Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer
MBPO Gale Brewer Interview Transcript – Recorded July 2, 2021
Maurice Pinzon: What are your major accomplishments as Borough President. What are you going to do for a “second act” in the New York City Council?
Gale Brewer: Number one, I hope that we’ve been a very accessible borough presidency in the following ways. It’s not – you know the board president has four charter-mandated, people don’t know that, responsibilities. Number one is to be part of the uniform land use review procedure, which is the ULRUP, basically land use and zoning. And we’ve done almost 200 ULURPs including some very major rezoning. So that’s a big accomplishment that I think will help us in the city council. The land use, as you know, is the meat and potatoes – not the best analogy – of New York City. The second we had to appoint every single year, about 1,000 people, including community boards, solid waste advisory boards, business board, hospital boards, school boards, all of these individuals were trained in everything from land use, and budgeting to technology, parliamentary procedure and so on. And so that has been a good, I think, process that I could also hopefully, use in the city council because there are a lot of appointments. The third issue is allocating funding, not different from the city council or the mayor. And then the fourth is how do we deal with legislation – do legislation – with a council member.
But in terms of what we have accomplished, we also took the office that had been located in the Harlem State Office building – up high – and moved it to a storefront on 125th Street, between Amsterdam and Morningside. That’s been a big deal. The fact that people can walk in get help learn what’s going on in the community was a big plus for Harlem. We’re the only Harlem storefront. Everybody else is in the state office building. So that to me was an example. We also have worked to improve, picking up on what Scott Stringer had done as borough president to really streamline make sure that the community board members represent their districts demographically, racially, men, women and professions. So that’s been a huge, I think improvement to the community board process. It’s never easy because there are so many issues that they have to deal with.
And then, finally, in terms of accomplishment. We have a very diverse staff. We have taken on, I think the word is convening, right now we’re convening a group on drug treatment, improving the services of Washington Square Park. Every Tuesday, for months, we’ve been meeting virtually, with people talking about vaccine improvements in Manhattan. We know that was a huge issue previously. And now we’re talking about how Manhattan can recover. Coming back out of this god awful pandemic. So the whole convening, we convened discussions on the Garment Center, South Street Seaport, you know, all of the rezonings on East Midtown. I don’t know, we’ve had maybe I would say 50 or 60, substantive discussions, long term construction safety we did for a year and a half.
So all of that, I think, has been a plus in terms of what is the role of the borough president? Because it is not clear. You know what to do as a council member, you know what you do as comptroller, you know what to do as mayor. But it’s what you make of the borough presidency. So I would say to answer your question, we’re very proud of the work we’ve done in terms of the charter mandates, which is, you know, going beyond in terms of appointment doing all of these, I think more ULURPs than perhaps in the entire rest of the city combined. And then obviously introducing about 20 bills in the city council with other members, and certainly allocating funding, which is not different than in the past.
But then, in addition to all of that, this huge convening of hundreds of hundreds of different topics for the borough of Manhattan, being the advocate, hopefully. And then also moving the office where constituents are served out of the tall office building to the streets. And that has been, you know, we’ve also had meetings in there with, for instance, the African immigrant Task Force, the amazing women who do braiding and the challenges that they have, and just, you know, been like the party scene for the 125th Street BID at holiday time. You know because we have a large conference room there.
So those are some of the most obvious, you know, you have you have all of the individual ways that we have, I think, done analysis, like we did all of the curb cuts, we did a survey of them and found that there were a lot of broken ones that got them fixed because of the press. We just did something similar recently with the cooling centers. That the mayor said, “Oh, we have all these cooling centers.” Well, it turns out that the city has not as many cooling centers in Manhattan as they had thought and then signage is bad. We’re doing the study of the ADA accessibility for the election, polling sites, we try to look at what’s current. And then with our as you know, many interns during 2019, we have 139, summer interns, and we can’t quite have as many this year, but we try to work with them on a very substantive basis also. So those are some of the things we’ve accomplished. We hope to, you know, put it all into a document for the next borough president, so they have something to work with.
Maurice Pinzon: Do we need Borough Presidents?
Gale Brewer: It’s a very good question. And I have to say, being Borough President, I think is needed more than ever. And let me be specific. I mean, as council member, I went actually more around the boroughs, you know, you would visit the – I’m making this up – the Brooklyn Navy Yard as part of a bill that might come up about economic development. Or I might go to the Bronx because it was a great youth program. And there was a hearing, blah, blah, blah. So I actually went around the boroughs more than as Manhattan Borough President. As Manhattan Borough President, I can see the huge difference between the boroughs, and I have great relationship with the other borough presidents. Over time, we’ve had lunch quite often and so on.
