DECISION 2013! WE GRILLED THE CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES ON THE HOT ISSUES

Election season is upon us, and Upper West Siders have some big choices to make. Luckily, we’re here to give you the information you will need to pull that rusty lever or press that malfunctioning computer screen (thanks Board of Elections!).

This coming Tuesday, September 10 is Primary Day and there are seven candidates competing to become the Democratic nominee for City Council District 6: Debra Cooper, Mel Wymore, Marc Landis, Ken Biberaj, Helen Rosenthal, Noah Gotbaum and Aaron Braunstein. The Green Party and the Republicans have already chosen their candidates: Tom Siracuse will represent the Greens, and Harry DeMell will represent the Republicans (DeMell and Siracuse will be on the ballot for the general election in November, but because the nomination isn’t contested they won’t be on the ballot on September 10). The District 6 seat, which covers most of the Upper West Side except for Manhattan Valley (District 7), is currently held by Gale Brewer, who has represented the neighborhood for 12 years and is now running for Borough President.

The Democratic candidates may seem similar. But there are significant differences among them — in whether they think the neighborhood is overdeveloped, in how they think we should provide affordable housing, in what to do about public school segregation and overcrowding, and in whether they think that Amsterdam Avenue needs a protected bike lane, among other issues.

With your help, we came up with a series of questions that have helped bring out their differences. (All of the candidates answered our questions except for DeMell and Braunstein. We emailed Braunstein multiple times, and attempted several times to reach DeMell through a local Republican leader and the city Republican Party office.) We’ve included the candidates’ answers to the questions below. Each candidates’ answers are broken into sections so you can flip to the section that interests you most. (We will periodically shuffle the order of the candidates.)

We have some very good candidates and it’s kind of sad that we can’t elect more than one. Hopefully, they will all stay involved whether or not they win.

Helen Rosenthal

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Livonia, Michigan, a blue-collar suburb of Detroit–my friends’ parents worked for the major auto companies and belonged to the United Auto Workers Union. My father was the community librarian. My mother went back to graduate school after my brothers and I started school, and she eventually became a professor at Wayne State and University of Michigan.

When did you move to the UWS?
I moved to the UWS more than 25 years ago – in August, 1987 – after completing my Master’s in Public Health at Yale University.

What do you and your spouse do for a living?
I’m presently Chair of ParentJobNet, a not-for-profit which helps public school parents find jobs and join (or rejoin) the workforce. I also serve on Community Board 7, which I’ve done for the past 14 years, and have been twice elected Chair. My husband works in finance. Prior to becoming a community volunteer and activist, I worked for the NYC Office of Management and Budget with 3 different Mayors.

How old are you?
52

Do you have children?
Yes, I have two daughters, ages 20 and 17.

Did you go to public school? Do/did your children go to public school?
Yes. I attended local public schools in Livonia, Michigan and earned a BA from Michigan State University. My older daughter attends Yale College, and my younger daughter is in high school on the Upper West Side.

What’s your favorite Upper West Side restaurant?
I am a sucker for our local diners, but also am a fan of Shake Shack, on Columbus Avenue across the street from the Natural History Museum.

Are you involved in the real estate business in any way, or are your clients real estate developers? (You can answer all of these in one short paragraph or line by line, if you’d like)
No, I’m not involved in the real estate business, never have been, and have never had real estate developers as clients. Furthermore, none of my campaign consultants have developers as clients.

In two or three sentences, why are you running/what spurred your decision?
I’m concerned about growing income inequality in New York City and specifically how it has impacted the Upper West Side: overdevelopment, the loss of affordable housing, public school overcrowding and cuts to social service programs effecting seniors and others who deserve help. The City Budget is the most direct and immediate way we can push back against inequality; and having served in the City Budget Office under three mayors, I want to use my expertise so that New York can remain a City where middle-class families can thrive, people get the help they deserve, and everyone can advance.

In 200 words or less, describe some of the ways you’ve already been politically active in the neighborhood.
For the past 14 years, I’ve served on Community Board 7 – having first been appointed by former Councilwoman Ronnie Eldridge, who has endorsed my campaign – and was twice elected Chair.  While on CB7, I worked with parents to help convince the Department of Education to open PS 452 on the Upper West Side.  While CB7 Chair, I laid the groundwork for the new school and substantial new affordable housing units to be included in the Riverside South Development; and worked successfully with Trinity House residents to fend off a predatory, private equity developer and remain in their long-time homes. In recognition for my work in protecting and expanding affordable housing, my campaign received the unanimous endorsement of the Tenants Political Action Committee, New York’s largest advocacy group for rent-regulated tenants. On environmental issues, I procured and helped distribute 160,000 body warmers for seniors and other home-bound residents in Superstorm Sandy effected areas; and in part for these efforts, my campaign earned the endorsement of The Sierra Club. Also, my ParentJobNet work in connecting parents to job opportunities has been part of a larger effort to achieve economic empowerment for women, reflected in my endorsement by the National Organization for Women-NYC.

Housing and Development

Be honest with us: Is there any chance for a new generation of middle class people to be able to make it on the Upper West Side? What specific things can be done to make the neighborhood more affordable for middle class people?
Of course there is. The City can start by ending its 421-a and J-51 programs which provide subsidies to developers to build luxury and market rate housing; the money saved can be directed to build more affordable housing and to provide rent subsidies. Alternatively, I support mandatory inclusionary affordable housing in new luxury high rise developments. In addition, the City should end the “carried interest” tax loophole which enables private equity companies – including many real estate developers from paying the much lower capital gains rate on their earnings, rather than the much higher ordinary income rates they should pay. Independent analysts estimate closing this one loophole alone will save the City $250-300 million annually, and these savings should be earmarked to protect and expand affordable housing in neighborhoods like the UWS. More generally, the City – through it’s budget process – should cease programs and tax incentives which have the effect of redistributing income upward, and devote these savings to making middle class neighborhoods more affordable. In addition, I favor an immediate, one-year freeze on all rent regulated apartments – a position which is favored by most of the leading mayoral candidates. Lastly, the City should refuse to pass through the tax abatements for Extell apartment dwellers who benefit from the loophole put into the State budget in April.

What’s the best affordable housing program being used in the neighborhood (or the entire city) right now? How would you expand or change the program? Do you have any ideas for creating affordable housing that are realistic and aren’t currently being attempted?
The best and most actionable affordable housing programs are those which require any new residential development to include 30% middle-income and 20% lower-income units to be built as part of the overall project. If these requirements aren’t met, the project simply shouldn’t be green lighted by the City.

In addition, the City should withhold a portion of the Stock Transfer Tax – which has been on the books since the early 1980s, but whose proceeds are now fully and immediately rebated – and allocate these funds to affordable housing programs. The stock market boom since 2009 has been fueled largely by a government engineered policy of low interest rates, and it seems only logical for the government to recapture a portion of this windfall and direct it towards pressing social needs such as affordable housing.

In your view is the Upper West Side overdeveloped, underdeveloped or just right?

Overdeveloped  – in terms of both residential and commercial development. For long-term residents of the Upper West Side years ago, the proliferation of banks and big-box stores over the past two decades has made parts of our neighborhood almost unrecognizable – in addition to driving up rents and putting many local shops and restaurants out of the price range for many Upper West Siders. I began publicizing the overdevelopment in 2007 when, as Chair of CB7, I did the first analysis of the number of apartments built “as of right” which became the basis for asking for a new school to deal with the overcrowding from new residential apartments going up.

Should developers have to contribute to a fund to support infrastructure and neighborhood improvements made necessary by their developments?  If not why not.  If yes, how would you make that happen?

Yes. Developers are customarily required to post insurance “bonds” and other financial guarantees as a condition of moving forward with a project; and a similar concept should be required – an infrastructure or neighborhood improvement “bond” or guarantee – to fund improvements made necessary by their developments. City Planning has used “escrow” accounts in the past to maintain funds for new infrastructure and on-going costs associated with new residential development.

Is inclusionary zoning (asking developers to set aside 20% of housing as affordable) working? Should inclusionary zoning be mandatory, or only in the event that a developer is seeking tax breaks or a zoning variance? Or should it be eliminated altogether? If so, what would you replace it with?

Inclusionary zoning is a laudable idea which has not worked as well as intended because too many developers have found ways to “wriggle out” of or find loop holes to avoid their commitments; and any inconvenience penalty for doing so is merely chalked up as a cost of doing business. Inclusionary zoning should be mandatory – and in all cases, not limited to instances where the developer is seeking tax breaks or a zoning variance. Financial penalties on developers who fail to meet mandatory inclusionary zoning requirements should be very stiff, to the extent it would fundamentally change the financial equation for them, their lenders and investors – the better to insure compliance.

Homeless Shelters

UWSers are upset about the proliferation of homeless shelters, particularly in the mid-90’s. What can be done about the shelters? How far would you go to fight new shelters like the one on West 95th street?

It’s indisputable that areas like the W. 90s are over-saturated with a proliferation of homeless shelters. I support the three bills currently before City Council which would strengthen enforcement of the City Charter’s Fair Share rules and regulations, designed to stop over-concentartion of shelters and similar facilities. However, any new Fair Share legislation should deal first with “over saturation” – it’s not enough to say future facilities will be distributed “fairly” when the starting point includes over-saturated areas like the UWS. I favor Fair Share legislation that designates certain areas (like the UWS) as “off limits” for a period of time, at least 20 years, while a more equitable city-wide balance is established; and which defunds and closes facilities in areas which are views as especially deleterious to the community. Facilities slated for defunding or closure would be identified and debated in consultation with the local Community Board, City Council Member and Borough President.

Schools

What would you do to ease overcrowding in the public schools?

We need to lease additional school space (including vacant catholic school space, and Beacon for middle and high school seats) to ease overcrowding – there’s really no solution to this problem which doesn’t require additional school space. I’m proud to have worked with parents to convince the DOE to open PS 452–a new school on the UWS and build a new school in the Riverside South complex – this shows it can be done if data and public support are properly mobilized. There’s certainly a need for more revenue to achieve the goal or easing school overcrowding; and I support a limited financial transactions tax – with proceeds dedicated to public schools – as a way to raise the required revenue.

Articles and columns have criticized Upper West Side public schools for being too segregated. Gifted and talented classes are predominantly white, for instance. Can anything be done about this?

Tests and other criteria for admission to “gifted and talented” classes must be vigorously screened for cultural and economic biases which can easily lead to segregation. In determining class composition, subjective factors (which may include in-person student interviews) should be taken into account in efforts to combat segregation.

Should the Upper West Side have more charter schools? 

No. I’m opposed to charter schools–particularly those co-located in public schools, which accentuate the growing rich/poor divide that characterizes too much of New York. Public resources should be devoted to our traditional public schools – full stop. In addition, the most recent data suggests that charter schools perform no better than non-charters – unravelling justification for charters in the first place.

Should PTA funds be divided amongst schools in the district, or should they all be used at the school where they were raised?

Local PTA’s have struggled to answer this question for years. This is a decision that is best left to the District 3 President’s Council which has parent representatives from each of the schools.

Should the UWS have a high school where local kids get preference? If so, how would you push for that? Is it even realistic?

Again, this question is best answered by the District 3 Community Education Council.  Many parents have called for a D3 priority high schooI–similar to District 2’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Our first focus needs to be on identifying additional middle school seats.

Environment

Is there anything the Upper West Side should do to prepare for future hurricanes like Sandy?

Yes. Each family should be encouraged to develop its own “disaster/evacuation” plan – the UWS was lucky to survive Sandy relatively unscathed, but we may not be so fortunate next time. Because most families have little experience in this area, I believe “open forum” sessions in disaster planning should be held in conjunction with local Community Boards and our local CERT so that families can be taught the rudiments in how to put and “evacuation plan” together.

Small Business

What specifically can be done to help Upper West Side small businesses?

1. zoning improvements – such as those successfully put forward by and passed by Councilwoman Gale Brewer – which limit the scope of big-box stores and protect small and independent businesses; 2. sales tax holidays for independent businesses – particularly during “back to school” season which will help these businesses and families alike; 3. exemption from city income tax on sole proprietors on the first $25,000 of income, which can help struggling small businesses – which disproportionately are owned by and employ women – during these challenging economic times; and 4. changes to commercial zoning rules to require new commercial space dedicate some portion of the space to local independent businesses.

Bike Lanes/Street Safety

Do you support installing a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue?

