Mayoral Candidate Bill Thompson Talks to The Brooklyn Ink

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The Brooklyn Ink last month sent a set of questions to each of the city’s 10 mayoral candidates. Only two responded: Democratic candidate Bill Thompson answered our questionnaire; Republican candidate John Catsimatidis agreed to a sit-down interview.

Bill Thompson

Former New York City comptroller Bill Thompson is a Democratic candidate in this year’s mayoral election. (Photo Courtesy of Bill Thompson for Mayor 2013)

Hurricane Sandy and disaster preparedness: How can New York City better prepare for the next storm?

During crisis, coordination between all levels of government and agencies like the national weather service, the NYPD, the FDNY, hospitals, the Red Cross, along with other emergency responders is paramount. Communications with the general public is also imperative to make sure residents have the information to stay safe and secure. Moreover, after these disasters hit, we need to streamline recovery so people can get back in their houses and businesses can make sure our communities are working again.

 We will engage the greatest minds in design, architecture, and construction to help make sure our buildings, communities, neighborhoods and critical infrastructure are prepared for future storms. We will appoint a Deputy Mayor for Infrastructure to work with these experts. She or he won’t just report to me about how we are rebuilding, but about how we are aligning resources from the public and private sectors and utilities; and building smarter, stronger, and safer. I would also focus on funding mass transit, an issue that has not received due attention.

How do you plan to help small business recover after Hurricane Sandy?

Many of our small businesses still have a long way to go to fully recover from Hurricane Sandy. The most important thing we can do to help is to make sure that the city’s roads and transportation systems are rebuilt to the highest standards so that our lives can return to normal and people can begin visiting their favorite small businesses again.  A lot of money came in from Washington to help rebuild that wasn’t actually used to for infrastructure projects. We need to make sure that we are using the federal money, along with money from the city and from the private sector, to make these improvements so that we can all fully recover. Our small business owners need to know what resources are available to them, so I’d work closely with our federal representatives to disseminate this information and I’d send staff representatives out to offer on-location advice on government programs and assistance with the application process.

How do you plan to meet the talent demands of Brooklyn’s growing tech industry?

According to the Center for an Urban Future, information technology jobs in the city have increased by 28.7 percent, from 41,100 to 52,900 in the last five years.  In this rapidly evolving 21st century global economy, we have to make sure that industries of the future call New York Home and that we have a properly trained workforce so that we can fill the jobs being created.

I commend Mayor Bloomberg for taking important steps towards this goal – particularly by partnering with Cornell to create a new applied sciences school on Roosevelt Island. As mayor, I will build on this.

Sequestration has affected the city’s budget this year. If you’re elected as Mayor and the city budget faces similar pressures, where and what would you cut?

 The next mayor will be stuck with a precarious budget situation that we will need to use some ingenuity and forward thinking to get out of.

I’m the only Democratic candidate for mayor who has the kind of public sector and private sector background to understand how to put our city’s fiscal house in order. For example, I would cut subsidies to luxury housing. There is no reason that the city should give money to those who have so much when there are so many people in the city who are barely making ends meet. Those types of subsidies would be the easiest things to eliminate.

During Mayor Bloomberg’s time in office, the number of homeless people sleeping each night in city shelters has gone up by 61 percent to more than 50,000 people, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. Nearly two-thirds of families re-enter shelters. What is your plan to reduce these numbers?

The first thing we need to do is help prevent evictions that push families out into the streets. We need more resources to assist families before they are forced to leave their homes. We can keep more families in their homes if we increase rental assistance programs and prioritize homeless families for Section 8 vouchers. We have to make sure that money for these programs is in the budget every year so that we can prevent more families from falling into a back-and-forth cycle between affordable housing options and homeless shelters or the streets.

Brooklyn is home to some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. For example, in Borough Park almost 30 percent of residents are living at or below the poverty line. What do you propose to do to provide services for the city’s poor?

I see the Mayor’s role as an advocate for all New Yorkers, and I will use the power of the office to give a voice to those of us that have historically been left out of the process—and that includes low-wage workers. Working class families are the heart and soul of New York City. But between rising rents, nickel and dime fees, and longer, slower commutes, the city doesn’t work for them. Some have said that New York City is a luxury item and needs to be priced that way. That’s wrong. Too many New Yorkers are already getting left behind in today’s shaky economy. And without them, New York just won’t be the vibrant, diverse place it is and always has been. We can’t let that happen.

First, I’m going to be a Mayor who builds a city that works for working-class families in every community. We can do that by supporting growth and investment in all five boroughs, not by focusing on one at the expense of the rest. New York needs to continue to be the place where the best, brightest and most creative workers want to come and live. But that means we need to focus on attracting modern jobs that can keep up in the changing economy and on protecting workers from unfair and unsafe labor conditions. Everyone deserves a safe and stable job with a decent wage to support their families.

