On Tuesday, February 26, there will be a special election for New York City Public Advocate. The previous Public Advocate, Letitia James, was elected in November to serve as New York State Attorney General, creating a vacancy for Public Advocate.  

The Public Advocate serves as an ombudsperson for city government, can introduce legislation at the City Council, and is first in line to succeed the Mayor should he or she vacate office. The Public Advocate can play an important role and serve as a key voice on issues concerning our community. In the past, the Public Advocate has examined the digital divide, advocated for New Yorkers’ privacy, and introduced legislation to help modernize New York City government operations.

Seventeen candidates will appear on the ballot tomorrow. Tech:NYC sent the candidates a questionnaire on issues relevant to tech. We asked candidates how they would help prepare residents for tech jobs of the future and further our tech ecosystem; how they would protect New Yorkers’ privacy; what they would do to help improve our city’s transportation system; how they viewed the plan to bring an Amazon headquarters to LIC; and much more.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow! Check here to see if you’re registered to vote and here to find where to vote.

 

THE CANDIDATES

Michael Blake

Michael Blake

Nomiki Konst

Nomiki Konst

Eric Ulrich

Eric Ulrich

Rafael Espinal

Rafael Espinal

Melissa Mark-Viverito

Melissa Mark-Viverito

Jumaane Williams

Jumaane Williams

Tony Herbert

Tony Herbert

Ydanis Rodriguez

Ydanis Rodriguez

Ben Yee

Ben Yee

Ron Kim

Ron Kim

Dawn Smalls

Dawn Smalls

 

click on Candidate’s photo to see answer

1. Many of our member companies have expressed concern about the state of our transit system in NYC (they are obviously not alone). If elected as Public Advocate, what would you do to help fix this broken system?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

As Public Advocate, I will call for a seat on the board of the MTA to advocate for the needs of New Yorkers, pursue immediate fixes to train and bus delays, and propose priorities to ensure public transportation reaches all New Yorkers fairly and affordably, particularly underserved areas. We need to be moving toward a multimodal transit ecosystem - where commuters and residents can utilize bike share, scooters (if city council approves), car share services, in conjunction with a working, reliable public transportation system. By improving and expanding bike lanes and access to alternate means of transportation, the City could potentially alleviate volume on an already depressed public transit system. In terms of our transit-starved neighborhoods, JUMP Bikes and scooters provide an opportunity to increase access and we should explore these programs further. Finally, we need to be sure that our elderly and residents with disabilities have adequate transportation options and our pedestrians are protected and work towards the City’s Vision Zero goals.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

As Chair of the Transportation, I’ve been working on finding solutions to the different problems affecting NYC’s transit system. I’ve been vocal about the need to reform the MTA. I believe that NYC needs more representation on the board - including an appointee by the Public Advocate’s office. I’ve also advocated for NYC to increase its funding to the MTA. The state also has an obligation. A good source of funding for the repairs needed should come from congestion pricing.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

I am the only candidate who has proposed the reinstatement of an existing tax that has been repealed consecutively for years. It’s called the stock transfer tax and its repeal would generate about 11 billion dollars annual. Monies that can go toward repairing the MTA along with a mandate of financial transparency and technology upgrades. With this new funding stream, in just a few years the system can be working on meeting the needs of our citizens.

Dawn Smalls

As Public Advocate I will work to fully fund the Fast Forward plan, advocate for a real congestion pricing system, and implement accessibility and safety improvements for all of our MTA infrastructure. The time for squabbling over responsibility of MTA is over. Using my experience fighting bureaucracy in the Obama and Clinton Administrations, I will work with all stakeholders who impact the MTA, be it the Governor and State Legislature in Albany or government agencies in DC. I will work with advocates to propose a new oversight system for the MTA that is transparent and accountable to New York City residents that actually use the subway rather than appointees from neighboring suburbs that do not use our transit system.

Tony Herbert

I agree with Speaker Johnson, the MTA is too large and should be broken down into manageable agencies that focus on one service and are audited regularly.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

We intend to use the bully pulpit to monitor the MTA and not just to react to delays and poor service, but to ensure that repairs are being done on-time, on budget, and are producing the intended results. The city cannot abide slow service, slow repairs, few alternatives and no transparency. We will hold everyone accountable for everything.

Part and parcel of this would be to push to expand the powers of the office without adding additional funding by securing board positions on more city commissions and public authorities such as the MTA.

Lastly, with or without this expanded authority with a board position, we will not stand idly by if the state continues to raid transit fund for other projects. For decades before the most recent MTA disaster, transit funds were raided to cover additional state projects. We must make sure that the state does not siphon away transit funds and the city puts its fair share into the system.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

I would fight for the adequate funding needed to fix our broken transit system, and I would start by working to help end New York's practice of giving away billions to mega-corporations every year. We need to invest that money and funds received from other sources (like congestion pricing) back into our communities and public infrastructure. We need to modernize our trains and subways, including the platforms and signaling system, and make the transit system far more efficient and convenient for the New Yorkers it serves on a day-to-day basis.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

During my recent campaign for Lieutenant Governor, and as a Council Member, I have consistently called for the state to do it’s part to finally fix our transmit system. #CuomosMTA. The state must dramatically increase funding for our city’s transit system, principally for our subways, as the city already pays it’s fair share - some 65% of the MTA’s budget. The Governor also appoints a greater number of board members than does the city. New York City exists because we were able to build upward, and because of the subways. I am not opposed to the city giving more funding but they would need additional controls. I also support congestion pricing and a millionaire’s tax to help fix the system. I’m not concerned about who supports either, or -- I’m happy to see both get adopted. I’ll call on the state to do so. That would be a disservice to the many black and Latinx New Yorkers who have been summonsed, arrested, tried and convicted for related marijuana offenses. That money belongs to them.

Nomiki Konst

We need to radically rethink our public transportation system. We must use fair congestion pricing to fund infrastructure, get ahead of autonomous vehicle impact, address transit gaps in all boroughs, and support bike programs and dedicated lanes for bikes and buses.

I support fully funding the MTA by taxing the wealthiest in our city, as well as the developers and corporations who have been incentivized to set up shop in NYC. I would not only push for full funding and a better tax structure, I would push to expand the fair fares program and ultimately push towards elimination of fares for NYC residents, within 5 years.

I would further use the power of the Public Advocate’s media to educate New Yorkers on the cost of delayed public transportation. How many jobs are lost when people are continuously late to work? How much money does the city lose? How many parents have to deal with childcare issues when the trains or buses aren’t running on time or at all? There are real-life consequences that ultimately make NYC weaker.

Furthermore, in relation to climate and environmental justice: Mass transit is predicted to decline from 36% to 21%. However, if the use of public transit increases to 40% by 2050, CO2 emissions will be reduced by 6.6 gigatons. We become a healthier city by investing in a fully functioning mass transit.

Benjamin Yee

I am running on three concrete programs to improve how New York works and include resident’s voices in city decision making. These are Civics For All, Power Communities and Justice for New Yorkers.

