The Jewish Week asked the top candidates in June’s Democratic primary for New York City mayor where they stood on a range of issues. Find the other candidates’ responses here.
Shaun Donovan, who was born and raised in New York City and lives in Brooklyn, served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama Cabinet. In 2014 he became director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, he was commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and served in the Clinton administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multi-family Housing at HUD and as acting FHA Commissioner. After studying housing in graduate school, he worked for the nonprofit Community Preservation Corporation in the Bronx.
After a year in which concerns about anti-Semitic hate crimes rose, we are now seeing increasing reports of attacks against Asian Americans. How would you prevent and punish hate crimes, and how would you balance calls for solutions from law enforcement with those that seek less police involvement and more education and community outreach?
The Jewish community is a vital part of our city. The rise of antisemitic attacks across the city must be condemned.
As mayor, I will work with local law enforcement to ensure that all such crimes are fully investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and will make sure that the Human Rights Commission and other agencies are dedicated to preventing them from happening.
While I believe that there are responsibilities of the NYPD that need to be reimagined, the mitigation of hate crimes is not one of them. Policing needs massive reform that includes a new approach to public safety and puts racial justice as a guiding principle. We must reduce what is asked from police officers so that they can focus on getting guns off our streets and reducing violent crimes. We should be shifting responsibility for mental health crises, schools, homeless outreach, and traffic to other agencies that are better equipped to deal with these types of challenges. Lastly, we must reinvest in the well-being of marginalized communities and critical services that secure the streets for every New Yorker; this includes expanding restorative justice programs and increasing investments in non-profit service providers.
This summer, the relocation of homeless men to hotels on the Upper West Side became a topic of debate within the Jewish community living there. Some supported the move as a gesture of compassion and a necessary solution to a housing crisis, and others objected that it had been done without sufficient community input and it presented a danger to the area’s permanent residents. How do you intend to address the plight of those sleeping unsheltered on the streets and in the subways, along with the safety and quality of life concerns of the city’s residents and business owners?
Homelessness is a solvable problem. We cannot accept the status quo nor solve homelessness with homeless programs alone. We will move our city from a right to shelter towards a right to housing, ensuring that all New Yorkers have the access to the housing support they need.
We can do this by creating an improved system of emergency rental assistance to help people stay housed. We can do this by coordinating better across our city agencies to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks but instead receive the support they need. We can do this by operating a well-run homeless system that gets people into permanent housing so they can rebuild their lives in the community. And we can do this by maximizing all resources available from all levels of government, especially the Biden/Harris administration and Congress.
We must make sure to expand the creation of permanent supportive housing units for those who need the more intensive support provided by this form of housing. The administration will aim to create 2,000 supportive housing units annually for individuals and families living with a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or other disability, and young adults.
At the height of the Covid crisis, some sectors of the city’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community were seen to be flouting safety guidelines. At the same time, leaders of the community felt singled out by the mayor, health department and law enforcement for public censure and fines. What lessons in governance did you draw from this issue?
I learned a lesson about working with the community and communicating clearly about guidelines that were discussed in tandem with those that are impacted. I would have consulted with community leaders about the best way to disseminate the information and make sure we find the best way to communicate. More specifically, I would have placed the announcements of the restrictions in local Yiddish newspapers as well as asked the many rebbes to partner with me to encourage their communities to abide by the regulations.
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Jewish students have historically been disproportionately represented in the city’s specialized high schools, and Jewish alumni of these schools are justifiably proud of the education they received and excellence they represent. At the same time, the number of Black and Hispanic students has been vanishingly low and has plummeted in recent years. How would you increase diversity in the city’s specialized schools? Would you eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test?
What we are doing now with the specialized high schools just isn’t working, specialized high schools include some of the least racially diverse student bodies of any of the city’s ~400 high schools.
An overhaul of the admissions process for the specialized high schools should be part of a larger, citywide effort to desegregate our schools. While there has been a real emphasis on these specialized high schools, however, we need to keep in mind they represent just eight of ~400 public high schools; a comprehensive approach to integrate our high schools must include addressing the drivers of segregation across all high schools, like geographic preferences and creating affirmative policies to integrate high schools citywide.
In addition to these changes I also support recent decisions by the city to eliminate geographic preferences for high schools and suspend screens for our middle schools, and as mayor I would go further by eliminating middle school admissions screens while taking a hard look at the SHSAT and how admissions criteria for specialized high schools can be revised to improve school diversity and provide opportunity to a broader group of students.
The Covid crisis caused many New Yorkers to question their commitment to city life, and to consider relocating to the suburbs or other parts of the country. What’s your best case for convincing Jewish New Yorkers to stay or come back, and what specific policies will you pursue to keep them or welcome them back home?
My grandfather left the docks of London in search of opportunity, settling in South America, and my father then came here to New York with similar aspirations to build a life and family. I grew up here in the 1970s and 1980s during a different time of crisis, watching entire neighborhoods crumble and burn to the ground, and have served this city in its recovery from 9/11 (as Housing Commissioner) and Hurricane Sandy (as the head of President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Recovery Task Force).
These perspectives have taught me that our city is a resilient land of opportunity, and they leave no doubt in my mind that we’ll come out of this crisis even stronger by coming together and reimagining the city as one that works for everyone. My entire campaign is built around this mission, and my deep knowledge of government at all levels, experience managing crises, and commitment to engaging all of our city’s communities make me the best person to bring this vision to life.
We’re facing uncertain times, but I know for sure that our families, communities, and city will be better off if we stick together and persevere, as we’ve done many times before.
From whom do you seek advice on Jewish communal affairs? Who on your staff serves as a liaison to the Jewish community?
I have met with the Met Council on Jewish Poverty, UJO of Williamsburg and NB, Jewish Community Relations Council, Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America, and others.