UPPER WEST SIDE — With primary voters heading to the polls in less than a week, the candidates running for the Upper West Side's District 6 City Council seat spent Wednesday night debating immigration issues and broken-windows policing.
Incumbent Helen Rosenthal sat down with Democratic challengers Mel Wymore and Cary Goodman, alongside independent candidate William Raudenbush, in front of a packed auditorium at JCC Manhattan at 334 Amsterdam Ave.
Each of the candidates weighed in on what they consider the most pressing issues affecting the Upper West Side. Rosenthal branded herself as a leader who passed legislation that offered tenants protections from landlord harassment, who called for more funding for nonprofit organizations in the city, and who supported a controversial neighborhood school rezoning.
"While none of these things were easy to achieve, I worked with the advocates and my colleagues in government to get them done," said Rosenthal, who was elected to the Council seat in 2013. "But when it's important to stand up for what is right and go against the grain, I’ve done that, too."
Wymore, who is challenging Rosenthal in the primary for the second time, said he wasn't initially planning to run in 2017, but that a number of concerning trends pushed him to pursue the office.
"First is the small businesses that keep going out of business on the Upper West Side, stringing our avenues with empty storefronts," Wymore said. "Secondly, the soaring rents that seniors can no longer afford to live in their homes, and low-income families are getting squeezed out of community."
Wymore also accused Rosenthal of poor constituent services that left vulnerable residents neglected.
The debate was organized by Faith in New York, an interfaith network that strives for equality among all races, classes, and ethnicities. As the Trump administration announced Tuesday the rescinding of DACA, the Obama-era program that protected children of undocumented immigrants from being deported, thousands of recipients have been left unsure of their futures and legal teams have already began questioning the president’s action.
Rosenthal said she’s stood by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her efforts to fund legal representation for targeted undocumented residents upon the moment of their arrest, as opposed to after they’re detained. The councilwoman said she’s continuing to work with her colleagues and Mayor Bill de Blasio to prevent the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement from arresting undocumented immigrants at any moment.
Wymore suggested that the city needs to organize a safety network for those at risk, so there’s a specific process for whenever someone in the community gets arrested. He added that this issue should be addressed by the state Senate level, which has the power to work on legislation that would offer state protections to undocumented residents.
Raudenbush added that now is the time for all residents to spring into action and call their representatives in Congress.
“It’s unbelievable and shocking to me that we can live in the United States in this time and do something like repeal DACA,” Raudenbush said. “I think people, regardless of their immigrant status, deserve equal protection under the law.”
Rosenthal said the NYPD's local 20th and 24th Precincts are prime examples of community policing, and she supported more funding for the initiative in her first year as a councilwoman. She’s also currently working on the Right to Record Act with Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams, which prohibits police officers from interfering with people recording them.
For his part, Goodman pointed to his unique experience as executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District in the South Bronx, where he organized a sit-down with all of the borough’s precincts and BIDs to discuss ways to move past broken-windows policing and toward community policing.
Wymore added that the neighborhood needed to strengthen relationships with police by expanding the resources of Community Precinct Councils and revitalizing the department’s youth programs, like the Police Athletic League.
Raudenbush agreed with having greater oversight on police departments, but argued that small offenses like graffiti and public urination should not go unaddressed.
Two other candidates, independent David Owens and Republican candidate Hyman Drusin, were not present at the debate.
Residents can vote in the primary elections on Sept. 12, followed by the general election on Nov. 7