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.
Maya Wiley, who lives in Brooklyn, served as Counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio from 2014-2016. After leaving City Hall, she was chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and co-chair of the School Diversity Task Force. At the New School, where she served as a University Professor, she founded the Digital Equity Laboratory on universal and inclusive broadband. She has had previous positions at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU, and is a former legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. Wiley was also Senior Advisor on Race and Poverty at the Open Society Foundations, a funder of human rights work.
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?
I have spent my career fighting against hate and for equity. As Counsel to the Mayor, the City Commission on Human Rights was under my supervision and I fought to have City Hall give it the focus and resources it deserves. As Mayor, no one will have to fight me to prioritize anti-discrimination and anti-hate work.
The fight against hate crimes must be multi-faceted and cross-departmental. CCHR and NYPD are the two agencies that must take the lead in an effective approach against hate. CCHR will lead the enforcement within government agencies and a citywide education campaign against hate. The NYPD will be tasked with protecting New Yorkers across the City, whether that be at synagogues or mosques or in communities at large.
I will bolster CCHRs education and enforcement capacity by moving the Mayor’s Office of Hate Crimes – which has consistently underperformed — into CCHR to ensure that it has the legal weight of the City behind it. The CCHR Office of Hate Crimes will work with Community leaders, the DOE, and others to establish and implement citywide educational curricula against antisemitism, islamophobia, transphobia, anti-Asian bias, and more.
The NYPD also has a large role to play in the fight against antisemitism and hate. We must put the public back in public safety. This means that City Hall — in consultation with communities, must establish the priorities and procedures for the NYPD. It also means rightsizing the department to ensure it isn’t performing tasks that are not policing and focusing the NYPD on a problems-oriented approach that allows them to focus on areas of greatest need, including protecting New Yorkers against Hate Crimes, which is a policing function. I will also examine the possibility of adding NYPD monitored cameras outside of high-risk locations, while heavily balancing concerns around data privacy and potential abuse of data.
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?
I have spent a lot of time with the men of the Lucerne Hotel and the Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative. Together, they were able to resolve the legitimate quality of life concerns that were raised following the move to the Lucerne and provide the men being housed there with the services and support they need. Community partnerships like those formed between Project Renewal, the residents of the Lucerne, Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative, and Goddard Riverside as a model for community support and integration of New Yorkers who are currently or formerly homeless.
Homelessness, at its core, is an eviction and affordability crisis. All New Yorkers are housing ready — the question is whether we have housing they can afford and provide additional support for those who need them. I will take on these crises with energy and enthusiasm because New York City needs a Mayor who is unafraid to lead.
We need to find ways to immediately house people. Approximately 4,000 people are sleeping on the streets on any given night. At the same time, around 100 hotels will likely go bankrupt due to the pandemic. As Mayor, I will explore ways for the city to acquire these properties to convert them into permanently supportive housing. I have spent time over the last few months with the men of the Lucerne and with homelessness and housing experts and know that with a housing-first approach we can end street homelessness.
We must increase the City FHEPs subsidy from the current $1200 per month and restructure it so that homeless New Yorkers can actually afford an apartment. Under the current system, less than 5% of voucher recipients are able to find an affordable apartment.
We must also ensure that people can stay in their homes. I support the expansion of the right to counsel to provide free legal representation to tenants facing eviction. But in order to keep people in their homes and realize the humanitarian benefits and financial savings from doing so, we need to make a significant initial investment in direct rent relief.
In December, I introduced an Eviction Prevention Plan that begins by using the $251M in Emergency Rental Assistance funding from the Federal Stimulus for the City. This will provide much-needed relief, but it does not come close to addressing the massive housing crisis that has been exacerbated by this pandemic. In the long term, the best defense against homelessness and displacement is ensuring that New York’s housing stock is safe and truly affordable for all New Yorkers. We need to build on the success of the housing first model by moving homeless individuals to subsidized housing and then linking them to support services. We would save money by investing in permanent supportive housing and models such as supported SROS.
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?
There is a crisis of confidence in the elected leadership in our city that I will change when I am in office. Listening, learning and partnership is not a slogan to me, but the definition of my leadership style. If I were Mayor when the coronavirus hit, I would have convened a group of community leaders in the spring that would have met with me and my team on a regular basis throughout the crisis so that I could update you all on any changes and, more importantly, listen and learn about what was going on in the community. This dialogue would have allowed us to work together to identify potential hotspots and culturally appropriate solutions to avoid drastic actions and resulting antagonism. I am the type of leader who admits when I do not know something and believe firmly in listening, learning, and partnering to ensure that the government is responsive to the needs of all of its residents.
