PDM highlights FilAm City Council candidates’ stand on significant issues

by Ricky Rillera

Marni Halasa at a campaign stop in Manhattan | Photo courtesy of Marni Halasa Campaign

NEW YORK — On June 22, the primary elections for both Democrats and Republicans are happening. More than 600 candidates are vying for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president, and city council. Three Filipino American hopefuls are in it, too; Marnia Halasa (District 3-Manhattan), Steve Raga (District 26-Queens), and Deidre Levy (District 35-Brooklyn).

On the last weekend before the primary, candidates have been all over the city making their final arguments. But, they are also facing a new reality because of the Ranked Choice Voting system. There will be no instant gratification when the polls close Tuesday. No one will be able to declare victory. That’s because it takes time to tabulate the outcome, which could take weeks.

It has been 18 years when the first Filipino American launched his failed candidacy to represent the 51st City Council District in 2003. Roehl Sybing, a student and computer lab assistant at the New York University, ran against Republican incumbent Andrew Lanza. Although a student with no prior public experience, he was a columnist at the Washington Square News, a radio host at WNYU-AM, and a political campaigner at various city elections.

As a member of the Young Democrats of Richmond County and the Young Democrats of America, he was passionate about becoming a City Council member. However, he had no connection to any Filipino organization, nor was he known outside of his district in Staten Island, just like in Marni Halasa or Deidre Levy. Both were exposed only to this year’s elections as Filipino Americans.

Sybing had issues about the “uncontrolled, excess development that threatens to destroy neighborhood and communities in the South Shore” in Staten Island as a candidate. “Most importantly,” he said, “I will connect my office with the various communities in the district to ensure that everyone has equal and open access to the city government and its services.”

His issues then are similar to those raised now by the three candidates, although Halasa and Raga have much more. As a special education teacher, Levy is pushing for equity in education, affordability in housing, and food security, which she said are the United Nations’ sustainable goals.

Levy also encourages people to have their gardens to grow vegetables as their source of supply during uncertain times, just like when the pandemic hit and food scarcity became an issue.

The Philippine Daily Mirror selected five significant issues: the three candidates have strong positions that they have discussed with their constituents, expressed in their visits to neighborhoods in their districts and campaign websites. These are:

Housing

Concerning housing, Levy said that living in New York is no longer affordable as rates have increased over the years. According to Halasa, New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Rental Assistance Demonstration, and the Blueprint “are privatization schemes that will evict and displace NYCHA tenants.” She believes that NYCHA “needs not just to be preserved, or restored, but transformed and expanded into a real solution for city housing. “Vouchers don’t pay the rent when rents continue to skyrocket at the pace they do, small local hotels are a temporary solution, and shelters don’t address the core of the problem: the lack of housing,” she said.

On the other hand, Raga wants to end the privatization of NYCHA. He says that “privatization often includes a staggering lack of transparency between the building management company and the residents, along with a lack of communication. “Thes private management companies have no oversight and face no accountability while providing the same poor living standard to residents,” Raga said. “We need to protect tenants from unlawful and unjust evictions.”

Raga also wants to protect public lands for public use for environmental protection purposes and develop low-cost housing open to homeless and low-income New Yorkers.

Education

Levy said that there should be equity in education. “I teach in a school whose faciliies are different from another school two or three blocks away from me,” she said. “I’d like to see the same standard for all schools that benefit all students.”

Halasa favors a “universal one-on-one tutoring guarantee, socials workers and nurses in every school. She also plans to ensure every student attends a specialized high school without requiring further capital investment. She also supports the New Deal for CUNY and free CUNY tuition. She wants elite schools like Columbia, New York University, and other colleges in the city with large endowments that pay no tax should be funding CUNY as a matter of New Yorkers’ right to an education.

Raga said that as a result of COVID-19 and every-changing guidance and regulations from all levels of government, there was a rapid “transition to remote learning,” which has left many burning out.” It is in addition, he believes, to the inequitable education system. “Socioeconomically disadvantaged students have been dealing with this since before the pandemic exacerbated the gaps,” he said.

As a City Council member, Raga said he would work “with the mayor’s office to expand access for our students to broadband and digital devices. He also would work with the School Construction Authority (SCA) and the Mayor’s Office to make sure the construction of new schools is prioritized to alleviate overcrowding.”

Healthcare

Halasa supports the New York Health Act for state-wide universal healthcare. She said he is the “only candidate to have a plan to improve & expand NYC Health + Hospitals, our unique & unparalleled city-run healthcare system.”

“Mental health isn’t about psychiatric beds or further policing those facing challenges,” Halasa said. “It’s a problem solved only through addressing the underlying challenges, which are more often than not intimately related to economic & quality of life issues.”

To address this issue, Raga supports “healthcare for all, increasing access to long-acting removable contraceptives (LARC) and opposing a ban on sex-selective abortions. It is known as the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), which criminalizes abortions based on the fetus’s sex and places an extra burden on women seeking abortions.

Small Business

Halasa supports the passage of the earlier version of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA) and her plan for permanent differentiated rents for small businesses, vacancy fees, and no commercial rent tax.

Raga calls for the expansion of COVID relief to small businesses and ensures city systems easier for small businesses to navigate the process. “We need to enact commercial rent stabilization to protect our small businesses and prevent them from closing due to rising rents and gentrification,” he said.

Public safety and justice

While Halasa says the “NYPD is in crisis,” Raga says, “NYPD is broken. Both candidates have strong arguments about this particular issue.

Halasa says, “the $82 billion budget is all-time high, confidence in public safety in NYC is near all-time lows.” She supports decriminalizing quality-of-life crimes, ending cash bail, and pre-trial incarceration. She favors creating an independent review commission to collaboratively discuss the formation of these new agencies, investigate abuses and corruption in past police practices, and restructure the NYPD into nimbler, mission-driven, community-oriented forces.

On the other hand, Raga wants to hold police officers accused of misconduct fully accountable for their actions. “We are not looking for a simple “slap on the wrist” or an “administrative leave” assignment. We want to see real accountability in the form of a strong disciplinary matrix for police officers accused of misconduct,” he says. He considers the current disciplinary matrix, effective as of January 15, 2021, to be too weak. He calls it “mere ‘paper ‘ instead of true systemic reform.

He supports reforming the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), reclaiming public funds from the NYPD, reallocating it to public schools, social services agencies, and organizations, and other community-based alternatives to public safety, and prioritize rebuilding communities, requiring NYPD officers to live in NYC, and disbanding NYPD’s vice squad.

According to election officials, first-place votes will be announced when the polls close Tuesday night. Then, since it is unlikely that someone will get 50%, they will announce the first round of ranked-choice results on June 29. At the same time, officials will start to open absentee and affidavit ballots. Finally, more results are posted on July 6, and the final results will come the week after.

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