Yes. But, it must be installed in full communication with the neighborhood residents and businesses.

Is there more that can be done to protect pedestrians in the neighborhood?

Protected bike lane users should be required to wear the same kind of yellow or orange jackets worn by delivery men so that there presence is more easily identified by pedestrians and unnecessary and dangerous accidents more likely to be avoided.  Restaurants must be required to license their delivery men and wear clearly identifiable vests.  Bike riders who do not follow the rules must be fined.

Crime

Do you support stop-and-frisk?
No. I agree with the recent federal court ruling that stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional; oppose the Bloomberg Administration’s attempt to see the ruling suspended; and support enactment of the City Council’s recent passage of the Community Safety Act – largely designed to stop the abuses of the stop-and-frisk policy. I’m a strong supporter of Community Policing.

Should the city legalize marijuana use?
Only for medicinal purposes, yes.

Parking

Is there too much curbside parking on the Upper West Side, too little, or about the right amount?

Too much…we need to find ways to increase accessibility of mass transit

Unions

City workers have gone without contracts for years. Do you think they should get retroactive raises in their new contracts?

Yes to retroactive raises, in an amount equal to the inflation rate. We also need to close tax loopholes given to developers–these funds could pay for the raises.

Pensions and health benefit costs for city workers have jumped under Mayor Bloomberg (city pension costs have risen from $1.3 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2013), even as funding for things like parks have decreased. Is it time to get these costs under control? How should the city do that? Should city workers have to pay more into their pensions and health benefits, for instance?

The shortfall in pension and health benefit obligations is substantially attributable to the lack of financial performance in the City’s pension and health & welfare funds. Before cost cutting measures and increased city worker contributions are considered, the City’s investment policy need to be overhauled – with less focus on high-fee and underperforming “alternative investments” often pushed by Wall Street firms. City Council should be granted additional oversight responsibility for the City’s pension and benefit investing, with an eye towards simplicity and reducing unnecessary fees and costs.

Services for the Elderly

Gale Brewer was known for reaching out to older people in the neighborhood and creating programs that got them fresh farm vegetables, for instance. In what area(s) do you feel our older citizens’ needs and concerns are still under-served, and what are your ideas to address this?

Gale Brewer has done an exemplary job in this area. If elected, I’d like to build upon her excellent work to make city services more accessible to the disabled elderly, including a substantial re-vamping and improvement of the Access-A-Ride program. Access-A-Ride vendors should be chosen and administered locally, ideally with direct involvement and decision-making power by the local Community Board and City Council person. I also support and would continue Gale’s farm fresh vegetable program as well as identifying and publicizing senior-friendly businesses.

Gale Brewer’s Legacy

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you agreed with.

Only two? I’ll start with her sponsorship of paid-sick day legislation and accessible storefront office that is open to constituents late into the night and on weekends.

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you disagreed with.

Gale Brewer is a model of what an UWS City Councilwoman should be. I support her run for Manhattan Borough President; look forward, if elected to City Council, to working closely with her; and also, if elected, would invite her to be part of my Transition Team, along with her predecessor Ronnie Eldridge.

www.helenrosenthal.com

Marc Landis

I am a native Philadelphian, I attended public schools in and around Philadelphia, then Princeton University. I first moved to the Upper West Side while in college in the summer of 1983, when I came to work with then-Assembly Member Jerry Nadler on the Alan Cranston for President campaign. After graduating from Penn Law School, I moved back to the Upper West Side in 1989, and have lived here ever since.

I am currently a full-time community activist and City Council candidate. I practiced law for over 25 years; for much of that time, I had a neighborhood law office at 78th and Broadway, where I represented local individuals, start-ups and small businesses, as well as small co-op and condo buildings. I have also represented government agencies and affordable housing developers in building new housing for formerly homeless and other low-income families.

My wife Judy is an UWS native – she grew up in Lincoln Towers, and attended PS 199 (where her father was a teacher), PS 191, Manhattan Day School, Barnard College and grad school at Columbia’s SIPA. Judy worked at ABC News for many years; she started her career there as a page, then as a fact-checker for Ted Koppel on Nightline; ultimately, she worked as a producer for the news unit of Good Morning America. She is currently a freelance television and media producer, developing her own small business; she also serves on the board of A Better Balance, an organization dedicated to creating better workplace conditions. We have two children, ages 12 and 7, who attend the Rodeph Sholom School, a Jewish day school (K-8) on the Upper West Side.

I am running for City Council because I want the Upper West Side to continue to be what it has been for so many years – a diverse community where people join together as we strive to improve our neighborhood and our city, while ensuring that our most vulnerable neighbors are protected.

I have been involved in Upper West Side civic and political life for decades. As a leader of Citizen Action of New York, I was an organizer of the public campaign to create the “clean money clean elections” campaign finance reform program, which ultimately led to the creation of the CFB matching funds program. I serve as a Democratic Party district leader, where I have hosted programs such as the “NYC Budget Speak-Out” and organized national campaign activities in support of President Obama and other national candidates. I was a member of Community Board 7 for twelve years, where I served as vice-chair of the board, and chaired various committees. I have organized tenant, block and neighborhood associations as a community leader and pro bono attorney.

Housing and Development

We have lost tens of thousands of affordable housing units on the Upper West Side, primarily as a result of Mitchell-Lama buyouts and deregulation of existing rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units.  We can reverse this trend on the Upper West Side, but only if we engage in a concerted effort to change the current rules.  We need to work with our allies in Albany, including Assembly Members Linda B. Rosenthal and Richard Gottfried and State Senators Adriano Espaillat and Jose M. Serrano (all of whom have endorsed my candidacy) to protect regulated apartments and to create new affordable housing around the city.

The current system of distributing tax breaks to developers in return for affordable housing is broken.  I support revising the Zoning Resolution to incorporate the concept of guaranteed inclusionary zoning, so that every new project (or gut renovation) of six units or more will include at least 30% affordable housing.  I also support expanding the development of affordable cooperatives (including HDFC co-ops) and condominiums throughout the city, along the lines of the projects funded in the past by the NYC Housing Partnership.  Finally, new developments must address the additional demand on neighborhood infrastructure, schools, environmental conditions and other factors.

Homeless Shelters

UWSers are upset about the proliferation of homeless shelters, particularly in the mid-90’s. What can be done about the shelters? How far would you go to fight new shelters like the one on West 95th street?
The new shelter on West 95th Street represents policymaking at its worst.  Siting new facilities on a “emergency” basis and overpaying for housing, all without community consultation, in over-saturated neighborhoods, simply doesn’t make sense.  Instead of protecting the affordable SRO housing which can help prevent homelessness, this approach provides incentives for landlords to illegally deregulate buildings.

Twenty years ago, as a member of CB7, I worked with my neighbors in the mid-80s to welcome Euclid Hall to the neighborhood.  Euclid Hall’s sponsor was a reputable Upper West side organization (the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing), and we made sure that there was plenty of community consultation and input.  This is a success story, which should be replicated throughout the city.

Schools

What would you do to ease overcrowding in the public schools? Articles and columns have criticized Upper West Side public schools for being too segregated. Gifted and talented classes are predominantly white, for instance. Can anything be done about this?

Should the Upper West Side have more charter schools? Should PTA funds be divided amongst schools in the district, or should they all be used at the school where they were raised?

Should the UWS have a high school where local kids get preference? If so, how would you push for that? Is it even realistic?

I have been a fierce advocate for our Upper West Side public schools; in fact, the parentsforlandis.com website was independently created by parents who know my work.  In a time of scarce resources, we don’t need more charter schools on the Upper West Side.   What we need are sufficient school seats and resources to ensure that every child has access to a quality education in a neighborhood school.  Every child who qualifies for gifted and talented programs should be able to get this education, in a neighborhood school – and every other student should get just as much attention.

Our priorities for the Upper West Side are opening another quality middle school, and creating a high school that will serve kids from our community.  I was a leader of the effort to open Frank McCourt High School, which Gotham Schools described as “a model for community involvement in new school development.”  We can do it again, and make sure that our kids have a high school to call their own.

Environment

Is there anything the Upper West Side should do to prepare for future hurricanes like Sandy?
We need to be stronger and more resilient, by anticipating and planning for future threats through infrastructure improvements; by retrofitting existing buildings so that they can survive with less damage following extreme weather; and by updating the NYC zoning resolution to facilitate flood-resistant construction, and updating, modernizing and “greening” our building code and related regulations.

Small Business

What specifically can be done to help Upper West Side small businesses?
I support establishing a “Mom and Pop Small Business Real Estate Tax Credit” to protect small businesses that provide good jobs in high-rent neighborhoods from losing their leases to national chain stores.

Bike Lanes/Street Safety

Do you support installing a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue? Is there more that can be done to protect pedestrians in the neighborhood?

The installation of new bike lanes must be done in a manner that ensures the fullest possible “buy-in” from the affected community, with special attention to the needs of pedestrians and local businesses as well as the cyclist community.

Crime

Do you support stop-and-frisk? Should the city legalize marijuana use?

I support Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling finding that “stop and frisk” as presently conducted by the NYPD is unconstitutional.  Judge Scheindlin has ordered sensible and appropriate remedies to ensure that the NYPD reforms its practices and policies to conform to Constitutional standards, including revising training materials and requiring officers to justify, in their own words, the basis for any stop, pat-down, frisk or search.  Upper West Sider Peter Zimroth is a knowledgeable and talented attorney, and an outstanding choice to serve as an independent monitor for the NYPD.  It is especially noteworthy that Justice Scheindlin creates a specific role for community input in the reform process.

Should the city legalize marijuana use?

I support decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Parking

Is there too much curbside parking on the Upper West Side, too little, or about the right amount?

Curbside parking regulations need to be reformed to discourage long-term non-resident parking in residential neighborhoods.  The city could derive revenue from the sale of neighborhood parking passes, while maintaining metered parking in business districts.

Unions

City workers have gone without contracts for years. Do you think they should get retroactive raises in their new contracts?  Pensions and health benefit costs for city workers have jumped under Mayor Bloomberg (city pension costs have risen from $1.3 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2013), even as funding for things like parks have decreased. Is it time to get these costs under control? How should the city do that? Should city workers have to pay more into their pensions and health benefits, for instance?

Mayor Bloomberg has left a huge deficit for the next administration.  We need to treat our municipal workers fairly, recognizing that they have gone without contracts or appropriate raises for years.

Services for the Elderly

Gale Brewer was known for reaching out to older people in the neighborhood and creating programs that got them fresh farm vegetables, for instance. In what area(s) do you feel our older citizens’ needs and concerns are still under-served, and what are your ideas to address this?

Our seniors are entitled to age “in place” in their Upper West Side with affordable housing, full medical coverage and safe streets.  Housing costs and medical costs are the greatest risks to protecting our seniors.

Gale Brewer’s Legacy

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you agreed with.

1)    I admire Gale’s persistence and strategic acumen in guiding the Counsel to pass Paid Sick Leave, overriding the mayor’s veto; I am proud of my work through Citizen Action, the Working Families Party and other members of the Paid Sick Leave coalition in making this happen.

2)    Gale’s extraordinary constituent service – I will look to continue her good works in this area.

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you disagreed with.

1)    Upper West Side rezoning did not address the fundamental issue of protecting small businesses from high rents and real estate taxes.

2)    I would want District 6 to be part of Participatory Budgeting, and I will do so as a Council Member.

Describe one time you have broken with your party.

I was the first Democratic Party district leader to call for the expulsion of State Senator Hiram Monserrat following his abusive behavior.

www.VoteLandis.com

www.ParentsForLandis.com

@Landis4NewYork

www.facebook.com/MarcLandisForNewYork

Noah Gotbaum

Where are you from?
I grew up in New York City and Westchester. My grandparents immigrated to the Lower East Side from Russia so my kids are 4th generation New Yorkers.

When did you move to the UWS?
I have lived on the Upper West Side on and off since 1979. Moved here permanently with my family in 2003 after living and working in Europe.

What do you and your spouse do for a living?
I have worked primarily in international economic development, and green and technology consulting/investment. More recently I have been a full-time parent of 3 and involved in their schools/public education on the CEC and other citywide public school parent organizations. My fiancée Lindsay Marx is an independent film producer.

How old are you?
53

Do you have children?
Yes: Ella 14, Nathaniel 12, Tobias 9

Did you go to public school?
Yes. From K-12

Do/did your children go to public school?
Yes. Including one in a city-designated special needs program.

