After what’s felt like the longest primary election in recent memory – all in the midst of a catastrophic pandemic – New Yorkers will be able to head to the polls for early voting starting Saturday. In the waning days of his campaign, District 3 City Council candidate Erik Bottcher is feeling confident about his position in the race.
“The enthusiasm is really incredible,” Bottcher told Chelsea News. “I’m getting lots of thumbs up on the sidewalk, and we just have a lot of volunteers out every day doing a lot of great work.”
Bottcher is running to replace his former boss City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for whom he served as chief of staff, and represent Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen and Greenwich Village. Much has been made by opposing candidates about his ties to Johnson, but in a time when the majority of the next Council will be new members, Bottcher said it’s his Council experience that will be his biggest asset if elected.
In a recent interview, he discussed the importance of mental health professionals in schools, his vision for the city’s sanitation efforts, LGBTQ representation on the Council, and being labeled a “machine” candidate:
In conversations with candidates running in various races across Manhattan, many of them cited the pandemic as the catalyst for them run for office; but obviously you launched your campaign a few months before everything shut down. Has your perspective changed on what the city needs and what District 3 needs after going through COVID?
In some ways, the pandemic just exacerbated the issues that were facing us before: Homelessness, substance use, mental health, educational inequities. These were problems facing our community before, but the pandemic has just made them exponentially worse, and really exposed them in a way that they weren’t exposed before.
In a few forums you’ve said you would pick sanitation as a committee you’d like to chair if you had the opportunity. What are the goals you’d pursue in that position?
Right now, New Yorkers put their trash out on the sidewalk in big piles, and they often take up most of the sidewalk. And we’re just used to it as New Yorkers it’s always been that way, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In many cities, they put their trash out into collection areas in the road bed, freeing up sidewalks space, and we need to pilot that widely, and if it works, use that model. Additionally, I’ve proposed implementing sanitation strike teams that would be dispatched around Manhattan at all times to respond quickly to 311 complaints about overflowing waste baskets for trash explosions, and someone has picked through a trash bag and it’s strewn all over the street and sidewalk. These rapid strike teams would be able to address these issues. I’m also in favor of mandating universal curbside compost pickups. That will divert up millions of tons of waste from the landfills, and that waste is a major source of carbon emissions.
And, to me, sanitation is about more than aesthetics. It’s a small business issue, because our small businesses suffer when the street corner is overflowing with them basket. It’s an economic development issue and an economic issue, because people, people can live anywhere now with remote working. So people are in decision mode, about whether they’re going to leave or stay. And we really can’t afford to be to have filthy neighborhoods, because we won’t regain a population that we’ve lost. And if we’re going to succeed as a city, economically, we really have to regain the populations that we’ve lost.
You’ve made mental health a real focus of your campaign, and we’ve heard from parents about how kids and teenagers have struggled over the last 15 months. How would your plan address the needs of school-aged children?
In my mental health plan, I call for every school to have either counselors, mental health specialists, social workers, or school nurses that are trained to identify mental health issues and make sure that young people get the help they need. I’m someone who got that treatment when I was in high school. Unfortunately, I only got that treatment after surviving a suicide attempt. We need to do better at identifying when a young person is having a hard time, and our schools need to be equipped to help. In the latest New York state budget, the state finally allocated the billions of dollars that were owed as part of the campaign for fiscal equity, and I’m going to fight to ensure that those billions of dollars are spent appropriately in the schools. And as part of that, we should ensure that all our schools have guidance counselors and other such personnel.
Primary month happens to coincide with Pride month. You are one of the LGBTQ candidates seeking a seat in the City Council. What is the importance of having that representation and what does it mean to you?
Every current LGBTQ member of the City Council is leaving because of term limits. That means that unless we elect LGBTQ people to the city council, there will be no LGBTQ caucus for the first time since 1990. That’s not acceptable. Representation matters. All communities need to have a seat at the table. There’s an old saying: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
Some of your opponents have labeled you as a “machine” candidate because of your ties to the political establishment. What do you make of that comparison and is being a part of the machine an inherently bad thing?
People say things like that, during election time. But the people of our district don’t feel that way. And that’s evidenced by the overwhelming support that our campaign has in the community. Block association presidents, tenant association presidents, hundreds of community leaders - they don’t feel that way. They know that I’m a neighborhood activist who has worked in the trenches with them for years. And that’s why they’re supporting me.
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