But you need a voice for your borough. And I can be specific. I talked a little bit more than I would’ve wanted to…and the City Council people don’t do it. Like, for whatever reason, there isn’t a strong Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, the delegations don’t work like that. So the Borough President, not only do we mandately – if that’s English – have the borough board every month, that’s by charter, so you have to have all the borough all the committee and chairs of the community boards, and then supposedly the council members, but they don’t always show up – you know, they’re busy – unless there is a vote. So what is the role the borough president? Bringing the different stakeholders for the borough together is such an important role. I would not have known that it was so important. I mean, there are issues that are just related to Manhattan. Right now we’re trying to deal with the empty office space – big article in The New York Times today. No other borough has that. Manhattan also has Broadway. No other borough has that. So we did…we work a lot with all the arts groups in a different way. I mentioned the garment center. The mayor, when I became Borough President, wanted to send the Garment Center to Brooklyn. You can imagine how I felt about that. And of course, during the pandemic – thank goodness we had it for the gowns and the masks – that had to be purchased and made and they could be done here.
You do need. And you know Brooklyn has its needs. Queens has its needs. You do need a voice for the borough, particularly when there is a Borough President I’ll be honest with you – I’m sorry – a mayor from another borough. I mean, Mayor de Blasio loves Brooklyn. He doesn’t always love Manhattan. So he has to be told that this is what is going on in Manhattan. And this is what Manhattan needs. It’s very, very different. And so is the Bronx, and so is Staten Island. So I actually think that there’s more need than ever to bring together the stakeholders from the borough. And there isn’t any other entity that will do it. Because if you’re a council member, you know, you don’t have that authority. Like, Okay, I’m representing the Lower East Side as an example. I can’t tell all the other parts of the borough to listen to me. Well, I would say that it’s very, very clear now. If the Mayor de Blasio could have been smarter, but he never – I think he met with us once. I don’t even remember that. That’s it in eight years. If he was if he was a little bit more enlightened, I think he would have met with us on a regular basis, you know, I don’t know four times a year or something quarterly, to say, what are the issues? He never did.
Each Borough President, at least the ones now and I think probably in the future, really know their boroughs really know their boroughs. I really know Manhattan. Borough President Diaz really knows the Bronx, etc. And there are issues that could have been resolved more readily with that kind of discussion. I think the borough presidents maybe some of their powers could change in some ways. But generally, they are, even though mostly advisory, they are a great spokespersons for the interests of their borough.
Maurice Pinzon: You’ll have a much smaller staff in the Council. Have you thought about whether you want to pursue a leadership position or specific committees?
Well, a couple of things. First of all, I don’t need to tell you, but this city needs a whole lot of not just me, but input generally to try to come back differently. You know, if you’re talking about people getting jobs, people being healthy, all the issues of the schools, which I actually think is our biggest challenge, in many ways, because a lot of these young people have not been in school for a year. And all the questions of how do you, you know, figure out the affordable housing. There’s so many issues, it’s not completely dissimilar, although it is on some other way.
We obviously, I came in on 9/11, right after 9/11, as you know, the election for the time that I ran in 2001, happened to be on September 11th 2001. So we actually canceled that election, obviously. Held it a couple of weeks later. That was a challenge, was very different than the one we’re facing now, because then we lost, oh goodness, over 3000 people. But this time we lost 33,000 people in terms of people dying in the borough. Not just the borough of Manhattan, but the whole city, 33,000 people died as a result of this awful pandemic. And I know friends, and I’m sure you do, too. It’s horrible. So the issue is, how do you come back in a way that is respectful of those who have passed, but come back differently that involving in a positive way more New Yorkers?
Now, thank goodness for Mr. Biden, and Ms. Harris. I mean, it’s made an immense difference to the budget, but it also just gives some light at the end of the tunnel, but you don’t know how long that light is gonna last, depending on what happens with the congressional election. But you have to, you know, my opinion to come back. And why I think, a smaller staff, yes, but don’t forget, in the city council, you have a very large four or five hundred Speaker staff. So whether you’re a council member, or a Speaker, but I’m fine being a council member, you could always rely on that staff in the Speaker’s office, and you have the all the really, you know, the oversight that comes with being in the hearing situation, and also the budget
You have some pretty heavy tools if you use them. And I also think the city council should do a whole lot better with technology. And when I mean, obviously, I was chair of the technology committee before. Now the thing, what we’ve done in the borough president’s office is we have a whole technology nonprofit called beta NYC, which is in our office. And those four staff people work full time with the community boards with open data, which is also something that I focus on, as you know, because I passed that bill, open data is the way in which every city agency has to put their data on a platform, open data platform, and then that data, we analyze for the community boards and show them how to do it. So we have a whole technology, part of the borough president’s office, and I think the city council, whether it is on its own YouTube, Facebook, you know, really, you know, has to improve because the council meetings are super boring. And the way in which they’re delivered needs a lot of improvement. So how the city council uses its own voice, technologically, I think also needs to be improved. So what I’m saying is, even though you have a small staff, you can use the hearing process, the budget process, hopefully, the technology, to be much more visible.
