New York City Mayor
BILL DE BLASIO – DEMOCRAT
Occupation: Mayor of New York City
Education: New York University, B.A.; Columbia University, M.I.A.
Mayor de Blasio touts his achievements during his first term: further crime reductions, establishment of citywide pre-K, substantial job growth, and standing up to divisive Trump policies, including maintaining New York City as a sanctuary for immigrants. The Mayor also claims his affordable housing plan is ahead of schedule, that police-community relations are improving, and that the police force is now more diverse. On the other hand, income inequality – a key focus of his 2013 campaign – is still a major issue (although he claims to be making strides to address it), the homelessness crisis has worsened, and relations between Albany and City Hall are severely strained. However, particularly concerning to Citizens Union is that the Mayor’s conduct has raised many troubling ethical issues. For example, a nonprofit organization he formed, the Campaign for One New York, was a means of attracting contributions to enhance the Mayor’s political agenda from many individuals and entities seeking to do business with the city. These donors were able to give far more to this entity than they could to his mayoral campaign, given the city’s campaign contribution limits. A 2015 report showed over 60% of donors in one six-month period either had business or labor contacts with City Hall or were pursuing approval for a project when they contributed. In addition, the Mayor maintained connections with his campaign consultants after taking office, at one point claiming them to be “agents” of the city (even though they were not on the city’s payroll) to try to shield their communications from Freedom of Information Law disclosure. And his effort to support certain Democratic candidates for the State Senate in 2014 led to an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney, who, while ultimately deciding not to prosecute, took the extraordinary step of issuing a public statement saying that the Mayor’s fundraising in that regard “appear[ed] contrary to the intent and spirit of the law.” Also concerning is recent sworn testimony of a witness cooperating with federal prosecutors regarding “pay-to-play” allegations involving City Hall. We hope that in the future whoever is elected Mayor will address the perception of a “pay-to-play” culture at City Hall and support ethics reform legislation for the benefit of all New Yorkers, like the legislation enacted late last year at Citizens Union’s urging to curb nonprofits such as the Campaign for One New York. Besides the incumbent, the only other major party candidate, Nicole Malliotakis, is earnest, has a promising future, but would benefit from more experience in order to run a government of the size and complexity of New York City. The other candidates, while also evaluated, did not demonstrate the range of leadership skills or public support to receive preferential consideration. Hence, for all of these reasons, for the first time in more than 50 years, Citizens Union, by a unanimous vote of its governing board, chooses not to express a preference and cannot support any of the candidates on the ballot for Mayor of New York City.
SAL F. ALBANESE – REFORM
Occupation: Attorney at Allegaert Berger & Vogel LLP
Education: CUNY York College, B.A.; New York University, M.A.; Brooklyn Law School, J.D.
Sal Albanese is an attorney who represented southwest Brooklyn on the City Council for fifteen years during the 1980’s and 1990’s, followed by campaigns to win the Democratic Party nomination for Mayor in 1997, 2001, 2013, and 2017. He was known to be an independent Council Member, voting against the party leadership’s positions and pressing for reform issues like public campaign finance. Albanese stresses the need for a major overhaul of the political system, which he sees as broken. He also supports revamping campaign finance laws by establishing a voucher program (voter donations through public funding), reducing the donation cap, and forbidding the bundling of campaign contributions. On Mayor-Council relations, Albanese wants to enact an advise and consent procedure over agency commissioner appointments in the Council. On voting reform, Albanese advocates for a nonpartisan election system and instant runoff elections. He is in line with most of the Citizens Union questionnaire items, except on the issue of police oversight – he opposes enhancing the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s (CCRB) capabilities or establishing Commission to Combat Police Corruption (CCPC) as a permanent commission – and opposes independent budgeting for certain local boards and offices. Among Albanese’s other priorities are improving the mass transit system through greater MTA funding and tolling system changes, building more affordable housing by taxing non-primary-residence properties and building on available city-owned lots, and passing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.
NICOLE MALLIOTAKIS – REPUBLICAN
Occupation: New York State Assembly Member, District 64
Education: Seton Hall University, B.A.; Wagner College, M.B.A.
