When I began the legislative session in Albany this year, I never thought I’d end up the Republican candidate for mayor opposing Bill de Blasio on this year’s ballot.
I had no intention of running and was preoccupied fighting smaller battles on behalf of my constituents, like helping families still waiting on the city’s mismanaged Build It Back program to complete construction on their homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy. As the year unfolded, however, a series of events led to my decision to enter the race.
During the last week in January, Mayor de Blasio came to Albany to testify at a state budget hearing.
I asked him why the city chose to risk federal anti-terrorism dollars to maintain its status as a sanctuary city and whether he would consider restoring at least the most egregious crimes to the list of crimes in which the city would comply with federal detainer requests — specifically grand larceny, sex abuse, patronizing a child for prostitution, welfare fraud, identity theft and drunken driving.
He said he would have city attorneys review the list. He never did. Or if he did, the policy never changed.
Also during the year, my Assembly colleague Ron Castorina and I took Mayor de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to court in an attempt to stop their dangerous policy of destroying the records associated with the city’s municipal ID card program.
We cited the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that government be more stringent when issuing identification cards that give access to city buildings or opening bank accounts, as well as the usefulness of records when conducting a criminal investigation. In April, the judge ruled against us on lack of standing because we were state Assembly members, not City Council members.
As the year progressed, it appeared that no other credible candidate was willing to wage the uphill battle and hold our powerful mayor accountable for the “pay for play” culture, the growing homeless crisis, the abuse of property tax payers, our outdated transit system, and the discretion removed from teachers in the classroom and police officers on the street.
Most politicians wait to run for the “easy to win” seats. As I did when I ran in 2010 against an incumbent Assembly member, I run to give people a choice.
The citywide campaign trail is an arduous one (I don’t know how anyone over the age of 50 keeps up with such a grueling schedule of 16-hour days, little food and no rest), but I loved every minute of it.
As I crisscrossed our amazing city over the last six months I felt as if I traveled the world in just these five boroughs. Its diversity is what makes our city so unique. From cultural festivals to ethnic parades to houses of worship, I enjoyed an experience of a lifetime while advocating for the policies I believe would both respect taxpayers and make our city a better place. I learned some things along the way as well.
I learned that while Staten Island is often called “the forgotten borough,” many communities in the outer-boroughs feel neglected as well. Others feel they receive too much undesirable attention from this administration, such as a neighborhood hotel transformed into a homeless shelter without community notification or an unwanted bike or bus lane installed that has added to traffic instead of easing it.
I learned that many feel left out in a city which prides itself on being inclusive.
While I met so many, with such varied stories and concerns, some of them stood out: The veteran who gave to our country but is living in a homeless shelter, the school cafeteria worker making $35,000 a year but doesn’t qualify for affordable housing, the senior citizen who needs to sell his home because his property taxes have become unaffordable, the residents of New York City Housing Authority who are living in substandard conditions, the teachers who feel they can’t control their classrooms because discipline has been thrown out the window, and the mother of two police officers who begged me to win so her sons would have a mayor who always has their back.
Their faces and stories will always be with me, and I will continue to fight for them as a member of the State Legislature.
I learned the dishonesty of the media.
During our second televised debate on CBS, moderator Maurice DuBois insisted that the felony sex crime statistics I was using which show a 25 percent increase over the past three years were wrong. During the exchange, I insisted my facts were right and after the debate I sent the producers at CBS the NYPD records from the city’s online database, but they refused to retract or correct their reporting.
I learned that if we truly want a property tax system that is fair and equitable we will need to keep pressing Mayor de Blasio to create the property tax commission to which he eventually committed during the campaign.
There is no incentive for him to do anything because he personally benefits from the current system, paying the least effective property tax rate in the city and one-third the rate paid by Staten Islanders. When I spoke with the mayor on the day after the election, I congratulated him and stressed how homeowners are struggling with the continuous rise of property taxes, and offered my assistance with the creation of the commission.
I will continue to remind him of his promise and push for freezing or, at minimum, capping the property tax levy (the amount of money the city seeks from property tax payers), which the mayor and City Council have increased a whopping 28 percent over the past four years.
I hope Mayor de Blasio also learned something.
Nearly three-quarters of Staten Island voters cast their votes for me, showing a desire for a mayor who understands their hardships and needs. I thank those Staten Islanders who joined me is sending a clear message that a cookie cutter approach to governing is not effective. What works in Manhattan doesn’t necessarily work on Staten Island. Each community is unique and our borough president, local elected officials, community boards and civic associations need to be heard.
A supporter of mine recently reminded me that my favorite political figure, Teddy Roosevelt, was also unsuccessful in a run for mayor of New York City early in his career (he was a member of the New York State Assembly as well). He even garnered the same 28 percent of the vote that I did.
But as Teddy said, it’s not the critic who counts, but the person who is willing to get “in the arena,” strive valiantly with great enthusiasm in a worthy cause, whether he triumphs or fails.
To me, there is no more worthy a cause than fighting for my constituents, community and city.