works alongside an expansion of public healthcare services, including mental health and disability services. We will also prioritize formerly homeless New Yorkers in our employment and basic income programs.
At the height of the Covid crisis, some sectors of the city’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community were seen to be flouting safety guidelines. At the same time, leaders of the community felt singled out by the mayor, health department and law enforcement for public censure and fines. What lessons in governance did you draw from this issue?
The way that the mayor and governor interacted with the ultra-Orthodox community made me reflect on the kinds of relationships I would like to build as mayor. First, I gained a better understanding of how diverse the Jewish community is in practice and in opinion. I also learned that we need to build deeper and more collaborative relationships between the City and the ultra-Orthodox community.
I also witnessed how the mayor’s various statements scapegoated the Jewish community as a whole on a public platform rather than working to resolve the issues within the ultra-Orthodox community. He frequently spoke about the Jewish community as a whole, as opposed to the specific part he was referring too. This kind of behavior condones casual anti-semitism and fuels more insidious beliefs that harm the Jewish community.
As Mayor, I would work to actively develop relationships with leaders within the haredi community. I will turn to these relationships before I turn to a press conference. I would also take care to correctly identify and build relationships with specific parts of the Jewish community. When public figures conflate distinct Jewish communities, they implicitly encourage others to view Jewish people as a monolith, encouraging stereotyping and bias.
Jewish students have historically been disproportionately represented in the city’s specialized high schools, and Jewish alumni of these schools are justifiably proud of the education they received and excellence they represent. At the same time, the number of Black and Hispanic students has been vanishingly low and has plummeted in recent years. How would you increase diversity in the city’s specialized schools? Would you eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test?
I attended an NYC specialized high school and I am proud of the education I received. However, the high quality education I received should be accessible in every high school. I was one of few students of color in my school, and among an even smaller number of Black and Hispanic students, and the issue has not gotten any better since then. It is not that Black and Brown students are any less intelligent or capable than other students — it is that there are barriers to access that the city must take down. I would eliminate all admissions screenings because they are just one more barrier to educational equity. We cannot sustain an educational system where some students succeed because others are set up to fail.
Another part of my plan to bring better education to all students is to integrate our public schools. New York City has the most segregated schools in the country — it is time for that to change. My administration will enact zoning reform and open enrollment for middle schools. I will put schools first in line for investment in the City’s budget. And I will prioritize parent and student voices during every step.
The Covid crisis caused many New Yorkers to question their commitment to city life, and to consider relocating to the suburbs or other parts of the country. What’s your best case for convincing Jewish New Yorkers to stay or come back, and what specific policies will you pursue to keep them or welcome them back home?
Each community is vital to our city, and the Jewish community is no exception. The Jewish community has had a large impact on NYC’s history — and should continue to.
One reason some people have left the city is that we have not made our neighborhoods people-friendly. As Mayor, I will work to improve quality of life in the city by improving public transit, expanding access to greenspace, and creating more pedestrian-friendly spaces.
I would enact a COVID recovery plan that will allow what we love about our city to revive and flourish. I will support small businesses through commercial rent relief and stabilization. I will help our neighbors stay in their homes by expanding rent relief. I resist austerity and invest in our public services that make New Yorkers’ lives healthy and safe. I am a native New Yorker, and I love my home. Communities flourish here in a way they can’t anywhere else in the world. I believe Jewish New Yorkers know that too, and will be here to help the city recover and thrive.
From whom do you seek advice on Jewish communal affairs? Who on your staff serves as a liaison to the Jewish community?
I have been working closely with organizations such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Bend The Arc and various faith leaders in the community. Additionally, I have staff members and several volunteers that are Jewish and heavily involved in the community and have worked to educate me on the issues facing Jewish New Yorkers.