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Last night three candidates for Mayor of New York — Michael Bloomberg, councilmember Tony Avella, and comptroller Bill Thompson — attended the Working Families Party Mayoral Forum at the Hotel Trades Council on West 44th Street. (We should mention that Green Party candidate Reverend Billy wanted to be at the forum, but was excluded; “The Working Families Party have sent a cynical signal,” his office tells us. “New York is not a corporation. New York is a city. A city in a democracy. Let’s debate like it is.”)
The forum resembled the political “debates” with which we are all too familiar, but each candidate was grilled separately with more or less the same questions. Talking Points Memo liveblogged it, and we’ll probably have more on the event later. For now, some quick highlights:
Mike Bloomberg. He bragged on development in places like “Greenpoint, Williamsburg, West Chelsea” that has brought “good paying jobs to neighborhoods where nobody could do anything before.” He admitted some construction jobs may not pay top dollar, but explained that some projects “just could not be [built] at prevailing wages” and so were done “on a B schedule, if you will.”
On a proposal to make employers pay for sick days, Bloomberg said he was looking at it but “I don’t want small businesses to cut their work forces or close” because they can’t afford such a requirement. Interestingly, he said one reason he “made a point” of not closing many schools for swine flu was “because there were so many parents who couldn’t afford to stay home and take care of their kids.”
He defended schools chancellor Joel Klein from charges that he alienated some parents and teachers. “Could he have better social skills?” he asked. “We all could, I suppose. His job is not to be a nice guy.”
He got a little ruffled when asked about the unfair advantage his riches give him in the Mayor’s race. “I made every dime that I have,” he said. Besides, “you can’t have a totally fair, equal election… some people went to better schools than others… I used my money only to talk about what I would do and what I have done.” In the end, he said, it was in the voters’ hands — and “rich people don’t always win… You can’t buy an election. The public’s much too smart for that.”
Tony Avella. He promised that as Mayor, “I’m gonna say to the real estate industry, your days of controlling the agenda are up… we gotta do real public housing.” Among other things, he wants to stop “giving developers breaks” to put affordable housing in their projects — “We need to make it mandatory.” He also wants to mandate the use of union labor on such projects.
As mayor, if the appropriate legislative bodies won’t make paid sick days mandatory, Avella would “do it by executive order.”
He doesn’t like Joel Klein. “It would be my pleasure to say to him, ‘you’re fired… don’t let the door hit you on your way out’… he is a disgrace.” Avella is also “not a fan” of charter schools, which he says came about because “the regular schools were failing. Why the hell did we come up with another system? Why not fix the schools that were failing?”
While he’s at it, Avella said, “I’m getting rid of the Rent Guidelines Board.”
He complained of seeing more homeless on the streets, including one that was across the street when he arrived for this forum — “I gave him a few dollars and I gave him my card and I told him to call my office and we’ll see what we can do” — and blamed Bloomberg and gentrification.
He proposed to tax the wealthy, and to close property tax loopholes for big companies. He boasted of presenting the management of Madison Square Garden with a “$400 million bill” for their exempted property taxes over the years. “Of course they ignored it,” he added, “but at least I had the gumption.”
He graciously referred to Bill Thompson as “the political machine candidate,” and promised that “if by some miracle he gets elected… you’re gonna have the same issues over and over again.” Whereas if he were to take the Democratic nomination instead, Avella said he was told by political reporters that “my race would get national attention… I’m the anti-money guy, I’m the people guy.”
Bill Thompson. He said that with the Bloomberg Administration, “promises have been made and promises have been broken… it’s time that we charted a new direction, a new course.”
In development he proposed “smart growth” — that is, “development that doesn’t destroy communities” — and “fair growth,” to ensure that “projects that receive government subsidies create good-paying jobs.” Also, “it’s not [just] the jobs we create during construction. What kind of jobs do they create after?”
He said he supports charter schools but aims to concentrate on reforming city schools. He recalled from his Board of Ed days “something called the Chancellor’s District,” in which the BOE “capped the size of the schools, create a rigorous cirriculum, focused on literacy… what we saw was that those schools improved.”
He called the Mayor’s proposed sales tax increase “regressive” and would prefer to tax the rich. As to the Mayor’s “spirited defense” of the rich, in which Bloomberg worried that the well-off “might think of moving out of New York City,” Thompson rejoined, “Well, what about the rest of us? Where do we go?”
He insisted “Mike Bloomberg can be beat, and I believe that he will be.” He also said “there’s an energy right now that’s left over from the Barack Obama campaign,” on which he hopes to capitalize.