By Maitefa Angaza
MTOPP (Movement to Protect the People) and Our Time Press newspaper sponsored a lively virtual 36th District City Council Candidates Forum on Thursday, June 20th. It offered Bedford-Stuyvesant and North Crown Heights voters an opportunity to become better acquainted with the top four people vying to represent them when Robert Cornegy is term-limited out after the November elections. The forum addressed a wide range of issues, included a Jeopardy round, a Follow the Money segment and concluded with attendees casting a vote for the candidate they found most suited for the job.
The contenders for that job are, Community Board 3 District Manager Henry Butler, Pastor Robert Waterman, Warrior in the Garden founder Chi Osse and community advocate Tahirah Moore. Although there are other candidates in this race, they were invited because they’ve raised the most money through campaign contributions, which, in our current electoral system, makes for the most viable candidacies. Although scheduled to participate, Tahirah Moore was unable to attend due to illness. Her campaign manager joined in for a few minutes to give attendees an introduction to his candidate.
Alicia Boyd of MTOPP and David Greaves, publisher of Our Time Press, queried the candidates on their positions and proposals for, among other things, affordable housing, real-estate development, education, small business and policing. They were also asked about their experience in and outside of politics, their campaign contributions and expenditures, residency or lack of residency in the district and more, queries formulated by the sponsors and their team of hard-working researchers.
The first question, about the meaning of “deference” relative to council members, went to Chi Osse, who incorrectly thought deference was related to the ULURP process. Henry Butler answered correctly however, saying it actually refers to an unwritten rule that the council body will vote for or against new property development by following the lead of the member whose district is affected. When the other two contenders were asked how they’d use their deference as a council member, both stressed the need for community input.
Housing was a significant focus of the forum and candidates were ready to share their concerns and likely approaches to addressing them. But the audience of taxpayers may have wanted more time given to Henry Butler to elaborate on his plan to use their money to lower rents for prospective tenants in the district.
“A council member can take discretionary money and give it toward a development to actually bring down the AMI levels for that particular project,” Butler said. “And that is something that I’ll be looking to do with my discretionary funding.”
However, when asked for their views on Mandatory Inclusive Housing (MIH) the candidates were once again on the same page — they all believe it’s got to go. Butler pointed out that although MIH requires developers seeking rezoning to set aside units for lower-income tenants, it allows those developers to determine what “affordable” is for the area, based on the AMI (area mean income) throughout all of New York City.
Waterman said, “From block to block, you can have a million-dollar house, then you turn around, and we got NYCHA, then you turn around, and we got medium-income housing. So we’ve got to have an AMI that speaks to our community.”
Osse would like to see the City Council research ways to accurately assess income levels in neighborhoods. “MIT has a decent Living Wage Calculator that I would love to compare with our AMI when I am in office,” he said.
Chi Osse stressed the need for additional rescue for small businesses. “There are multiple MWBEs — about 40 percent — that went out of business during this pandemic,” he said. “We need a public bank, as well as local banks to provide true grants and loans to our small businesses that are both trying to start and to survive.”
When asked about the City Council’s failure to effect change in the Department of Education, the candidates all felt that the mayoral control of NYC schools, granted by New York State, must be abolished. Waterman said District 36 schools remain underperforming and that community voices have not been loud enough about it. Osse cited empty classrooms and favors a cap on charter schools.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
A significant portion of Robert Waterman’s campaign contributions come from the healthcare industry. Henry Butler had considerably more money coming in from real estate than the other candidates. Chi Osse raised the most money, almost all in very small amounts, from close to three times the number of contributors his fellow contenders had. Tahirah Moore raised the least amount of money, but did not have the least number of contributors.
Waterman was asked about his prevalence of contributions from healthcare. He maintains that it comes from workers and administrators. A primary concern of voters in many neighborhoods is the shrinking number of available healthcare facilities as hospitals are sold to developers who turn them into high-rent residential properties. When asked if he would favor or oppose hospital sales as a councilperson, Waterman addressed this in dramatic fashion, telling of a protest in which he took part when a hospital was threatened with being sold.
“I just laid in the middle of the street to stop traffic because I believe that there needs to be health care in our community,” he said. “I’m one of those trustees who pushes back on everything that does not benefit the community.”
Butler, asked how he justifies accepting real-estate money when candidates across the city have vowed not to, said that a few of the projects represented by developer contributors are MWBEs (Minority and Women Business Enterprises) and that these offer actual affordable housing.
“I have never, ever, been involved in or approved on a community board, a project that displaced our community,” said Butler. “The council member has the power, if they’re going to allow a rezoning, to get affordable units out of that rezoning for the community. And that’s something I promise to do and that I’ve been doing as a leader.”
Osse was asked why so many people have contributed to his support, considering his very recent entry into electoral politics.
“Because people see the work we’re doing,” he responded. “We’re running for the working class, we’re running for the unsheltered, we have the most unemployed donors, the most teacher donors. It’s a grassroots campaign that’s running for the people without being tied to greedy developers or to the PBA.”
Candidates were asked for their position on the duties and the budget of the NYPD.
Butler said that particularly with emotionally disturbed individuals, the NYPD should not be the first call. He added that “of course” monies can be removed from the NYPD, but unlike in last year’s budget it should be reallocated to other agencies, not just shifted around within the department. Waterman feels money should be redirected to youth and mental health programs, not tagged to buy more helicopters.
“This past summer, leading the Black Lives Matter protests,” said Osse, “I’ve witnessed firsthand, people bludgeoned, arrested, pepper-sprayed by the NYPD. And the PBA, the police union, defended those crimes. The PBA in 2016 endorsed Donald Trump; in 2020 they endorsed Donald Trump. We need individuals in office who aren’t tied to those fascist entities that hurt our communities and people… I’ll be fighting to divest from the NYPD, to defund the NYPD.”
DISTRICT 35 RESIDENTS: Be sure to join MTOPP and Our Time Press for the next City Council Candidates Forum on Thursday, June 3rd from 6-8pm. Register at https://tinyurl.com/D35forumJune3at6p