NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – CBS2 is holding in-depth conversations with the 2021 New York City mayoral candidates.
We are asking each of them the same questions, so you can compare.
The order was chosen at random.
Here’s Marcia Kramer’s interview with Democrat Shaun Donovan.
Marcia Kramer: From ending gun violence to recovery from the pandemic, the next mayor of New York City will have a lot on their plate. We’re speaking with each candidate in an in depth conversation to see where they stand. We’re asking each candidate the same questions so you can compare. Joining me now is Shaun Donovan. Shaun, thank you so much for joining us.
Shaun Donovan: Marcia, it’s great to be with you again.
Kramer: So first question, should you get elected, what are your top three priorities on day one?
Donovan: Well, Marcia, first of all, we need to recognize that our city’s in crisis. We have a health pandemic, an economic pandemic, and the pandemic of inequality. And so the first three priorities have to be ending this pandemic. I have a commitment to make this the safest city in the world and nobody else in this race has the experience that I do. I was actually a leader in the fight against Ebola and Zika. When I was in President Obama’s cabinet, I worked closely with Dr. Fauci, all of our health leaders across the government. And we made sure that an emerging global health threat didn’t become a pandemic, that cost tens of thousands of New Yorkers their lives.
So no one’s better prepared in this race than I am to make sure that we make New York safe again. Every time you get on the subway, drop your kids off at school, go to the office, go to a restaurant or a show, you need to know, through technology, through testing, that you are safe, and that the city is safe.
And we need to let the world know that. We need New Yorkers to come back, but we also need tourists to come back to our city. And I would bring the city alive to get jobs started again. I would fill every vacant storefront, I would fill our public places with arts, and culture, with restaurants.
You know, as a kid growing up in this city, I’ll never forget the “I Love New York” campaign. We need another “I Love New York” campaign at this moment to help bring New York back and start the job recovery that I’ve promised, creating 500,000 jobs, putting every New Yorker back to work. And that starts with getting our small businesses, our arts and culture, our tourism back going in the city.
And then the last thing, Marcia, I want to say is it’s not just enough to repair and rebuild the city. We have to reimagine this as a city that works for everyone, because it was too unequal before the crisis. And we need to recognize that you cannot be progressive, like our mayor claims to be, without actually making progress on these issues. We need to reimagine our right to shelter as a right to housing and in homelessness in the city. That’s what I did as housing secretary. I led the strategy that dramatically reduced homelessness around the country. We cut street and family homelessness by 25%. And where we really got the help we needed from Congress, and an assist from Michelle Obama, we ended veteran homelessness in more than 80 cities and states.
So we can end homelessness in the city. We can make sure everyone has affordable housing. And we can make our city more equal particularly for our Black and Brown communities that have been left behind for too long.
Kramer: So the second question is this. How do you square reducing the size of the police budget, which the city has already done, with the need to keep the city safe and end gun violence?
Donovan: Well, Marcia, we need to make sure that every single police officer in our city has two missions. One is to stop guns and violent crime. And the second is to make sure that we are building respect with every New Yorker, particularly our Black and Brown communities.
And so what I would do, while we are reforming the police, making sure that we’re weeding out the bad apples, making sure that we’re providing the right training, the right transparency, the right accountability. We need to really reduce what we’re asking the police to do, stop asking them to do things that aren’t related to what New Yorkers are really most concerned about, guns and violent crime, and focus them like a laser on ending violent crime in our city, getting the guns off our street.
And so the way that we do that is stop the distractions with putting them out ticketing motorists, or setting up barricades in our streets, asking them to be mental health professionals with the homeless. Really focusing them on the things that New Yorkers are worried about, and rebuilding trust. Partnerships with communities, with clergy, and I do think part of this, Marcia, needs to be asking that our police reflect our communities. Right now, over half of our police live outside the city, and we need to make sure that they can work effectively with communities, build trust, and end gang violence.
The last thing I want to say, though, Marcia, is we have to recognize that guns are an increasing and huge part of the problem. I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in the city. I know what it can look like, what it looks like when crime gets out of control in our city. We cannot go back there. And gun violence is a huge part of the challenge.
