New York, NY—Five candidates are vying to be the next Manhattan Borough President, and they debated on Wednesday for the first time. Hosted by the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, the candidates had a chance to explain their approach to the office based on their experiences in public office and/or the private sector.

Elizabeth Caputo is the former chair of Community Board 7 on the West Side and currently works for the World Economic Forum. She believes strongly that the office of Manhattan Borough President needs to be home to a visionary leader, which she credited the current borough president, Gale Brewer, for fulfilling.

She has a couple of ideas of how to manage the functions of the office. For example, she would like to host borough board meetings in each of the city’s 12 Community Board’s districts throughout the year as a way to showcase a particular community’s uniqueness.

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Secondly, she wants to build tech bridges, especially for the underserved. And she wants to elicit the private sector in that endeavor. She pointed to the recent announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio to order an additional 100,000 iPads to help students with remote learning.

“Rather than go through the procurement process, I believe strongly that we need to enlist the private sector to help, we need to do this more. They want their employees coming back, they want to build a stronger and safer and more equitable New York City, too,” said Caputo.

Caputo then said that if she wins the office, her tenure will be informed by her leadership on Community Board 7.

“Throughout my time as the longest serving chair of the community board, I felt very strongly that each board needed to reflect the diversity of its members, not just in membership but actually in leadership as well. And that means racial and gender diversity, and I’m going to push for it.”

N.Y. State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) expressed a few ideas on how he would like to see Manhattan evolve should he win the office of borough president.

For starters, he wants to advocate for action on climate change and the preservation of cultural centers in the borough.

“I want to see a Manhattan with new incentives to take on climate change and go carbon neutral within the next two decades, and I want to see a Manhattan with programs to permanently preserve and protect those rich cultural centers of our borough—Koreatown, Chinatown, Little Senegal, Little DR in Washington Heights and Inwood, and other cultural enclaves so that we don’t lose them permanently to COVID-19 and gentrification,” said Hoylman.

And he wants to strive for racial justice. He took issue with the fact that each of the candidates running for the office is white.

“It is worth acknowledging that every candidate for this office is white and I think this is reflective of a lot of the inequities that we see in our borough,” Hoylman said.

But he’s going to put every minute into fighting for Manhattan.

“I’m going to bring back Manhattan in a way that is going to be collaborative and will listen to you, small businesses, citizens and stakeholders alike.”

Councilman Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) started out by saying the city is at a moment of great peril because of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, not just in hotspots in Brooklyn and Queens but in Manhattan with cases on the rise for the last 10 days or so.

The Manhattan Borough President election isn’t until next summer, but the economic fallout from the pandemic will certainly be omnipresent in 2021.

“We have to confront the inequality that this pandemic has exposed and exacerbated in health care, in housing, in employment patterns. We have to bring our economy back, we have to have a just recovery. And we have to ask everybody to share the burden, which is why I want to see the richest amongst us pay more to help get us through this crisis,” said Levine.

He added that he wants to use the office to confront the persistent scourge of racism in policing, in health care and school segregation.

“The borough president of course has powers to introduce legislation, and I’ve been very active on that front myself, and I want to continue that if I’m lucky enough to be the next borough president by creating a position of legislative director to introduce, to shepherd and enact legislation. Ultimately, this job is really a platform for organizing. And that’s what I have done on the council,” Levine said.

Over the weekend before the debate Kimberly Watkins jogged the entire 32-mile perimeter of Manhattan so that she could get a real, and on-the-ground sense of the issues that’ll be important to voters—overdevelopment, decay along the shoreline and increasing homelessness.

“The borough president’s job, of course, has to be a custodian of all of these issues and has the bully pulpit to convey positions on the issues. But more than that it is an organizational executive position, and having had experience hiring and managing dozens of people at time, up to hundreds of people, I have the experience of taking really undefined positions and then turning them into fruitful, progressive and solution-oriented issues and agendas,” said Watkins.

And Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) highlighted his legislative work for the past eight years on the council, as well as his community outreach.

For example, he advocated with Harris Healy’s, the proprietor of the Logos bookstore on East 84th Street and York Avenue, landlord to extend the lease on the bookstore at a reasonable rent, and he joined with Dave Goodside, the proprietor of the Beach Café at East 70th Street and 2nd Avenue, in raising money and distributing free burgers for frontline health care workers at the height of the pandemic.

“We need to work together on a transformative plan to rethink our retail and business spaces for this pandemic and the next and support our favorite neighborhood businesses and make it easy to do business here versus anywhere. Together we can do better in getting back to a normal that never worked for any of us, and build a borough that works for all of us,” said Kallos.

MORE: Meet the Next Manhattan Borough Candidate 

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