Brian Lehrer: Brian Lehrer: Lehrer on WNYC. We are in the home stretch of our year-long series "51 Council Members in 52 Weeks" in which our goal has been to touch every neighborhood of New York City by talking to every member of the New York City Council in this year in which most of City Council is new because of term limits.
Today we arrive at district 50 out of 51, the middle of Staten Island. This district covers many neighborhoods, some of them being Bloomfield, Castleton Corners, Chelsea, not that Chelsea, Concord, Dongan Hills, Midland Beach, New Dorp, South Beach, Todt Hill, Willowbrook, and I could go on.
The council member is David Carr, who is one of those freshmen members and one of the six Republicans on City Council, just 6 out of the 51, that's what kind of blue city this is. In fact, it was only five until last week when Brooklyn's Ari Kagan switched parties largely because of redistricting.
Carr's bio page says he was into politics since childhood, and stuffed envelopes for former Borough President Guy Molinari when Carr was 10 years old. More recently, he served as chief of staff to former City Council Minority Leader Steven Mateo for the eight years before being elected himself last November.
Councilmember Carr, thanks so much for coming on WNYC. Thanks for joining 51 Council Members in 52 Weeks.
David Carr: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me on.
Brian Lehrer:: A usual first question, where did you grow up, and what first got you interested in politics?
David Carr: I grew up in the Grasmere section of Staten Island, which is very near the Verrazzano Bridge, it's an east shore neighborhood. I lived all my life in the area, attended local schools. I think what got me involved is I just became naturally interested watching coverage of different elections as young as five years old.
I remember the Clinton-Bush '92 matchup, and my family saw that I had that interest and they encouraged me and they started bringing me to local political events, campaign rallies, those envelope-stuffing exercises you referenced from my bio, and I just got the bug early. I'm one of those people who's been fortunate enough to know what he's wanted to do since he was a little kid and now I have the blessing to be able to do it.
Brian Lehrer:: That's great. What formed your political party affiliation of Republican? Pretty small minority in New York City, though not in your neighborhood. How would you start to describe what made you a Republican?
David Carr: I think probably the most formative impact I had in terms of my politics was my grandfather on my mother's side. He was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative and he and I just-- He talked to me like an adult. He would give me the newspapers, we would read them together. He subscribed to every major daily in the city and I just learned at his knee, so to speak, and I think that really put me on the trajectory of being a Republican.
Then, as you say, Staten Island's a little bit different from our sister boroughs in terms of our politics, and that just, I think, probably also impacted me. Just seeing the leaders that we had locally and the great work they were doing, and that inspired me and cemented my decision to join the party.
Brian Lehrer:: We ask all the members, how would you describe your district to someone who's never been there? What kinds of housing, what kinds of fields to the place, and demographically who lives there, and how that has changed during your lifetime in the district?
David Carr: We're definitely primarily a residential community. One and two family homes, I think, is virtually all of the housing stock in the area with some exceptions. We have a couple of great commercial corridors. [unintelligible 00:03:54], Victory Boulevard, Richmond Avenue, Richmond Road that serve the district, but it's primarily a bedroom community.
Some folks have the privilege of working in the borough, but many are commuters to Brooklyn and also principally to Manhattan, although I'm sure we have our fair share of folks who are working remotely still these days.
The district has changed a lot in terms of the demographics. When I was a kid, it was primarily an Italian and Irish community, and we always had the core of Staten Island's Jewish community in Willowbrook in the district. Since I've grown, we've had waves of new groups coming in that have really added some diversity to our neighborhoods.
We had the Russian community coming in the late '90s, early 2000s. The Albanian community has been coming significantly and steadily over the years. We've seen an increased Arab presence in Dongan Hills, and then most recently, in the last five years, significant numbers of individuals from the Chinese community, particularly in Brooklyn, have been coming to Staten Island to become homebuyers.
Brian Lehrer:: From what I've read, your district voted for Trump for president both times at a higher rate than people in Texas, a larger percentage of the vote than he got in Texas. Meanwhile, he got crushed in the other four boroughs.
I wonder if you've given thought to why it breaks down this way with no judgment to either side. Why do you think the interests of your constituents are perceived as being, by them, so different, or the way they see the world, than most of the city or the rest of the city in how they see things and how they vote, therefore?
David Carr: I think there's a couple of reasons for that. Almost two-thirds of the borough are property owners, they're homeowners, as opposed to renters, and that's a big difference from the rest of the city, which city-wide is a majority renter population. I think that really changes the way you see things and what's important to you when you're an owner, when you're living in a one or two-family home, when the community is much less dense when you're not living in a big building, per se.
I think that's a significant driver of a difference in opinion. I think, also, many Staten Islanders came to the borough, seeking a life that was different from the rest of the city while still having the ability to be a part of the five boroughs.
Many people came looking for that difference. I think when you make a decision with that kind of resolution in mind, you tend to have a concentration of people who are looking at things differently, who are looking for a different way of life. I think so that's why you see this political divergence between Staten Island and many other parts of the city.
