As the city attempts to pull itself out of the sort of economic crisis not seen since the days of The Great Depression, mayoral candidates are coming forward with their own solutions to the problem.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is running for re-election to a third term, arguing that the economic collapse requires continuity and his particular brand of leadership. But his opponents argue that he has been too friendly with Wall Street and the real estate developers that contributed to this problem in the first place. As the city hits record jobless rates, with particularly high numbers of unemployed in the African American community, concrete plans to fix an ailing system are desperately needed.
We asked the candidates how they plan on preserving jobs, as businesses large and small must cut back on employees, and how they intend to create new jobs without relying on traditional sectors of the city’s economy (like real estate and Wall Street). We also asked how they would help large and small businesses thrive through initiatives like tax incentives and training. Finally, we asked how these candidates would spend federal stimulus dollars to inject a much-needed shot of adrenaline into the economy.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, running as a Republican and Independent
The mayor’s Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan, his strategy for getting through the recession, pledges to preserve or create 400,000 jobs through various initiatives. To help people obtain work, the mayor has set up Workforce 1 Career Centers that give job training, career advice and job placement opportunities. According to the administration, the centers have helped place 68,500 people in jobs so far. The mayor is also using $32 million in federal stimulus money to help train and place workers through other career training efforts. He is additionally putting money toward infrastructure to create more construction jobs and diversifying New York’s economy by making existing buildings energy efficient, an initiative that could potentially create thousands of green jobs. For example, the mayor’s capital investment plan is putting money toward infrastructure to create construction jobs, and his “Greener, Greater Buildings Plan,” a six-point strategy to make existing large buildings energy efficient through retrofits, will create approximately 19,000 green construction jobs.
Diversifying the Economy
To reduce the city’s reliance on Wall Street and real estate, the mayor has been working with the City Council to lure the film and television sectors back into the city through a targeted tax incentive program and an easy online permitting process. According to the city, this has contributed to a 92 percent increase in shooting days and $5 billion a year in economic activity, as well as 100,000 jobs.
The mayor has also been working on improving tourism in the city; the industry is currently responsible for 370,000 jobs. In 2006, the mayor announced a plan to attract 50 million tourists to the city by 2015. In 2008, 47 million tourists visited New York City and spent approximately $30 billion.
Initiatives to attract biotechnology companies to New York recently netted a pledge from Eli Lilly’s ImClone to locate its research headquarters in East River Park. The mayor says the move will create 2,000 permanent jobs and 1,800 construction jobs.
In light of the recent challenges facing media companies with a traditional business model, Bloomberg also has a plan for maintaining and enhancing New York’s status as a global media capital. The mayor said the initiatives, which include increasing collaboration among media companies, training top talent and attracting global companies to the city, will ultimately create 8,000 jobs.
The mayor is against the unincorporated business tax, which places a double tax on small businesses. He has helped to eliminate or reduce this tax for 17,000 small businesses in the city by increasing credits that offset the tax. This plan was in the mayor’s 2009 State of the City address, and he proceeded to work with local business leaders, the City Council and the state so that it could be included in the FY 2010 budget. The effect of the credits is that unincorporated businesses with taxable incomes under $100,000 pay no tax, and unincorporated business with taxable incomes under $150,000 pay a reduced tax. Albany’s approval of the mayor’s plan has saved small businesses nearly $25 million annually through the reduction or elimination of the tax for some small businesses.
The mayor has lobbied Albany to provide other tax incentives for big and small businesses that set up headquarters in New York City, with a particular emphasis on emerging international markets like China and India. The mayor would not, however, approve a plan that would give property tax incentives to landlords who agree to renegotiate leases with small businesses suffering from construction on the Second Avenue subway line.
