Leading contenders in the race for public advocate turned out Sunday at the Ohel campus to address Jewish community leaders at a forum co-hosted by Agudath Israel of America and the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition.
After being introduced by FJCC chairman Josh Mehlman and welcomed by Agudah executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, each of the candidates spoke briefly about their qualifications and shared their vision for improving the state of the city if elected.
Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr. credited improvements in his district to his ability to negotiate effectively with the mayor, also citing his successful efforts on behalf of Holocaust survivors. He expressed his support for yeshivos and said that he believed parents should have the ability to educate their children in religious schools.
Republican Councilman Eric Ulrich spoke about his success representing a wide array of constituents, noting that his track record afforded him a sizable margin of victory when he ran for re-election in a largely Democratic and ethnically diverse district. A private school parent, Ulrich declared his support for the NYPD, religious rights and tuition tax credits, vowing to oppose what he described as the mayor’s “ultra-leftist agenda.”
Drawing on his 13 years of experience as a teacher, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez stressed the importance of respecting cultures and spoke about his support for funding safety initiatives in nonpublic schools.
Assemblyman Ron Kim advocated for investing taxpayer dollars in nonprofits and committed himself to being a voice to reward those who add value to their communities instead of large corporate entities such as Amazon. Kim discussed the importance of community, vowing to work hard to protect parents’ rights to provide their children with a religious education and pledging his commitment to taking a tough stand on hate crimes.
Manhattan Democratic party secretary Ben Yee presented a platform that would empower residents to become active in government and promote community-driven city planning and vowed to use open communication to reach a facts-based consensus to address the challenges faced by the private school community.
Calling for affordable housing, rent stabilization and an office dedicated to hate crimes, Assemblyman Michael Blake expounded on the value of religious freedom and categorized anti-Semitic rhetoric as unacceptable. The Bronx Democrat expressed his support for Israel and noted his co-sponsorship of an anti-BDS bill in addition to sharing his concerns about today’s Democratic party and many of its leftist views.
Attorney Dawn Smalls proclaimed the subways her highest priority and, discussing her track record of breaking through bureaucracy as a member of the Clinton and Obama administrations, said that she would not tolerate overdue reimbursements for special needs services.
Former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that she looked forward to holding the mayor and city agencies accountable for their actions and to strengthening ties with Israel. She also expressed concern about the lack of any official conversations regarding the new nonpublic school regulations, emphasizing that she would have an open door.