Mayoral Forum on February 28

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

This November, New York City will elect a new mayor.  The candidates for mayor must discuss issues relevant to New York City, especially to the city’s low-income residents.

The Community Service Society (CSS), in partnership with Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, the Center for Popular Democracy, and United New York, is sponsoring a mayoral forum, which will be held on Thursday, February 28.  We have invited every announced and presumptive candidate for mayor to participate.

There are several specific issues of concern to low-income New Yorkers that we would like to hear the candidates discuss.

Improving Technical Skills

With a graduation rate that still hovers around 50 percent for blacks and Latinos, with few achieving a Regents diploma, there is a lack of the technical skills necessary to compete for jobs that pay well.  To be ready for a career in our labor market, students who are not going on to college need to be able to integrate technical knowledge and skills with core academic knowledge.  In our changing economy, even the most technical job today requires basic literate and numeric skills.

Currently, the city offers programs in career and technical education (CTE), once known as vocational education.  Students graduating from these courses should be entering a pipeline to well-paying jobs through apprenticeship programs in various industries. 

In many cases, this means bringing in trade unions as a partner to the educational process.  Unfortunately, the history of some of these unions has been to exclude people of color.  Given the fact that over 70 percent of the city’s high school students are black or Latino and, thus, are likely to form the overwhelming number of CTE students, this potential roadblock to work after school must be closely monitored by the city.

Expanding Affordable Housing

Too many low-income New Yorkers pay rents they cannot afford, placing them at risk of eviction and homelessness.  That is why our next mayor needs to expand affordable housing opportunities as well as preserve our assisted housing resources. 

Public housing — 179,000 units in 340 developments — is a major, irreplaceable part of the city’s housing infrastructure.  Due to continuing starvation funding, it is at serious risk of deterioration and insolvency.  Regrettably, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is planning to lease its underutilized real estate — not existing public housing — for private redevelopment to realize revenues it needs to operate and catch up with repairs and major improvements. 

The next mayor must see that resulting development of mixed-income housing is targeted to low-income households rather than market rentals, and that current NYCHA residents agree that redevelopment plans will enhance their communities.

Worker Benefits

Workers in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut have mandated paid sick leave.  Their economies haven’t tanked.  It’s time for New York City to institute paid sick leave for all workers as a benefit, particularly important to low-wage working women of color and to protect public health.  

Governor Cuomo has stated that he wants to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75.  Currently, a minimum wage worker in New York earns poverty wages; about $15,080 for someone working full-time, year-round.  That is not enough to put a family of three above the federal poverty threshold of $17,916.  A minimum wage increase is long overdue.

Thanks to Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr., the forum will be held at the First Corinthian Baptist Church, 1912 Seventh Avenue (Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.).  His church has made significant contributions to the community.  The forum will be moderated by Brian Lehrer of WNYC.  It is free to the public but, because of space concerns, we ask that you register either online at www.cssny.org/forum, or call 212-614-5365.

David R. Jones, Esq., is president and CEO of the Community Service Society (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for 170 years.  For over 10 years he served as a member of the board of directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.  The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer.

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