|What Office/District are you running for and why?
||City Council District 26: Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, and Dutch Kills.
I’m running for City Council to help New York City rebuild from our multi-layered health, economic, and political crises so that all New Yorkers, not just a precious few, have access to opportunity, so that we may all live with dignity, and build power – together.
This moment of crisis has presented us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly reimagine the social contract between City government and the people it serves, and rewriting it in such a way that ensures government can work for Black, Brown, and immigrant New Yorkers will require not just big, bold ideas, but also significant experience in delivering real results for working people, particularly in the face of a multi-billion-dollar deficit and entirely new leadership in the city.
I’m running an issues-focused campaign that is built on nearly 15 years experience in public service delivering results for working New Yorkers, including: helping to implement Paid Sick Leave, fair and transparent scheduling practices for fast food workers, banking access through IDNYC, first-of-their-kind protections for freelancers, paid caregivers, and car wash workers, and helping nearly 1,000 immigrant families reunite, and become permanent residents or citizens. I most recently helped lead New York City’s groundbreaking $40 million census campaign, which despite every odd imaginable, from COVID-19 to daily attacks from Trump, helped NYC achieve a higher self-response rate than almost any major city in the U.S., helping to secure the city’s political and economic future.
It is this economic future we must be focused on building, for the long-overdue goals of racial, gender, and social justice can only be achieved through and alongside economic justice for all New Yorkers. This is why my campaign’s signature proposal is to create New York City’s first-ever publicly-funded economic organizing program, the Fair Economy Fund, which through linguistically & culturally competent organizing, would put immigrants, low-wage and gig workers, creators and performers, and small businesses at the heart of our economic recovery.
Further, I believe that employment with dignity, housing, healthcare, and a safe, thriving environment are human rights, and that government’s primary role is to establish, expand, and protect these rights. I also believe that we must abolish our police state and replace it with a peace state.
Ultimately, this is the promise of New York City, and as a native New Yorker, the son of immigrants, a graduate of our public schools, and a proud queer South Asian, I am running to ensure that New York City is delivering on this promise for all of us.
|How long have you lived or worked in the District and how active are you in the community right now?
||I have lived in Sunnyside for approximately 4.5 years, and I began my career as a congressional aide working in Queens for several years. In addition, over the course of my career, because the bulk of my work has been focused on lifting the floor for low-wage and immigrant workers and consumers, Queens has been the primary part of the city where the impact has been felt. When at the Department of Consumer & Worker Protection we were investigating rampant predatory lending in the used car industry here in New York City, a very large portion of our work was focused on the dealerships in Northern Boulevard in and around the 26th District – dealerships that serve a large number of people across Western Queens.
Much of my recent local work has been focused on issues of open space / green space. I am currently actively involved in proactive advocacy around the maintenance of 39th Avenue as an Open Street, and am a member of the 39th Avenue Open Streets Coalition. COVID-19 has laid bare that in many parts of our city, including Sunnyside and Woodside, we must reimagine the use of our public streets, and it is critical that we build community efforts in sustaining our Open Streets programs. I am also involved in efforts to ensure that Noonan Park is a consistently welcoming and accessible place for all, and in efforts to bring Open Streets back to the south side of Sunnyside.
|What is your current occupation?
||I am a lifelong advocate and a longtime public servant, having served at both the federal and city levels. Most recently, I served as the Deputy Director of NYC Census 2020, and I have also served as a Deputy Commissioner at the Departments of Social Services and Consumer & Worker Protection. Previously, I served as a congressional aide for a number of years and also worked at a national nonprofit focused on ending childhood food insecurity.
|What were your thoughts on the Amazon HQ2 proposal in Long Island City?
||I was and remain opposed to the Amazon HQ2 development, which was an unthinkable misuse of our land and our public resources.
From the end-run around our land-use process, to idea that the City and State would be using political will and hundreds of millions in public subsidies to lure the world’s largest corporation (which is in need of no assistance whatsoever), to the fact that Amazon’s rise has spelled financial ruin for hundreds of thousands of small businesses, to Amazon’s profiting of technologies used for detention and surveillance – there are innumerable reasons for why this proposal was deeply objectionable.
