Published: March 1, 2013
Publication: WestView News
By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Choices, Choices, Choices; A Guide to What to Look For in the Busy Political Year Ahead
This year, 2013, we are presented with a rare opportunity! Those of you who live in the WestView readership area will be able to choose a new Mayor, a new Comptroller, a new Public Advocate, and either a new City Council person (in the West Village) or a choice between an incumbent and a challenger (in Hudson Square). Rarely do we have such an opportunity. (We should have had one in 2009, but lost it when Mayor Bloomberg engineered his coup and secured both himself, and the City Council, a third term.)
Measuring the candidates is tough. In the pages of WestView over the coming months, voters will be presented with perspectives which will assist in exploring our choices. However, it is now possible to set some criteria which we all ought to apply in figuring out how a candidate measures up. If we use these criteria, we can move past the platitudes and hype of campaign literature and commercials.
Here’s a suggested list. Exploration of these topics is different for those holding elected or appointed office and those who have not, and, to some extent, current office holders require more scrutiny.
What has the candidate done to address healthcare delivery?Perhaps no other issue has greater potential for disrupting our lives. During and after Hurricane Sandy, only one hospital was open in Manhattan south of 59th Street, Beth Israel. Had there been a large-scale calamity, like a building collapse or explosion, we would have faced a catastrophe. Even in non-catastrophic times, the number of hospital beds and the availability of Level 1 trauma care have decreased dramatically. Many area residents have opted for care uptown, but the minutes it takes to reach the East Side could be fatal. Other communities are facing a similar crisis. Look closely at what candidates have done, not what they have said. Did he or she take effective actions to expand healthcare and lower costs?
What has the candidate done to address education needs? For those of us with children (or even grandchildren), no issue takes up a greater amount of time. Our public schools are underfunded. There are too few seats, too few teachers, and too little money put into teacher development. What has the candidate done (not said) to improve schools? Have they ever worked to open a public school or improve funding? Have they advocated on behalf of parents who want to be heard and who want to play a role in school governance? Have they taken a stand on charter schools and indiscriminate placement of such schools (called “co-location”) in the midst of existing schools? What have they done (not said) about overuse of testing?
How will the candidate interact with communities and citizens about issues like development, night life, bikeways, parks, and other issues that affect the quality of life? The hallmark of the Bloomberg Years (and of the Giuliani Era) has been a deaf ear to the views of city residents on issues affecting their lives. We have an amazing system in NYC of gathering citizens’ views, including community boards, community education councils, block associations, public hearings, etc. For the last 20 years, we have become used to arguing with each other, coming to consensus as a community, and then being ignored by those making decisions. Ask how a candidate has listened to community views and how that candidate has worked to develop consensus among community residents and get those views heard.
How independent is the candidate? Look at from whom he or she took contributions. Be particularly wary of money from real estate developers, major landlords, and major corporate interests. However, also look to see whether a candidate is so connected with another politician that they will be incapable of acting independently.
How gutsy is the candidate? Candidates should be asked to show when (if ever) they took on an unpopular cause. When and how did he or she take on the “powers that be?” How effective was he or she when they did that? In addition, if he or she eventually compromised, how principled was that compromise? We need candidates with principles – candidates who have lived out their principles.
How good is the candidate at building coalitions to get things done? Arm in arm with being principled goes the ability to effectively work with others. We are a diverse city and even a diverse community. Stridency does not lead to accomplishment. An ability to build effective coalitions, even if it requires principled compromise, is a key skill to effective leadership. Look at the candidates’ records. Have they built coalitions? Have they allowed stridency to overcome possible success? Has he or she just barreled ahead and achieved what they please by sheer force? We need principled coalition builders in government.
Does the candidate care about and understand the importance of bridging diverse communities? In the end, NYC will only be governable if those given leadership can relate to the never-ending communities based on national origin, sexual orientation, and religion. When dealt with respect, those communities are capable of working together. Ask about the track record of a candidate on racial problems and religious intolerance. Ask what they have done to advance minorities or gays and lesbians in a concrete way and what they have done to build bridges. Furthermore, how well they deal with the NYPD and the perception among city residents of color that the NYPD is racist.
These are the beginnings of questions that you need to be asking, so that you can access the names on the ballot – from top to bottom.