By Michael McDowell
Dianne Morales may be a relative newcomer to New York City politics, but her campaign for mayor has gained momentum in recent weeks. The Working Families Party endorsed Morales as their second choice for mayor—behind Scott Stringer, and ahead of Maya Wiley—and Morales also recently qualified for $2.2 million in public matching funds.
Morales was previously executive director and CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, a South Bronx-based social service provider connected to Phipps Houses, a major nonprofit developer. She also led The Door, a youth services provider, and was appointed to operations and advisory roles during both the Bloomberg and de Blasio Administrations.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
WSR: It’s 2025 and Mayor Morales is running for her second term. What are her specific policy accomplishments?
DM: We will have significantly transformed policing in the city, and moved towards really creating, reclaiming, and redefining what public safety means for communities that have historically been the most overpoliced and harmed by the NYPD. We will have a vast array of alternative services flowing into those communities: job training programs, mental health support, health care support, access to permanent and affordable housing, and things that really allow people to live in dignity and economic security. We will have moved away from the criminalization of poverty and the harm that policing continues to inflict on our communities. That’s my headline.
WSR: You say on your website that you also want to create “a network of integrated community health clinics across the city to provide preventative primary care.” Who will they serve, what services will they provide, and how much might they cost in terms of budget?
DM: As executive director of The Door for almost six years, I oversaw the adolescent health clinic that we operated. I saw what a difference it could make to provide no-questions-asked, relatively comprehensive care for some of the most vulnerable adolescents in the city. We don’t have a healthcare system, we have a sick care system, focused on being reactive and responsive — and that ends up being way more expensive than really being focused on prevention.
The vision for the integrated community health clinics is just that: to provide care on the ground, locally, in linguistically and culturally relevant and appropriate ways. This includes education around health and wellness, mental health services and support, primary care, and reproductive care. If we do this in communities, if we are staffing these centers with folks who are credible messengers from the community—and who can not just be tethered to the site but actually also out and about in the community building relationships, building trust, bringing people in—we have a much better chance of intervening on the front end and giving people what they need.
WSR: You were at The Door during the height of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and moved to Phipps in 2010, during the long recovery. The city is facing a budget crisis now. As a candidate who has managed budgets and scarce resources during lean times, what will you do during a period when, realistically, the focus may be on preserving the services we have as opposed to creating new ones?
DM: A couple of things in response to this. I am the only candidate in this race who has for decades directly been responsible for the delivery of services to people—services that could be life-changing, and when their lives were literally on the line.
I’m also the only candidate who understands what it means to manage a budget when you’re getting reimbursed at 80 cents on the dollar, and where the partial reimbursement of your actual operating expenses did not translate into any lower expectations in terms of volume or quality of services.
In the recovery of New York City, we are going to heavily rely on nonprofit service providers to care for those that are the most vulnerable. It is important for us to not just bolster that nonprofit sector, but also to have a mayor who understands that the brunt of the weight of our recovery will be borne by them.
I also fundamentally reject the notion of an austerity budget. I think that’s just a signal to the poor that we need to get ready, because whatever burdens we’ve already borne disproportionately, we’re gonna have even more. I understand that in 2022, the budget for New York City won’t be like it was in 2019. But we are still the wealthiest city in the country, if not the world. My priority is to create a budget that elevates those who have been most marginalized, because, by doing so, we will all benefit. We have seen over the course of the last 15 months that those New Yorkers are actually the people who keep the city running and make it possible for those who work at home to do so.
WSR: Speaking of a place where a lot of folks who keep the city running live: the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is 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. You do not support RAD, is that correct?
DM: That is correct.
DM: RAD is a really slippery slope towards privatizing public housing, and I believe that we need to prioritize keeping public housing public.
WSR: Are you a public school or a private school parent, and can you talk about that decision?
DM: Public school. My kids graduated from public high schools, they’re both in college now. I am a believer in public schools. I think that our public schools could and should be the best in the country. We are far from that. I also believe in public education as something that everyone should have access to. Full disclosure: My daughter went to a private school for six years for children with learning differences, and I sued the Department of Education for those six years for their failure to provide her with the education that would meet her needs.
WSR: District 3 schools—the Upper West Side and portions of Harlem—were actually the first to tackle segregation in public middle schools. In terms of integrating New York City schools, are there any policies you favor? What’s working and what isn’t working?
DM: I am an educator, the only one in this race. I attended and taught in the New York City public school system. I actually taught in the same school where I went to kindergarten. I believe we need to move aggressively to desegregate our schools. I think we need to eliminate all screenings and barriers to admissions that, in fact, facilitate segregation. There’s a need for us to have real leadership at the city level that is willing and able to stand for what real equity and justice means for the 1.3 million students that are predominantly low-income black or brown students. And that requires some political courage.
WSR: Community District 7—the Upper West Side—is home to the third highest concentration of seniors in the city. How would you mobilize seniors who wish to contribute and have a hand in the city’s recovery, and how will your administration care for seniors?
DM: Seniors are a critical resource. It is a crime that right now, funding for senior programming in New York City is, I think, less than 1 percent of the overall city budget. The divestment from our seniors over the years—and the tendency of the city to focus on cutting [budget] there first—is really appalling. [I will] prioritize senior services, affordable housing that combines services, really ensure that [we’re applying] the equity lens—race and ethnicity—in terms of looking at poverty rates and health, and make sure that seniors are being connected to services and advocacy
I ran senior-serving programs for the last decade in my role as the CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, and by the way, I shared a room and a bed with my grandmother until the day I left home for college. For many years I thought that I would become a geriatrician, so seniors have a special place in my heart.
WSR: You were at the Lucerne. Does it give you pause that the city is paying private hoteliers to house the unhoused, rather than directing that money toward permanent solutions like housing?
DM: It not only gives me pause, I have called for the dismantling of the shelter system. I think we need to move away from the shelter-industrial complex, and prioritize the creation and the provision of permanent affordable housing for all New Yorkers. I think housing is a human right, and I’m committed to guaranteeing housing for all, and that means moving away from the shelter system and moving away from these hoteliers that profit from the system. I think it’s about $3 billion that is invested right now in the shelter system in New York City, and we should be investing those dollars in in the creation and the provision of affordable housing for all.
WSR: Is there anything we missed today or that I didn’t ask you about that you’d like to address?
DM: The last thing I’ll say is sort of a personal statement: I am not what is considered a traditional candidate, and my ideas for New York City are radical ideas. But I think that we’re living in a radical time, and I think we can’t unsee some of the inequities and disparities that were both exacerbated and laid bare over the last year, [and which] long pre-existed the COVID-19 pandemic. We have an opportunity right now, a window of opportunity to put a stake in the ground, to recognize how we are all interrelated and interconnected and interdependent, and to make different choices that enable everybody to have access to living in dignity. I think this is the time, and I think New York is the place. I think we can assume our rightful place as the greatest city in the world by making these changes. That’s a lot of rhetoric that we haven’t lived up to yet, but I think we can do it, and I think the time is now.
Primary Day is June 22nd. It will be the first citywide election to utilize .
See all of our interviews with the candidates here.