Dan Hendrick/NYLCVEF

At a forum last night, 8 of the city's 9 candidates tried to sell the crowd on their passion for sustainability (even biking!).

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave the speech about slavery at New York City's Cooper Union. It’s credited by some with winning him the presidency. Last night, politicians gathered there once again. This night couldn’t be compared with that occasion in importance or (certainly) in eloquence. But it had significance nonetheless.

This was the first time that all nine candidates for New York City mayor had agreed to appear at the same event. What brought them together was an Earth Day forum on sustainability hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters and the Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design.

By the end of the evening, all the candidates except for one were pretty much elbowing each other aside to establish their sustainability credentials and their belief that making New York "greener" would result in economic as well as environmental benefits. In the post-Sandy environment of 2013, the candidates seemed unwilling to appear uninformed or wishy-washy about environmental issues. They confidently advanced a series of proposals that would have seemed overly ambitious or even silly just a few years back.

Former city councilmember Sal Albanese said he wants to aim for a "zero-waste future" by dramatically ramping up the city’s recycling program. City council speaker Christine Quinn, the front-runner, said that reducing the city’s carbon emission 80 percent by 2050 is "where we have to go," and said the city should use its massive purchasing power to affect the market for sustainably produced food.

Public advocate Bill DeBlasio called for aggressive financing structures to retrofit aging buildings to make them more energy-efficient. Former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión, running as an independent, said New York should be exploring vertical farming. Former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joe Lhota called for a multi-pronged, holistic approach to flood prevention that included restored wetlands and possibly oyster beds as well as harder infrastructure. Former comptroller Bill Thompson said "the next mayor of the city would be a fool to take steps back" from the current administration’s environmental agenda, known as PlaNYC.

Pushing beyond the goals of that sustainability blueprint, which was on the leading edge of urban policy when current mayor Michael Bloomberg announced it in 2007, was a theme for nearly every candidate. Which shows how far the city, and the country, have come in the intervening six years. Nationally, aggressive sustainability initiatives in cities such as Chicago and San Francisco have made New York nervous that it is falling behind. And behind is a place that New Yorkers don’t like to be.

The only candidate who allowed himself to appear less than thrilled about waving a green flag was billionaire grocer John Catsimatidis, who is running against Lhota for the Republican nomination. He was the sole candidate to express skepticism about man-made climate change, and he was also the only one who wouldn’t raise his hand in support of more bicycle commuting. Catsimatidis also downplayed the immediate potential for renewable energy, saying, "We can’t live in a fantasy world…. I like to live in the real world."

But by the end of the evening, it looked like Catsimatidis was the one out of touch with a new political reality in America’s biggest city. 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  2. Equity

    The Problem With Research on Racial Bias and Police Shootings

    Despite new research on police brutality, we still have no idea whether violence toward African Americans is fueled by racial prejudice. That has consequences.

  3. Four New York City police officers arresting a man.
    Equity

    The Price of Defunding the Police

    A new report fleshes out the controversial demand to cut police department budgets and reallocate those funds into healthcare, housing, jobs, and schools. Will that make communities of color safer?

  4. Maps

    Your Maps of Life Under Lockdown

    Stressful commutes, unexpected routines, and emergent wildlife appear in your homemade maps of life during the coronavirus pandemic.

  5. photo: Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks to reporters on June 1, after a weekend of widespread protests against police violence.
    Equity

    What Mayors Are Saying About the George Floyd Protests

    As demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd spread across the U.S., city leaders offered a range of responses to the unrest.

×