Gigi Li has an immigrant story familiar to a lot of New Yorkers. Her parents brought Li to New York from Hong Kong when she was three years old, making a home in Chinatown. They did not have much growing up, but Li was able to become the first in her family to attend and graduate from college and earn a graduate degree. With a background in social work, Li spent 10 years in the nonprofit space before joining her local Community Board 3. For the last three years she has worked under the current District 1 Council Member Margaret Chin, whom she hopes to succeed. Here’s our Q&A with Li:
Why are you running for City Council in District 1?
I think that this is certainly a very difficult and diverse district because you have some of the wealthiest neighborhoods and some neighborhoods that are in high need. Every single possible issue that you can think of impacts this district, and I think we are at a cusp of a lot of very consequential decisions that I think warrant a council member that is thoughtful, that has a track record and understands policy. My trajectory has always been centered around very local impact and really looking at issues from a lens of equity and access. And that is how I will continue to operate from as the next council member.
The central issue in every race this year is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic – if you’re elected, what kind of policies would you pursue to help workers, families and small businesses get back on their feet?
I think that we really to get money down into either credit unions or local smaller banking institutions, and we have seen the data with PPP, that large banks are not helping very small mom and pop stores. You have to be a customer that has a certain line of credit to be prioritized or you really have to be able to fill out an immense amount of paperwork when maybe English is not your primary or primary spoken language. And so there has to be attention to some of these smaller businesses and how we can make it easier for them to access either grant money, or any sort of support in a way that is different and more accessible than what is being done now.
Over the course of the year there’s been an uptick in gun violence and other sorts of violent crime, but at the same time there remains a call to reform the NYPD – how you negotiate those two needs of keeping the city safe while reforming policing?
I believe that there needs to be more transparency within the NYPD. They’re the only agency that does not and is not required to show on a very detailed level how they use their six plus billion dollars. I know this because I’ve been I’ve been sitting in years and years of many hearings, and other agencies provide much deeper detail, whereas NYPD only has to provide categories of how they spend their money. Secondly ... I think their job description has gotten extremely large, and that there are situations where I don’t believe that first response necessarily needs to always be a police officer. There can be a social work or mental health provider that some of that work shifts to; for example, I don’t think there need to be police officers in our schools. On the flip side, I do support police officers getting more training and more de-escalation training. And I would like to see a more ethnically diverse NYPD.
Howard Hughes Corporation’s proposal to build a 324-foot tower within the South Street Seaport Historic District has divided neighbors downtown. Is that a project you support, why or why not?
I do not support the plan as is. I would like to see a more substantial community investment component or a higher affordability component.
What other issues are top of mind for you?
I think I’m in the minority of candidates that believes the Noho/Soho rezoning plan should be given a chance and to have that discussion. Again, my lens is from a housing equity perspective, and I feel like the plan should not be rejected from the start because there are many things that this plan can address. Certainly housing is a main component, but for the Noho/Soho communities, the zoning has not been updated for decades, and it certainly is a very different community than it was during the last time their zoning was looked at. And I think that every neighborhood in the city has a responsibility to play a role in tackling the homelessness issue that everyone keeps talking about. But how are you going to address the homelessness issue if you do not keep an open mind to building affordable housing throughout the city? We should not only be building affordable housing for communities of color in the outer boroughs.
What’s something not related to your platform that you want voters to know about you?
I will always be available to listen ... I will be present and available, and that they will not find a harder working Council member than me.
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