There are two facets to NYC’s Broken transit system:
  1. Our mass transit infrastructure is at the breaking point after decades of Albany stealing money from the MTA dedicated fund. Unfortunately voters don't know how the MTA is governed or funded, and that makes it impossible to hold people accountable. The Civics for All programs is designed to close that gap.
  2. NYC's alternative transit infrastructure lags behind the world. The Power for Communities framework brings together stakeholders for bottom up city planning. One of the most important questions will be how to incorporate a bike and e-vehicle transit that works for everyone, then introduce legislation to that effect.
You can view the details of the programs I'm proposing at benjaminyee.com/platform.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

As Public Advocate, I will propose that we adopt congestion pricing to help fund mass transit within New York City. I will also propose that we use a portion of revenue from the legalization of Marijuana to fund the MTA.

2. What is one issue that you feel hasn’t received enough attention that you would address as Public Advocate?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

We need to create more, better paying tech jobs for low income New Yorkers. We know tech is an industry that’s hiring. Yet 27% (730,000) of NYC households lack broadband Internet at home, according to the NYC Comptroller, 17% (533,000) of NYC households do not have a computer at home and 40% of New Yorkers with less than a high school education lack broadband at home compared to 11% of New Yorkers with a bachelors or advanced degree. We must focus on broadband infrastructure, access and literacy as a fundamental jobs and economic development strategy. As Public Advocate, I would advocate that the City invest more aggressively in broadband access through a municipal service option, new and innovate franchise agreements and other public/private partnership strategies. We can and should invest more in CUNY Tech Prep, an industry-designed course for computer science majors in the CUNY senior college system that teaches applied web skills for free and with deals like Amazon, we should be aggressively seeking ways to use these deal to both guarantee our residents benefit from the jobs created, but that we advance the infrastructure, from transportation to technology, that our communities desperately need to compete for higher paying jobs. We should also be expanding our tech training programs and create internship ladders for public school students in low-income communities.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

I believe that NYC as diverse as it is, it’s not ready to fully welcome everyone. We must keep fighting to make sure every resident has access to quality health care and many of the residents who have a regularized immigration status but are not citizens should have a right to vote.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

I believe more attention should be made with promoting the Technology Leadership Advisory Council, monikered “NYCx” which is a municipal program to transform urban spaces into hubs for tech collaboration, research, testing and development. By connecting tech companies more closely to real urban needs, the City expects the program will deliver new technologies that help address pressing issues such change and transportation access while increasing jobs and supporting a growing tech economy. This is great for the Tech industry and greater for the City.

Dawn Smalls

Homelessness. We need to reframe the conversation about homelessness to focus on women and children. There are more homeless children under 6 than there are single men. Right now there is no preference for these women and children in the affordable housing lottery.

Tony Herbert

Non-college bound high school students should receive vocational training in fields that are in need to run New York City such as janitors, bus drivers, administrative staff etc. Municipal unions should accept them into apprenticeship programs upon graduation.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

The most important role of the Public Advocate is to serve as an ombudsman or ombudswoman and to hold the Mayor accountable. I am the only candidate in this race who is focused on holding the mayor and mayoral agencies accountable to New Yorkers for attending to their needs and delivering services to those who rely on them. In order to do this we much improve transparency laws.

  1. We will seek added power for the office to include a full subpoena power to require information from the Mayor and agencies;
  2. We will propose legislation to improve FOIL laws so that the Mayor and the City cannot evade disclosure through FOIL delays;
  3. We will fight to improve open data laws to guarantee all reporting and reportable data that measures the effectiveness of city agencies is reported out in as “real-time” as possible;
  4. We will use the office to monitor the cost of maintaining and disclosing data and responding to FOILs to ensure that our city is getting the most efficient use of its data and electronic communication preservation policies and spending.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

The astronomical amount and rate of growth of student debt. It is the second highest category of household debt in our country, and in New York City alone, more than 1 million people collectively owe over $35 billion. Unlike other forms of debt, it is much harder to discharge through bankruptcy, and debtors' wages can even be garnished to repay it. This is an issue that mirrors and exacerbates current geographical and socioeconomic divides in our city, with lower-income neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by high-delinquency and default rates. For many younger people just entering the workforce, including those starting their careers in promising industries like tech, it can be a tremendous burden that impacts when they buy homes, start families, or launch their own businesses.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

There’s a lot of emphasis on the legalization of marijuana, but not enough on expunging the records of those with marijuana arrests. We need to make sure underserved communities who have been over policed and ravaged by these l policies have access to the jobs and economic growth of legal marijuana, which they have not been permitted to with medical marijuana. Income targeted housing. The other most important issue of the day is affordable housing. Although the current administration has made strides to tackle the crisis of affordability, the approach has not stopped displacement of those who were born and raised in our neighborhoods and this must stop. The administration and previous council leadership passed a version of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing that, in fact, does not nearly enough to ensure adequate income-targeted units are preserved or built. I would seek to reopen the negotiations on MIH and include much deeper affordability. This is even more urgent as our population is projected only to increase, thus encouraging developers and landlords to continue doing what they can to move currently regulated units into the unaffordable market.

Nomiki Konst

Private corporate interests (especially the real estate developer lobby) and the elected officials who pay more attention to their needs than those of average New Yorkers are among the most important issues I would address as Public Advocate. The solution is to have an activist Public Advocate — not a career politician who will use the office as a stepping stone — who enlists the grassroots organizing power of community organizations and gives them a voice in city government. The Public Advocate’s office should serve as a civic engagement hub where New Yorkers can collaborate to limit the power of special interests in NYC. Communities have lost decision-making power to the encroaching real estate and corporate influences that gentrify NYC’s neighborhoods. This encroachment contributes to civic disengagement, and as Public Advocate, I will transform this office into a platform from which New Yorkers can advocate for local empowerment. Our office will launch a citizen journalism initiative, where neighborhood residents can be deputized to work with investigative reporters seeking to unearth real estate and corporate interests at the neighborhood level.

Benjamin Yee

The need for substantive ideas for how to engage NYC residents in city decision making. One of the most common issues I've heard from New Yorkers across all five boroughs is that there has been a growing divide between the government and the people it's meant to serve. The problems of New York are being solved without the input of New Yorkers, and as a result they're being solved for someone else's advantage.

This isn't unique to New York, but it is time we did something about it. That's why I'm running on three concrete programs, which fall within the limited authority and budget of the public advocate's office, to tear down the barriers between the city's politics, government and bureaucracy, and the people of our city.

I have been a civic technologist and civics trainer for over a decade. I have seen what happens when you put civic knowledge in the hands of people. In the last two years alone I have trained over 4,000 people across this city and seen hundreds and hundreds take a next step to successfully build power for their community. This is a golden opportunity to scale this to the entire city.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

One of the issues that has not been received enough attention is the lack of diverse representatives within the City government of New York. The City Council has less women in office than when I was first elected, and the 3 city-wide elected positions are currently occupied by white men. We have to reverse course and have a City government that is more inclusive of women and minorities.