And in my case, the West Side, as you know, has always been a leader in terms of issues. Ruth Messenger with, I don’t know, she and Ronnie Eldridge were very well known in terms of either tax abatements, changes or all the different ways in which they took the lead on policies that change citywide. So I hope to have that role also, you know, given my experience. There is no end to the changes that this city needs if we’re going to come out of this pandemic, including everybody and not just certain people.
Maurice Pinzon: As council member in any position you will be working with a new mayor. What do you think of the top 3 contenders (Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Maya Wiley)? Can you work with all of them?
Gale Brewer: I can work with all of them. Obviously, Eric Adams and I have been colleagues in the borough presidency. Katherine Garcia was a phenomenal. I knew her as Sanitation Commissioner, but I really got to know her as the Food Czar, because one of our issues has always been food insecurity in the borough president’s office. We could see immediately that the seniors were being hurt, could starve, if it wasn’t for her leadership during the pandemic. I mean, we were the leaders in bringing this issue to the forefront in terms of seniors, home bound, and food and she did turn it around. And then as the chair of the technology committee, I worked constantly with Maya Wiley when she was general counsel to the mayor because she too is a techie. And we worked on testifying in Washington, in front of the FCC together, we worked on open data together. We worked on municipal WiFi together and the list goes on. We worked on suing Verizon together with the FCRC. All three of them, I can work with, to answer your question.
Maurice Pinzon: What do you think of the recently passed NYC budget?
When I was on the council, I was on the budget negotiation committee, and to the credit of Mayor Bloomberg, this rainy day fund was established. And now it’s more legal, it was a little bit of, let’s just do it. And it wasn’t had to have like a different name. But now it’s a legal, I call it, rainy day fund. But it is something that could be used for the future. To the credit of the city council, I believe the mayor has put in, and the City Council, obviously, about a billion dollars total. And so that’s a good amount. It could be more, but it’s a billion dollars in the rainy day fund for the future. I think this huge budget, there are two issues. Number one, some of the money has to be spent by September, the rest of the money has to be spent, as you said, by December 31st 2024. And if it’s not, then it goes back to the federal government, you certainly don’t want to send money back to the federal government.
So you know, I have looked at it. I have looked at – we certainly did. We have to do by law, a budget sort of impact study what we think and so we submitted that some weeks ago, and we do tend to focus on some of the issues that I mentioned the food insecurity, the seniors, you know, workforce issues, things that we in the Borough of Manhattan think are important. All the schools. So I can’t say look, line by line. But I do think that we have a good, good year. I do think there are some agencies, they could be, you know, collapsed, or lots of people working in the mayor’s office, some of that could in fact, be collapsed. I think the issue with the budget is to see what exactly are the essential services that New Yorkers need, obviously, housing, housing, housing, supportive housing would be perhaps my first listing and public safety. Those are the two however you define both of them. Those would be the two that need immediate support. And obviously, they’re complicated. They’re complicated in terms of mental health, they’re complicated in terms of where do you find the sites. They’re complicated in terms of, you know, long term, affordability for those who are in need of supportive housing, and there’s so many different issues.
But I hope that that’s what we look at for the future. This budget is large, you know, hopefully, it also figures out a way to coordinate like, I do, like the outdoor restaurants, I like the bike lanes. I like the bus lanes. I like the fact that people are using the streets and the parks and open space, and we’re trying to have open streets. Trying to have the arts in the open streets. But it turns out from my reading that there are about 25 city and state agencies that operate in the streets and the sidewalks and they’re not coordinated. So one of the questions I would ask. Do we need a public realms Czar, a public space Czar. And is that something that this budget helps to do? Because the agencies have got to coordinate. I think that’s been a problem in the last 12 years. And how do you make? How do you write a budget that has more coordination. And the other thing about this budget that I think it did not include is units of appropriation, which basically means that you have to as an agency head, break down the budget. You can’t put in I’m making this up $10 million for “Other” at the Department of Homeless Services or something like that. Has to say what the programs are, that it’s paying for. So that as the city council, when you do your oversight, you have some way of measuring, did that money go toward what it is that it’s supposed to? So these are some of the issues that I would look at in the future, you can do that with a small staff because you have a great staff in the Speaker’s office.
