Climate Change is City and State Game-Changer
Candidate for Comptroller, City of New York (Pt. II of II)
Senator Parker sits on the State Senate’s Telecommunications and Energy Committee for the past 18 years, with the last two, as chair. He’s served on the Committee longer than anyone else, and run it longer than anyone else. He authored and negotiated the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Then, turned around and gave that Bill some protection with an environmental justice review panel which he wrote — to protect the Protection Act. No one has ever said Senator Parker is not strategic. A couple of weeks ago, OTP caught up with Sen. Parker to ask about his ongoing and new quests.
Senator Kevin Parker: This means that as the conversation heightens about environmental justice, I have been the person who’s led the charge and started New York State legislative action around this issue for over a period of nearly two decades. Recently, I’ve put in the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA), which is essentially an economic business incentive for people — primarily large businesses — to reduce carbon. Simultaneously, we are building projects that help transition the entire state of New York to a clean energy economy.
OTP: Specifically, what would you be doing for the community in a potential role as NYC Comptroller?
Senator Parker: Bringing leadership. I’ve been a Whip for 10 years under three different leaders. I’ve had an impact on 20 million people in terms of passing state legislation, state bar legislation. My job primarily is as a legislator and but it means I can create policy and programs. So, we’re looking at significant problems with climate change; we have the ability to address them and simultaneously create full-time jobs with a living wage with benefits for our communities.
Let’s start with the understanding that green collar jobs are nothing but blue collar jobs and white collar jobs with a green purpose. One focus is to get training for people to take these important jobs opening up. We want to have an equitable recovery that comes out of this pandemic which revolves around putting people in full-time jobs at a living wage with benefits.
We also must identify, prepare and help entrepreneurs gain access to equity opportunities, in the clean energy economy coming.
New York City will need someone in the Comptroller’s seat who can give you both the checks & balances and the accountability & transparency needed to ensure equity for all New Yorkers.
OTP: Could you share with us your conversation with the new President of Medgar Evers College?
Senator Parker:Yes. I’m a PSC CUNY member being a professor at several community colleges including Brooklyn College and Medgar Evers. I also worked at MEC’s Center for W.E.B. DuBois Public Policy. I know Medgar Evers College really well.
I talked Dr. Patricia Ramsey, a biologist by training before her appointment was effective, May 1. She is the first woman to serve as the president of Medgar Evers College and her resume is absolutely amazing. It was a great interview. Our talk centered around preparing people for the future, and encouraging them to join the effort now to make their communities more sustainable in the future. My understanding is, she’s done this with her students at other universities and it is her intention to bring that focus to the young people at Medgar Evers College, as well. She’s a leader with a vision both for our young people and also for the possibilities that Medgar Evers College institution has for transforming our community.
OTP: Sticking with your vision how, provide specifics on exactly what you see being done for entrepreneurs? There are businesses and organizations engaged in research on sustainable energy, hydropower; organizations looking at how to create more wind, wind development. Focussing on solar panels, there may be a woman-owned firm that’s working on figuring out what’s the next best material that can be used for those panels.
It means that when we hire companies to do energy audits, install solar panels or heat pumps that we include companies that are run by Blacks or Latinos, Asians or women. There are firms engaged in research on sustainable energy, hydropower. Focussing on solar, there may be a woman-owned firm that’s working on the next best material that can be used for those panels.
A company that manufactures solar panels needs a marketing team, a sales team, executive assistants, as well as assembly line workers. You need electricians, carpenters, and more. So who will do this work?
As city comptroller, I have an opportunity both within the context of the MWBE program and having $240 million worth of pension obligations to help make equity opportunities available.
OTP:Can you speak on powering the pipeline to, say, a possible CUNY training ground from elementary, middle and high schools?
Senator Parker: We need to do critical things like increase music, art, athletics and dance as regular parts of the pre-college curriculum. The comptroller can support the effort through economic analysis and audits of various parts of the educational system to make sure that we’re putting our dollars to the best use.
OTP: You said you have authored more than 70 bills that have become law over your 18-year career as a State Senator. What have you been doing in this era of COVID.
Senator Parker: My office wrote the first legislation in the nation on a utility moratorium. That’s why communities across the state don’t have to worry about water, gass and electricity.
We just did an extender to include not just water, electricity and gas but now also phone, cable and internet and making sure over the next year that people don’t have to worry about getting cut off from their utilities. I think that’s been incredibly important for our community particularly low and moderate income New Yorkers, many of whom are one paycheck away from poverty.
So authoring the legislation means I get my team to draft the legislation. I work to get an assembly sponsor. I work it in the state legislation to pass committee, then to pass the full house and then the governor signs it. That’s what authoring a bill means, you wrote it and got it through.
OTP:So, how long did it take you to get the utility moratorium passed?
Senator Parker: The state was shut down on March 7, 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic hitting New York hard. That was in the middle of the budget season. We operated state legislation by distance through Zoom so we were right back to work getting the budget done?
When we started talking about housing, I was like, “New Yorkers won’t be able pay rent or utitlities.” And I’m a homeowner myself. And so, we immediately started working on that and got it passed. I proposed a bill last week that has become very controversial in that, if passed, would actually use federal dollars and the utilitiy companies to pay off customers’ arrears as part of a 50/50 plan. Of course, the utilities are not happy about that.
OTP:As you know, marijuana is going to be legal in New York. As comptroller, what role would you play in being sure that the licensing is filtered down into the community participate?
Senator Parker: I have more of a role in that as a state senator than I would as a city comptroller. The adult youth candidates legislation that we just passed a couple of weeks ago is the state legislation that creates a state level agency to deal with it. As a state legislator, I did the job of centering restorative justice as the core of this bill. So the first thing we dealt with was that to get the records of the incarcerated who had only one conviction expunged and then we put these folks at the front of the line to get licenses.
As city comptroller my focus is to build capacity of people. Going back to CUNY, small business development centers would help people take advantage of equity opportunities and gain access to capital, mentorship and technical assistance new businesses require.
OTP: Very few people were talking about sustainable communities in 2008 when we met you at the Project Green community awareness event in 2008.
Senator Parker: I got elected in 2003 and was named the ranking member on the energy and telecommunications committee. In 2004, I created the first Democratic bill on sustainable energy. I’ve been on this path a long time, and even before my time in the State Senator. As you know, there’s an historical piece to all of this, particularly for Black people, the original shepherds of the earth.
In 1990, I travelled to Egypt with the world-famous scholars Dr. Ben Jochannan and Dr. John Henrik Clarke. I saw the ancient holy writings about trees, grass, insects, birds, animals, bugs, birds, earth, skies, nature.
We people of African descent come from a rich cultural history in which we were the caretakers of the Earth. We have a birthright we’ve been neglecting. There should be no misunderstanding about sustainability and land stewardship. Even to take care of a little piece of earth you may call your own — whether it’s the house you live in, the park across the street from your apartment complex, a backyard — is something we must claim responsibility for. I am certainly a proponent of that.
OTP:Thank you, Senator Parker. We will be back.
Senator Parker: Great. I’d love to do this again.