3. Amazon’s plan to set up a second headquarters in Long Island City has been one of the most divisive issues in our city over the last several months. Do you support Amazon’s planned expansion in Queens? Why or why not?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

Deals like Amazon, should never occur in the shadows, hidden from the community it will affect most. I do not support the deal in its current form but I do believe there is an opportunity to create a good deal that ensures that low-income community residents who want and need these jobs, get them. This requires sunlight, more public engagement and accountability and more infrastructure investments and other strategies to make it a fair deal for New Yorkers. It is absolutely essential that we have greater transparency and public input on Amazon. As Public Advocate, I will seek to hold Amazon and others who receive public contracts or tax dollars to create jobs to be accountable to their promises of jobs by tracking whether the jobs they create are going to people who need work, especially women, people of color, and local residents, particularly, in the case of Amazon, from Queensbridge Houses. The Community Advisory Committee created by the Governor and the Mayor is inadequate to permit sufficient community voice on infrastructure needs and priorities. As Public Advocate, I will use my oversight authority to demand data and planning support from agencies be released to community stakeholders and place community boards in direct relationship to the project planning and the Advisory Committee. As a city, we need to focus on supporting more people into workforce training programs like the ones provided by the CUNY system, discussed below in question No. 4, to prepare them for jobs at Amazon and developing placed-based interventions by investing and co-working and communal spaces that provide training, and STEM activities for youth and community residents.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

I currently oppose the deal. I don’t believe. I don’t believe that it’s prudent and fiscally sound to be given away billions of dollars to a multibillion corporations that doesn’t really need it.

We must end corporate welfare. NYC taxpayers have other priorities such as education, protection of small businesses, transportation just to mention a few. While the prospect of thousands of jobs in the tech sector is important, we must not bypass ULURP.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

I am the only city council candidate that has not signed onto the letter of support for this deal. I am not against the advancement of technology in NYC, but I am against the Amazon deal in its current form. There needs to be transparency and inclusion with deals of this magnitude. If an equitable agreement can be made that fully benefits the community and the city, then we can properly decide where to proceed with this plan.

Dawn Smalls

I do not believe this deal can or should go forward without it being shared with the public for 90 days and voted on by the City Council.

In addition, this deal cannot go forward until the City finds an alternative site for the 1500 units of affordable housing units that were originally planned for the site.

Tony Herbert

I would support the expansion if we had negotiated amenities for the community such as jobs for those living in Queensbridge Houses or funding to install Smart Light traffic signals to keep traffic moving.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

I support Amazon’s planned move to NYC and setting up its second Headquarters in Long Island City. We should be encouraging other companies and businesses to follow Amazon’s lead. My career in public service I have long supported job-creation and business growth. There is no government program that will lift someone out of poverty more than a six figure salary. That’s what Amazon will bring to NYC and to the surrounding neighborhoods. Specific reasons to support Amazon include:

  1. 25,000 new jobs with a median salary of $150,000. They will be hiring locally from the nearby NYCHA development Queensbridge.
  2. $186 billion in economic impact over the next 25 years, and the multiplier effect that comes along with it.
  3. A new $650 million infrastructure fund for Long Island City.
  4. Small businesses in the immediate area will also benefit from Amazon coming to town, property values will increase and generate additional tax revenue for the city.
  5. Added foot traffic and economic activity will put pressure on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city's Department of Transportation and other agencies to improve public transportation and infrastructure.
  6. Amazon’s promised contributions to the community are also welcome and reflect a true partnership and commitment to NYC we should not be ignoring these direct perks as well. They include - 3.5 acres of waterfront open space, 260,000 square feet of on-site affordable light industrial space, and support for the arts and local nonprofits; and a new 600-seat public school to help alleviate overcrowded classrooms.
  7. I have been very vocal about my support for Amazon coming, see here.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

I do not support it and was the very first elected official to publicly oppose Amazon, even before the NYC HQ2 site was announced. We should not be giving away $3 billion to a monopolistic mega-corporation when our subways, schools, and communities are in desperate need of more funding and resources. This plan only intensifies the issues of gentrification and overcrowding that are already harming our neighborhoods. Amazon has become so large it has gone from dominating the marketplace to becoming the marketplace; its predatory and ruthless practices against other businesses, especially small businesses that often have no choice but to use its platform, are well-documented; it's reprehensible treatment of many of its own workers have made headlines. We should not be rolling out the red carpet and tilting the playing field for them when this will only harm mom-and-pop shops and other businesses that already play by the rules and don't receive special favors.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

I do not support the Amazon deal. Never in my wildest imagination did I anticipate that Governor Cuomo would conduct an end-run around proven, established procedures for community input and just hand a piece of New York City over to the richest company on Earth, with $3 billion in tax incentives and a private helipad for cherries on top. On top of that the disgrace of the city giving up land use authority was unthinkable. The Amazon deal as concocted by this Governor, with willing assistance by Mayor de Blasio, is a disgrace, I oppose it fully, and I've already partnered with Council colleagues to introduce legislation prohibiting a Mayor from ever signing a non-disclosure agreement like the one used here again. As Public Advocate, I would gladly put my voice and my person in front to ensure that the people of Long Island City are not forced out or taken advantage of in whatever way possible. It is truly alarming that the Mayor can work together with the Governor on something like this, but not to make an earnest attempt to fix our infrastructure in the MTA, or NYC.

Nomiki Konst

I do not. This was a major blunder by our city and state leaders. The Amazon deal is the opposite of what’s good for New York. Amazon is an exploitative company that will drive up displacement, gentrification, and homelessness. Handing the richest man in the world billions of our tax dollars when New York is in dire need of funding for its schools is a disastrous policy choice that was made behind closed doors and needs to be investigated.

Benjamin Yee

There have been many heated words, but here's the reality: Despite a bidding war that consumed the entire country, Amazon chose the most expensive localities for its HQ2 - NYC and Washington, D.C. That's no surprise, their decision reflects business goals, not cheap land goals.

Amazon wants to locate here because NYC is the greatest city on earth. In the long run, successful companies and good jobs are attracted by high quality of life, like any other resident. Reducing the friction of business and living can be as much a benefit (including financially) as any tax break. That means things like functioning public services, reliable transportation and an educated population. Providing these elevates not just our businesses but our residents, too. Trading simple cash to woo companies at the expense of them is bad policy.

Our leaders were unwilling to play any kind of hard ball on behalf of New Yorkers (considering $1.2B was already on the table, no questions asked). That's because both Andrew Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio see themselves as contenders for the Presidency. Each executive bent over backwards to cultivate powerful and wealthy backers for the future.

Tech is one of the most important industries on earth, NYC should actively seek to diversify its economy by including it. But when we do, it must be in a way that supports our city's competitive advantage and makes it clear we expect companies to support the communities, services and workers that make this city the place everyone wants to be.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

I have serious concerns that the planned project will receive too much City and State subsidies and the plan did not receive any input from the community in which the proposed development will be. Amazon, one of the largest and wealthiest companies in the world will be receiving billions that we could invest into other things in the City and State. That being said, I don’t believe it is a done deal and am committed to working with the Labor Movement and advocacy groups to put pressure on our leaders to defeat the deal as it stands. Any project that receives subsidies needs to be subject to higher scrutiny.

