A two-hour debate between six candidates in the newly-drawn 10th Congressional District on Wednesday evening felt as if it were bursting at the seams, featuring nearly as many voices as topics up for discussion.
In a crowded race to represent NY-10, which now spans from Downtown Manhattan to Borough Park, Brooklyn, 13 names (including that of former Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently dropped out) will appear on the Democratic primary ballot. This week’s televised debate, hosted at CUNY’s Graduate Center and moderated by NY1 political anchor Errol Louis and WNYC senior politics reporter Brigid Bergin, included only those candidates who have held elected office or who have raised $500,000 or more in their campaigns.
Some, like Downtown NYS Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, played it “friendly,” as she put it. Others — most notably NY-17 Rep. Mondaire Jones — joined in scrutinizing Levi Strauss & Co. heir Daniel Goldman’s personal finances. All of the candidates addressed local issues like congestion pricing and affordable housing Downtown, at the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack. National issues like immigration and democracy were also on the table.
Traffic and the BQE
Early in the evening, congestion pricing, expected to go into effect at the end of next year, struck a near unanimous chord of support from the pool of candidates. “If you have lived in New York City,” East Side Council Member Carlina Rivera said, “you know that the traffic and the congestion here is unbearable.” She’s a proponent of the congestion pricing plan, which could toll cars entering Manhattan below 60th Street as much as $23.
Some candidates expressed reservations. Exemptions should be considered for people based on socioeconomic criteria, Jones and Niou suggested. NYS Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon and Goldman added mass transit needs to the equation, arguing that the subway isn’t universally up to snuff, whether due to geographic availability or other concerns. “Our system is notoriously inaccessible for people with disabilities and even many elderly people,” Simon said.
Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman advocated for more planning regarding the use of funding accumulated through the initiative. “What are we doing to build more subway lines?” she asked. “What are we doing to improve our bus system?”
Prompted to detail what inconvenience they’d be willing to condone with regard to another transit-related project — repairing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), which passes through the new district — candidates pointed to fixing the “triple cantilever,” a roughly 1.5 mile stretch in Brooklyn, and incorporating community input.
Resiliency at the East River and Housing Downtown
Later, Rivera defended the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, for which construction in East River Park is already underway, describing it as the “first investment of its kind in infrastructure around flood protections in the country” — a $1.5 billion investment of federal funds at that.
Her opponents weren’t as convinced of the success of the redesign, calling attention to what they felt was a lack of local engagement in the planning process. “This was an issue that did not need to be as divisive as it became,” Niou said. “We needed the community input; We were owed the community input.”
Differences arose with regards to plans for affordable housing at the World Trade Center site, too. Niou choked up defending a call for 100% affordable housing, with priority for essential workers and survivors of the 9/11 attack, to be built as part of a development plan at 130 Liberty Street. “This tower is not just any tower and this site is not just any site,” she said.
Developers, Louis pointed out, have estimated that dedicating the building entirely to affordable housing could cost $500 million — a price Rivera said made it a project to “revisit and discuss.”
National Politics and Personal Finances
A local issue that’s made national news — Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s scheme of busing migrants from the border to New York City — again provoked slightly different approaches from the candidates.
“We know people are going to come to New York City whether the governor of Texas sends them or not,” Rivera said. Holtzman called for an investigation into Abbott for “interfering” with immigration. “The idea that immigrants are bad for America, that’s crazy,” she said. Niou suggested eliminating ICE.
All raised their hands in support of joining Mayor Eric Adams to campaign against Abbott in Texas, in reference to a comment he made on Tuesday.
Discussing other leaders, all candidates either backed President Joe Biden running for reelection or stated that it would be best left to his discretion (in contrast to Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s response during an earlier NY-12 debate). None expressed desire for an endorsement from de Blasio or chose a side in the NY-12 race — though most notably referred to “both” candidates, seemingly referring to Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Maloney and leaving out lawyer Suraj Patel.
When discussion turned to former President Donald Trump, Jones directed his response as a counterpoint to Goldman — who’s made his role in the impeachment investigation of Trump, as lead counsel, a focal point of his campaign. “The Republican party has had a real problem — a real crisis or bent toward anti-democracy and fascism — long before Donald Trump became the president of the United States,” he said.
Goldman caught more heat when candidates questioned his personal finances — specifically his investments in Ruger, which manufactures rifles, and Fox News. “Will you apologize tonight to the victims of your investments?” Jones asked. Goldman responded that his money would be put in a blind trust if elected to Congress.
“Fox News is an absolute travesty and a devastation to our democracy,” he said later, adding, “my public statements and my public record have absolutely nothing to do with whatever my investments have been.”
Crime: A Liberal Spectrum
On the topic of crime in the city, three trends emerged: a focus on recidivism and guns and a dive into other intersecting sociopolitical factors.
Jones and Simon both drew attention to “too easy access to guns,” as Simon described it, with Jones calling for a national ban on assault weapons. Goldman argued that there’s a “perception of danger” in the city due in part to recidivism, with Simon calling for a “focus on the facts and not on the rhetoric.”
Some candidates, including Rivera and Niou, took a different approach by weaving concerns relating to the pandemic and other basic needs into the conversation.
“The root [cause] of crime is definitely poverty,” Niou said. “I think that we have to really tackle the insecurities that are inside of our neighborhoods right now: housing insecurity, food insecurity, job insecurity. This is the way that we actually have real, community safety.”
The primary election will take place on August 23 and early voting runs from August 13 through August 21.
“If you have lived in New York City, you know that the traffic and the congestion here is unbearable.” Council Member Carlina Rivera