Susan Lee grew up on the Lower East Side after she and her family moved from Hong Kong when Lee was six years old. She’s a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, Barnard College and NYU, where she earned a masters in public policy. Since 2007, Lee has worked as a freelance grant writer, securing funding for nonprofits. She plans to use her skills from public finance to cut the fat in city government if she’s elected as the district’s next Council Member. If elected, she would be succeeding the term-limited Council Member Margaret Chin and represent District 1, which encompasses Chinatown, the Financial District, Seaport, Lower East Side, Tribeca and Soho. Here’s our candidate Q&A with Lee:
Why are you running for City Council in District 1?
So my background is in public finance and that’s one of the reasons why I’m running for office because I feel like my skills are well equipped to be a member of the City Council. I feel like there’s a lot of waste in government, and, especially from a program evaluation perspective, I can look at things critically and identify issues or inefficiencies. But also what really frustrated me was I’m a moderate Democrat and that there wasn’t a moderate Democrat’s voice in the race. And I felt like there were several candidates who are more progressive than me, and I just felt like, you know what? We’re the silent majority, and I wanted to throw my hat in the ring.
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?
My initiative is a cash grant; so instead of paying 8 percent tax to the city of New York that we’re collecting, a portion of it will go back to the city and a portion of it will be used by the small businesses to help them recover. Another thing I look at from a small mom and pop landlord perspective is to freeze their property tax for the next three years. I know that a lot of the mom and pop landlords are behind in their property tax payments, so instead of charging them 18 percent for the late fee I would reduce it to 3 percent.
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 am a proponent of community policing. I cannot support the narrative of defund the police. As a matter of fact, I think we need more police, because right now I spoke to a precinct in my district, and the captain told me that they’re down 50 percent of police officers and that’s why they can’t patrol the streets. And I think that we need to increase policing. I think our police officers aren’t paid enough. I think we need to increase pay for our police officers. I think also at the same time, we need to think about residency requirements for our police officers, I think that they need to be in the community that they serve. I think that we can go and make sure that the streets are safe the subways are safe and still respect the civil rights and civil liberties of our citizens. And I think that there needs to be more training. Getting a license to be a union plumber takes more time training than our police officer and I think that’s ridiculous.
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 cannot support the project. Our district is the oldest neighborhood in the country it’s actually where our first Capitol was, in here, in New York, in our district. I think a lot of times we rush to tear things down and build these high glassy buildings that don’t fit into the characteristic of the neighborhood. And so what Howard Hughes is proposing is really out of scope and I’m really disappointed that [Landmark Preservation Commission] approved the plan. There’s so much vacancy in the district in terms of residential space ... and they throw in this affordable housing tactic and, and you’re like, well, is it really affordable and who is it affordable for?
What other issues are top of mind for you?
Education is a really strong piece of my policy. I’m a product of the New York City public school. And I remember when I was going to school, it was quality education and I feel like the standard hasn’t been up to par. We need to invest in our students to make sure that they are getting proper education. My issue right now is the SHSAT. I really am a proponent of it. I think it should be the sole criteria for admission into specialized high schools. I think we need to expand the Gifted and Talented program, and I think we need to bring back arts. I think arts really help students with critical thinking. It’s so important, it’s really an escape for students.
What’s something not related to your platform that you want voters to know about you?
I am a marathoner. I ran 14 marathons in five years’ time. I actually stopped training because I’m running a different race right now. But marathon training has taught me determination and sticking to a plan. There are going to be bad days, but you’re still going to go at it, you persevere, and you literally just have to grind it out. At the end of the day, when you across that line, regardless of your time, that is an accomplishment.
For more election coverage, sign up for The Trail, our weekly newsletter covering Manhattan politics: www.bit.ly/thetrailnyc