Continuing their successful Public Advocates series, Solidarity Space recently hosted former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. For about an hour, the Public Advocate candidate outlined her proposals and took questions from Bay Ridge residents. Solidarity Space founder Ross Barkan and Bklyner journalist Kadia Goba moderated.

There was a strong focus throughout the night on the MTA and public transit, which made sense considering that Mark-Viverito’s party line in the upcoming election is “Fix the MTA”. Residents however focused their attention to affordable housing, climate change, and education. You can check out the full livestream over at Solidarity Space’s Twitter account.

Left to right: Ross Barkan, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Kadia Goba. | Photo courtesy Melissa Mark-Viverito for Public Advocate.

Recording Overview

Opening Remarks

The former City Council speaker started off her forum by talking about her qualifications. Much of it focused on her time as City Council speaker, the second-most-powerful position in the city. She also touched on her family history in Puerto Rico furthering women’s rights.

Emphasis was placed on leading the drive to close Riker’s Island in the City Council. She claims to have pushed the mayor and other politicians by forming a coalition that moved the issue into mainstream.

The Public Advocate’s job should be connecting with city residents and holding the Mayor accountable, she said. In order to do that, she proposes three offices: Legal Aid (working with private law firms), Community Engagement (hiring activists to gather data), and Research and Investigation (to find out what to do with that data).

How Does She View the Office?

Ross Barkan and Kadia Goba, the moderators, posed some pointed questions. They highlighted Mark-Viverito’s reliance on public-private partnerships to expand the limited power and budget of the Public Advocate. Many proposals would be achieved by bringing in private groups to boost her budget and staff.

She also mentioned that she wanted to expand Public Advocate’s power through the City Charter, to offset a lack of independence at the Department of Investigation.

Higher Office


Melissa Mark-Viverito on whether she’d run for Mayor

Ross asked why, specifically, Mark-Viverito wanted to run. She mentioned a desire to use the bully pulpit to press for change in the city. More personally, she also mentioned gender representation as a reason for running. Tish James’s election to state office would leave very few women in elected citywide office, a situation Mark-Viverito wants to correct.

When explicitly asked by Ross if she’d run for Mayor, Mark-Viverito replied “Maybe”. She expressed no interest in state or federal office, explaining that she couldn’t imagine being separated from her constituents by long distances.

Public Transit

Melissa also discussed and clarified her Weed for Rails program. The program would legalize marijuana in New York and spend the revenue in two specific areas. Firstly, it would take half of the revenue to fund the MTA capital program. The other half would go to communities historically impacted by overzealous drug enforcement.

Mark-Viverito also explicitly identified Governor Cuomo as the one responsible for the MTA’s funding crisis.

ADA Compliance

A question from a member of the Rider’s Alliance focused on ADA accessibility in public transit. Mark-Viverito said that there are limitations on what the Public Advocate can accomplish. While she is sympathetic to the issue, she mentioned the City Council as responsible for ensuring city agencies comply with accessibility laws.

Alternative Transit and Climate Change

In response to a question about climate change, Mark-Viverito said she took a car share to the forum. She gave up owning a private car years ago, and views cycling and alternative transit positively, despite recent “controversy” over the issue.

As City Council speaker, she also saw that buildings were the largest contributors to climate change. She said the Public Advocates office should keep track of environmental benchmarks and litigate when landlords fail to keep their buildings climate-friendly.

Affordable Housing

Kadia Goba asked why Mark-Viverito’s Weed for Rails program focused on the MTA, and not another issue such as NYCHA. Mark-Viverito said she’d be revealing her public housing plans, and criticized the possible federalization of NYCHA, which has since (partially) come to pass.

When it comes to helping tenants, Mark-Viverito cited a specific accomplishment. She detailed her City Council initiative to provide free legal counsel to everyone in housing court. The Universal Access to Legal Services Law offers free legal representation (depending on income level and the type of court case) for tenants.

As a public advocate, Mark-Viverito expressed a desire to go after increase penalties on landlords who circumvent rent control laws, as well as setting aside new housing for homeless families.

One question came from a resident who works with an organization that serves low-income New Yorkers, many of whom live in NYCHA housing. He asked for more detail on Mark-Viverito’s affordable housing plans. She deflected by referring to her upcoming four-point plan on the subject. The questioner asked “Could you give us just one of the points?” Mark-Viverito focused on roof repair investments being a priority.

As of press time, Mark-Viverito’s affordable housing plan has yet to be released.

Real Estate PAC Money

Ross also highlighted a nuance in Mark-Viverito’s statements about not accepting Real Estate money. She clarified she doesn’t take Real Estate PAC money, but does accept money from Real Estate developers as individuals. She emphasized she follows all the rules required to qualify for matching funds.

Gender Equality

What can you do to level the playing field [for working mothers]?

Audience Question

One question from the audience focused on what Mark-Viverito would do to improve the employment conditions for working moms. Mark-Viverito looked to some of Tish James’s past initiatives reporting on unequal pay in city agencies. A new initiative she’d push would be creating a list of employers who are notorious for discrimination and harassment, similar to a human rights watch list.

She did not commit to the questioner’s request to incentivize changes to how employers schedule and oversee working mothers. She vowed to research what was legally possible.


When posed a general question on education, Mark-Viverito said we need to fully fund schools at the state level. When asked a specific question on what she thinks makes a quality school, she mentioned a trip she took in City Council to Cincinnati. The visit was to one of the first Community Learning Centers (CLCs) which were designed to act as hubs for child services, not just education. For example, they provided eye tests and food pantry services to ensure all students had the resources needed to learn. She wants to expand these kinds of services in NYC schools.

Hate Crime Education

A family and child attending the event asked Mark-Viverito about a motion that had passed that day, Int 1261-2018. Sponsored by Councilperson Chaim Deutsch, it would require the proposed Office of Prevention of Hate Crimes to conduct educational outreach to local schools. Mark-Viverito hadn’t read the measure and instead spoke about the recent rise of hate crimes in general.

Learn more about Melissa Mark-Viverito…

Check out more from Solidarity Space’s Public Advocates series

We have already posted audio from Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, and Danny O’Donnell with more to come soon! Be sure to be notified of their newest forums on their events page.

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