By Sabina Mollot
The race for the City Council seat currently occupied by a term-limited Dan Garodnick appears to be heating up with a third person announcing his candidacy.
That person is Jeff Mailman, an East Midtown Democrat who’s currently a legislative aide to Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. Mailman had told Town & Village in February that he was seriously considering a run.
Others to get into the ring already are Stuyvesant Town Democrat Joshua Thompson and Peter Cooper Village resident Diane Grayson, who said she may run as an Independent.
During a recent interview at Aroma, a coffee joint near the Civic Center legislative building where he works, Mailman discussed his platform, which focuses on public safety, improved schools and quality of life issues.
Mailman has lived in the fourth Council district for the past nine years, having lived in Hollis Hills, Queens, a somewhat suburban area, before that.
Though he knows this district race will likely be a crowded one – the primary is still nearly a year and half away — Mailman said he hopes to stand out through his experience in legislation and in law. The job he’s held with Crowley for the past four years entails making sure bills are drafted properly and preparing for oversight hearings, as well as working on constituent issues.
“This is the best experience you can get to become a Council member,” Mailman said.
He’s also worked for Andrew Cuomo. This was for a few months as a fellowship focusing on consumer fraud when Cuomo was still the attorney general. Mailman got the position after graduating from Cardozo Law School in 2009. He then went on to teach a course at Cardozo’s legal writing center and from that, the opportunity to work for Crowley opened.
Legislation she’s sponsored that he’s worked on include a bill that would make it a requirement to get photoelectric smoke alarms.
Fire safety is a concern of Mailman’s and he said he wants to make sure police and the Fire Department have adequate resources. Through Crowley, who’s the chair of the Fire & Criminal Justice Committee, Mailman said he’s learned that the demand for emergency medical service (EMS) teams went up last year, “including life threatening emergencies, and response time has increased.” While it’s an issue citywide, he especially said it’s relevant for the district, which is home to several hospitals.
Since announcing his own campaign, Mailman said he’s reached out to voters to learn what the top concerns are in different neighborhoods.
“At Waterside Plaza, it’s coastal resiliency issues, and in my neighborhood, midtown, we have a few homeless shelters so that’s an issue with loitering and sleeping on benches in parks,” he said. The biggest issue in the neighborhood though is noise.
“The most prevalent source is construction after hours,” noted Mailman. “I would want to ensure that after hours permits could be authorized for only certain types of work.” He added that he would also want to make sure there are enough inspectors available with the Department of Buildings to be able to enforce that regulation, by visiting work sites after hours. “It has to be checked up on,” said Mailman. “If it goes unchecked, people can’t sleep for days or weeks at a time. In three blocks you have three towers (going up).”
In Stuyvesant Town, Mailman said the biggest issues seemed to be quality of life related, like noisy student apartments. “I heard from a lot of people about transient housing,” he said. “I would also want to make sure the supermarket stays.”
When asked for his thoughts on the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, which is aimed at getting any commercial tenant up for renewal a 10-year lease if the business wants one, Mailman said he wasn’t familiar enough with the legal language to form an opinion. But he did say he believes one way to loosen up the retail market a little would be by shutting down businesses that are operating illegally.
“I can tell you there are a lot of illegal businesses,” said Mailman, adding that’s an issue Crowley’s been trying to address with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, since some involve prostitution. “It’s a lot more prevalent in Queens,” he said. “It could be hundreds of spaces that eat up the supply and make it more competitive and hard to find space. Once a business opens up, it’s really hard to shut it down.”
Mailman added, “It also hurts small businesses if you’re the business next to one.”
As for the issue of high rent, Mailman acknowledged that even bigger businesses have been impacted.
“The Union Square Café helped revitalize the neighborhood, and they were priced out,” he said. “And look at FAO Schwarz.” But, he added, “There’s a lot that could be done. I think it’s important for the city to make legal resources available to help (business owners) negotiate when it comes time for a lease renewal.”
On the need for improvements in education, Mailman, whose mother is a speech teacher in a public school, said he would want to change hiring practices in an effort to prevent nepotism. “The Department of Education has an open market system,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s functioning properly. I know of a lot of cases where they hire sons and daughters of current teachers or friends of friends. When that happens it’s a terrible dynamic.”
He said he would also make sure there was oversight to make sure schools were compliant with requirements like offering gym classes, and with certified teachers at that. “Research shows physical activity promotes better learning and social skills and it shouldn’t be overlooked.” Mailman said he would also emphasize arts and music “to allow students to be exposed to different areas. I want to make sure everyone has opportunities.”
And another improvement for schools? Air conditioning. “We all work in air conditioned buildings,” he argued. “I think it’s a necessity.”
The needs of seniors is another priority with, he noted, a growing population of aging New Yorkers “and in a large part of the district, there’s a deficiency of community lounges.
“You have a lot of retired professionals so you need good intellectual programming and social activities,” Mailman said. Other suggestions included putting more benches around the district and opening medical facilities in residential properties. “For NORCs (naturally occurring retirement communities) with a lot of big buildings, you have an opportunity to set up resources and serve quite a few residents.”
He also would like to see new development in the district tied to transportation infrastructural improvements, a practice begun under Garodnick’s watch. The fourth district runs from Stuyvesant Town to East 98th Street on the East Side and 28th to 59th Street on the west section, which is still mostly on the East Side.
Meanwhile, the biggest lesson Mailman said he’s learned so far from working in government is that: “Not everyone’s efforts are as coordinated as what you would think.” This was in reference to projects that get addressed by more than one elected official as well as various agencies or departments of local government. “It depends when people want to work together,” Mailman said. “There is always so much on your plate at any one time. It’s not easy.”