Scott Stringer, a veteran of more than three decades in New York politics, is running for mayor at a time his city is facing one of its worst-ever crises.
“Post-COVID New York City is going to require a leader with skill and vision and a real record — someone who knows how to bring the city back and reopen our economy,” says the 60-year-old Stringer, who currently serves as the city’s comptroller, in a phone interview with Hamodia. “When you look at the crises that we have — a crisis of the economy and a crisis of health disparities, a crisis of opening the economy differently than we closed it, so that everyone can be part of the recovery, I bring 30 years of real experience addressing these issues, both in terms of the larger city and the Jewish community.”
Stringer’s plan for the city’s economic recovery from the COVID shutdown focuses on small businesses.
“People on Wall Street made $38 billion in profits in the midst of this pandemic, but our small businesses have mostly gone under,” says the candidate, who has a “25-point small-business plan that would give tax breaks for businesses that are barely making it, and also to address the real issue of retail-vacant corridors in our communities … We’ve got to incentivize entrepreneurs and new businesses to move into these vacant corridors. We have to knock on every door in the community to make sure that right now the PPP [federal Paycheck Protection Plan] money flows not just to the big companies, but also to the small businesses. And we need to be more proactive helping our small businesses create online tech platforms, because that’s going to be crucial to create revenue opportunities … Small businesses employ the people in our communities, and we have to recognize that.”
Stringer has said that as mayor, he will “ask the most fortunate to pay a bit more in taxes.” Many wealthy people have already left New York during the pandemic. Asked whether a tax hike wouldn’t cause a further erosion of the tax base, Stringer says he believes “the reason people want to leave is they don’t see this city is governing well.”
“When I’m mayor, you’re going to have a strong mayor who’s going to govern this city,” says the candidate. “We’re going to pick up the garbage, we’re going to clean the streets, we’re going to work on people’s quality-of-life issues. And that’s what will attract people — when they have more open space, when the restaurants are open, when the economy is back, there’s no other place like New York City.
“And if some of the people who make billions of dollars have to throw in a couple of bucks to get us over this, fair is fair. There are a lot of frontline workers who risked their lives helping this city, a lot of people who didn’t have proper protective gear. They work in hospitals, they work in small businesses, you see them in the community, and we have to make sure that they also have investment as well.
“Some people always leave, but people always come. And the job of mayor is to make sure that anyone who left [comes] back because this is the place where everyone wants to live.”
Amid an ascendancy by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, in recent years Stringer has angered the Orthodox Jewish and pro-Israel communities by endorsing several leftist candidates in Democratic primaries.
In the 2019 Queens district attorney race, the comptroller supported Tiffany Caban, a public defender who ran on a platform of sharply reducing incarceration. Caban had the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, a progressive group that is in favor of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and has been supporting young upstart Democratic candidates challenging the party’s mainstream.
The Orthodox community in Queens was furious at Stringer over this endorsement. One community activist told Hamodia that Caban had conducted no outreach in the community, and that amid a rising tide of anti-Semitic attacks, the community wasn’t confident she would aggressively prosecute hate crimes.
Asked why he endorsed Caban, Stringer declines to answer directly, instead referencing a famous line by a former mayor.
“On my endorsements, if you agree with me nine out of 12 times, vote for me. That’s what Ed Koch would say. If you agree with me 12 out of 12 times, see a psychiatrist. Not everyone’s going to agree on all my endorsements. I’ve made 30 years’ worth of endorsements. Some you like, some you don’t. But what you should always know is when I make them, I stick with them. And that’s what I’m sticking to.”
Pressed to state specifically why he believed Caban would make a better district attorney than her opponent, Melinda Katz, Stringer replies, “I’ve answered this question a million times. I’ve endorsed her, I was happy to endorse her, but I’m running for mayor. I’m not re-litigating the district attorney’s race.” Stringer repeatedly sidestepped Hamodia’s question of why he believed Caban would be a better DA than Katz, eventually retorting, “I gave you my answer. I supported her because I thought she would be a good district attorney. And that’s my answer. That race was so long ago, come on. Any other questions you have?”
In 2018, Stringer endorsed Julia Salazar’s challenge to eight-term incumbent state Sen. Martin Dilan, tweeting that he was supporting Salazar “because I know she’ll fight for tenants in Albany.”
Salazar was also endorsed by the DSA, and expressed support for the BDS movement.
While Stringer opposes BDS, he says he supported Salazar “because she’s an excellent state senator.”
“I’m not always going to agree with every candidate I endorse or who endorses me,” says Stringer. “And many people in our community endorse candidates that they may not see eye to eye on, but they endorse because they believe that candidate will do the best job. I think Julia’s been an excellent state senator. She’s worked in all communities, and I’m sticking with her.”
