District 26 Candidate

Emily Sharpe

Campaign Website: Emilyforcitycouncil.com

NYC Campaign Finance Board: funds raised.

QUEENS POST QUESTIONNAIRE

What Office/District are you running for and why? My name is Emily Sharpe and I’m running for City Council in District 26 in Queens. I am a proud New Yorker and Sunnysider and I’m running because I want to ensure that my family will be able to continue living in New York for years to come. I want to prevent NY from becoming a city only the wealthy can afford like Paris, London or Rome. Our young adults should not have to become hedge fund managers in order to afford rent – we need musicians, artists, social workers, and so many others to make our city vibrant and whole. I want to protect and preserve our diverse residents – especially those living in public housing – and beloved spaces that are quickly being displaced or demolished due, in part, to the commodification of real estate, both commercial and residential. I also want to bring governing back to the people so that corporations, big real estate, and powerful interest groups stop deciding everything that happens here.

I have seen my district become home to the fastest growing city in the country in LIC – full of empty luxury apartments and office space. Long-time factories and shops have been cleared out and sit waiting for the highest bidder while homelessness abounds. Until we are able to re-regulate the cost of rent for all residents and small businesses, we must stop luxury development and large scale rezonings that gentrify and displace those who are here now. Affordable rent is the answer to most all of our problems in NYC.

My day-job is fighting for low-income, vulnerable clients – I graduated from CUNY Law School to do so – and so this fight against developers and gentrification is an extension of those fights. I started the group Stop Sunnyside Yards to stop displacement and rent increases and I have been organizing and fighting alongside groups such as the Justice for All Coalition, MTOPP, WOTM, MinKwon Center, TakeBackNYC and Human Scale NYC to further those efforts. This work makes me uniquely situated and qualified to fight for the changes we need as well as protect us from corporate interests.

If you want a true grassroots candidate who has been fighting for the community for years and will continue to do so in city hall, you should vote for me. I know and am committed to D26 and am not beholden to real estate, special interests or any group whose agenda works against the community.

I am extremely motivated to get things done and am effective and successful in forming coalitions and managing people. I am empathetic to others and want to find the fairest solutions in the most democratic way. I also want to make positive, bold changes for the city while keeping our diversity of people and spaces.

Finally, I see city council as a position where things get done to help the community. It shouldn’t be about one person, but what the district wants. Each person is simply carrying a torch until it can be given to the next person.
Please check out my platform at emilyforcitycouncil.com where I discuss many of my ideas and you can also get involved with the campaign. Thank you!

How long have you lived or worked in the District and how active are you in the community right now? My husband and I have lived in the same apartment in Sunnyside for the last 23 years. My son was born here and is being raised here. He has attended all local schools and when he was younger, I would volunteer to chaperone every field trip and devoted my Fridays (I worked part-time then) to helping his teachers with tasks they needed done like copying and stapling. I also created a flowchart to help parents in choosing the healthiest snacks possible on whatever budget they had.

For the last few years, I have been a member of the Sunnyside Community Supported Agriculture’s (CSA) core group in charge of Events and Fundraising for our subsidized shares program in order to bring healthy, organic produce to those who cannot afford the cost of a full share.

In 2018, I started the coalition “Stop Sunnyside Yards” to push back against Mayor de Blasio’s plan to put a platform over 180 acres of one of the busiest train yards in the country, close to 7 times larger than Hudson Yards. Though billed as providing so-called affordable housing and other amenities, over 1,000 hours of research during that time on similar projects (Atlantic Yards, Hudson Yards), big real estate, big developers, bad landlords, and government-run pro-development agencies like the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has taught me otherwise.

Through research of the EDC, the NYS Empire State Development Corporation (ESD), Partnership for New York City (PNY), and the Regional Plan Association (RPA), I have learned that replacing long-time residents and small businesses with more affluent entities in order to collect greater tax revenue is the goal. To this point, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg infamously said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?”

I have spearheaded events to educate the neighborhood, my district and greater NYC of the hazards of this project by holding events (movie night, trivia night, historic walks, marched in the St. Pat’s for All March, etc.), gone door-to-door handing out informational flyers to residents and small businesses, written op-eds, and in any other way possible in my free time and on a completely volunteer basis.

In October 2020, I wrote an op-ed entitled, “Why Phipps’ new plan for Sunnyside is still a bad idea” which exposed Phipps Houses Group’ Adam Weinstein as being the 11th worst landlord in NYC for evicting tenants and detailing how no one earning under $48K will be able to live in a proposed development in Sunnyside which is more prohibitive than their initial proposal 5 years prior. Since then, I have continued to raise awareness of this issue by speaking at citywide rallies, creating a petition in opposition, and other ways meant to halt the approval of this rezoning.