4. As the tech economy in NYC continues to grow, we must ensure that New Yorkers have the training and skills needed to land jobs in the sector. Programs like CS4Allare a good step towards preparing our students for tech jobs, but we believe that more can and should be done. What do you think NYC can do to better prepare our residents for tech jobs of the future?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

As mentioned in my answer to question No. 2, we know tech is an industry that’s hiring and know it produces a technology ecosystem of economic opportunity. We need to do a lot more to help New Yorkers, particularly women and people of color, get those positions and entrepreneurship opportunities. In addition to aggressively expanding broadband access, investments in CUNY Tech Prep, an industry-designed course for computer science majors in the CUNY senior college system that teaches applied web skills for free, should be expanded. Workforce development programs should also be expanded to target skill-building to the opportunities that the tech ecosystem is creating. We should also continue to support NYC’s Tech Training programs, including TTP Residency and the Web Development Fellowship.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

Our schools need a strong STEM curriculum. While there are efforts to retrain our workforce, our children are not being prepared for careers of the future. I recently struck a deal with the city of hundreds of millions of dollars for deep investment in high potential New Yorkers, including accelerated expansion of STEM initiatives in public schools, millions of dollars to strengthen existing robotics programs and forging partnerships between public schools and public higher education institutions to connect our students to professions. Strong STEM education should not be limited to students with parents who can afford private schools or robotics programs during or outside of school. I will fight for more robust funding in STEM programs, including robotics and coding, and work to bring the private and public sector together to form impactful partnerships.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

Computer Science for All (CS4All) will ensure all NYC public school students learn computer science, with an emphasis on female, black and Latino students. I believe that rather than show emphasis with female and minority students’ enrichment in computer science we should rewrite the base teaching curriculum and mandate computer science as we do math and reading. This would allow every child from K-12 ample opportunities to grow educationally as the and on pace with the growing tech ecosystem.

Dawn Smalls

I believe that our schools should be offering a robust tech education. In addition, our schools must be meeting the basic requirements that all students need to be able to compete in the job market of tomorrow.

As Public Advocate, I will call on DOE to provide equitable resources to all students, regardless of where they go to school. Students in vulnerable populations need more resources to counteract the barriers that impede their educational pursuits, such as unstable housing or food insecurity. I will advocate for common sense solutions including funding revisions for high-need schools, hiring additional staff, and providing educational continuity and resources for homeless students. To help with funding issues, I will fight for the money NYC is owed by the state under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a case I was proud to support through an amicus brief as a law student. As Public Advocate I will go to Albany every year during the budget process to demand that money.

Tony Herbert

Offering free tech training courses in Highschool and to those who are out on unemployment would make sense. I would also advocate offering free tech training to those receiving welfare.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

Computer Science for all in our classrooms is a great step in this regard. As Public Advocate, I will scrutinize DOE to make sure that “for all” actually means “all” students in New York City. Similarly, we will make sure that STEM education in our public schools and nonpublic schools is top notch and not just for the gifted. If students are falling behind, we need to invest in making sure that they are catching up with their peers. Nothing will prepare someone for the future more than and education, and as we diversify NYC’s economy STEM education will prepare them for the jobs of the future. We will bring together all school stake holders to make sure that STEM education on level and fully funded.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

The tech industry represents an essential facet of our future, and it is vital that New Yorkers have the preparation and training needed to take on the jobs that open up in this sector. We should expand programs like CS4All to include partnerships with tech companies and businesses, creating mentorship programs for older students that will grant them more hands-on skills and knowledge and potentially lead to future career contacts or networking opportunities. Younger students should have the opportunity to attend programs or events that broaden their perspectives on the endless possibilities of technology, and connect what they learn in the classroom with real-world applications.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

It’s true that the future economy will largely be driven by the technology industry, and as such, as require an all-of-the-above approach. First, we must ensure that the K-12 system does a much better job of teaching our young people math and science skills, logical reasoning, and language access. Second, the administration should fund programs like CS4ALL, as it’s often kids living in underprivileged circumstances that are shut out of the forefront of technological advancements. I also think we should fund incubator programs for young people, who often take to new technology much faster than older folks. Third, we’ve got to continue to close the broadband gap, which our city has taken large steps to resolve. This will require the partnership of the private sector, and I look forward to encouraging these collaborations when I am Public Advocate. I don’t support mayoral control I support municipal control. New York City should oversee education of our students.

Nomiki Konst

I believe DOE needs to greatly expand its adult education program and its accessibility, with a specific focus on expanding its schedules to accommodate low-income working adults. Additionally, while much of the adult education program itself is free, associated fees for textbooks, certifications, and other learning requirements can have a great impact on low-income adults and immigrants. We should eliminate these fees for those who cannot afford them. This would ensure that more of our residents have access to the education needed to prepare for tech jobs. There is no better investment the city can make.

Benjamin Yee

For the last two years I’ve been teaching coding in schools around NYC. Almost every private school I’ve seen has classes in Scratch or similar coding tools starting in 4th or 5th grade. Scratch, and many of these other tools, are completely free and can be incorporated into other classes like art or math. Unfortunately, I haven’t spoken to a single public schools teacher or administrator whose school incorporates these tools, which making coding concepts accessible and applicable, into their curriculum.

When it comes to tech education, we need to do a much better job seeking out successful models and tools and incorporating them into our public schools. It also means we must spend significantly more effort providing meaningful professional development to our NYC school teachers. Coding bootcamps are all the rage, but when it comes to a technical mindset and familiarity, starting with something as simple as Scratch - even as late as High School - make a tremendous difference in preparing New Yorkers for a code driven world.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

As a City we should encourage more growth of programs such as CS4All. We should also establish a real partnership between the tech sector in New York, City Government and community leaders to establish training opportunities for New Yorkers, particularly in distressed communities. In 2015 under my Speakership, we announced a collaboration with Microsoft to provide free access to their software for students and their families and teachers, as well as with NASA as part of a push to emphasize tech and STEM fields for our youth. Additionally, under my Speakership we invited Civic Hall members in 2015 to learn more about the Digital Inclusion Initiative, Participatory Budgeting, and other work with Open Data and legislation.

