StreetsPAC Endorses in NYC Comptroller's Race

We've had to make a lot of tough endorsement choices over the past few weeks. None yet has been tougher than our decision in the contest for New York City's next Comptroller.

Three candidates completed our endorsement process, submitting detailed and compelling responses to our questionnaire, and sitting down for in-depth interviews with our board: Corey Johnson, the current Speaker of the New York City Council; Brad Lander, the three-term Council Member representing Brooklyn's 39th District; and Zach Iscol, a non-profit entrepreneur and former Marine.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Lander are well known to people in the world of safe-streets and transit advocacy. StreetsPAC endorsed them both when we launched in 2013, and supported their respective re-election bids in 2017. Both have championed a number of critical initiatives and causes. Each of them heaped praise on the other when we interviewed them.

Under different circumstances, Mr. Iscol might merit greater consideration. He has an impressive résumé and record of public service, and the no-nonsense, confident demeanor you'd expect from a Marine veteran. He's put in a lot of miles on a bike in New York City. And he demonstrated a good grasp of the powers and limits of the Comptroller's office, and how they intersect with transportation issues.

But Mr. Johnson and Mr. Lander are exceptional public servants, with years of accomplishment in elective office, and we believe this contest is very much between the two of them.

After much deliberation and consideration, we have opted for a ranked endorsement, giving Corey Johnson a slight edge over Brad Lander. We believe Mr. Johnson's role as Speaker, dealing regularly and directly with the Mayor and the highest levels of city agencies, is a notable advantage in experience. And secondly, harder to quantify, is Mr. Johnson's outsized personality. He has the potential to be able to draw attention to the Comptroller's office, and its critically important but often dry focus on audits and numbers, that his predecessors have not. As Mr. Johnson told us, "the numbers really don't lie," but we think he might be able to make them fly.

Read on below for more about Corey Johnson's and Brad Lander's platforms and accomplishments.

CoreyJohnsonCropped.jpgCorey Johnson, Comptroller (Open Seat), Ranked Choice #1 – Mr. Johnson, who was elected to represent Manhattan's 3rd Council District in 2013, became Speaker after winning re-election in 2017. In his State of the City address in 2019, he laid out a strong case for municipal control of New York City's transit system, thrusting that issue into the mainstream, and presented the outline for the Streets Master Plan, which he pushed through the Council and onto Mayor de Blasio's desk for his signature just a few months later.

The Streets Master Plan requires that the city create and implement a citywide transportation plan every five years, and sets critical benchmarks, such as requirements for the implementation of 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of physically separated bus lanes over five years, safety- and transit-related upgrades to thousands of intersections, and more. It's a hugely important step in moving New York City away from car-dependency.

When Albany let the city's speed-camera program expire in 2018, Mr. Johnson shepherded emergency legislation through the Council that allowed the city's cameras to be reactivated until the legislature renewed and expanded the program. That same year, his support for the Fair Fares program, and his willingness to include funds for it in the Council's budget response, were key to overcoming the Mayor's resistance.

And last April, Mr. Johnson threw his support behind Open Streets, quickly moving a bill through the Council requiring 75 miles of Open Streets after the city's cop-heavy, minuscule, two-week pilot flopped.

If elected Comptroller, Mr. Johnson pledges to prioritize audits of procurement practices at various agencies, such as the MTA and Department of Design and Construction. He's committed to ensuring that the Streets Master Plan's benchmarks – which he emphasized are not merely "goals" – are met in full, and on time. He plans to keep a close eye on the implementation of congestion pricing, and will audit the city's speed-camera program to ensure that it's equitably deployed. He'll also track progress on the city's promised bike-rack deployments, and expressed interest in our suggestion to analyze disparities in how the city subsidizes different forms of transportation. He'll also use the Comptroller's audit powers to make the case for significantly reducing the size of the city's vehicle fleet.

BradLanderCropped.jpgBrad Lander, Comptroller (Open Seat), Ranked Choice #2 – Brad Lander has dedicated himself to making streets safer since first taking office in 2010. He was an early supporter of the Prospect Park West redesign, and his refusal to waver in the face of some very politically connected opposition to the bike path was instrumental in facing down the years-long legal effort to remove it. In 2016, he patiently listened to constituents complaining about Citi Bike's expansion into his Brooklyn district, while firmly letting them know that the bike-share system was here to stay in a statement that Streetsblog called "pitch-perfect."

Mr. Lander was a vocal proponent of Fourth Avenue's road diet, pushing the Department of Transportation to speed up completion of the protected bike lanes that now span the four miles from Atlantic Avenue to 64th Street. He's fought for better accessibility at subway stations, and to restore the B71 bus.

Most notably, Mr. Lander's biggest safe-streets legislative accomplishment grew from a terrible tragedy that occurred just a block from his district office in 2018. Following the devastating crash that killed two small children at Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street, Mr. Lander, in partnership with advocates, developed the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, working deftly and relentlessly to steer the bill through the City Council, overcoming a number of legal and procedural hurdles. What became the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program will, once fully implemented, require the city's most persistent dangerous drivers to take a safe-driving class or have their vehicles impounded.

For good measure, Mr. Lander also made sure that DOT quickly redesigned Ninth Street following that deadly crash, adding protected bike lanes and pedestrian refuges.

Mr. Lander has put forth a number of detailed plans for how we would manage the Comptroller's office. He'll oversee the city's capital-projects tracker, which he legislated in the City Council, and is intended to bring transparency and accountability to the billions of dollars the city spends each year on infrastructure. He plans to use the Comptroller's powers to make the financial case for street redesigns, and to create an audit unit dedicated to transit and transportation. Like Mr. Johnson, he'd use audit and contract-registration powers to push for fleet reductions, and track implementation of the Better Bus Action Plan.

Finally, it's essential that we address the recent revelation of Mr. Lander's traffic violations. We, and many other safe-streets advocates, were dismayed when the news broke that this leading proponent of driver accountability had himself accumulated a sizable number of tickets over the past five years, including several speed-camera violations. A deeply embarrassed Mr. Lander has pledged to slow down and drive less. We believe he can and will change, and we tried hard to not let his driving violations factor into our endorsement decision. At the same time, the safety of New York City's streets shouldn't depend on drivers' willingness to slow down. We must, instead, redesign streets to make driving above the speed limit as difficult as possible – something Mr. Lander, and Mr. Johnson, both support.

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published this page in News 2021-06-04 13:04:21 -0400
published this page in News 2021-06-04 13:02:57 -0400
StreetsPAC supports candidates for public office who will champion Safe, Complete and Livable Streets.