Maurice Pinzon: How do we strike a balance between “over-policing” and public safety?
Gale Brewer: That’s a very good question, Maurice. And it’s one that everybody is asking. I’m a big fan of Jumaane Williams. I endorsed him when he ran the first time. And he and I have been talking about this a lot. I don’t have the answer. But I have a couple of ways that it could be done. I think fairly. You know, the police are – at the highest levels – I don’t know when you get down to some of the officers. But at the highest levels, I spent a lot of time with the police. And I do think they understand that the over-policing is a big problem. And it doesn’t bode well.
Let me give you an example of what their challenges are. So we’re working now in Washington Square Park, and I am doing, convened a group, as I indicated, to look at the drug treatment issues, which is different than some of the other issues. But I hope that you know, we now have, we’re going to have seven day coverage of people with people who do drug treatment and their peers, and hopefully that’ll help with those who need our services. So those are the most vulnerable. But the issue of, you know, people who are just, you know who hate cops, or who are protesting in the park or whatever. That’s a harder group to be honest with you. I have, I was on a drug treatment board for 25 years before I was elected to the council. And it’s a community that I know well. So okay, that we can work on. The issue with the other groups though, I, you know, we, I thought the police could, you know, maybe meet with some of the leaders and see if they can work out something so it’s not a constant in the park and not be so upset about the closing times, and so on. So, it seems to me that that would be possible. Well, the problem is that the police won’t go into the park unless they have helmets. And, you know, when they look like they’re an invading force, because they’re afraid of getting bottles and other things thrown at them. So here, you’re, now you’re still gonna have police going into the park that look like, you know, the invading force with the pull down helmets and, you know, massive amounts of numbers. So that’s a, you know, that’s an example of, Okay, so the cops won’t go in unless they have this uniform that is quite invading looking. And then people who are in the park, you know, are not going to be respectful of that, I assume. And it doesn’t seem to me even though people have tried to talk to some of the leaders, it doesn’t seem to be particularly, you know. It doesn’t seem to be some kind of compromise. So that’s an example.
When you go to other places where you have guns. Now the mayor, to his credit, has called in the national, a, you know, the folks who do anti-gun patrol and who are the ATF, the firearms. And they, according to Jumaane Williams, who met with them recently, he’s very hopeful, because these are the people who know how to maybe deal with the I-95. You know, the driving from Virginia, West Virginia, Texas, of bringing the guns into New York. There are something close to like 100,000 illegal guns circulating in our streets right now. That’s a lot of guns. So can they, can the ATF folks do something about it? That would be helpful. It is about guns.
It’s also about, you know, if you figure during the pre-pandemic as an example, nightlife, which is, I don’t know, $14 billion industry in the city of New York is closed, it’s still closed. So that was an example to all of those jobs. So many jobs are not available to people right now. Because even though it looks like people were back on the streets, a lot of the jobs are not still available. So the question is, how do you get the guns off the street? And then how do you get people back to work? It’s a coordination.
So you definitely have the cure the violence groups that are probably doing more than we know. When I meet with them, there are two of them in Manhattan. And when I meet with them, they do an awful lot of stopping violence, you know, 2 people having a beef, they managed to settle it. So that doesn’t get in the paper. What gets in the paper is when somebody shoots and hopefully doesn’t kill or does kill, that’s what gets in the paper. But these cure the violence groups do a whole lot of good. So we need more of them. And we need to get the guns off the street. I think that would help as opposed to, you know, cops going in, or people with as I described, looking like an invading force.
How, and then, you have the mentally ill who are just pushing people on the subway or saying anti-Asian, anti-Semitic, horrible things. And they, they’re just mentally unstable. So then the question is, okay, so they get arrested, this is what happens, they get arrested. Rikers is not the right place for them. But guess what, there isn’t any place for them under this administration. So one of the questions is, where do we get them settled, so that they have support, they should not be going to Rikers Island, and they’re going to come out and it’s going to be worse. So what are we doing with those who are mentally unstable, they’re probably more now because of this pandemic. In the past, pre-pandemic, they might have been in a location where they were getting their medication on a regular basis, whether it was somebody, you know, some caseworker paying attention to them. That is not true now. So the whole mental illness is a real challenge that has to be addressed, but it has to be addressed. Like, what are we going to do with individuals who need that support? It’s not the cops say, I arrested this person, you know, and also the courts have been closed until this week. Well, then, you know, they get let out without any necessarily follow up. There’s a whole piece there of, you know, cure the violence, jobs, mental illness, what do you do with them? The cops can’t do all this. And now the cops are told they can’t deal with the homeless and they can’t deal with the vendors, the homeless are going to dealt, be dealt with with the Department of Homeless Services. And the vendors because you see, that was the fight in Times Square. The vendors are being dealt with by the Department of Consumer Affairs and worker protection. But those two agencies are not coordinating well with police department as we speak. Hope, I would guess what I’m trying to say to answer your question over policing over-policing has to stop, but the other agencies have to step in. And right now, I don’t think they have actually stepped in.