I have also been working with other groups around the city from Flushing, Sunset Park, Gowanus, LES/Chinatown, Crown Heights, and so on to fight against overdevelopment, gentrification, displacement and destruction of our green spaces (Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, East River Park, etc.).

Finally, I try to attend at least one event in person per week (not including meetings) to support other groups or individuals. Whether it’s supporting NYCHA tenants at rallies as privatization (RAD/Blueprint for Change) and likely eviction is contemplated, or spreading the word at Harlem Week about those plans, I am always ready to help fight for long-time residents to stay in NYC.

What is your current occupation? I’m a public interest attorney providing legal services to low-income clients mainly in the areas of SSI disability and other public benefits. I graduated from CUNY Law School in 2006.

Prior to that, before following my heart to help others, I worked as a demand planner forecasting inventory for retail stores. I worked for Liz Claiborne, Federated Department Stores (i.e., Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Filene’s) managing $500,000,000 worth of inventory, and others. After graduating from college in Business, I took a job in a national chain’s management training program where I broke sales records and was promoted to their headquarters in NYC.

What were your thoughts on the Amazon HQ2 proposal in Long Island City? I was against Amazon coming to Long Island City because I feared it would exacerbate our housing crisis based on what happens in other parts of the country when there’s a large influx of wealthy workers, in this case tech workers, into an area of mostly working-class, artists, and other residents with lower incomes.  For instance, Amazon HQ caused Seattle’s housing costs to increase 60% in 5 years, and in Arlington, Virginia, they increased 40% immediately and there were no houses for sale after Amazon announced their arrival. In San Francisco, families live in RV’s parked on the street because rents are too high due to Google’s presence.

I also believed the jobs claim was overstated. While 25,000 jobs are a lot in one shot, spread over 10 years, or 2,500 per year, is a drop in the buck for jobs created in NYC. Tech workers also have many other companies to choose from that have been moving to NYC such as Google, Tic Tok, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter. What’s more: Amazon is here. They recently purchased the Lord and Taylor building on 5th Avenue as their NYC headquarters and they’re leasing space at Hudson Yards, and looking to make a deal to lease at 34th Street. Additionally, they will be opening a new “last mile” 1 million sq/ft. warehouse in Maspeth which will bring many jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Amazon is also a bad corporate citizen that should not get help from the city or state. They don’t treat their workers well – they don’t let workers unionize and they recently ran a smear campaign against a warehouse worker in Staten Island who was fired for leading a strike to demand PPE for himself and fellow workers. They also hurt small businesses by copying their best-selling items and undercutting their prices, or allowing counterfeit items to be sold. I would much prefer those jobs go to small businesses and manufacturing to make PPE, solar panels and other needed goods.

What is your view on the Phipps Houses rezoning proposal on Barnett Avenue in Sunnyside? Since I discovered that Phipps is a bad landlord citywide, I do not believe they should be rewarded with a rezoning and a new opportunity to neglect tenants. For me, it is a no-brainer to deny Phipps’ request for a rezoning. I believe our elected officials have a responsibility to protect us, not sit on the sidelines or enable abusive behavior of vulnerable tenants. Similarly, I often wonder if current leaders would allow a toy-maker proven to use lead paint in his toys to continue to open shops if he never changed his behavior.

I am also opposed to allowing Phipps to rezone to build bigger for more profit because I don’t trust that they are truly interested in housing low-income people in need. Based on their pattern of behavior, I believe they will turn so-called affordable units to market rate as soon as possible and that utilizing the MIH “affordable housing” model created by Mayor de Blasio is simply a way for Phipps to get its foot in door to procure public funding and variances. For instance, they are demolishing an affordable housing complex less than 50 years old with 800 units of real affordable housing in the Bronx (Lambert Houses) so they can replace it with multiple towers that will now allow for market rate units. Phipps has also converted approximately 10% of its rent stabilized units to market rate in its Barnett location across the street from their current proposal. Many units are also sitting empty there now. As a show of good-faith, Phipps should first restore the lost rent stabilized unit and rent the available units to formerly homeless people they claim to want to house.

