Jumaane Williams On His Priorities As Public Advocate

Jumaane Williams On His Priorities As Public Advocate

EAST FLATBUSH —  Two Brooklyn councilmembers voted against Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan in 2016 saying the measure “largely ignores [the] most vulnerable communities.” One of those lawmakers is now the city’s public advocate and he still feels the city needs to “fix it.”

Jumaane Williams. (Photo: Zainab Iqbal/Bklyner)
Jumaane Williams. (Photo: Zainab Iqbal/Bklyner)

“I think we should have a moratorium on most rezoning in the city until we reopen MIH (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing) and get it right,” said newly-elected Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “And I think we should include a racial impact study in rezonings that go on throughout the city.”

A day before officially taking office, Williams talked to Bkylner about the transition to city-wide office, the city’s controversial specialized school testing methods, and the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program.

The New Job

The public advocate works as an ombudsman for all New York City residents. The position’s limited power can introduce legislation but has a large pulpit to advocate for residents and keep an eye on the Mayor. The person who holds the position is next in line should the mayor unexpectedly vacate the office.

This is Williams’ first city-wide position. He clenched the position in an expensive 17-person special election after now-State Attorney General Letitia James took her position, leaving the public advocate’s seat vacant.

“I’m still really trying to adjust to the position,” Williams told Bklyner. “It’s something big to go from an activist to a councilmember, to a city-wide position. I will say, a lot of the issues I worked on were city-wide, so that part is not necessarily new.”

Williams has since introduced a 20-person transition team who will help create the office’s structure and with the hiring process. The city’s first Public Advocate Mark Greene along with President of the NAACP Brooklyn leads the committee. While Ifeoma (Ify) Ike, Williams’ former public advocate serves as the chair.

“She was one person I thought I would bring along in some capacity because I was very impressed by what she brought to the table,” he said of Ike.

Housing

Williams wants the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) that looks at the effect a proposed development would have on the surrounding community to include a look at the racial impact.  EIS is required for those developments that undergo the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) – usually looking to build larger or different from what the zoning allows.

Currently, developers can build beyond an area’s height restrictions by offering affordable housing under the city’s MIH program.  Affordability is based on the city’s area median income (AMI) of $93,900, which includes Westchester. Residents living in East Flatbush, Wiliams’ former council district, median household income is $58,117 according to New York City Planning data.

Williams campaigned on the housing issue and maintains the topic is “really important.”

“Rent regulations are important,” said Williams. “There are still people losing their homes in foreclosures. It may not come up for a while but Third Party Transfers (TPT) is an issue we want to work on with the council.

“NYCHA is still a huge issue,” added Williams saying he’s looking to work with HUD Director Lynne Patton.

Education

The Brooklyn native has long boasted his public school education and advocated for the system during both runs. He told Bklyner, his specialized high school agenda has since been prioritized.

Williams is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, one of several specialized schools who admit based on the results of a single Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) that has come under attack as enrollment of black and Hispanic students has shrunk.

The mayor has proposed to abolish the test, but most city and state lawmakers appear unclear on how to appease all New Yorkers. This week speaker Corey Johnson came out in support of abolishing the single test admissions in an editorial in Chalkbeat. Williams disagrees.

“The best way to do that is not the way the mayor did it,” said Williams. “He pitted the community against each other.”

Williams went on to say that lawmakers have to respect everyone’s experience, and recounted his own:

“I would not have gotten into Brooklyn Tech had they used any other measure besides that test,” said Williams. “I have a friend that told me he was about to get left back in the eighth grade until he took that test. He’s a very successful attorney right now.”

Williams suggested exploring opening up seats to multiple-criteria while also leaving seats for the test but cast doubt on the entire system he says in and of itself is failing.

“My understanding is that the multi-criteria schools that exist, the higher tier ones, they’re not that much more diverse,” he said.

Succession

A special election has been set for May 14th for the 45th council district seat Williams vacated, and there are currently nine people in the running. Most of the candidates are East Flatbush natives and several of them have collaborated with Williams in his position as councilman. Affordable housing listed as the top issue when Bklyner polled the candidates.

Williams would not give an endorsement, but here are the candidates listed in alphabetical order.

  • Anthony Alexis
  • Anthony Beckford
  • Monique Chandler-Waterman
  • Lou Cespedes-Fernandez
  • Farah Louis
  • Xamayla Rose
  • Jovia Radix
  • Adina Sash
  • L. Rickie Tulloch

For Williams, the political seat swap is enough. When asked if he’s trading in his backpack he’s known to tote around for a briefcase, the Brooklynite shot back, “Why would I? I’m still me.”

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