Brad Lander Lines Up Comptroller Race Support from Street Safety Advocates Who Might Have Backed Rival Corey Johnson
12:01 AM EDT on March 19, 2021
Take that, Corey.
Comptroller candidate Brad Lander — the apparent front-runner in the June 22 primary until Council Speaker Corey Johnson belatedly jumped into the race earlier this month — will release an endorsement list featuring more than three dozen street safety advocates, many of whom have been longtime supporters of Johnson ... albeit back when he was contemplating a run for mayor, not the city's top bean counter.
The list is basically a who's who of the livable streets movement (see it in full at the bottom of this post), including such bold-faced names as Amy Cohen, Mary Beth Kelly, Debbie Marks Kahn, Dana Lerner, Hsi-Pei Liao and Amy Tam-Liao of Families for Safe Streets' Marco Conner DiAquoi of Transportation Alternatives; Brooklyn Brewery founder Steve Hindy; Doug Gordon and Aaron Naparstek of the "War on Cars" podcast; Jon Orcutt of Bike New York; and crash victim lawyer Adam White.
Orcutt, Gordon, Naparstek, Hindy and White have all contributed to Johnson in the past, but are firmly behind Lander in this race.
"I have been a big fan of Corey’s and like him a lot, but I don’t support his comptroller campaign at all," Naparstek told Streetsblog. "Brad [has] been the stalwart champion for livable streets in City Council for over a decade and a genuinely creative, progressive policy maker who has really put a lot of thought and work into what he would do as Comptroller. ... I don’t think Johnson has articulated any compelling reason why, after dropping out of the mayoral campaign and basically disappearing as Speaker for much of the last year, he is now suddenly running for office. And I don’t think he has offered much a vision for what he would do with office and why he is the candidate best suited for it."
For his part, Orcutt said only, "I’ve been supporting Brad for comptroller since 2018 and continue to do so." (The Johnson campaign has already recycled a 2019 donation from Orcutt into its comptroller campaign account, which it can legally do without telling its contributors, much to Orcutt's chagrin.
Hindy also said he was happy to support Johnson when he was running for mayor, but feels that Lander "is the best candidate for comptroller."
"I don’t see Corey as a comptroller," he added.
Supporters said they backed Lander over Johnson because of Lander's long list of accomplishments, advocacy and leadership in the movement, but also because he has put street safety and accountability for reckless drivers at the center of a campaign to be the city's accountant.
“Brad takes the fight for safer streets personally and leads with creative policy ideas and unrelenting follow through," said Conner DiAquoi in a statement. "As Comptroller, I believe Brad will be a champion for reclaiming streets for the people — from investing in accessibility infrastructure to using data to identify areas for safety improvements to auditing the city’s progress on creating protected bus and bike lanes.”
Advocates noted that Johnson has also been a strong supporter of safer streets (indeed, he was Streetsblog's "Vision Zero Hero of the Year" in 2018) and has pushed the de Blasio administration into signing the Streets Master Plan, the Vision Zero Design Standards law, and the open streets program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtually all of the people interviewed for this story agreed that Johnson has been a leader (though his comptroller campaign website offers no specifics).
"I love Corey, but Brad has such strong and historic standing," said Paul Steely-White, the former head of TA now with Superpedestrian, the scooter company. "When Corey was waffling on the 14th Street busway, Brad already had years of courageous leadership under his belt."
Melodie Bryant was another Johnson supporter who is backing Lander, citing Johnson's scattered leadership over the past year, when he said he was battling depression and also enrolling in college.
"For all he's done in the past — and don't get me wrong, the Streets Master Plan was great, his imaginative approach which forced the hand of the state to install speech cameras in NYC was ingenious — I wanted to bet on someone who wouldn't be going off in another direction for personal reasons going forward," Bryant said.
It's not the first time Lander has undercut what might be expected to be a base of support for Johnson. Last week, Lander touted a long list of supporters from the LGBTQ community — which was then played up in Gay City News in a similar fashion to Streetsblog's coverage today.
But to be clear, Lander was not trumpeting that angle, saying that the list of prominent supporters reflect his work on these issues and his commitment to "using the tools" of the comptroller's office to advance the agenda.
"It's a remarkable group of people, people who are literally transforming our city and making it more safe by advocating for and achieving congestion pricing, protected bike lanes, open streets, reductions in speed limits and making everyone see that traffic violence is an epidemic we need to end," Lander told Streetsblog. "I've been honored to be supported by them for a long time. I've been in a lot of trenches with these people, dating back to the Prospect Park West bike lane."
That said, Lander is not averse to talking politics, too. He believes he's the better choice over Johnson for this particular office.
"There's the question of who will best use the tools of the comptroller's office the best," he said, touting a list of priorities that includes new personnel to audit the city and MTA's shortcomings on accessible sidewalks and subways; a new dashboard on MTA signal modernization (which has faded from the public eye as an issue since the departure of Andy Byford despite it still being urgent); making sure the next mayor carries out the requirements of the Streets Master Plan; auditing the economic success of the open streets program; and other ideas here.
Lander has also said he would build off a Streetsblog investigation from 2019 that found that the city had squandered roughly a half-a-billion-dollars on crash settlements — a study that found that the DOT was a model for other city agencies.
"We can do audits that are not 'Gotcha!' but, 'Here's what's working. Let's get all the agencies to do it."
He said he would bring the same approach to NYPD reform by creating a single place for people to explore police officers' disciplinary histories and making sure there is an "early warning system" that spots the bad apples quickly.
(Johnson's campaign team did not respond to an email message on Thursday.)
Here's the full list of Lander endorsers (* denotes prior contributor to Johnson):
Michael Freedman Schnapp
Mary Beth Kelly
Debbie Marks Kahn
Joanna Oltman Smith
Mark Winston Griffith
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