And I’m a unique candidate in this race. I’m the only one with the deep relationships with our Attorney General Merrick Garland, with President Biden and Vice President Harris, but also with mayors and governors around the country. I’m unique to be able to build a partnership that can stop the flow of illegal guns into our city.
Let’s be clear, we’re not making the guns here in New York, we’re not selling them illegally at gun stores. They’re being trafficked from out of state from rogue gun dealers. And we need a mayor who can build a partnership to end the flow of illegal guns and stop gun violence in our city.
Kramer: So if elected, would you cut the size of the NYPD budget?
Donovan: I believe we should look not just at the NYPD budget, but more broadly at our criminal justice budget. And I do think that there’s significant savings that we can get when we look at it that way.
Think about this, Marcia. We’re spending over $400,000 per person per year in our correction system. Rikers is one of the most expensive prisons in the world, and we’re getting bad results. If we close Rikers, change our criminal justice system more broadly, and invest in our communities, we can actually get to the root causes of violence and hopelessness in our city.
Let me give you one example. When I was housing commissioner, I actually directed housing to folks coming out of Rikers – section eight vouchers and other help, and the results were dramatic. A year later, 95% of those folks were stably housed, getting back to work, hadn’t reoffended. It was so successful, that effort has been replicated in more than 40 cities across the country. And this is what I bring as mayor that no other candidate does – is experience, here in New York and across the country, in really building partnerships with mayors and police chiefs in New Orleans in Philadelphia, as well as New York. I was part of President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force. I know the reforms that we can make to both create safety and respect at the same time.
We need a mayor who has that knowledge has that experience and the relationships just like I do, so that we can bring it to City Hall and reduce violent crime in our city.
Kramer: So speaking of partnerships, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says that her prerequisite for endorsing a candidate is an agreement to cut $3 billion from the NYPD budget. Would you want her endorsement?
Donovan: Well, let’s talk about the endorsement I want most, which is the people of New York, particularly those who have been victims of violence, whether it’s on the hands, by the hands of the police, or by the violent crime that we’ve seen growing and exploding in our city.
And so what I would say is, yes, we can reduce our criminal justice budget, I believe within a couple years, we could redirect $500 million per year. And I think by the end of my first term, we could get to $3 billion out of our criminal justice budget more broadly, to invest in communities. So I think we can get there, if we have a real plan. And I’m the only candidate who’s really laid out a pathway to be able to get to real reform and real investment in our communities.
Again, you can’t call yourself progressive unless you’ve made real progress on inequality, on making racial equity a real possibility in the city and around the country. That’s what I’ve done again and again, in my public service career.
Kramer: So the police commissioner argues that bail reform has to be changed so judges feel that they have a way to keep people accused of violent crimes or bad terrible crimes in jail. Do you agree with that assessment?
Donovan: So Marcia, what I would say, first of all, is that we needed to reform our bail system. I’ve seen over and over again, in 30 years of work on homelessness, working with folks that are struggling to pay the rent, to stay in their homes, that too often in our city and in our country we criminalize poverty. And what I mean by that is, is bail was a system.
Remember, Rikers is just holding folks who’ve been accused, not even convicted, and the inability for low level crimes to be able to get out of jail, get back to communities, losing jobs – reform was critical here and I’m glad we did reform the system.
I do think that there are places where judges should have discretion. New Jersey is a good example of a state who gave judges discretion while making real important reform on bail. And I think that is a conversation worth having. But we should fundamentally understand that we made progress with bail reform, in ensuring that we’re no longer criminalizing poverty in our city.
Kramer: So the number of homeless New Yorkers is really out of control. I wonder what the answer is? And I wonder if you feel that shelters should be put in residential areas where the people who live there don’t want them?
Donovan: So, Marcia, I’m so glad you asked this question, because, you know, I got to be a public servant in the first place because I grew up in New York in the ’70s and ’80s. I watched homelessness exploding on our streets. I watched communities like the South Bronx, and central Brooklyn, crumbling, even burning to the ground. And that’s what lit a fire in me to go to work on behalf of this city that I love.
I ended up volunteering in a homeless shelter in college, I went to work for the National Coalition for the Homeless as an intern. And that started a 30 year career in housing and homelessness. And here’s what I’ll tell you. It is outrageous to me that we have more homeless people in our city today than we’ve had since the depression, more than when I was a kid growing up in the city.
