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Three Local Issues NY-10’s Next Member of Congress Could Actually Influence

A crumbling expressway, the threat of rising seas and missing funding for NYCHA: the problems vexing NY-10 and how the area’s next U.S. Representative could help

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Trucks rumble along a stretch of the BQE in DUMBO, Brooklyn, June 14, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

One of the most closely watched races in next week’s primary election is also one of the most jam-packed, with 12 Democratic candidates vying for New York’s newly drawn 10th Congressional District, covering Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

How can a voter differentiate between the dozen Dems? One sorting method is to examine how the candidates could use the coveted seat in Congress to actually improve life for New Yorkers who live in the district.

Some candidates have been wrestling with these neighborhood issues for years in their capacity as local elected officials, while others bring an external view to these concerns.

It’s a theme largely ignored by this week’s New York Times endorsement in the race, which — in a surprise to some political observers — did not mention the three women in the race who are currently serving in elected office in the area: Assemblymembers Yuh-Line Niou and Jo Anne Simon, and Councilmember Carlina Rivera. Nor did the Times discuss at much length urgent issues like climate change, housing and infrastructure as they play out in the district.

Instead, the Times editorial board endorsed Levi’s jeans heir Dan Goldman, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor who has lived in the district for years but has never held elected office. 

The Times also notably singled out for praise U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones, who currently represents Rockland County and parts of Westchester. 

A few days later, former President Donald Trump also endorsed Goldman — who served as the House lawyer in the former president’s first impeachment. With praise seemingly intended to damn him in blue New York, Trump called Goldman “compassionate and compromising to those in the Republican Party.” 

To help NY-10 voters as they head to the polls between now and primary day on August 23rd, THE CITY took a look at some of the most pressing local issues that the next Congressional representative there can actually affect.

District 10 candidates Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones hold a joint press conference outside City Hall attacking rival candidate Dan Goldman for his investments, Aug. 15, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“There are local issues where the federal government is really critical and can provide resources,” said Ester Fuchs, urban politics professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

But, she noted, there is a limit to how much power a member of Congress has to solve neighborhood problems at the federal level — using their “bully pulpit” to shed light on issues is sometimes all they can do.

Here are some of the biggest issues facing the next person elected to the House of Representatives for the district spanning most of downtown Manhattan, as well as Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.

Infrastructure for a Warming World

Few issues are more pressing than climate change in NY-10. It includes parts of Lower Manhattan that lie in high-risk flood zones and suffered devastation from Hurricane Sandy. In Brooklyn, it encompasses waterfront neighborhoods susceptible to rising tides.

Enormous infrastructure projects to protect people and property in the district will no doubt need support and money from Washington. For instance: The city’s plan to extend the eastern edge of Manhattan to raise the shoreline and tear down the FDR Drive — as previously reported by THE CITY — will need federal funding to come to fruition. 

A plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to build harbor-protecting gates to protect against future storms will also need major federal support to see the light of day.

Construction has already begun on one massive infrastructure project in Lower Manhattan — the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project — which was made possible with billions in federal funding. It has also been one of the most controversial, with many community members who remain against it protesting how former Mayor Bill de Blasio handled the plan, and the current demolition of East River Park, a waterfront park that is a favorite among residents of the Lower East Side.

As a City Council member in 2019, NY-10 candidate Rivera pushed for the approval of de Blasio’s ESCR — something those who oppose the project hold against her.

At an August 10 debate among the six leading NY-10 candidates, many of her fellow candidates pressed Rivera on her decision to move forward with the resiliency project despite community opposition. She defended her decision citing her “political courage” to support people whose  “wishes were to have flood protection.”

The Battery Park waterfront at the tip of Manhattan, Aug. 16, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Trever Holland, a neighborhood organizer in the Lower East Side and a member of the area’s community board waterfront committee, is among those who supports the ESCR plan.

“It’s going to be huge in protecting our neighborhoods, not just from storms, but also from rainwater,” he told THE CITY. “I think that’s where federal officials can really play an important role.”

But the climate conversation doesn’t end with ESCR. And other NY-10 candidates noted the pertinent need for climate change planning and improved infrastructure to protect vulnerable neighborhoods from storms.

Often, those projects are so big and so expensive, they will almost certainly need federal money and support from Congress to get done. And with the recent approval of the Inflation Reduction Act — which includes billions for climate change-oriented local projects — having a Congress member who can help be a steward of that funding will be critical for New York.  

Rep. Mondaire Jones told THE CITY that while “the climate crisis has devastated the communities in New York’s 10th congressional district,” and Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Sunset Park and Red Hook need resiliency planning, too. There have been several calls by local climate activists to protect these Brooklyn neighborhoods, too, against future severe storms and to transform them into environmentally sustainable areas following Hurricane Sandy. 

“We have to make sure that we are investing in climate resiliency while creating thousands of good-paying jobs right here in New York’s 10th congressional district,” Jones told THE CITY. 

