Is It Time for a Woman to Be in Charge? NYC’s Female Mayoral Candidates Discuss Their Platforms – Vogue


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New York City has had 108 mayors. Not a single one of them has been a woman—but that could change in 2021 as three female candidates emerge as strong, competitive contenders in the June 22 Democratic primary.

“We’re not asking, ‘Can these guys actually do this job?’” says candidate Kathryn Garcia. “But we do ask ‘Can a woman win?’ Every time you have the conversation of viability and not ability, it makes it so people think, ‘Oh, she can’t possibly win.’ Shouldn’t we actually be asking ourselves who’s going to be a good mayor?”

Here, Vogue meets Garcia, Dianne Morales, and Maya Wiley and hears why—in the midst of a pandemic, economic crisis, and racial reckoning—this is the year for New York City to finally elect a female mayor. 

Maya Wiley

Photo: Julia Xanthos Liddy

“I just felt pulled in to be a very different kind of leader: bold and transformational,” Maya Wiley says of her decision to run for mayor of New York City. A lawyer and civil rights activist, who served as counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio and chaired the Civilian Complaint Review Board from 2016 to 2017, Wiley has a sweeping vision that centers on ending inequality. “Throughout our city’s history, women—especially Black women—have taken on the hard and necessary work of progress,” Gloria Steineim said at a recent campaign event. “And [Maya] is part of that great wave of progress. She is so the woman for this moment.” As it turns out, The Strokes think so, too; the rock band performed a virtual concert fundraiser for Wiley last Saturday.

On affordability…

“There are two big things in terms of affordability: One is housing. It is simply too hard for working people to pay the rent and be able to meet their basic needs. I’ve got a plan that is also going to do the other thing, which is to create more and better jobs. I’m going to spend $10 billion in capital construction. That will create 100,000 new jobs, and, at the same time, more affordable housing.”

On the care economy...

“Women have been decimated in this pandemic. Decimated. We know we’ve lost at least a decade's worth of gain in the labor market. Because of the pandemic, women either lost their jobs, or they left jobs because they had to care for their kids. But we [can] shift this focus and look at the care economy as an economy that also can help create more affordability. 

“What I'm going to do is, first of all, invest and reallocate money from the Police Department budget, from the Department of Corrections budget, so that we have $5000 grants for family care. I will also create community drop-off centers that are one-stop shop centers for either childcare, elder care, or care for families that have a member with a disability. … That also creates care economy jobs, while we’re creating solutions to one of the most expensive problems families face.”

On mental health...

“We had a mental health crisis in this country before COVID, but, boy, did it get worse. Our kids are traumatized, but particularly our kids who’ve been in families that have seen a rise in domestic violence. We’ve seen an astronomical rise in domestic violence, we’ve seen an astronomical rise in rape, and we’ve seen a rise in gun violence—all traumatizing events, obviously, and in addition to COVID and the fear that COVID created. So I’m going to put trauma-informed care in our schools, because we know that trauma-informed care brings violence and discipline issues down, and it also sends graduation rates up.”

On the arts...

“We lost 300,000 jobs in the hospitality, nightlife, and arts and culture economy of this city, and that’s over a billion dollars in revenue to our public coffers—not to mention the fact that these are real people with real jobs and families to support. I’ve called on the mayor to create a week-long festival at the end of this summer to show the world that we are back and better than ever. It will be a way to support our arts and culture community at the same time that we’re supporting our small businesses.

I’m going to spend $100 million to invest both in grants for the operating costs for our arts and culture institutions and direct grants for our creatives: visual and performing [artists] and writers. Those folks have been punished brutally by COVID in terms of the loss of employment opportunities, and we don’t want them to shutter or be forced out of the city. We want to help get them back on their feet, just like we want to help our small businesses.

We have a history of being at the forefront of arts and culture, and we still do, so we’re going to invest in that. In my capital construction plan, we’re going to create more arts and culture spaces in all five boroughs, but we’re also going to make sure that we have arts back in schools as a core part of the educational program. We have to be investing in our creatives that are being raised right here in New York for the future of arts and culture.”

On why it’s time for New York City to elect a female mayor…

“First of all, more than half of the city—52 percent—is female. I was a working mother with two young kids and a mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s… I know know the experience of being paid less for the same job. I know what that feels like, what it feels like to fear sexual violence and sexual harassment. Having someone in office who’s had those experiences changes the shape and scope and focus so that it is much more representative of the actual experiences of all New Yorkers.”

