Q&A: How Does StreetsPAC Judge Candidates’ Commitment to Safer Streets?

NYC’s first livable streets political action committee, StreetsPAC, released its first round of endorsements today. The committee threw its support to five City Council candidates, including two who are looking to unseat incumbents.

In the race to succeed Peter Vallone Jr. of Queens, StreetsPAC endorsed Costa Constantinides in District 22. Constantinides is a Democratic District Leader and City Council aide “who believes that ‘safe streets are the lifelines of every thriving neighborhood,’” according to a StreetsPAC press release.

In District 34, which includes Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Ridgewood, StreetsPAC supports Antonio Reynoso, chief of staff for term-limited Diana Reyna. Reynoso, who became a bike commuter after selling his car, wants to calm truck traffic and expand the city’s bike lane network, according to StreetsPAC.

Carlos Menchaca gets the nod from StreetsPAC in District 38, which covers Brooklyn neighborhoods including Borough Park, Gowanus, Sunset Park, and Windsor Terrace. A “regular bicycle commuter” who would like the city to extend the Brooklyn Greenway from Red Hook to Sunset Park, Menchaca is running against incumbent Sara Gonzalez. He has worked for Marty Markowitz and Christine Quinn.

Former banker Vince Morgan is running against Inez Dickens, in Upper Manhattan’s District 9. StreetsPAC says Morgan is “sharply critical” of Dickens’ indifference to safety on deadly Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, which his children cross to get to school.

Finally, StreetsPAC endorsed Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, in Manhattan District 8, for reelection. Mark-Viverito, whose district stretches from East Harlem to the South Bronx, is one of the council’s strongest voices for safer streets. “The Councilmember would like to see significant improvements to pedestrian access to her district’s East River Plaza shopping mall, and better bicycle and pedestrian access to the Willis Avenue Bridge,” says StreetsPAC.

We asked StreetsPAC founding member and Upper Green Sider Glenn McAnanama about the council member endorsement process, and what they’re seeing from candidates for borough president. See what he had to say after the jump.

Streetsblog: How are you deciding which council incumbents to target?

Glenn McAnanama: Those that are in competitive races and did not turn in a StreetsPAC questionnaire have made themselves targets. Neither Inez Dickens nor Sara Gonzalez turned in a questionnaire or responded to us in any way. We are focusing first on races where we think we can make a difference and where the challenger is trying to draw a comparison on livable streets issues against the incumbent. There’s also an eye on the inevitable race for speaker of the City Council. Inez Dickens’ name has been floated as a potential City Council speaker and we think her record on street safety and prioritizing mass transit on streets in her low-car-ownership district has been especially dismal. Vince Morgan is advocating for safety improvements to be accelerated along main avenues in Harlem like Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and Select Bus Service for all of 125th Street. We think that direct comparison will motivate a lot of volunteers and donors to flock to his campaign.

SB: In the open seat races, how much of a role did your questionnaires play?

GM: We only interview candidates that have submitted questionnaires so they are pivotal to our consideration. The questionnaire responses give us a basis to prioritize their district over other districts. In many districts, the contrast between the candidates often hinges on just a few key points. That’s when we need to interview them to really get to know them better. And we’ve found all of our interactions to be fairly positive with candidates. Just having a conversation with them can help us find common ground on some issues. We also look at their viability on a number of factors like fundraising, other endorsements, prior experience, etc.

SB: What’s the return rate on the questionnaires for council candidates?

GM: We tried to reach every council candidate and received over 60 responses — many of those from highly contested races in Manhattan and Brooklyn where livable streets issues are almost taken for granted now. But for instance we received three from council District 19, which is a very car-oriented section of Queens. Our policy is that we will be happy to receive responses from all candidates in races that we haven’t made an endorsement in yet. That leaves 46 council races where we have not endorsed a candidate, along with all borough and citywide offices.

SB: Do you plan to endorse in all contested council races?

GM: We have not decided that yet. We may choose to make a statement about a race pointing to the pros of various good candidates and the cons of one or more other candidates without making a specific single endorsement. Before the primary, I think we will have either an endorsement or a statement about the races where candidates have submitted questionnaires. We are very consensus driven.

SB: How about the races for borough president?

GM: We did interview the three Manhattan borough president candidates who completed a questionnaire — [Julie] Menin, [Jessica] Lappin, and [Gale] Brewer. The board could not come to a conclusion on that race yet, but we will be discussing this in the upcoming endorsement rounds. In the meantime, if a Manhattan BP candidate wanted to step up a few notches and really make a public pitch to the livable streets community with some big ideas, that might force our hand quicker. Also we are very interested in the Brooklyn DA’s race and have only received one questionnaire response so far. We’re also very interested in hearing from #streetsvoters about who they like in their area and why. Tweet us!