Finally, Phipps is already violating NYC’s Zoning Resolution by not allocating enough units to the lowest AMI grouping and are instead putting more units in the highest (i.e., wealthiest) AMI grouping. They are also supposed to only use three groupings to benefit tenants, but are using five which helps the landlord. Most importantly, Phipps could have chosen to house even lower-income tenants under MIH rezoning, but chose not to. Units will not go to anyone earning less than approximately $48,000 at the time of completion. Knowing that minimum wage workers earning $30,000 per year won’t quality does absolutely nothing to help inequality knowing that our black and brown residents disproportionately work those jobs. This will also not help gig workers who usually earn far less than $48,000 per year.

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 would not approve a rezoning at Anabel Basin. At a time when the city and state are in desperate need of tax revenue, we need to be reducing our tax expenditures for unnecessary projects. However, since it is private property, the owners would be able to use the property as they see fit within the current zoning codes and without city funds.

I believe there needs to be a moratorium placed on luxury and large-scale development projects for the foreseeable future. Developers, with the help of our elected officials, just created the fastest growing city in the country over the past 10-15 years in LIC with 30,000 new units of housing (70,000 people) and many new office buildings. Couple that with the fact that 300,000 people have moved out of NYC for good since the beginning of the pandemic (60,000 moved out before CV-19) and workers may never be returning to offices. What we should do is see how things shake out over the next several years in terms of need. Infrastructure inadequacies will need to be address first, however.

I believe we should utilize empty factories and warehouses throughout LIC if they remain empty, and convert them to housing. I would also like for the city to purchase units to be used for truly affordable housing.

As tor the public land, a large, state-of-the-art school in the Department of Education building would be appropriate, as would a hospital to replace those lost to luxury development. There’s also been talk of creating worker cooperatives, space for artists, incubator projects, CLT and other interesting projects. However, whatever is decided for that space must be responsive to the threat of sea-level rise.

Do you think the rezoning process (ULURP) is working? If not, how would you change it? I do not believe the ULURP process is currently working, however, I would not abandon it, I would strengthen it and put it more under the control of the community. In theory, the ULURP process is a good thing. It was created in 1977 through a City Charter revision in order to give more power to communities in rezoning matters. Unfortunately, the community boards – the presumed voice of the people who live in the community – only have advisory power and many times their advice is ignored such was the case with Mayor de Blasio’s MIH/ZQA plan.

I would like to see rezonings be community-driven, not developer-driven. Some communities such as Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and the LES/Chinatown have even created their own plans for the community that guides what additions, changes or protections they would like to make. I also think rezoning should be much more transparent and inclusive – they should be a bid deal! Perhaps rezonings would take place twice a year at the same time every year with notices sent to everyone in the community describing the desired change.

I would like to see multiple townhalls in order to discuss projects openly and respectfully with more than two minutes for each person. I also think there should be no hard-and-fast deadline for approving a project and if there is not widespread agreement, it should not go forward.

Another weakness in ULURP is that the mayor has too much power to appoint City Planning Commission members who today mainly have connections to real estate and rubber stamp most rezonings. I would reduce the number of appointments he gets to make so that they are not the deciding factor, and I would replace them with real planners, preservationists and community members. Hearings at all levels need to be much more transparent as well – currently, written testimony at hearings are difficult to track.

Finally, I am not in favor of the comprehensive plan that is being advocated by Cory Johnson, the City Council Speaker. This plan advocates for even more top-down planning and would take even more power away from the communities to decide what they want in their districts and give it to committees created by the Mayor. The fact is, we already have comprehensive planning by our government agencies such as the ones I mentioned above (EDC, ESD and RPA) that are backed by powerful corporate interest groups, such as the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and PNY. If we are to move away from corporate control of our city, we must reject the comprehensive plan except in narrow areas such as preparing for climate change, transit and a few other areas. I would focus on strengthening the ULURP process.

Do you believe in member deference when it comes to rezoning? Yes, I believe in member deference. City council members, like our representatives in Congress, are the closest people to the community, or should be, and should be the voice of the community. I would not feel comfortable making decisions for East New York or Inwood. And I don’t want people from Staten Island or the Bronx saying what’s best for our area. It’s like having Devin Nunes of California telling Richie Torres what’s best for the Bronx.

Member deference also allows the community to hold its local elected accountable for decisions made. Otherwise, the council member can claim that decisions were out of his or her control and that he or she bears no responsibility.

Losing member deference is also another step towards NY becoming a homogenous city and losing the diversity unique neighborhoods that attracts tourists and residents of different cultures alike.

Should the city council cut police funding? If so, by how much? Yes, I think the NYPD’s $6 billion budget is too large at close to 10% of the city’s total budget. I believe we could reduce it in half and still be able to combat violent and white-collar crime. We could start by terminating NYPD’s worst offenders who have committed six or more known infractions which, as per the CCRB, equals approximately 3,000 officers, or about $300M.

