We asked the seven people running to replace current Council Member Gale Brewer in the district that covers the Upper West Side why they should get your vote. Ken Biberaj Democrat Vice President of The Russian Tea Room Your number one priority on your first day in office: I want to bring new ideas and energy to address our biggest problems - overcrowding in schools, supporting small businesses in our neighborhood, and rising housing costs that our young families and seniors face. My focus that first day will be to build relationships with the Deputy Mayors and Commissioners in order to advocate for the solutions Upper West Siders deserve. My first day will set the tone for my time as council member, and I intend to come in with the same high energy and hard work ethic that I have put into my campaign. My constituents can rest assured that I will hit the ground running my first day in office. What single element of your experience makes you the best candidate? My Energy. As West Siders have seen over the last year, I am hard working and persistent. I have been standing at subway stations and grocery stores for over a year asking residents what matters to them. I have listened intently to the issues that matter most to my neighbors. And, as a result of the countless conversations I have had, I produced a detailed policy report with "25 New Ideas" for the West Side. I will bring this commitment to policy development and community engagement to the Council. What is the single most pressing issue facing the Upper West Side, and how would you tackle it in office? Preserving our quality of life. In the next ten years, if the West Side is just luxury towers and banks/Duane Reades, then we will have failed. I helped reopen and save the Russian Tea Room and understand that issues that face our small businesses. Additionally, we need new ideas to address the rising cost of housing for our young families and seniors. Visit www.ken2013.com for "25 New Ideas" to preserve our quality of life. In your opinion, what issue affecting Upper West Side residents has been most neglected over the past 12 years? Failure to properly invest in our community's future. We have had mass over development without enough sufficient contributions to our infrastructure. Not enough new school seats, hardly any new affordable housing and no real investment to our transportation system. I will negotiate much harder to build a stronger West Side for the future. As a council member, I will be a leader on improving energy efficiency and investing in our infrastructure. Imagine you have a completely free Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood - what would you do? Head out for a run in Central Park before Val and our newborn Hudson wake up. Grab some coffee and fresh scones from Levain Bakery on the way home. After we have breakfast and read the Sunday edition of the NY Times. In the afternoon, we would take Hudson for a nice stroll up to Hippo Playground. On the way home, we would get dinner and catch the sunset at Pier i before putting Hudson to sleep and watching Newsroom.
??? Debra Cooper Democrat State Committeemember Your number one priority on your first day in office: For decades, I have fought for women's equality, dignity and the right to control their lives. With the state's failure to pass the Women's Equality Act, my first priority will be to put forth stronger versions of the nine provisions under city jurisdiction, which would achieve pay equity; stop workplace sexual harassment; curb employment discrimination; strengthen human trafficking laws; end housing discrimination based on family status; end pregnancy discrimination; and strengthen order-of-protection laws. What single element of your experience makes you the best candidate? I know how to get things done. Sometimes this means working in the trenches like my time on the NARAL ProChoiceNY Board where I helped write the New York City Clinic Access bill and worked to pass the Women's Health and Wellness Act. Other times, it's meant standing up with courage like I did as a State Committeemember sponsoring the Millionaires' Tax resolution. I am ready to continue the West Side's tradition of progressive leadership. What is the single most pressing issue facing the Upper West Side, and how would you tackle it in office? Over recent years, we have seen the hollowing out of the middle class. The West Side must continue to be a neighborhood where middle class families can raise and educate their children. We must reject the present emphasis on high-stakes testing and instead focus on every child having the opportunity for a well rounded education. We must protect the affordable housing we have and use the land use process to create new affordable housing. In your opinion, what issue affecting Upper West Side residents has been most neglected over the past 12 years? These are dangerous times for democracy. The unequal distribution of economic and political power has accelerated. We need to work hard to reverse the inequality. We need to see our City once again as a place where the middle class can prosper, where newcomers can rise up, where our schools educate all children and our infrastructure is solid and functioning. We need to return to that era which kept reaching for the common good. Imagine you have a completely free Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood - what would you do? I would spend the afternoon enjoying my family and the Upper West Side. Starting at the Museum of Natural History where my grandson enjoys the dinosaurs and butterflies. Then on to the Children's Museum and the Children's Zoo and relaxing in Central Park where he hopefully falls asleep and stays asleep in his stroller. There is nothing better than experiencing and enjoying the people and places of the West Side through the eyes of a child. ??? Noah E. Gotbaum(http://nypress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/District-6_Noah-Gotbaum.jpg) Democrat Managing Member, New Spirit Capital, LLC; Vice-President Community Education Council District 3; Your number one priority on your first day in office: As a recognized education advocate - and only public school (and special needs) parent in this race ? Day one I would begin to focus on changing the direction of our public education system from the failed business-led model of competition, charter-schools, mindless high stakes testing, and teacher bashing. My effort would be to bring parents and community members back into the decision-making process which would include advocating for real community schools, lower class sizes and ending the enrollment maze. I would seek to broaden our curriculum to include the arts, music, social sciences, gym, and library time. I would also fight to really reform a broken $3 billion special-ed system. What single element of your experience makes you the best candidate? I grew up in progressive, independent labor politics with my father labor leader, Victor Gotbaum and my stepmother and former Public Advocate, Betsy Gotbaum. Social justice, independently standing up for and with the community and the most vulnerable, was bred in my bones. These values were at the core of my coalition-building work 25 years ago founding New York Cares which now serves 550,000 needy New Yorkers. 