By Michael McDowell
Maya Wiley served in the de Blasio administration, including as Counsel to the Mayor, but she’s distanced herself from de Blasio in her own run for mayor. Wiley says her unique background, both as an activist and as a top government official who got things done, sets her apart from the other Democrats running.
Civilian Complaint Review Board and the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) under de Blasio, and has worked at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. She recently spoke with the Rag.
The following conversation with Wiley has been condensed and edited.
WSR: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What has prepared you to run New York City?
MW: I am not a politician. I am an advocate and an activist who has spent 30 years working on creating more opportunities for people. I’m the only candidate that has [worked] in the Mayor’s Senior Cabinet in City Hall; I’ve run the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board; and I’ve worked in an advisory capacity on other major issues facing the city, such as school diversity and technology. So I am actually the candidate that has made change for decades.
When I created a budget line for broadband in the capital construction budget, found the revenue, created the arguments, and got the revenue committed, we did things like get every single apartment in Queensbridge Houses free broadband, which was something the government had never thought to do before, didn’t know how to do, [and] I will admit that I didn’t [know how to do it] either, because part of being a really effective manager in city government is understanding that you have to help government do things it hasn’t done before, which also includes things you haven’t done before. Finding the pathways to get it done, pulling government agencies together, as well as partnering with people outside of government—everyone from experts to community-based leaders—is what I’ve done my whole career.
WSR: A question related to your work with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The Police Benevolent Association: its contract expired, I believe, in July 2017, and the issue hasn’t yet been settled. As Mayor, does contract negotiation present an opportunity for direct and substantive policy change at the NYPD, and if so, what would you push for?
MW: The important thing to understand is how much a New York City Mayor and a Mayor Maya Wiley will do that is transformative policing, that has nothing to do with the contract. I think that’s important to say, because one of the things that’s been unfortunate about these years with the de Blasio Administration is that there was much more we could have done even in the absence of that contract. That includes what I call putting the public back in public safety, meaning having civilian oversight and direction on the rules of the road for policing: what is okay and what is not okay, and also what the focus of policing should be. In other words, what are appropriate police functions and what are not appropriate police functions, such as mental illness crisis response, where what we really need is to have the right folks with the right skill sets and training and experience responding to those kinds of crises.
Now, obviously, it is important for all workers—and I include police officers in this category of all workers—to have the ability to come together and argue for a fair and safe and just workplace. That includes New York City’s police officers. I believe in unions, and I believe in collective bargaining. I certainly will be in conversations about this [contract]. But a lot of these changes don’t have anything to do with the union contract, because they’re not about the rules of the road. They’re not about the priorities of policing. That gets set by the elected leadership of city government, and by the Mayor in particular.
WSR: . As Mayor, how do you address this?
MW: . It has been based on everything from talking to experts, to talking to people who’ve been impacted in communities, to looking at what works. We need to make it easier to get a job than a gun. That means a couple of different things. We’re going to double , we are going to put trauma-informed care in our schools, and we’re going to create what we call safe corridors for kids going to and from school, where things can sometimes happen. We’re also going to create a participatory justice fund. We’re going to take $18 million from the New York City Police budget, and we’re going to put it in a participatory justice fund, just like participatory budgeting, so communities can direct the resources in ways that are responsive to their needs, in terms of gun violence prevention and resolution. Communities have firsthand knowledge on the kinds of things that are creating the problem, and should have the opportunity to say what the solutions are and have some resources to solve it.
WSR: . How does the city meet its obligations to people who are experiencing homelessness—such as —while addressing the concerns of all stakeholders, including people who might oppose shelters in their neighborhoods?
MW: I think it starts with conversation and partnership. One of the things that the city government can and must do much better is engage residents and those impacted by the problems that the city is trying to solve in conversation.
It is absolutely fair and right [if] a community says I’m scared, I’m worried, this is going to reduce my quality of life or make me less safe or make my children less safe. That’s a legitimate concern that the city has to listen to. If we’re having those conversations, we’re able to ensure that programs are working and that they’re effective.
I think we also cut through a lot of this when we start talking about taking people not from the streets to shelter, but from the streets to housing. The Lucerne was a really great example of this—not what happened in the beginning—but what ultimately got created was on-premises support services in housing that is more like having your own apartment in the sense that you have your own door, your own private space, and your own bathroom. That actually has very good results in terms of what’s happening for the men who are getting those services on site. That’s what supportive housing is. We have to go to a Housing First strategy, but it absolutely can and must include engagement with the community.
