Brian Lehrer: It's the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning again, everyone. Now we're continuing our year-long series, 51 Council Members in 52 Weeks, in which we invite every city council member in New York representing every neighborhood in the city. We're touching every neighborhood this year. Many of you have been hearing the series, and we're up to District 43. Today, plus eight, we'll end the series. District 43 is Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, and Bensonhurst. The Councilmember is second-term member, Justin Brannan. Councilmember Brannan, welcome back to WNYC. Thanks for joining us.
Justin Brannan: Right on, Brian. Thanks for having me. Good morning.
Brian Lehrer: We always invite Councilmembers, especially the rookie freshmen, but even you in your second term, to tell us a little bit about your background, and where you grew up, and what first got you into politics. Oh, my goodness, I read it on your council bio page that you used to work in radio. What?
Justin Brannan: [laughs] Sure. Well, because of term limits I'm now a grizzled veteran in the city council even though this is only my second term. Yes, I had a pretty unorthodox journey to where I sit today. I worked at WNEW for a bunch of years doing voiceovers for commercials and stuff. It was a lot of fun. If you ever need someone to read some spots you have my number.
Brian Lehrer: Okay, we'll put your number in our electronic Rolodex. What got you into politics?
Justin Brannan: Honestly, if you had asked me when I was a kid growing up if I'd ever get into politics, I would have said you were insane. I wasn't one of these kids who ran around when I was four years old with a bow tie saying, "I want to be president one day." To me, politics was what went on in Washington DC with a bunch of old white guys with white hair, and it felt very foreign to me.
It didn't really affect my life. My rent was due on the 1st. I had to work to buy groceries and pay my cable bill, but it wasn't until I really fell in love with local politics, and the urgency, and the immediacy, and the pace of local politics, that I really fell in love with politics overall. Before that, when I worked at WNEW, I was a de facto shop steward when I was an AFTRA member and I did some organizing there. That got me thinking down the road of politics and I wound up working for my predecessor, Councilman Vinnie Gentilly. Then when he was termed out, I decided to run to represent the neighborhoods where I grew up, and here I am.
Brian Lehrer: If union and labor activity got you into politics, you must be pretty interested in the news of today, which is that city council's law requiring most employers in the city to provide salary ranges on job opening postings, that takes effect today. Is this something you support, and what should business owners and job seekers know about this new pay transparency law for job postings?
Justin Brannan: Not only do I support it, I'm a sponsor of the bill. I sponsored the first version and the version that we just went into law. Honestly, Brian, when I got into politics, one of the things I-- When I became a lawmaker, I said, "How the heck is there anything left to do? Hasn't everything already been done?" Then every day something comes across your desk that needs to be fixed. This was something where it's really a no-brainer. The fact that you'd apply for a job not knowing what the salary range is, is just insane.
Addressing these pay inequities that have long impacted specifically communities of color, and it's critical to both our economy and to gender and racial justice. It's just a no-brainer. If you apply for a job, before you apply for the job you should know what you're getting into and know that if you get the job that you can make ends meet. Doing this is really a no-brainer, and I hope that other cities and other municipalities will follow our lead because it's really just the right thing to do. Ultimately, it's about shining a light on the gender and racial pay gaps, and I hope that one of the side effects of this law will be shining a light on that and trying to level the playing field.
Brian Lehrer: How would this close the gender and racial pay gap? Some people might argue, those pay gaps come mostly from what jobs women and people of color tend to be in compared to white people and to men, not from the fact that different people doing the exact same job get paid different amounts, or is that the case?
Justin Brannan: Well, that's ultimately what we're going to see here. Thus far, until now, until November of 2022, it's basically been a game of hide the ball. It's been, let's make a deal where behind door number two maybe you get paid as much as the other guy. What we're saying is that the livelihoods of New Yorkers are not a game show where the true salary is hidden behind a magic door, if only you guess the right one, or if only you know how to negotiate.
This is really about leveling the playing field and transparency. Why should corporations or businesses not tell you what the salary range is? We can't give them the indiscretion to behind the scenes offer something less or more based on anything except experience, or qualifications, and not showing you the pay range was giving people the option to do that.
