If ultimately victorious, February might be viewed as a turning point for Maya Wiley’s mayoral campaign. On Feb. 16, Wiley took a huge blow when she did not qualify for public matching funds for this cycle, though the campaign had announced that it expected a $2 million payout. But just days later, 1199 Service Employees International Union – the city’s largest labor union – announced its members would be backing Wiley in the highly competitive race for mayor.
The endorsement could be critical in cementing Wiley’s place in the top tier of candidates – currently populated by the likes of Andrew Yang, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. It’s also earned Wiley comparisons to her former boss, Bill de Blasio, in that the union’s endorsement of his 2013 campaign, while he was also lagging in the polls, buoyed his candidacy and made him a serious contender in a similarly open race.
The former MSNBC contributor and counsel to the mayor will certainly hope to build on the momentum the endorsement, and the public funds now expected to come through in March, have created so she can – as she has said is her motivation for seeking office – ensure every kid growing up in New York has a viable future in the city.
In an interview with Our Town, Wiley spoke about “New Deal New York” (the centerpiece policy of her campaign), the disruption of education amid the pandemic, holding police accountable, as well as the sexual harassment allegations made last week against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (A second former aide to Cuomo has come forward with allegations following our interview with Wiley).
What is New Deal New York and why is it the right approach for the city’s recovery from the pandemic?
New Deal New York will create 100,000 new jobs at a time when we desperately need them, and that is because we will spend $10 billion in capital construction. So that can be everything from affordable housing, which we desperately need, to resiliency in the face of flooding, to protected bike lanes, to community centers. And we are going to put $2 billion into not waiting for the state or the federal government to give us resources – although we’ll look for that too – so that we can start renovating and rehabilitating NYCHA housing. And the reason this is so important and smart is because we know throughout our history in this country that when we are in a deep economic crisis, putting our money into solving problems building things and getting people to work doing it is what helps us out of our economic crisis. So that’s just smart spending.
We’re nearly a year into the pandemic and nearly a year in remote and hybrid learning. How would you address learning loss and the impact this disruptive year has had on students’ mental health?
Our kids have lost at least a year. We need to be investing both in solving this digital divide, for students who need it, which we can do, but that technology gives us an opportunity to also help get that year back by giving kids access to programs they might not currently have access to that they can access online.
We [already] weren’t providing some of the social and emotional supports that students needed to succeed. So we are going to [focus on] schools in communities that have high levels of gun violence because violence in community actually impacts learning of children, even if they’re not directly the victims. And then we have the added trauma of COVID. So we’re gonna put trauma informed care in the schools and focus first on the schools with the highest degree of impact because we know that the neighborhoods that have had this gun violence are also the neighborhoods have the greatest job loss, the greatest deaths and infection rates to COVID, largest number of essential workers. And then roll out from there because we think we have to have counselors in every single school and trauma informed care in every single school, and we need student support teams.
Last week, Lindsey Boylan, a former aide to Gov. Cuomo, made allegations of sexual harassment against the governor. How would you like to see that resolved?
Those are serious allegations, and there apparently are emails and evidence that appear to support those allegations. There must be an immediate, serious and transparent investigation, meaning the results of the investigation must be public. It must include the governor and it must include every single person in government that participated in any way. There must be accountability if there’s findings of wrongdoing. And it must, must, must include everyone because our public trust and the power of office can never be abused.
How then do you change the dynamic of the relationship between City Hall and the governor’s office, particularly if you take office and Cuomo is still in charge?
I am fortunate to have had good working relationships with senior members of the Cuomo team when I was in City Hall. Oftentimes, the staff have much more cordial relationships than the governor and the mayor – and that’s a testament to the fact that we can work together. It’s really about understanding that we have to partner with Albany ... and that partnership includes the state delegation from the city. We should be in alignment around the priorities for the state agenda that are going to meet those needs of our constituents, of our people. And that is a different way of working because a lot of times, unfortunately, the de Blasio administration would just go up and drop a piece of legislation, and say, “Run this for us.” That’s not partnership. That’s not a way you work. When I was in City Hall, what I did is make sure I talked to delegation members first, before I dropped anything on them and asking them what they were seeing and I was sharing what I was hearing, but also pulling in the stakeholders.
In a recent profile on you in New York magazine, the idea of failing to have the fight on the issues that really matter is raised. What is the most urgent issue in New York City about which we’re simply failing to have the fight?
I would have to say ... policing is something that we have to get right. It’s about willingness, both to hold leadership at One Police Plaza accountable [and] definitely making many more strides to take back civilian control of policing, rather than ceding it exclusively to the police department. It means you have to be willing, frankly, to fight with the police union, some of whom have been absolutely irresponsible in their calls to protect officers whose misconduct and constitutional violations are clear and public - even captured on video. It is simply not okay for any public servants to be bullied by others, who just want to have the full ability to exercise power without any oversight or accountability, and that can’t stand. It can’t stand just because police unions get loud and bully-ish. I won’t be bullied.
“We know throughout our history ... that when we are in a deep economic crisis, putting our money into solving problems building things and getting people to work doing it is what helps us out of our economic crisis.” Mayoral candidate Maya Wiley