15 years later it led me to drive new environmental initiatives as CEO of a major recycling company. As President of Community Education Council District 3 (CEC3) I have led the fight for parent and educator input into our children's public schools and against the demolition of P.S. 191 and P.S. 199 to accommodate luxury high rises. What is the single most pressing issue facing the Upper West Side, and how would you tackle it in office? Retaining and building affordable housing is absolutely key to ensuring that seniors, working people, and families who built the West Side can remain and prosper here. As Council member my focus will be: a) fighting for increased funding for rental assistance programs, rent freezes and inclusionary zoning to build new affordable housing; b) hiring a full-time staff person to serve our at-risk residents and provide them with legal support; c) organizing our community to demand that elected officials put affordable housing first. In your opinion, what issue affecting Upper West Side residents has been most neglected over the past 12 years? Over the past 12 years we've seen an unchecked explosion of luxury high-rise developments, schools and subways overcrowded, small businesses pushed out, infrastructure neglected. The Council must represent our community rather than the development community. When Bloomberg proposed to knock down P.S. 199 and P.S. 191 in favor of luxury high rises, I was the only candidate who called for an immediate halt to the projects, and then led the community to defeat the demolition projects. Imagine you have a completely free Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood - what would you do? I am so lucky to have experienced many great Sunday afternoons in the neighborhood. My wife Lindsay and I would walk with our five kids in Riverside or Central Park, take our dog Chubby down to one of the many great dog runs, stop for some soccer or tennis at the basin. We might then stroll over to a street fair, museum, or movie before visiting Grandma Betsy and Grandpa Victor for dinner. All the while greeting our incredible neighbors, so many of whom we've know for decades. As I said, I am very lucky! ??? Marc A. Landis(http://nypress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/District-6_Marc-Landis.jpg) Democrat Community activist and attorney Your number one priority on your first day in office: My number one priority will be organizing advisory councils of neighborhood residents. There will be councils for seniors, tenants, co-op and condo owners, parents, small business owners, and animal advocates, among others. Each council will meet monthly, and the meetings will be open to everyone, giving us an opportunity to highlight community concerns and develop strategies to improve our neighborhood. What single element of your experience makes you the best candidate? I have the broadest experience among the candidates: organizing neighborhood and tenant associations, mediating community disputes, litigating to block the mass eviction of women, drafting legislation as a State Senate counsel, working with parents and educators to open Frank McCourt High School on West 84th Street, working to build new affordable housing, organizing for health care reform and paid sick leave, and leading the battle to get dirty money out of politics. What is the single most pressing issue facing the Upper West Side, and how would you tackle it in office? Everyone from seniors on fixed incomes to young people starting their careers faces the challenge of finding and keeping affordable housing. Families with children face the additional burden of getting a top-notch education for their kids. I support guaranteed inclusionary zoning, mandating that a portion of every new project is set aside for affordable housing. I will fight to turn the Beacon HS building into a new middle school and high school for our community. In your opinion, what issue affecting Upper West Side residents has been most neglected over the past 12 years? We have failed to meeet the challenges facing our unemployed and underemployed neighbors, as well as the increasing costs faced by small neighborhood businesses and local entrepreneurs. I have proposed a "Mom and Pop Small Business real estate tax credit" to protect local businesses which offer good jobs from being forced out of business by national chain stores. Imagine you have a completely free Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood - what would you do? I would start with a family outing in Riverside Park - either a picnic lunch or a visit to the West 79th Street Boat Basin Cafe, followed by soccer with the kids and some time for the NYT crossword puzzle. ??? Helen K. Rosenthal(http://nypress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/District-6_Helen-Rosenthal.jpg) Democrat Board Chair, ParentJobNet (helps parents find jobs); member Community Board 7 Your number one priority on your first day in office: Renewing the lease at Gale Brewer's storefront office at 563 Columbus Avenue. At our Day One Open House, I'll announce that the office and staff will continue to be accessible 24/7 and that we'll continue to provide strong constituent services like multilingual staff and access to tenant rights lawyers. I'll invite Gale to be part of our Transition Team, together with her predecessor Ronnie Eldridge. I can't wait to meet every constituent! What single element of your experience makes you the best candidate? My City Hall experience combined with nearly 14 years on Community Board 7 (twice elected Chair). Buried in the City's budget are the City's priorities and I have the expertise to make sure there is adequate funding for affordable housing, public schools, parks, and mass transit. In the City Hall Budget Office I helped increase funding for public health care and created jobs. Locally I helped convince the City to open a new public school. What is the single most pressing issue facing the Upper West Side, and how would you tackle it in office? Overdevelopment. Many Upper West Siders settled here years ago, and