In 2020, Stringer endorsed progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman over U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, who had represented parts of the north Bronx and south Westchester in Congress for more than 30 years. The incumbent was a staunch Israel supporter, unlike Bowman, who had written in The Riverdale Press that he opposes BDS but “will fight for [the Palestinians’] liberation.”
Stringer says he supported Bowman “because I thought he would be an excellent member of Congress — and he is.” (Bowman and Salazar won their elections; Caban lost hers by 55 votes, and is currently running for City Council.)
On Al Sharpton’s 65th birthday in 2019, the comptroller tweeted birthday wishes to a man whom some view as a civil rights leader but others blame for a history of inflammatory statements against Jews, police and whites — particularly for inciting infamous deadly attacks in 1991 in Crown Heights and 1995 in Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem.
“Thank you for your many years of service to our city and our country,” Stringer wrote, “and I’m proud to call you a friend.”
Asked to explain this tweet, Stringer replies that Sharpton is also “friends to Mike Bloomberg, Andrew Cuomo, most of the people that are longtime supporters of the Jewish community,” and that “I’ve known him for 30 years, and I work with all people in all communities.”
When Hamodia then asked Stringer what he thought of Sharpton’s past comments, such as his railing against “diamond merchants” with “the blood of innocent babies on their hands” at the funeral of Gavin Cato (a black child accidentally killed by a Jewish driver, which led to the Crown Heights riots), Stringer grew frustrated and angry, saying, “I’m not answering these questions,” and “I’m not doing this; this is not an inquisition.” Stringer then called to his spokesperson to jump in on the conversation. The spokesperson said that Sharpton’s comments in question were made decades ago, and Stringer said, “You’ve got to be kidding me” asking questions about comments from decades ago, and then said, “Well, I answered the question. So, do you have any other questions?”
The New York state Board of Regents is in the midst of formulating secular studies guidelines for non-public schools. The state says it is seeking to ensure that all students receive the legally required “substantially equivalent” education to that offered in public schools, but many in the private-school community view this as an inappropriate intrusion on parental rights and religious liberties.
Enforcement of any guidelines would fall to the local school authority. In New York City, that would be the schools chancellor, who is appointed by the mayor. This has become a key issue particularly for Orthodox Jewish voters deciding whom to cast their ballot for among 30-plus mayoral candidates.
Stringer says he thinks “it’s important to have secular learning and Jewish education learning,” and notes that his own sons “went to their synagogue’s school and got a very good secular and Jewish education when they were little boys.”
Stringer sidesteps a direct question if he would enforce a particular secular studies program in yeshivas, answering broadly, “I want every child to get the education that he or she needs. And I’m going to work with the yeshivah community that I have strong relations with to make sure that we meet the standards that are applied. A lot of the Rabbis I talk to in the schools are very proud, when I’ve met with them, of their secular curriculum as well as their Jewish education curriculum. And I’m going to continue to work with them in a responsible way to meet the needs of the Jewish community.”
Pressed on whether he would enforce a particular standard on private schools, the candidate says, “That’s not my job, that’s state stuff,” and says he will “work to make sure that we have secular study and a rich Jewish curriculum.”
When Hamodia pointed out that, while the state would create the guidelines, enforcement would be up to the mayor’s administration, Stringer replied, “No, we’re not barnstorming into yeshivas. We’re going to work with the education leader of the yeshivah.”
When he announced his mayoral candidacy in September, Stringer decried “real-estate companies and other profiteers … swooping in with luxury developments” and pricing working-class people out of their neighborhoods, promising that, as mayor, he would increase affordable housing.
Among the candidate’s proposals is a plan “to require every developer to set aside 25% of its units for permanent low-income housing,” and to “replace developer-driven rezonings with comprehensive planning.”
Stringer, whose campaign-website homepage proclaims, “Progressive Leadership to Bring Us Forward,” isn’t accepting campaign contributions from real-estate developers in this race, though he has in the past. But some political observers believe that — as with his support for DSA candidates — Stringer’s shunning of real-estate donations is a means to curry favor with progressives for political purposes, and does not represent changed political views.
According to a Politico article last month, “While publicly saying he will pose an obstacle to real estate, Stringer is quietly telling developers he will work with them if elected, according to more than half a dozen people in the business who have direct knowledge of his comments. Even as he attacks the industry in public remarks, leaders in development and business circles are offering him measured support.” The article went on to say the candidate is conducting a political “high-wire act” by “at once accumulating endorsements among left-leaning activists and politicians pleased with his posture toward the real estate industry while trying to convince the titans of that same industry that he is not a threat to their business interests.”
But Stringer disputes the notion that he is speaking to the real-estate industry “quietly.”
“I didn’t say it quietly. I’ve said I will work with everybody. I’ll work with the real-estate industry, I’ll work with the small-business community, we’ll work with the corporations in this city to get the city moving again,” says the candidate. “I’m not taking real-estate money because I want to make sure people understand that when I become mayor, and I have to make decisions on land-use and zoning issues, when I have to make tough decisions, it’s not going to be because of pay-to-play at City Hall.”
