Lhota and Allon stand out at Mayoral forum hosted by Daily News.

28 Jan

Last Thursday evening in East New York the NY Daily News co-hosted a forum of NYC Mayoral candidates (2 Republicans, 4 Democrats) in what was billed an official beginning of the 2013 campaign. Subsequent media accounts did not tell the entire story of the evening..

The discussion centered exclusively on Housing which was emphasized by co-sponsor MIAF (Metro Industrial Areas Foundation). This was the first of three such forums set for early 2013 in Brooklyn and Queens. The others will focus on crime and other subject matter.mayorjandebate

Both Republican candidates seemed to impress the audience, and offered answers that garnered both applause and at times – what seemed like a collective agreement after a particularly effective statement. Overall, Tom Allon seemed to put himself on the map with the people attending and Joe Lhota offered a measured, understated yet completely plausible option to any other candidate. They both not only belonged, but topic-by-topic more than stood up well against four candidates that were elected to prior posts, and are more rehearsed at this stage.

Earlier that day there was controversy for who wasn’t invited and oddly some on the dais hadn’t yet announced for the office of NYC Mayor (including NYC Comptroller John Liu and NYC Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, who would declare three days later). While criteria for invitees was never explained by the forum’s highly-capable moderator Errol Louis of NY-1, notable absences included names making news of late for their Mayoral intentions, including Independent Adolfo Carrion and declared Democrat Sal Albanese.

The audience of over 1,000 at St. Paul Community Baptist Church was familiar with the Democrats at the event – including 2009 candidate Bill Thompson. Councilwoman Christine Quinn was met with “anyone but Christine”-signs outside the event, but unlike some have been quoted in the media quite aggressively, she didn’t face any comments connecting her candidacy with Mayor Bloomberg’s 3rd term in person. eastnycrowdpic

The veteran politicians seemed adept at jumping into answers where possible and not limiting themselves to awaiting their turn. Both Lhota and Allon — brand new to participation in forums were more respectful, more patient, as one would expect. But the Public and the Media seem to rather want a game of double-dutch, and leaping in with a quick statement or clever insult. Each Democrat seemed to out-do each other with superlatives and what they could accomplish, if elected. Comptroller Liu actually took a shot at Mayor Bloomberg (“Maybe he doesn’t know what mold…is.”)

In fact, the Mayor received a good amount of criticism this way by most – but Joe Lhota tempered this, by saying of leadership: “an important ability, is to get enough information, and be willing to change your mind.”

An early question sought a number of new housing units that would be targeted in an administration by each candidate. Each said they could reach or exceed 165,000.

One by one, the candidates seemed in agreement that housing was needed, more units were possible – and that funding wasn’t imminent from Washington D.C. (No candidate mentioned the lack of focus of this area on the President, whose name went unmentioned all evening, but DeBlasio actually blamed the “Tea Party in Congress” for H.U.D. and the Fed. being at fault for “not focusing on senior or low-income housing.” He pointed the finger at Congressional Republicans and not at an obvious lack of an Urban agenda by an Administration now in its 2nd term.)

Joe Lhota was criticized in the Daily News and New York magazine  – predominantly because he didn’t take every opportunity to speak, and ‘talk himself up’… as politicians are like to do. Lhota was actually the last candidate actually in line or asked to speak, initially (by stated process of the Moderator) – and it seemed that Quinn, Thompson, Liu and DeBlasio had spoken numerous times by injecting themselves after answers by others, before Joe Lhota began. After all, that Allon and Lhota were sharing a stage with career politicians was a distinction lost on the Daily News.

Nevertheless, Lhota was able to communicate the reality of Housing from a City perspective, of just how complex the topic actually is – by naming each overlapping agency involved and the need to streamline City, State and Federal agencies.lhotamedia

Lhota addressed bureaucracy of both people affected, and how budgets are mismanaged. His delivery was less emotional, but he revealed an encyclopedic knowledge of the players involved, funding/capital and how best to approach the private sector/investment. The flipside to Lhota’s demeanor was countered by Mr. Thompson, who said that a typical “20% to 80% deal” (for the City to insist on 20% affordable housing in circumstances where zoning or other aspects can be influenced) should be upped. “Why not 30/70? or 40/60?” His tossing numbers off the top of his head, for a former Comptroller at that, seemed to fall flatter than he was hoping.

Each of the candidates made points relative to Sandy recovery and consideration for residents – although nearly all the Democratic candidates attacked Mayor Bloomberg in some form. “He wanted to run the Marathon, when they were still finding bodies!” said Thompson.

Christine Quinn mentioned feedback for rebuilding that she had gotten in one area of Staten Island (that wants government to buy their land, and not to rebuild) – when faced with a resident from Breezy Point, who asked for candidates’ responses to Gov. Cuomo’s plan for possibly not rebuilding, which he says his community vehemently opposes.

Calmly again when his turn arose, it was Joe Lhota adding that there should be no uniformity as “Staten Island’s circumstances are far different than Rockaway, or Breezy Point” and that “no one even mentions Gerritsen Beach!”

Stark differences between a Democrat and Republican were presented during one exchange – where Christine Quinn emotionally called for a “new NYCHA arm, an Authority created like the School Housing Authority is separate from the Dept. of Education”. She said this would help speed-up the backlog of maintenance where NYCHA residents can wait years for their apartment’s needs. This was answered during Joe Lhota’s as he emphasized a need for better management and a “General Patton to come in and handle it” not by adding a new bureaucracy, but “as a change agent” where anyone that doesn’t adhere, would be swept out. This was well received by the audience.

The tone was respectful generally, until focus switched to Chairman John Rhea.

“He’s the Housing-version of Cathie Black,” said Tom Allon to strong applause. In fact, that comment seemed to help put Mr. Allon on the map with many in attendance. He went on to implore each of the participants to join him collectively and immediately, in pressuring Mayor Bloomberg “tomorrow” to “eliminate Rhea”.allonmedia

That clearly scored, with the audience. “I never even heard of Tom Allon at first,” said a local resident afterward. “But, I’m telling you… he did better than 1-2 of those elected ones, up there.”

A deep frustration with NYCHA was expressed by audience members, underlined by candidates – and much of it reactive to a strong piece of journalism in the NY Daily News during the summer of 2012, when the paper exposed great amounts of money misspent, and outrageous mismanagement considering the crime and living conditions, at hand in places.

What was apparent to anyone attending – is that both Republican candidates invited scored greatly. While subsequent coverage in the Daily News emphasized statements of John Liu, Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson and Bill DeBlasio… it was clear to all that both Republicans more than held their own, and left quite an impression on attendees.

“Lhota really knows his stuff with Housing,” said one local woman, “but I guess that makes sense, since he already worked with all those City agencies.”

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