One thing you know about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Safe streets and transit equity aren't a singular issue for her.
That's the takeaway from the list of endorsements that the Tesla-owning Queens Socialist put out on Saturday afternoon at City Hall. The topline that is that mayoral hopeful Maya Wiley got the AOC bump, but the down-ballot selections by Ocasio-Cortez's Courage to Change PAC show once again that transportation and road violence is not a key priority for her.
For instance: Ocasio-Cortez chose Arthur Schwartz to succeed term-limited Corey Johnson in the West Village. Make no mistake, Schwartz is a well-connected progressive standard-bearer in the old school sense, but he has also led several high-profile fights againstbetter transit on 14th Street, againstpaired bike lanes in the Village, and against a dedicated bus lane on Fresh Pond Road in Queens — battles that he lost and vulnerable road users or less-privileged transit riders won.
Schwartz's campaign website offers no suggestion that his positions on street safety are broader than his prior legal work in opposition to some key projects, but he told Streetsblog that his work as a lawyer in several high-profile cases does not mean he is not a bona-fide transit advocate or a progressive (he's been endorsed by Bernie Sanders and Cynthia Nixon, after all).
"In 11 months on the campaign trail, I was asked about the 14th Street busway one time," Schwartz told Streetsblog in a text exchange. "Folks were much more interested in my proposal to put $1 billion per year of city money into NYC Transit and make buses free."
He also said that another of his lawsuits "restored full service on the F and C," and he claimed that he (with the MTA and Sen. Charles Schumer) got "elevators on five lines." (Schwartz, it should be noted, is also a flagrant illegal parker. Despite having a placard for many years, he has racked up more than 265 parking tickets since 2013; he did not have a single speeding ticket on his car's record, however, until the beginning of the pandemic last year. His car has received three camera-issues speeding tickets since March 3, 2020, city records show.)
In other districts, AOC also made some choices that will likely raise eyebrows among street safety advocates.
For example, in Upper Manhattan's 10th District, Courage to Change is pushing three candidates — Johanna Garcia, Carmen De La Rosa and Angela Fernandez — none of whom makes transportation a priority in her campaign (though De La Rosa has a sentence — one sentence — on her website about the need for better transportation).
In the Bronx's 13th District, Courage to Change nominee Marjorie Velasquez also had nothing to say about transportation or livable streets.
And on Staten Island's North Shore, Courage to Change chose Selina Grey above Amoy Barnes, who told StreetsPAC that said she would create real bus rapid transit and that her 15-minute bike ride to the Staten Island Ferry terminal feels so unsafe that it’s a “disgrace.” Ranti Ogunleye had gotten StreetsPAC's second-place vote in that district; Grey was not mentioned by StreetsPAC at all.
Beyond that, in many races, the Courage to Change "endorsement" means nothing. For instance, in Queens's hard-fought race to succeed term-limited Jimmy Van Bramer in Sunnyside and Long Island City, there are roughly eight top candidates; AOC endorsed seven. In North Brooklyn's race to succeed Steve Levin, there are five candidates who have raised significant money; AOC endorsed four candidates.
And in some key races, such as Bronx's 12th District in Wakefield, AOC's group did not make an endorsement, even though Shanequa Moore is the darling of street safety advocates. The same can be said for neglected 15th District candidate John Sanchez, who was a strong endorsee by StreetsPAC. He wants to reduce car use, in part with busways on Fordham Road and Third Avenue, and more protected bike lanes. He has called for massive expansion in daylighting street corners.
That's not to say that all of AOC's choices hold retrograde views on street safety, livable communities and transit equities. The Queens congresswoman's PAC did endorse Amanda Farias to succeed the retiring unrepentant homophobe Ruben Diaz Sr. in the South Bronx. And she chose Aleda Gagarin and Juan Ardilla in neighboring Queens districts.
And technically speaking, the Courage to Change "endorsement" isn't so much an endorsement as a promotion of candidates who took the group's pledge to support policies (such as the Green New Deal or abolishing ICE) that use "local movement groups to build community power"; reject dirty money from real estate firms or fossil fuel interests; support labor movements; seek to reduce the NYPD budget; and, indeed, fight for infrastructure investments in public transit. Many candidates took the pledge, but not all survived the group's rigorous interview process.
Here's the full list of endorsements issued by AOC's Courage to Change group:
District 3: Arthur Schwartz District 5: Rebecca Lamorte, Tricia Shimamura, Kim Moscaritolo, Billy Freeland and Chris Sosa District 6: Sara Lind and Jeffrey Omura District 7: Marti Allen-Cummings and Maria Ordonez. District 9: Kristen Richardson-Jordan District 10: Johanna Garcia, Carmen De La Rosa and Angela Fernandez
District 11: Mino Lora District 13: Marjorie Velasquez District 14: Adolfo Abreu District 18: Amanda Farias
District 20: John Choe District 21: Ingrid Gomez District 22: Tiffany Caban District 23: Jaslin Kaur District 24: Moumita Ahmed District 25: Carolyn Tran and Shekar Krishnan District 26: Amit Bagga, Jonathan Bailey, Jesse Laymon, Julia Forman, Julie Won, Brent O'Leary, Hailee Kim District 29: Aleda Gagarin District 30: Juan Ardilla District 32: Felicia Singh
District 33: Lincoln Restler, Elizabeth Adams, Stu Sherman, Victoria Cambranes District 34: Jennifer Gutierrez District 35: Michael Hollingsworth and Crystal Hudson District 36: Chi Ossé District 37: Sandy Nurse District 38: Alexa Aviles District 39: Bridget Rein, Justin Krebs, Shahana Hanif and Brandon West District 40: Rita Joseph District 42: Wilfredo Florentino District 45: Anthony Beckford
District 49: Selina Grey
Update: After initial publication of this story, a spokesperson for AOC said that implicit in taking the "Courage to Change" pledge is agreeing to support "an increase of $100 million per year for mass transit improvements, including expanding bus shelters to every bus stop and providing elevator access to every subway station" and "an increase of at least $50 million per year in city funding to expand bike lanes throughout NYC in order to achieve a connected city-wide bike lane system." That language was not initially on the Courage to Change website, but even later, the AOC team said it was ... and sent over this link.
Educated at the Sorbonne and the Yale School of Drama, Gersh Kuntzman is obviously not the person being described here. We're talking about tabloid legend Gersh Kuntzman, who has been with New York newspapers since 1989, including stints at the New York Daily News, the Post, the Brooklyn Paper and even a cup of coffee with the Times. He's also the writer and producer of "Murder at the Food Coop," which was a hit at the NYC Fringe Festival in 2016, and “SUV: The Musical” in 2007. Email Gersh at firstname.lastname@example.org
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