TODAY: Kathryn Garcia Nabs Coveted StreetsPAC Endorsement
12:01 AM EDT on June 8, 2021
Kathryn Garcia has the "street" cred.
Later this morning, StreetsPAC, the only political action campaign solely devoted to the fight for safe and livable streets, will give its coveted endorsement to the former Sanitation Commissioner, citing her support for creating more public space, committing to redesigning streets to prevent crashes and speeding, expanding Citi Bike and more.
On a specific issue, Garcia is also the only candidate to sign a petition in support of converting the city's "gold standard" open street on 34th Avenue into a linear park — something that impressed StreetsPAC Executive Director Eric McClure, who saw it as a symbol of how Garcia will take the vision that many candidates share, but then "transform it into action."
"She's no bullshit," McClure told Streetsblog. "All the candidates in the field have talked about doing a lot of progressive things on open space, but she rose to the top because once she buys into the idea, she will figure out how to get it done. And 34th avenue is a great example of that: she signed the petition, which takes her a step beyond what others in the race will do. She has the chops to turn plans into action."
And so much action will be needed — not only because the next mayor inherits a mandate under the Streets Master Plan to build 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes in five years. Garcia told StreetsPAC that she would do 250 miles of PBLs in her first term.
She also supports the Transportation Alternatives' "NYC25X25" plan, which seeks to repurpose 25 percent of the space currently allotted for the movement and storage of cars. Her rivals Scott Stringer, Eric Adams, Dianne Morales and Andrew Yang also support the plan, but Garcia has gone out of her way to promote it, including holding a campaign event under the Gowanus Expressway to champion the vision. Shaun Donovan and Ray McGuire have not explicitly endorsed the plan, though Donovan has embraced many of its central provisions. (After initial publication of this story, the McGuire campaign got back to Streetsblog to say that the former Wall Street exec "supports the goal, but believes specific implementation and timeline must involve communities — especially transit deserts, and New Yorkers who rely on cars for health, work, and other important reasons.")
But this endorsement did not hinge on promises, but on expected performance. McClure said his group's selection was very much in keeping with Garcia's campaign theme: she is the candidate to get things done.
"She was faced with having to site a garbage transfer station on East 91st Street, and there was pushback, but she got that done," McClure said. "She got the plan to transform commercial waste into effect." [In fairness, that plan was pushed through by the City Council, though Garcia started the initial steps towards implementation.]
Garcia also supports expanding Citi Bike — indeed telling Streetsblog that she would subsidize the privately owned bike share system to make it more equitable (Adams, Morales and Stringer agreed). "We need to have Citi Bike in all of our neighborhoods, not just some. And if we have to subsidize it, then that’s what we’ll need to do,” Garcia said.
McClure said StreetsPAC was so impressed by Garcia that he even indulged in a bit of magical thinking on policing. Garcia, like other front-runners Adams and Yang, has run as a strong supporter of the police and an opponent of cutting the NYPD budget. Yet McClure believes she will not tolerate abuse, excess or power trips.
"We don't think she'll accept bad policing and misbehavior," he said. "We've seen under Bill de Blasio and Mike Bloomberg before him that the relationship between the NYPD and the mayor is a fraught one. But we think she will bring her toughness to bear. She has a no bullshit approach. We think she will fire cops if they step out of line. And she will have a management structure in place and appoint a strong commissioner who will hold the department accountable. She won't be cowed by the police unions."
For her part, when Streetsblog grilled Garcia on Monday, she also mentioned the waste transfer station on the posh Upper East Side.
"Let's talk about stuff that's even harder to site than a bike lane," she said. "Has anyone else gotten a transfer station sited? And I put in the Styrofoam ban and was sued by Big Plastic. Most of the candidates are in similar places with what they say publicly [on livable streets issues], but I am the only one that StreetsPAC trusts to deliver it. They've heard rhetoric before, but they think I will have the stick-to-itiveness to get it done."
Jackson Heights's open street on 34th Avenue is what Garcia sees as an example — and why she signed the linear park petition.
"It's absolutely a model going forward," she said. "It is already designed beautifully, with a median, and in a community that has very little green space. And because of the desperate need for open space, it became so incredibly active. So I'm thinking 'How to make it even prettier, like those pictures of Park Avenue before we gave it over to cars. These are the ways to make the public realm, and the neighborhood, better."
She said she knows there will be fights, but she remains convinced that she can persuade people that their neighborhoods are better when neighbor can meet neighbor on the street, in the open, without noise or pollution ruining their lives.
"You work with communities by giving them a palette of options" rather than a veto, she said. "You say, 'Here's how we can do it.' We've done it over and over and over, and we've done it successfully. You don't recreate the wheel every single moment. We will tell people the benefits: a better, more liable city, and, yes a better economy. I was at an open street in Brooklyn the other day and a guy came over and said, 'I'm a driver and I love this.'"
Streetsblog told Garcia that we would be remiss if we didn't mention that her stock as a candidate began rising almost from the day after our own reporter Dave Colon published his story about their bike ride through Queens, part of the "Colon Challenge" series. After that, Garcia landed the New York Times and New York Daily News endorsements.
A coincidence? On one level, Garcia doesn't think so.
"I put my life in Dave's hands, particularly in Elmhurst, but being out there and talking to him ... helped highlight issues that are important to people," she said. "I mean, I knew already that we needed more protected bike lanes, but when you're riding with him and playing chicken with buses, you really see the need for protected bike lanes."
Whoever wins the Democratic primary on June 22 (which is tantamount to election in heavily blue New York) will face extraordinary challenges. The past 12 months have been the deadliest 12-month period under Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative, partly as a result of epidemic speeding during the pandemic. But the trend has continued: the city marked its 100 road fatality on April 31 — a grim statistic that typically does not get registered until June or July.
That's again why StreetsPAC went with Garcia — the woman of action.
"Let's be fair to Mayor de Blasio," McClure said. "He elevated the issue and has achieved a lot, but so many good ideas were left on the table for want of execution. It's important to have a mayor who can transform to action."
That said, McClure said he believes that transportation issues will be in good hands even if Garcia is not elected.
"The interesting thing about this campaign is how much the landscape has shifted in eight years," he said. "You go back to 2013 and de Blasio was the only candidate talking about these issues in a remotely progressive way. And now, seemingly, the entire field has embraced the progressive agenda on street safety and transportation policy. It's remarkable."
The latest poll shows Adams in the lead over Yang and Garcia.
The election is on June 22. Early voting begins on Saturday, June 12. Click here for more information.
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