By Carol Tannenhauser
Sara Lind likens herself to an immigrant on the Upper West Side. She came here seven years ago from a small, conservative town in Wisconsin. She had dreamed of moving to New York City since she was a child, and when she had her own children, the dream became reality. She and her family moved to the Upper West Side to be near his mother. It did not disappoint.
“When I came here it was the first time I ever felt like I was where I belonged, the first time I ever thought, this feels like home,” she said in a phone interview with WSR. She threw herself into the community, becoming a member of Community Board 7, chair of the Broadway Task Force, an elected parent leader at PS 166, among other volunteer endeavors.
Lind, 38, is the fourth candidate of six for the District 6 City Council seat, representing most of the UWS, who we are profiling. The primary is on June 22nd, and could well decide the race in this heavily Democratic district.
“I’m not alone,” Lind continued. “Census data shows that something like 40% of Upper West Siders weren’t born in New York State. They’re ‘immigrants’ from other countries and other parts of this country. They’re here for the opportunity the UWS provides, for this bustling, beautiful neighborhood. It’s an amazing place and I think it’s important to recognize that. But I wouldn’t be running for office if I thought everything was perfect as is. I’m running because I think there’s lots of things that could be better.”
West Side Rag: What would you do in your first 100 days?
Sara Lind: Well, there are the easy things. For example, there are some simple street improvements that can be made to make intersections safer. I’ve seen at the community board how things get stalled. I’d want to push the Department of Transportation (DOT) on moving that forward.
I also love the One Block initiative (a nonprofit enlisting neighborhood volunteers to each clean one street, also employing the homeless). How might I support them until we can fund DOT’s budget to make the neighborhood cleaner?
WSR: I like that you want to start, literally, at street level.
SL: Well, every New Yorker is a pedestrian; that is our shared experience of the city. So, how can we make it better, especially for kids, seniors, and those who are mobility-impaired?
WSR: That brings up the question of street homelessness, which was increasing in the neighborhood even before the pandemic.
SL: Certainly I’ve seen what people have described. I live on 86th and Amsterdam. I wanted to be here, surrounded by all different kinds of people. It bothers me morally to see people experiencing homelessness, but it doesn’t make me feel like they need to be out of my sight. We need to have more mental health treatment, more resources for them, because they need help!
WSR: You’ve been a vocal proponent of the shelter at The Lucerne, even as some Upper West Siders have said that it was implemented in a way that wasn’t good for the community or the men. As a council member, would you have handled the situation the way Councilmember Rosenthal did? If not, what would you have done differently?
SL: Let’s set the record straight on whether this was good for the men. I believe it was, both in terms of safety during a public health crisis and the fact that dozens of the men have already been moved into permanent housing.
In terms of Councilmember Rosenthal, people need to understand this was a federal program paid for by FEMA that was sprung on her at the last minute with no warning. Given the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic, I think she did what she could to manage it.
WSR: What’s your approach to solving the problem of homelessness?
SL: The ideal solution is more housing that we can get people into in ways that work for them. Let’s be clear: the vast majority of people experiencing homelessness in the city are families, children, women escaping domestic violence, people with jobs who have been evicted or cannot find housing. It’s a housing problem. Street homelessness is different and relates to mental illness and drug addiction. Even then, there’s a lot of evidence that getting them into stable housing first and then providing treatment is better for their long-term ability to stay in housing and out of the shelter system.
WSR: Are all homeless people housing-ready?
SL: Yes, they are, but let me clarify: in a housing-first model, much of that housing does need to be supportive housing. So they’re still getting direct services and mental health and addiction treatment. The idea is to put them into a permanent place of their own rather than in shelters that are really destabilizing.
WSR: You also want to build affordable housing. Can you explain your plan?
SL: My plan is to rezone underutilized areas on the Upper West Side to create and preserve the affordable housing we need. I would work with a group of community stakeholders to form a Community Land Trust to ultimately control affordable portions of the new buildings to ensure the homes are permanently affordable, well managed, and to hold developers accountable. The rezoning would also include implementation of the infrastructure we need now — like new schools and enhanced transit options — and going forward, like green roofs and other sustainable, energy saving measures.