Brian Lehrer: I wonder if requiring the salary range to be posted puts a little more bargaining cloud or-- Bargaining cloud, since it's already posted, might not even be the right term, but pushes up the pressure on employers to pay their workers a little more than in the past because if the amount of money that you'd be paid has to be in the job posting or in the ad, employers want that to be attractive to applicants. I wonder if you think it pushes up the overall average pay in the city just by having to advertise a job with its pay range.
Justin Brannan: The phrase, salary is commensurate with experience, doesn't tell me whether or not the job is going to pay my rent. If I don't know that the salary range is $60,000 to $80,000 then maybe I think I'm negotiating just to get $50,000 when actually the max is $80,000. It's been widely documented that women and people of color are significantly less successful in salary negotiations.
Some studies have attributed pay disparity to women just being less likely to engage in negotiation, but regardless of the cause, we've seen that women almost 10% to 25% lower pay rates than men when the rate is decided by salary negotiation. You need the tools to go in and negotiate for yourself, and we hope that that's what's going to happen here with this law.
Brian Lehrer: Listeners, that's one thing we could take some phone calls on, for New York City councilmember, Justin Brannan of Brooklyn, the new pay transparency law that goes into effect today for job postings for almost all employers 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692. Just to finish this topic and just so everybody knows, there are some employers who are exempt from this. Is it very small employers?
Justin Brannan: It's four or less employees.
Brian Lehrer: Just four or less. Once you hit five employees you have to post the salary range if you have a job opening.
Justin Brannan: That's right.
Brian Lehrer: All right. Now, you're in District 43. That's the City Council District you represent, which, it overlaps with congressional district 11, which is now undergoing a fiercely competitive election cycle between the incumbent Republican, Nicole Malliotakis, and Max Rose, the Democrat, who had also previously held that seat, and your race was hard-fought.
You live in a swing district there, you represent a swing district in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, and Bensonhurst. Describe your district demographically. We ask all the council members in this series to do that. In your case, who lives in your district, and what makes it politically a swing district?
Justin Brannan: Well, that's a great question. You hear a lot of people getting on buses and going to Ohio and Pennsylvania when they could just come to Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island. We have a lot of the same issues here. My district is much more diverse, I think, than people think and people believe. Bay Ridge has one of the largest Muslim and Arab populations in the country. It's from all different Middle Eastern and North African countries: Yemen, Palestine, Egypt, Syria. Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge has been referred to as Little Palestine and Little Yemen.
I also represent a very large and growing Asian community. Many families who live in Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights and Bath Beach, you have [unintelligible 00:09:51], which is Little Guatemala where you have a very, very large Mexican and Guatemalan population. Decades ago, obviously, there were influxes of European immigrants, particularly from Italy and Greece and Norway, and Ireland. You have a lot of descendants of these immigrants are still in our neighborhood, just like my family. As far as immigration goes now, these new immigration populations are mostly from Asian countries and Middle Eastern countries.
With that, Bay Ridge is also much more politically diverse than people would think. I think out here, you learn to fight for every vote and you take nothing for granted and unlike other districts in the city where as long as you win the primary, you're basically done and you can fly off to Aruba for the general election. We don't have that luxury down here where we have to fight every November to win every vote and to win the trust of voters for general elections.
That's just what we're used to down here. I don't know it any other way. That's the way it's always been. It's about getting your message out there and really about delivering for your constituents. Fiorello La Guardia is one of my heroes, and he famously said that there's no Democrat or Republican way to pick up the trash. You just got to get it done.
Brian, unfortunately, these days it does feel like there's a Democrat or Republican way to do just about everything, and it's very divisive. It's very toxic. Frankly, I think it's a bit sad because, ultimately, this job, my job is about service. It's about delivering. If you come into my office, I don't care what you believe, I don't care what party you belong to, I don't care if you voted for me or not. It's frankly irrelevant. The job is about service. Unfortunately, I think we've lost sight of that a bit.
Brian Lehrer: Do you have to take more centrist or more conservative positions than some of your Democratic colleagues in the council? Because otherwise they would alienate many of the voters in District 43?
Justin Brannan: No, look, voters elected me to do the right thing. Voters elected me because they trust my compass. I don't really look at votes that way. I look at votes about who I am and what my own North Star is and that doesn't change. The same person I was when I got into politics. It's funny. I think when I first got into politics, people probably thought I was an anarchist, and by now probably, some people think I'm a conservative Democrat but my positions haven't really changed.
