On the one hand: Rivington House, “pay to play,” “mayor for sale,” Elizabeth St. Garden, Lower East Side waterfront “supertall” towers, homelessness at record levels, subway delays, politicizing of the police, national ambitions, carriage-horse craziness…
On the other: Two years of rent freezes, Vision Zero improved street safety, slashing the number of “stop and frisks,” increased mental-health services, defending New York as a sanctuary city. …
Bill de Blasio’s first term as mayor has certainly been a mixed bag. He has had successes, but he has also had epic failures. And even though he somehow got off the hook despite multiple investigations into his fundraising and favoritism toward his campaign donors, he has been branded as the consummate “pay to play” politician.
One thing for certain, though, is that de Blasio’s approval ratings are not good. About half of New Yorkers think he is doing an O.K. job — but the other half don’t.
Unfortunately, no sitting Democratic politicians with mayoral ambitions chose to take him on this election cycle, instead deciding to bide their time and give it a try in four years from now: more political calculations and politics as usual. … In fact, the mayor’s erstwhile toughest critics have turned around and endorsed him, hoping he’ll do the same for them when it’s “their turn.” That’s too bad because de Blasio deserves to be challenged this time around.
One veteran New York City politico, however, isn’t afraid to run against him. Out of a small field of long shots running in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, Sal Albanese emerged as de Blasio’s most serious opponent.
A former city councilmember representing Bay Ridge — who is also a lawyer and a former teacher — Albanese is a no-nonsense straight shooter. Those expected mayoral wannabes who aren’t running are “professional politicians,” he notes. Albanese, on the other hand, is something different.
Whereas de Blasio’s campaign war chest is mainly filled by contributions by big business and developers, Albanese, as he has done in his past mayoral campaigns, has taken a principled stand: He doesn’t accept any money from developers or lobbyists.
“If you take [their] money, then you become co-opted,” he explained.
As a result, he has raised only a fraction of what de Blasio has, which puts him at a serious disadvantage in terms of getting his message out. But Albanese’s message is a good one — and it’s one that, if enacted, would provide a lot of precisely what New York needs right now.
For starters, Albanese believes that the subways that so many residents rely on should not be held hostage to a political feud between the mayor and the governor. He would tap into the city’s copious surplus and use it to make sure that the trains are running without delay. For example, the system’s outdated signal system must be brought into the 21st century, he stresses.
If elected, Albanese also would seek to impose a “pied-a-terre” tax on luxury apartments purchased by foreigners — as London and Vancouver have done; that funding stream, in turn, would be used to pay for new affordable housing on city-owned lots. There’s no need to keep trying de Blasio’s “tax the rich” schemes to try to fund things, Albanese said, noting it just doesn’t work. Fifteen percent of super-luxury condos — those costing more than $15 million — are owned by foreigners, according to the candidate.
This tax could fund as many as 67,000 new affordable units, according to him. Meanwhile, he recalled that former Mayor Ed Koch built 400,000 units of affordable housing mainly by using nonprofit developers, which shows these units don’t need to be tied to market-rate development.
“We have 1,000 [city-owned] properties” that are suitable for development, Albanese said. “It’s not rocket science. We have the pied-a-terre tax.”
Admittedly, this tax would have to be approved by the state Legislature, but Albanese feels it’s doable, especially if he, as mayor uses “the bully pulpit” of his office to advocate for it.
Albanese opposes the mayor’s affordable-housing plans for new construction — which call for much larger buildings, so that a percentage of affordable units can be included along with market-rate housing.
“New York is going to look like Dubai soon,” if things don’t change, Albanese warned, adding, “I’m a big Jane Jacobs fan. … I want to see the city grow in a way that eliminates unfettered development. Manhattan is being towerized.”
Similarly, he’s against the de Blasio administration’s “infill” plans for New York City Housing Authority properties that would see new high-rises — that are 50 percent market rate / 50 percent affordable — built on parking lots and other open spaces on NYCHA grounds. One of these is currently planned at the LaGuardia Houses on the Lower East Side.
“I think that’s dangerous,” the former councilmember said. “It begins to set the stage for selling off of NYCHA property.”
