An exclusive interview with Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, who is widely seen as a front runner to get elected New York City Mayor this year.
By Parveen Chopra
The South Asian Times
Scott M. Stringer announced his run for NYC Mayor last September, and the media is already portraying him as the front runner. He has long and rich experience for the job: first elected to State assembly in 1992, he has served as Manhattan borough President and as NYC Comptroller since 2014. Talking to the South Asian Times last week, he allayed Indian Americans’ fears about safety and security and promised to declare Diwali holiday in New York when elected Mayor.
The South Asian Times: We have read about your ‘Fair Shot NYC’ plan for vaccine equity and transparency. But right now, people are getting worked up because of the short supply of the COVID-19 vaccine.
NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer: Well, look, the vaccine has to be Priority No. 1. We cannot open our economy without inoculating our people. Yes, we are facing a supply constraint right now. Fortunately, President Biden has already pledged to increase doses by 16% but we need to be ready to get every dose out. I called on the Mayor (Bill de Blasio) to release the demographic data, which paints a picture of profound racial inequity. Just 11% of New Yorkers vaccinated are black, 15% are Asian, 15% Latino and 48% are white. I want to ensure an equitable rollout. We already have Pfizer and Moderna, and our one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson too will be available soon. There could be as many as 60 million doses, but we have to be prepared — to have vaccination sites and make sure that everybody has access.
You have released a sweeping climate action plan, eliminating fossil fuels. But right now, people are worried about their health and livelihoods.
Comptroller Stringer: Well, climate action is about health and livelihoods. We remember how Hurricane Sandy devastated so many of our communities. Such storms are gonna come not once every 250 years, but once every 10 years now. With the pension funds we sent a strong message that we’re not going to continue to invest in companies that are hurting the Earth. With our union trustees we are now preparing to divest $4 billion from the securities related to fossil fuel companies. I believe that by investing in the green economy by creating blue bonds and green bonds, we will actually help not just our retirees, but the entire economy of New York City.
The media is portraying you as a front runner for Mayor election this year. How do you see your chances yourself?
Comptroller Stringer: Look, I’m very excited to run for Mayor. It’s a tremendous honor to serve in the city. In February last, the city had a 3.4% unemployment rate and had added 970,000 jobs to the economy in 10 years. When Covid hit, the unemployment rate jumped to 20% and we lost 900,000 jobs in 30 days. Now we’ve brought some of those jobs back. But make no mistake, the next Mayor will have to manage an economic crisis in rebuilding New York City. Having served as a state assemblyman, as a borough president and now the city’s chief fiscal officer, I believe I’m well prepared. I am not running with training wheels. I believe I have the vision and the skills and the coalition to bring the city back to work for all communities as Mayor.
Indian Americans traditionally support Democrats but lately many feel that the party is too soft on the rhetoric and violence coming from the extreme left. They are worried about safety and security of their families.
Comptroller Stringer: You know, I was born and raised in the city and came of age in the 1970s when there were 2,000 murders a year. My mother always used to say to me, ‘take the train car with the conductor’, because she was worried about the violence. The city is a much different place today. So as Mayor, I’m not going to bring this city back to those days. But I do believe we need to reform the police department. Keeping kids away from policing I think is a good idea. We should invest resources in mental health programs and mental health outreach. They are doing this around the country and it’s having a great impact. So, I want to make sure that we protect the civil rights of people and keep our city safe as well.
So, you do not favor defunding the police, right?
Comptroller Stringer: Look, every city agency should be reformed. I would take some of the NYPD money and invest in preventive programs. But make no mistake, we’re in a pandemic and people are suffering and there has been more violence, which I do not think has to be permanent. I think we can have a strong police force. But look, the Mayor lost control of the police force, and that’s not going to happen with me. We are going to make sure we have the police officers to do the job. But I will redirect resources so that we can make sure that when someone is having a mental health issue or when somebody is having a quality of life issue, we don’t have to send the police out to do that work. That’s not the job of the police.
How do you see the progress of racial justice under the current dispensation?
Comptroller Stringer: I do think we have to create one standard of justice in the city. We have seen how Covid disproportionately impacted the communities of color, whether it’s the African American community, the Latino or South Asian community. We saw Covid go after the most vulnerable. This was the result of lack of investment in building healthcare and affordable housing and so many other necessary programs. As Mayor I will make sure that we have a budget that is equal and fair for everyone around the city.
Your counterpart in New York State, Comptroller Letitia James has unearthed the scandal of under reporting of Covid deaths in nursing homes. How did New York City fare?
Comptroller Stringer: Right now, I’m actually looking at when the city knew the virus was here. What did we do about it? I’m doing that not to simply criticize Mayor de Blasio. It is important that we understand what happened last year, so we can plan better for the future. For example, no one knew the virus was here, so the testing took a long time to ramp up. But later, we were already reading reports that the vaccine was on the way through multiple companies. By November, we knew when the vaccine was coming, and we did not prepare in a more robust way to make sure people could get inoculated. I challenge the mayor to be more proactive to open up 24X7 vaccination sites. I want to see vaccination demographic data made public. Finally, I want us to double down on outreach and public education for New Yorkers. So, we could break down the mistrust and misinformation so many communities have about getting vaccinated. Nothing is more important for our economy than the vaccine.
Indian Americans have a huge population in New York and New Jersey. They have made a mark in every field, but not so much in politics. Any suggestions on how to change that?
Comptroller Stringer: Well, I think your community is getting larger and stronger by the day – in culture, the arts, entrepreneurship, and media. This is a community that I have respected and worked with for many, many years. And you do see political change: more people are registering to vote, more people are getting involved in community boards and civic associations. Eventually, these are the folks who will run for City Council, run for Assembly, run for state Senate, and eventually, someday we will have the first Indian mayor of New York City. But I want to just do the job before that happens!
We do want to see you as our Mayor. And our first and foremost demand is a Diwali holiday in honor of the Indian festival.
Comptroller Stringer: Well, do you know, I was one of the first elected officials to support it. There is a real value in observing these holidays. Diwali would be such an important holiday, not just for us to celebrate, but for the children. There may not be school on a holiday, but kids are taught about that holiday. They learn about different faiths and religions. What a great education for children to see the diversity of the people in New York City! When they grow up, they will be able to interact and talk with anyone around the world because it all starts in New York. So that’s why I feel very strongly that Diwali should be part of our teaching moment. And the way we do that is by celebrating the holiday.