Bloomberg created six NYC Business Solution Centers around the city that have so far helped 35,000 small businesses with planning, financing, hiring and training. During Bloomberg’s tenure, he supported the creation of 20 new Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), community groups that focus on local business development. That is the largest number of BIDs to be created by one single administration. To help small businesses through the recession, the mayor is expanding the NYC Capital Access Loan Guarantee program, which leverages city funds to give emergency loans to small businesses and non-profits. He is also putting $500,000 in state funds toward the NYC Business Solutions Training Grant program to help small businesses train employees. Other online tools, like NYC Business Express website, help small business owners more efficiently deal with government and the permitting process.
The mayor is investing $261 million of the federal stimulus funds in transportation and capital improvement projects, specifically those that will require jobs even after initial construction is complete. Examples include reconstruction of West 125th Street and East Houston Street, and the rehabilitation of three roadway bridges in Manhattan, which the city says will preserve or create approximately 32,000 jobs. He is also using $400 million for infrastructure improvements to the city’s public housing developments, including more than $8 million for elevator construction improvements in King Towers and $2 million in repairs to Washington Heights Rehab IV facility.
Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., Democrat
Thompson has been a vocal critic of the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to preserve and create jobs on Wall Street, arguing that the mayor’s approach has ignored the middle and working class. He released a study as comptroller showing that $1 billion worth of state and federal initiatives, like occupational training and related employment programs, were highly uncoordinated and inefficient. The study recommended a series of ways to improve and fix those programs. Thompson also called on Bloomberg to create an Office for Skills Education to oversee workforce development programs.
A spokesperson for the Thompson campaign, Anne Fenton, said they have not yet released a specific job creation or preservation plan. Thompson, however, has pledged to work with community partners and employers to create a comprehensive job strategy and focus on expanding sectors of the economy that allow for middle-income wages. As comptroller, Thompson joined the mayor and labor leaders in creating the city’s Commission on Construction Opportunity to improve and ease access for those interested in joining New York City’s development sector. He has long called for an increased focus on technical education, which he says has far better results than traditional high school education in teaching kids marketable skills that will help them get jobs.
Diversifying the Economy
Thompson said he is committed to harnessing the city’s diverse economic potential. As comptroller, he committed $450 million of pension fund money to the City Investment Fund, which invests money in real estate that is outside the parameters of traditional business districts. These investments specifically foster economic growth in low-, moderate- and middle-income neighborhoods. He also committed $200 million of pension fund money to a joint fund with real estate giant Tishman Speyer to acquire and redevelop properties throughout the five boroughs. Projects assisted by this fund include two office buildings in Central Harlem with 389,450 rentable square feet of space to attract jobs and business to the neighborhood; 25,000 square feet of medical office space and 32,000 square feet of retail space in Fort Greene, Brooklyn; and the construction of the Citibank building in Long Island City, Queens. The Citibank project will provide 1.4 million square feet of office space, which will bring jobs and economic activity to a neighborhood that has been particularly hard hit by the decline in industrial manufacturing.
Thompson opposes taxes, fees and fines that he says unfairly burden businesses. For instance, Thompson supported changing tax regulations to eliminate the unincorporated business tax, which he said unduly burdens small companies. He has also called for the federal government to revise the alternative minimum tax, which was originally created to target the super rich but has since become a burden for middle class families.
As city comptroller, Thompson led an initiative that created Banking Development Districts, where $200 million in city funds were deposited in new bank branches in the city’s underserved communities so that loans could be made to small businesses to encourage job growth. He also proposed creating a database for new and existing businesses to connect through the city’s Department of Small Business Services.
A spokesperson for Thompson did not provide details on his plans for federal stimulus funds.
Council Member Tony Avella, Democrat
The way to stem job loss and create more jobs in New York City is to bolster small businesses, according to Avella. He supports creating a commercial rent control system so that landlords cannot charge small businesses astronomically high rents, a situation that makes it almost impossible to run a profitable small business in the city. Avella also said that the city has to crack down on landlords who ask tenants for money—sometimes as much as 30 percent of a lease—in exchange for the rights to continue that lease, an illegal practice. Loan programs, job training and tax incentives do not help address the real problem, Avella says. “Let’s fix the main problem first,” he said, referring to rising cost of rent. “If there’s no business, all these other things don’t matter.”