Nicole Malliotakis was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 2010 to represent eastern Staten Island and parts of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, defeating a two-term incumbent Democrat. She is a member of the Banking, Corporation's, Transportation, and Ways and Means Committees, and has touted her work on Superstorm Sandy recovery, restoring Staten Island bus service, and increasing transparency in the MTA. Malliotakis has been a vocal critic of the current administration for increasing city spending while showing what she sees as little results, especially in the quality of infrastructure, education, public safety, and homeless services. To improve what she sees as bad city management, she would implement a system of metrics to identify which programs are achieving results and which should be eliminated or reformed, and would also freeze property tax levies and implement a spending cap on the city’s expenses. To address the homelessness crisis, Malliotakis seeks to build supportive units for individuals with mental health conditions, provide rent subsidies contingent on job training, and prohibit the use of hotels as shelters, among other proposals. On reform issues, Malliotakis is aligned with Citizens Union’s agenda regarding the city’s “pay-to-play” culture and transparency, as she supports more disclosure of lobbying activities and council members’ outside income, and greater independence and transparency in budgeting; however, she opposes the city’s campaign finance public matching program (though she said she is using it for her mayoral race to be able to compete against the Mayor’s substantial campaign fund). Malliotakis is at odds with Citizens Union’s position on police oversight: she opposes the release of police officers’ disciplinary records to the public (Section 50-a), enhancing the CCRB’s capabilities, and establishing CCPC as a permanent commission, among other things. Malliotakis does not see any problems with current Mayor-Council relations or the legislative process, but believes a Republican Mayor would bring needed balance to the Democratic-controlled Council. On state-city relations, she is supportive of greater home rule for control over city schools, but not for levying taxes. In the Assembly, Malliotakis voted against same-sex marriage (a vote she said she now regrets) and has worked for various legislative reforms, including having bills provided to legislators electronically.
MICHAEL (MIKE) TOLKIN – SMART CITIES
Occupation: Full-time Candidate
Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.S.A.
Mike Tolkin is a tech entrepreneur who, in the private sector, founded initiatives related to virtual reality products and consumer benefits, as well as a proposed project to develop a city park in NoMad, Manhattan. Tolkin presents a vision for a “smarter city” and a “new economy” that includes immense investments in infrastructure (a $25 billion capital plan), healthcare (a universal single-payer mental health system), social safety nets (a universal basic income program), and housing (affordable campuses to be built on city-owned parcels). To fund these ambitious plans, Tolkin proposes to use the profits from a network of for-profit corporations he would establish, owned by the city but competing in the free market, in areas like e-commerce, research, and development, or any other business that has a potential revenue of at least a billion dollars. He also seeks to increase collaboration with the private sector through private-public partnerships. Tolkin did not answer many of Citizens Union reform questionnaire items, partly because his plans include a radical restructuring of city government. He does support greater home rule, especially in terms of public transit and mayoral control of schools, as well as increasing transparency and accountability through technological innovations. Tolkin has also proposed community-elected police officers and a “Board of Taxpayers” that reviews budgets.
AKEEM BROWDER – GREEN
Has not returned questionnaire
AARON COMMEY – LIBERTARIAN
Has not returned questionnaire
BO DIETL – DUMP THE MAYOR
Has not returned questionnaire
New York City Public Advocate
★ Endorsed Candidate LETITIA JAMES - DEMOCRAT ★
Occupation: New York City Public Advocate
Education: CUNY Lehman College, B.A.; Howard University School of Law, J.D.
