By: Fern Sidman
As the New York City campaign season continues to heat up and mayoral candidates are hitting the airwaves and the streets to garner votes, one almost loses track of the fact that on June 22, not only will New Yorkers pull the lever for the next mayor but they will choose city council members, public advocate and city comptroller, among other races.
In keeping with our policy of presenting profiles of the many candidates in this year’s race, several weeks ago, the Jewish Voice ran an enlightening interview with Brooklyn City Councilman Robert Cornegy who has tossed his hat in the ring for the job of Brooklyn Borough President.
At this juncture, the Jewish Voice is beyond pleased to present an interview with Mark Levine, a twice elected Manhattan city councilman, representing the diverse 7th council district that covers West Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Morningside Heights and parts of the Upper West Side and Washington Heights. Mr. Levine is now running for Manhattan Borough President and if victorious will replace Gale Brewer.
“I am running for Manhattan Borough President because of all boroughs in this great city, Manhattan endured such enormous challenges during the Covid pandemic and I believe that if we all work together, we can put Manhattan on a path to recovery in every respect, “ declared Mr. Levine.
As a long time resident of the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, Mr. Levine has gained a true understanding of the problems that the average New Yorker has faced in the last 15 months and what problems lay ahead.
Even prior to the advent of the dreaded coronavirus, Mr. Levine was working towards legislation that would help New Yorkers struggling to stay afloat in the city. “This year has illustrated the fact that New Yorkers has to deal with financial struggles, the likes of which we have never seen. Issues of housing, food insecurity, access to quality healthcare and childcare were staring us in the face, “ he said.
As chair of the City Council health committee, Mr. Levine has been in the forefront of the campaign for a health policy based on science and has concretely addressed the issues of racial inequity in the city’s healthcare system. “During Covid, my concern was that every New Yorker has adequate health insurance. Providing healthcare for undocumented immigrants was a challenge and those New Yorkers who are uninsured because they fall into ‘the donut hole.” That means that they might have too much income to qualify for such government assistance as Medicaid but their income is not sufficient to afford private insurance, “ he said.
He added: “No matter what zip code a New Yorker lives in, healthcare is a right. Every New Yorker, irrespective of race, ethnicity or nationality deserves top-tier healthcare and that is what we succeeded in providing during this crisis. No Manhattanite was left out in the cold. Every New Yorker had access to local clinics and hospitals, “ he said.
Despite this, Mr. Levine believes that the work ahead in terms of emerging from this pandemic in an expeditious and highly effective manner will depend on the creation of a dedicated Manhattan COVID-19 Recovery Unit that supports working families, small businesses, and all Manhattanites by helping them access direct funding, loans, eviction and foreclosure protections, and legal support. He plans to place a special emphasis on historically underserved communities with a concentration on racial and economic equity, and on the locally-owned businesses and tenants hit hardest by the pandemic.
“Based on my experience, I believe that what we need right now is a policy that advances health equity, supports small businesses that have been decimated, brings people into the workforce and simply bureaucracy as we prepare for the next pandemic, “ he said.
In order to achieve these objectives when elected as Manhattan Borough president, Mr. Levine plans to appoint a Covid-19 Recovery Czar, who is dedicated to ensuring that Manhattan has the resources to emerge even stronger in the post-pandemic world.
In addition, Mr. Levine believes that to re-start the beleaguered economy in Manhattan and to provide some emotional support for Manhattanites during this difficult time, a campaign to promote and support the arts is absolutely imperative.
“If elected as our next Manhattan Borough President, I have plan to rigorously pursue increased funding for the arts, as we support the re-opening of Broadway and create job opportunities for artists,” he said.
He added that, “the arts are an essential part of our city’s identity and our overall economy. Our city budget should reflect that. I will work towards having the administration commit 1% of our budget to the Department of Cultural Affairs, up from current funding levels of about .2%.”
On the topic of racial and religious hatred that saw permeated New York City, Mr. Levine said, “The uptick in attacks on both Asian-Americans and Jews in this city, in this nation and around the world is totally unacceptable. The levels of visceral hatred directed at minorities has spiraled out of control and we are committed to putting an end to anti-Semitic attacks on persons and property as well as harassment and attacks on Asians and others who are being victimized.”
Back in December of 2018, Mr. Levine took a leading role in the creation of an Office of Hate Crimes Prevention, in response to the rising number of hate crimes. At the time, he said the office would serve as an umbrella organization, one that would streamline coordination between other city agencies in the wake of a hate crime.
“Anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest and most deadly of hatreds and we all know that silence on this issue is not going to make it go away. We must make Manhattan safe for Jews and others by increasing police patrols in Jewish areas and we must ensure that those charged with anti-Semitic attacks face hate crime charges. We must also focus on Holocaust education in schools and work to bring people together; to learn about each other’s cultures, “ he said.