You've been a City Council member for the past five-plus years, but you were a teacher before that. Why did you decide to enter New York City local politics?
My approach to government stems from my experiences growing up in Manhattan during the fiscal crisis of 1970’s. When I went to PS 36, my art teacher was excessed, never to return, and sports were basically cut out of the school system.
NYC was so bankrupt that the streetlights had to be dimmed – the City couldn’t pay its electricity bills.
Now our city’s fiscal health is in far better order, but the school system just hasn’t made the progress it should have since the 70’s. I saw this first hand as a 4th and 5th grade social studies teacher at Prep for Prep – a program for gifted minority students from the public school system. My students went to school in crumbling, overcrowded buildings, with no textbooks. Their teachers were under-paid yet often had to reach into their own pocket books to pay for basic supplies. Everyday, I saw that the school system was failing these kids. And that was the primary reason I ran for office.
Are the City Council meetings very raucous?
We’ve had some drama, but never as raucous as school cafeterias, a place we end up talking about a good deal.
Are there some proposed bills that members just laugh at?
And cry, too. I almost cried at a kids only education hearing when one of the kids who testified told me his class was too crowded for his teacher to answer his question – so he stopped raising his hand.
How did you become the Chair of the Education Committee?
I was elected unanimously by my peers in January of 2002. I sat on the Committee since I was elected to the Council in 1999.
As a product of the NYC public schools and as NYC public school parent, what are issues that you think are most important?
Nothing makes a bigger difference to a child than the quality of his or her teacher. My eldest son, a first grader, had two fantastic ones this year.
What do you think of the latest test scores for 4th and 8th graders being higher than last year's? Is Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's plan working?
We held a hearing on those scores at the City Council earlier this week. And although no one in this city wants anything other than good news for our kids, I’ve never been persuaded by a ‘trust me’ attitude towards public policy – especially when it comes to public education and especially since the advent of mayoral control.
You're running for Manhattan Borough President. What does a Borough President really do? What do you hope to bring to the fold?
This is a crowded race and my opponents and I agree on many issues. What distinguishes me is my hands on approach to solving people’s problems in real time. I don’t send letters that say "thank you for contacting my office." I send letters that say "you contacted me on this day with this problem and this is what I’ve done since then to fix it."
I love that you can easily verify whether or not your municipal electeds are getting the job done. Are the roofs leaky in your schools? Are the potholes fixed? Do you feel safe walking on your street? Do you have a place to turn if your landlord is trying to evict you? Does that place return your phone calls?
Your district happens to cover your old high school, Stuyvesant. What are some good Stuy memories you have? And we want the story on how you and your husband met there!
I still love Veniero’s on 11th street, where I spent a lot of time after school.
I met my husband Eric as a sophomore. He was hitting on my best friend at the time, who was not interested.
What are things young New Yorkers can do to stay more informed or get more involved with NYC education issues?
I don’t think a lot of people know that all City Council hearings are open to the public. Come. There is plenty of action and room for public comment. I’d also encourage people to take at least one morning a week to read each of the daily newspapers. And read your community weekly.
What is your favorite subway line?
The as-of-yet nonexistent 2nd Avenue subway. Lucky for us, the west side stadium is dead, potentially freeing up more capital dollars from the MTA. It’s time to give east siders some breathing room on their commute. We’ve been so close for so long. And the connection to Lower Manhattan would be invaluable for business up and downtown.
Cats or dogs?
My husband and I live in a 1 bedroom apartment with 3 kids – goldfish.
What are your favorite things about your neighborhood? And what would you like to further improve?
I am proud to bring up my kids in a neighborhood where I have fought for good schools, where the trash gets picked up regularly, that noise levels are down, and where City services are accessible to all who need them. I also love representing Museum Mile.