On her leadership style…

“I believe in leadership that listens and learns and leads in partnership. I’m not afraid to make decisions—and I will make hard decisions—but they will be informed. I’ll make the call, but I won’t make the call just assuming I know everything I need to know—and I’m certainly not going to be afraid of suggesting there’s something I don’t know—because that’s actually how bad decision-making and bad leadership happens. I think the kind of leadership that we need and that people are desperate for is honest leadership that listens and learns and partners, and that’s the leadership I’ll bring.”

On why she loves New York City…

“There’s so much I love about New York—so, so much—but if I really boil it down, it’s the people. New York is a city of amazing people and diversity and breadth. We have 800 languages spoken here; we have almost 40% of our residents born somewhere else. We have everybody, and it’s just a phenomenal place because of the people make it so.”

Dianne Morales

Photo: Edwin Gano

For years, Dianne Morales, a nonprofit executive who has dedicated her career to helping the working class, brushed aside comments that she should run for office. But, eventually, the political events of 2016 and 2018—coupled with her experience as a woman of color, first-generation college graduate, single mother, and parent of children with learning differences—drove her to finally “shed all the voices in my head that made me think this wasn’t something a woman of color could do,” Morales explains. “All of those things came together in such a way that made me feel like there was something I could bring to the table that was unique... and could be brought to bear at a larger scale to have an impact and make a difference for even more New Yorkers.”

On equity and justice…

“Equity and justice are critical for me; it is the lens through which I view everything in our city. I think about that in terms of access to housing and affordable housing. I think about that in terms of public safety, what that really means for communities. And I think about that in terms of education and the pathways that we are providing to our communities to live in dignity and provide for their families.”

On affordable housing…

“On the housing front, we have centered and prioritized developers and developer profits. My proposal relies on reallocating the investments that we have historically made in these large developers to the community, and prioritizing community-led planning processes and nonprofit affordable housing developers. It includes guaranteed housing for all, including our homeless population and those who are housing-insecure, by really looking at the existing vacant spaces—hotel rooms, storefronts, commercial spaces, and office spaces—and making a commitment to convert those so that we can provide permanent housing. It also includes the expansion of community land trusts so that we can really rebuild communities, and also the commitment to reserve all city-owned land for the creation of affordable housing rather than selling city land to private developers. That’s another practice that I would stop.”

On public safety...

“We can’t decouple the recent increase in violence from the increased insecurity that so many New Yorkers have felt over the course of the past year… We have pushed people into these deep states of anxiety and stress at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic. I think the critical thing that we need to do to move towards public safety—to real public safety—is to actually provide people with what they need to live in dignity: access to secure housing, enough economic stability that they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, access to health care in the middle of a global pandemic… These are the things that we need to be prioritizing.

“When you think about a safe community, that’s actually what those communities have; they’re not communities that are heavily policed. In fact, communities that are heavily policed are the ones that are most often most harmed, and we know that police are often responding to things that aren’t even crimes. Police don’t prevent crime; they respond to crime—and in many instances, they’re not responding to crimes; they’re responding to social issues of homelessness and mental illness and substance abuse. 

“I’ve also called for the creation of a community first-responders department that would be staffed with people who are trained and skilled in intervention and de-escalation. It would also serve as a part of a larger ecosystem of human service providers, community-based organizations, medical clinics, and mental health providers, so that people in crisis are actually being connected to something that is going to help break that cycle for them. Now, you see a police officer intervene and, best case scenario, that person is locked up overnight and released the next day back to the exact same situation, or, worst case scenario, that person is harmed or killed. We need to actually have responses that are appropriate to the situation.”

On why it’s time for New York City to elect a female mayor…

“If you look around the world, particularly during the course of the pandemic, the countries that handled this [situation] the best were actually led by women, and I think that’s a reflection of [the fact] that women tend to lead with much less ego, and they tend to lead with much more of a focus on the collective good. We are caretakers whether that’s by nature or by socialization. Even here in this country, I think proportionately women are more effective at getting legislation passed. Maybe that’s because they’re more willing or able to negotiate or compromise. There are indicators that women can be more effective and compassionate leaders, and I think that’s certainly what we need in New York City at this time.”

On why she loves New York City...

“New Yorkers are, I just think, extraordinary. We’re magical. We’re scrappy. We are colorful and diverse. And we’re fighters. When you think about what we have gone through, from 9/11 on, there is a spirit here of community that transcends even politics at times, and I think that that is a powerful thing. I lived in Boston for seven years and was really, really thrilled to come back home to raise my children here because I wanted them to be a part of the fabric and the dynamic of New York City. There’s nothing like it. We have everything here, and that’s also why I feel like all the fear-mongering around people leaving the city is a false narrative because we are still the greatest city in the world, and this is, I think, a place where everybody would want to be. It’s the best.”