Maurice Pinzon: Commissioner Steven Bank of HRA and Dept. of Homeless Services hasn’t been able to solve or even improve the homeless issue. What hope do we have to ever solve this issue?
Gale Brewer: I think it is a couple of things. And you know, Liz Krueger knows as much about this as anybody. But first is when people come from the Upstate prisons, they should not have to go to the shelter system. They should be working with the groups that do this sort of work. Fortune Society is just one of them. There are many others. Where those groups should be trusted with supporting those individuals. It is crazy for them to go to the shelter. It’s expensive and it doesn’t do them any good. Right now as we speak, Fortune Society, and I’m sure there are others. It’s just the one I know. They are trying to get a couple more buildings to be able to house these individual, almost 100% of those who may take you know on a transitional basis with the support services very differently than going to a shelter. They then get permanent housing for and that person does not go back to prison. So there’s no recidivism. That’s what has to happen.
Number two. There are a lot of veterans in the system. Now those folks come from the different services. They come to New York, maybe they’re from here, maybe they’re not, they go directly to the shelter system. So we need to be able to work with the army, Marines, Air Force, etc. to say, if you’re coming to New York, please let us know that Mr. Jones is coming to New York. And then we can work with him to put them right into the veteran system as opposed to the shelter system. Same thing.
I know that the city under Steve Bank’s leadership has done everything they can to keep people in their apartments. There are programs that do that and say, okay, but that they need to be enhanced. They need, you know, if you’re overcrowded, let’s find a way for you get another apartment, and not end up in the system. The other question I have to say is some of the families are going to their credit from this shelter to NYCHA, but they’re not doing social services in NYCHA. And there are a whole bunch of issues. And I have a feeling some of those folks might end up back in the shelter system.
You have every single step of the way, give people a lot of support, whether it’s people coming out of jails and prisons, or people coming from the armed services, or people, you know, before they end up homelessness, homeless, giving them support before they have to leave either an overcrowded situation or an abusive situation. There’s a disconnect, or those who are mentally ill, right, who we know can be unhinged, because they don’t have the medication. So I think the answer is, I don’t know the answer to your question. It’s partly unemployment. But these systems just don’t seem to talk to each other. And that’s what I find mostly frustrating. And that’s what I hope to help, because I do know, where they need to talk to each other.
Maurice Pinzon: Can we make it easier for the public to get access to City Hall?
Gale Brewer: In terms of access to City Hall, I would absolutely. This is the decision of the mayor. I don’t think the city council can do this. Even a cop, not just a cop is a problem. It is so depressing to watch tourists look at this big fence and not be able to walk across City Hall Plaza. I hate that. I would move the scanners right up to the building. Not in the plaza because I want people to be able to walk across the plaza. It’s the people’s house, but I don’t like it at all.
Maurice Pinzon: How can City Hall improve government operations with technology. What do we do about the dysfunctional New York Board of Elections?
Gale Brewer: Well, in terms of the board of elections, I have great confidence, as you do, in State Senator Liz Krueger. And in the Assembly member Nily Rozic, and those two have a bill along those lines, it is a state issue. I mean, we could sit here and talk about the Board of Elections forever, but the only thing the city council can do is have a hearing and maybe a resolution. So I look forward to what happens on the state level.
The second issue in terms of Estonia and E-government – Ireland also is quite good on the topic. The issue is, it’s a little shocking, but no surprise, perhaps to you. For instance, during this pandemic, we worked with the Business Improvement Districts, obviously, to try to make sure to keep these businesses alive. I can talk more about the challenges of vacant storefronts and what we’re trying to do about them, we are waiting from the Department of Finance to give us the data. A bill I passed four or five years ago said, every owner of every building has to tell us what’s vacant and what the square footage is. So we’re waiting for that data to come in any moment now. The reason I mention this is during the pandemic, we talked to the BIDs and the Chambers of Commerce in the Borough of Manhattan. There is a real difference between who has the ability to do that in their store and who does not. Obviously Midtown, everybody, you can send an email, send a text and you get an answer. You cannot do that in Washington Heights and Harlem. They just don’t have the capacity. They do not do online like they should. So it’s a good idea to do E-government. But first, we have to make sure that we have enough capacity, either strong, inexpensive Internet, and that, you know, sort of not no-competition big company. And we have to figure out how the small businesses have and are trained to use it. There’s a real difference here. In Washington Heights we had to go door to door with leaflets and talking to people. I want to, I think what happened in Estonia and elsewhere is they they just skipped, you know, the, we always had, you know, phones and landlines. And so like all that got skipped. Like it did in Africa. And they didn’t have to deal with the copper lines and the big companies. They were able just to go wireless and figure out how to communicate. That is not the situation here. So we got to figure out the last mile issues. We got to figure out the cable issues. We got to figure out the tech issues. We got to figure out the municipal Wi Fi issues. So I’ve just mentioning it. I agree about E-Gov. But first it has to be some infrastructure, I think. I’ve been shocked at how little there is.