Letitia James has served as the Public Advocate of New York City since 2014, the first woman of color to hold citywide office. She had served on the Council since 2003, where
she chaired the Sanitation and the Economic Development Committees. James began her career as a public defender for The Legal Aid Society and went on to be the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Brooklyn Regional Office. As Public Advocate, James has had multiple accomplishments. She has litigated to address issues on a wide range of topics, such as sexual assault, housing rights, police reform and education policies, and advocates for an increase in the scope and powers of the Public Advocate’s litigation capabilities to approach and resolve issues. In her role as Public Advocate, James has published various policy reports, which detail specific issues relating to New Yorkers’ daily lives, from the gender wage gap and education to affordable housing and criminal justice reform. James publishes the Worst Landlords List, which has been integral to her success helping New York City tenants advocate for their housing rights. In addition to her litigation and advocacy work, James has proposed legislation passed by the Council, including the Equal Pay Legislation that banned employers from requesting information about wage and salary history. In her second term James would like to improve the way the city deals with FOIL requests, believing that more FOIL officers are needed in each agency to ensure timely responses. James believes the Public Advocate should have an appointment to the Panel for Educational Policy, and stands for greater parental voice in the schools. In addition to the power to litigate, which she has been exercising, James believes that to remain a strong independent arm of city government the Public Advocate should have a budget independent of the Mayor and Council, and subpoena power. Although supportive of many Citizens Union positions, she opposes holding a constitutional convention. James has an excellent command of the issues facing the city and has used the office of Public Advocate effectively to advocate for change. Citizens Union believes she merits reelection.
DEVIN BALKIND - LIBERTARIAN
Occupation: President, Sahana Software Foundation
Education: Northwestern University, B.S.
Devin Balkind has significant experience using innovative technology to promote the spread of information. He is currently the president of the Sahana Software Foundation, a nonprofit organization that produces open source information management systems for disaster relief and humanitarian aid. He is also the executive director of Sarapis, a nonprofit that assists other nonprofit organizations to use open source tools and techniques to their advantage. The campaign for Public Advocate is his first venture into politics. In line with his background, he focuses on the information-related aspects of the office. Balkind believes that the Public Advocate is in a prime position to fight against the problems that asymmetrical information can present to a city. As Public Advocate he would fight for New York City residents to have the right and ability to access information regarding the actions and political relationships of their council members and other city officials. Balkind would also take advantage of the Public Advocate’s role in certifying the capital budget to leverage greater transparency in how money is spent in New York City. Balkind is a strong proponent of instituting a “211” program that would provide New Yorkers with greater access to various services and assistance from both the public and private sector in the city. On criminal justice reform, he cites the war on drugs as a key policy failure that has led to a breakdown in the relationship between the NYPD and the communities they police. Balkind has made the push for a constitutional convention a component of his campaign, believing that it provides the best chance to broadly democratize the political process in New York City. Citizens Union encourages his further involvement in politics but believes he needs to take a broader perspective on the role of the Public Advocate and the skills needed to do the job effectively.
JUAN CARLOS (J.C.) POLANCO - REPUBLICAN
Occupation: New York State Assembly; New York City Regional Director; Polanco Law, PLLC
Education: SUNY Albany, B.A.; Fordham University, J.D. and M.B.A.
J.C. Polanco is the current NYC Regional Director for the Assembly Minority Conference, is on the faculty at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and practices law at Polanco Law, PLLC. Previously he served as the Commissioner of Elections from the Bronx. He ran unsuccessfully for the New York State Assembly in 2002. Polanco has a broad agenda for change, and is committed to weeding out financial corruption and “pay-to-play” politics in New York City. He would like to see the expansion of charter school programs and increased options for parents’ school choice. Polanco plans to improve community-police relationships by recruiting more officers from within the city, providing more multicultural training, and increasing youth programs with the police so children learn to trust and have positive interactions with police. He would provide first responders and police officers with information regarding mental health patients in their communities to avoid fatal confrontations. Polanco would like to expand services for homeless individuals such as mental health care and job training, and wants to see supportive housing built in communities across the five boroughs. Polanco would like to expand the power of the Public Advocate, and if elected would seek to place the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the Department of Homeless Services under his purview to ensure better services. He also supports subpoena power for the Public Advocate and is a strong supporter of the constitutional convention. Polanco is a knowledgeable candidate but Citizens Union does not believe he would match the effectiveness of the incumbent.