Given my deeply-held belief that employment with dignity is a human right, Amazon’s shameful and unconscionable approach to its workers is truly what rendered the proposal so objectionable to me. Amazon’s well-documented, widespread abuse of its workers, including here in New York City, and its proactive and insidious union-busting practices from coast to coast, including recently in Alabama, has meant that Amazon would have created the exact opposite of the type of employment we need here in New York City to break our intergenerational cycles of racialized poverty. Fighting to create employment with dignity — with good wages, training and ladders for growth, benefits and protections, as well as access to unionization, is a non-negotiable top priority for me.
|What is your view on the Phipps Houses rezoning proposal on Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside?
||That Phipps has been an exceptionally negligent landlord at many of its properties, including in Sunnyside, has been well documented, and this should serve as a sign of caution to all of us. Irrespective of what ultimately transpires with the Phipps Barnett proposal, the City must explore all options for holding Phipps accountable as a landlord, including via any city contracts held by Phipps.
With respect to the current proposal, it is important to establish some facts, which include: the new affordability levels are improvements over those in the previous proposal, and the 15 percent set-aside for families experiencing homelessness in particular is an important and necessary step in the right direction (the levels in most recent proposals citywide are set at a woefully inadequate 5-10 percent).
That said, it remains unclear what the full scope of public benefits are that would be conveyed as part of this development being built, and it remains unclear exactly how Phipps will be held accountable for the many improvements that must be made to the Gardens Apartments. These are issues that must be fully explored and the accountability mechanisms must be clearly established before an approval of this development can be considered.
All across Queens, immigrant families are living in dangerously overcrowded conditions (often 12 – 14 individuals in a unit) or in basements or cellars that as a result of their specific designs, might not be able to be legalized as part of a larger (and necessary) reform process. Guaranteeing dignified housing for all New Yorkers therefore means that there is no option but to create housing.
As such, given the new affordability levels, the large set-aside, given the overall reduction in the size of the project, and considering that Phipps is a non-profit, not a private, developer, the project is worthy of consideration. The City must shift all energy and resources away from partnering with private developers, and we will only be able to solve our homelessness crisis if we are being aggressive about specifically creating housing that enables us to do so. The Phipps proposal can be an example of such housing, provided all accountability mechanisms are pre-established and carefully maintained.
|A rezoning application is likely to move forward on the private property surrounding the Anable Basin in Long Island City where Amazon was proposed to go. It is likely to involve thousands of residential units and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space. Would you approve such a development? What would you be looking for?
||I am not in favor of the most recent proposal (Your LIC) for Anable Basin, which proposes to generate a large amount of market-rate housing in a neighborhood that has already seen the largest increase in market-rate units since 2010 than almost any neighborhood in the country. The fact that developers, and not the community, were given much more of an opportunity to provide a vision for the site is a clear example of how broken our land use process is.
Any proposal for the use of this land must only consider people, not profits, and any public land must, of course, be kept for public good.
Applying these principles to the Anable Basin parcels, creating deeply and permanently affordable housing would be a top priority, and other public-good uses must also be considered: public healthcare facilities (Western Queens has a dearth of safe places to give birth or receive quality preventative care), truly accessible open space, and much-needed community assets, such as publicly-accessible studio, rehearsal, and recording space, for example.
I am not in favor of any of the Basin parcels being used for commercial purposes. It should go without saying that significantly enhancing our coastal resilience must be the lens through which any of the above is considered.
Considering the scarcity of land in this city, we must think big with what’s possible by centering the needs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Permanently tipping the balance of power towards communities instead of developers will require overhauling ULURP, and we must begin to apply the people-first test to any proposals immediately while we pursue this.
|Do you think the rezoning process (ULURP) is working? If not, how would you change it?
||ULURP is deeply broken and needs to be entirely overhauled.
To start with, any process that puts a proposal through an 800-page analysis without truly assessing racial segregation impact is an abject failure. Further, developers and the Department of City Planning pre-negotiate deals before the community has a say — it’s like they’ve finished the first course before communities have even looked at the menu. This has led to an environment where developers and profit, not people and need, are given outrageous leverage in our land use process, and the results are clear: a city that is more segregated and gentrified, with mass displacement and economic instability.