Gale Brewer: I just want to thank you, Maurice, for all your years of service and interest in civic affairs. And I love that you’re doing this podcast. And I think there’s no end to the way in which we have to talk about these issues, because they’re complicated. I always remember that in terms of the city of New York, the only budget that is bigger is the United States, the state of California, the state of New York, and then us. So we’re bigger than Texas and Florida. And we’re bigger than half of the countries in the world. So we’re a big country, in terms of how we operate. It’s so complicated. And so I hope that you know, as the council member, I can help, I can contribute to making people’s, New Yorkers lives better.
Editor’s Note: This conversation with Borough President Gale Brewer was recorded on Friday, July 2, 2021. Due to technical difficulties during the initial podcast recording, the Borough President’s recording was not at the same sound level as Maurice Pinzon’s. Instead, she called into the podcast.
Editor’s Note: Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Maurice Pinzon did some free-lance photography work for the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.
State Senator Liz Krueger & Chair of Senate Finance Committee
New York State Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger Interview Excerpts – Recorded Friday May 14, 2021.
In normal times, pre-Covid, and post-Covid, the entire city of New York, wanders through my district or comes into my district to work pretty much every day. And if you’re a tourist to New York City, you are going to many places in my district, so I might have 320,000 constituents, give or take. But I really have millions of people who come into my district, day in, day out year in, year out. And I think that’s one of the special and complex things about where I represent.
There were one or two story lines, where the Democrats would take it for a year or two, but never more than two years, and never more than one person majority, which meant somebody got a cold, you didn’t have a majority. And so, two years ago, the Democrats took the majority, with a shocking seven person increase. And, and then some additional Republicans decided to say goodbye, even though they had run for reelection, and we added more toward our Democratic base. And so now, we have finished our second election cycle last year, increasing our majority. So we went from wandering the desert for almost 100 years to having a majority that is now an actual veto proof majority, meaning we have 43 Democratic senators, and you need 42 to override a governor’s veto.
I was given the honor and responsibility by my conference of becoming the chair of the Finance Committee, which some people look at as, “Oh, that’s a very powerful committee,” and other people look at as, “Oh, that’s a whole lot of work.” And everyone’s always angry at you. Because you have to say no, far more often than you can say, yes. So my experience in the now basically three years I have been the chair of the Finance Committee, is that both of those sides are right. It is an enormous amount of work and responsibility. People are often mad at you because you can’t tell them yes or you can’t tell them yes until a budget is negotiated. So they’re struggling for months, hoping to get the right answer and waiting it out. And I joke that people suddenly think I’m this very powerful senator, when I’m the exact same person I’ve been, probably since you knew me
And this year in this budget, we were able to do a commitment of the meeting the target over a three year period. So we’ve promised a growth in the education funds over a three year period, to meet the foundation aid standards statewide. And so it’s, it’s huge in two reasons. One, because nobody had been doing this for well over a decade, and two, the concept that even though we live in a world of one year budgets, that you really need to look at the planning, perspective of multi year realities. And you have to be able to say, well, it’s a great goal, but it’s not a goal we can reach in one year. But you know, what, if we try to do something with a three year plan, or a five year plan, we probably can get there. And so stop talking about everything, as if it starts and stops in 12 months cycles, because that’s not how government really the world really works. So that’s the other I think, you know, really important piece of just that one story line of education funding.
Then we of course, significantly increased our commitments to any number of program areas. And that, to be truthful, was heavily helped along by federal money that finally got committed after Joe Biden got into the White House. And the Senate was also in the U.S. Senate, was also able to move legislation with Chuck Schumer as the new head of the U.S. Senate, and our vice president able to give that extra vote that they need, seemingly quite frequently, so we finally got the federal money to deal with the crisis that we were facing. And we are, we’re still facing New York City, New York State, every state in the country.
