Although Trump-proxy Rudy Giuliani and billionaire Mike Bloomberg governed it as Republican mayors for two decades from 1994 until 2013, New York City still has sevenfold more registered Democrats than Republicans, and former cop and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who won June’s Democratic primary, holds a significant financial and media advantage over the other eight candidates for the Nov. 2 mayoral election.
This stands to reason in the city which is Wall Street’s home. Just this week the New York Times headlined an article “Eric Adams Rakes in $7.7 Million, With Help From Wealthy Donors.” Indeed, the city’s millionaires and billionaires are putting their money on a landlord-friendly, law-and-order candidate who has a track-record of serving the rich and powerful.
But Catherine Rojas of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is mounting a spunky, well-organized, grassroots challenge to Adams, all while holding down her job as a full-time New York City high-school teacher. Haïti Liberté caught up with her in late September to ask her about her program and campaign. We present the interview in two parts over the next two weeks.
Haïti Liberté: You are the daughter of Colombian immigrants, and your platform calls for passing a relief bill for immigrants in New York City. What concretely would be in such a bill?
Cathy Rojas: We want to first of all abolish all anti-immigration laws. We want to completely stop any raids and deportations. We want to ensure that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a controversial agency of the Department of Homeland Security] is not allowed in New York City. We want to ensure quality housing for immigrant families, which means ensuring that documentation to which they don’t have access is not demanded or that they are able to provide a different type of documentation.
One of the main things that we have in our platform is to grant voting rights to residents of New York City, regardless of documentation status. There have been studies showing that undocumented people are paying much more in taxes and contributing more to our society than our millionaires and billionaires, and therefore, they should be able to vote on who their representatives are. We want to ensure that all residents of New York City, regardless of documentation status, have access to voting, at least in local elections. We want to ensure that immigrant students have access to language support and also to higher education. I’m a high school teacher, and I see every day how students are limited in what opportunities they have or what universities they are able to attend because of the fact that they don’t have access to financial aid and because of the ridiculously high cost of higher education across the country. So we want to ensure that all of the city’s pubic universities are free and that our undocumented students have access to them.
HL: And how do you propose getting these measures through the City Council?
CR: Right now, there is a wave of progressive City Council candidates, many of whom are likely to be elected in November. I’ve been following many of their campaigns, and they seem to agree that New York City is an immigrant city, in which we need to ensure that immigrants have a high quality of life, are not being barred from access to education, housing, health care, and living a secure life, where they’re not feeling persecuted by military forces, whether it is the police or ICE. Many City Council candidates have already expressed agreement with our proposals. They are socialist-leaning or progressive candidates, and we really hope that they stick to what their campaigns have said and follow through. Because if we don’t, we will continue to have a city where undocumented immigrants are given a second-class status, where they don’t have access to the things that everyone needs to survive, whether that’s housing, education, healthcare, or security.
HL: You propose to cancel rent and mortgages and forgive debts of renters and homeowners during the pandemic. How could this be done given the power of the landlords and the banks, especially in New York City, arguably the seat of world capitalism?
CR: Our campaign proposes the cancellation of rent and mortgages until the end of the pandemic. After the pandemic, we want to ensure that everybody will have access to housing by making New York City a rent-controlled city, where landlords cannot charge more than 20% of people’s income for rent.
We also want to ensure that there are no homeless people in New York City by taking vacant lots. Right now, we know that there are more vacant apartments and vacant lots than there are people in the homeless shelters. So we want to use those spaces and ensure that they’re given to people who are houseless instead of just sitting there idly without being rented or used, simply because their owners are waiting for an opportunity to make more profit off of them.
How do we ensure we can do this? When working-class people’s socialists are in positions of elected office, I and the PSL will make decisions with the working class in mind. We can literally make a law that says: New York City needs to be a rent-control city; mortgages and rent are canceled, right up until this moment. We’ve seen this happening around the world due to the pandemic.
New York city has the most millionaires and billionaires of almost any city, and that wealth has been created by us, working class people.
