Name: Zohran Mamdani
Office Sought: New York State Assembly District 36
Party Affiliation(s): Democrat
Occupation/Employer: Chhaya CDC
Previous Offices, Campaigns and Community/Civic Involvement:
Paid Canvass Director – Khader el-Yateem (2017)
Campaign Manager – Ross Barkan (2018)
Field Coordinator – Tiffany Caban (2019)
Facebook: Zohran Kwame Mamdani
Please state whether you support or oppose the following reform measures. If you wish to elaborate on your answers, you may do so in the provided space at the bottom of this page.
- Replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission with an effective and independent enforcement body (S594A/A1282A).
- Limit outside compensation earned by state legislators and statewide officials to 25% of their salaries and eliminate stipends.
Elections and Voting
- Do you support or oppose the following changes to the state’s current registration and voting system?
- No-excuse absentee voting (second passage of constitutional amendment)
- Election Day voter registration (second passage of constitutional amendment)
- Re-enfranchisement of people on parole automatically through legislation, without requiring a Certificate of Good Conduct or Relief
- Automatic voter registration, unless the potential voter opts out
- Mandating poll sites on college campuses
- No-excuse absentee voting (second passage of constitutional amendment)
- Reform the special election process, utilizing a nonpartisan special election for state legislative seats and eliminate delays in filling vacancies.
- Reduce the vote threshold to become a registered party back to 50,000 votes and keep the gubernatorial election as the qualifying election, and reduce the petition requirement for independent candidates back to 15,000 signatures.
- Amend the state’s public campaign financing system, approved in the 2021 budget, by
- Drastically reduce campaign contribution limits
- Set even lower contribution limits for registered lobbyists and those who do business with the state
- Move the campaign finance matching program to be administered by an independent, nonpartisan body outside of the NY Board of Election
- Simplify the matching system by making both in- and out-of-district donations eligible and by eliminating the three different tiers for matching
- Drastically reduce campaign contribution limits
- Require full disclosure of grants and contracts issued by the state, including the budget lines from which the spending is made and reporting on the results of each grant or contract over a certain amount.
- Provide for effective online disclosure and itemization of spending from elected officials’ lump sum appropriations, including reporting on potential conflicts of interest and how the funds are spent.
- Repeal Civil Rights Law, Sec. 50-a, which shields from public view the disciplinary records of police officers, correction officers, and firefighters.
- Restructure the state Board of Elections to abolish the strict two-party division of governance and operation and put in place professional, nonpartisan administration.
- Empower the attorney general to investigate and prosecute election law malfeasance and cases of public corruption.
- Make mayoral control of city schools permanent, with a governance system that provides for accountability, transparency, parent engagement, and democratic participation.
- Simplify and consolidate New York State’s court system by passing the Chief Judge’s proposed constitutional amendment to modernize the courts.
If needed, you may elaborate below on your positions on the previous questions. You may also provide additional information on any actions that you have taken or plan to take to advance your positions on these issues.
RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK
Government under the COVID-19 outbreak
- Adopt technological solutions and provisions that will allow the New York State legislature to convene and vote remotely if needed.
- Provide public access to observe and participate in government proceedings, in meetings that would be public under the New York Open Meetings Law, via live and recorded video available on government websites.
- Implement immediate programs to facilitate absentee voting for all New York voters as long as the widespread contagion risk of COVID-19 continues, under current state constitutional limitations. This includes electronic submission of absentee ballot applications without a wet signature and a public information campaign.
- What are your concerns regarding the use of emergency powers during this crisis, and how do you think NY government can maintain public accountability standards at this time?
Press release we sent out when it passed:
Zohran Mamdani, candidate for New York State Assembly in Astoria, called out Governor Andrew Cuomo for using the urgent need for a robust public health response to the spread of coronavirus in New York as a pretext for an executive power grab.
Last night, the governor convened the legislature to force through a bill that had been finalized just hours before and not reviewed by the public, civil society groups or any relevant stakeholders. The bill dramatically expands the governor’s power to unilaterally suspend laws and issue directives in response to “state disaster emergencies,” including “disease outbreak” but also “terrorism” and other events.
While the bill also appropriated much needed funds to prepare our state for the arrival of coronavirus, New Yorkers should not have to choose between adequate emergency preparedness and their civil liberties. Indeed, a number of legislators rejected this false choice by voting no, including the chairs of both health committees in the State Assembly and State Senate.
“I applaud Assemblymember Gottfried and Senator Rivera for standing up to the governor and for their candor in stating the facts: the state already has emergency powers more than adequate to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, and no prior governor has ever sought such expansive and unchecked authority,” Mamdani said in a statement. “I also applaud legislators like Assemblymember Niou and my comrade Senator Salazar, who acknowledged the troubling history of similar measures being used to persecute marginalized communities under the pretext of legitimate threats to public safety.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union also criticized the bill and noted its similarity to previous “anti-terrorism” measures that granted broad authority to the executive and law enforcement to impinge on the rights of minority communities, especially Muslims.
“Astoria has felt the impact of this kind of executive overreach before,” Mamdani said. “Mosques, businesses and homes across our district were subject to long-term, unlawful surveillance by the NYPD. Although this isn’t the type of activity being contemplated in response to coronavirus, it nevertheless falls under the scope of the powers granted by this bill. Our district deserves representation that remembers this history and learns from it – and that’s exactly what I intend to bring to Albany.”