Kathryn Garcia

Photo: Courtesy of Kathryn Garcia

“I was watching all of these things that were happening during COVID, and it was trainwreck after trainwreck,” Kathryn Garcia, a Brooklyn-born longterm civil servant and former commissioner of New York City’s Sanitation Department, recalls. “I thought, What are we doing?” During her 14 years of government experience, Garcia got wastewater treatment systems back up and running during Hurricane Sandy and recently led an emergency pandemic food program that has delivered over 200 million meals to New Yorkers in need. Now, in her bid for mayor, she is focusing on bettering the lives of New Yorkers through measures including providing economic relief and greening the city. “If you run government well, the public doesn’t have to think about it,” she says. In a slightly unusual move for a competitor candidate, Andrew Yang has suggested he would hire her were he to be elected. In its recent endorsement of Garcia, The New York Times suggested cutting out “the middleman and elect the most qualified person: Kathryn Garcia.” 

On the economy…

“It’s about opening up this economy and ensuring that we are giving everyone economic opportunity and economic mobility—getting the fundamentals right. First and foremost, we have to support our small businesses. My Reopen to Stay Open plan is about promoting them, as well as using the public sphere to support them. The Open Restaurants program has been great, but we also need to issue micro loans so that they are here when we all come back.

“If you run government well, the public doesn’t have to think about it: Their kids go to a good school, the garbage gets collected, they feel safe. But it’s also about making it a more livable city: greening the city, making it easier for you to be on a bike, making it easier for restaurants to use the public realm. I fundamentally believe that when you have interesting people who want to stay here, who want to move here, who want to visit here, that drives our economy. We have such an interesting city and we should be our own first tourists. We should be the ones who are going to Arthur Avenue or out to Roosevelt Avenue or heading to Staten Island.”

On climate change...

“I think the climate challenge is an existential crisis for all of us as humans. I look at the impact of climate resiliency and sustainability in every policy, whether that’s the Renewable Rikers [Act], compost facilities, or electrifying our school buses. We are going to ensure that we are decarbonizing this economy and bringing more renewable power into this city and that we are greening our streetscapes. We are making this a  more livable city because that not only helps the planet, but it helps us right now. It’s better for our physical health, it’s better for our mental health, and it also keeps the environment cleaner.”

On the New York City Police Department...

“We are seeing an uptick in crime, as well as a lack of trust in the NYPD. It’s a false choice to say that in order to have respect and equity, you can’t have the police. We have to be able to have both. That means making sure that we’re using our resources to pinpoint where we are seeing crime. And we need to make some reforms. It’s really about holding upper management accountable and making sure that there’s clear and transparent discipline, that we are increasing the age of police officers to 25, that we are requiring them to live within the city. I understand how to do discipline; I did that in Sanitation. You’ve got to be tough but you’ve got to be fair. We’re very clear about what the rules are, and you have to enforce them. Otherwise you can’t be effective at getting your job done. Rebuilding trust with communities is so critical, because without it you can’t solve crime. Our clearance rate on crime right now is something like 26 percent. We are not solving crime right now, so that is why it’s fundamental that you’ve got to also rebuild the trust with communities.”

On why it’s time for New York City to elect a female mayor…

“You bring your lived experiences. I was a working mom. I know exactly how hard it was to do that in a non-pandemic, let alone in a pandemic. Women in general are just better at building teams as managers; that’s been my experience. It is really about the lived experience of being a woman in a workforce, understanding when you’re perceived as not really supposed to be at the table—and men like to interrupt women all the time… Creating a culture that is really about empowering all of those different voices is something that would be very different. The current mayor did hire a lot of women; he just didn’t listen to them.”

On why she loves New York City...

“I love the fact that New York is a constant surprise, that you go around the corner and there’s someone playing the violin, and—*oh, look!—*there’s that new restaurant that just opened. I love that energy of the street. You literally can just sit at a cafe and the city itself will be entertainment. In some cases, I feel like what perhaps people who aren’t New Yorkers don’t get is that in many ways we’re almost like a small town; you do actually run into people you know. I think they think we’re all in this bubble, but no, because we walk... But, of course as any good New Yorker will tell you], we pretend that we don’t see the celebrities.”

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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