And the Elizabeth St. Garden? That’s a “no-brainer,” Albanese told us earlier this summer, when, at our urging, he came by to visit the Little Italy green oasis. He recognizes that this garden is an important community resource and that the affordable housing that de Blasio wants to build there can be shifted to a much better site not far away on Hudson St. that is in the same community board district.
Albanese also supports congestion pricing and the MoveNY plan; de Blasio backs neither one.
“Traffic congestion is the worst it’s ever been,” Albanese stated. “You’ve got a traffic congestion crisis. We’ve got 100,000 more vehicles — Lyft, Uber, Via — and the bike lanes,” Of MoveNY, he said, “It’s better than the Bloomberg plan, which mainly focused on tolling the East River bridges.”
Even if not all voters have soured on de Blasio, there are many who are not excited about him serving another term in City Hall. Polls report this, plus Albanese has observed it while campaigning all around the city.
“I don’t find any enthusiasm for de Blasio anywhere I go,” he told us. “I think he’s vulnerable, he’s beatable. … Now people are beginning to realize he’s a failed mayor. …
“I should win the East Village,” Albanese predicted. “I saw the animosity against de Blasio there. If I can win the East Village…and Middle Village [Queens]…,” he quipped. “I think the race is a lot closer than people think.”
Speaking of lack of enthusiasm, all the leading Village-area Democratic political clubs — from the West Side to the East Side —have snubbed de Blasio in their endorsements. While Albanese also didn’t get these clubs’ outright endorsements (though he did get some members’ votes), the clubs’ ditching of de Blasio is telling. It speaks to how he has alienated the community down here — from supporting the full New York University expansion plan in the South Village, to shocking scandals like the Rivington House debacle that saw deed restrictions quietly lifted and the community lose a vital health facility, to his intransigence on the Elizabeth St. Garden.
While de Blasio somehow slipped out of an indictment on charges of “pay to play” against him, Albanese warned that things could actually get even worse — that the mayor now might be emboldened by how he skated free.
“The U.S. attorney and Manhattan district attorney both said he acted unethically,” Albanese told us, “but they just couldn’t indict him. It’s been a problem of ‘pay to play’ under this mayor. And if he’s re-elected,” he warned, “it’s going to be on steroids.”
Albanese, a strong supporter of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, has been endorsed by the Small Business Congress. On the other hand, de Blasio has dropped the S.B.J.S.A. — which he once supported as a councilmember — “like a hot potato,” Albanese scoffed.
“It was de Blasio’s bill originally. He sponsored it in the City Council,” Albanese said. “And now he’s abandoning it. It’s vintage de Blasio. …
“I’ve never seen so many empty storefronts,” he added. “There are 28 sponsors of the bill in the City Council.”
Albanese is also for legalizing marijuana.
“You don’t want people driving if they’re high,” he said. “I would treat it like alcohol. I would like to see a referendum on it in the city. I think you’d see 60 to 70 percent of people for it. Smoking pot is not good for you, but the laws against it are just as bad. Sixty thousand people were arrested for pot last year.”
Albanese has run for mayor twice before. In ’97, “I did pretty well,” he said. In 2013, it was tougher.
“It was the Weiner race,” he reflected. “I couldn’t get out of the box.”
Asked who his political role models are, he cited Barack Obama and Fiorello LaGuardia, two seminal figures in American politics.
In the meantime, with the primary just days away, Albanese continues to do it his own way — which is all about intelligence, integrity and putting the community’s interests first before those of the developers.
“It takes a lot of guts to go against the grain,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Joseph Reiver, a board member of the Elizabeth St. Garden, was there when Albanese visited earlier this summer. He and fellow garden members picketed outside the Park Slope Y one morning earlier this year, to catch the mayor on his way in for his daily workout and invite him to visit the garden to see if for himself. Back then de Blasio promised them he would.
“I’m glad he came out,” Reiver said of Albanese. “He came out before de Blasio. De Blasio shook my hand and he said he’d visit. I’m from Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, when you shake someone’s hand…you better mean it.”
Albanese does mean it. He’s a lot of brains and no bull.
The Villager supports Sal Albanese for mayor in the Tues., Sept. 12, Democratic primary election.