Serving the public under the COVID-19 outbreak
- What are the biggest challenges in your district in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak?
Obviously, rent is the issue that affects the highest number of people, considering how many are working at reduced hours or have been laid off entirely. We’ve worked with the Astoria Tenants Union to host town halls, produce informational videos on social media, and connect people to resources that inform them of their rights and options if they’re unable to make rent payments at this time.
We also have a large immigrant population, especially Muslims of Arab and South Asian descent, that is low-income and potentially food insecure. To that end, we’ve connected local donors to Astoria businesses to finance a free meal distribution program during the month of Ramadan, which ends in 5 days. We’ve delivered over 9,000 hot meals to families at three participating mosques so far. We also conduct weekly grocery distribution to Muslim families in need out of our office.
Because we’re not in our office most of the time anymore due to COVID-19, we’ve also given the space to the Astoria Food Pantry to use to distribute food to people in need.
- What are the appropriate roles of city, state, and federal governments in a crisis such as this?
The scale of this crisis means that federal intervention would be most appropriate, and the federal government is really the only entity that can guarantee all that people need to survive to every American. However, the federal government is derelict in its duties to its citizens, and so it’s incumbent upon city and state government to fill in the gaps.
Most pressingly, we need a rent and mortgage holiday for the duration of the crisis. That means eliminating payments while the crisis continues and not having them due later. Government should fund a compensation fund for small landlords who rent a few units, or units in a building where they also live. But large developers and real estate investors should eat the losses.
It’s also outrageous that state government has moved forward with draconian Medicaid cuts in the middle of a pandemic, and that there are plans to slash vital services like education before taxing the rich. We need to generate new revenue from the ultrawealthy so that families and children aren’t forced to bear 100 percent of the burden of this crisis.
- How will you help your future constituents, residents and businesses, access potential funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, or any other future government relief funds?
A big problem is that many people are not aware of the types of benefits that are available to them or how to navigate the bureaucracy required to access them. This requires one-on-one outreach, or engagement through community institutions where you can ensure that help and services you offer make it into the hands of constituents. We’ve developed strong relationships with mosques, businesses, and community groups with deep ties to district residents, including communities that are not often included in traditional state outreach. We will continue to draw on those relationships to make sure people know what services are available to them and devote staff resources to help them navigate the application process.
CAMPAIGN PROMISES MADE TO VOTERS
What are the top five promises you are making to the voters during the campaign?
Campaign Promise 1
We will never take a nickel of corporate money, money from corporate or dark money PACs, or big real estate money.
Campaign Promise 2
We will fight to guarantee a home to every New Yorker, because housing is a human right, not a commodity that should be bought and sold. That fight stars with good cause eviction and universal rent control, ending the state subsidy of luxury developers, and reinvesting the savings in public housing.
Campaign Promise 3
We will fight to end corporate control of our utilities, take over companies like Con Ed and National Grid, and run them as state agencies. It’s preposterous that Queens families are expected to pay jacked up rates to subsidize the executive salaries and shareholder payouts of private companies. We need lower energy bills and a rapid transition to renewable energy.
Campaign Promise 4
We will fight to end the counterproductive and money-wasting system of mass incarceration we have in New York. We spend more than $3 billion every year to lock people up for offenses that jails and prisons are inappropriate to resolve. We need to invest in drug treatment programs, education and job training, and appropriate social services that discourage recourse to crime in the first place.
Campaign Promise 5
We will expand the electorate by engaging communities that have been left out of the political process for far too long, including the Muslim and South Asian communities in our district that have never had any political representation.
ETHICAL REPRESENTATION OF CONSTITUENTS
Citizens Union believes that all New Yorkers deserve to be represented by officials who work for the public interest and honor the public trust. With the corruption conviction of recent legislative leaders, we seek to endorse a candidate who will demonstrate that she/he will honor the full commitment of the oath of office, and always represent the public interest above all else.
Please tell us how you have and would continue to conduct the political affairs of this office in an upright manner, and maintain the public trust.
Queens County politics are shot through with corruption, thanks to the influence of the Queens Machine, which distributes judgeships, jobs in public agencies, and even elected offices as patronage to political allies.
Our opponent, Aravella Simotas, was hand-picked by the county organization to run for this seat 10 years ago. They endorsed her, sued one of her opponents off the ballot, and (many believe) convinced the other to drop out even after raising over $150,000. Her husband is a civil court judge, a post he was given thanks to his relationship with the machine. In his inauguration speech, he thanked Sweeney, Reich, and Bolz by name for their mentorship and guidance.
She’s backed county in every major political conflict that’s happened since. She endorsed and campaigned hard for Joe Crowley despite AOC winning the portion of his district overlapping with Simotas’ by more than 40 points. Tiffany Caban won her district in the Queens DA race by more than 60 points, but because of Simotas’ longstanding personal friendship with Melinda Katz, Simotas remained silent throughout the race.
Queens desperately needs independent leadership that is not beholden to the corrupt county organization, doesn’t do the pay-to-play game with big real estate and other special interests, and is directly accountable to its residents. Our campaign has been made possible by unprecedented grassroots, volunteer energy, which allows us to take nothing into consideration other than the perspectives of our constituents when formulating our policies and picking our political battles. I’m proud we’ve been able to do that on this campaign, and that’s exactly how we’ll conduct ourselves in office.