helped create our community's distinctive charm: a place where middle-income people can thrive, get help when needed, and everyone can advance. Overdevelopment threatens to invade our neighborhoods with luxury high rises and stores that far exceed residents' budgets. If elected, I'll use my land use authority and budget expertise to make sure development respects existing neighborhoods and insures people reasonably priced housing and goods. In your opinion, what issue affecting Upper West Side residents has been most neglected over the past 12 years? A permanent response to the Mayor's cuts to social services, seniors, day care, affordable housing, cultural institutions, and public schools. Each year Gale Brewer has had to fight for "member items" to make up for lost funding. Instead, existing funding levels should represent a baseline ? growing from there to accommodate the needs of our expanding senior and school age population. My budget experience can help insure our District receives its fair share of City spending. Imagine you have a completely free Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood - what would you do? Ride my bike down the West Side bike paths, and have a picnic with my husband and two daughters in Riverside Park. I've loved biking since I was a little girl, and my first job was in a bike shop. Our parks are a treasure, and if elected, I'll work hard to allocate more money to them. My endorsement by the Sierra Club reflects my commitment to the environment, transportation alternatives and more park funding. ??? Tom Siracuse(http://nypress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/District-6_Tom-Siracuse.jpg) Green Party Retired public high school teacher Your number one priority on your first day in office: I would maintain what is left of the unique character of the Upper West Side by passing zoning laws that limit the size and height of future high rise buildings and by giving small business relief from skyrocketing rents. What single element of your experience makes you the best candidate? I have been a community activist for affordable housing, public schools and environmental issues for many years. I am chair of the Rent Controlled Tenants' Committee, vice chair of the Committee for Enviromentally Sound Development, acting chair of Shut Down Indian Point Now and chair of the Manhattan Green Party. What is the single most pressing issue facing the Upper West Side, and how would you tackle it in office? There is no affordable housing for working class people on the Upper West Side. Affordable rent regulated apartments are easily deregulated under the present vacancy decontrol laws. The Urstadt Law took away the power of the City Council to regulate its own housing. The Council must pressure the legislature to repeal this law. Many seniors who live in regulated apartments face constant rent increases forcing them out of their homes. The SCRIE program freezes rents only for those seniors whose annual incomes are under $29,000. The income cap must be eliminated so that no seniors living in rent regulated apartments pay more than 1/3 of their income in rent. For new renters, subsidies and tax breaks should be used for the construction of truly affordable housing under city auspices not for big real estate developers under inclusionary 20/80 high rise luxury construction schemes. In your opinion, what issue affecting Upper West Side residents has been most neglected over the past 12 years? The unbridled construction of high rise buildings leading to increased congestion and other environmental problems as well as the disappearance of small "mom and pop" businesses. Imagine you have a completely free Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood - what would you do? I would go to Central Park or to Riverside Park and enjoy the natural scenery.
Mel Wymore Democrat Systems Engineer Your number one priority on your first day in office: My first priority will be to set up a District Office that is accessible and responsive to my constituents. I will hire top-notch staff members who know our community, ensure that issues are successfully addressed, and identify trends to support effective policy-making. I will also meet with community leaders, non-profits, local businesses, agencies, and other elected officials to identify immediate and long-term priorities and establish a context of collaboration. What single element of your experience makes you the best candidate? As a 17-year member and two-time Chair of Community Board 7, I have deep knowledge of our community and the inner workings of city government. I've forged broad consensus, secured public and private funds, and achieved record-breaking results for our community: a new 59th Street Rec Center, new zoning to protect small businesses, a new 800-seat public K-8 school, permanent affordable housing for 600 families, and $20 million for parks. I have developed strong relationships citywide. What is the single most pressing issue facing the Upper West Side, and how would you tackle it in office? The West Side faces over-development, a growing rich/poor gap, and a disappearing middle class. I will work tirelessly to keep our community vibrant, affordable, and accessible. We need to: 1) require all developers to invest in schools, affordable housing, and parks; 2) extend landmark districts to protect neighborhood character; 3) prohibit the transfer of public spaces without public review; 4) design for climate change; and 5) invest in infrastructure to ensure long-term viability and create jobs. In your opinion, what issue affecting Upper West Side residents has been most neglected over the past 12 years? Long-term, system-wide thinking and public participation. We have neglected to plan effectively for changing demographics, climate change, and the impacts of high-density development. We have failed to connect the dots between issues like homelessness and housing. We need better tools to encourage and capture public input, collect and analyze data, and coordinate work across agencies and levels of government. As a systems engineer, I'll bring unique skills and tools to bear on the challenges ahead. Imagine you have a completely free Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood - what would you do? I love spending free time with my kids (Riley, 19, and Rowyn, 17) whenever they're available. It doesn't matter what we do. We might watch a movie, take our dog Ginger for a walk, or meet friends for dinner. If the kids aren't around, I'd probably catch up on work, but break to stroll through Central or Riverside Park. No matter what time of year, the parks can turn a free day into a great adventure.