Next NYC Mayor Should Have Government Knowhow, Donovan Says

As New York City tries to emerge from its paralyzed, pandemic-damaged economy, Shaun Donovan says experience as a government problem-solver makes him the best choice to be its next mayor.

Donovan served as the city’s top housing official under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP. He was also President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Housing and U.S. budget director. He said he sees his path to victory as galvanizing support among people he has aided throughout the city in housing programs, as well as voters who want to see the next mayor get the city budget under control.

“New Yorkers are hungry, not for a politician but for a public servant who has that experience,” Donovan said during a one-hour interview with Bloomberg News editors and reporters. “We need a mayor who’s actually managed huge budgets.”

Donovan pledged a round of outreach to the city’s business community, citing the private sector’s contribution to bailing out the city during the financial crises of the 1970’s. “We need a mayor for all New Yorkers, not a mayor who’s going to demonize and divide the city,” he said, referring to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is not seeking re-election because of term limits.

Crowded Field

More than a dozen Democrats will compete in a June 22 primary that is expected to determine the general election winner in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 6-to-1.

Part of Donovan’s pledge in the crowded race is to renew ties with the business community, which he says de Blasio has fractured, and to reduce the city’s crime rate.

“I fundamentally understand that we need everyone at the table if we’re going to rebuild this city,” he said. “I would make sure not only every New Yorker but the entire world knows we are the safest city not only to do business but to live.”

Donovan said his close ties to people in the Biden administration, as well as to his former boss, Mike Bloomberg, will set him apart from other candidates in the race and persuade officials in Washington to provide a more equitable share of federal aid to New York City than it’s been getting. Donovan declined to say whether he’s sought Bloomberg or Biden’s endorsements. “It’s still important that I’ve worked closely with Obama and Mike,” he said.

As Obama’s housing secretary, he helped obtain a $25 billion settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage providers during the 2008 financial crisis. He also helped deliver aid to New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Donovan’s “Rebuild By Design” created an international competition that provided plans to make the water-surrounded city more resilient to future floods as sea-levels rise due to climate change.

“There’s no one in this race who has the deeper and broader experience in crisis than I do,” he said, noting that he’s also out-raised many of his competitors.

This election will be the first mayoral campaign in which the ballot will offer voters an opportunity to rank up to five choices in order of preference. When asked who he might rank, Donovan said he didn’t see anyone else in the race that he would support as alternatives. He said he respected Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, but said her candidacy faced challenges due to her lack of “leadership and experience at scale.”

Donovan, 55, grew up on Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side, attending the elite private Dalton School before going to Harvard University, from which he graduated and then went on to get graduate degrees in architecture and public administration.

Yet his campaign website is filled with pronouncements and promises that feature spending money on the city’s poorest and least powerful, with policies on housing, education, the economy, criminal justice, climate control and transportation.

Action Over Ideology

Still, he said he would run for mayor on the basis of getting things accomplished, rather than ideology. That means pouring $2 billion a year into programs to repair public housing, and creating a down payment assistance programs for home buyers. He has called for reallocating about $500 million a year from the NYPD budget to community-based anti-violence measures and vowed to create 500,000 jobs in four years.

On inequities and disparities of care that have become apparent during the pandemic: “Anybody who has the deep experience I do in crisis understands those who are most vulnerable before a crisis get hurt most by it,” he said. “The way to fix this begins with a strategy knowing that’s what’s going to happen.

Donovan, who said he contracted Covid-19 earlier this year, said he was outraged by the disparities among vaccine distribution, which skews to wealthier neighborhoods where a disproportionate amount of vaccines are going to White and Asians, rather than Black and Hispanic residents.

He said de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo should have set aside an allocation of vaccines to specifically target distribution in communities that have been hit the hardest. If elected, he said he would lobby for a certain amount of vaccines that could be administered “door-to-door” by community organizations in those communities and through mobile vaccination centers where some doses could be allocated without appointments.

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