1. What motivated you to get into politics?
Public service was the only thing that ever really interested me. I don't remember wanting to do anything else. At St. Patrick’s elementary school library on Long Island, where I grew up, there was a rack of paperback biographies of trailblazing figures, and I read them until they were dog-eared. I remember being amazed at the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and making the world a better place through their work and their actions.
After college I got a job as a housing organizer before working as Chief of Staff to then Council Member Tom Duane. I then ran a group called the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. When Tom left the Council to run for the Senate, I ran for his seat and have been lucky enough to represent the third Council District ever since.
2. What were some of the highlights in the city during 2011?
As has been the case for the last few years, our number one priority at the City Council in 2011 has been job creation and economic development. Unemployment is still way too high, and we’re working to solve that problem in a number of key ways.
We’re continuing to support small businesses as the backbone of our economy. And one of the biggest problems we hear from small business owners is that government permits and inspections can really slow you down and keep you from opening or expanding. So we’ve been working on an initiative called NYC Business Link, which will be a one stop shop for everything a business owner needs from government. Instead of having to go to six different agencies to schedule inspections, or get licenses and permits, you’ll have a single point of contact whose job it is to navigate the process for you. This will build on the success of programs like our New Business Acceleration Team, which has already helped hundreds of small businesses reduce their wait time for inspections by an average of nine weeks.
This year we also opened a food business incubator at La Marquetta in East Harlem – a shared commercial kitchen space that will help dozens of small businesses get started each year. And we launched a program called the Municipal Entrepreneur Testing Service – or METS – which will allow green tech businesses to test their products in city owned properties, and help create more of these green jobs in the five boroughs.
The launch of our new East River Ferry is helping relieve congestion on some of our streets and subways, and helping spur economic development along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront. And our HARP program has started turning dozens of units at stalled construction sites into affordable housing for middle income families.
I’m also very proud that we passed a balanced, on time budget without raising taxes. And while we had to make some tough choices, we were able to save the jobs of thousands of teachers and keep firehouses open in neighborhoods all over the city.
3. What are some of the challenges you foresee in 2012 and how are you working to address those issues?
Unemployment continues to be a big issue going into 2012, so we’ll continue to focus on sectors that have some of the greatest potential for job growth – like the tech industry. We’re building a Center for Innovation at CUNY to serve as a tech incubator, connecting researchers, entrepreneurs and business experts who can help turn new ideas into new businesses. We’re also going to be creating certificate programs at CUNY for the most in-demand programming languages, so more New Yorkers can qualify for jobs in tech. And we’re working with a group called hackNY to create a job placement service, connecting hundreds of New Yorkers with jobs in growing tech companies.
We’ll also grow our small manufacturing sector by making it easier for businesses to export their products across the country and around the world. And since New York City is more than anything a service based economy, we’ll partner with industry leaders in key sectors like green construction and design and market their services to other cities as well.
Also, while we’ve seen some progress, too many of our school are still underperforming. So in 2012 the Council will be focusing on ways we can make every school in New York City a good school. And we’ll continue to focus on expand access to pre-K, so every child enters school ready to learn.
4. What is the outlook on your five-year plan?
Right now I’m focused on my current job, and not worrying so much about where I’ll be in five years. But as far as what I hope New York City looks like in five years, I hope it’s a place that’s more economically diverse, a place where people have better job prospects. I want to make this a more affordable city, where people don’t have to spend so much of their income on rent. I want this to be a city where parents don’t feel they have to take their kids out of public school when they reach middle school age, a place where all our schools are doing a great job educating the next generation of New Yorkers.
I want this to be a place where all women can feel safe walking down the street, where we’ve put an end to gun violence, and made domestic violence and hate crimes things of the past. I want it to be a city where people can raise their families in the neighborhoods they grew up in. That’s the kind of city my colleagues and I are working every day to build, and I’m incredibly proud to have the opportunity to partner with so many people in communities in every borough to build an even better New York.