NY-10 candidate Brian Robinson, a father and author, also shed light on his commitment to addressing the climate concerns of voters in the district in a written statement to THE CITY.

“My landmark coastal resiliency bill will demand community input on resiliency projects and mandate added green space before Federal funds are awarded to developers,” Robinson said.

Public Housing and the Affordability Crisis

It’s old news that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has been in a state of disrepair for years. The often deplorable living conditions — including reports of mold, asbestos, rodent infestations, broken elevators, faulty doors and water leaks — in NYCHA developments negatively impacts the quality of life for many residents in NY-10.

The district includes a huge swath of NYCHA buildings on the Lower East Side as well as large complexes in Red Hook, Gowanus and elsewhere.

Federal disinvestment in the city’s public housing is a huge part of the problem. Currently, the city’s housing authority estimates it will need at least $40 billion to fully fund all the necessary repairs and maintenance needed right now. 

The Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village, Sept. 7, 2020.

John Penney/Shutterstock

After years of inaction, the city’s Democrats in Congress had a chance to bring home those billions for NYCHA last year — but it disappeared. In November, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he had written $65 billion in funding for public housing across the country into the “Build Back Better” social spending plan. But the package infamously failed to come to a vote.

NY-10 candidate Niou, elected in 2016 as Assembly member for lower Manhattan’s District 65, underscored the need to address the city’s public housing crisis on a federal level and said she’s committed to working on behalf of her constituents while on the hill.

“I got over a billion dollars from the state [for] capital fixes for our public housing,” Niou told THE CITY about her efforts to secure money for public housing. “But we need to fully fund public housing.”

Niou said she supports current proposals in Congress from fellow Democrats to address public housing issues, including Calif. Rep. Maxine Waters’ calls for robust housing spending and NY-14 Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal for Public Housing

Candidates are aware of the often shoddy housing conditions within NYCHA and the uphill battle to secure federal funding. 

In addition to the public housing issues, New York City is also facing record-high rent prices and the need for affordable housing is dire. In separate statements to THE CITY, candidates Jo Ann Simon and Dan Goldman cited affordable housing as being a top agenda item if elected to Congress. Attorney Goldman said he will be “a committed advocate” on affordable housing.

“We need to make NY-10 accessible and inclusive to the people who live here. That means we need deeply affordable housing developments and to preserve the units we have to prevent displacement,” said Simon, District 52 assemblymember, in a statement.

Other ways the next rep in Congress could help alleviate the housing crisis include: pushing for more federal funding for rental vouchers, construction of income-targeted housing and supportive housing, and supporting legislation that would make it easier for cities and states to build more housing. They could also support a federal ban on discrimination against voucher-holding tenants. 

The Big BQE Problem

The crumbling Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) is another top concern for residents of NY-10. The elevated highway was built to transport a small number of vehicles daily, but it carries a total of 150,000 every day instead, causing years of wear and tear that need to be addressed immediately. 

A portion of the BQE, known as the “Triple Cantilever,” that spans through Brooklyn Heights carries multiple lanes of traffic daily and has been in a state of disrepair. There have been several proposals — including one that would require a tunnel — through the years to address this major long-standing issue.  

Most recently, former mayor Bill de Blasio and the city Department of Transportation released a plan in 2021 to “extend the life of the cantilever for 20 years while reimagining the corridor for a long-term future with less reliance on large, diesel trucks.”

Drivers head north on the BQE in Brooklyn Heights, April 15, 2019.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

However, many of the proposals to address the BQE have received major pushback from community members arguing the renovation would negatively affect their quality of life.

Kate Slevin, executive vice president of nonprofit thinktank the Regional Plan Association, noted big transportation projects like the BQE will always require federal funding. She said there’s a “large role” for the future NY-10 representative in securing that funding and executing a fix for the expressway.

“The congressional representative will have a role in helping to ensure that the community is represented, that all of the stakeholders can come together and funding is being directed to the project,” said Slevin.  

The various proposals to fix the BQE have ranged from ten of millions to over a billion dollars. The price tag is so big, City Council previously said that fixing the dilapidated expressway is “too big” a project for New York City to tackle alone.

The importance of fixing the BQE was underscored in the Aug. 10 debate where the NY-10 candidates each shed light on how they planned to balance community interests to protect quality of life and concerns about greenhouse gas emissions with the dire need to address the faulty expressway. 

NY-10 candidate and former NY-16 Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman underscored her commitment to involving the residents of the district in any future plans for the BQE.

“One critical factor is including the community,” said Holtzman. “I definitely support the broadest use of community involvement, input, imagination.”

Simon also emphasized the importance of addressing the issues with the notorious roadway. In a statement to THE CITY, Simon pointed to the passage of her BQE Truck Weight Bill last year to demonstrate her commitment to finding a “long-term solution” to the problem.

“We need to fix our infrastructure and invest in dealing with the disaster that is the BQE,” said Simon. “We have a unique chance to access federal funds and reimagine this wretched roadway using new technologies, increasing use of our waterways and building sustainable tunnels.”

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