And what’s worse, Marcia, we know how to solve this problem. It is a solvable problem. And you know why I know that? Because I actually solved it when I was HUD secretary. As I said earlier, we dramatically reduced homelessness across the country. We ended veteran homelessness in more than 80 cities and states. And so we need a mayor who can actually do that. As I said, you can’t be progressive if you can’t make progress on inequality. And homelessness is the most outrageous form of inequality we have in our city, in our country.
So here’s what we need to do. We need to stop pretending that we can solve homelessness just with shelters. It doesn’t work. We need to reimagine our right to shelter as a right to housing. We need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep families in their homes. We have, potentially, the worst eviction crisis in our city’s history about to happen because we have 500,000 New Yorkers out of work. We have many others whose wages have been reduced. And so we need a mayor who can work effectively with President Biden, take the tens of billions of dollars that’s just been made available in rental assistance, get it to folks who really need it quickly. Keep them in their homes. That’s what I did for President Obama in the wake of the Great Recession, we effectively kept people in their homes. We need to do that now.
And then we need to pay particular attention, Marcia, to the folks who are struggling, literally living on our streets. And we know that they’re struggling with mental health challenges. They’re struggling with substance abuse. And we know that we can end that struggle with what’s called supportive housing. It’s permanent housing that brings the services that those folks need to get their lives back together, to get back on track, back to work.
And you know what? Not only does it save lives, Marcia, it saves money. Right now we’re spending $3 billion dollars a year on shelters and hotels, trying to put a giant band aid on this solution, when it’s actually not just more effective, but actually less expensive to solve the problem. Why is that? Because we’re not just spending $3 billion a year on the hotels and shelters.
Where do those folks go to get their health care? They go to the emergency room. They end up cycling in and out of Rikers, the mental health wings of our public hospitals. We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year, even billions, trying to put a band aid on the problem when we could actually solve the problem by creating more supportive housing, and make sure that we’re directing folks quickly to that help rather than letting them fall through the cracks and end up on our streets.
That’s what I did when I was HUD secretary. We solved the problem rather than putting a band aid on it. That’s what I would do as mayor.
Kramer: So Shaun, people who send their kids to charter schools really love them. I wonder what your position on it is? And also, how would you deal with private Jewish parochial schools that are accused of not providing an adequate secular education?
Donovan: Well, Marcia, first of all, let me be clear. I’m for good schools. And I’m not going to lead with ideology and politics. You know, Fiorello LaGuardia, who is perhaps the greatest mayor in the history of this city, said that there is no Democratic or Republican way to take out the trash. We need a mayor who understands that not everything is political or ideological, that we need to lead with people rather than politics. And that’s true in schools as well. What we’ve seen over and over again, is ideology coming before our children and their education.
And so where charter schools are succeeding, and there are many in our city that are, we need to be investing those and making sure that they can they can grow and do their jobs. We know that there are many, many parents in this city, particularly Black and Brown parents who believe that charter schools are a good option for them. And so we ought to be building partnerships in ensuring that we can create more of them, but also growing and improving our traditional schools as well.
This is not an either-or, this is not an ideological or political fight. This is a fight that is about our children, and we need to be making sure we’re investing in all of our schools.
I also believe that our private schools, religious-based schools do have a real role. You know, I started my career, Marcia, working with a remarkable leader from Central Brooklyn named Bishop Johnny Ray Youngblood at St. Paul’s Church. He had a school there that was remarkable in terms of turning around the education of kids in a neighborhood that had been left behind for decades. And I believe we need somebody at City Hall who knows how to work with every community, every New Yorker, improve every kind of school. And we also need to make sure that every one of those schools is providing a good education.
We do have some charter and some private schools that are failing in our city. And we need accountability for all of them, to make sure that we’re providing a basic level of strong education, with respect for the differences across those different schools.
Kramer: So I wonder what measures you would put in place to ensure there’s no sexual harassment in a Donovan administration?
