BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Manhattan desperately needs a Marshall Plan, a major economic recovery boost, right now in Brad Hoylman’s view — and he wants to be the man to help devise and lead it. And that’s a big part — in fact, the main part, as he tells it — of why he wants to be Manhattan borough president.
The rumors had been out there for a while, but Hoylman made it official when he recently announced that he’s running to be the borough’s B.P.
Hoylman, who lives in Greenwich Village with his husband and their two daughters, has been in the state Senate for the last eight years. It was only two months ago, in fact, that he won the Democratic primary in his campaign for reelection to a fifth term.
If he doesn’t win the race for borough president next year, he could still remain in the state Senate.
But his heart is set on becoming his home borough’s “Beep.”
“To me, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to run for this office,” he said, “particularly at this moment, which is such an important time.”
Hoylman, obviously, is not alone in feeling that this is a historically critical, make-or-break moment for New York City, especially Manhattan, as the city struggles to reemerge from the crushing pandemic — and he wants to do all he can to help.
“There are many that ask if Manhattan has a future, and the answer has to be yes,” Hoylman stressed. “And I want to be part of that solution-building enterprise.”
The situation, of course, couldn’t be more dire. Small businesses are going under left and right, and reports say most merchants won’t survive the crisis. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are out of work, uncertain if they will be out of their apartments, as well. There are serious questions about public schools reopening, the future of mass transit, public housing…everything.
“We have 20 million square feet of empty office space in Midtown,” Hoylman noted. “It’s an opportunity for a reset. This crisis is a real opportunity to reset our priorities. … We have to get it right.”
Will remote workers eventually return to fill that empty space — some of which was empty already because commercial office space in the city was overbuilt?
“This is going to be an enormous rethink whether people continue to work remotely,” Hoylman noted.
It’s conceivable that some of that vacant space could be used for affordable housing, he said.
Although the tabloid newspapers are pounding “a drumbeat to the death of Manhattan,” as he put, Hoylman said, “I think they’re wrong.” For one thing, he noted, “I’m hopeful by the time I take office there will be a vaccine available. I’m hopeful that within the next year we’ll see things return to normal.”
Again, doing his part, the state senator is participating in a COVID vaccine trial.
A vaccine advocate, Hoylman sponsored the law that repealed the religious exemption that allowed unvaccinated students to attend school.
Hoylman said what he has learned in Albany — namely, “how to build coalitions and get things done” — would serve him very well as borough president during this unprecedented moment in time.
In addition to the skills he has learned in the state Legislature, he said he has “undying admiration” for the current borough president, Gale Brewer, and her style in office, and would seek to emulate her approach to the job. Brewer, who has served two terms, will be term-limited at the end of 2021.
Hoylman called Brewer “an omnipresent force as someone who stands up for people in Manhattan.”
A key part of the borough president’s job is overseeing Manhattan’s 12 volunteer community boards, including making the appointments, and Hoylman is as qualified as anyone to do that. He served on Community Board 2, which includes Greenwich Village and Soho, for 12 years and did a two-year stint as an effective chairperson of the board.
When Scott Stringer was elected Manhattan B.P. and made reforming the community boards a priority, Stringer created a blue-ribbon panel to interview applicants and institute best practices, and tapped Hoylman to be a member of it.
“I know how important local planning is to our neighborhoods and how valuable that insight is to elected officials and state government,” Hoylman said of the community boards’ advisory role on local issues.
“I think I’d be the first Manhattan borough president who was community board chairperson,” he noted. “That speaks volumes.”
One of Hoylman’s ideas is to “delegate capital funding” directly to community boards. Typically, the boards each do an annual “district needs statement,” listing what capital projects they feel should be prioritized for funding in their districts. It’s then up to local councilmembers and the mayor to deliver on those requests.
“Let’s put some dollars behind that district needs statement,” Hoylman said.
Giving boards this kind of power to allocated funding could help address declining city services on quality-of-life issues, homelessness, trash collection and other pressing matters, he said.
If elected, Hoylman also plans to create what he is calling a Public School Parent Advocacy and Resource Center within the B.P.’s office. This center could both help increase school integration and help parents to understand the often confusing student enrollment process.
“Some schools don’t have a Web site,” he noted. “It’s like you need a secret code.”
