By Maya Mau
The race for Manhattan Borough President has mostly flown under the radar as the mayoral race has heated up — but it’s worth paying attention to now as the election looms on June 22.
On Tuesday, the Upper West Side Coalition of Block Associations and Community Groups hosted a forum for the candidates. They invited all the Democratic Primary Candidates: Lindsey Boylan, Elizabeth Caputo, Brad Hoylman, Ben Kallos, Mark Levine, and Kimberly Watkins — all except Kallos are from the Upper West Side or represent at least part of the neighborhood. All six attended. A video of the Zoom forum is below:
The Borough President plays an important role in Manhattan, working in close communication with the mayor to ensure that the borough’s affairs are run smoothly. This election includes ranked-choice voting for the first time in New York City history, so voters will be able to rank their top five candidates.
First, the candidates were asked if they have specific proposals to ensure that community boards are representative and diverse. All but Watkins have served on a community board. Boylan said the community board members should be able to participate remotely to accommodate disabilities, Caputo said that borough meetings should be hosted in all twelve community board zones, Kallos passed a resolution to put teens on the community boards and plans on continuing to make efforts to appoint more residents from public housing, people of color, school teachers, laborers, and leaders of community organizations, and Levine plans to actively recruit more young people, union workers, small business owners, and people with disabilities. Hoylman believes that community boards need to remove paid lobbyists and staff of elected officials while Watkins thinks that community board members should be elected.
Second, candidates were asked if they thought that the ten historic districts and three historic district extensions on the Upper West Side were preventing housing affordability. All six candidates raised their hand when asked whether they would pledge not to take away the historic district designations that are currently enforced. For the most part, the candidates agreed that removing the distinction of historic landmarks would not lead to a visible increase in affordable housing. Caputo and Watkins both want to ensure better communication with communities. Kallos cited the statistic that the Upper East Side, which has had more construction than anywhere else in Manhattan, lost units due to rent regulation and older buildings being demolished which were not replaced.
Third, candidates were asked how they would use their office to find a solution to opportunity gaps. Generally, each candidate stressed the importance of increased funding, communication with parents, and diversity. Notably, Caputo stressed ensuring that children can return to school safely in the coming months, Hoylman hopes to screen every kindergarten student for dyslexia, and Watkins would like to abolish mayoral control of schools in favor of shared control.
Fourth, the candidates were asked how they would address an increase in crime. The candidates generally agreed that responders who specialize in mental health, rather than police, should be the first to respond to mental health crises. Watkins, who noted her background in law enforcement, took a hard stance that the borough should have more police who feel empowered to do their work. On the other hand, Boylan believes that the city does not need more police but rather needs to better allocate the resources that it has, stating that the focus needs to be on violent crimes rather than misdemeanors.
Lastly, the candidates were asked what their plans were for promoting a cleaner and greener borough and what they thought could be done on a local level to address the climate crisis. Generally, all of the candidates support efforts to decrease use of plastic and increase environmentally-friendly sources of energy. Notably, Levine highlighted his work creating legislation that mandates large buildings reduce consumption of greenhouse gas energy by 80% by 2030. Kallos wants to see Roosevelt Island as a source of energy while Hoylman wants a Green New Deal for housing. In addition, Caputo wants a coastal resilience plan to ensure that the borough is prepared for future natural disasters.