End legal corruption; Restore democracy in N.Y.C.

Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese in the Elizabeth St. Garden. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to develop affordable housing on three-quarters of the Little Italy green oasis. But Albanese supports saving the garden / community gathering-and-activity spot, calling it a “no-brainer.” Photo by Rebecca White

BY SAL ALBANESE | New York City should be in the vanguard of political reform. We know that the federal and state governments are broken. Pay-to-play is on steroids in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio was under several investigations. While he was not criminally charged, the U.S. attorney and the Manhattan district attorney concluded he acted “unethically.” This is too low a bar for the mayor of New York City, and we shouldn’t stand for it.

The chart on this page highlights that the bulk of the mayor’s campaign funds — 65% — have been raised from real estate developers and their lobbyists — billionaires and millionaires. It’s no wonder then that, throughout the city, we have unfettered development, zoning without planning, historic districts being overrun and hypergentrification.

Locally, the Rivington House scandal resulted in a nonprofit health facility being converted into luxury condominiums with a huge windfall for a developer. Community gardens, like the Elizabeth St. Garden, are being threatened, and huge towers are going up all over the area. And no one in the Village wants the bloated New York University expansion plan to go forward; that plan was soundly rejected not only by just about every single community group in and around the Village, but by Community Board 2 and by many of N.Y.U.’s own faculty. I publicly came out against the plan years ago.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg gave almost carte blanche to developers to build, build, build. The people who voted for Bill de Blasio thought they were voting for a progressive reformer who would put a stop to real estate rule. How wrong they were.

But none of this will change, no matter who is the mayor, until we reform our legally corrupt political system itself.

Sal Albanese cites this research by the Alliance for a Human-Scale City, which found that 65 percent of Mayor de Blasio’s re-election campaign funding is coming from the real estate industry and the wealthy.

Fortunately, I support and will implement a plan called Democracy Vouchers that will eliminate pay-to-play and bundling of funds by lobbyists and people who do business with the city.

It’s a plan that the city of Seattle has already put in place. The idea is brilliant in its simplicity: Each registered voter receives four $25 vouchers from Seattle’s city government, and can “spend” them by donating to any candidate she or he supports. This is the first year that Seattle is embarking on the voucher program; so far, it seems that lower-and middle-income districts are participating at a good rate, and more candidates are running.

The Seattle vouchers program will also motivate candidates to interact with people of average means and listen to neighborhood concerns in a new way. The program allows everyone who is a registered voter the opportunity to equitably participate in funding candidates. As a candidate for mayor and a former legislator, I can testify that, right now, people running for public office spend most of their days raising money from deep-pocketed and often conflicted interests. As a result, we have a compromised government. This must end.

I have pledged not to accept funds from real estate developers and lobbyists. I want to get to City Hall with the support of New Yorkers whose sole interest is good government and good policies. We don’t need federal or state permission to adopt governmental reforms. Democracy vouchers, nonpartisan elections and lobbying reform are all possible under charter revision.

But to make these changes, we need a mayor who is willing to actually begin to change the system.  Few are willing to do this because, the way the system is now, it favors both major parties and, particularly, candidates who are wealthy — who have a lot of connections to high finance and real estate — as well as incumbents.

We live in the greatest city in the world and we should have a political system that fosters democracy and can a serve as a model to the rest of the country.

Albanese is a Democratic candidate for mayor. He has already been formally endorsed by the Reform Party, and is that party’s mayoral nominee. Find out more about Sal Albanese and his campaign at sal2017.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SalAlbaneseNYC .