By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Candidates for the 74th Assembly District seat met for a forum hosted by the Tilden Democratic Club and the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club last Saturday evening at the Seafarer’s International House. The forum had been postponed from earlier in the month due to the snowstorm, although the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats, which originally planned the event with the two other clubs, ultimately braved the weather and held its forum that day.
Sandro Sherrod, a technology director at NYU Langone, Harvey Epstein, a project director with the Urban Justice Center, and Mike Corbett, an aide to City Council Member Costa Constantinides, all agreed that they didn’t disagree on much but shared their specific positions on issues such as affordability, the MTA, education and other topics.
Tilden members also voted to endorse Sherrod, a previous club president and a resident of Stuyvesant Town, for the seat in a special meeting following the forum.
In response to a question about the reduced fare system for the MTA from East Midtown Plaza resident Shelley Winfield, Corbett said that the system should be reformed and noted that the MTA has additional work to do in preparation for the L train closure.
“The DOT plan was good but it could be better,” he added. Corbett also noted that in the long-term, he is committed to making sure the Second Avenue Subway gets fully extended.
“I plan to take this for the long haul so the Second Avenue Subway is funded and built downtown,” he said.
Sherrod said that he feels there a lot at the MTA that needs to change but that transparency is a top priority.
“We need more options and I would try to have greater oversight at the agency,” he said.
Epstein noted in response to Winfield that there are issues with the reduced fare system that should be reformed but also felt that the MTA itself is “failing” and needs serious changes.
On the topic of congestion pricing, both Corbett and Sherrod said that exceptions should be made for people who live and work in the district. A recent proposal has suggested that vehicles driving into Manhattan below 60th Street should be subject to an $11.52 surcharge, with a $2 to $5 surcharge for taxis or other for-hire vehicles and $25.34 for trucks.
Corbett, who lives in Murray Hill, said that he thought the price point for congestion pricing was fair but had issues with who it would apply to.
“Folks in the district should get an exemption,” he said. “We should think about that cost being lower for small businesses and that funding should be taken to fix infrastructure.”
Sherrod said that he agreed in terms of thinking about how the funding should be used.
“We need to think further out of the box than we have and put that into supporting infrastructure,” he said. “We need to look at how to support people in the neighborhood and look at things like parking for people who live here.”
Epstein, an East Village resident, also noted that the surcharge shouldn’t be impacting residents and suggested that the focus be more on for-hire vehicles.
“We need to talk about the problem, which is that congestion is being caused a lot by drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft,” he said.
Gramercy resident Nicole Paikoff asked the candidates how they would address the issue of construction as harassment and what kind of legislation they would introduce that hasn’t already been offered. Epstein, who is one of the tenant reps for the Rent Guidelines Board and has been dealing with tenant harassment through his work at the Urban Justice Center, said that predatory landlords have been a problem for housing advocates for the last 15 years. He noted that one of the ways in which he has helped out tenants in the past is through a citywide coalition of tenant organizations to help residents dealing with abuse from owners.
Sherrod said that he would push the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the agency that oversees rent stabilization, to do more oversight.
“Another goal is to redo the (Major Capital Improvement) program so it isn’t used to turn over a higher profit,” he said.
Corbett also noted the importance of having oversight to make sure the MCI program isn’t abused by landlords.
“I know the pitfalls of rent stabilization,” he said. “We need to make sure that capital improvements are actually necessary for buildings.”