But we’re desperate for money at the state and local level. And thank goodness the federal government finally came through. And thank goodness the legislature and our governor said, Okay, we’re going to take this federal money. And we’re going to make good on all the commitments that we failed our communities in in the last couple of years, and put that money to work for them right away. And we did prioritize, I think, any number of crucial issues, that we’re still really on the cusp of seeing the outcomes of because the budget started April 1, the federal money has certain requirements attached that you then have to tie into your laws of the local at the state level, and operationalize. So we’re still just at the beginning of moving a lot of the federal money out. But there’s real money for important issue. So childcare services are going to be seeing a significant increase in numbers. Oh, New York City asked for support for expanding pre-K to 3-K city wide. And we supported them in that. We all know about the MTA crisis.
And so there’s a significant new amount of capital money to support what the MTA needs to fix and get itself moving again. There’s real investments in supporting helping businesses come back. Because we need businesses to come back for all kinds of reasons. But we also need tourists to come back.
we passed the Reproductive Health Act, which actually was my legislation, and that I had been fighting for for a decade. And in an oversimplified way, all this bill did was to establish that the constitutional decision of Roe v Wade 45 years earlier, was in fact the law in New York State. It put into statute, that all the rights and protections people thought they had in New York for 45 years would in fact, be some actual legal protections, because for 45 years we were just counting on. It was a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Everybody knew it, everybody must be following it. First of all, it was never true. There were real problems in various parts of New York State, because we didn’t have the correct law. But what was becoming clearer and clearer and clearer, and then crystal clear during the Donald Trump administration, was that there was a plan to undo Roe v. Wade, from a Supreme Court perspective. You know, in every single judge being put on the court by Donald Trump was basically promising to overturn these reproductive rights decisions. There were states purposely passing laws that violate violated Roe v. Wade, with the intention of pushing more cases into the courts to try to get these decisions overturned by newer, more conservative judges. And so there was, I’d like to describe it as a tsunami aimed at every state like ours, that had a proud history and public support for women’s reproductive rights. But we didn’t have the right laws, because the Republicans in the State Senate had blocked any establishing of reproductive rights laws, literally since 1970. So the first week, we were in the majority, my bill came to the floor, and we passed it, passed it in the assembly, and the governor signed it that night. And, and looking now back just really three years at what’s happened with decisions moving through the Supreme Court, and laws moving through our neighboring states. You couldn’t have had a better time in history, to have modernized our laws to assure New Yorkers, that even if the Supreme Court is making bad decisions coming up, and even if neighboring states are passing crazy laws to reverse women’s rights to do anything. Here in New York State, we have established those protections in our law.
we passed all these voter rights expansions. And that was another thing that people never believed us on. What do you mean, New York state would have really bad voter rights? This is New York State? Well, again, the Senate Republicans had no interest in expanding voter rights, or protecting your right to vote. And so they hadn’t passed one bill, like in 30-40 years to expand or support the right to vote. So we passed a whole slew of voter rights bills, I think the very first day, we were the senate majority. And it just felt so empowering on behalf of the people of New York to be doing that.
So we really ducked a serious bullet, thanks to the infrastructure funds committed and the stimulus funds committed by Washington. So, you know, seriously, if anyone ever says, What difference does it make who’s in the White House? Trust me, like, just go look, a big difference who’s in the White House. So the Joe Biden packages passed by our Congress and our U.S. Senate really poured money into the wounds we desperately needed help with? We did do some tax increases. We did about $4 billion of tax increases on the wealthiest New Yorkers, and corporations that were doing well. There were businesses that were still doing well. And so we did do a corporate income tax increase. But again, if your business is not doing well, you’re not falling in the category that’s going to have a problem. And unless you’re making a move billion or more as a single person, or 2 million or more, as a couple, you’re not going to face a personal income tax increase either. And it’s about 50,000 households in New York State, that will face a couple of percent increase in PIT [Personal Income Tax]. The research shows that people don’t pick up and leave for a couple of percent increases in PIT [Personal Income Tax].
So I’m not saying that New York State won’t face hard times, again, everybody goes through good times and bad times. And we don’t ever know, you know, how the federal government will approach these issues for themselves. I think the next turn will be potential increased taxes at the federal level. For wealthier Americans, I could be wrong. But that looks like that’s, you know, on the table for serious discussion. You know, we try not to impact the New York City tax system, but rather let it be the mayor and city council come to us and ask us to do things for them.