What’s your favorite Upper West Side restaurant? Gray’s Papaya, Super Taco Truck @ 96th St., Celeste, Chirping Chicken (20 others tied for 2nd place).

Are you involved in the real estate business in any way, or are your clients real estate developers?
No. Have been in the past but not for quite a long time. I am a renter who would like to own but…

In two or three sentences, why are you running/what spurred your decision?
For the past 12 years too many seniors, children and families, working people, and neighborhood small businesses have been left behind or pushed to the edge by overdevelopment and cuts to public programs. I want to ensure that the Upper West Side remains a great and diverse community and that those who built this community – as well as new families that move here – are able to live, work and retire here in dignity. Our community needs a strong representative voice in the City Council to carry on Gale Brewer’s work, and take it forward. I would like to be that voice.

In 200 words or less, describe some of the ways you’ve already been politically active in the neighborhood.
I checked developers’ power as the Chair of CB5 Development Committee, and conceived of and co-founded New York Cares which each week serves tens of thousands of New Yorkers and Upper West Siders in need in our senior centers, schools, parks, and homeless shelters. I have been an environmental leader as CEO of one of New York’s largest recycling companies, and as President of Community Education Council District 3 (CEC3) – and the only Council candidate who sends his children to public schools – I have rallied thousands of public school parents and community members to fight Eva Moskowitz’s destructive charter school co-locations and relieve overcrowding at PS 199 and PS 87 by forcing the DOE to create PS452 and build a new school at Riverside Center. And in the past few months alone I have led our community’s successful fight against the demolition of PS 199 and PS 191 and planned replacement with luxury high-rises, and worked behind the scenes with the Comptroller’s office and Neighborhood in the 90’s to nullify the corrupt and wasteful 95th street shelter contract. I would like to continue this work in the City Council.

Housing and Development

Be honest with us: Is there any chance for a new generation of middle class people to be able to make it on the Upper West Side? What specific things can be done to make the neighborhood more affordable for middle class people?
Not only is there a chance to create an Upper West Side that includes middle class people, but the quality of our neighborhoods depends on supporting middle-income families.  Preserving existing affordable housing – via stronger rent regulations, increased rental subsidies programs, and using and mobilizing the numbers in our community to fight for and redress the imbalance that has favored landlords versus tenants – is critical.  As Council member I will retain a full-time staff member to support our at-risk tenants, and will personally fight to ensure that the Council is much more pro-tenant.  And as below I will fight to increase affordable housing units.  Quality public schools are another key to keeping our middle class in place.  Without top quality public schools, the only other alternative – high private school tuition – will drive out increasing numbers of middle class families.  As a public school parent with a special needs child, I understand the direct connection between an affordable Upper West Side and quality public schools. And I have fought for the “standards” that we public school parents care about: smaller class sizes, a broad-based curriculum and an end to high-stakes testing, supporting rather than marginalizing our teachers and parents, and ending the enrollment maze at all levels by creating an additional middle/high school in the Beacon building with local preference.

What’s the best affordable housing program being used in the neighborhood (or the entire city) right now? How would you expand or change the program? Do you have any ideas for creating affordable housing that are realistic and aren’t currently being attempted?
Section 8 rental assistance is the most critical program for preserving affordable housing.  I will push the City Council to lobby for this key program, which is under constant attack from conservatives in Washington.

On the supply side, the preservation of affordable housing is key.   Developers are causing too many units to exit affordable rent requirements.  I will provide leadership in the City Council to slow down this exiting, and provide a package of incentives to maintain existing affordable housing.

The housing innovations we need are programs supporting the middle class.  I will push for a range of experiments to subsidize middle class housing, from direct subsidies to set asides of a minimum number of apartment units in new developments.

In your view is the Upper West Side overdeveloped, underdeveloped or just right?
Overdeveloped and getting worse.  For example, just look at the Lincoln Towers area which is now being surrounded on 3 sides by a massive set of new developments which our public infrastructure – schools, transport, sewage and waste removal – simply can’t support.

Should developers have to contribute to a fund to support infrastructure and neighborhood improvements made necessary by their developments?  If not why not.  If yes, how would you make that happen?
Absolutely.  Just like the housing trust fund, developments over a certain number of units should as of right provide funding for schools and other local infrastructure.  Realistic increased demand projections for this infrastructure must be built in and mandated by the Council as part of the development process.

Is inclusionary zoning (asking developers to set aside 20% of housing as affordable) working? Should inclusionary zoning be mandatory, or only in the event that a developer is seeking tax breaks or a zoning variance? Or should it be eliminated altogether? If so, what would you replace it with?
Inclusionary zoning as currently practiced on a voluntary basis hasn’t worked as developers in upzoned areas have opted not to provide the affordable housing.  In large part because they haven’t need additional bonuses which have already been given as part of the upzoning.  Inclusionary zoning should be mandatory with an associated set aside for affordable housing on an as of right basis – not simply when seeking tax breaks and variances.

Homeless Shelters

UWSers are upset about the proliferation of homeless shelters, particularly in the mid-90’s. What can be done about the shelters? How far would you go to fight new shelters like the one on West 95th street?
City “fair share” guidelines to prevent communities from being unfairly overburdened, already exist to protect our neighborhoods. But they’ve been flouted by this administration.  I fully support and assisted the law suit brought by Neighborhood in the 90’s to enforce these guidelines.  Additionally I worked directly with Neighborhood in the 90’s to provide Comptroller Liu with the information he needed to reject the $48 million Aguila contract.  This rejection – on the basis that services weren’t being provided as promised and that in fact the DHS contractor was using the shelter to push out long term SRO tenants, are sufficient grounds not only to reject the contract but to stop payment and remove the shelter which hasn’t happened. Hence the lawsuit.

We as a community should put pressure on the City to remove the shelter and reject future contracts with Aguila. Perhaps most important, homeless policy must change and more funding should be put into cost effective rent subsidy programs rather than bloated contracts with shady shelter operators which end up pushing more people into homelessness.  We also need to release some of the NYCHA vacant stock for the short-term homeless, and do much better long term planning overall so that “emergency” contracts for shelters jammed last minute into our already overburdened neighborhoods no longer happen. This isn’t NIMBY – this is protecting our most vulnerable: preventing existing SRO tenants from being pushed, ensuring that homeless shelter tenants are housed in reasonable accommodation a fair price for the City, while ensuring these homeless receive the services promised.

Schools

What would you do to ease overcrowding in the public schools?

The power of our community, when mobilized, is substantial as we already have proven by forcing the DOE to address overcrowding at PS 199 and PS 87, create a new zoned school at PS 452, and build new seats at Riverside Center – albeit in inadequate numbers. We public school parents forced such changes on the DOE and the City, and we can do so again as follows:  1) Ensure that the DOE undertakes adequate, transparent and realistic long-term planning;  2) Demand additional seats in the capital budget shifting funding from no-bid technology projects like OSIS and others that simply waste billions; 3) Require that developers provide as of right funding for additional school seats when they build new market rate housing; 4) Negotiate much more strongly with entities like Extel when they seek additional floor space and other bonuses or reject those plans; 5) Aggressively seek to rent or buy vacant parochial school and other space; 6) Provide magnet funding to attract and integrate all our local schools.

Articles and columns have criticized Upper West Side public schools for being too segregated. Gifted and talented classes are predominantly white, for instance. Can anything be done about this?

Absolutely. The $11 million magnet grant that I helped the district win while as President of CEC3 is a terrific tool to integrate our schools, but requires much better planning and marketing to parents. Additionally, early childhood learning programs, increased funding and supports for low-income students early on, and less reliance on segregated high-stakes testing will help to lower the gap in achievement early on, and thus diminish segregation.  Greater support and funding for dual language and other innovative public school programs, can help to attract non-minority parents to predominantly minority schools. Great principals help to create great schools and attract parents, regardless of race.   Additionally, G&T admissions – which are all test based –should consider other factors besides the test scores as the current policy only creates more segregation.

Should the Upper West Side have more charter schools?

No. Charter schools – especially co-located charters – create haves and have nots, divert resources from the mainstream task of educating the 96% in public schools, and undermine our public schools by overburdening them with the special needs and ELL students that the charter  either don’t accept or push back into the system. They also increase segregation in our public schools by setting themselves apart within our public school buildings and by recruiting non-minority parents from our newly integrated public schools, while telling parents that most public schools aren’t worth attending.  And even with the millions spent on marketing of the charters, especially Upper West Success, there simply isn’t demand for these schools on the Upper West Side as parents are generally satisfied with our choices and simply want increased resources put into our public schools.  As such Upper West Success – despite claims of an enormous waiting list and demand – hasn’t been able to fill its seats even by recruiting Citywide, much less from Upper West side-based students or even District 3 students including in Harlem.

Should PTA funds be divided amongst schools in the district, or should they all be used at the school where they were raised?

I believe that a small percentage of PTA funds should be used to promote and support cooperation among all the PTA’s in the District.  That said, our schools need to be adequately funded from the base DOE budget and not have to rely on parents to provide for baseline services like substitute teachers, arts funding, and basic materials.

Should the UWS have a high school where local kids get preference? If so, how would you push for that? Is it even realistic?

I absolutely believe that our district should have a number of preference high schools based in the community.  The current local high school options for students are limited both in terms of geography and performance levels as measured by tests.  Thus students are forced into DOE’s Citywide enrollment process – which is confusing for our parents and destructive for our kids who end up spending a good part of the energy and effort in 8th grade simply trying to get into a high school.  There should be good local alternatives for all students.  Is this realistic? Everything will be possible, and realistic once we have a new mayor.

Environment

Is there anything the Upper West Side should do to prepare for future hurricanes like Sandy? 

At minimum, we need much better community emergency training and planning. This can be led by our schools.

Small Business

What specifically can be done to help Upper West Side small businesses? 

Reign in the red tape and multiple inspections that many small businesses face.  A modified tax credit plan for locally based businesses would help.  Additionally I would propose that smaller retail tenants be offered the right of first refusal to match valid offers provided to the landlord, and be allowed to stay at an agreed upon rent if during the time that the landlord is seeking other tenants.

Bike Lanes/Street Safety

Do you support installing a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue?
No I would not support a bike lane for Amsterdam avenue unless and until the lanes can be made safer for our community – especially children and seniors.  Currently they are confusing and dangerous.  And I am an avid biker.

Is there more that can be done to protect pedestrians in the neighborhood?
Systems can be put in with timing lights and signs drawing attention to the bike lanes and their operation.  Systems like this exist for pedestrian crossings at tourist spots in England.  Similarly, Goddard Riverside has a large flashing sign by its bikeway to clarify the system and warn pedestrians.

Crime

Do you support stop-and-frisk? 
Not as currently practiced with quotas and without any oversight.

Should the city legalize marijuana use?
I support the Governor’s plan to legalize.

Parking

Is there too much curbside parking on the Upper West Side, too little, or about the right amount?
Right amount.

Unions

City workers have gone without contracts for years.  Do you think they should get retroactive raises in their new contracts?

Pensions and health benefit costs for city workers have jumped under Mayor Bloomberg (city pension costs have risen from $1.3 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2013), even as funding for things like parks have decreased. Is it time to get these costs under control? How should the city do that? Should city workers have to pay more into their pensions and health benefits, for instance?
The City’s budget has increased in the same period by almost 3x so pension costs are not so out of whack nor to blame.  That said, I believe the mayor and the unions should be able to work from a range of issues when in negotiations.

Gale Brewer was known for reaching out to older people in the neighborhood and creating programs that got them fresh farm vegetables, for instance. In what area(s) do you feel our older citizens’ needs and concerns are still under-served, and what are your ideas to address this?
Senior centers and senior-related social services including meal plans and visitations need to be baselined in the budget rather than up for cuts every year. The NORC concept of creating senior communities with services in place and building and tying together local communities is terrific and needs to be invested in for our D6 residents. SCRIE income levels must be raised and rental supports and regulations strengthened so our seniors are not being pushed out or feel that they are living on the edge.  The OATs program should be fortified to provide and train seniors in technology programs.  And I would seek to build programs ala New York Cares where the great resources and knowledge base of our seniors can be better tapped for the benefit of our community.

Gale Brewer’s Legacy

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you agreed with.

1)    Paid sick leave legislation.

2)    Provided the most incredible constituent services imaginable in representing the entire district.

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you disagreed with.