During the pandemic, Stringer has joined with progressives using the hashtag #CancelRent. But he says his intent is not that rent should simply be disregarded, but that federal stimulus money should be used to pay the rent, as well as the mortgages of “small landlords” who have fallen behind on their payments due to the pandemic.
Amid the national outrage following the death last May of George Floyd, a black man in police custody in Minneapolis, Stringer joined Black Lives Matter protestors calling for the defunding of the New York Police Department.
“It’s time to defund the NYPD now,” the comptroller said at one rally. “It’s time to move a billion dollars from 1 Police Plaza into the streets of our city.” Approximately a billion dollars was indeed cut from the police budget, though mostly due to some police duties being shifted to other agencies.
Asked whether defunding is appropriate at a time of rising shootings and murders in New York, Stringer portrays his call “to defund the NYPD now” partly as an effort to reduce wasteful spending in the city budget.
“As comptroller, I’ve said that there is waste in every single city agency, there’s outside contracts, there’s a whole bunch of spending that I have identified as wasteful. And it costs taxpayers. And what I’ve said is that every agency, including the police, should get their house in order from a spending perspective. And where we can save money, or perhaps redirect that money to programs that work that prevent crime from happening, I think is very smart strategically. This is what’s happening around the country. And I think we should double down on that … It was to identify waste, but also then to reinvest that money in communities to keep kids out of the criminal justice system. And I think it was a very balanced approach that meets the needs of the communities … So yes, I said that at a rally, I do think that part of funding has to be redirected. And as many candidates have said it, I’ve said it too — that’s something that we have to grapple with.”
Stringer is noncommittal on whether he would seek to defund police further as mayor.
“Let’s see where we are in January,” he says.
The comptroller who divested the city’s pension funds from fossil fuels has plans as mayor to ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure, create a public utility to power the city with 100% renewable energy by 2035, and to get rid of all existing pipelines and peaker plants operating in the city.
“I want to make sure,” says Stringer, “that every community is healthy, and that our children are safe. I have a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old; I worry about their lungs and what we’re doing. And we can no longer be climate deniers — this is what Trump wanted us to believe, and we said no. We’re going to create the most environmentally friendly city in the world when I’m mayor.”
Stringer plans to make himself the “Bus Mayor” by expanding bus service and introducing more dedicated bus lanes, as well as shifting more of the city’s streets to pedestrian use and bike lanes.
“We need to rethink our streetscape, as we learned with outdoor dining, to create more open space for people, for children, more playgrounds on the street. And when you have different modes of transportation, everyone benefits. People will benefit from bike lanes, people will benefit from dedicated bus lanes and busways, and seniors will benefit from dedicated walkways. There has to be different modes of transportation for different people. Cars are prevalent, but they’re not the only mode of transportation. And I do think we have to invest in transportation alternatives.”
At the same time, the candidate says he would not seek to impose this redesign of the streets on every neighborhood, but “work with community stakeholders to forge a consensus and work with people.”
“One of the things I’m good at is working with local community boards, local community stakeholders,” Stringer says. “I believe that we should have community-based planning and work with communities, and not dictate to communities.”
Stringer is a lifelong politician from a family of politicians: His mother was a New York City Councilwoman and cousin of a Congresswoman; his father was counsel to a New York City mayor, and his stepfather was the New York City clerk and deputy borough president of the Bronx. Stringer’s own political career began in 1983 as an aide to then-Assemblyman Jerrold Nadler; he won election to Nadler’s Upper West Side Assembly seat in 1992 after Nadler went to Congress. Stringer was elected Manhattan borough president in 2005, then comptroller in 2013.
Viewed as a mayoral frontrunner when he announced his candidacy in September, Stringer has seen his fortunes slide of late: A poll by Fontas Advisors/Core Decision Analytics released last month showed the comptroller in third place, with just 13% of support, behind Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at 17%. Then, earlier this month, a poll by WPIX-TV/NewsNation/Emerson College showed Stringer in fourth place at 6%, trailing Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had 9%, and Adams, with 19%. (These poll numbers were for voters’ first choice; this year, with the introduction of ranked-choice voting, voters’ rankings of candidates beyond their first choice will matter as well.)
The clear favorite in both polls was Andrew Yang, with 28% in the first survey and 32% in the latter. Stringer is perhaps the quintessential opposite of Yang, the wealthy entrepreneur son of Taiwanese immigrants, with no political experience other than a presidential bid last year that brought him national publicity.
But the political insider — whose $6.85 million of campaign funds in the bank trails only Adams at $7.55 million — says he is unconcerned about the polls, three months before the Democratic primary.
“I’m very happy where we are in the campaign, and feel very strong and very confident,” Stringer says. “A poll today usually doesn’t mean that’s going to be the outcome of a mayoral election, when you look at the history of mayoral elections. So I feel good.”