Mayoral forum brings candidates down to earth

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A forum held at the Riverdale YM-YWHA Monday night got four mayoral candidates on the record discussing their positions on environmental issues ranging from the Indian Point nuclear plant to a proposed Hebrew Home development in Riverdale. 

Sponsored by a variety of environmental and community organizations, the West Bronx Green Mayoral Candidate Political Education Forum allowed each of the attending candidates — Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former Councilman Sal Albanese, city Comptroller John Liu and former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion — an opportunity to make opening and closing remarks sandwiched around a series of questions from panelists. The same questions were then asked of the following candidates, who were not in the room to hear previous responses.

One observer likened it to the “Dating Game,” with contestants questioned by panelists Barry Willner, who serves on the boards of the Riverdale Nature Preservancy, the Friends of the Hudson River Greenway in the Bronx and the Riverdale Community Coalition; Yael Levy, co-director of Riverdale RiverFest; and Eric Goldstein, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund.

All the candidates supported plans for the Bronx portion of the Hudson River Greenway, said they would at least work toward closing Indian Point nuclear plant, supported Riverdale’s Special Natural Area District and low-density zoning and had plans for making the city more sustainable. 

Candidates were asked whether they would commit to working with other officials to come up with a financial plan to implement the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s community supported-design for the Bronx portion of the greenway, for which a funding estimate will be released this June. They also responded to a question about whether they would commit to funding the project in their first budget. They all agreed to at least try. 

Mr. Albanese told the crowd that when it comes to the greenway and funding it, “You’ll have an ally in City Hall … I don’t think this is a frill. I think this is something we need as the city develops.”

Ms. Quinn said she has seen first-hand the power of waterfront access in her own Chelsea neighborhood and believes it can “help make a neighborhood better, help make a neighborhood grow, and help make a neighborhood more family and senior friendly…”

On the budget, she said she could not commit, but “That’s something I would absolutely want to work with everyone… And how much? I don’t know.”

Mr. Liu said he sees the greenway issue as about “equal access and borough equity” and said he would have loved to run along the riverside when he was on the Bronx Science track team. 

Mr. Carrion acknowledged budget constraints in a difficult economy, but said “at the end of the day, budgets are about choices and priorities and this is absolutely a priority for me.”

The candidates were asked whether they would defend existing R1-1 zoning and the Special Natural Area District in Riverdale. They all enthusiastically said they would, but when they were asked specifically about the proposal of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale to build a complex of high rise buildings to house 300 units of senior housing — far denser than normally allowed in an R1-1 zone, their answers were nuanced.

Ms. Quinn said that while she supports current zoning, she would not take sides on the Hebrew Home development before sitting down with all parties and learning more about the project.

Mr. Albanese took a harder line. “We need senior housing but I don’t think we need to violate zoning codes to do that,” he said, adding, “The community voice has to be heard. Neighborhoods do count. We can’t just ram projects through and basically violate the spirit and the letter of the zoning code.” 

Mr. Liu said that we’re a growing city but “that doesn’t mean we have to let development take over,” adding, “Once you lose a natural area, you never get it back.” 

After admitting to knowing nothing about the proposed development and asking some questions about the proposal, Mr. Carrion first quipped that he would wholeheartedly support the project, and then got serious and said he would need to learn more but that “this has to be put through the meat grinder. If the local officials, candidates, community board, the community, speak with one voice, you know, we need to support them.”

On the issue of whether to close the Indian Point power plant in Buchanan, N.Y., all of the candidates said they would work toward that goal, but none committed to its immediate closure if elected. 

Candidates were also asked to discuss their sustainability priorities, with Mr. Liu proposing “green apple bonds” to fund green industries and create jobs, saying workers could be paid to remove PCBs from schools over a shorter period than what the Department of Education has proposed. 

Mr. Carrion also focused on developing a green economy, with an emphasis on urban vertical farming to grow organic food close to market and to create a new local industry. 

Both Mr. Albanese and Mr. Carrion emphasized that federal transportation funds are needed to sustain mass transit, even if it means taking some money away from highways. 

“I would be a mayor for mass transit,” Mr. Albanese said, comparing the way he would approach the issue to how Mr. Bloomberg has organized mayors for gun control.

Ms. Quinn was corrected by the audience when she said that Riverdale was not hit hard with power outages after superstorm Sandy, but said she would like to bury powerlines and give the city more control over the Metropolitan Transit Authority. 

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