The four Democrats running to replace Eric Schneiderman in the State Senate - Miosotis Muñoz, Mark Levine, Anna Lewis, and Adriano Espaillat - met last night to debate transportation policy. They were joined by Green Ann Roos, not pictured.
Five candidates vying to become Upper Manhattan’s next state senator met in the 168th Street Armory last night to make their case to the car-free voters of Riverdale, Inwood, Washington Heights, West Harlem, and the Upper West Side. At a debate sponsored by Transportation Alternatives and WE ACT for Environmental Justice, important differences emerged over how best to solve the MTA’s budget crisis and make streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists.
Democrats Adriano Espaillat, Miosotis Muñoz, Mark Levine, and Anna Lewis were joined last night by Green Party candidate Ann Roos. Whoever wins, the victor’s first term will be dominated by the ongoing budget crisis afflicting the state of New York, which affects transit quite directly. State legislators made the MTA’s funding crisis even worse last December by stealing more than $100 million in dedicated transit taxes to plug gaps in the general fund. The debate began with a revealing discussion of how each candidate would secure adequate funding for transit given the current fiscal climate.
Assembly Member Espaillat, considered the front-runner due to an advantage in name recognition, strong fund-raising and prominent endorsements, began with a warning: “It would be irresponsible of me to say there’s not a deficit that’s going to hit across the board,” he said. Without new revenue, the legislature will be forced to make impossible choices between priorities like education, health care, and transportation.
Though he didn’t make a specific revenue proposal during the debate, afterwards Espaillat told me that “congestion pricing is certainly something that we must bring back to the table.” He argued against cobbling together a piecemeal funding scheme for transit, saying that “the main engine of economic development in our community” needs a “solid revenue stream.” Even so, he maintained his opposition to any tolls over the Harlem River bridges, which carry torrents of toll-shopping drivers through the district.
Mark Levine, considered to be a close second to Espaillat, also argued that congestion pricing would be the best solution. “I also support, short of that, a plan to toll the East River bridges,” he explained. Harlem River bridge tolls were conspicuously absent, however, a stance that he earlier explained to Streetsblog by characterizing those bridges as essentially local streets.
The other two Democrats, Muñoz and Lewis, each suggested reinstating the commuter tax to raise revenue.