WSR: Thinking about housing: a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) question. Some NYCHA developments are currently undergoing Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversion. In RAD, a federal program through which housing agencies are able to obtain much-needed capital to repair and renovate decaying developments, management of developments is privatized, and the program has been viewed with optimism by some and skepticism by others. So far, , even though RAD tenants are supposedly covered by the same protections as NYCHA tenants. Are you for or against RAD?
MW: I’m for keeping public housing public, and there are a lot of real concerns about what RAD does to that, so I’m not supporting RAD at this time. The truth is that our homeless crisis is an eviction crisis. It’s a crisis of affordability and people not being able to afford their homes. We definitely have to make sure that we’re renovating and rehabilitating NYCHA and making it safer.
I’ve got that puts $10 billion in—creating 100,000 jobs—to help us recover the economy, and do it in a way that helps people support themselves and their families. That includes $2 billion earmarked specifically for NYCHA renovation and rehabilitation. That’s part of putting public skin in the game on making sure that happens. I’m also going to go to D.C. and talk to D.C. about its obligations to what is federal housing, what was created out of a federal program that the federal government has been disinvesting in.
We’re going to talk with residents and create a governance structure for residents, really giving them a voice based on transparency and a clear-eyed view of what the financial issues are, where the money has been going, and what the various options are.
WSR: The Upper West Side is home to some of New York’s poorest New Yorkers, and some of its wealthiest. As mayor, how will you induce wealthy New Yorkers who may have left town to come back to the city?
MW: This is something I feel really positively about. We’re one city, and one of the things that makes us a strong city is that we’ve got everybody here—800 languages, 40 percent of our population born in a different country—we’ve got everyone from folks with big bank accounts, to folks with no bank accounts at all. The question is making the city work for all of us. One of the things that has always been true about New York City is wealthy people don’t live here because it’s cheap. That’s not why they live here, and one of the things I’ve heard repeatedly from a lot of wealthy people I’ve engaged with—not all, but a lot—is, “Look, Maya: I will pay more. I can afford to pay more. I already do pay more—it was always cheaper to live in Florida! And I still chose New York because I love New York. I love the theater, I love the restaurants, I love the diversity.”
And then what they say is, “My question is, what are you going to do with the money? How are you going to assure me that it’s going to be well spent? Because if I feel confidence in that, I feel more confidence paying more in taxes.” I think that’s fair. That’s called governance. It’s the responsibility of a Mayor to lay out exactly what the vision is, and how it gets accomplished.
I pay a lot of attention in my proposals that [these] are things that are within my power as Mayor, that I can start doing on day one, which don’t require agreement from Albany or dollars from D.C., not because I won’t work for that, but because I want to be very clear about what I can do for New Yorkers and the commitments I can make and keep.
The other thing I’ll say, because I am a wonk, is there’s research that shows that wealthy people actually often select more expensive places to live. The data shows that, generally speaking, wealthy people don’t leave a city because taxes increase: it really is about the sense of hope, about possibility, and about quality of life. So we have to keep insuring and investing in that.
WSR: What does quality of life mean to you?
MW: Quality of life to me really means the ability to enjoy my neighborhood and my city, and that enjoyment starts with knowing that I can be here, and that all my neighbors can be here. I live in a diverse neighborhood, and that’s what I love about it. I want to know that all my neighbors can be here, and will be able to stay here. That includes our small businesses, the neighborhood restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, and little art spots. The places in which we can enjoy being a neighborhood.
And I can get around this city, for the most part. We have some transportation deserts that we have to pay attention to, but we have the most fantastic transportation system compared to most other cities, where you really can’t access most of the city on public transportation, and I love that about the city.
WSR: Are you a public school parent or a private school parent, and can you talk about that decision?
MW: I’ve been both. Both of my kids have been in public school, I navigated the elementary school, middle school, and high school process in the public system as a parent, and my two kids collectively have 15 years of public school. I add them together.
My older daughter is in college now, and my 11th grader is in private school now. A big part of that decision was hers, to move to private school, because she wanted more art education, she didn’t want to specialize, and she wanted smaller class sizes. We could meet some of those in the public system, but it’s very difficult to meet all of them. So we met her demand to give her what she was asking for.
More information about Maya Wiley may be found . Conversations with mayoral hopefuls will be published on a regular basis until the June primary. More information about how to vote is .
Primary Day is on June 22nd. It will be the first citywide election to utilize .