It's just the climate that we're living in. Look, I try to take votes on the merits and think about not only my role as one of 51 members in the city council but my role as the first in line to fight for about 170,000 people in Southwest Brooklyn.
Brian Lehrer: Let me just test you on one scale along those lines. On the scale of defund the police to flood the zone with many more officers to help tamp down the crime wave, where do you fall?
Justin Brannan: Well, I think I fall where most New Yorkers fall, which is, look, as an elected official, public safety is my number one priority. I would never dare tell someone that they're not experiencing what they're experiencing. No victim of a crime wants to hear about data and statistics about how low crime is but I think it's also important that we live in reality and we don't lean into the hysteria of agenda media and demo and a demagogue politicians, especially in the weeks and months leading up to an election.
I think people deserve to feel safe and feeling safe is a real thing. Again someone who is just a victim of a crime doesn't want to hear about data that says crime is still low. They want to feel safe. I think it's also important that we acknowledge the role that the media and that access to information plays on us psychologically because when you walk down the street, do you really not feel safe, or do you not feel safe because the New York Post and Fox News is telling you that you shouldn't feel safe?
Look, I think that the same way that it doesn't help the victim of a crime to hear about statistics, it doesn't help for people to hear that you're not seeing what you're seeing. I think that you have to be honest with people and you have to lean into reality and not lean into hysteria.
Brian Lehrer: Here's Jennifer in East Harlem calling in on the New Pay Transparency law in the city. Jennifer, you're on WNYC with council member Justin Brannan. Hello.
Jennifer: Yes, good morning. Thank you for taking my call. I just want to say, as someone returning to the full-time workforce for a long hiatus, I think the transparency is an imperative, but I see a lot of postings where you can see almost a 20 to $40,000 range for a position. While the transparency is critical, doesn't that provide a basis to veer low for employers saying, well, I'm posting, but I could really consistently employ at the low level and not be penalized, because after all, I'm posting?
Brian Lehrer: Council member.
Justin Brannan: Sure. Thanks, Jennifer. It's a good question. I think shining a line on this is certainly, we hope there's going to be a level of, we hope a level of guilt here where you can't say that the range of a job is $50,000 to $100,000 or the employer has to explain what determines the low end and the high end if it's based on education or experience or whatever it is but really, what we were getting at here-
Brian Lehrer: Well, wait, is that in the law?
Justin Brannan: No.
Brian Lehrer: It either has to be an explanation or there can't be too wide a salary range posted is, or either of those things in the law.
Justin Brannan: It does, it talks about the range of the salary. I'm sure that there's going to be businesses that are going to be trying to find loopholes here. If need be, we will amend the law as it goes but if we start seeing businesses that are saying the salary range is $60,000 to $110,000, then I think we're going to have to certainly amend the law quickly.
Brian Lehrer: Right. Do you know the language now? I'm just sure people are curious after the, our little exchange on that. Do you know what the language in the law actually says about posting the salary range?
Justin Brannan: I'd have to pull it up. I don't have it in front of me.
Brian Lehrer: Okay. That's all right. We'll come back to it. Okay. All right, let's take a caller from the district, Tim in Bay Ridge you're on WNYC. Hi.
Tim: Yes. Hi, Brian. Do you hear me?
Brian Lehrer: We got you.
Brian Lehrer: Hi.
Tim: Okay, thank you. I live in Bay Ridge and I'm a parent of two school-aged children and to me, I'm very involved in my kids' schools. Everyone, I think, agree that the class size and overcrowding is probably the biggest impediment to public education right now in the city. I'm wondering if the councilman can talk a little bit about what he's doing, if anything, to try and help with class size in school overcoming?
Justin Brannan: Sure. That's a great question. I didn't make many promises when I ran for office. I only made one promise, which was to build at least one new public school. Actually, soon we're going to announce plans to site school number five in our district. District 20 is one of the most popular school districts in the city of New York. It's also happens to be one of the most overcrowded. It's a catch-22. It's no secret that District 20 is such a great school district and families are deciding to raise their kids here because of that.
We've already cited four new schools that will all be open. There's three elementary schools in one middle school that would all be open by September 2024. We're about to announce school number five but our overcrowding challenge is no joke. Even with those five sightings, we could still do another five and barely make a dent in the overcrowding issue but we're doing everything we can to build more public schools.