1)    Columbus Avenue bike lanes: I would not have approved these as they are currently configured.  They are unsafe for pedestrians and problematic for our local businesses.

2)    Riverside Center: I would not have approved the plan without increased benefits to the community based on a solid valuation of the value of the increased floor area to Extell.  A much larger school should have been demanded – not just one which serves the complex.  Additionally, the affordable housing plans with a separate entrance, and possible “double dip” benefits to the developer is simply wrong.

Describe one time you have broken with your party
I break with my party daily on Education policy, which currently is being driven by a high-stakes testing, competitive business model which narrows our curriculum and our kids’ educations, rather than by a collaborative model in which educators lead, stakeholders are involved, and critical thinking and creativity are valued.

I also broke with the party on the Millionaire’s Tax which should have been reinstated as was, not diminished.

www.gotbaumforcouncil.com

Mel Wymore

Where are you from?
I grew up in Arizona, where my father was a professor. My parents gave me a childhood full of travel, adventure, and civic engagement.

When did you move to the UWS?
I moved to New York City in 1988, when I was 26 years old. Within a week, I discovered the diversity, progressive spirit, and vibrant sense of community on the Upper West Side, and moved here immediately.

What do you and your spouse do for a living?
As a systems engineer, I’ve had a varied career consulting and managing large projects for various types of organizations. I’ve worked in manufacturing, transportation, software development, and strategic planning. Most recently, I’ve focused on building community and making information more accessible online.

How old are you?
51

Do you have children?
Riley, 19. Rowyn, 17.

Did you go to public school? Do/did your children go to public school?
I went to public school my entire life, all the way through graduate school at the University of Arizona. My children went to Ethical Culture Fieldston School, where my daughter is a Senior. My son is currently a Sophomore at the University of Chicago.

What’s your favorite Upper West Side restaurant?
I cherish so many restaurants on the Upper West Side, especially those that deliver ;-). My latest favorite is Loi Restaurant, on West 70th Street, which features wonderful Greek food and the incredible hospitality of Chef Maria Loi.

Are you involved in the real estate business in any way, or are your clients real estate developers?
The closest I’ve been to the real estate business has been to serve on my coop board. It will be critically important for our next Council Member to be an independent and honest broker for our community. That’s why I have chosen to return campaign contributions from real estate developers.

In two or three sentences, why are you running/what spurred your decision?
I love the diverse and caring culture of the Upper West Side, and I love making a difference for people. After 25 years of community leadership, I’ve built a strong resume of tangible results. Upon completing my second term as Chair of Community Board 7, I realized that serving on New York City Council would allow me to accomplish even more for our community, and bring new tools to city government.

In 200 words or less, describe some of the ways you’ve already been politically civically active in the neighborhood.
Twenty years ago, I organized elderly and disabled tenants and co-founded a meal program for the residents of a derelict SRO near my home. It improved their lives, but also transformed our block. Inspired by that success, I have served in various capacities to improve quality of life on the Upper West Side: 17-year member and twice-elected Chair of Community Board 7, West Side Y Chair, PTA Chair, Block Association President.

As Chair of the West Side Y, I championed the expansion of facilities and programs for youth, seniors, and immigrants. As member and Chair of Community Board 7, I developed consensus and raised public and private funds to rebuild the 59th street Recreation Center; orchestrated record-breaking negotiations that won a new public school, permanent affordable housing, and $20M for our parks; and worked with Gale Brewer to pass storefront zoning regulations that protect small businesses along Columbus and Amsterdam.

Through the years, I’ve built solid relationships with community activists, elected officials, businesses and organizations. I have collaborated with leaders across the city to implement participatory budgeting, secure community board funding, stave off privatization of public assets, improve accessibility, and address climate change.

Housing and Development

Be honest with us: Is there any chance for a new generation of middle class people to be able to make it on the Upper West Side? What specific things can be done to make the neighborhood more affordable for middle class people?

We have a good chance of keeping the Upper West Side accessible to the middle class. However, we must take this moment to shift towards long-term, system-wide thinking, and increased public participation. Our leaders must put the needs of the community above those of real estate developers. Zoning laws need to make affordable housing mandatory in all new developments. We must also ensure that we retain and expand public facilities and services (schools, community centers, libraries, parks) that generate jobs and make it possible for all of us to engage in healthy and meaningful lives. My work in our community has focused on building and expanding these precious assets.

What’s the best affordable housing program being used in the neighborhood (or the entire city) right now? How would you expand or change the program? Do you have any ideas for creating affordable housing that are realistic and aren’t currently being attempted?

There’s a myriad of housing programs and very little accurate data to track their effectiveness over time. First, we need to keep people in their homes. Then we need to develop long-term solutions that stop the endless fight for affordable housing. I am a proponent of developing a housing “master plan” that analyzes the gap between projected housing needs and available housing stock, then develops ways of filling that gap. As it stands now, many programs meet different needs, but no comprehensive plan exists to keep our neighborhoods diverse and accessible to all levels of income.

In your view is the Upper West Side overdeveloped, underdeveloped or just right?

The Upper West Side is overdeveloped in certain areas, and large developments and big chain stores continue to threaten the character of our community. To protect the fabric and scale of our neighborhood, we should review and downsize zoning limits, subject all large development proposals to public review (eliminate “as of right”), expand historic districts where appropriate, design for climate change, and require new construction to contribute to new schools, affordable housing, parks, and other infrastructure projects.

Should developers have to contribute to a fund to support infrastructure and neighborhood improvements made necessary by their developments? If not why not. If yes, how would you make that happen?

Absolutely. Developers that add to population density must also contribute to the infrastructure necessary to support that density. As Community Board Chair, I orchestrated negotiations with a large developer that won a new school, permanent affordable housing, and $20M for parks. Going forward, I would sponsor a legislative change to ensure that all large-scale developments contribute to infrastructure, whether or not they apply for a variance.

Is inclusionary zoning (asking developers to set aside 20% of housing as affordable) working? Should inclusionary zoning be mandatory, or only in the event that a developer is seeking tax breaks or a zoning variance? Or should it be eliminated altogether? If so, what would you replace it with?

As constructed, inclusionary zoning does not produce enough affordable housing to meet projected needs, nor does it mandate that housing be permanently affordable. It is also not appropriately managed to avoid “double-dipping” by developers and/or outcomes like the “rich door, poor door” situation at 40 Riverside Dr. Inclusionary zoning should be mandatory. Anytime luxury or market-rate housing is developed, a portion of it ( 20% or more) should be set aside for permanent low and middle income housing, regardless of whether a zoning variance is requested.

Homeless Shelters

UWSers are upset about the proliferation of homeless shelters, particularly in the mid-90’s. What can be done about the shelters? How far would you go to fight new shelters like the one on West 95th street?

The UWS has a high concentration of SRO buildings, which have been used for low-income housing, for boutique hotels (that violate building safety codes), for supportive housing, and for transitional housing (shelters). Current policy regarding SRO’s (governed at the state level) creates an incentive for owners to lease buildings to the city for transitional housing above all else. We need to align city and state policies with respect to the needs of the community.

Additionally, we need to do a better job of preventing homelessness in the first place. We need adequate housing for all levels of income as well as a social services safety net that keeps people from falling into homelessness. Homelessness and housing policy should be coordinated, not treated as separate universes.

Schools

What would you do to ease overcrowding in the public schools?

No large building should be constructed without providing space for public education. I have a strong record of expanding school capacity in our district and will continue to make this a top priority as your next City Council member.

Articles and columns have criticized Upper West Side public schools for being too segregated. Gifted and talented classes are predominantly white, for instance. Can anything be done about this?

The new school at Riverside Center, as well as the space opening up at Beacon High School, will provide an opportunity to rezone part of the district and diversify student populations of all the schools.

Should the Upper West Side have more charter schools?

We need to focus on expanding and improving our existing public schools.

Should PTA funds be divided amongst schools in the district, or should they all be used at the school where they were raised?

I would want to include parents from all of the schools in this discussion.

Should the UWS have a high school where local kids get preference? If so, how would you push for that? Is it even realistic?

Yes. We should seek to zone at least one high school for in-district students. I would push for that by bringing together experts and stakeholders, collecting data, and making the case.

Environment

Is there anything the Upper West Side should do to prepare for future hurricanes like Sandy?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I immediately took action, organizing food deliveries from the Upper West Side to the Rockaways and other devastated areas. Our city was caught unprepared for Sandy, and even nine months after the storm, we know that many Sandy survivors are still suffering from homelessness, posttraumatic stress, and other life-altering disruptions.

A system-wide plan for preparedness, communication and resource allocation is needed. These resources include city, state, and federal government agencies; grassroots community groups; community boards; CERT; nonprofits; and religious congregations. We must use the natural barriers and ecosystems along our coastlines to absorb the majority of flooding in future hurricanes.

Climate change disproportionately affects those without financial means. We must take immediate and bold steps to move towards renewables such as wind and solar. I have called for a stop to infrastructure development that encourages continuing reliance on fossil fuels, including fracking, gas boiler conversions, pipelines, and LNG ports. I co-chaired the first Green Committee on Community Board 7 and co-founded The Carbon Squeeze, an organization that empowers community residents to reduce their carbon footprint.

As a systems engineer, I understand how we can use technology and infrastructure to protect our neighbors and their homes, and as Council Member, I will be able to implement real solutions.

Small Business

What specifically can be done to help Upper West Side small businesses?

As Chair of CB7, I established a small business task force to address the challenges faced by small businesses. We worked with Gale Brewer and the Department of City Planning to develop the first-ever storefront zoning legislation that will help prevent banks and drugstore chains from gobbling up small businesses.

We also need to reduce red tape imposed on small businesses. We need to organize local business networks that can promote to local consumers. We need to create incentives for landlords, coops, and condos to rent to small businesses.

Bike Lanes/Street Safety

Do you support installing a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue?

I support protected bike lanes which are proven to reduce injuries and make our streets safer and greener.

Is there more that can be done to protect pedestrians in the neighborhood?

Yes. We must continue to implement safety features (countdown timers, speed bumps, pedestrian islands, speed cameras) that discourage speeding and dangerous driving. We must work to modernize our system of truck delivery, with plentiful loading zones, smaller delivery trucks, and shifting through-trucks and buses to perimeter highways. We should expand the DOT’s Neighborhood Slow Zone program and identify opportunities for car-free public spaces.

Crime

Do you support stop-and-frisk?

The New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices are racially discriminatory and a violation of our civil rights. I applaud Judge Shira A. Sheindlin’s recent federal court ruling for taking a stand against these illegal, ineffective tactics and for holding accountable those city officials who have defended the policy. We must engage the larger community to create a dialogue about reforms to the NYPD’s policing tactics. It is crucial that the city involve all stakeholders in this discussion, especially New York communities most directly affected by policing.

Should the city legalize marijuana use?

Yes, in small quantities, dispensed through regulated facilities, and appropriately taxed.

Parking

Is there too much curbside parking on the Upper West Side, too little, or about the right amount?

I wish there were fewer private cars in the city and more investment in transit and other sustainable alternatives. That said, I would be interested in creating some sort of residential parking program that could generate revenues for the city and make parking more sane for New Yorkers and for the environment.

Unions

City workers have gone without contracts for years. Do you think they should get retroactive raises in their new contracts?

No

Pensions and health benefit costs for city workers have jumped under Mayor Bloomberg (city pension costs have risen from $1.3 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2013), even as funding for things like parks have decreased. Is it time to get these costs under control? How should the city do that? Should city workers have to pay more into their pensions and health benefits, for instance?

I believe we can reduce the cost of healthcare by creating citywide options on the new healthcare exchange. I would want to better analyze other options for cost reductions.

Services for the Elderly

Gale Brewer was known for reaching out to older people in the neighborhood and creating programs that got them fresh farm vegetables, for instance. In what area(s) do you feel our older citizens’ needs and concerns are still under-served, and what are your ideas to address this?

Protect and expand senior centers and the programs they provide. Continue to make our streets safer and more accessible. Expand bus services. Develop employment and volunteer opportunities and inter-generational programs. Expand naturally occurring retirement communities. Establish a senior advisory group to inform local policies and programs for the aging.

Gale Brewer’s Legacy

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you agreed with.

Gale Brewer has been an incredible role model. She is accessible, responsive, and effective. She works tirelessly to improve quality of life for everyone, especially people who feel vulnerable or marginalized. Two of my favorites include her initiatives to make city data available online and to bring farm fresh food to seniors. It would be an honor to succeed her.

