Choosing a leader for political office to represent one’s district, borough, city, state or nation is choosing a steward whom one trusts will do their best to provide, protect and respect the constituency, much like in a marriage, spouses do for each other and for their family. In a marriage, one spouse should not have to tolerate infidelity or abusive behavior and a constituency should not have to tolerate a divided loyalty or abusive policies from their elected official.
On June 17, the Queens Jewish Community Council along with the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association sponsored a Candidates Night at Young Israel of KGH. The 3 candidates being showcased were running for the 24th City Council seat vacated by James Gennaro. The candidates were Rory Lancman and Andrea Veras running in the Democratic Primary and Republican Alex Blishteyn. Melinda Katz, running for borough president, dropped by and spoke briefly but she was not part of the forum.
Blishteyn spoke first and here is what he stressed: While acknowledging that he is not and has never been an office holder, he declares himself as a “citizen candidate” who will speak for the voice of the community. He would stand up for the citizens who pay property taxes which funds public education (which in NY State is $18k per pupil ) and who also pay tuition to a private school of their choosing, by pushing for legislation to provide school tax credits and school vouchers for those who qualify. Despite being a Republican, he realizes the crucial nature of discretionary funding for community social services whether it be for Hatzalah, a food pantry, library or after school programs. Blishteyn says that funds are available from the city coffers for the equitable distribution to the various community programs to be determined by a newly established method called “participatory budgetary funding” which is based on ballots or questionnaires filled out by the constituents themselves, judging the need of various programs.
Blishteyn is not supported or endorsed by unions which to him is a liberating factor because he’s not beholden to them as a result. He is a supporter of small business and wants to protect them from punishing fines such as the store merchant who was fined $14,000 for having for sale 14 orange toy guns which lacked plugged barrels. He also feels that a small business owner may not be able to bear the burden of providing paid sick leave for his employees. He wants to protect the constitutional rights of religious institutions, for instance, by allowing yeshivas to rent space in public schools as does any chess or book club. (His opponent, Lancman, I have learned from other sources, has said that a religious school, renting space in a public school comprises a conflict of “church and state”.)
Next spoke, Andrea Veras. Ms. Veras has an advanced degree in Urban Affairs. In her own neighborhood in Briarwood, she is a community organizer involved in the efforts against vandalism and car theft. Veras states that she obtained a grant from the city for such efforts on Main St. She is interested in improving housing, child foster care and criminal defense for those in need. She claims that honesty is what is foremost needed in political leadership and that she should be elected because she is the honest person that the community needs.
Last, spoke Rory Lancman. Lancman, in 2012 ended 6 years in the State Assembly. He has also been on various community and non profit boards. Despite being an incumbent of local government, Lancman acknowledges that the citizens of NY City are squeezed by the costs of energy, food and transportation. Educationally, he states, that 3/4 of our high school graduates need remedial education for college entry. In his legislative life he has fought for more funding to decrease class size. While murder rates are down in the city, general crime is up and he would fight for more police on the beat. Lancman has prevailed in excluding parents of yeshiva students from being obligated to pay an MTA payroll tax. He has qualified yeshiva students to obtain TAP grants for their college level yeshiva study. He has also procured bus services for yeshiva day school students. Lancman has ordered grants for analysis to determine terrorism risk assessment for non profits. He claims that he had to in the past and would have to again, fight for discretionary funding to claim our “fair share” of funding. In regard to foreign affairs, Lancman in 2011, cosponsored the legislation of the Iran Divestment Act of 2012 which prevents NY State from investing in companies operating in Iran’s energy sector, thus strengthening our sanctions on Iran.
Further policy ideas of the candidates from audience questions, were as follows:Veras: No cuts to city services or programs should occur during a recession. Furthermore, schools should beef up training in trades such as carpentry and plumbing. Incentives should be offered to businesses to operate in Queens but city should adhere to a prescribed affordable budget the way a household must learn to do. Stop and Frisk should be stopped because it is not constitutional. She is not endorsed by unions and therefore owes them nothing but unions, she acknowledges, have done great things for the city. Waste could be eliminated by paring down perks for upper level management such as those who drive in limousines and more monitoring of supply rooms to make sure city workers aren’t pilfering supplies.
Blishteyn: Stop Question and Frisk should not be abandoned; rather it should be modified or improved (although he didn’t say how). We have the lowest crime stats in 20 years and he credits this program in part, for that. This is the “conservatives way of taking guns away from the criminals” he said. He’s not against unions but unions should not control politicians. If politicians are beholden to unions, he says, the politicians will not be able to fairly negotiate the contracts of the unions. Hence, if contract salaries are artificially inflated, the vicious cycle of union patronage and political favors continues. Waste could be reduced by consolidating various agencies/offices to eliminate redundancies. Interns could be utilized more and operations should be studied for improved technological capability.
Lancman: He is proud to be endorsed by the local “fireman, teacher and hospital worker”. He says this because he stands behind the working class citizen and unions stand up for such workers. Unions did not create the financial downturn of late, he stated. Waste could be eliminated by reducing the outsourcing of city services to private contractors thus saving millions of dollars. He cited a figure of $850 million wasted by government private contractors (although in trying to research this I could only find a reference to $850 million wasted by Medicare providers that would obviously not be a city expenditure).
He said that many programs from the NY City Economic Development Corporation are wasteful and if we could limit their expenditures there would be a great savings. On Stop and Frisk, he feels that it is a non productive program in that 90% of such stops resulted in no arrests and any rate of confiscation of illegal weapons from Stop and Frisk is the same as that as before the program was initiated.
