BOMA members meet mayoral candidates

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On March 30, BOMA New York hosted its first 2021 “Meet the Candidate” webinar with Kathryn Garcia, Democratic candidate for Mayor of New York City.

This webinar series is important because this is a major election year in New York City, with more than half of the City Council seats up for grabs due to term limits and several city-wide offices open for the same reason. Indeed, the results of the general election on November 2d could bring a sea of change in the governance and quality of life throughout the city.

Nothing will be as big as New York City electing a new mayor, as Mayor de Blasio’s second and final term comes to an end. The Democratic primary is set for June 22, and there are dozens of candidates who have announced their intention to win it.

Introduced on the
webinar by Daniel Avery, BOMA New York Director of Legislative Affairs, and
hosted by Hani Salama, BOMA New York Chair and CEO, Candidate Garcia is a former
Sanitation Commissioner and all-around New York City go-to person for managing
crises.

Currently polling among
the top five mayoral candidates, Garcia is running on her extensive record of
managing very large projects for the City, including emergencies such as
Superstorm Sandy when she was the Department of Environmental Protection’s Incident
Commander. Most recently, she coordinated the delivery of 130 million meals to
New Yorkers who were locked down in the COVID-19 pandemic, peaking with a
one-million-meal distribution on a single day.

She also lightheartedly
alluded to being responsible for the removal of “15 feet of snow during my
tenure at the Department of Sanitation.”

In her brief
introductory remarks, Garcia said that her main goals were to make New York “a
more livable city,” and to prepare the city’s children for the future by giving
them a quality education. She pledged to “treat residents as customers” who
should expect the highest quality delivery of City services, and also should be
considered as major drivers of economic recovery. “We need this economy to come
back,” she said, linking the city’s recovery to residents’ support for small
businesses, including “micro loans.”

To illustrate her
point, Garcia cited that 50 percent of private sector employment in New York
City is provided by small businesses. Another of her eye-opening facts was
that, pre-COVID, “Forty percent of our food was eaten in restaurants.”

Just as important,
Garcia stressed the need for safety in schools and the necessity of investing
in “opportunities to prepare children for the critical thinking they will
need.”

She said that the City
government should align its interests with the Biden Administration’s recently
announced commitment to infrastructure. She said that the U.S. is “making a big
bet on infrastructure and sustainability.” She added, “(We should) start to
de-carbonize our economy,” and make New York City, “more livable, greener and
healthier.”

Another of Candidate
Garcia’s main messages is: How to bring folks back into New York City in a safe
way. Using colorful examples to prove her point, she cited anecdotes from,
among others, an interstate truck driver who was never bothered by being
delayed overnight while making deliveries in the city because he could take
advantage of all the great things New York offered to visitors. She said, “New
York City is an interesting place to be; it’s even a great place to get stuck
in.”

Responding to questions
from attendees at the webinar, Garcia also addressed the crisis of homelessness,
which was exacerbated by the pandemic. She said, “People will not come to New
York if they don’t feel safe,” emphasizing that “street homelessness is not the
same as family homelessness.”

Garcia believed that
the situation could be greatly improved by providing permanent housing for
persons with underlying mental health or drug abuse issues. Meantime, she
called for supportive housing as a gateway to jobs.

She also called for the
need to eliminate “pop-up homeless groups and encampments,” which unfortunately
could not receive the effective enforcement that was halted due to the pandemic
crisis.

Asked about how she
would compare herself with former mayors, Garcia said, “I’m my own person when
it comes to governing,” and that she looked forward to her victory as “breaking
a 400 year-old glass ceiling.” That said, she had kind words for former mayor
Ed Koch as “the best New York City booster,” and Michael Bloomberg for his
focus on data analytics in making policy and preparing for crises.

Asked how she was
getting her name in front of voters in a very crowded pre-primary field, she
said that she was encouraged by polls that reported, as of last week, that as
many as 50% of voters were still undecided. That fact, plus her belief that,
“Voters want someone with government experience. They don’t want to be sold a
rose garden. They want someone who can make this a more livable city.”

Referring to her
experience with supervising multiple people at the same time, she said that she
was an expert on “interdependency” among teams and agencies, and that she would
have a “very busy Day One” in office.

She added that getting
people back into mass transportation, particularly on the subway system, would
be a top priority. She said, “I took the subway yesterday and it was like a
normal Sunday. Of course, it was Monday.”

In conclusion, Garcia
said that the pandemic was proof that “there will be something in the next four
years that we didn’t predict,” and that the city’s leader should have
government experience in order to deal with it.

Whatever the future
brings, she said that the real estate community would “be at the table” for
policy decisions, citing, as an example, the need for bricks and mortar
businesses and building owners to have a say in the proposed expansion of
street vendor permits.

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