In an effort to learn more about who and what our NYC City Council is about, I dove in at DL21C’s “Speed Politicking” on Monday night at Houston Hall in Greenwich Village. (I’m not a DL21C member, but I have to say they put on a hell of an event.) A few dollars bought you admission and a drink ticket, and a bunch of long bar tables were set up for a something loosely based on the idea of speed dating, where you spend a few minutes each on your various prospectives.
For the night’s “Speed Politicking,” each table would stick with one issue–like education, affordable housing, and economic development–and anywhere from 2 to 4 candidates rotated from table to table every twelve minutes. Voters either stayed at the table all night (like I did) or they moved around based on what they felt like doing. Which table did I sit at? Wild card. Because that’s what I do.
The event was loud with clanking mugs and lots of big voices reverberating in the high-ceilinged beer hall (a clever, Bohemianized, renovation of an old parking garage) but the gaggle at each table was just the right size for everyone to lean in, speak up, and have as real a conversation as you can about big issues in the allotted 12-minute timeframe. Not enough to find the one you want to marry, but definitely enough to figure out whether you’d want another look at someone. Before voting in the primary on September 10th, that is.
My question that I had the opportunity to ask at least a dozen candidates (including a few incumbents like my own district’s City Councilman) was about city government. I said that there are a lot of smart people working in the city’s agencies (there are approx. 271,000 employees on the NYC payroll) who have done a lot of work to develop smart programs and solutions–but too often there are barriers to implementing this work, such as lack of cooperation between agencies, long and inefficient procurement and contracting processes, or just general bureaucratic inefficiency. I asked candidates what they would do as City Council members to empower city workers to get things done to serve the public more efficiently.
I blindsided a few candidates, but most had thoughtful answers. One answer to a single question isn’t enough to make up one’s mind on which candidate to endorse or vote for (particularly since many candidates weren’t there), but I’ll tell you about a couple of newcomers who were standouts based on my 12-minute impressions:
- Kathleen Daniel (41st District – Bed-Stuy, Ocean Hill, Brownsville, E Flatbush) – Kathleen just entered the race (literally, just a few days ago), but gave far and beyond what I considered the best answer to my question. Many of her family members have worked for the city, and others have done business with the city–and she spoke with a clear and compelling depth of understanding of ways to make government work better, making it more efficient and less costly to taxpayers, easier for citizens to work with city agencies, and ultimately for the public to get better value for the taxes they pay. I look forward to watching Kathleen’s campaign in the next days and weeks. Take a look at a a Politicker piece about her from yesterday HERE.
- Mel Wymore (6th District – Upper West Side) – Mel is an engineer and has been a community activist for over 20 years, and his focus, he said, is on building more sustainable infrastructure in NYC, to include bringing systemic efficiencies to city government in any way he can. Mel has a softspoken and sincere manner, and he talked very smartly and in detail about some examples of what he meant. He stressed that he studies issues carefully and is a problem-solver, which is not something I heard from any other candidate. Even if you disagreed with Mel on the issues, he’d be someone you’d always be glad to know or run into. I’ll also be following Mel’s campaign closely. A story on his personal background in The Nation is HERE.
Some other newcomer candidates I really enjoyed meeting and talking with, and who seemed like genuine, intelligent, conscientious people worth taking a look at:
- Stephen Pierson (33rd District – Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Greenpoint)
- Gwen Godwin (8th District – East Harlem)
- Angel Molina (8th District – East Harlem)
- Sondra Peeden (27th District – St Albans, Hollis, Cambria Heights, Jamaica)
- Conrad Tillard (36th District – Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights)
- Yetta Kurland (3rd District – Lower West Side)
I also enjoyed speaking briefly with incumbents. I had an opportunity to thank Margaret Chin (1st District – Lower Manhattan) for keeping Private Danny Chen’s important story in the news, Stephen Levin (33rd District) answered my “wild card” question with professional polish, and I got to shake hands with Jumaane Williams (45th District – Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands) a sweetheart of a man who was actually stopped and frisked under the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” policy.
It was a great night. Well done, candidates, and well done DL21C!