JAMES C. LANE - GREEN
Has not returned questionnaire
MICHAEL A. O’REILLY – CONSERVATIVE
Has not returned questionnaire
New York City Comptroller
★ Endorsed Candidate SCOTT STRINGER - DEMOCRAT ★
Occupation: New York City Comptroller
Education: John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Scott Stringer is the current New York City Comptroller and has been a member of the New York political landscape for decades. He first held office as a State Assembly Member from 1993 to 2005, and then was Borough President of Manhattan from 2006 to 2013. In 2013, he was elected to the position of New York City Comptroller and is now seeking re-election. His current priorities include addressing issues of affordability, homelessness, NYCHA housing conditions, and making the Department of Education more transparent. He urges the development of new affordable housing options by leveraging his audit and investigation power to find solutions to creating new units and maintaining the existing stock. Other priorities include putting the MTA’s finances on a more sustainable footing and protecting the environment. Lastly, Stringer promises to build an inclusive economy by increasing Women- and Minority-owned Business Enterprise (WMBE) procurement. Stringer aligns with Citizens Union on most issues, except that he opposes holding a constitutional convention, and opposes eliminating party primaries and establishing a nonpartisan election system. Citizens Union believes Stringer has been an effective Comptroller, providing sound stewardship of the city’s finances and, notably, the city’s pension funds, where he has sought to achieve more coordination among the various funds that have been set up by law. He also has counter-balanced the Mayor on a number of issues, an appropriate role for the city’s financial watchdog. Stringer warrants another term as Comptroller; neither of his opponents can match his command of the issues or experience in handling this important position.
MICHEL FAULKNER – REPUBLICAN
Occupation: Pastor, New Horizon Church of New York
Education: Virginia Tech, B.A. and M.A.
Michel Faulkner is a former professional football player and has been a social worker and religious leader for nearly 30 years. He was the founder and is now the leading pastor at New Horizon Church of New York. In 2005, he founded the nonprofit Institute for Leadership, which develops leadership programs for a range of industry professionals. In the 1990s, Faulkner worked on the mayoral campaign of Rudolph Giuliani and was later appointed to the Task Force on Police Community Relations. In 2010, he ran for Congress against U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and lost. His priorities include fixing NYCHA’s aging housing stock by improving maintenance and providing capital infusion. He believes the Comptroller should push back against the Mayor and Council to reduce spending, which he feels has gotten out of control under the current administration. Faulkner also prioritizes the expansion of charter schools. He bemoans what he calls the “balance of payments” deficit, with too much city taxpayer money flowing to Washington and Albany relative to what the city receives. He also believes the city’s pension funds should be placed in lower cost investments, and that the assumptions regarding the expected investment returns on pension funds are too high. Faulkner deviates from a number of Citizens Union’s reform positions, most notably on the issue of holding a constitutional convention, which he opposes. Faulkner also opposes establishing independent budgeting for the borough presidents, the Conflicts of Interest Board, the Public Advocate, and community boards.
JULIA WILLEBRAND – GREEN
Education: CUNY, B.A.; Teachers College, Columbia University, M.A. and Ed.D.
Julia Willebrand is a former public school teacher and professor, and has been active in local government for many years. In the 1990s, she was chair of the Manhattan Citizens’ Solid Waste Advisory Board and had a similar role at the New York City Sierra Club. She has also served as chair of the Green Party’s International Working Group. In 2001, she ran for Mayor of New York and in 2006 she ran for New York State Comptroller. Willebrand explained that two of her top priorities are to establish a municipal bank, and change pension investment policies to incorporate social justice principles. She also wants to end tax abatements, which she sees as corporate subsidies. Among Willebrand’s other priorities are to divest the city’s retirement plans from fossil fuels, revitalize the city’s education system by ending support for charter schools, and monitor the Criminal Justice Reform Act to ensure reduction of misdemeanor cases. Willebrand supports Citizens Union’s position on holding a constitutional convention. She differs from Citizens Union’s positions on eliminating party primaries and establishing a nonpartisan election system.
ALEX MERCED – LIBERTARIAN
Has not returned questionnaire
NYC Council District 4
★ Endorsed Candidate REBECCA HARARY – REPUBLICAN ★
Occupation: Full-time candidate
Education: The Fashion Institute of Technology, B.A.; Columbia University, M.A.