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you disagreed with.

Even public servants should take time to rest and renew themselves from time to time.

Describe one time you have broken with your party.

I have disagreed with individual members of the Democratic party on specific proposals or procedures, but I don’t recall any time when I parted from the fundamental Democratic values of social justice, economic fairness, environmental stewardship, and inclusive community. That said, I believe we need to move away from “party politics” and work directly with people of all perspectives to develop solutions that work for everyone.

melwymore.com

Tom Siracuse (Green Party)

Where are you from?
I was born on Manhattan’s West Side and spent the major part of my life there.

When did you move to the UWS?
After spending my childhood in Connecticut and then attending the Univ. of CT, I moved back to Manhattan in 1966.

What do you and your spouse do for a living?
I was a teacher at George Washington HS upper Manhattan for 29 years, then adjunct professor at Hostos Community College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College before retiring.

How old are you?
75

Do you have children?
No

Did you go to public school?
Yes

Do/did your children go to public school?
N/A

What’s your favorite Upper West Side restaurant?
The Viand on Broadway & 75th St.

Are you involved in the real estate business in any way, or are your clients real estate developers?
No.

In two or three sentences, why are you running/what spurred your decision?
I believe the West Side is rapidly losing its character of a multi-class, multi-ethnic neighborhood as City subsidized high rise luxury residential buildings are sprouting up throughout the area. There is no affordable housing for new working and middle class people looking for a place to live. This unbridled development is not only destroying the original character of the neighborhood but is also degrading the environment and we desperately need a truly independent party-the Green Party- that is not controlled by the real estate developers.

In 200 words or less, describe some of the ways you’ve already been politically active in the neighborhood.
I am vice president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development and chair of the West Side/Manhattan Greens, West Side groups that have fought the destruction and privatization of our local parks and installation of toxic artificial turf as well as the unbridled construction of high rise buildings. I am also chair of the Rent Controlled Tenants’ Committee that fights to preserve Rent Control.

Housing and Development

Be honest with us: Is there any chance for a new generation of middle class people to be able to make it on the Upper West Side? (UWS). As things are now–no. What specific things can be done to make the neighborhood more affordable for middle class people? We must break the hold that big real estate and finance capital have on the politics. The present campaign finance laws are not strong enough. Anyone who applies for public financing should not be able to raise additional funds from special interest PAC’s, corporations and other big money entities. No one should be able to raise an unlimited amount of money even if the candidate does not participate in public financing. A billionaire like Bloomberg should not be allowed to use an unlimited amount of money to finance his campaign even though it is from his own fortune. The affordable housing such as existing rent regulated apartments still left in the neighborhood must be protected and must not be decontrolled as tenants move out of those apartments. Public subsidies for high rise luxury buildings must be ended. These subsidies go to those developers who include a percentage of units reserved as “affordable” such as the 80/20 program. These units are usually small studios in the back and on the lowest floors especially unsuitable for couples with children. Zoning is changed to allow even taller buildings so that the developer still gets as many luxury units than without inclusionary schemes. The City must partner with the State to build housing that is truly affordable for middle class people. The Mitchel-Lama program is a good example but these programs must not be allowed to expire.

What is the best affordable housing program being used in the neighborhood (or the entire city) right now? How would you expand or change the program? Do you have any ideas for creating affordable housing that are realistic and aren’t currently being attempted? Rent regulated apartments (rent controlled/rent stabilized) are the backbone of existing affordable housing yet constant rent in creases are forcing people to move. The Rent Guidelines Board members that determine Rent Stabilized increases are totally selected by the mayor. Appointments to this Board should first be approved by the City Council. Rent Controlled increases are determined by the governor’s appointees to the NYS Division of Housing. These increases are even higher than the Rent Guidelines oard’s. Most of the remaining Rent Controlled tenants are vulnerable seniors and the disabled on fixed incomes. The rent freeze programs (SCRIE/DRIE) must abolish their income caps. Now these programs are available only to those with very low incomes and whose rents are at least 1/3rd of their incomes. These rent freezes are not retroactive. Lower middle class seniors face constant increases forcing many to move out of their life long homes. Seniors or disabled persons should not pay more than 1/3rd of their income in rent! As rent regulated tenants die or move, these apartments must not be decontrolled. In addition, Mitchel Lama type programs should be revived but not allowed to expire.

In your view is the Upper West Side overdeveloped, underdeveloped or just right? Overdeveloped

Should developers have to contribute to a fund to support infrastructure and neighborhood improvements made necessary by their developments? If not why not. If yes, how would you make that happen?

Yes. New buildings put extra pressure on transportation and the environment. Developers should improve transportation facilities and open space near their new buildings. A good example is Verde Square at Broadway and 72nd-73rd Streets where the subway station was expanded, an elevator installed and a park included.

Is inclusionary zoning (asking developers to set aside 20% of housing as affordable) working? No Should inclusionary zoning be mandatory, or only in the event that a developer is seeking tax breaks or a zoning variance? Or should it be eliminated altogether? If so, what would you replace it with? It should be eliminated altogether. Please refer to previous paragraphs on how to increase affordable housing.

Homeless Shelters

UWSers are upset about the proliferation of homeless shelters, particularly in the mid-90’s. What can be done about the shelters? How far would you go to fight new shelters like the one on West 95th street? Homeless shelters are increasing because of the failure of the political establishment to provide an economy to allow people to get decent paying jobs and housing. There are some who suffer severe mental problems and they need improved social services. Without an overall of our economy, we will be reduced to pitting one neighborhood against another as to which gets more shelters than others.

Schools

What would you do to ease overcrowding in the public schools? Stop closing schools and selling them to developers and end co-location of charters in existing school buildings.

Articles and columns have criticized Upper West Side public schools for being too segregated. Gifted and talented classes are predominantly white, for instance. Can anything be done about this? As a former high school teacher, I saw no advantage in segregating students according to their performance. “Advanced”classes became islands for middle class students (often white) who often develop a superior and even racist attitude and other classes become dumping grounds for problematic students who feed on each others’ probems. The educational process should encourage students to develop open, unprejudiced minds enabling them to develop a more democratic society based on cooperation rather than competition and prejudice.

Should the Upper West Side have more charter schools? No. I believe we should end public subsidies to these semi-private charters throughout the city. Charters siphon money from underfunded public schools. Teachers are allowed to modify their union contractual protections in return for more money and teacher burn out is common. Charters allow their CEO’s to cut corners in order to realize more income for their own often bloated salaries. Charters pit parents against each others as those who did not win the lottery resent those who did. Despite charters getting more resources and their being able to transfer problematic students, their overall performance has been questionable. Researchers from Stanford University surveyed various states and found that 85% of charters did no better than traditional public schools. Recent reading and math tests in NYC showed that overall student scores in reading and math went down including charter schools students.

Should PTA funds be divided amongst schools in the district, or should they all be used at the school where they were raised? PTA funds should be used where they are raised but they should not be used as a substitute for providing a good education in each school. The real problem is not addressed in this question–the schools are underfunded by the City and State.

Should the UWS have a high school where local kids get preference? If so, how would you push for that? Is it even realistic? A high school should offer a good education to every student in the district. Setting up segregated, preferential high schools is inimical to good public education and democratic principles.

Environment

Is there anything the Upper West Side should do to prepare for future hurricanes like Sandy?

Sandy if a symptom of the world wide climate crisis. Building high walls around cities is not the answer. We must elect representatives from a Party like the Green Party who will fight to phase out fossil fuels (coal, oil and yes, natural gas) for clean sustainable solar, wind and wave energy. Neither can ultra dangerous nuclear power be tolerated. One serious event at the Indian Point plant just 25 miles up the river would be a disaster for NYC and the entire nation. We must also practice conservation and ban environmentally toxic products such as plastics. I mentioned the importance of the Green Party because the Democratic and Republican Parties are controlled by the very corporations that are polluting our environment. President Obama’s “balanced” approach of a minimal and insufficient investment in clean energy while continuing to develop and subsidize “clean coal”, tar sands oil and fracked gas is unacceptable. We must put the future of the planet ahead of the quest for the immediate mega profits of the fossil fuel industry.

Small Business

What specifically can be done to help Upper West Side small businesses? 16 years ago Ruth Messinger introduced a rent control bill in the City Council to protect small businesses. The bill was buried in committee. Since then over 400,000 small business have gone under, most from rent gouging. If this continues, the Upper West Side and much of the city will be a preserve of large chain stores and banks. We must have rent control for small business. Workers in small businesses should not be exempt from health care coverage. In fact too many people will not be covered by the Obama Health Plan. What is needed is a single payer universal health care system. In the meantime, small business should be given tax breaks to help them offer health care to their employees.

Bike Lanes/Street Safety

Do you support installing a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue? Amsterdam Ave is the busiest avenue on the West Side. Although I believe in bike lanes, they might exacerbate the congestion on Amsterdam Ave and bikers would have to contend with this. Perhaps bike lanes on CPW and West End Ave would be more appropriate.

Pedestrians need more protection. Seniors and the disabled often cannot cross avenues quickly enough before the lights change. These lights should be longer in duration. Subways must be made more accessible to seniors by installing elevators or escalators in all subway stations. The bus routes cut to save money must be restored. Before people often had to take only one bus to get to their destination but now they have to transfer to another bus. Bus stops should have protected seating for those who find it difficult to stand. Fines should be increased for drivers who stop at bus stops requiring people to walk out into the middle of the street to get on a bus. Fines should be increased for drivers who run red lights. Bikers should be fined for riding on sidewalks. Stores and restaurants should not be allowed to block most of the sidewalk to display their products or for their outdoor tables.

Crime

Do you support stop-and-frisk? No one should be stopped and searched unless there is prior evidence that the person is involved in a crime. This is clear in the Bill of Rights!

Should the city legalize marijuana use? Yes. Why is marijuana illegal while tobacco and alcohol, that are more harmful, legal? Marijuana has become an excuse to harass and even arrest young people of color. I never see young whites who I often see smoking marijuana stopped and frisked in my district (the West Side below 96th Street) .

Parking

Is there too much curbside parking on the Upper West Side, too little, or about the right amount? Too much.

Unions

City workers have gone without contracts for years. Do you think they should get retroactive raises in their new contracts? Yes, otherwise there is little incentive for the City to negotiate in good faith. An other factor that motivates the City not to negotiate in good faith is the Taylor Law which prohibits city workers from striking and this law should be repealed.

Pensions and health benefit costs for city workers have jumped under Mayor Bloomberg (city pension costs have risen from $1.3 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2013), even as funding for things like parks have decreased. Is it time to get these costs under control? How should the city do that? Should city workers have to pay more into their pensions and health benefits, for instance? All workers including city workers deserve decent pensions and health benefits. The best way to reduce the cost of pensions and health benefits to local government is to increase Social Security benefits and to institute a single payer universal health care for everyone. This can be done by raising the amount paid into Social Security by the ultra rich. A single payer health system would actually cost the nation less once the insurance and pharmaceutical companies are eliminated from the national health care system. Once again, it is a matter of priorities. Trillions were available to bail out the banks that caused havoc in our economy and that had a negative impact on the budgets of local government, but no money to rejuvenate the economy by helping the working and middle classes recover Public sector pensions and benefits did NOT cause the budget crisis. In fact City pension funds saved NYC from bankruptcy in the budget crisis of the 1970’s. Despite the present budget problems, the City finds hundreds of billions to subsidize stadiums and big real estate developers and refuses small tax increases on the ultra rich.

Services for the Elderly

Gale Brewer was known for reaching out to older people in the neighborhood and creating programs that got them fresh farm vegetables, for instance. In what area(s) do you feel our older citizens’ needs and concerns are still under-served, and what are your ideas to address this? There is not enough affordable housing for the elderly. The rent freeze program (SCRIE) for seniors in regulated apartments should be expanded to ALL seniors whose rents are more than 1/3rd of their incomes. More than half of all rent regulated seniors pay at least 50% of their income towards rent!

Gale Brewer’s Legacy

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you agreed with.

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you disagreed with.