This would also save $220M in civil rights lawsuits. Cutting overtime, taking police out of schools where black and brown kids are disproportionately targeted and thrown into the criminal justice system when other options are available to prevent anti-social behavior would reduce costs.

Attrition, retirement and residency requirements would also all help reduce the budget. There is much exciting talk about re-imagining justice where we reallocate money spent on the NYPD to schools, mental health counselors, outreach and after-school programs, and other community-based preventative and restorative models that I would be in favor of enacting.

Do you think non-citizens (including undocumented immigrants) should be able to vote in New York City elections? I believe that residents with connections and a vested interest in the community should be allowed to vote, such as permanent residents or green card holders, DACA recipients and their parents should be allowed to vote. However, I do not agree that people here on work or student visas or similar temporary statuses should be able to vote because of possible lack of knowledge, involvement or commitment to the community.
How would you select community board members and is the current system working? The selection of Community Boards today is not above political influence and favoritism. Recent Charter changes do not address or eliminate the reach of corporate interests, developers or a council member or borough president’s personal agenda. Therefore, I would work to amend the City Charter to make community boards 100% lottery-based.

It should be seen as more of a civic duty, like jury duty, but people could opt out, if they desired. In this way, everyone’s voice will have a chance to be heard – it is the most democratic way. Community Boards should not be seen as positions of power or used as stepping stones to something else. People shouldn’t have to be politically-connected or know someone in order to get on. Everyone has something of value to offer.

I would also work to amend the bylaws to prohibit private meetings between board members and people with business before them. Additionally, bylaws should be amended to allow for robust community engagement that would allow for non-members to ask questions throughout, rather than a 2-minute period at the end of a meeting when only comments can be made, as is current tradition.

Are you an advocate for protected bicycle lanes in the district and, if so, where do you think they should go? Despite much public debate and dread, the protected bike lanes have turned out not to be as bad as anticipated from my perspective. During CV, they have allowed for people to socially-distance and people can bike to places they may not feel comfortable taking the train.

I’m also really happy to see that the outer roadway of the Queensboro Bridge is going to become a pedestrian-only walkway and let the current bike and pedestrian path become bike-only. I would keep the bike lanes on Skillman Avenue, Northern Boulevard and 43rd Avenue since they are already there now.

Bike lanes shouldn’t be the end of the discussion on transportation though. They won’t be able to solve the transportation problem for all people. The disabled, elderly, people who have to drive for work (e.g., painters, exterminators, plumbers), and those who live in transit deserts may still need cars. With 8 million people to move around, cars are part of the equation though we need to move to electric cars, true ride-sharing and getting people back on the subway.

The discussion needs to also address who gets to own a private car. Will it be only those in the new luxury buildings who have required underground parking, while working class people will not because there is no parking for them? Will the working class have to give up all cars and be made to rely on private companies pushing their self-driving car businesses like Uber and Google? What will happen when there is surge pricing during inclement weather, or high demand times?

And, knowing that bike lanes increase property value, leading to gentrification and rent increases, how are we protecting tenants from rent increases and home owners from property tax increases? If we don’t want driving and bike lanes to become a class issue, we must address and find solutions for these problems.

What is your view on the transportation network in Queens? What would you do to improve it? The transportation network in Queens needs work. First, we need to get people back on the subways and busses. Many people have resorted to buying cars and using Uber and Lyft because the subways have become unreliable and the busses are too slow. The NYC subway system is one of the greatest things about NY and is one of the best ways to help stem our environmental crisis and we should push the majority Democratic legislators in Albany to fully fund capital projects to improve service and expand to transit deserts. We should also dedicate city money to this end.

Additionally, we need to greatly expand express bus service, add bus lanes and use technology that has been used elsewhere like L.A. to make trips faster. Such technology uses sensors to keep lights green 10 seconds longer when a bus approaches an intersection, allowing it to move through the intersection without stopping. Route times have decreased 25% – 40% using such methods.

I would also like to see shuttle busses/vans which are used in affluent areas such as Battery Park City to shuttle residents to the subway in transit deserts. We should also create true ride-shares/car sharing where people connect with neighbors who are going their way. We need to also reduce the city’s car fleet that has ballooned under Mayor de Blasio by 25%. People working for the city are the ones who should be taking public transportation so that they can attest to what improvements should be made and more easily apply pressure to those in power. Finally, I would make public transportation free for low-income residents and students.