On Tuesday, NYLCVEF hosted an environmental forum for the New York City Public Advocate special election. Moderated by Politico New York’s Gloria Pazmino, nearly 250 New Yorkers had the chance to hear where the candidates stood on environmental issues ranging from sustainable transportation to the city’s 80 x 50 climate goals.
Climate change, lead exposure, and the state of the transit system are everyday issues for New York families, yet, all too often, questions on the environment are not raised on the campaign trail or in general debates. NYLCVEF held this forum to ensure the environment is top of mind for candidates and voters.
Participating candidates included Assemblyman Michael Blake, David Eisenbach, Councilman Rafael Espinal, Ifeoma Ike, Walter Iwachiw, Nomiki Konst, Jared Rich, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, Dawn Smalls, Councilman Eric Ulrich, Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, Councilman Jumaane Williams, Benjamin Yee, and Michael Zumbluskas.
The office of Public Advocate serves as a watchdog over city agencies and City Hall and has the potential to be an environmental champion in city government. The Public Advocate can introduce bills, bring lawsuits, and handle constituent complaints, which lends the position a significant amount of input on social and environmental policy in the city. Former Public Advocate Letitia James made environmental and public health issues high priorities by raising awareness about lead poisoning and organic food waste collection. As the first in line to succeed the Mayor, the Public Advocate is responsible for amplifying the voices of the people if NYC and serving as the direct link between the electorate and city government.
Pazmino opened the forum with a question about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed congestion pricing plan, which would charge cars and trucks a fee for driving south of 60th Street in Manhattan. The revenue - an estimated $600 million per year - would go towards fixing the city’s subway system. Many candidates support the idea of congestion pricing but stressed the need for additional details on the Governor’s plan. Some, including Jared Rich and Dawn Smalls, emphasized the importance of including an exemption for low-income individuals or those who live in outer boroughs. Councilman Rafael Espinal discussed the positive impacts that congestion pricing would have on reducing carbon dioxide emissions and improving air quality in the City.
Continuing on the issue of improving the sustainability of the city’s transportation options, the candidates were asked their opinion on legalizing electric scooters. Multiple candidates including Walter Iwachiw and Michael Zumbluskas expressed concerns about safety, which has been an issue at the center of the debate surrounding e-scooters and e-bikes. However, if regulated properly, these alternative modes of transportation offer a low-emission method of getting around the crowded city streets. Candidates converged on the notion that these options can succeed with proper regulation and public education.
Candidates were also asked about the city’s 80 x 50 plan, a roadmap developed in 2014 to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Nomiki Konst stated that the city should get to 100% renewable energy and Ifeoma Ike stressed that these changes should not take place without an eye to environmental justice. Councilman Espinal discussed his legislation to expand green roofs across the city and support urban agriculture. Councilman Jumaane Williams mentioned the City Council’s legislation to mandate emission reductions from buildings. Other ideas offered by the candidates included expanding recycling, improving sustainable transit, increasing the use of renewable energy, strengthening energy efficiency, and reducing plastic waste.
Next, Pazmino asked candidates to name a policy proposal they support to increase recycling rates. Candidates suggested imposing higher fines, changing the way the city handles contracts, increasing public education, investing in larger facilities on city-owned buildings, and expanding waste-to-energy programs. Assemblywoman Latrice Walker discussed the importance of reducing food waste and stated that the City should continue expanding its curbside organic waste collection program, which was paused last year. Councilman Espinal discussed his legislation to reduce plastic bottle and plastic straw use. All but two candidates support a plastic bag ban in NYC, which could lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce waste.
Finally, the candidates were asked about lead poisoning prevention including enforcement of Local Law 1. Lead poisoning is an ongoing issue in New York, one that affects young children during their development and can have lifelong health impacts. Many candidates agreed that NYCHA should be held responsible for failing to properly enforce the law in public housing, and that pressure should be put on the Mayor to hold the agency accountable. Candidates noted that Public Advocate could act as a check on the Mayor on this issue. Assemblywoman Walker, who was born in NYCHA housing, called for more aggressive action on reducing lead exposure, and stressed the importance of monitoring and remediating lead in drinking water as well as paint.
In their closing statements, the candidates discussed how their backgrounds - as immigrants, locals, attorneys, politicians, activists, teachers, and environmentalists - would serve them in the role of Public Advocate. Watch the full video of the forum here.
Based on this discussion, the diverse composition of the candidate pool is evident, and it is clear that many of these candidates are passionate about environmental issues in New York, including NYLCV’s green policy priorities for 2019.
The special election to fill the Public Advocate seat, which became vacated when Letitia James was elected NY Attorney General, will be held on February 26. Before heading to the polls, learn more about each candidate by visiting their campaign websites.
By: Talia Sechley