There is a tendency (encouraged by local politicians) to portray the Upper West Side as a model of progressive politics and programs for the entire city yet this area suffers from an acute lack of truly affordable housing for middle class people seeking to live here and constant rent hikes for those in regulated housing. The unbridled construction of luxury high rises has changed the character of neighborhood displacing long time residents and adding to congestion and air pollution. Small businesses are quickly disappearing. The UWS also has overcrowded public schools. I understand that the Council does not have the power to repeal the NYS Urstadt Law that prohibits the City from regulating its own housing but the Council can pass a strong resolution urging N Y state to repeal this undemocratic law. The Council can refuse subsidies for the construction of high rise luxury buildings big real estate developers and provide more money to build truly affordable housing for both middle income residents and the poor. The Council can pass a resolution to end undemocratic mayoral control of the school system and refuse to fund charter schools. And the Council can restore proportional representation that we had up to 1948 to give smaller parties and their constituents a chance to participate in city government.

Describe one time you have broken with your party. The Green Party is open to self criticism and I and other Greens do not shy away from this healthy process.

Debra Cooper

Where are you from?
I was born in a displaced persons camp. My parents were Holocaust survivors. My sense of justice comes from this history. As the child of Holocaust survivors, I know the urgency and necessity of a fair and just society – one that is fair both socially and economically. From Germany my parents first moved to NJ, and with savings and help from family purchased a small farm in Connecticut.

When did you move to the UWS?
I first moved to the UWS in 1978 to raise my children. I moved to NY to go to CUNY Graduate Center.

What do you and your spouse do for a living?
I do not have a spouse.

How old are you?
Old enough to have to have a grandson.

Do you have children?
Two daughters and a grandson.

Did you go to public school? Do/did your children go to public school?
I went to public school in Connecticut. My children to the Day School and Fieldston. One went to Penn and the other to Yale.

What’s your favorite Upper West Side restaurant?
The Fairway Café is my favorite UWS restaurant – It’s just around the corner and the food is great. The Borscht soup is a blast! I have taken lots of out of town politicians from Jim Dean to Congressmen there. They loved it.

Are you involved in the real estate business in any way, or are your clients real estate developers?
As a Corcoron agent, I helped families and individuals buy, sell and rent homes.

In two or three sentences, why are you running/what spurred your decision?
We need a real change from the Bloomberg years – halting hurtful education policies, ending stop and frisk, fixing a senseless homeless policy and stopping the favoritism of big developers over everyday people. I’m running for City Council to provide progressive, forward looking leadership to maintain the quality of life and affordability of the Upper West Side to make sure seniors can stay here, young people can start here and the middle class can prosper.

In 200 words or less, describe some of the ways you’ve already been politically active in the neighborhood.
I’m an unabashed progressive who knows how to get things done on the local, state and national level. As an elected Democratic State Committee (DSC) member, I’ve been a strong voice on the Reform Caucus, writing the resolution supporting the Millionaire’s tax and championing environmental issues including banning fracking and issues of social justice, women’s rights and marriage equality. A long term member of the Board of NARAL ProChoiceNY, I have been a leader in the fight for women’s rights, reproductive freedom and healthcare. Starting with helping write the landmark New York City and State Clinic Access bills and more recently working tirelessly to assure that there were no limits on reproductive rights in The Affordable Healthcare Act, I have fought to make sure our voice is heard. And as a strong community advocate, I joined with other West Siders in organizing a boycott of Citarella to bring about a labor agreement when the owners tried to keep their workers from becoming unionized, took on the cause of our local deliverymen to get fair wages and restore their back pay, fought against the West Side Stadium and participated in advancing the West Side’s innovative zoning proposal to protect small businesses.

Housing and Development

Be honest with us: Is there any chance for a new generation of middle class people to be able to make it on the Upper West Side? What specific things can be done to make the neighborhood more affordable for middle class people?

We must always make sure NY is affordable for the middle class and the poor with permanent affordable housing options in NY. We can start by repealing vacancy decontrol. There is also the potential to transform NYC’s estimated 700 foreclosed properties into additional affordable housing options. Additionally, I believe there should be a program of mandatory mediation at the end of the lease that can provide small businesses with protection to survive the commercial renewal lease process which has resulted in unacceptable numbers of good, local businesses being forced to close due only to unreasonably high rents. Please refer to my website for more information: http://www.debracooper2013.com/issues/fresh-approaches-fix-future

What’s the best affordable housing program being used in the neighborhood (or the entire city) right now? How would you expand or change the program? Do you have any ideas for creating affordable housing that are realistic and aren’t currently being attempted?

Currently, the best proposals are PERMANENT affordable housing proposals, which means getting the federal government involved with the provision of subsidies for urban areas. Of course, protecting the remaining rent-stabilized housing stock is a crucial way of maintaining affordability in New York City. In addition, on West 95th Street, $67 million are going to a private owner for a substandard shelter when the same money can build or rent many new units of permanent affordable housing. Please refer to the previous answer and my website for more information about my ideas at: http://www.debracooper2013.com/issues/fresh-approaches-fix-future

In your view is the Upper West Side overdeveloped, underdeveloped or just right? Becoming overdeveloped.

Should developers have to contribute to a fund to support infrastructure and neighborhood improvements made necessary by their developments?  If not why not.  If yes, how would you make that happen? Yes. We need to overhaul our zoning laws to find innovative ways to protect middle class New Yorkers. To accomplish this, we should first increase building standards for disaster preparedness and for the green energy policies that help prevent such disasters; second, mandate the creation of new, permanent affordable housing at a 70-30 ratio with each new development; and third, institute living wage standards for all workers on new developments through the reform process. Through this multifaceted proposal, we can address some of the most intractable problems facing our community. The proposal would put buildings presently “as of right” into the review process and Community Boards would be given greater scope and greater weight in the decision process.

Is inclusionary zoning (asking developers to set aside 20% of housing as affordable) working? Should inclusionary zoning be mandatory, or only in the event that a developer is seeking tax breaks or a zoning variance? Or should it be eliminated altogether? If so, what would you replace it with?

We must do an accounting of how effective this program has actually been. Has it just given tax credits to developers and not getting the affordable housing in return. Councilman Brad Lander has done a preliminary study and has found that indeed insufficient affordable housing has been built given the tax credits already been assigned. You can’t evaluate the effectiveness of a program is if its conditions have not been met. Presently whatever programs that have been created need to be monitored to see if they are actually effective. That is are they providing affordable housing?

Please refer to the two previous answers and my website for more information about my ideas at: http://www.debracooper2013.com/issues/fresh-approaches-fix-future

Homeless Shelters

UWSers are upset about the proliferation of homeless shelters, particularly in the mid-90’s. What can be done about the shelters? How far would you go to fight new shelters like the one on West 95th street?

I have written a letter to NYC Comptroller John Liu in opposition to the homeless shelters on West 95th Street. Please follow this link to read my letter: http://www.debracooper2013.com/content/letter-john-liu-regarding-homeless-shelter-95th

The proliferation of inadequate, short-staffed homeless shelter is a direct result of the lack of a comprehensive homeless program by the Bloomberg administration. If there was a cohesive homeless program in place already then there would be no need to shelters nor the need for the favoritism that is on display. A cohesive homeless program is meant to provide decent living wages and affordable long-term housing options. The new shelter on West 95th street should never have happened, and I will work with the next mayor to create a program that PREVENTS homelessness.

Schools

What would you do to ease overcrowding in the public schools?

The best way to ease overcrowding is to allocate more money to education. Even with the settlement of the CFE lawsuit the city still received disproportionate funds then the suburban regions. It is a shame that President Obama decided to pit state against state and parent against parent in the “Race to the Top Program.” This system creates an atmosphere where states compete for funds, and with children as our most valuable resource – there should be no system where children lose. If the federal government is going to be give supplemental funds to school systems they should supplement funds to all schools.

Articles and columns have criticized Upper West Side public schools for being too segregated. Gifted and talented classes are predominantly white, for instance. Can anything be done about this?

When I first moved to the UWS there was much more cultural and racial diversity. Sadly, as real estate prices soared that diversity has severely declined leading to a district that is very white, which makes it difficult at the elementary levels for diversity. While it is easier at the middle and high school levels, I do believe in neighborhood schools. Also, if we had more affordable housing with components require diversity as part of the criteria we could increase diversity.

Should the Upper West Side have more charter schools?

No. I think charter schools leach the public schools of committed and active parents and children -the very parents that could make public schools better. Charter schools have been sold as something that low income underserved areas need. The UWS is not one of those areas.

Should PTA funds be divided amongst schools in the district, or should they all be used at the school where they were raised?

Should the UWS have a high school where local kids get preference? If so, how would you push for that? Is it even realistic?

Yes, it is realistic, but we have to do as they say in Yiddish “hoc in chinek” or bang on a teakettle with the Department of Education. The problem has not been developers but the Department of Education. For the last ten years the Board of Education has refused to admit that there is a baby boom going on in the UWS and throughout the city. This is one thing you cannot blame on developers. BUT the Board of Education refused to buy or lease for new schools because the Board of Education refused to admit to that the population was increasing. The stumbling block has always been the Board of Education and not the developers. So getting an elementary school built is like credit for the sun rising.

Environment

Is there anything the Upper West Side should do to prepare for future hurricanes like Sandy?
When confronting natural disasters, we need to overhaul our zoning laws to find innovative ways to protect New Yorkers. To accomplish this, we should increase building standards for disaster preparedness and for the green energy policies that help prevent such disasters.

We must ensure that boiler systems and other integral infrastructure are not at ground level. Most of the UWS is not going to be harmed by rising sea levels in the next century, except for the lower end of the district. Most of Plan NYC is well considered in terms of protecting various parts of the city appropriately. However, I do think that Bloomberg’s plan puts too many resources too close to the water.

Please see my website for more information on disaster preparedness: http://www.debracooper2013.com/issues/fresh-approaches-fix-future

Small Business

What specifically can be done to help Upper West Side small businesses? Small business are the heart of the Upper West Side, but we are seeing a sea change in the business landscape—chains and national brands are rapidly replacing the “mom-and-pop” stores for which our neighborhoods have been known.  There is currently a proposal for tax credits to businesses for rent increases in order to help tenants stay in the neighborhood. However, this tax credit, rather than help tenants, would actually further encourage rent increases. More successful would be a program of mandatory mediation at the end of the lease that can provide small businesses with protection to survive the commercial renewal lease process which has resulted in unacceptable numbers of good businesses being forced to close due only to unreasonable lease demands.

Bike Lanes/Street Safety

Do you support installing a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue? No.

Is there more that can be done to protect pedestrians in the neighborhood?

Yes, the streets are in horrendous shape and seniors have told me that they are fearful of going across them in their walkers and wheel chairs. Simple road maintenance needs to be done. It was wrong of the Department of Transportation to close the exit at 72nd street, which now funnels all of the traffic onto the West End Avenue away from Riverside Boulevard that many seniors cross. Broken promises by the Department of Transportation must be fixed.

Crime

Do you support stop-and-frisk?
I adamantly oppose stop-and-frisk. I applaud the judge’s ruling. Unlike other candidates, I would have voted for both the Independent Monitor Bill and the Racial Profiling Bill. Stop-and-frisk impacts minority neighborhoods significantly and undermines trust for governance. Being a young minority is not evidence of a crime, and people should not be treated like criminals because of their skin color. Additionally, stop-and-frisk and the surveillance programs implemented by the Bloomberg administration have generated an arrogance of power among the police as if it’s their job to control us when it is their job to protect us. This was exemplified during the anti Iraq war protests in 2003 and the jailing of protesters at the 2004 republican convention in violation of their rights. As a child of Holocaust survivors I am very aware of where the abuse of police power could lead us.

Should the city legalize marijuana use?
At the very least we should repeal that law that incarcerates people for possession of negligible amounts of marijuana. While there are many drugs that have harmful impacts on people’s health, marijuana seems to be in the same category as alcohol. Although this is a state issue the legalization of marijuana use does deserve further scrutiny.

Parking

Is there too much curbside parking on the Upper West Side, too little, or about the right amount?
For storeowners to prosper they need more curbside parking for deliveries and customers.

Unions

City workers have gone without contracts for years. Do you think they should get retroactive raises in their new contracts?

Pensions and health benefit costs for city workers have jumped under Mayor Bloomberg (city pension costs have risen from $1.3 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2013), even as funding for things like parks have decreased. Is it time to get these costs under control? How should the city do that? Should city workers have to pay more into their pensions and health benefits, for instance?