Asked about the issue of the de Blasio administration currently placing homeless individuals in hotels during the pandemic, Hoylman stressed, “Local communities need to be advised and consulted when it comes to the placement of homeless shelters. Community input is key.”
He said, for example, that he felt the Department of Homeless Services took the right approach when it recently voluntarily presented its plan to C.B. 2 to turn the Larchmont Hotel, at 27 W. 11th St., into a 90-bed women’s homeless shelter. D.H.S. was not required to present the plan to C.B. 2 for its review, but did so anyway.
In general, Hoylman promises he would bring to the B.P. job the same tenacity, energy and creativity that he has shown in Albany.
“I’m not afraid to take on a fight or a cause on behalf of middle- and working-class New Yorkers,” he said. “In Albany, I hope I’ve proven I’m not afraid to stand up to powerful forces.”
Hoylman definitely has a strong record he can stand on. He was a sponsor of the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations on child sex-abuse cases. He got flavored e-cigarettes banned in New York State. He notably passed the TRUST Act, which would allow Congress to see President Trump’s New York State tax returns.
However, on the last point, he said, “Congress won’t act” and actually request the tax returns.
“You can lead a horse to water…,” he said, with a bit of exasperation.
Hoylman has dusted off another recent bill of his, for a pied-a-terre tax, which didn’t make it through the Legislature last year.
“The pied-a-terre tax is now having another moment,” he said. “I hope this is the time we get it across the finish line. If we don’t get the federal tax dollars, New York is going to have to look to our own tax base. The superrich, they’ve used New York City real estate as a bank vault to hide assets and investments. They should pay a premium on that.”
The tax would apply to individuals who don’t live in New York City but own apartments here valued at $5 million or more.
“I want the rich to pay taxes to help support our infrastructure,” he said, bluntly.
Speaking of income, if Hoylman becomes borough president, his own would rise. A state senator’s salary is $120,000 while the B.P.’s is $160,000.
However, he said he had not even looked into the salary differential.
“I have to research that,” he said, with a laugh.
Asked for his assessment of how Mayor de Blasio has been handling the city, Hoylman said, “It’s a mixed record. I think most New Yorkers would agree. Unfortunately, I think the last several years, we’ve seen a decline in city services and a lack of a vision and leadership.”
Often Manhattan actually doesn’t get enough focus from political leaders because the assumption is it doesn’t need it, he noted.
“Manhattan is often dismissed instead of leveraged,” he said. “Its assets should be leveraged for the benefit of the entire city.”
That’s something Hoylman would speak out about, too, as a cheerleader for the borough.
“The bully pulpit is one of its most significant features,” he said of borough president.
Next June’s elections — in addition to featuring a ballot jammed with candidates for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, district attorney and City Council — will also feature rank-choice voting, which Hoylman is mulling over, in terms of his strategy.
“If I’m not your No. 1, consider me as you No. 2,” he quipped, though not really in jest.
Other candidates currently running for Manhattan B.P. include Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Mark Levine, Elizabeth Caputo, a former community board chairperson, and Kimberly Watkins, president of Community Education Council District 3.
Hoylman recently filed with the New York City Campaign Finance Board and is starting his fundraising. He is not allowed to switch over any remaining campaign funds from his Senate race. It’s not an issue for him to run back-to-back campaigns, as he is doing, he said.
“I like running for office,” he said, adding he finds it energizing. Admittedly, though, campaigning right now is different due to the limits on personal contact.
Hoylman has been a state senator during a heady time in the Legislature that saw Democrats finally take control in the state Senate, then push through a slew of laws, from sweeping tenant protections to major criminal-justice reform.
“The new majority [in the Senate], L.G.B.T. rights, voting reforms, gun control, the environment, the Child Victims Act, the Tenant Protection Act — the most muscular protections for tenants in decades — it has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve in the Senate,” he reflected. “But, frankly, I think the challenges of the borough where I live are calling me.”
Hoylman said his desire to switch back to Manhattan doesn’t have anything to do with not enjoying the commute up to Albany for the Legislature — something that other lawmakers have been known to gripe about.
“A relaxing part of my time in the Senate has been that two-and-a-half-hour ride on the train along the Hudson — beautiful views,” he said. “I’m not running [for borough president] because I don’t want to be senator anymore. I’m running because I see this challenge of COVID-19 in Manhattan as something I want to make a contribution toward.”