We are still waiting and hoping that before the Blasio administration is done, he will make good on his commitment to come to Albany with a plan to reform the New York City property tax system, which is complex, unfair. Everybody knows it. Everybody’s been talking about it, since you worked for the City Council. And this was a discussion then. And so there, there is a commission, they had held hearings, they had done a draft report, I’m told that they’re going to reopen two hearings, or more public comment. I really hope that that is one thing that can get done before December. I don’t expect that that means somebody will come to Albany and try to get it done. But it could be something on the desk of the new mayor and the New City Council come January 1. And I think New Yorkers who live in the city are really crying out for somebody to finally reform the city’s property taxes. So Albany will need to vote on some package. And some people say we should just go ahead and act without the city, because they’ve been promising us this information forever. And they don’t give it to us. I still am of the belief that Albany is not the level of government that should be evaluating and making this decision for the city because property taxes is literally the only tax controlled at the local level. So I’m hoping, sincerely, that this administration, one of their outgoing changes will be here’s our proposal.
So I’ll start with the Kathryn Garcia part, I actually think, just because of what you’ve just described, is why we need a woman like Kathryn Garcia, to be the mayor. She understands how government has been working, how you get it to do things, how you get it to change. And I say that because people who have been following city government have noticed, when there were really tough issues to confront, and new problems, City Hall was always pulling Kathryn Garcia out of wherever she was, and giving her the new tougher assignment. That was because they saw her as someone who could figure things out when they hadn’t even been issues before. And even last night, when some of us watched the first debate, several of the other candidates for mayor, when asked who would be your number 2, answered Kathryn Garcia, because clearly she understands how all these things get done and need to get done. And it was like, Oh, yes, that’s what I’ve been saying. We should actually elect the person who’s the most competent, to do what we think needs to get done. And the truth is, we don’t know what all those things are. Because they’re not going to be the same as in the past. Now, which is always true, government is dynamic. We live in a world that’s dynamic. But I think particularly right now, the issues you were referencing, of the changes of technology, on every part of our economy. It’s never been moving this fast, ever. And so government likes to imagine. It’s proactive, and all these great aspirational ideas will come to pass. But the truth is, we are reactive. And the challenges, can we keep up with the changes we need to make as government because the world is changing so quickly.
So, were we ready for Covid? No, apparently we weren’t. Okay. Now, the question is, what did we learn from this? And how we’re going to make sure we’re more prepared for the next pandemic? And no, I don’t think it’s 100 years from now, I actually think you could be very quickly. Why? Because the pandemic was correlated to climate change issues, and climate change issues are not moving at 100 year pace. They’re moving at literally an every day pace, requiring government and the world to change its approach to climate impacts, our water level, our cleanliness of our water, air impacts, there’s nothing that climate isn’t impacting, which means government has to be so much more ready to meet the sustainability challenges that controlling not letting the temperature go up challenges.
Now, the good news and the bad news there is the bad news is this is all really happening. And we need to move really fast. The good news is because of technology, some amazing potential changes could happen really fast. I will just cite offshore wind as this amazing opportunity to address our energy crises quickly. Because we have a lot of shoreline here in New York and offshore wind has proved itself throughout Europe and other parts of the world as being something that you can get up and running extremely quickly, you have to tie it into your grid, you have to negotiate with all utilities who are hysterical that they would have to switch to this, you have to have discussions with some towns along the shoreline that the world really won’t end if there’s a giant cable running underneath their ocean, up onto some section of the town to be plugged into the electric grid. There’s lots of things you have to do. But we’ve already seen it can be done incredibly cost effectively. And that’s just one just one example I pulled out. But that the technology is moving so much more quickly.
But we have an obligation as government to make sure that we are doing what’s in the best interest of the majority of people, not in the best interest of one or two, or any specific industry.
So we need to confront that as the models for business change. Our models of regulation are in cap aren’t catching up yet. So people think regulating businesses, what more boring or dry thing could she have imagined saying out loud. But it is crucial, so that you aren’t interrupting us out of affordable housing, or interrupting us out of huge numbers of living wage jobs, so that you can figure out how to do it, you know, with people getting paid half of living wage instead, I’m sure you can do it. I’m just not really convinced it’s a good idea for anybody, but you are the one paying. So there are so many things we need to get better at.
I mean, the pipeline hacking that we’ve all been reading about all week. I was I was like, why is this so ubiquitous, that people can figure out how to hack everything, and then basically blackmail them and get paid. And I came across this one story. Because all the really good people in programming aren’t going to work for government salaries. So they’re working for the other guys, or they’re going to become hackers. And we don’t have anybody to catch them, or to know how to reverse what they’re doing. And I’m like, well, something’s wrong here. Go hire the hackers and pay them whatever, to un-hack the world.
So there’s just so many pieces that we’re not ready for, but we’re gonna have to learn to be ready for, and a lot of this is going to need to be at the federal level, because you can’t have 50 different states try to come up with 50 different answers to these global questions.