Put Out into the Deep

New York City Needs Good Leaders Who Will Bring it to a Better Place

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Recently, we sent a questionnaire to all the New York City mayoral candidates, and the results of the questionnaire, plus even some comments from them, are available in last week’s edition of The Tablet. Not all, unfortunately, responded to us, but the names of those who did are clearly shown.

At the same time, our purpose in offering this questionnaire was to have a baseline of how issues that are essential to the Church for educational and social missions would be addressed by a new mayor. In general, all of the respondents seem very positive, and this a good sign for whoever would be elected. We can certainly remind them of what they promised, and, hopefully, they can deliver on their initial campaign promises.

Politics is a difficult, yet essential part of our society. The word politics comes from the Greek word, polis, which means the people, or the city. Yes, it is so important that we understand that politics is not something that we need to avoid, but at the same time, we must, as a Church, maintain a certain distance from political activism. How important it is that we understand the necessity of the Church in defending our rights and exercising our responsibilities as good citizens, while at the same time recognizing that alliances with any political party or individual politician are very dangerous.

In fact, just recently, the outgoing head of The Southern Baptist Convention said that “every time the church gets in bed with a politician she comes away pregnant.” A very insightful statement recognizing the dangers of endorsing any particular politician. In our last Presidential election, it was clear that many Evangelicals sided with the Trump side of the ticket, and some others with the Biden side. As is normal, Catholics were evenly split among both candidates. It seems as if as Catholic people, we have a mind of our own, and pick different issues that matter to us.

It is important however that we recognize there are sometimes essential issues that need to be recognized as a certain priority, while at the same time maintaining a clear interest in every aspect of social policy that affects people. The Church has learned long ago not to recommend any particular politician, although it seems that some are convinced that we are siding with one person or another.

It is important, however, that we give credit to our politicians who actually have shown concern for the church’s issues. I will give you one good example, Senator Chuck Schumer, now the majority leader of the U.S. Senate. If it were not for Senator Schumer, we would not have gotten the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for Catholic institutions and parochial school aid. He really stood up against his party, since we know the Democratic Party is almost always against school aid for private and parochial schools. We need to thank him publicly for remembering his constituents. Senator Schumer, although we do not agree on all issues, is clearly one who listens to his constituents and is interested in their welfare.

Eric Adams is another one whom I have gotten to know personally in his role as Brooklyn Borough President. He has reached out and asked for some advice on what we think are the issues that are important. I hope that most of the other candidates understand the situation here in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. As you well know, sometimes we feel neglected by the City administration in different ways.

How important it is that we understand our issues. The Catholic Community Relations Council (CCRC) represents the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of New York on local legislative, policy, and political issues in New York City. The members from the Diocese include Monsignor Alfred LoPinto, Vicar for Human Services; Father Patrick Keating, Econome and President and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens; Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, Superintendent of Schools; and Ms. Colleen Lefferts, Legal Counsel, Real Estate Services at Rocklyn Asset Corp. 

During March and April of 2021, CCRC conducted 45-minute interviews with several of the leading NYC Mayoral candidates. Candidates interviewed included Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer, and Ray McGuire.  Andrew Yang declined a request to meet with CCRC. Each candidate presented their priorities and main focus if elected Mayor.

They were then asked very direct questions by each Board member and CCRC Director Joseph Rosenberg, about their positions on confronting the homeless crisis, food instability, ensuring public safety on our streets and in the subways, providing sufficient funding for education, health, safety, and other services at Catholic schools, protecting the freedom of individuals and organizations to act in accordance with their beliefs and values, and many other items. All of the candidates interviewed were extremely appreciative of the opportunity of meeting with CCRC, and their exchanges with the Board members were substantive, thorough, and thoughtful.   

Personally, looking at the issues critically, at this time, public safety is a key issue in the campaign and in the life of the City of New York. Without public safety, no city can survive. I had the wonderful experience of being the Bishop of Camden for five years. The City of Camden, for many years, was riddled with drug abuse and drug trafficking. In 2012, the Camden Police Department was dismissed and became the Camden Metro Division of the Camden County Police Department, which is a clear program of community policing.

Community policing means that the police get to know the people. Of course, Camden is a city of 80,000 people versus a city of 8 million people as we have in New York. The concept of community policing, however, is a good one. It means that the same police are in the same precinct for long periods of time so they get to know the people.

The police know who is who, they understand where the gang activity is happening, and they can befriend the people, so the police are trusted, and not as the present situation we have, where people avoid the police. Housing, homelessness, and certainly affordable housing are other main issues that we deal with in our City. The shame of the homeless situation in the City of New York is a terrible one.

Much of the homeless situation comes from the stubbornness of our politicians not to recognize that to solve homelessness, it is much cheaper to subsidize people in housing than to keep them in hotels and other places which are not conducive to keeping families together. Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi has proposed legislation in which subsidies for rent would replace the higher bill for homeless shelters. Unfortunately, this bill has never been able to move from committee to the floor for a vote for one reason or another.

Unfortunately, mental health issues underlie some of the homelessness problems. The commitment necessary for good community mental health is not forthcoming either from Washington or New York itself. This is an important component for the future of stabilization of our city.

Clearly, the revival of our City after the COVID experience needs to include new job training. We see that many jobs are going empty because people have changed jobs or dropped out of the job market, or have simply retired. The business community has jobs, but people are not prepared for the jobs.

It is also important that job training happens right in our city and people are able to find the proper training to fill the empty positions. Also important is the issue of regulation permits and many issues that have clogged any development of the city. Who would come to the city and try to build a building and say maybe in five years you might be able to have a permit to use it? It is a completely dysfunctional system when we have to have expeditors to take any permit to the city because no one could ever be able to navigate the bureaucracy. Clearly, a real change making the City friendlier to new businesses, small businesses, and also institutions such as the Church has to happen, because the mire of regulations and permits has bogged down any future development.

As we see, politics is never an easy place to put out into the deep, among the whirlpools of the political world. Fortunately, there are some good candidates for our consideration. Hopefully, the best candidate should win, though at the time of this writing we do not know the outcome of the primary.

Unfortunately, there is only one party that seems to dominate the state. This becomes unfortunate since there is no room for alternative views and collaboration. Hopefully, the future might bring about a change of atmosphere where everyone’s vote in the city will count.

Join me in prayer for our great City of New York, for it is our home. We need to take care of our city. We need to have good leaders who will bring it to a new place and a better place in the future.

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