Especially given the multi-layered health, economic, and political crises our BIPOC and immigrant communities are disproportionately facing, we must immediately halt all major projects until we can have meaningful ULURP reform that begins with a comprehensive planning study of the people’s needs.
Some specific key changes that must be included in ULURP reform include:
– Maintaining all public land must be maintained exclusively for public good,
– Requiring racial impact and displacement, as well as genuine healthcare and services access analyses for all projects,
– Requiring all projects to define number of people served, who they are, and exactly how they’re being served, instead of via number of units created, or square feet of commercial space, to ensure that the process is always driven by need and not greed; and
– Ending member deference to remove local politics from land use actions and ensure that the goals of comprehensive planning can be realized.
Our current land-use process has been an obvious failure for the 26th District, which has seen the addition of 10,000 units of market rate housing in just 10 years, with no upgrades to our water, sewer, or healthcare systems. Housing prices have soared, and the pressures on our transit system are immense.
As it stands, the ULURP process means that almost all major development and zoning decisions are made on an ad hoc case-by-case basis, which does not allow for decision-making based on the city’s housing needs as a whole. With a comprehensive plan, we would be able to focus on creating deeply and permanently affordable housing, and add schools, hospitals, and green space for working people.
The comprehensive plan must put people and their true needs at the heart so that it is clear what type of asset needs to be created to solve which problem for whom. Our land use process must be driven by solving actual challenges faced by the people of the city, not driven by the goal to simply build the next shiny new building for profit.
Our land use process must also redress the legacy of racist redlining by ending exclusionary zoning. This includes: increasing deeply and permanently affordable density in areas that are well served by mass transit and not existing LMI and non-white neighborhoods; ending single family zoning; and legalizing accessory dwelling units and basement apartments wherever it is safe to do so. We must also establish a minimum 15-20% set-aside for families experiencing homelessness in any housing proposal.
With respect to housing affordability, we know all too well that apartments branded as “affordable” are often far from it. The city has subsidized too many units that are not actually affordable, forcing those at the lowest end of the income spectrum into dangerously overcrowded conditions or without a place to live at all. Instead of thinking about housing as just the asset created or just the AMI considered, we must also take into account formal and informal income, current housing conditions faced by families in need (overcrowding; shelter), and estimated levels of documentation in a community, among other factors, to truly understand housing insecurity and to let real-world conditions, and not bureaucratic math, dictate affordability levels.
Finally, when it comes to actually housing people in new units of affordable housing, we must make sure that we are not leaving it up to people to figure out the convoluted system for applying for that housing. We do that by co-governing– investing in community resources that pay tenant organizers and housing advocates to work directly in BIPOC and immigrant communities to ensure that the housing that will be truly designed to meet the needs of these communities is being made accessible to them.
|Do you believe in member deference when it comes to rezoning?
||As I mentioned above, we must end member deference when it comes to land use actions. We are an interconnected city, and the decisions that are made in Gowanus affect our neighbors in Woodside. If we are to move towards implementing a comprehensive plan effectively, it will require putting an end to the member deference norm.
|Should the city council cut police funding? If so, by how much?
||We must divest from all that is broken with the NYPD, and rewrite the social contract between government and communities by dismantling our police state and building a peace state.
The fact that the PD’s budget has consistently been in the top 4 of all Agency budgets in the last several years and has grown at a rate higher than that of the City’s budget in the same time is a clear and chilling indication of how deeply misguided our priorities have been.
If elected, I would immediately work to divest at least $1 billion from the police, with a goal to increase that by up to a total of $3 billion over time. For context $4 billion of the PD’s current $6 billion budget consists of salaries and overtime. In addition to the expense side, we must also cut the capital budget by at least 50% in the first year, with a plan to increase that over time.
In terms of the $1 billion cut, here’s where the money would come from:
– $350 – $400M: Eliminating overtime, unnecessary public relations expenses, and ending investments in surveillance technology
– $250 – $300M: Firing abusive officers, eliminating pay for those on modified / desk duty, deducting PD settlement payments from their operating budget, not City’s general fund
– $250 – $275M: Freezing new hires, canceling new cadet classes
– $219M: Reducing the force immediately by 5% to 2014 levels
– $50 – 100M: Savings realized by getting police out of schools, mental health and homelessness responses.