The issue is that politicians continue to protect the interests of the capitalist class because those are the ones who fund them. So, if we look at Eric Adams, he is the politician, the candidate, who has received the most funding from real estate developers. So obviously, if he takes power, when he tries to take any political position, he will have those interests in mind. And that’s historically what politicians in our city have done. Unless we decide to vote for a socialist, like myself, during this election, they will continue to do that. They will continue to put the interests of the rich first and make it seem that it’s so difficult to make sure that everyone has housing. In reality, we could pass a law to make New York City a rent-controlled city easily.
HL: Another plank in your platform calls for taxing the rich. How much do millionaires pay now in city taxes, and how much would you hike it?
CR: Well, it depends on the millionaire or the billionaire, right? If we look at Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, we know that he barely paid any taxes. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, he made billions of dollars in profit. But at the same time that he was making those huge profits, his workers were trying to unionize. They were having press conferences, circulating petitions, they were really organizing in the workplace because of the terrible conditions that they were working under. Many of them weren’t being given any PPE [personal protection equipment], there was no contact tracing. They were literally putting their lives on the line to create wealth for Jeff Bezos.
We need to understand that all the wealth in New York City is made by the working class. New York city has the most millionaires and billionaires of almost any city, and that wealth has been created by us, working class people. Therefore, we should not be struggling to have access to housing, higher education, and healthcare. Those are not things that we should worry about when we have created such an enormous amount of wealth.
So, we don’t have an exact number for how much we would raise their taxes, but we will calculate how much taxing of the super-rich is needed in order to fully fund education, the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority], the infrastructure of city buildings, the infrastructure of public housing and NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority]. There is no reason why New Yorkers should be living, working, or transported in inadequate infrastructure.
HL: You have also called to defund the NYPD’s $6 billion plus budget and reallocate those funds to addressing the urgent needs of New Yorkers. How much would you cut, and to what priority areas would you channel the money?
CR: Yes, we are calling for the reallocation of funds from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget, the largest police budget in the U.S.. We want to make sure that New York City is safe, and we mean safe from not only any type of daily crime, but also from police brutality, because police also inflict violence on the people of our communities. Recently, there was a 10-year study that came out showing that the police only solved 2% of major crimes. When we look at the NYPD, most of their arrests are for nonviolent, petty crime or poverty crime. So we know that the crux of their job is not really dealing with safety.
So we’re looking for creative solutions, solutions that don’t entail disappearing our family members into jail or using jails as mental health centers. We’re looking for solutions to violence in our communities because we understand that safety is a big worry for many New Yorkers at this moment. We’ve been in talks with violence intervention programs, and we’ve been looking at studies that show that, in the South Bronx, violence intervention programs were able to reduce 63% of shootings in that community. We’ve seen the same thing in Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn. So we know that what really works is providing our youth with mentorship, after-school programs, and sports programs, with ensuring that people have access to employment, to jobs, and funding summer youth programs.
We want to channel those funds into what works, and we know what works right now are violence intervention programs. So that’s something that we have been advocating for as a way to deal with intra-community violence. But also we know that when people have jobs, are fully employed, when people have access to housing, when you have access to after-school programs, sports programs, and quality education, then we know that crime goes down in well-funded communities.
Eric Adams has raised the issues of crime, criminality, and violence that has grown since 2020, but he fails to mention how underfunded and neglected our communities were during the pandemic. Now we’re seeing a roll-out of the Excluded Workers Fund, but that just started in August. Now, we’re seeing the Department of Education offer the Grammarly program for free, but that also just started in August. But for a long time, our youth were not going to school, all of their after-school programs were cut. Due to the living conditions in New York City and the fact that rent is so high, especially for undocumented people who don’t have the documents to be able to get adequate housing, often we see cases of 10 people living in an apartment, or even in a room! Honestly! I’m a teacher in a 100% immigrant school, and those stories are common of multiple people, or even multiple families, living in a room. And those type of conditions, produce mental health problems and contribute to creating intra-community violence or other types of crimes. So we don’t want to react to crime. We want to get to the root of the problem.