Rebecca Harary is a cofounder and board member of the Propel Network, a women’s career support organization, and a founder of a number of other community and educational nonprofits. In 2016, she ran for a seat in the New York State Assembly (District 72) but lost to incumbent Dan Quart in the General Election. Harary’s priorities include easing rent burdens on seniors, middle-class residents, and small businesses (largely through raising the commercial rent tax ceiling and gradually eliminating it); making subway stations ADA compliant and improving public transportation for the growing senior population; and addressing homelessness with vocational training. She is also concerned with managing overcrowded pre-K classrooms, improving pedestrian safety and deploying more police officers in her district. Harary expressed support for many reform issues, including implementing new restrictions on lobbyist activity, introducing nonpartisan top-two election system and, most notably, holding a constitutional convention. However, she opposes a few reform issues important to Citizens Union. She wants to decrease campaign public funding (although supports lowering contribution limits), objects to enhancing certain powers of the CCRB, and opposes requiring the NYPD to disaggregate use-of-force reporting by race. Citizens Union believes Harary would be an energetic, committed representative who would add a fresh perspective to the Council.
KEITH POWERS – DEMOCRAT
Occupation: Full-time candidate
Education: University of Dayton, B.A.; CUNY Graduate Center, M.A.
Keith Powers is a former Vice President at Constantinople & Vallone Consulting L.L.C., a lobbying firm in New York City and State. He has worked as a campaign manager for state Senator Liz Krueger and a chief of staff for Assembly Member Jonathan Bing. Powers’s top priorities are protecting and creating affordable housing; improving public education in terms of funding, diversity, and quality; and fixing public transportation’s functionality and affordability. Powers’s platform includes a detailed plan of good government reform for the city. His “Sunlight in the City” agenda includes reforms to campaign finance, budget allocations, Council operations, voting and elections, and new restrictions on lobbyist activity. In addressing his own work as a lobbyist, and in response to criticisms that he accepted contributions from former clients, he has pledged to disclose his former client list, refrain from contact with former clients of the firm, and seek an advisory opinion on the matter from the Conflict of Interest Board, which he will make public.
RACHEL HONIG – LIBERAL
Occupation: Public Relations and Communications Consultant
Education: Smith College, B.A.
Rachel Honig has been working in marketing and public relations for the past twenty years in various capacities. A self-defined “socially liberal and fiscally responsible” candidate,
she is running for office to bring “non-partisan competency” to City Hall, and points to the city’s shortcomings in supporting small businesses as her top priority issue. Honig is also concerned with preserving waterways and parks, pressuring Albany to create significant transportation improvements, addressing overdevelopment in the district, and lead-contaminated drinking water. She supports holding a constitutional convention. Honig is seeking election because she feels that City Hall has failed to represent the public interest in several key areas and wishes to elevate public dialogue about government ethics.
NYC Council District 15
★ Endorsed Candidate RITCHIE TORRES – DEMOCRAT★
Questionnaire | No website.
Occupation: New York City Council Member, District 15
Education: High School
Ritchie Torres was elected to the New York City Council to represent District 15 in 2013 as the youngest member of the Council and is currently seeking reelection. He is the Chair of the Committee on Public Housing and a likely candidate for speaker. Noting his own history as a NYCHA resident, Torres emphasized the importance of improving public housing stock and seeking more accountability from landlords. He also wants to increase diversity in public schools by enacting controlled choice; provide addiction treatment services, and increase funding to services for immigrant and LGBTQ communities. Torres is supportive of much of Citizens Union’s reform agenda. He is a strong supporter of greater police accountability and has sponsored legislation in the area during his first term. Torres supports Citizens Union’s voting and elections, campaign finance, and budget reform agenda. He is not in favor, however, of holding a constitutional convention. Citizens Union endorses Council Member Torres because of his legislative aptitude, especially on matters related to housing and police accountability, and his sensitivity to the issues facing his constituents.
JAYSON CANCEL – REPUBLICAN
Occupation: Fire Safety Director
Education: Bronx Community College, A.A.