As the son of a mental health professional who has been exclusively serving Black, Brown, and immigrant New Yorkers for nearly 50 years, I’m particularly aware of the dangerous intersections of mental health crises, race, policing, and economic marginalization. Unquestionably, the NYPD should be removed from all non-violent mental health crises, wellness checks, and so forth.
In terms of targets for these repurposed funds, in general, I would focus on the following areas:
– A new “First Responders Corps:” 5 – 10,000 highly trained mental health, de-escalation, violence interruption, conflict mediation, social & legal services intervention professionals to replace police officers in responding to crisis situations. This is critical to ensuring that New Yorkers are supported, assisted, and empowered, and not criminalized or incarcerated;
– Fully-funded immigrant legal, health, literacy, civic engagement services;
– Fully-funded programs that support BIPOC and immigrant CUNY students, such as CUNY ASAP;
– Fully-funded workforce and job training programs for immigrants and POC trans folx;
– Targeted relief for BIPOC and immigrant-owned small businesses, creators/artists/performers, and local cultural venues;
– Increased healthcare facility and insurance access for the people of Western Queens.
In addition, to give a sense of what’s possible with just one day’s worth of the NYPD’s current operating budget, we could:
– pay for 2,000 high school students to attend CUNY for a year
– provide 600+ $25,000 microloans to MWBEs and create a self-funding loan program
– fund youth employment for 1,000 young New Yorkers for 8-10 months
– provide all DOE teachers with a $200 supply stipend
– invest $500,000 in more than 30 restorative justice and harm reduction community based organizations
– open seven Safe Injection Sites (which I would advocate doing without the State’s permission).
We must also assess the NYPD’s capital budget, which is separate from expense, for all possible cuts, and repurpose these funds for other capital projects, such as the expansion of health care facilities in Western Queens, which suffers from a severe lack of access to safe birthing and preventative care options, as well as the building of new schools (Western Queens has seen more growth than any other neighborhood in the nation, and our educational infrastructure has not fully kept up). Long overdue and critical NYCHA capital needs must also be targeted for any repurposed PD capital dollars — mold, lead remediation as examples.
|Do you think non-citizens (including undocumented immigrants) should be able to vote in New York City elections?
||When between 1 and 2 million adult residents can’t have a say in electing city officials, we cannot remotely claim our local government is truly representative. I offer full-throated support of all New Yorkers being able to vote, irrespective of status.
The decisions made by the Mayor, the Public Advocate, the Comptroller, and the City Council on a wide variety of issues from labor to housing to policing to education to healthcare have outsized impacts on our immigrant populations, and I am proud to have fought hard during the passage of several landmark labor protections to ensure that they extended to all New Yorkers regardless of status.
Especially since COVID-19 has disproportionately killed, sickened, and impoverished our City’s immigrants – we saw what happened in Corona during the first wave – it is imperative that all immigrants have a say in how our policies are made. After all, it is those who have been most failed by policy that must be at the heart of making it if it is to be effective. Even before the onset of COVID-19, in our supposedly becoming economy, immigrant workers were those of whom the greatest advantage was taken, and truly holding our leaders accountable in protecting immigrant workers, who are the backbone of our economy, requires us extending the right to vote to all immigrants.
Despite several strides in recent years, the City has continued to fail on issues of language justice and immigrant justice (particularly in the areas of housing, policing, and education), and immigrant inclusion in our elections will be required in order to fully address these issues (immigrant parents, for example, were at greatest loss this past year when the DOE failed at providing in-language services in a manner that allowed immigrant families to adequately plan and immigrants remain at great risk in their interactions with the NYPD).
Allowing immigrants to vote is particularly vital for newer immigrant communities which have lower rates of citizenship. For those with greencards, the naturalization process can be 3-5 years, and for those without, it is significantly longer – up to two decades in many cases. To disenfranchise millions of New Yorkers to contribute to our city in this way is simply not democratic and not a New York value.
|How would you select community board members and is the current system working?
||White New Yorkers, homeowners, older New Yorkers, New Yorkers with major business interests, New Yorkers with higher degrees of education and income are overrepresented in our community boards, and we will find that we will continue to have our efforts to build truly representative government frustrated at the hyper-local level unless we have meaningful community board membership and access reform. Though we have made strides in some Western Queens community boards, much more needs to be done to significantly diversify their membership.