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?
Every child deserves an excellent education that meets their needs. And we must harness the City’s robust industries and universities to prepare New Yorkers for sustainable work and careers as adults. I do support the elimination of the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.
We have been debating for decades how to create schools that are excellent, equitable, and serve all of our kids. As Mayor, I will embrace the opportunity to transform our school system by bringing together school communities to tackle the structural inequality in our schools head on, including changes to our admissions policies to ensure they do not exacerbate underlying inequities.
While the pandemic lays bare the inequities of our schools, it offers us an opportunity to rethink how we do things. A transformed school system must tackle the structural inequality in our society that is also embedded in how our schools are organized and operate—inequality that cheats our students of color, low-income students, students with learning differences, and those experiencing housing insecurity. This includes resources and, in this age of technology, we must address the digital divide, including broadband access and equipment, so that all students and families can fully participate in educational opportunities.
As a co-chair of Mayor de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group, with Hazel Dukes and Jose Calderon, I co-led a process with 40+ stakeholders that included parents, students, community leaders, advocates, and academics to present a series of proposals, including integration goals, to tackle the structural inequalities and racism that exists in our school system. These proposals included integration goals, supporting district, borough, and ultimately city-wide integration and school-level innovations, and ending racially discriminatory admissions testing. I continue to support the recommendations of the SDAG. Integration is a necessary piece of making all schools excellent.
It’s also undeniable that COVID-19 has created new challenges and opportunities for transformation. The challenges include hundreds of thousands of kids who have lost perhaps a year in educational outcomes due to COVID, so we have to develop innovative strategies that support our children’s recovering the year and engaging in accelerated learning where appropriate. COVID also means that we have the opportunity to rethink many things about how schools and education are organized to address our challenges and create new learning opportunities for our children that can also create diverse learning environments. We must be open to adjustments in the way we achieve integration to make sure we’re taking advantage of new opportunities and while we keep our eyes on the prize of making up for this lost year of school. I am committed to doing the hard work to make integration happen.
Undoing segregation in our schools will take time because this issue is generations in the making, but we will start on day one.
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?
New York City is the greatest city in the world. My own journey in New York began when I spent one of my earliest years in a Mitchell-Lama apartment on the Lower East Side. And while my family soon moved away, I do remember visiting New York as a young child and falling deeply in love with this city. The skyline, the energy, but more importantly, the people. People who come from more countries than I’d have time to list and all over the US — who brought everything — their memories, their skills, their recipes, and their dreams — and shared it with all of us.
As mayor, I will remind New Yorkers why we live here to begin with. It’s not because it’s inexpensive — though we need to make our city more affordable — it’s because of our diversity, our culture, our world-class institutions. I will rebuild the trust in our government institutions and engage all New Yorkers in the process of recovering and reimagining.
More concretely, I will begin by passing a moral budget. A budget that responsibly acknowledges the economic crisis, while prioritizing spending on programs that will stimulate and support a faster recovery. For instance, I would never have cut the sanitation budget last fall and will prioritize garbage pick up and other quality of life spending. Additionally, my New Deal New York plan will use $10B of capital spending to put 100,00 of our residents back to work on projects such as green infrastructure, transit, affordable housing and the arts.
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 in communication with many Jewish leaders and organizations across the religious and political spectrum since announcing my candidacy. I have sought insight and understanding into the different experiences and perspectives that exist within the diverse Jewish community of New York City. I have in the past sought guidance from Rabbi Ellen Lippman, who was my family rabbi when we were members of Kolot Chayeinu, have a relationship with Rabbi Andy Bachman [of The Jewish Community Project Downtown], and been in regular communication with Rabbi Joe Potasnik [of the New York Board of Rabbis] as well.
Additionally, I am adamant about making decisions based on principles, and have always led this way, and will continue to do so as mayor. Many of the principles that guide me as a person and as a candidate are inherently Jewish — like Tikkun Olam — actively repairing the world. My entire life I have fundamentally believed that it is my duty to help repair the world, and this has guided my life’s course from my parents taking me to the picket line, to advocating at the ACLU, to this campaign. Another Jewish value that guides me is Kavod — dignity or respect. I am running for mayor because I believe that everyone deserves a life of dignity and our systems in place currently deny that to too many New Yorkers. As I continue to run this campaign and when I am Mayor, I will never stop fighting for Kavod for everyone.