By Michael McDowell
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has represented the Upper West Side in some capacity for nearly 30 years, and has been discussed as a candidate for the city’s top job for at least a decade.
Stringer was elected Comptroller in 2014, following two terms as Manhattan Borough President. Stringer served in the New York State Assembly from 1992 to 2005, where he represented the Upper West Side, a seat once held by Congressman Jerry Nadler, and currently held by Linda Rosenthal.
In 2001, Stringer explored a campaign for New York City Public Advocate. Last month, Jean Kim, a former intern on that campaign, accused Stringer of sexual misconduct and has now made a complaint to the Attorney General. Some reporting has questioned aspects of Kim’s accusation. As of this writing, Stringer has vowed to remain in the race.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
WSR: Let’s start with the money. The city has lost $10.5 billion in tax revenue from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2022. Unemployment was recently as high as 12.1 percent. You’re going to get a temporary reprieve from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, but how are you going to fight to preserve what we have as the city recovers from the pandemic?
SS: From the onset of the pandemic, I have been constantly and in a transparent way talking about the billions of dollars of lost revenue [related to lost jobs.] Right before the pandemic, the unemployment rate in New York City was 3.4 percent, and [when the pandemic hit] within 30 days it jumped as high as 20 percent. We added 970,000 jobs to the economy over the last 10 years and we lost 900,000 of those jobs within 30 days. We’re still 600,000 jobs away from where we need to be, and that is why we need an economic plan that centers our small businesses in the recovery.
We have seen more revenue from the state, especially Foundation Aid for schools. As you mentioned, the $6.1 billion stimulus package that we’re receiving is going to be very helpful to stabilize the economy and some of the deficits. As comptroller I can tell you: there is light at the end of this tunnel if we have a mayor who understands how to use these resources to really solve some of the great fiscal challenges we have.
WSR: How are you going to use these resources to solve these fiscal challenges?
SS: First and foremost, we have thousands of businesses that are on the edge. They need direct help to reopen or to maintain their businesses. Before the pandemic, I did a study that showed that between 2007 to 2017 we lost 10 million square feet of retail space in our city. That number has now grown to 17 million. We’ve lost whole commercial corridors because of the pandemic. So I want to invest a billion dollars in direct grants so that local businesses can restock the shelves, hire employees, pay back bills—give them the help that they need in direct payments so that they can get moving. Second, when I’m mayor, we’re going to get city agencies off the backs of small businesses, we cannot continue to put onerous fines and fees on business who are struggling to stay open. We should have a zero tolerance policy for closing businesses. We’ve lost thousands of businesses, and 500,000 people in the small business sector are out of work. As mayor, I’m going to center our recovery on our small businesses.
WSR: Another major issue which has been a subject of discussion in the neighborhood: In 2020 the city recorded 447 homicides, the most since 2011. Some readers are concerned that the city is beginning to slide back into the “bad old days.” Whether or not you agree with that assessment, what are you going to do to ensure that this doesn’t happen?
SS: I came of age in the 1970s when there were 2,000 murders a year. I grew up in Washington Heights where the A train was my lifeline, and as a kid, my mother used to say to me, “when you take the train you sit in the conductor car or you stand next to the token booth clerk.” That’s how tough it was back then. I have no intention of taking our children back to that moment in time.
We need to up the clearance rates as it relates to serious gun violence. We have to make sure that we’re getting the guns off the street, making arrests, beefing up our homicide squads, but mostly, we have to have the ability to solve these crimes. And then we have to look at how do you keep kids away from the criminal justice system—we have to keep kids away from gangs. The ways to do that is to double down on our investments in good programs that work, the Cure Violence Program, mentorship programs, giving kids the internships and summer jobs that keep them busy and out of the way of people who want to harm them.
We need to better understand what the role of police is in the city. I want to create programs where responses to 911 for mental health events are not only a police response, but a mental health response. These are the kinds of programs I want to create: a public safety plan that’s actually going to work.
WSR: Before the pandemic, the City’s total spending on homeless services had reached $3 billion, up from $1.3 billion in 2014. Some of those numbers come from your office. And yet homelessness remains a persistent problem. What are you going to do differently?
SS: The reason I put those numbers out there is to show that just because you’re spending an amazing amount of money doesn’t mean you’re solving the homeless crisis. In fact, under this administration, the problem is way out of control.
We talk a lot about the homeless crisis but we never talk about giving the homeless a home. My housing plan would build the low-income housing we need especially for the 30 percent of people who live in homeless shelters who actually have jobs and go to work every day. I want to take vacant land that’s owned by the city, and rather then let big developers build affordable housing, I would give that land to community-based organizations to build the low-income housing that they know how to build. Over the past eight years, we’ve built more so-called affordable housing for families that make over $150,000-a-year, as opposed to families who make less than $40,000. As a result, you’re seeing an explosion of people who are homeless.