WSR: Retail vacancies?
SL: I’m focused on Broadway right now. I know that there are empty storefronts and small businesses struggling all around the district, but I think Broadway is the epicenter of our commercial crisis. I have a detailed plan to make Broadway between 59th and 110th Street a 21st Century thoroughfare that is safe, accessible, and prosperous. This plan is completely within reach. We’ve seen success with plans like this across the city. It’s time to reimagine Broadway from blocks of empty storefronts and blight to a grand boulevard with bustling stores, attractions, and foot traffic.
WSR: Would revitalizing Broadway include closing all personal vehicle traffic to that avenue?
SL: I envision there would be local automobile access, but this plan is a proposal to be considered by the community for input.
WSR: How do you feel about tall buildings?
SL: I actually love tall buildings. I love the skyline. It’s a symbol of human progress. There’s something hopeful about reaching up to the sky. I’m not opposed to tall buildings, but they should take into consideration context and include affordable housing. I don’t think they should be luxury condos with only 50 people living in them.
SL: I’ve been called a NIMBY and a YIMBY within a 24-hour period of time — so who knows? For me, the problem with these buildings is that there’s no affordable housing.
WSR: What’s your take on the ending of testing for the Gifted & Talented Program in NYC public schools?
SL: The model we use at PS 166, my son’s school, is called ‘differentiated instruction.’ You have a mixed classroom. Some kids need extra help and some need more challenge. The teachers break them into small groups and give extra help to some and more challenges to others. That, essentially, provides a gifted and talented option in every classroom, and that’s what I believe we should be doing. The problem with the G & T program now is that there aren’t enough seats, so there are thousands of kids who should be getting that extra challenge and they’re not.
WSR: What’s your position on defunding the police?
SL: Some people say, “Oh, Sara’s anti police” and I just want to make it clear that that is not true. I have enormous respect for our police officers. The thing is, we’ve been asking them to do a lot; it shouldn’t all fall on them. For example, police shouldn’t be social workers. I have called for the police budget to be rolled back to 2010 levels, a time we can recall as safe. Any budget cuts would be commensurate with taking some of that responsibility away, and then it would need to be reinvested into other things that will help prevent crime, like job training programs for youth, and making sure our schools are really good and have guidance counselors, so they can identify kids with problems before things get too bad.
WSR: What sets you apart?
SL: One of the things we haven’t talked about is climate change and what we’re doing to take that on. The people of my generation and younger really do see climate change as an existential threat that we need to be taking very seriously and taking very bold action on — like housing, for example, retrofitting or building new housing that’s super sustainable, and focusing on making sure we have excellent public transit so people don’t have to use private vehicles.
WSR: What do we need to know about ranked-choice voting (RCV) and your alliance with Jeffrey Omura?
SL: All voters need to understand is that they should rank the candidates in their order of preference. You can rank up to five, but you don’t have to. As far as Jeffrey, it’s a good strategy to use because we share values and are aligned on a lot of things, so if not me, I think he’d make a great councilmember. That’s basically what I tell my supporters: rank me first and rank Jeffrey second, and he does the same for me.
WSR: Your thoughts on running against Gale Brewer?
SL: I have enormous respect for Gale and what she’s done for the neighborhood and the city. I think we have a lot in common. There are many policy issues we agree on, and we’re both relatively progressive Democrats. But I think the district is ready for new leadership and I have a vision of bringing it into the 21st Century. Gale is a formidable competitor with a lot of experience. No matter what, I’m sure she would continue to serve the city in some capacity, because that’s who she is and that’s her passion. I’m just going to run my race.
Lind announced on Monday that she has received the endorsement of Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former Speaker of the City Council. Lind was the chair of 21 in ‘21, an organization co-founded by Mark-Viverito, to elect 21 women city council members in 2021.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
Next: Jeffrey Omura.