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Q&A: Kathryn Garcia says her NYC mayoral rivals Andrew Yang and Eric Adams lack the "broad management experience" for the job

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Democratic New York City mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia enters a debate, backed by supporters.
Democratic New York City mayoral candidate and former NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • Kathryn Garcia is one of the leading candidates in the Democratic primary for NYC mayor.

  • She was the city's sanitation commissioner from 2014 to 2020.

  • Her standing in the polls has risen following a New York Times Editorial Board endorsement.

  • Sign up for the 10 Things in Politics daily newsletter.

In the shadow of the American Copper Building and its "dancing" towers on a sweltering afternoon in late May, Democratic New York City mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia stood on a cramped Second Avenue sidewalk to talk about homelessness and affordable housing.

Young professionals of Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood hurried by without paying much attention, and a visibly exhausted nurse wondered aloud who this person was and why they were blocking the sidewalk.

"Running for mayor?" another scrub-clad pedestrian replied, not entirely certain of the identity of the former sanitation commissioner and winner of The New York Times Editorial Board's endorsement.

Other than campaign staff and a handful of reporters, no one seemed to be paying attention.

Even though Garcia has been touted by opponents for her managerial experience and impressive resume in city government - with Andrew Yang going so far as to say he'd appoint her as his deputy mayor - she has only recently begun to surge in the limited public polling available ahead of the June 22 Democratic primary.

The latest poll from Marist College had her in second place with 17% of the vote, seven points behind Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Marist had previously sat out the primary, along with the other top three pollsters in New York, Siena College and Quinnipiac University, which all cited concerns around simulating ranked choice voting.

Her "housing first, not shelter first" pitch promises to create 10,000 units of supportive housing, which she argues will have a much better effect on reducing homelessness than relying heavily on shelters where people fear for their safety.

Garcia also has a $3 billion guaranteed jobs program for all New Yorkers between the ages of 16 and 24, part of an effort to address violent crime and help rejuvenate the city's economy.

Rarely have rival campaigns attempted to challenge her on policy details, though Yang and Adams have begun evoking images of trash bags crowding city streets in an attempt to ding her tenure running the Department of Sanitation under outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Garcia caught up with Insider on Sunday afternoon for a phone interview to make the case for why she's the competent manager the Big Apple needs right now, and why voters should rank her above Adams and Yang in the city's debut of ranked choice voting.

New York City mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia speaks to reporters.
Kathryn Garcia at a New York City mayoral campaign event in June in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Just to start out, I was wondering if you've had any thoughts on campaigning versus governing, and whether you've picked up any skills on the campaign trail that you wouldn't have otherwise.

Well, the first thing I have to say is I love campaigning in-person and not on Zoom [laughs]. Campaigning on Zoom was not fun. Yeah, in many ways there are a lot of similarities. Some of the work that I did while I was in government was how do you advocate for programs, and how do you pitch them, which similar to campaigning. You have a story to tell, there's a message you need, you want people to be involved, and that feels very similar.

One that I haven't quite mastered is that I talk to voters for far too long [laughs]. My staff is like, you have to stop asking all of these questions about what's happening in their lives, what they're facing. So that, I'm still working on. Kind of like a reporter. Reporters want to talk to people.

There's a lot of confusion about the role the state plays in running the MTA [Metropolitan Transit Authority] and why it's so much more expensive to build train lines than it is in most other big cities around the world. What's your understanding of how feasible subway fixes would be under your administration, and how much easier would it be if there were a different governor than Andrew Cuomo?

First and foremost, New Yorkers don't care. They just want to get to work on time. You know, as the mayor and when I'm there, I will do this: You have to figure out how to work with the governor, as well as with our state elected officials and the board of the MTA to get the Fast Forward program done, which is, in essence, the signals, the things that allow the trains to move more efficiently.

And they're all very old and analog now, right?

