By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Attorney Erica Vladimer still has a long way to go before the Congressional Primary next June, but she’s ready to challenge longtime Congressmember Carolyn Maloney in the election for the District 12 seat after announcing her candidacy this past June. The district covers the East Side of Manhattan, including the East Village, parts of Midtown and the Upper East Side, as well as Long Island City and Astoria in Queens and Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
“I never fully intended to run for office, especially at this age, but if there’s ever been a time where a new generation needs to bring a new voice to all levels of government, this is it,” Vladimer said of her campaign. “And it gutturally feels right.”
Vladimer, 32, filed her paperwork to run on June 3 but was also in the news at the beginning of last year after she accused State Senator Jeff Klein of forcibly kissing her outside a bar in Albany while she was a member of his staff. She left his office in 2015 and said that she thought she had put it behind her, but felt differently when she started hearing about the accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
“I will forever carry that with me,” she said of the incident. “Other people who were harassed, I feel that I played some role in it because I didn’t speak out.”
Vladimer, along with six other former New York State legislative employees who experienced, witnessed or reported sexual harassment, founded the Sexual Harassment Working Group to combat sexual harassment in the state government. The group publicly encouraged the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to conduct a transparent process to review and establish the state’s sexual harassment policy on March 22, 2018, although the group felt that what passed was incomplete.
A resident of the Upper East Side since 2016, Vladimer said that she didn’t move to the neighborhood with the intention of running for Maloney’s seat, but she said that her campaign is still a challenge to what the current Congresswoman embodies.
“[She represents] somebody who’s been comfortable in the status quo, as opposed to actually leading the progressive agenda,” she said. “It’s very easy to support and sign onto and vote for progressive bills. It’s another thing to take ownership of them and push them when they may not be as politically popular. The way that society is progressing is not being reflected by our representatives.”
Vladimer pointed to Maloney’s vote in favor of the Iraq War in 2002, her support of No Child Left Behind that allowed states to track student progress through standardized testing and her initial reluctance to support impeachment for President Donald Trump.
“Calling for impeachment doesn’t mean as much if you’re doing it when it’s more politically popular,” Vladimer said. “We need a representative who’s going to lead us and recognize that there are voices in our district that need to be represented. If that means having uncomfortable conversations, then our representative should be willing to do so.”
But even on issues more directly related to New York, Vladimer feels that Maloney hasn’t pushed hard enough. Public housing is one area in which she feels that the federal government has a direct role to play, and could be doing more to help NYCHA tenants who have been struggling with poorly-maintained buildings throughout the city.
“To rectify [those conditions], our local government is bringing in private developers, who have already shown their true colors of what they want from public housing, and that is to make money and to push out the people who have a human right to access that type of affordable housing,” she said. “[Improvements] should be community-led and if the tenants feel that they want a private management company to come in, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be imposed on them if that’s not what they want.”
Vladimer said that investment in NYCHA should also be looking towards the future and considering climate change, by taking retrofitting sustainable energy sources into account, and climate change itself is a big issue for Vladimer.
“The Green New Deal is a framework that every policy that’s put forward should encompass as well,” she said, citing public housing as one example where energy-efficient policies can be folded in.
Regarding tangible effects of climate change, she said those need to be considered as well, and given the flooding that the district experienced during Hurricane Sandy and other intermittent flooding even this summer from rainstorms, the conversation is relevant for the neighborhood.
Although the rent regulations are controlled by the state and not the federal government, Vladimer said that affordable housing is still an important issue that she would be thinking about as a congressmember.
“There can always be an angle for a congressmember to play if they want to,” she said. “That can be even just partnering with state representative and city representatives and what they envision the role of a congressmember playing. Affordable housing is a national issue. Even beyond public housing, it’s something that we need to look at. New York City is one place that should be leading that conversation since so many people are being priced out.”
She added that she was “thrilled” that the new rent laws had passed in the state, and attributed their passage to “a new generation of progressive voices” that voted for them.
“They were able to direct those conversations and negotiations and they have that critical mass on the state level, but we don’t have that critical mass yet on the federal level,” she said.
Regarding public transportation issues in the district, Vladimer said that’s another issue that concerns climate change and the Green New Deal, arguing that any new public transit built, especially because new sections of the Second Avenue Subway are in the district, should encompass green energy.
“The fact that the grid system malfunctioned and completely shut down in part because of the heat is unacceptable,” she said, referring to the power failure on the Upper West Side in mid-July. “There needs to be more accountability on all levels of government on how the money is being used when we’re investing in transportation.”
She said that she’s concerned about agencies working on projects quickly that then require further investment because components have broken after a year rather than making sure that the project uses renewable resources that will be intact for multiple years.
“I love the mosaics [in the new Second Avenue stations] but that money could have gone to the actual infrastructure,” she said. “People are more concerned with getting from point A to point B to C safely than having mosaics.”
Vladimer attended Touro Law in Long Island and initially joined Klein’s staff through a State Senate fellowship after law school, getting placed there through the program. She was assigned to the IDC policy team, explaining the role as one that primarily matched her background because she had gone to law school for education policy reform.
“When you go to law school, you’re taught that it’s your ethical responsibility as an attorney to provide the best legal representation, no matter who your client is,” she said. “In my case, it didn’t really take me long to figure out what the IDC was trying to do but I was counsel for them, so the senators were my clients, in my point of view.”
Vladimer said that Klein’s alignment with the IDC didn’t necessarily impact her responsibilities.
“It was my job to represent them to the best of my ability, but that’s not to say I didn’t love what I was doing,” she said. “I loved working with advocacy groups and loved being able to be at budget negotiations. There’s something to be said of being an advocate on the inside.”
Being involved in education policy is partially what motivated her to become an advocate and attend law school, but she said that co-founding the Sexual Harassment Working Group after Klein’s alleged assault made her realize that there’s frequently cross-over in various areas.
“I had known through the work that I did in education that you can’t just take one policy and silo it,” she said. “Everything has some intersection with other policies and becoming and embodying and loving being a workplace advocate [through the Working Group] really expanded that too.”
Vladimer said that she wasn’t required to do the State Senate fellowship as part of her program in law school but she had done internships and externships at non-profit organizations that she really enjoyed. The dean of her law school encouraged her to consider public service and working in government.
“There was one internship I had at the Children’s Defense Fund where I was able to see the value of being on the inside when trying to bring about change,” she said.
Since announcing her campaign, Vladimer has also stepped away from the Working Group that she helped found, primarily because she doesn’t want to interfere with their mission.
“The Working Group is focused on policy reform but the last thing that I would want to do is make it political,” she said. “I’m proud of how much we got done in one session and that’s what I want to bring to Congress.”
Vladimer grew up in New Jersey but her parents are both from the Bronx and she was born almost locally, at Lennox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side. She has a twin sister who works for a company that staffs paraprofessionals and nurses for schools and is a special education teacher by license and training.
Vladimer is currently single but she said that she is close with her sister, who lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and that her 10-month-old niece is “the light of her life,” noting that staying close with her family is important to her.
“Representatives need to think of today and tomorrow and next week but I’m also thinking about her,” she said, referring to her niece. “When she’s 5 and 10 and when she’s my age, what kind of world are we leaving for her? We can think of the short term and long term together and both are just as important.”