5. NYC’s tech ecosystem is playing an increasingly important role in our city’s economic success. In order for the tech ecosystem to continue growing, elected officials must continue to support the tech sector and formulate forward thinking legislation. What do you think our city can do to better promote the success of innovative tech businesses?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

The tech ecosystem and City government have a challenge that should be a shared challenge: how to ensure that as one of the nation’s largest tech sectors, the city remains diverse, affordable and fair. Jobs and justice require growth that is inclusive and benefits everyone. The start-up universe and smart-city strategies of the private sector seeks less regulation, while the city residents want more accountability and inclusion. We need to use all mediums of communication to highlight the successes of the industry. We need to ensure that underrepresented entrepreneurs have equitable access to compete in the tech economy. We need to ensure that the tech ecosystem is hiring from our neighborhoods where residents need jobs and we need to ensure that it is done in a way that supports our tech ecosystem to thrive because we are supporting the skills and opportunities to connect to this fast-growing part of our economy so that our residents can afford to continue to be our residents. As Public Advocate I will establish a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) through the City Charter Revision Commission to oversee NYC’s MWBE program, establish CDOs at every city agency, and dedicate more time and resources toward tracking our progress on MWBEs to hold us accountable and be sure they have access to opportunities in the tech sector. In addition to modernizing pathways for growth for entrepreneurs, the City could review its incentive packages for innovative companies that want to grow and expand their companies in NYC.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

As Council Member and Transportation Committee Chair, I welcome innovation and recognize the important role it plays in improving how we do every day tasks and communicate with constituents. For instance, I have supported the legalization and expansion of new motorized vehicles that can help us move around more efficiently. The city must continue to work in partnership with the tech sector to educate, train and employ New Yorkers for jobs in demand.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

I see that at a time when it’s easier than ever to start a company, with cloud servers and coworking spaces offering month-to-month rents, inspiring entrepreneurs can begin with little more than a laptop and an idea, a huge shift from just a few decades ago. I believe that enticing more dynamic, forward-thinking companies; allowing the growth of bigger webs of entrepreneurs, where specialized workers can find specialized jobs is a win-win situation that can feed off itself. That explains why cities that can turn to established research universities normally get ahead, and why local tech growth feeds the rest of the economy.

Dawn Smalls

As Public Advocate, I would consider using the fund for Public Advocacy to help incubate tech forward solutions for our cities problems. Given my experience in philanthropy, combined with the fact that we’ve seen a successful tech organization come out of the fund for Public Advocacy in Girls Who Code - I believe we could increase support for the tech sector by putting a call out for innovative solutions to our cities biggest issues.

Tony Herbert

The best way to attract any business is to reduce unfunded mandates such as paid family and sick leave. We need the state and city legislature to stop balancing the budget on the back of small business.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

We must remove burdensome regulations and the never ending job-killing rules that are being imposed by the de Blasio administration. All businesses that come here, or start here, need to be allowed to grow, and every time Mayor de Blasio announces anything, it seems like his is imposing another job killing regulation or rule that could possibly drive someone out of businesses.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

As a state legislator, I worked on legislation to make New York a regulatory sandbox for new companies working with experimental technology relating to the financial sector. We are the financial capital of the world, but if we want to maintain our preeminent status we must be open to embracing technological innovation. My bill would create an accountable but welcoming environment for tech companies to develop next-generation technology. We should expand our investments in tech incubator programs and aim to make New York the next great startup hub of America. In a broader sense, I envision a future where New York City leads the nation and the world in becoming the first true smart city, where our traffic, power and water supply, waste management, and even community services are fully integrated into a holistic, interactive system that optimizes resources, reduces costs, and improves safety.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

As Public Advocate, I look forward to supporting funding and programmatic initiatives that support incubators, and ways that our people can receive seed funding for viable operations. I’ll also welcome industry leaders (including public and private partners) to work with my office to identify where city government (or other parties) are impediments to support an ever-expanding ecosystem.

Nomiki Konst

The city’s public services and institutions must thrive in order for the tech industry to thrive. The city must increase its support for education, transportation, and broadband access. We also need to bring down the cost of rent for businesses by directly taking on the city’s real estate development policies.

Benjamin Yee

NYC needs to do three things:

  1. Introduce and improve tech related education in elementary and secondary schools to begin preparing New Yorkers for a code driven world.
  2. Provide better and increased infrastructure to lower the costs of doing business, including making unlimited free Wi-Fi in all five boroughs a priority for the city.
  3. Improve our regulatory agencies so that they are looking ahead instead of being reactive to the questions posed by a changing economy. Too often new technologies are poorly understood which leads to reflexive clamping down on activity. While that can be necessary, we need to change our framework so that it not the go-to practice.
Because technology moves to fast, we need our regulators and politicians looking ahead to build pilot programs, investigate issues and think proactively about both the advantages and issues of new tech. That’s exactly what I’ve attempted to do on the Democratic State Committee with resolutions around Autonomous Vehicles and Biometric Data Rights.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

Our new tech industry presents a real opportunity for our City’s economy, however, I believe that we are not doing enough to provide opportunities for local residents to take advantage of the jobs that the tech ecosystem are generating. We need to focus on training our residents to participate in these jobs. We need to focus on working with communities, government and tech companies to formulate a real plan to engage our citizens.

6. In her time as Public Advocate, Letitia James criticized TLC regulations that require Uber, Lyft and other for-hire vehicle operators to submit precise geographic locations for drivers and drop-off times for passengers. The City Council’s recent legislation seeking to regulate home sharing companies (which has been blocked by a federal judge), was also ccriticized by privacy advocates because of the data collection the rules would require. Do you believe these rules are a violation of New Yorkers’ privacy?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

Technology is becoming increasingly connected to every industry that touches our city, bringing with it extensive opportunities to engage young people, people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups in the economy. However, it also creates the need for responsible and transparent oversight of what should be shared. In general, the City and State need to take data privacy seriously. Europeans policies like GDPR should be evaluated for its efficacy and potential impact on New Yorkers if implemented. The City also appointed a chief privacy officer. Mayor de Blasio’s appointment of the City’s first Chief Privacy Officer is a good start and I look forward to partnering with their office if elected Public Advocate to be sure New Yorkers are being protected.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

We are bound to run into obstacles and challenges as tech companies become more ubiquitous and penetrate more aspects of our lives. The benefits may not be as straightforward and may cause unintended policy ramifications. As Public Advocate and legislator, I will be committed to finding solutions that will strike the delicate balance of addressing the public’s concerns while encouraging innovation.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

Yes. There should be no need for these companies to provide their consumer’s personal information. Time of duration and a generalized area should be enough information for agencies to use in their bid to collect data to oversee or regulated their respective industry.

Dawn Smalls

I do think that both regulations raise privacy concerns. Consumers using these services do not expect that their private data will be shared, let alone with the government. This is particularly the case when such information is not required of taxis.