Instead of cutting pensions for City workers to meet decreasing budgets, everyone should be taxed in a progressive manner. Indeed private pensions, too, have been eviscerated by bankruptcies and as a result pensions have been turned into IRAs and 401Ks that cannot last a lifetime. In terms of pensions, it should be a race to the top, not a race to the bottom, and the way to make it work is to tax the elites. The wealthy are not paying their fair share.

Big banks, moreover, are avoiding property taxes by using the Mortgage Electronic Registry System (MERS). This has to change.

Please see my website for more information about fresh approaches to fix this city at: http://www.debracooper2013.com/issues/fresh-approaches-fix-future

Services for the Elderly

Gale Brewer was known for reaching out to older people in the neighborhood and creating programs that got them fresh farm vegetables, for instance. In what area(s) do you feel our older citizens’ needs and concerns are still under-served, and what are your ideas to address this?

Green garden can be extended to public institutions, public schools, and empty lots to promote healthy nutritional outcomes and awareness about sustainable food growth.

Through promoting healthy food, we are investing in preventative health and can lower out rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and will bolster children’s academic achievement.

I propose sending mobile food trucks from local regional farmers to food deserts in our city. These programs have been tested and can significantly improve the eating habits and health outcomes of inner-city residents.

I think there should be a citywide office to disseminate information’s about senior needs and senior services.

Please see my website for more information about green gardens and mobile food trucks at: http://www.debracooper2013.com/issues/fresh-approaches-fix-future

Gale Brewer’s Legacy

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you agreed with.
Gale helped create a national movement to her campaign for paid sick days. This is exactly the role the UWS should be playing. The city government has become more transparent as a result of Gale’s proposals, which includes making more information publicly available on the web.

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you disagreed with.
N/A

Party Line

Describe one time you have broken with your party.

I think that the President’s “Race to the Top” has been a disaster for education all across the country. It only helps some children and doesn’t help others. It creates a high stakes, high pressure-testing program that has disrupted our communities. With a masters in testing and years of teaching experience I know that testing should tell you what the child knows, tell you what child needs to know, and how to teach that child.

I also disagree with austerity programs that the President put into place in 2011 and disagree with the grand bargain to lower social security for retirees in order to make nice with Republicans. If anything we need to increase Social Security benefits as a result of the diminished public and private pension programs.

http://www.debracooper2013.com/

Ken Biberaj

Where are you from?
I was born in NYC. I am a first generation American and my parents came to the US in 1968 after leaving Albania. My father is a life long civil servant, and still works at Voice of America in Washington, DC. I grew up in Virginia before going to American University for undergrad, then the Harvard Kennedy School for my Master’s in Public Policy. After graduating, I went to Florida to work on John Kerry’s presidential campaign and then returned to NYC.

When did you move to the UWS?
After graduating from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2004, I went to Florida to serve on John Kerry’s presidential campaign as his policy research director for the state. I moved back to NYC in 2005.

What do you and your spouse do for a living?
I work for a small family real estate company. We own and operate the Russian Tea Room on West 57th St and I also do retail leasing, with a focus on helping small businesses find new locations. My wife went to NYU and then Brooklyn Law School. She is currently a consultant to a few non-profits.

How old are you?
33

Do you have children?
Yes, a baby boy named Hudson who is 3 months old.

Did you go to public school? Do/did your children go to public school?
My wife and I both went to public school (elementary and high school). We are planning on sending Hudson to public school on the UWS but have very serious concerns about over crowding.

What’s your favorite Upper West Side restaurant?
Too many to choose! Here are a few of our favorites: Barney Greengrass, Jacobs Pickles, Pappardella, Ditch Plains, Cafe Tallulah, Vai and AG Kitchen.

Are you involved in the real estate business in any way, or are your clients real estate developers?
Yes, I work for a small family real estate company. As mentioned above, we own and operate the Russian Tea Room. Also, I spent the last 8 years also doing retail leasing. I think this experience is especially important because one of the biggest issues in the neighborhood is the fact that the small businesses that are the character of our community are closing on a daily basis. I understand the challenges that these businesses are facing and know how to help them.

In two or three sentences, why are you running/what spurred your decision?
I am running because we need new energy and leadership at City Hall. Over the last ten years, we have lost more affordable housing than any neighborhood, our small businesses continue to close and our schools are more over crowded than ever. We need new ideas to take on these challenges and I have the right experience to hit the ground running. Video of me explaining why I am running: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihPRVIaZwbw

In 200 words or less, describe some of the ways you’ve already been politically active in the neighborhood.
I am not from the political establishment on the West Side. I am not running because it is ‘my turn’. I am running because I am concerned about the future of our neighborhood and City, and believe I have the right experience to make a real difference. When I returned to NY in 2005, I got involved in politics on the national level, helping Hillary Clinton’s senate and presidential campaigns as a member of her finance committee. I have also been active with a variety of non-profits, from the Clinton Foundation to the Food Bank for New York and New York Needs You, an organization that mentors first generation college students. I am outside of the political establishment and truly represent a fresh perspective to the challenges that we face. My understanding of the public, private and non-profit sectors will enable me to get results at City Hall for the West Side.

Housing and Development

Be honest with us: Is there any chance for a new generation of middle class people to be able to make it on the Upper West Side? What specific things can be done to make the neighborhood more affordable for middle class people?

Yes, there is absolutely an opportunity for us to make the neighborhood more affordable for middle class families. Our neighborhood is unique and vibrant because of the diversity of residents that we have on the West Side. We need a multi-prong approach. First, we have to preserve the existing stock of affordable housing that we have. Since 2008, the West Side has lost the highest number of affordable units, over 12,000. We need strong tenant advocacy to protect the remaining units for the long run. Second, whenever we build new housing, we must build affordable and middle class units as well, and those units must be permanent. Lastly, we need new energy and leadership in City Hall to address the rising costs that Co-Op and Condo owners face across the neighborhood. Middle class families with modest apartments have seen their taxes and maintenance fees double and sometimes triple in the last ten years. I know that I have the background and new ideas to protect tenants, build more housing and reduce costs for West Side families.

What’s the best affordable housing program being used in the neighborhood (or the entire city) right now? How would you expand or change the program? Do you have any ideas for creating affordable housing that are realistic and aren’t currently being attempted?

-There are several affordable housing programs that I think are good. First, the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) is a great program, however, the income limit has not been increased for several years and this is putting a lot of seniors at risk. We need to increase this immediately and set yearly increases. Second, inclusionary zoning is a great idea in theory but it should be mandatory and it is clear that the program is not yielding the intended results. Lastly, the New York City Acquisition Fund (or Housing Asset Renewal Program) is something I support. The Fund offers acquisition and predevelopment loans to developers looking to buy and develop land for affordable housing in NYC. It’s a $230 million public-private partnership between the City, charitable foundations and major banks.

In your view is the Upper West Side overdeveloped, underdeveloped or just right?
I do not think it is so much a question about over or underdevelopment but rather about the right development. Our neighborhood has real needs and those needs have not been met with much of the development that has taken place in the last decade. As an example, the Lincoln Square area has seen a tremendous boom in population, but this has not been met with increased transit or additional school capacity. We need new energy and leadership to negotiate stronger for the community so that we get more in return from developers.

Should developers have to contribute to a fund to support infrastructure and neighborhood improvements made necessary by their developments?  If not why not.  If yes, how would you make that happen?

While we do not want to deter good development projects for the City, we certainly need to expand transparency in the development process so that the community needs are made know. Once we identify the key needs that the community has then we can use the levers of government to incentive developers to include elements that meet community objectives. We need to approach new developments that take place in a comprehensive manner. I released “25 Ideas for the UWS” on my website last month, and I share more specifics in there as well: www.ken2013.com

Is inclusionary zoning (asking developers to set aside 20% of housing as affordable) working? Should inclusionary zoning be mandatory, or only in the event that a developer is seeking tax breaks or a zoning variance? Or should it be eliminated altogether? If so, what would you replace it with?

-I support making it mandatory. The way it stands now, it is not working. According to a report released by Councilmember Brad Lander and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, inclusionary zoning has generated about 2,700 permanently affordable units since 2005, or less than 2 percent of all apartments developed in the city during that time. Inclusionary zoning should be mandatory when developers are seeking tax breaks or a zoning variance. If developers are asking the city to ‘give’ then the city is certainly entitled to ‘get’ something in return.

Homeless Shelters

UWSers are upset about the proliferation of homeless shelters, particularly in the mid-90’s. What can be done about the shelters? How far would you go to fight new shelters like the one on West 95th street?

-I have led the charge against the new shelter on West 95th St since last fall. I have spoken at town hall meetings, submitted FOIL requests to find documents, and even participated in closed door meetings with members of the Comptroller’s office. This process absolutely lacks transparency and violates the City Charter. I would be a leader in the Council to formulate a real plan to address homelessness and work to ensure that we no longer hide behind ’emergency provisions’ that bypass the community and award no-bid contracts to former City officials. Here is a video of me speaking about the shelters that filmed at a forum in the Spring: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-_G8q_Ky1w

Schools

What would you do to ease overcrowding in the public schools?
Val and I are zoned for PS 87, and the preschool program there has a 4% acceptance rate. The overcrowding issue on the UWS is a very serious and personal challenge for us as new parents. We need to build more school space, especially for a growing population of young families.

Big picture, we need to immediately decide how the old Beacon High School space should be used. This, coupled with the new school at Riverside South, will certainly help alleviate some of the crowding issues. But we also need to look at other potential sites in the neighborhood for additional school seats and continue to strive to make every seat in every school as strong as possible. We need to continue to put pressure on developers to add school seats to the neighborhood if they are adding new units. Lastly, we need to fight for both a dedicated high school for UWS students and also negotiate better for more school capacity when new developments go up.

Articles and columns have criticized Upper West Side public schools for being too segregated. Gifted and talented classes are predominantly white, for instance. Can anything be done about this?
Yes, we need to provide West Side parents with the best choices for schools in the neighborhood. All too often, catchment lines are drawn in a way that segregate our community and this is a policy we should examine. Additionally, we have to examine the application process and tests that are used for students to get in G&T programs. Every West Side student should have equal access to opportunity. Therefore, we need more funding and support for tutoring programs that assist lower income students who cannot afford private tutoring, so that they can also have a fair shot at this programs. Lastly, we need to promote the admissions procedures to all parts of the neighborhood.

Should the Upper West Side have more charter schools?
We need more schools in general. Charters are not the answer, but they are part of the solution. I am pro-choice when it comes to education and want to ensure parents can choose from a wide variety of quality schools in our community. We have a number of great traditional public schools on the West Side, and as a councilmember, I will fight to ensure our schools only get better.

Should PTA funds be divided amongst schools in the district, or should they all be used at the school where they were raised?
I do not think that PTA funding alone is a real solution to our public education challenges, instead as a Councilmember, I will fight to ensure every school on the UWS gets the government resources that it needs. To make this happen, we need real reform at the Department of Education. We need to reevaluate the RFP and procurement processes so that we can support an environment of greater innovation and maximize the dollars that are available for our classrooms. If West Side parents work to raise funds for their schools, we should learn from those best-practices and share them with other schools, not the resources themselves. We have very active parent groups in the neighborhood, and I want to encourage parent engagement in many ways, not just through monetary contributions.

Should the UWS have a high school where local kids get preference? If so, how would you push for that? Is it even realistic?
Yes. I would sit down immediately with the new Chancellor and lay out the case that we face on the UWS with overcrowding and uncertainty. Working with the local CEC, we can make a real case that District 3 needs a zoned school for our families. What is truly unbelievable, is that some districts across the city do have district-preference high schools, but our community does not. I will work immediately to bring this level of basic fairness to the Upper West Side.

Environment

Is there anything the Upper West Side should do to prepare for future hurricanes like Sandy?
Climate change is a reality that the City Council will have to address. Although City Council cannot stop climate change independently, I believe that it can legislate common-sense actions to make sure that New York City is prepared to deal with stronger storms and abnormal weather. Some of these measures include: studying adaptive strategies to flooding and non-flooding climatic changes; including climate change in environmental impact statements for development projects; removing toxic materials stored in flood zones; establishing protocols for the orderly evacuation of hospital patients during a major storm; and incorporating sustainable building designs that mitigate the impact of potential power outages on building occupants. Lastly, we need to re-imagine our streetscape so that the concrete on our streets is more porous, elevate subway grates and add bioswales. I will also work to implement the bold plan Mayor Bloomberg created in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. It is my innovative thinking on environmental issues that helped me gain the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibKgLckwVRA&feature=c4-overview&list=UUV8xUZhTjrr5yIaX6uKkI4A

Small Business

What specifically can be done to help Upper West Side small businesses?
As someone who has helped run a business and dealt with City agencies, I know first hand the challenges that our local businesses face. Small businesses are the fabric of our community and make the Upper West Side the world-class neighborhood it is. I will have a dedicated staff member devoted to helping small businesses; whether that’s assistance navigating the labyrinth of city agencies or helping to fight unwarranted fines. I also support the creation of a grace period during which non-health related violations can be remedied without the a letter grade or fine being issued. I will work to reform the Small Business Services to set the agency on a course to better meet the needs of its core constituency. I will also work with the agency to develop an online “dashboard” for small business owners where they can easily view what permits they have, need and the status of applications.