Donovan: Well, first of all, I want to be clear, Marcia, that I have been unequivocal, the only man in this race who has said clearly, it is unacceptable for Scott Stringer to continue in this race. That he ought to step down. Because, look, Marcia, as a man who has been in real positions of power in our public sector, I know that the idea that a man in that position can tell a woman that the relationship was consensual is dead wrong. And I understand that when you are in a position of power, you cannot believe that a relationship would be consensual, because you are holding power over someone who works for you.
And so I have been very clear on this, that we should not accept any any victimization, targeting of women, using the power that men have in positions of power over them. And I’ve been very clear that I believe what Jean said. I believe that she is telling the truth, and that we need to lift her story up and not make sure, as Scott Stringer has been doing, that we attack her. So I’ve been very clear about that. And that goes to the standards that I would put in place, a zero tolerance policy for any relationships between those in positions of power, and folks who work for them.
And that’s what I’ve done my entire career. Look at my record, I have a longer record of leading in public service and through crisis than anyone else in this race. And I believe that’s what New Yorkers want right now, is a leader who’s been tested, especially in moments of crisis, who has been trusted by Barack Obama and Joe Biden, by Mayor Bloomberg again and again, to lead through crisis after crisis in this city and this country.
Kramer: So we have a few short answer questions. First of all, given ranked choice voting, who would you ask your supporters to pick as this in second place? Your second choice?
Donovan: Well, Marcia, I am a real admirer, I have a lot of respect for the work that Maya Wiley has done in civil rights. This is something that I have worked on for 30 years. In fact, 30 years ago this year, I met John Lewis for the first time, when I retraced the route of the Freedom Rides. They happened 60 years ago this year. I retraced that route with John Lewis on the 30th anniversary. And that began a lifelong commitment to civil rights. It’s why during the Obama administration, I led the way on fair housing, giving real meaning to the Fair Housing Act of 1968. And making sure that we held every community in this country accountable.
In fact, I was so strong on this, that when Donald Trump still had a Twitter account last year, he was attacking my work, saying that we were trying to destroy the suburbs by ensuring that every American, no matter what they look like, what language they spoke, who they love, could live wherever they chose. And I’m proud that he was attacking my work because that meant we were making a difference. So I’ve admired the work that Maya has done in this area over a long time, and I would list her as my second choice.
Kramer: So now we’re moving to a segment that we call “in one word.” So in one word, what do you consider your best leadership quality?
Donovan: Crisis. Nobody has led through crisis the way I have Marcia, again and again. And let me just take you through it. You know, I try not to take it personally, like crisis seems to follow me wherever I go in public service, Marcia. But I was asked to be housing commissioner by Mayor Bloomberg in the wake of 9/11, to help rebuild this city.
When the worst housing crisis of our lifetimes hit our city and our country, President Obama asked me to keep people in their homes and to rebuild our economy. When Sandy hit our shores, he asked me to make sure that we rebuilt our city better and stronger and safer. And then he asked me to lead the $4 trillion federal budget when we were facing the worst budget deficit since World War II. And we reduced the deficit faster than any time since World War II, while still making big investments in healthcare, and housing, and jobs, in all the things that we need in New York right now.
And then, a few weeks into that job, Ebola hit and then Zika. And I ended up working side by side with Dr. Fauci, all of our leaders, to make sure that a pandemic didn’t emerge in New York that cost tens of thousands of lives. So, leadership through crisis is something I bring that no one else in this race does, to make sure that we rebuild from this crisis as well.
Kramer: So in one word, and you get only one word, in one word, would friends and family, what would they use to describe you as?
Donovan: An optimist, is what they would say.
Kramer: I’m sorry. The next question is, what’s your favorite comfort food?
Donovan: My favorite comfort food would have to be a pepperoni pizza.
Kramer: OL. Name a unique skill or talent?
Donovan: I think my wife would say a great dancer, and I love to dance. I was out dancing in the streets with her Friday night.
Kramer: You like to do this when faced with a difficult situation? One word.
Donovan: Sorry, Marcia. Could you say that again?
Kramer: You like to do this when faced with a difficult situation?
Donovan: I like to lead.
Kramer: Okay, well, Shaun, thank you very much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Donovan: Thank you, Marcia. It’s great to be with you.
You can watch our New York City mayoral debate with leading contenders on CBSN New York and on CBS2 hosted by Kramer and Maurice Dubois on Thursday, June 10 at 7 p.m.