Tony Herbert

No. Legislators are trying to put Uber and Lyft out of business because they offer a higher level of customer service that is resulting in less MTA ridership. They don't like AirBnBs because they are taking business from hotels which are forced to collect hotel tax.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

I have long supported Uber, Lyft and other sharing economy companies. We must be promoting them not restricting them. I voted against the recent cap on FHV vehicles in this city, and forcing the “over production” of user data is not the way to improve transportation especially in the outer boroughs who need these services more than ever. These rules not only violate individual privacy and freedoms, but they also impede economic growth and restrict access to the outer boroughs in all forms.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

The intersection of new technology with existing consumer needs represents a tricky space where convenience and safety sometimes clash directly with legislative and policy hurdles. I believe these two cases represent instances of violations or overreach that may have started from good intentions, but led to unintended or unexpected consumer privacy consequences.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

We’ve got to strike a balance between the emergence of new technologies and reasonable regulations on these technologies. For example, while we are looking and privacy, we must also consider, as a matter of public policy, other concerns, such as safety, security, impact on consumers, environmental impact, and the link. With respect to homesharing regulation recently passed by council, I supported the legislation, because I believe that AirBNB is, in fact, a threat to us solving our affordable housing crisis, and it’s important to know which operators are, in fact, violating federal, state or local law. There are times when engaging in e-commerce require additional oversight, and the case of AirBNB is one of them. Though, I am always open to having a conversation with any party about degree of disclosure, and will listen with an open mind. I’m open to thoughts in this scenario, along with the TLC regulations. I supported the legislation, because AirBNB in the way it currently conducts business included an insistence not to work with local government. I am always open to having a conversation with any party on how we strike the right balance of oversight and privacy.

Nomiki Konst

Yes. As Public Advocate, I will oppose rules and regulations that do not protect the privacy of New Yorkers.

Benjamin Yee

Generally speaking, when the government wants to take private information it should only be allowed when there’s a compelling interest and the manner for doing so is narrowly tailored. Making every trip in every rideshare car government data hardly meets that standard.

Insofar as homesharing, there has been much controversy and study as to how homesharing increases the cost of housing and reduces affordability. Furthermore, there are existing laws which may be violated by homesharing arrangements. In this case, the government does have an interest in making sure units aren’t being used illegally and having a substantive distorting effect on the housing market. A narrowly tailored solution, for example, one in which home sharing platforms are required to report units which are repeatedly offered as wholly vacant properties (i.e. no landlord or tenant present, in violation of housing/hotel laws) is a much more reasonable first step over requiring the disclosure of every host.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

As elected officials, we have to work toward passing legislation and public policies that have a positive impact on our City as a whole. I support the efforts of former Public Advocate Letitia James and the City Council. Regulation of new technology is important toward protecting our CIty as a whole. Under my Speakership, we did not as a Council put a cap on For-Hire Vehicles.

7. Separate from the examples in the previous question, what would you do to ensure that consumer privacy is protected in NYC?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

As Public Advocate, I work on oversight and implementation of data protocols with City Council to better ensure that New Yorkers are protected and that equity, transparency, and accountability are being upheld. I believe that New York City can be a smart city and also a safe city, so long as the City holds agencies and companies accountable to the highest standards of protection. Our campaign is also honored to have Maya Wiley as a co-chair, who is a member of the Automated Decisions Task Force, and, I will continue to leverage her expertise to protect New Yorkers. One particular concern is how to ensure that city agencies know how to procure services and tools for automated decisions in a way that serves the public interest. We have to work with our tech sector partners and our residents to understand and ensure privacy is protected, while enabling us to take advantage of the benefits technology brings to improving public transportation, air and water quality, carbon reduction and much more.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

As elected officials, we need to put in place all the necessary regulatory framework to make sure we’re guaranteeing that privacy rights of all New Yorkers. The real challenge is the speed at which technology many times evolves these days. Legislation in several instances is too late to address the issue at hand. Raising awareness about consumer privacy is a key role that the Public Advocate’s office should assume and/or play a more assertive role.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

Consumer privacy has been a major issue as technology grows. In order to safely collect data for the purpose of ensuring safety or helping regulate an industry we need to look at ways in which personal information is well guarded. We can collect certain data in intervals of time and general locations in the pursuit of achieving stated goals.

Dawn Smalls

As Public Advocate, I could use my position to introduce legislation to ensure that we protect consumer privacy in NYC.

Tony Herbert

Consumer Privacy is a fantasy. We use technology in all aspects of our lives. We willingly give up our privacy in exchange for convenience and savings. I suppose we could require a privacy statement every time someone books a room or a ride.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

As Public Advocate, and using the oversight function of the office, we will be vigilant over the NYC Department of Finance. A lot of personal financial data flows through that office, and ensuring that personal data is protected is paramount to the efficient functioning of that office. Secondly, when a company reports a data breach or there is a lawsuit involving a data breach, we will explore the impact on NYC residents and determine if joining the lawsuit either as a party or through an amicus curie is necessary.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

Technology can be a powerful force for good and improving lives, but it must be balanced by basic principles that respect the rights and dignity of people. I would fully support and work towards policies that create a decentralized technological environment for consumers, where users are empowered to have control over their own personal information and data. We should do all that we can to prevent or end situations where third parties are buying and selling our data without our knowledge or consent, or a future where everything we do or say is under surveillance or being monitored by entities we're not even aware of.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

I have a strong record in ensuring that consumer privacy is protected, having prime-sponsored and passed legislation that requires city agencies that come into contact with the personal information of New Yorkers who may have immigrant backgrounds to take additional steps to shield their personal information from public disclosure. I’ll continue these efforts when it comes to any New Yorkers, as Public Advocate. This why I’ll ensure that designated staff members work with the tech community to better understand these threats.

Nomiki Konst

I will advocate for City Council to pass Intro. 1101, which would protect the privacy of cable broadband customers.

Benjamin Yee

Digital privacy and intellectual property rights is an issue about which I am passionate. To move New York to the forefront of this issue, I would introduce a Data Bill of Rights which would lay the ground rules for privacy and set standards by which to judge companies on their ToS around data and user content use/monetization.

Additionally, through the Civics for All program, would ensure that representatives of the Public Advocate’s office were teaching communities about the importance and power of the data they generate, how others use it and best practices for data security.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

I would support collaborating with privacy advocates, tech companies and government officials to formulate safeguards to protect the privacy of individuals and work toward reviewing those safeguards on an annual basis.

8. More than 730,000 households in New York City did not have broadband in 2015 according to the United States Census survey. What steps can and should the City take to expand internet access and access to digital devices?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

As discussed above, I believe we need to do much more to help out disconnected communities access the internet and be supported to use it safely and effectively. More than one-third of households in the Bronx lack broadband at home, compared to 30% in Brooklyn, 26% in Queens, 22% in Staten Island, and 21% in Manhattan. 34% of people outside the workforce lack broadband at home, while 21% unemployed New Yorkers lack access. This is a major handicap when trying to learn skills and find work. I believe NYC needs a city-wide municipal broadband plan so that all New Yorkers can have the same opportunity to be successful in the Tech economy of the 21st century. We also need to leverage opportunities to expand infrastructure through development decisions, including affordable housing and the Amazon deal. Each time the City provides tax incentives is an opportunity to consider including infrastructure expansion. The digital literacy training required is critical so that communities trust the internet, can navigate it safely and can make use of it effectively, not just for job applications, but for education, training and business development opportunities, as well as civic engagement.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

As elected officials, we need to put in place all the necessary regulatory framework to make sure we’re guaranteeing that privacy rights of all New Yorkers. The real challenge is the speed at which technology many times evolves these days. Legislation in several instances is too late to address the issue at hand. Raising awareness about consumer privacy is a key role that the Public Advocate’s office should assume and/or play a more assertive role.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

As a current Councilmember, I have worked on ensuring that every child enrolled in my district has access to a computer. In the community, I have worked with companies such as Optimum and Spectrum to ensure that affordable broadband access be made available to families and seniors. There remains a digital divide in our communities of color and I will continue to work with local stakeholders on ways to meet the needs for these residents.