Diversifying the Economy
Avella believes that jobs are being lost because New York has declined as a manufacturing hub over the last 20 years. Bloomberg’s program of rezoning industrial areas for mixed-use has forced out factories to make room for luxury housing, exacerbating the problem, Avella says. To bring jobs back to New York City, he believes that New York must become a manufacturing center again. This will happen by turning the clock back on Bloomberg’s efforts to rezone industrial areas to allow for residential buildings. Avella said the city needs to set aside areas for just industry to allow factories to flourish.
Like the other candidates, Avella opposed the unincorporated business tax. He does not, however, support tax incentives for large businesses because he said they are doing well without the help of the city. Any aid for large business should come from the federal government as part of plans to address the national recession; New York City should focus its energy and money on small businesses. And the way to help small businesses, according to Avella, is to create commercial rent stabilization so that small business owners can afford real estate in New York City. Once that problem is solved, he said, many other challenges confronting small business owners will evaporate.
Avella said that he does not have enough information about the federal stimulus funds to comment. He added, “A lot of this is still speculation. The key is that the money goes to the right spots. Information that comes through from the state and the city is less than perfect.” To date, more than $3.4 million in federal stimulus dollars have already been spent out of a total of $21 billion allocated to New York City.
Experts rate the mayoral canididates
We asked a handful of representatives from various financial and economic development groups what they thought of each candidate’s work. Below are brief summaries of their feedback.
Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing economic opportunities in the five boroughs
Michael Bloomberg: “The industry/business collaboration with city government in developing and implementing economic development strategies has never been greater and I have been involved in economic development in the city for 30 years. This is the first time economic development has included a strong focus on creating industry clusters and in supporting business and job-creation efforts, as opposed to simply real estate development, which is most of what we’ve called economic development in the past.”
William C. Thompson: “We have worked with Bill Thompson in his capacity as comptroller in investing in pension funds. He has also been working with the business community to evaluate some of the economic development plans that have been put forward to the city. As comptroller, he has similarly tried to work in partnership with business to support job creation in the city.”
Tony Avella: “I would agree with the importance of supporting small businesses, and both the mayor and the comptroller have positions similar to support small business. However, the experience of the city in trying to look at mandates like commercial rent control, there’s been a general resistance to mandates that ultimately will make it difficult for local neighborhood economies to respond to changes in the marketplace, and so I think that’s there’s been general agreement that incentives are far preferable to one-size fits all mandates.”
Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank focused on New York City issues
Michael Bloomberg: “One problem that we’ve had throughout the Bloomberg administration is that the boom overwhelmed what could have been an opportunity for job creation in other sectors. Despite what the mayor’s office says, we have gotten more dependent on revenues from Wall Street and it’s only been growing under the Bloomberg administration until the crash last year. In terms of job creation and diversifying the economy away from Wall Street, one way to do it is by lowering income taxes. The only people who can afford to pay these income taxes are people who are making huge salaries on Wall Street… We had record tax revenues and we didn’t do much to improve the public transit system. We’re not doing much with stimulus money. We’re letting existing imbalances get worse. We spend way too much on a health care system that’s riddled with fraud. Bloomberg has been good on quality of life and keeping the city safe, but if you talk to a lot of these guys they just hate the taxes that they’re paying.”
William C. Thompson: “In terms of his position on using the pension funds to invest in local businesses, I’m very wary of that because it’s not that I think he’s doing anything he shouldn’t be doing, but when you’re using public money to invest in certain popular enterprises you wonder whether you’re doing it for the best return or to please constituencies. They are always investing in affordable housing and its always politically pleasing, but it’s not the best return for taxpayers. He should talk about taxes and costs, but I haven’t really heard about that.”
Tony Avella: “Don’t just complain about landlords, but look at why the city is charging a commercial rent tax, an extra tax from tenants. [In terms of not giving tax incentives to big businesses], I think he’s definitely right about that. I think it’s better to have lower costs across the board and businesses can decide which ones want to be here.