Second, I’m going to be a mayor that is going to overhaul education by fixing our classroom curriculum, reducing class size and empowering educators and parents. I believe strong public schools are the key to creating jobs and economic opportunity for working-class New Yorkers. As mayor, I will be a leader who believes that the curriculum should guide results, not the other way around. We must work with educators, parents and communities to prepare our students to think critically. Instead of closing schools that are underperforming, we need to fix them so children in every neighborhood have the chance to get the education they need to succeed.

Third, my administration will focus on creating affordable housing. The fact is, the city’s housing policy is outdated and out-of-touch with our needs. Our focus must be on moderate- and low-income housing for poor and working families, not on paving the way for another avenue for gentrification that drives long-time tenants out of our neighborhoods in favor of newer, wealthier residents.

Giving every New Yorker a chance to succeed is key to the long-term vitality of our city and will be an urgent priority of mine as Mayor.

What do you propose to do to keep public transportation costs from going up?

Increasing rates imposed by MTA and Port Authorities are squeezing family budgets. The first thing we need to do to keep transportation costs from rising is to find a dedicated revenue stream. We also need to restore the commuter tax and dedicate that revenue to the transportation system. Commuters from New Jersey, Connecticut, and upstate should all help pay for the system’s costs. I’ve also advocated for a weight-based automobile registration system for those counties covered by the MTA – the heavier the vehicle, the more it will cost to register, which will help raise millions of dollars to improve subways and buses across New York.

Given that Mayor Bloomberg has been known to be bike friendly, many are concerned that the new mayor may not be. How do you envision bike lane expansion and outdoor space changing in Brooklyn if you are elected?

I support bike lanes as an important part of our transit system and have no plans to remove them. They help reduce other traffic congestion and are also a good form of exercise for our city’s busy workers. That being said, to keep everyone safe we must see that bikers, along with drivers, follow the city’s speed limits and other road rules. But we need to make sure that any plan in any neighborhood reflects the needs and interests of a whole community. Neighborhoods should be consulted before additional bike lanes are constructed because they know best what their residents need.

What is your position or plans for educational vouchers for the city’s parochial schools?

I don’t support the use of vouchers that send public money to religious schools. We need to improve our city’s public schools so that all students have access to an adequate education rather than send the precious dollars we have out the door.

The Department of Education has just announced the closure of more schools, phasing out of others–and the co-location of many schools within the building of others. Do you believe this is a pathway to a better educational system for the city? Why or why not?

For more than a decade, Mayor Bloomberg has prioritized closing schools over improving them. After a decade of closing schools, many of our most vulnerable students are no better off than when we started.  And on top of that, school communities have been broken, and parents feel more disillusioned with the Department of Education than they ever have.

The policy continues to fail New York’s students and it must end now. Schools must be improved so children in every single community have an opportunity to get a great education. We need a moratorium on school closures starting now.  We need to take these schools off the chopping block.

Ten percent of hospitals located in Brooklyn have closed or are about to.  What is the future of healthcare in Brooklyn and how will you, as mayor, ensure that the people of Brooklyn have adequate hospital access?

We can’t afford to see any more hospitals closing in New York City. As mayor, I’ll do everything I can to work with state officials and keep negotiations transparent so that the community can be a part of discussions about our hospitals. For example, closing LICH would have overwhelmed other nearby hospitals and left thousands out of work. We have a responsibility to see that residents of all areas of the city have access to medical care and I know we can all work together to make that possible.

What is your opinion on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy and if elected, how do you plan to address concerns surrounding it?

Stop and frisk can be an important tool for police officers but it has been abused by this Administration. There’s a reason that the most vocal opposition to the stop and frisk policies come from black and Latino communities – by an enormous margin, they’re the people being stopped for what appears to be no other reason than the color of their skin.

I have a 15-year-old stepson. Like me, he’s black. There’s nothing more important to me than his safety, and the safety of everyone in my family. I worry about him being mugged. I worry about him being shot by a gang member. But right now, I also have to worry about him being stopped by the police for no other reason than his age and the color of his skin.

We need a mayor who understands that protecting people’s safety and protecting people’s rights are both the mayor’s job. It’s the mayor’s job to fix stop and frisk.

Nets or Knicks? Mets or Yankees? Jets or Giants?

Knicks, but it is great to see the Nets playing in Brooklyn.  I’ve been a lifelong Mets fan, and I’d have to go with the Jets.

What is your favorite spot in Brooklyn and why?

I always have loved the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood I grew up, and as someone who lived in Brooklyn until recently, I have a special relationship with Brooklyn.

Why Brooklyn? (What’s special/unique about Brooklyn, what do you love about Brooklyn?)

Brooklyn has everything.  Every people, every culture, every demographic.  You can drive from one side of the borough to the other and come across every facet of New York.  You can very much see why it was once a city unto itself.

 

 

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