Dawn Smalls

I believe it is imperative that all communities have access to broadband, which has been reported to be an important utility for helping people with upward mobility. As Public Advocate, a big part of my job would be to ensure New Yorkers get the services they deserve - and this is certainly a service ALL New Yorkers need. I would advocate for proper access throughout all five boroughs.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

Broadband internet service is a vital a utility nowadays as electricity and heat. In the City Council, I fought for the restoration of internet, broadband and utility access after Superstorm Sandy and call on Mayor de Blasio to restore the “game changer” grants that helped so many of our local businesses rebuild after Sandy, including getting connected to the world again.

As Public advocate I will work with the providers and the franchise boards to ensure that internet service is reaching those who don’t have it. Access to broadband should not be a function of income or economic standing, and we will explore creating a program with companies who use city lines must provide access to low income homes and buildings. Full broadband access is a must to everyone across this city.

Tony Herbert

All public business should be conducted digitally by 2025. NYCHA buildings should be connected with free wifi in the same timeframe.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

This isn’t just a city problem. It’s a moral imperative for federal, state, local governments, private and non-profit sectors. New York has taken lead in trying to address this disparity by standing up publicly accessible broadband, however we need to take a closer look at the power of franchise renewal and ensure that our utilities are, in fact, living up to their promises to operate in our market. Where they aren’t going far enough in concessions, I’ll call them out. We also need to ensure, much more broadly, that we are paying people adequate wages so that they are better able to afford rent, clothing and things like high-speed broadband internet access. I plan to take these on as Public Advocate.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

When it comes to countries with the fastest and most reliable broadband networks, America is not even in the top 15. We need to foster much greater competition and innovation in sectors like the telecommunications industry, work to greatly expand 5G and fiber optic networks and set an ambitious plan to bring broadband access to all 730,000 of those households within a set timeline.

Benjamin Yee

First and foremost it needs to get out of it’s ridiculous and wasteful contracts with the major broadband providers create a duopoly in exchange for “extending broadband”. These contracts have failed and should either be terminated, or Verizon and Comcast should be penalized for breach for the amount that it will take to actually extend service.

Second, extending the Link NYC kiosks, which provide free high speed broadband across all of the city would be a start. Boosting those in broadband deserts so that people can access them from their homes would be a smart next step.

Finally, we should be striving for a city where broadband access is a utility which is ubiquitous and accessible to all. Using a much expanded Link NYC program to provide unlimited free Wi-Fi across NYC should be the goal.

Nomiki Konst

The City needs to support and encourage increased broadband provider competition, and also increase support for free, public municipal internet access.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

This is an area where broadband providers need to do more to make their technology accessible to the poorest New Yorkers. They have received a lot of subsidies from the City and State and should work toward finding ways to make broadband access universal. As Public Advocate, I will push for that.

9. The 2020 Census will be the first to be completed largely online. What steps would you take to ensure NYC is accurately counted?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

The Census is central to understanding who we are, to electoral apportionment and to federal funding. Undercounting of people of color is unacceptable. Through my many census briefings as Assemblyman, and in my position as Vice Chair of the DNC, it is a critical priority for me that we have an effective census to ensure quality representation and resource distribution. The fact that it is the first digital census is making the danger of undercounting vulnerable communities significantly worse, unless we partner with our community-based organizations to support an effective and safe count. It is essential that we cast a wide net and partner with as many community-based and faith organizations as possible to engage our neighborhoods and our residents. Libraries are a trusted community resource for internet access and support getting on-line. I will work to make sure we are providing libraries and CBOs with support to expand their capacity to help visitors get online safely.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

The tech community can be a powerful partner in ensuring everyone living in NYC is fully counted. A full count is instrumental in making sure we are working with accurate data to better serve New Yorkers.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

Since the 2020 Census is finally using technology to advance the direction of enumeration I would have my office involved with the technology training for enumerators and ensure that they are properly trained in the use of the technology across multiple languages.

Dawn Smalls

It is vital that every New Yorker is counted in the 2020 census, because this will have major impacts on funding we receive moving forward. As mentioned above, one of the main jobs of the Public Advocate is to monitor the services that New Yorkers receive. From that perspective, I would have a team in my office dedicated to monitoring the count in NYC, educating all New Yorkers about the importance of being counted, and advocating for convenient access points where people can complete the survey online if it becomes apparent that not all New Yorkers are being counted.

Tony Herbert

Offer incentives to everyone who completes the survey.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

We would work to ensure that every New Yorker is counted. All too often, NY suffers from a lack of adequate census counting and as a result, NYC loses representation and precious resources. This is a question of fact, “How many people live in New York City.” We will use the office to make sure that everyone living in New York City is counted. Period.

Part of this will be monitoring the operations of the newly appointed census officer, so that she can have access to data from agencies that indicate how many residents we have in the city. We cannot simply rely on responses to questionnaires. We know how many students there are in schools and where they live. We should access driver license and tax records. Simply so we can arrive at the best possible. We should do the same with the census.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

I worked with my colleagues in the State Assembly to pass legislation that the governor signed to fully fund efforts to ensure a complete and accurate count of all New Yorkers. This is a critical issue because billions in resources and funding for our state, as well as expanded political representation, is at stake. Given the current environment of fear among many immigrant communities, I would do all that I can to pursue policies and initiatives to address cultural barriers or lack of knowledge among residents in these communities. I would push and work with the city to devote greater resources to educating New Yorkers on the importance of getting a full count and its impact on our next ten years.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

As Public Advocate, I’ll devote substantial resources to ensuring that: 1) everyone understands the need to have everyone in their households fill out the document, and 2) understand the possible implication for not doing so, including possible loss of funding for so many programs that we rely on to live our daily lives. We send substantially more in taxes to Washington, D.C. than we get in return, and therefore, an accurate account is critical. My office will work with the administration, ABNY and other key players to canvass NYCHA, promote public service announcements, and lit drop.

Nomiki Konst

As Public Advocate I plan to be on the front lines in the fight against inclusion of a citizenship status question to the 2020 census, which could severely impact the accuracy of the census as well as jeopardize crucial funding and Democratic representation in government. I also believe the Public Advocate should act as a liaison between city government and community organizations and nonprofits who will be vital partners in publicizing the count and reaching hard-to-count groups.

Benjamin Yee

Here are two reasons that the census may encounter issues in 2020, a lack of resources to reach residents and a fear that census data will be used against vulnerable immigrant populations.