D.A. CANDIDATES ON WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS—Leslie Crocker Snyder has proposed the Second Look Bureau, Richard Aborn calls for an Office of Professional Responsibility and Cyrus Vance, Jr. wants a Conviction Integrity Panel.
All of the candidates for Manhattan district attorney have detailed their plans to tackle wrongful convictions, and each has explained how his or her proposal is more effective than those put for by the other two candidates. Despite varying details, all the plans suggest videotaping interrogations to better detect false confessions, and using double-blind line-ups and photo arrays, in which the administrator does not know the identity of the suspect.
Snyder’s Second Look Bureau is a four-year-old plan inspired by the so-called Palladium case, in which a man who was accused of murdering a nightclub bouncer wrongfully convicted. The office, which would be staffed by attorneys who have no prior involvement in the cases handled, would investigate whether a conviction merits a re-examination. Snyder sees the bureau working in conjunction with the videotaping and double-blind line-up reforms.
“We hope to get the first look right. If we do make a mistake, we’re going to have a bureau and a credible basis for us to take a second look,” Snyder said in a previous interview with Our Town.
The bureau has been criticized by her opponents as too reactionary.
“I don’t think we should wait until cases reach the conviction stage to examine or re-examine a case to make sure we have the right person,” Aborn said at a debate hosted by sister publication City Hall.
Aborn touts his plan to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place, a central piece of his proactive campaign message. The plan would increase access to DNA, provide services for those exonerated and create an Office of Professional Responsibility that would create guidelines to stem wrongful convictions. This office would collect and investigate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Aborn, a member of the state Bar Association’s task force on wrongful convictions, was endorsed by advocate Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent time in jail for a murder he did not commit.
Vance similarly criticized Snyder’s Second Look Bureau and noted that his plan, built around a Conviction Integrity Unit, has a broader mandate. The unit will look at cases that are deemed questionable throughout all phases of a case.
“The Conviction Integrity Unit, first of all, mandates that the district attorney office is advocating and implemented best practices in the office,” Vance said. “That unit should be making sure we are, within the office, providing the resources and guidance for young prosecutors on issues that may confront them in handling cases.”
Vance also wants to expand discovery, a pre-trial phase in which parties request evidence and documents from one another.
MESSINGER MAKES KEY ENDORSEMENTS—Ruth Messenger, the 1997 Democratic nominee for mayor, former Manhattan borough president and longtime West Side Council member, made two endorsements in the comptroller and district attorney primaries.
Messinger is supporting Brooklyn Council Member David Yassky in his bid for comptroller, further solidifying his support in Manhattan, home to prime Democratic voters.
Messinger also threw her support to district attorney hopeful Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former judge and prosecutor backed primarily by law enforcement unions. The endorsement—along with support from Geraldine Ferraro, a former vice presidential candidate and Queens congresswoman—also gives Snyder progressive credibility, which has dogged her campaign. Snyder is a former supporter of the death penalty, though in the narrowest of circumstances.
“I can say with certainty that Leslie’s core progressive values, unmatched experience and vision for the office are exactly what the electorate wants in their next district attorney,” Messinger said in a statement.
The endorsement will likely help Snyder more with Manhattan’s progressive constituency than with female voters, given that she is the only woman in the race. The women’s vote makes up most of the Democratic primary electorate in Manhattan.
But Aborn and Vance are not ceding that crucial bloc of voters to Snyder.
Aborn held a rally at City Hall earlier in July with several prominent progressive women who have endorsed his campaign, including Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, Council Member Gale Brewer, former West Side State Sen. Catherine Abate and The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Each cited Aborn’s progressive, “proactive” policies including his proposal for a hates crime bureau, work with gun-control laws and support of Rockefeller Drug Law reforms.
Vance, meanwhile, held a rally with feminist icon and activist Gloria Steinem when he introduced his plan to combat domestic violence, which he declared a public health crisis.
Trackback from your site.