In order to be a city that truly works for all New Yorkers, we must significantly increase immigrant representation in civic life and community boards, which are simply not set up to be inclusive, and huge swaths of New Yorkers, particularly immigrants, are simply not aware they exist or what their functions are. This means that key decisions on critical local issues are unduly influenced by those who are less likely to experience a negative impact, which only further marginalizes and de-prioritizes the needs of BIPOC, immigrant, and queer communities. We must prioritize appointing Black, Brown, and immigrant New Yorkers, including those who are younger and undocumented, as well as queer, trans*, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers to community boards, and we must ensure that all community board meetings are accessible when it comes to language and technology. We must also ensure that the professions of community board members truly represent the diversity of our economy, and that we members including low-wage earning New Yorkers, as well as those who are gig workers, creators, performers, and independent small business owners.
Through my signature proposal, the Fair Economy Fund, which with just .1% of the City’s budget would invest public dollars in more than 1,000 linguistically and culturally competent community organizers working directly in communities, we can work to directly educate tens of thousands of BIPOC and immigrant New Yorkers around issues of civic engagement (in addition to workplace rights, access to legal services, and more), and establish Community Board membership recruitment as one of the key goals. Being a representative of all the people of the 26th District means working even harder to ensure that all the people of the 26th District are fully included in our civic and political life.
As Council Member, I would work closely with organizers the ground to recruit immigrants and people with disabilities; youth, queer and trans folx; renters, women, low-wage workers, artists, performers, immigrant restaurateurs, storefront business owners, and others, to ensure that communities are truly represented. In addition, I would dedicate office funds to multilingual recruitment efforts, and just as my staff would look like the 26th District, and so would my appointments to the Community Board.
|Are you an advocate for protected bicycle lanes in the district and, if so, where do you think they should go?
||In a word: absolutely.
I am a cyclist, a pedestrian, and I am a driver, and as all three, I am a very staunch believer in protected bicycle lanes, which work for everyone who might be using a road. The recent win by Transportation Alternatives to create bicycle lanes across the Queensboro Bridge is a big step in the right direction to create a citywide network of protected bike lanes, and bike access now possible across the Kosciuszko Bridge is an enormous victory for advocates and communities, as well.
Protected bike lanes send extremely clear signals to all those using the roads exactly where bikes should (and shouldn’t) be, which significantly increases safety for everyone. It is significantly harder for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers to negotiate undemarcated or undesignated spaces, and the protected bike lanes are the only solution that allows all actors to be able to do so.
They increase safety for everybody, and they play an enormous role in encouraging bike usage, which over time, we must all migrate much more towards, given the climate, health, and economic crises we are facing.
In order to ultimately be truly effective, bike lanes must form a usable and efficient network not just with each other, but also with public transit, and must also help bridge neighborhoods that as a result of antiquated planning practices are now cut off from each other. This means thinking of bike lanes as fully interconnected arms of our subway and bus networks, and aggressively expanding Citibike across the district to ensure that New Yorkers are always choosing a bike-public transit option over a vehicular option.
Within District 26 and Western Queens, I would advocate for permanent, protected bike lanes along Northern Boulevard and sections of Broadway, and would advocate for jersey barriers over plastic delineators — far safer for all involved. This would allow for true Queensboro Bridge bike access from Woodside and would encourage slower traffic on Northern Boulevard, which is undoubtedly a dangerous thoroughfare. We must also adopt Transportation Alternatives’ proposal for pedestrian-exclusive signaling.
The wide LIE service roads, which are accessible to several bike paths but do not feature bike lanes, should also see protected bike lanes installed. Doing this would likely significantly expand usage of the connector bike paths (43rd and 48th Streets in Sunnyside, for example, though they are not protected), and would expand safe access to Maspeth and Bushwick.
