Weiner Justifies Presence in Race, Asserts Agenda

(Photo by Devan Mulvaney/Voices of NY)

Former congressman and mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner standing to address questioners at a recent Q&A session organized by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. (Photo by Devan Mulvaney/Voices of NY)

A recent Quinnipiac University poll has Anthony Weiner just two percentage points behind Christine Quinn, but the former congressman is battling more than just the Council Speaker. The 2013 mayoral race is proving to be the most divided since the contest to replace Abe Beame in the late 1970s and the volatile nature of the race leaves many things up to chance.

Weiner works hard to project an air of confidence and leadership, maybe because the memory of his disgraceful exit from Congress two years ago following a sexting scandal is still fresh in the minds of many New Yorkers.

At a recent Q&A session with media representatives held at the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Weiner stood to take questions and present his vision of a post-Bloomberg New York. He engaged those in attendance like he was giving a stump speech.

With New Yorkers consistently being priced out of neighborhoods to make room for luxury housing, the topic of affordability surfaced immediately. Weiner spoke about giving landlords and real estate developers more incentive to create not only affordable spaces, but spaces for middle class New Yorkers looking to eventually own.

“The traditional programs that we have to incentivize middle class housing either they aren’t working anymore because they’re basically about tax abatement,” said Weiner. “And the land values are so very high now, that the profit of market rate housing is outstripping (incentive).” Weiner talked about taking over brownfields that are “sitting fallow” because developers worry about what’s underneath them.

“I think the city should make a deal with these owners and say ‘we’ll help you rectify the situation,’” Weiner said.

Weiner also promoted the idea of changing the 80/20 market rate-to-affordability ratio with new housing developments with a ratio of  60/20/20, for market rate, middle-class friendly and affordable housing, respectively.

With the idea of NYCHA possibly developing luxury housing on its property, Weiner said that Bloomberg’s heart may be in the right place, but he has the wrong solution.

“I think the mayor is right that we should develop the land better,” Weiner said. “I don’t think it should be for market rate housing. We should do it for housing for seniors; we should do it for commercial (property) so the people who live in that housing have job opportunities and have services like other people do.”

The former congressman also believes that small businesses that are currently being priced out are the key to reducing New York’s overreliance on the finance, insurance and real estate industries. He advocated backing off on imposing so many fines on these businesses and allowing the fines to be adjudicated locally.

“In the past six years in the budget, it’s actually been written in the budget to assume an increase in the amount of summonses and fines given to these shopkeepers and lo and behold, when an inspector sees they’re expected to get a 15 percent increase in fines by and large they go out and get it,” Weiner stated. “And usually it’s for businesses where a $150 fine…those can ruin their week.”

(Photo by Devan Mulvaney/Voices of NY)

Weiner argued against public school closings for Muslim holidays, in favor of merit pay for teachers and proposed giving real estate developers better incentives to provide affordable housing. (Photo by Devan Mulvaney/Voices of NY)

New York’s a place with a diverse population, with numerous religions represented. Considering that public schools are closed for major Christian and Jewish holidays, one reporter asked Weiner about  endorsing public school holidays for the major Muslim holidays. Weiner said he respected all religions, but he was wary of giving public schools kids even more days off.

“Whenever you close the schools, it’s a two-edged (sword),” said Weiner. “Of course, you want to honor as many religious customs as you can. My son was born to a Muslim mother. I get the idea that diversity is important in this country.”

“All that being said, you close schools…we don’t have a lot of day care for kids right now,” continued Weiner. “And very often there’s no one who’s more strained during a long snow break than parents. So I think I agree with Mayor Bloomberg that we should keep the classrooms open as many days as possible.”

While Weiner talked about his desire to fire Raymond Kelly as police commissioner and his advocacy of merit pay for teachers, the highlight of the Q&A was a back-and-forth between Weiner and former Village Voice/New York Daily News reporter and current CUNY J-School Investigative Journalist in Residence Tom Robbins.

Robbins asked Weiner if he hadn’t thought about doing a few good deeds, like working with the homeless or immigrant groups, for a while longer after his disgraceful resignation from Congress instead of running for mayor this year.

“I have been in public life for 20-some odd years up to that point,” replied Weiner. “I had obligations to others around that period of time. An obligation to my wife. An obligation to my family. I had an obligation to do what I thought was right to repair the damage that I had done. I was trying very hard to stay out of the public eye without much help from the tabloids. I don’t think there was anything wrong and dishonorable about taking a hiatus from public life. I’ve done it my entire life.”

Robbins then mentioned that according to a New York Times report, during the hiatus, Weiner had found time to consult for businesses, which to Robbins felt like “lobbying.”

“I think I did something for New Yorkers my entire life,” Weiner insisted.

“So you were through?” pressed Robbins.

“I wasn’t through,” said Weiner. “I had done an enormous amount for the people of New York City and I am running on that today. Twenty years worth. Part of what I’m doing here today is to repay that debt…by getting back into public service.”

Complete Q&A session:

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