Bike Lanes/Street Safety

Do you support installing a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue?
Bike lanes are here to stay and they help create a healthier and safer neighborhood. We certainly need to work better to educate residents about bike lanes, and what the rules of the road are. I do support a north bound bike lane but want to work with local businesses and the community at large to identify the best location for a north bound lane.

Is there more that can be done to protect pedestrians in the neighborhood?
We need to add more red light cameras, reduce the speed limit and add more count down timers. Also, we need to educate bikers and bike delivery people of the rules of the road so that pedestrians can easily enjoy our streetscape. Additionally, our sidewalks are a mess. They are filled with scaffolding that stays in place too long, unused newspaper bins, proliferation of vendors and cracked pavement. I want to evaluate sidewalk congestion in a comprehensive way. That requires looking at our Scaffolding Laws to ensure scaffolds are not up longer than is required. I strive to create a more livable streetscape by adding more benches, trees, lighting, bike parking, and flood mitigation devices like bioswales that have proven hugely successful on Columbus Avenue.

Crime

Do you support stop-and-frisk?
We are fortunate that NYC is the safest big city in the country but there is a lot that the new City Council will have to address when it comes to oversight. Stop & Frisk as we know it must end, surveillance of New Yorkers based on religion is unacceptable, and the fact that we pay out almost half a billion dollars to settle lawsuits against the NYPD is unconscionable. I would seek to provide greater oversight of the NYPD, but will also work to ensure that our hardworking law enforcement officials have the resources they need and are not burdened by gotcha politics. Even though crime is down, I believe that we should not continue cutting the number of cops on our streets. Lastly, I was endorsed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsoPfZIH65c&feature=c4-overview&list=UUV8xUZhTjrr5yIaX6uKkI4A

Should the city legalize marijuana use?
It is actually up to the state to address this specific issue. But I do believe that the City should absolutely put a lower priority on arresting people for marijuana usage.

Parking

Is there too much curbside parking on the Upper West Side, too little, or about the right amount?
I would seek to do a comprehensive analysis of the parking situation on the West Side and also examine the possibility of bringing “Resident Parking” to the area. Broadly speaking, our goal should be to reduce vehicular traffic and usage across our City by investing more in mass transit, but for those West Siders who do have a car, we should ensure they have a place to park. This also goes for individuals that come to the UWS to shop. There are some meters that should be examined – instead of providing one-hour of time, some should be extended to encourage more shopping and dining at our local establishments.

Unions

City workers have gone without contracts for years. Do you think they should get retroactive raises in their new contracts?
The current administration is leaving us with over 150 public contracts that must be negotiated and our budget is tighter than ever. We need to get new contracts signed immediately, but everything has to be on the table for discussion as we do not have the money to meet all the requests that will be made of the new Mayor.

Pensions and health benefit costs for city workers have jumped under Mayor Bloomberg (city pension costs have risen from $1.3 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2013), even as funding for things like parks have decreased. Is it time to get these costs under control? How should the city do that? Should city workers have to pay more into their pensions and health benefits, for instance?
Addressing the increasing costs associated with our pension and health care system will be a top priority. We must do everything we can to support working families, but we have very limited resources. All employees need certainty about the benefits they receive, but the new administration will have to ensure that everything is on the table when negotiating.

Services for the Elderly

Gale Brewer was known for reaching out to older people in the neighborhood and creating programs that got them fresh farm vegetables, for instance. In what area(s) do you feel our older citizens’ needs and concerns are still under-served, and what are your ideas to address this?
We are facing an aging crisis in our City and we need to do more to addressing the housing needs for seniors. We need to increase the SCRIE limit, so that seniors do not live in fear about being forced to leave their apartment. Additionally, we need to address the rising costs of living in the neighborhood. We have to protect the local small businesses that make our neighborhood vibrant and unique, and are often more affordable for seniors. I will continue all the great work that Gale has done for seniors and seek to build upon it.

Gale Brewer’s Legacy

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you agreed with.
I am a strong supporter of Gale’s constituent services and also her work on technology. As a councilmember, I will keep the store front office on Columbus Ave and also add remote office hours around the neighborhood so that residents can regularly meet with me and share their concerns or issues about the neighborhood. As the chair of the Technology Committee, Gale was a tireless advocate for increasing access to technology open data. I would also be an advocate in these areas.

Name two things that Gale Brewer did that you disagreed with.
Nothing comes to mind.

Describe one time you have broken with your party.
I am outside the political establishment and will make decisions based on what I believe are best for the community at large.

www.ken2013.com
Twitter: @kenbiberaj
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ken2013
Instagram: @kenbiberaj

We focused on the local races because that’s where the West Side rag can add the most value. Manhattan News Network also has some good videos on the Council races. A site called DecideNYC has info about other races, including the contests for mayor, comptroller and public advocate. Feel free to argue about the positions that the candidates have taken in the comments, but we’re not interested in personal attacks, and will delete nasty comments.

    1. Cato says:

      Thank you, Avi, for compiling far-and-away the most informative data anywhere about each of the candidates, and presenting it all in a readable (if massive!) way.

      I have not seen anything nearly as helpful in comparing these many candidates who seem different in some ways yet cookie-cutter in others.

      This is a difficult decision to make, and you have been immensely helpful, to me at least, in making it.

      Three cheers for Avi!

    2. Judy says:

      Thank you very much for posting these in-depth interviews.

    3. NikFromNYC says:

      “We must also practice conservation and ban environmentally toxic products such as plastics.” – Green Party candidate

    4. Ethan says:

      Fantastic work, and thank you. Every morning (almost) I go out and meet one or other of these guys at the 72d/Bway subway, and that’s been very helpful in the decision-making process. But “DECISION 2013! WE GRILLED THE CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES ON THE HOT ISSUES” adds much needed info and gives a great side-by-side comparison of the candidates.

    5. Evan says:

      Thank you for this! This is invaluable!

    6. Kate - West Side Public School Parent says:

      Thanks for the clarity!

      Why won’t Helen Rosenthal answer the question whether her kids go to public schools? Perhaps because she’s trying to pass herself off as a public school parent when her kids haven’t spent a day in our public schools. I am voting for Noah Gotbaum: the only candidate who actually understands the system from the inside, has done a huge amount for our kids already, and will be a real force for public education and parents in the City Council.

      • Cato says:

        Rosenthal’s “husband works in finance”, so you can safely assume — given Rosenthal’s careful avoidance of the subject — that her kids went, or go, to the best-money-can-buy private schools.

        I had noticed how carefully she avoids any mention of schools in any of her campaign literature.

    7. Louise says:

      Thank you SO VERY MUCH for all of this great information–and to the candidates who took the time to respond.

    8. Harriet says:

      Avi – thank u for an amazing job! If every neighborhood had this much information about their proposed politicians, we might actually have a democratic form of government, instead of the oligarchy we often have now.

    9. Spence Halperin says:

      Thank-you for publishing this. I am not kidding when I tell you that I woke up this morning wondering who will get my vote. It is pretty clear to my that Noah Gotbaum really understands the UWS. It is in his DNA.

    10. Snowy says:

      Lots of interesting answers and also some great nuance here – good opportunity to read between the lines, esp on the overdevelopment/schooling issues. So helpful – I hope this gets distributed far and wide.

    11. 9d says:

      I was disappointed that all the candidates favor continuing or increasing rent stabilization. Rent stabilized apartments almost never go to market and allow a select few to pay below-market rent. All at the expense of market-rate renters, who must pay higher rents due to the restricted supply.

      Furthermore, rent stabilization is not based on need, but rather on luck or having the right connections.

    12. Leda says:

      Great info, Avi. And tremendous Thank You to Gale Brewer for all her years of service to the UWS. I look forward to seeing her as Borough Pres. Has she endorsed anyone to follow in her footsteps?

    13. denton says:

      Thanks Avi as well. I’m feeling the same way about the development issue. Too bad none of the candidates have any answers except ‘more regulation’.

    14. Cary says:

      Very informative and helpful. Thanks so much.

    15. Cary says:

      @Leda…I asked Gale and she told me she wasn’t endorsing anyone.

    16. Current G&T Parent says:

      Q: Articles and columns have criticized Upper West Side public schools for being too segregated. Gifted and talented classes are predominantly white, for instance. Can anything be done about this?

      First, the segregation in the G&T program is an issue of socio-economic status and not race. In Manhattan there is a strong correlation between race and class with white people being more affluent and people of color, particularly Latinos and blacks, being less affluent. On the Upper West Side with luxury condos and gentrification right next door to public, and other supportive, housing, we’re like Scarsdale and Yonkers living side by side. Each community has its own expectations for their children’s education, but in most places outside of the UWS people live segregated by towns, not street address.

      Secondly, I don’t think there is anything any one of these well-meaning candidates can do to bring more students of color into the G&T program. It really is up to the DOE, which claims diversity to be a priority, to address this issue. They say they do some outreach, but in my experience the lack of students of color is the result of larger cultural issues, that the DOE is unable or unwilling to address. There are many black and Latino middle class students on the UWS, but these children go to Catholic schools or charter schools. If the DOE really values diversity, they should go to these families who opt out of the regular public school system and work to convince them that they can trust the DOE to educate their kids. The fact of the matter is that if many of these families won’t even consider a GenEd program, how are they going to take that next step to register for the G&T test? (Also, I have to mention the lack of teachers of color and current students of color in the G&T program as a deterrent to enrollment.)

      I applaud candidates like Marc Landis, Jessica Lappin, and Christine Quinn for publicly supporting the G&T program, given that this important program is often maligned as “elitist” and “not necessary.”

    17. jules says:

      Why talk about ‘mom and pop stores’? They’re gone for good. Sadly.
      The kind of people who live on the UWS now are not interested in diversity. They add nothing socially to the UWS. They ‘order in’; their many children of all ages eat ice cream and french fries; they own cars!
      Too bad there is virtually no oversight of the dirty streets, overflowing garbage cans, millions of dogs urinating on the sidewalks.
      The subways are filthy. Way too few buses.
      Cars and people honking and screaming all night long.
      Why talk of ‘small business’ … They’re virtually all gone.
      This is not the UWS of 15 years ago.. Sadly. It’s all about money. High-rises, Deanne Reeds, banks, nothing of interest socially or artistically. Why pretend otherwise?

    18. 9d says:

      Just to make what these candidates are advocating more concrete, here is a rent stabilized apartment in a prime location on 82nd near Broadway. Large 1-bedroom, 750 square feet with 1.5 baths. The current tenant pays just $1432.98 per month and has the right to renew the lease indefinitely.

      Maybe this tenant really needs the help to pay far below market rent. Or maybe this tenant just got lucky, who knows.

      Meanwhile, other people in the same neighborhood are paying $2000 to $2600 for tiny studios.

      http://streeteasy.com/nyc/sale/877344-condop-221-west-82nd-street-upper-west-side-new-york

      I wish that some of the candidates would consider reforming this unjust housing system instead of perpetuating it.

    19. Robin says:

      Thank you for this comprehensive information from the candidates. It certainly helped me make my voting decision.

    20. Shellie Sclan says:

      Sooooo, it looks like Noah Gotbaum is indeed the only candidate with children in the NYC public system; he walks his talk, unlike other candidates who try to appear all about public school and then don’t send their kids there…

    21. duckduck says:

      Thank you so much for providing this comprehensive overview of the candidates! This is immensely helpful–and yes, there are differences. Torn between Helen Rosenthal and Noah Gotbaum now and off to do more research. I never would have been able to narrow down choices without this!

    22. DMH says:

      I woke up yesterday morning STILL torn between two candidates, and this guide was what I used to make a final decision. Thank you so much WestSideRag – incredible resource and incredibly well done