21st Street through Long Island City, Dutch Kills, and Astoria is another important thoroughfare to consider (at least for one direction), especially given just how trafficked it is by cars and the access it offers to residents of Queensbridge and Ravenswood, as well as to the E/F train station. This
We also must, as a top priority for the entire borough, complete a protected bike lane for all of Queens Boulevard (replete with greenery and street furniture wherever possible), a critical infrastructure improvement for us truly being able to increase our bike-public transit infrastructure in Queens.
|What is your view on the transportation network in Queens? What would you do to improve it?
||Our transit / transportation infrastructure isn’t just how we get around – it’s an equity issue that’s at the very heart of general accessibility, racial integration, economic mobility, small business resiliency, and our fight against climate change.
Our public transit system is the very basis of city life and the city’s economy. New York City simply cannot function if our public transit system is not functioning optimally and also not expanding to meet the needs of our communities. COVID-19-related changes and fiscal challenges notwithstanding, our system was already inadequate on so many levels.
Our subway system had failed to adequately connect The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn (let alone Staten Island), and buses within boroughs had reached shamefully low average speeds, and buses between boroughs barely fared better. Especially considering that 50% of bus riders are essential workers and 75% are people of color, who already tend to have the longest commutes, there is an enormous amount that must be done to ensure equity, efficiency, and access in terms of our transit system.
Much of this the City cannot do on its own – both the state and federal governments are inherently required.
In terms of actions that are implementable on the City level (working with the MTA and DOT):- In partnership with communities, expand dedicated bus lanes and/or Select Bus Services routes: 21st Street and 39th Street could possibly be under consideration for dedicated bus expansion.
– Significantly upgrade and maintain bus frequencies: the Q39, Q67, Q104, Q101, and B24, are all important routes that would likely see higher ridership if frequency and predictability were increased. Again, like with bike lanes, if the infrastructure is improved, we are likely to find increased usage (in these cases, the demand is likely latent and not obvious; the infrastructure improvements coaxes it out).
– Maintain and expand Fair Fares NYC: I am proud to have played a role in implementing Fair Fares NYC, which uses City funds to provide half-priced Metrocards to New Yorkers in need. This is exactly the type of program that needs full and complete funding as we are rebuilding our economy, and the type of program that would be an ideal target for repurposed NYPD funds. It must be fully expanded to include all NYCHA residents and CUNY students. This will go an incredibly long way in providing much-needed economic stability to New Yorkers who’ve been most disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Expand and fully integrate bike lanes into our public transit network: In order for us to truly transform transportation in New York City (particularly using only City resources), we must strategically expand and fully integrate bike lanes into our public transit network. New Yorkers should be able to opt for a bike-subway or bike-bus trip whenever possible over a vehicular trip. This also means working with Citibike to aggressively expand docks within the 26th District.
– Expand and make permanent “Open Streets:” The COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to reimagine the use of many of our city streets via the Open Streets program, which we must expand and make permanent (with flexibility to change streets). Particularly in green space-starved District 26, the Open Streets program has offered important opportunities for residents to make use of our public space, and transforming streets for public use can serve as a basis for reducing vehicular dependence over time.
In terms of general safety measures, we must add “daylighting corners” where possible for pedestrian safety, and speed bumps on those roads where the speed limit is routinely exceeded. We can also explore the feasibility of “superblocks” that would reduce vehicular traffic in certain areas of the city and encourage pedestrian- and bike-only traffic.
In terms of State action, I would advocate vociferously for:
– Municipal control of the subways & buses so that all of our funding and operational decisions about the City’s transit system are actually made by the City in the interest of the people of the City, and are not ultimately in the hands of a State agency, the State legislature, and the Governor.
– Universal access to transit by enforcing ADA compliance so that all New Yorkers have equal access to our transit system.
– Expanding subway service between The Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn utilizing existing tracks – significantly reducing travel time and vehicular dependence between the three boroughs.
– Full design-build authorization so that the City can quickly fix and “green” the BQE, which in its current set-up is overly trafficked, dangerous, and allows significant pollution to infiltrate surrounding neighborhoods.
– Funding LIRR East Side Access so that our subway and commuter rail systems can be truly integrated, further reducing vehicular dependence.
At the federal level, we need to not only fight for all the funds required to complete the Gateway Tunnel, but also for funds to possibly expand freight rail services around NYC so that we can ultimately begin to reduce the truck traffic that chokes so many of our neighborhoods, particularly in Queens.