We’re seeing that 41 percent of the people going into homeless shelters are actually women who suffer at the hands of a domestic abuser, and yet we don’t have the resources to give her a home with her children and services. My housing plan would also mandate that any new [market rate] development would set aside 25 percent for affordability.
Even before the pandemic we had about 500,000 people a step away from homelessness. This is a crisis, it’s going to take bold action and a serious plan, and I’m the only candidate for mayor that has such a plan.
WSR: Speaking of housing, many of our readers live in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). RAD and PACT are ongoing at NYCHA, and that includes Wise Towers on 90th Street. Are you for or against RAD?
SS: RAD is not the answer. RAD leads to privatization. What people in NYCHA want—whether it’s Amsterdam Houses, or Wise Towers, or Douglass Houses—they want their buildings repaired, they want their homes repaired, they want to make sure that they can live with their families in a safe environment. We are not giving them that opportunity. We need to move the management of NYCHA into City Hall, go building by building, make an assessment of repairs that must be done, and then use our resources to put an actionable plan into place. The next mayor of New York City must recognize that this is a top priority. There’s more people living in NYCHA than the city of Boston, and we don’t prioritize [them].
WSR: Moving on to a schools question. Are you a public school parent or a private school parent, and can you talk about that decision?
SS: I am a public school parent. As you may know, I got married late in life, so I have a third grader and a second grader, Max and Miles, my M&Ms, and they’re public school kids.
We did remote learning, and I wasn’t a good remote learning teacher, and this was not easy for my wife and me. But we have privilege, we have resources. What is outrageous is government forgot about the kids whose parents didn’t have resources: kids in public housing who didn’t have internet access, kids in homeless shelters who didn’t have remote learning devices. This is not how we run a school system, and I’m going to make sure that as we begin our [phased] comeback we must understand that our kids have to be front and center in the public school system.
WSR: District 3 schools—the Upper West Side and Harlem—are actually the first neighborhoods in the city to tackle the problem of segregation in middle schools, with priority admission. District 15 in Brooklyn has since implemented a lottery system. This has, of course, been contentious. When it comes to integrating New York City’s schools, what’s working and what isn’t working, and what sort of policy do you favor?
SS: I’m a candidate [who is] strong enough to say that that the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is not fair and just for black and brown kids. I am in favor of [swapping] out the SHSAT test for the seventh grade assessment test. The SHSAT is basically a testing prep vehicle, and a lot of kids can’t afford test prep. The seventh grade test relies on material covered in the classroom. So, first and foremost, SHSAT has to be phased out.
My [education] plan does a number of things. We have to equalize every school with resources. My proposal is to add two teachers, K-5, in every classroom. That’s what private school do, that’s what charter schools do, and every child should have the benefit of two teachers. Every child should have the benefit of equal after-schooling. After-schooling is about what you can pay for as a parent. So for me, I can give my kids chess, I can give them athletics, I can give them robotics, but a parent who is struggling to pay the rent just can’t do that for their children, and the government should understand that. I have a specific plan to spend up to a billion dollars to reignite our school system, to make it fair and just. The money is available and we should take advantage of it now, we’ve got the foundation that we need from Albany.
WSR: You’ve faced a serious allegation in the past couple of weeks. What do you have to say to voters in the neighborhood?
SS: This is a community that has known me for 30 years. This community knows who I am and how I comport myself. These allegations I have denied. They’re not based on any corroboration, and while I respect anyone stepping up and having the space to bring forward these issues, I also have strongly refuted it. And based on my discussions with West Siders, people who have known me a long time, they are supporting me even more strongly since this surfaced last week. These are allegations from 20 years ago, and I strongly deny them today.
WSR: Governor Cuomo is also facing serious allegations. There’s an investigation going on now, and he has denied the allegations. But you called for him to resign. How is your case different?
SS: I believe that my situation is very different. This is an accuser with many contradictory statements. The facts that present themselves are much different than the facts surrounding Cuomo and his workplace.
WSR: Finally, what does “quality of life” mean to you? What are three day-to-day city life experiences that you would improve, and how?
SS: The value proposition a mayor has with the people is to make sure that the streets are safe, make sure that the parks are clean, and make sure that the retail spaces and the cultural aspects of the city are being tended to. Mayors have to do the hard work, work that is required to continue to make this city great. That is what I will bring to New York as mayor. Nobody has my political skill set, and nobody has my experience in government. I know every single neighborhood because I’ve been to every single community. I believe I’m the mayor who’s best able to bring our city back in times of unprecedented crisis, and for West Siders, I’m the mayor who knows this community best. This is a community I’ve represented for, literally, 30 years, and I would love to come to the community as the next mayor.
Primary Day is June 22nd. It will be the first citywide election to utilize ranked choice voting.
See all of our interviews with the candidates here.