Residents Pose Election Year Questions At Manhattan Town Meeting

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Residents came together in Harlem Wednesday evening to discuss mayoral election issues, in the fourth of five town meeting events with a panel of local reporters.

CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell, and New York Daily News City Hall Bureau Chief Jillian Jorgensen were on the podium at the Langston Hughes Auditorium at the Schomburg Center, at 515 Malcolm X Blvd. Residents took turns raising questions they wanted to put to the candidates for mayor, comptroller and public advocate.

Housing and gentrification were among the major issues participants raised.

Patricia Charles of the Bronx spoke first, talking about the city’s housing crisis. She called for a rent rollback or freeze, and demanded that the next mayor take action on behalf of the middle class and seniors.

“It’s very sad that we are afraid of having our roof ripped over our heads,” she said.

Meanwhile, a Richmond Hill, Queens man called for the City of New York to control housing, rather than upstate lawmakers having influence on New York City housing issues.

Another woman named Jennifer called for more action on behalf of Asian-American seniors who often have limited English proficiency.

Harlem jazz singer Rochelle Thompson also called for housing protections for seniors, specifically calling for a program so that residents can come to own their apartments.

June Moses noted that while crime has gone down, there is no plan in place to make sure jobs, training and other are available for residents who could end up resorting to crime.

“Dog catcher, toilet paper holder, whatever they’re running for – no one has a plan,” Moses said.

Moses said funds that help the most vulnerable New Yorkers are being cut, and those people will likely be the ones who will resort to committing crimes.

“We are all at risk, and it will be the 70s again,” Moses said. “No one wants to go back to that here.”

She said without resources that are being cut by the government, homeless people will “hit you over the head on the subway,” people without jobs and opportunities for employment will be forced to steal from others. She noted that heroin is already back, and crack could also return.

“And what are we doing – cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut!” Moses said.

Another woman, Amanda, said that while New York City is a sanctuary city, protections for immigrants are still insufficient. She said a mayoral candidate must ensure that immigrants are guaranteed due process.

Amanda said under Mayor Bill de Blasio, there are “strings attached” for immigrants, in which they are not entitled to an attorney if they have a criminal record.

She also noted that civil legal services in New York cannot protect or defend undocumented immigrants because they are federally funded.

Akeem Browder, who is running for mayor as a Green Party candidate, addressed the issue of criminal justice and what would be done to ensure “equality justice, and not justice for those can afford.”

He called for investment in programs that can prevent crime, rather than reactively dedicating funds toward punishment.

“We want to understand where our residents’ money is going, instead of the Department of Corrections, to help not just rehabilitation, but prevention like mentorship programs,” he said.

Returning to housing issues, John of the Bronx called for better responsiveness from the city to ensure things get repaired in housing developments. He also asked what the mayoral candidates’ stance was on rebuilding Penn Station and other infrastructure projects, which he said would help New Yorkers on a day-to-day basis.

Calvin Hunt, who emphasized that he was a native of Harlem, gave an impassioned speech about Harlem losing its identity. He noted that not so long ago, Harlem had a crack epidemic with buildings worth only $1 – but still retained pride in its historic African-American identity. But now, he said, Harlem is being gentrified and its history being destroyed.

He particularly took issue with the rebranding effort of parts of Harlem as “SoHa.”

“This is SoHa? Bunch of bulls**t!” he said. “This is Harlem!”

Hunt said affluent white residents are moving into the neighborhood and erasing its culture and legacy, calling it a “disgrace.”

“I want to know why white folks are coming here and doing all these things,” he said.

This week, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) said he was presenting a special resolution in Congress “that would establish Harlem and the greater Harlem area permanently as Harlem.”

Another man, jazz singer Mr. Robinson, also said gentrification was destroying the neighborhood culture in Harlem. He said he did not object to gentrification on principle, but noted how it drives up expenses, saying, “Whole Foods, whole check.”

A woman who lives in New York City Housing Authority housing said services have fallen behind, in particular garbage pickup. And Laura of the West Village said her neighborhood also had a major problem with garbage, particularly when it came to the street.

“I feel like throngs of people come through my neighborhood, and they leave their garbage everywhere because there’s not enough garbage cans,” she said.

She said garbage on the streets have made her neighborhood “disgusting,” and called for more public recycling cans on the street.

“Why do I have to live in a garbage can because there’s not enough garbage cans?” she said.

A speaker also discussed education and mayoral control of schools, while another who was injured on the job also asked what the mayoral candidates would do to help teachers. She noted that she was injured on a school bus, and her superintendent had the “audacity” to question what happened to cause the injury.

The Manhattan town meeting is the fourth of five. Town meetings were also held in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn.

The final meeting is set for Thursday, June 29, at the recital hall at the College of Staten Island, at 2800 Victory Blvd. in Staten Island.

All meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. To RSVP, see cbsnewyork.com/2017nycdebates.

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