Old and analog. It's why you get stuck in tunnels, it's why we can't run as many trains in rush hour - because they don't have a modern signal. And it has got to be fixed, because that's how we get people back on the subway, by being the fastest, and having it be reliable is the most important thing for New Yorkers.

I'm going to work with the governor to make sure that happens for them, and he can take as much credit as he likes. All I want to do is deliver for New York City residents.

Would part of that involve letting the trains move at a higher velocity? They've been slowed down ever since those crashes in the 1990s, so if Fast Foward were implemented, would that allow the MTA to raise the speeds?

All of that is made possible by having the guts of the system be modern.

You've emphasized completing things like the Gateway tunnel project, the 2nd Avenue subway line extension, the triple cantilever pedestrian park over the BQE [Brooklyn-Queens Expressway] - do you think there'll be any bandwidth left for new game-changing projects? What kind of money do you think you'll be working with between leftover stimulus funds and fixed costs like the city's debt payments?

Well, there's some things that also are partnerships with the state. Like even the BQE is a partnership with the state, but we've gotta actually fix it. Because not fixing it means it could fall down, and having the fed also help us with infrastructure money - I think there still is a high likelihood that something passes at the federal level - we've gotta be ready with our projects. But there are some things we can't afford not to do, and [the BQE] is one of those projects we can't afford not to do.

There are several projects across the boroughs that are real game-changers, particularly on transportation. For example, light rail on Staten Island, as well as in Queens, doing somewhat like what was done on the West Side with the High Line to try and get the QueensWay, or decking some of the Cross Bronx [Expressway] so that you could create a connection between neighborhoods but also opportunities for green space that will change how livable a neighborhood is.

What are your biggest worries about Eric Adams and Andrew Yang?

For both of my competitors, it's just the lack of broad management experience. The borough president manages 100 people. I managed 10,000, usually - or more depending on how many jobs I had [in interim roles running departments under de Blasio] - with unions, with city dollars, with all of the challenges that come along with all of that. Similarly, Andrew Yang has run a business, but not a large one, and not been responsible for leading a force that has to deliver every day, and deliver a lot of different things, whether or not that's safety or cleanliness.

And to be quite honest with you, some of Eric's proposals on policing are really just throwbacks. They're not new and creative. Like how are we really driving the data? Where are our newest tactics? How are we really gonna integrate that with some of the longer term solutions where you're making investment years ahead on education, or violence interrupters? And a real ability to understand how police work and how unions work, and how you can actually create culture change.

Since public safety and violent crime have become such a central issue in the race, when you were in the de Blasio administration, relations between the mayor and the police started to get a bit ugly. Is there anything you would have done differently? And what do you think is the best case to be made for people who no longer trust the police, and haven't for a long time?

Having a real vision for where you want to go before you're in a crisis, creating the connections to your police force, you know, I did that very effectively with sanitation workers. You've gotta actually lead from the front, and you've gotta follow the data and make sure that we're using tactics that are effective at stopping and preventing crime. Kettling doesn't work, and there was a moment last summer where it was almost like he didn't want his eyes to show him what was happening.

It is driven very much by a lack of trust between police communities. We've got to rebuild police and community relations.

(Garcia makes an aside about someone putting out their trash where they're not supposed to as she passes by in a campaign car.)

I'm sorry, I got distracted.

We also need to make it so that we have a gun suppression unit who does the real investigative work to be digging into what is triggering a lot of these shootings and really digging into the intelligence of it. We also have to stop the flow of guns. The iron pipeline is a significant problem, and doing gun buybacks, they have the possibility of getting a gun off the street and saving a life.

You've gotta walk the walk, it's not just talk the talk. [People who've lost trust in the police] have gotta see it, they've gotta be talking to police officers, rebuilding that relationship. It takes a long time to build trust and a very short time to break it. An argument is not going to convince them, it's going to be seeing people who are police officers being respectful to their community - in both the large and small ways - that day today, they're treated with respect and professionalism.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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