Jayson Cancel is a fire safety director with experience in security. His priorities are community oriented but relatively unspecific. His primary goals are to improve the economic health of the district by reducing income inequality, improve funding for public health services, and promote cleaner subways and public spaces. Cancel opposes new homeless shelters in District 15 because of the economic hardships it faces. On reform issues, Cancel supports law enforcement reform through increased communication and improved relations between communities and the police. He supports almost all of Citizens Union’s questionnaire items, including holding a constitutional convention, but opposes allowing committee chairs to hire a staffer and giving chairs the power to schedule committee hearings and votes. While Citizens Union believes Cancel has a genuine desire to improve his district, his platform lacks specificity and his background does not indicate that he would be an effective lawmaker.
NYC Council District 43
★ Endorsed Candidate JUSTIN BRANNAN – DEMOCRAT ★
Occupation: Full-time Candidate
Education: Fordham University and College of Staten Island, B.A.
Justin Brannan is currently a full-time candidate. He previously served as Chief of Staff for Council Member Vincent Gentile and is the founder of Bay Ridge Cares, a nonprofit organization that addresses quality of life issues in Bay Ridge. Brannan’s top priorities in the district are to improve public transportation options, address overcrowding in
classrooms, support small businesses, increase funding for senior services, and increase community-police interaction. He supports almost all of Citizens Union’s reform priorities
and is especially supportive of Council rules reforms to make the process of policymaking more fair, efficient, and external to the political dynamics of the Council. Brannan
splits notably with Citizens Union’s agenda on the subject of holding a constitutional convention, which he opposes. Citizens Union endorses Brannan because, in addition to
his knowledge of the issues facing his district, he is the candidate most versed in reform issues and presents as the candidate with the greatest ability to successfully negotiate the
dynamics of the Council.
JOHN QUAGLIONE - REPUBLICAN
Occupation: Deputy Chief of Staff and Press Secretary for Senator Martin Golden
Education: American University, B.A.
John Quaglione is currently the Deputy Chief of Staff and Press Secretary for State Senator Martin Golden and serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Saint Anselm
Catholic Academy. Qualgione’s top priorities are creating a city-wide database of cell phone videos and pictures taken by civilians to assist NYPD investigations, increasing the presence of police in District 43, introducing participatory budgeting, improving public transportation, and increasing funding for senior services like the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) programs. Quaglione supports a number of Citizens Union’s reform goals, but differs on the subject of police accountability, holding a constitutional convention, and independent budgeting for certain public offices and boards. He does, however, believe that the CCRB should be empowered to prosecute officers found lying during their investigations. Quaglione demonstrates experience and knowledge of his district’s concerns, but Citizens Union was troubled by remarks he recently made that showed an insensitivity to women’s rights.
NYC Council District 44
KALMAN YEGER – DEMOCRAT
Questionnaire | No website.
Education: Touro College, B.A.; New York Law School, J.D.
Kalman Yeger is a counsel and executive director of the Bronx Borough President’s election committee, and since 2010 has served as a senior advisor and counsel to the current incumbent, Council Member David Greenfield. He stresses that his priorities are related to local issues: securing funding to improve the F express train line, funding the district’s parks, maintaining participatory budgeting, and being a voice for his community in the Council. With regard to Citizens Union’s reform agenda, Yeger supports stronger reform of the Council’s bill drafting process than the one enacted in 2014, which will increase transparency and reduce the speaker’s ability to abuse her or his power and council members’ ability to “freeze” issues or bills from being considered further. He also supports Citizens Union’s goal of preventing an emerging “pay-to-play” culture in NYC. However, Yeger opposed many of Citizens Union’s questionnaire items, including proposals to establish a nonpartisan election system, institute instant runoff voting, increase campaign public matching funding, enhance the power of the CCRB and CCPC, and others. He remains undecided on holding a constitutional convention. He also suggests treating expenditures by “issue” nonprofits as campaign expenditures subject to the limitations of the Campaign Finance Act as a mechanism for addressing the “pay-to-play” issue. Yeger was running for City Council in District 48 until Council Member Greenfield announced that he would no longer seek re-election—after the petition filing deadline for candidates had passed—and selected Yeger as his successor as the Democratic candidate for District 44, a move that was criticized by Citizens Union as disenfranchising constituents and fueling the cynicism of New York voters. In his interview, Yeger himself was also critical of the process that led him to this seat, but claimed both council districts have overlapping communities and neighborhoods.