Ok, now let’s look at what was said: I agree with Andrea Veras that honesty is a key element in a legitimate leader. But along with honesty there must be a basic plan that would comprise effective governing. According to Veras however – no cuts to anything except perks to city bosses and inventory supply rooms should be monitored more carefully. She made reference to executive perks, such as the limousines for city bosses which is very legitimate. We learned recently that the IRS, over a 2 year period, spent $50 million on 225 conventions. If Veras could ferret out such big scale wasteful perks in city operations that would indeed be a great achievement. However, I agree with Blishteyn and Lancman that labor costs, whether it be by private contractors or city worker, are probably the core of what needs to be cut.
However, Lancman says that he wants to continue getting the support of unions because unions didn’t create the downfall of the latest recession. But did the Teacher’s Union create the expenditure of $18k spent per pupil in NY State or was that also Wall Street’s fault according to Lancman? He blames private contractors for $850 million in overpayments. Is that the same type of overpayment of the IRS, under the Obama administration, when they splurged on private contractors to pay $60,000 for the production of videos such as the Star Trek spoofs and money spent on private contractors to teach the IRS agents how to line-dance in perfect step?
Lancman is blaming the NY City Economic Development Corp for wasteful speculative programs. Is he therefore willing to abolish the agency or is he saying that they’re just guessing wrong? This was a question posed to me by a Talmud teacher who attended the forum. Yes, I looked up two such programs undertaken by the agency: “Ground breaking for 133,000 Square Foot Retail Development at Broadway Plaza in the Bronx” and “New ‘Thunderbolt’ Roller Coaster to be Built at Coney Island” both written about in June 11, 2013. Do we know that they will both succeed ?
Let’s look at Stop and Frisk: Veras says it’s unconstitutional. Lancman and Blishteyn, both lawyers, do not say that. Lancman says that it’s ineffective in it’s execution (perhaps thus unconstitutional but that’s not what he said). He cited that as many as 90% of such stops do not result in arrests. He said that it targets minorities and that’s wrong. He also could have said that as few as 14 tenths of one percent (.14%) of such stops yield an illegal gun. However 500,000 stop and frisks were made in 2012. That translates to 700 illegal guns seized! How many drive-by killings could that translate to? How many minority children could those seized guns have saved? Is that perhaps why we don’t look like Detroit and Chicago??? Blishteyn said that we could improve it. Yes, just as with anything, there may be a point of indiscriminate level of stopping and frisking that is unproductive. Just as any graph would show, there may be diminishing returns at some level but Rory and Andrea just threw the baby out with the bath water.
I’m not endorsing anyone and for disclosure purposes I might add that I carried a petition of the Republican party that included Alex Blishteyn’s name and I have discussed with Alex his platform. There is no question that Lancman has knowledge and experience of government that Blishteyn does not have. Lancman claims that funding for the community is something that he has to “fight” for. Blishteyn disputes that. But even if this second claim is also true, all it portends is a vote for incumbency, which is a recipe for status quo.
On 3 counts the Liberal wing of the Democratic party has let us down: 1) a public education system which in many parts of the city is a disaster 2) a crime rate that was a nightmare under Mayor Dinkins when mobs were left to riot and murder and 3) a business climate that leaves store owners so squeezed by confiscatory fees and fines of tens of thousands of dollars that they have to shutter their doors. Lancman has no doubt solid achievements under his belt but he or his Liberal supporters have failed in those three areas.
He is not favorable to school vouchers or even tax credits for those who pay for private tuition and the frum community is feeling the stress as a result. Yeshiva tuition appeals are made in shuls and on the radio on a regular basis. Why does Lancman not address this? He also does not respect the hard work and methods of the NYPD which have made our city under the direction of Ray Kelly a model for big city safety. The climate for small business is currently so bad because according to the Daily News, the Dept of Consumer Affairs has quotas to fine businesses and when subjects of such fines come to a hearing before a judge, the News reports “Top brass [from the Dept of Consumer Affairs] routinely pressure administrative law judges presiding at those hearings to rule in the city’s favor. And agency bosses have edited judges’ opinions before they were issued…If the judges, who are supposed to be impartial, resist the pressure, they say, they get overruled by superiors, who must sign off on any rulings. At least two of those judges recently filed formal complaints with the city Department of Investigation over the actions of their supervisors.”
Regarding Education, Crime and Business the city has endured painful times under misguided administrations. Does this not constitute abuse? In my analogy to a marriage we wouldn’t say that a wife shouldn’t leave a battering husband because the house is already there, the money comes in and who wants to have joint custody. But when it comes to public officials we say that accomplishment in certain areas absolves the government from providing, protecting and respecting the constituents in other areas.
If incumbency is so rewarded, then it’s a recipe for incumbents to die in office – the opposite of term limits. Every incumbent was once a novice. The question really is: who has the right approach of governing? In my opinion, Lancman’s marriage with the Teacher’s union is poisonous. That’s why the words “school tax credits” or “school vouchers” will never come out of his lips. Lancman will not veer away from the platform of his Liberal supporters.
According to Mort Zuckerman, owner of the U.S and World Report, Iran is reportedly 60 days away from producing enough fissionable material to develop a nuclear war-head. What does the Liberal Democratic party have to say about that? Does Israel follow Obama’s lead whatever that may be? What does the Liberal Democratic party have to say about an undivided Jerusalem? Cynthia Zalisky made a strong argument in this paper for such. Many in our community believe in the legitimacy of an undivided Jerusalem. For Lancman to be supported by our community, I say that he has to change his views on education, business and crime prevention. Additionally, I’d like to hear if he could differ from President Obama if that were necessary. I know Blishteyn could.