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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

AOC’s Council Endorsements Raise Questions About Her Commitment to Livable Streets

1:07 AM EDT on June 6, 2021

Photo: Courage to Change

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.

The man Streetsblog readers love to hate, Arthur Schwartz. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The man Streetsblog readers love to hate, Arthur Schwartz. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The man Streetsblog readers love to hate, Arthur Schwartz. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

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 against better transit on 14th Street, against paired 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.

StreetsPAC, the city's only political action committee solely devoted to livable streets issues such as transit and car-free streets, chose Johnson's chief of staff Erik Bottcher in the race, citing his support for the city's Streets Master Plan law.

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:

Manhattan

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

Bronx

District 11: Mino Lora
District 13: Marjorie Velasquez
District 14: Adolfo Abreu
District 18: Amanda Farias

Queens

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

Brooklyn

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

Staten Island

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.

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