To combat the former, the Civics for All and Power for Communities programs will be bringing knowledge about the process and its importance to every corner of the five boroughs. Workshops, guides and hotline interactions will all mention it, and engagement with civic institutions with all include planning for ways communities can promote the census in their area.

To combat the latter, there are three critical policies any municipality must adopt to protect its immigrant population:

  1. Protect or destroy any data which would allow the targeting of immigrant populations by Federal authorities.
  2. Refuse cooperation with Federal efforts to find, detain or otherwise persecute immigrant populations.
  3. Ensure that the census is reliably completed, that its results represent the true population of the city including immigrants, and that immigrant populations are protected with a public campaign to ensure the majority of New Yorkers ignore any immigration status question. This will give immigrant populations the resources they need while making census data useless for targeting them.
Once again, the Civics for All and Power for Community programs will carry the message of these policies and build support for them on the ground. I will also introduce legislation to pressure the City Council to affirmatively take the step of protecting immigrant privacy and rights from those who would persecute them.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

As Public Advocate, I plan to work with community leaders on an outreach campaign to have inform the public on the importance of the Census and work with undocumented immigrant leaders to make sure people are not intimidated from being counted. This will be a major priority for me.

10. Digital payment methods are increasingly widespread in New York, although there remains a high percentage of New Yorkers that are considered to be underbanked — a 2015 report by the NYC Comptroller found that 825,000 New Yorkers lack access to basic checking accounts. What would you do to ensure more New Yorkers have access to banking resources and new financial services?

Assemblymember Michael Blake

Financial capability and accessibility - like so many other things in our city - are not equal across communities or groups. Black and Latino- and low- and moderate-income people can’t buy homes. Racial disparities in lending still exist, forcing people of color to rely on non-bank lenders, exposing them to predatory and risky lenders that are not regulated by the CRA. As a member of the Banks Committee, I know access to banking resources are essential, and digital payment methods can improve access, if carefully monitored. The recently-announced IDNYC payment cards have the potential to help underbanked individuals, but we also have to ensure that those who use the cards are protected, especially immigrants. IDNYC is an important ID for all residents but is particularly important for the unbanked who need identification to receive banking services. Fees are also an issue, as is privacy. We need to look at ways to support innovators to test products in ways that is safe for consumers, and ensures that the regulatory structure doesn’t strangle innovation. But protection of consumers is key and must be a central feature of any strategies to support tech innovations for the unbanked. It requires collaboration and as a uniter, I will work to support constructive engagement in how we solve our shared problems.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez

We need to increase financial literacy coupled with basic technology programs, particularly directed to low-income families and newly arrived immigrants who may not be familiar with banking. It’s well known that opening a bank account can be a starting point to building wealth and economic security. We also need to strengthen penalties against predators and other actors who take advantage of vulnerable groups like seniors and immigrants. I’m willing to work with financial institutions as well as tech companies which are ready to make significant investments to decrease the number of unbanked and underbanked residents in NYC.

Councilmember Rafael L. Espinal, Jr.

I would expand on an existing model the NYC Comptroller’s office started called “Take it to the Bank” a one-stop shop program that underbanked individuals and families can come by and find what banking institutions are acceptable to meet their needs.

Dawn Smalls

I would promote safe start bank accounts to New Yorkers, a service that too many poor and low income New Yorkers probably know nothing about. I would also advocate to open more banks to service residents in low-income areas that currently lack banking resources and use my platform to make sure New Yorkers understand their rights under the Omnibus Consumer Protection and Bank Deregulation Act. Additionally, I’d like to introduce legislation to crack down on predatory financial services that city residents are forced into when they don’t have access to banks that can provide them basic resources.

Tony Herbert

We should be teaching money management and the importance of having a bank account in our schools. Not everyone trusts banks. Some are fearful that the government can and will seize their assets on a whim.

Councilmember Eric A. Ulrich

We need to make sure that all New Yorkers banking needs are met. When someone does not have a checking account, they end up going to paycheck chasing kiosks, paying high interest rates, and losing the value of their hard earned money. When you are focused on job creation and economic growth as I am, part of that is to make sure that new hires and the working poor’s banking needs are met. The phrase “under-banked” has no place in New York City. As Public Advocate, 1) we will make sure that banks and credit unions are not turning low-income New Yorkers away, and more importantly are not “nickel and diming” low income residents with fees and minimum; 2) Support and promote programs that raise financial literacy among low income New Yorkers.

Assemblymember Ron Kim

As mentioned, I introduced a bill to create a fintech sandbox environment for companies seeking to develop and implement new technologies in the financial sector. When blockchain technology and its related developments first started taking off, the State Department of Financial Services implemented incredibly burdensome regulations for any businesses in that field. It all but ensured that only the largest and most well-connected firms had a chance to operate in New York, and pushed many companies that might have created the next major digital currency exchange to other states. In terms of underbanking, I believe that digital banking will only become more prevalent, and we must create and invest in an environment where it is so easy, safe, and widespread that it becomes second nature for New Yorkers to use.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams

The statistic you mentioned show why vulnerable New Yorkers turn to predatory products and services that charge exorbitant fees in order to engage in basic banking. As Public Advocate, I’ll make sure that New Yorkers are aware of the array of current bank options, including credit unions. We should also consider thinking more creatively. For example, Philadelphia runs the Bank on Philadelphia, which directly targets the individuals that are mentioned a being “underbanked.” I would pursue such an initiative for vulnerable New Yorkers as Public Advocate - a worthy goal, to create low and no cost accounts, and avoid onerous fees like overdraft fees. This is also how check cashing institutions take economic advantage of those without access to a local bank.

Nomiki Konst

Much of this is driven by lack of education and access to information about financial and banking options that are already available to New Yorkers, who are then taken advantage of by predatory financial services. The next Public Advocate needs to make public awareness of the financial services available to low income groups while promoting increased investment in basic financial literacy promotion throughout the city.

Benjamin Yee

The lack of access to financial services is a major roadblock for many families struggling to get by, let alone trying to climb the economic ladder. I've been leading on this issue since 2009, when as Vice President of the Manhattan Young Democrats, we put out a policy platform for City candidates that included advocated for increasing access to financial services for the unbanked.

To combat the former, the Civics for All and Power for Communities programs will be bringing knowledge about the process and its importance to every corner of the five boroughs. Workshops, guides and hotline interactions will all mention it, and engagement with civic institutions with all include planning for ways communities can promote the census in their area.

Calling it a problem doesn't solve it. Unfortunately, it is too easy for our elected leaders to turn a deaf ear to a constituency that cannot donate to them and does not vote in high numbers. This is where a true outsider in the Public Advocate's office can help. What we need is someone willing to bring the financial institutions to the table to build products and policies that can help these ignored New Yorkers. Then, once there are products and platforms available, the follow through of raising awareness for them must be done.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

This is an issue that I have considered. As Public Advocate, I will work with the banking industry toward finding ways to increase access for New Yorkers for banks, also having a public awareness campaign on the importance of financial literacy to help people establish and maintain good credit. This an area where the government and private sector can establish a good working relationship that benefits all New Yorkers.