Allies of NYC Mayor Survey 50,000 People on Reparations, Covid
(Bloomberg) -- Allies of New York City Mayor Eric Adams want to road-test some of his supporters’ most contentious policy ideas before he decides whether to pitch them to residents.
A group called “NYC Speaks” plans to survey more than 50,000 New Yorkers about issues as varied as reparations for slavery, school segregation, “culturally responsive teaching,” police reform and mask and vaccine mandates, according to a draft copy of the questions reviewed by Bloomberg News.
The $2.1 million initiative is backed by boldface philanthropic organizations including crypto billionaire Mike Novogratz’s Galaxy Gives, the Robin Hood Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
Starting Friday, NYC Speaks will send 150 canvassers into 33 neighborhoods around the city over the next few weeks, with the intention of compiling results and delivering them in a report to the Adams administration within a month, said Shango Blake, the group’s co-executive director.
“There is a need to engage,” Blake said in an interview. “What is the other alternative? The moment we stop communicating and stop listening and empowering people and allowing them to have voice, this is the beginning of a breakdown that can lead to all kinds of anarchy.”
The answers could help inform Adams’s early policy moves and the city’s next budget, which is due in June. The results could also help the new mayor lay groundwork for pushing some of the ideas more broadly -- and take the temperature of a city in a far different place from when he won the Democratic primary last July, when Covid-19 rates had dropped and the economic recovery was in full force.
If the survey effort succeeds, and Adams implements its most popular recommendations, he can say he’s following the advice of a large swath of the New Yorkers who elected him.
To that end, city labor groups such as municipal workers union DC 37, health care workers union 1199SEIU and the New York State Nurses Association will also send the poll to their members. Local radio stations will encourage listeners to fill out the surveys online.
The public-engagement effort is philanthropic in nature and separate from the Adams administration’s campaign financing and transition funding, both of which are subject to limits on fundraising and spending. But a spokesperson said members of Adams’s transition team were among the 120 people involved in developing the survey questions.
The survey, available in 10 languages, consists of 45 questions about the respondents’ background and their opinions in subject areas such as “Public Safety,” “Education and Youth Development” and “Health and Wellbeing.” The questions run the gamut -- from asking how New York should revitalize its nightlife to whether the city should provide a publicly financed option for child and elder care.
Some of the questions touch on politically controversial subjects. One asks, “New York City schools are some of the most racially and socioeconomically segregated schools in the country. How can city government address school segregation to ensure that one’s race, economic status, or neighborhood does not determine their learning outcomes?”
Another question asks respondents how strongly they agree or disagree that New York City should provide reparations to residents who are “descendants of Africans enslaved in the U.S.” Other questions touch on measures to advance gender equity and whether people support vaccine and mask mandates, or enforcing “a two-week lockdown banning indoor social activity when COVID rates are very high.”
The idea of conducting a survey to help an incoming mayor gauge the concerns and preferences of city residents isn’t entirely new. In 2013, in the months before Bill de Blasio took office, a group of 10 philanthropic organizations set up a “Talking Transition” tent at Canal Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, where New Yorkers could post messages, opinions and ideas for the new administration.
Blake said the NYC Speaks survey is larger and more comprehensive. He said it will include diverse voices across New York City neighborhoods and give regular New Yorkers a say in the Adams administration’s policy agenda and the direction of the city.
“Listen, this city is suffering,” Blake said. “We’re still in the middle of a pandemic. We’re still dealing with trying to address the issue of safety in New York, mental health in New York; there’s still the vestiges of systemic racism in NYC.”
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