Brian Lehrer: Let's go to another call in the district, Les in Bay Ridge you're on WNYC with Councilmember Justin Brannan. Hi. Les in Bay Ridge. Are you there?
Les: Yes, you didn't mention my name. The question I have is, can anything be done about controlling the amount of bike riding and regular bicycles and electric bicycles and motorized vehicles on the sidewalks? Because it's a very big problem here.
Justin Brannan: Sure, Les. I hear about this a lot from folks. It is illegal right now to ride one of these scooters or mopeds on the sidewalk, so that's currently illegal. However, you can't have a cop on every corner to catch these guys in the act. What I'd like to see really for the safety of everybody and including the riders and frankly, the delivery workers who are on these mopeds and scooters, I'd love to see all of these vehicles be insured and licensed just like any other vehicle. It's a real concern for accountability's sake too, where if you're riding one of these scooters and you have no insurance and there's a crash or an accident, you're going to be personally liable, God forbid something happens.
I'd love to see, there's a couple of bills in the state, we have one bill in the city council that would call on licensing through the Department of Transportation, but really, what we need to do is have these vehicles licensed by the state, by the DMV, just like you would a motorcycle have license plates, insurance, the works. Really, it's for accountability and safety for everybody. Not just pedestrians, but also the folks who are writing these, especially the delivery workers who really should be insured by their employers.
Brian, I looked up the bill so there's no limit on the salary range. Now, I think the thinking there is basically you apply for a job knowing that you can make due on what the lower end is. Like if I can't live on $50,000, then I'm not going to apply for a job where the minimum starting is 50,000. We are going to look at it, If we start seeing that businesses are trying to get around this by making these gaping salary ranges, then it would be something we'd look to curtail, but at the moment there is no limit.
Brian Lehrer: Yes, and the Wall Street Journal gave an example in an article of I guess a few examples of ones at the high end where there's $100,000 between the low end of the range and the high end of the range. I guess to be continued on that topic. All right, before we're out of time, two things that we're doing with every council member in the series. One we're asking, what is the number one reason that constituents contact your office directly? Has that changed over time since you're in your 5th year in council?
Justin Brannan: It was funny through the couple years of COVID, obviously it was a very, very different reality. When people started emailing us again about the sound traffic noise or basic quality of life issues, it almost felt good because it felt like we were getting back to normal. You deal with a lot of intractable quality-of-life issues and you do the best you can. A lot of issues that we have to work closely with our local cops on, but part of what's great about this job is that every day is something new. There's a new challenge, there's a new riddle and that's really what keeps it interesting, but we get everything and the stuff that people ask us sometimes is pretty wild.
Brian Lehrer: The big three in the 40+ council members before you in this series have been crime help with housing, trash and rats.
Justin Brannan: Sure.
Brian Lehrer: You're consistent with that.
Justin Brannan: Of course, crime not so much, but the trash, absolutely. I put a ton of money back into the Department of Sanitation. Those guys are the men and women on the on DSY are everyday heroes. They don't make the mess, but it's their job to clean it up, and we don't even notice when they do. We only lose our minds if they don't, so they do a very thankless job. I've got them out there picking up the garbage in my district 2, 3 times a day with more and more people working from home, more and more garbage on the street, but a clean neighborhood is a safe neighborhood. I've always prioritized funding for sanitation because it's really the foundation.
Brian Lehrer: Last question, we're inviting everybody to bring a show-and-tell item from your district that other people not from there might like to know about what you got.
Justin Brannan: Oh, man, we have such an embarrassment of riches out here in terms of food. We've easily got the best pizza in all of Brooklyn. You throw a stone and you've got the best street slice you can find. We have amazing Middle Eastern food out here, it's really bar none. I couldn't pick one thing, but the diversity and you walk a couple of blocks and you're in a different country. That's what makes our district so special. I'm just proud and lucky to represent the neighborhoods where I grew up.
Brian Lehrer: Justin Brannan, City council member from District-43, the countries of Bay Ridge, Dr. Heights, Bath Beach, and Benson Hurst. Thank you so much for joining our series 51-Council members in 52 weeks.
Justin Brannan: All right, Brian. Thanks for having me.
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