State of The People: Struggling and Scared, Public Advocate Williams Says

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

“As I move around the city, one I love, I see neighborhoods shifting as rents rise, students struggling for a high quality, equitable education. I see streets that are congested and streets that are dangerous and streets I may need to march down. I see communities pitted against each other, communities ignored, communities displaced,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said. “The people are struggling. The people are scared.”

For his first State of The People address, Williams chose Brooklyn College – his alma mater, located in the Council District he used to represent. Williams touched on hatred and bigotry, housing, segregation in education, workers rights, voting rights, mental health, and gun violence as he outlined what has been accomplished and what his plans were for the coming years.

HOUSING

Williams said his office will “push to make good cause a reality throughout New York,” introduce the Worst Landlord Accountability Act in the coming weeks, and work to pass a law that mandates a Racial Impact Study ahead of any potential re-zoning, “to know the damage that could be done and to prevent it, before it’s too late – before we see people driven from their neighborhoods by the forces of gentrification.”

SAFETY

“We need to move forward to strengthen the transparency and accountability that have been even further limited in this administration – to fight to repeal 50-a and reveal body camera footage, to continue to fight bias-based policing and support black transgender women and others who are targeted by our laws while deserving enhanced protection, not enhanced enforcement, and to utilize newly strengthened civilian oversight to bring real accountability,” Williams outlined.

MENTAL HEALTH

The Public Advocate will continue to “develop strategies to fundamentally change our city’s mental health response – and to separate it from a criminal one. In the coming year, we’ll push for implementation – and funding – of that plan. [..] Expanding mental healthcare options to prevent crises, and expanding respite centers for New Yorkers experiencing them. Creating an emergency line specifically for New Yorkers in mental health crisis –  a direct line to mitigate the emergency, not exacerbate it. We’ll also be pushing to realign budget priorities to this holistic response. In the last year, we have been part of shifting the conversation – now we need to shift the money.”

GUN VIOLENCE

“We need to put resources and focus into the systems we know can work,” like Crisis Management systemwork to disrupt the school to prison pipeline with more social workers and less suspensions, work to ending solitary confinement in the state of New York Williams said.

“New York has finally moved to reduce cash bail, which criminalized poverty and kept people locked away without a trial, destroying lives and communities. These new reforms need to be paired with programs and systems in place to help those who have been arrested – which I have some experience with – or incarcerated, which I do not – to succeed once they’re out.  It’s why we’ve passed a first in the nation law to ban THC testing in the hiring process. That’s why we passed the Fair Chance Act, to ban the box on job applications. And it’s why we’re going to expand that law to help more people in our city get another chance.”

EDUCATION

“New York City’s schools are among the most segregated in the nation, and our current policies are only exacerbating these systemic failures. We have a curriculum of separation that divides students by zip code, by race, and false perception of abilities. Well-intentioned reforms are being put forward without consideration of unintended consequences, from removing the SHSAT to entirely abolishing the gifted and talented program. [..] We’re pushing the Mayor, the Governor, to commit to students with real, sustainable funding, and we’ll hold them to that commitment.”

WORKERS RIGHTS

“Too often, New York City’s people are overworked and undervalued. [..] Every employee deserves paid time off to address their mental health, family and other fundamental life needs-to say nothing of a vacation,” Williams said, speaking of the half a million employees in the five boroughs that have no guaranteed personal time off.

PUBLIC POWER 

“When ConEdison can oversee historic blackouts, leave New Yorkers in the dark until it’s too late, and then get a rate hike, when National Grid can hold people hostage in an effort to build a dangerous pipeline and further disrupt our environment – it’s long past time that city and state government move to pressure them to step up for the people who are depending on their services for safety and quality of life,” Williams remarked, before suggesting these monopolies should be public.

“I’ve gone to these major utilities, and it’s made me want to go elsewhere – to restore power to the people, with public power. The larger the scope of the crisis, the more bold the ideas we need to explore, and the corporate fueled climate crisis is among the largest we’ve faced. We’ve put in place emission standards and construction standards to limit pollutants, and we can put in place systems to limit these monopolies.”

VOTING

“In the past year we’ve seen the passage of early voting, automatic voter registration, and Ranked Choice Voting but over years we’ve seen limited polling sites, long lines, and broken machinery,” and “in our state, some would-be-voters are locked out by being locked away. It is long past time for everyone to be able to vote, regardless of incarceration status.”<

More than that – Williams would like to see “everyone, no matter national citizenship status” to have a right to vote in municipal elections.”

How is he going to accomplish all this?

“The Public Advocate was created as a watchdog, and we’re going to extend that oversight power to the people of New York by reviving and re-invigorating the Commission on Public Information and Communication, expanding transparency and giving New Yorkers the tools they need to hold their government accountable. This position is about working with, and for, the people.”

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Liena Zagare

Editor of Bklyner.com. Tips? Complaints? Suggestions? Email me at Liena@bklyner.com.

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