Brian Lehrer:: What's it like being in such a small minority in City Council, 6 out of 51? Do people in the majority sneer at you? Do they understand that your constituents feel they have different interests than many of theirs and maybe some of the ways you were just laying out? How would you describe life in a 6 out of 51 minority in City Council?
David Carr: I think sometimes it's frustrating and then sometimes it's not as relevant. There are big ideological fights that we have in the City Council and sometimes the numbers are, as you say, they're just insurmountable and we know that we're not going to be successful on a vote to try to stop something from happening with which we have strong disagreements.
Then there are a lot of other issues, nuts and bolts issues, neighborhood issues, where we actually do find that there's common ground to be had with colleagues on the other side of the aisle because their communities are also facing them because they may be similar to us, and maybe they're not similar to us, but they have this challenge, too.
There's an opportunity to build coalitions in the council that have nothing to do with party, and nothing to do with ideology. When those opportunities arise, I find that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and my colleagues in my conference are very willing to work together to try to reach a resolution.
Brian Lehrer:: What's a good example of that?
David Carr: I think a good example of that has to do with property tax reform. This is a big issue where you think, oh Republicans are going to be opposed to property tax, property taxes being high Democrats are going to not want to give up revenue. I think what we're seeing is based on the impact of this labyrinthine property tax system that has to be reformed at the state level, that homeowners and property owners, co-op and condo owners across the city are being negatively impacted by a system and some are paying their fair share, basically close to their effective market rate, but many are being forced to pay much more than that.
You're seeing that in a lot of outer borough communities, Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and so you're seeing a coalition emerge that I don't think we've ever seen before. I think that that's going to be something that's going to be a big issue come January when the session in Albany begins a new where council members of both parties, state legislators of both parties are going to be coming together and saying, "My neighborhood's hurt by this system."
We need to protect our property owners and make sure that they're able to stay in their homes and not be taxed out of the community. I think that this is something that we should all be watching come the New Year.
Brian Lehrer:: Listeners, we're in district 50 in our 51 Council Members in 52 Weeks series. Here we are in December, in mid-December as the series is winding down now. District 50's representative is Republican David Carr from mid-Island, Staten Island. 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692, or tweet @Brian Lehrer:Lehrer if you have a comment or a question.
We've been inviting, as you know, all the council members to identify three major issue priorities for them in their district. You just mentioned one of them that you gave us property tax reform. The other two are the need for a gifted and talented campus, K-12 for Staten Island, and the other is public safety. Talk about the gifted and talented campus that you want. Is it something like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science with the same admission processes but for Staten Island? What are you looking for?
David Carr: Similar. We had a big fight with the de Blasio administration, who was seeking to really eliminate the Gifted and Talented program, which is really for elementary and middle school students, and also a big fight over admissions for the specialized high school that I think you're alluding to.
What this new mayor has come forward and said is like, "We want to expand Gifted and Talented seats, and we want to create a second specialized high school in each borough that isn't necessarily tied to the specialized high school admissions test."
What I've come forward to the administration and said is we have a campus here on Staten Island, the former St. John Villa Academy campus, which actually is where I went for first through eighth grade that's sold to the city. It's already been bought by them. It's an immaculate campus. It was already home to a pre-K-12 education facility.
This is something that could be repurposed and turned into a specialized high school that isn't tied to the test as well as a gifted and talented K-8 facility. There have been gifted and talented schools in other boroughs. Mark Twain was a gifted and talented middle school in Brooklyn that was, I think, the envy of the school system citywide.
We have an opportunity to do something like that in Staten Island because many Staten Islanders have had to leave the borough to take their kids to gifted and talented opportunities elsewhere. We have an opportunity right here, right by the bridge. It doesn't have to be exclusively for Staten Island. We can share with our friends in Brooklyn over the bridge and say this is a place where we can really expand our G&T school seat capacity and then build that second specialized high school that'll have a different admission standard so that more folks have an opportunity to get that high-quality education.
Brian Lehrer:: The phrase gifted and talented, we've talked on this show about that being a misnomer in many cases. Yes, there are some kids who have some kind of unusual natural gifts, but usually, you get into a gifted and talented program because you've had some kinds of socioeconomic advantages so it tends to sort by race and class and education level of your parents and things like that.
Opponents argue that tracking isn't really good for any of the kids and it's mostly just a way to segregate by race and class. How do you see that and who wins and who loses, in your view, in that system?
David Carr: I think providing opportunities doesn't create winners and losers. I think it creates opportunities for young people to basically get an education system that matches their talents and speeds. If there's issues with the demographic makeup of who enters the program, I think there's ways that we can make sure that those opportunities are better advertised, that those opportunities are made more accessible in terms of making sure that the test, the admission standard is more available on school campuses.
I'm not averse to also providing people with an opportunity to prepare themselves for that. The test is given rather early. I think it's given to kindergartners usually. I think that we have to provide other avenues of access later on down the line because not everybody develops at the same rate, but it may be that they're a good candidate at a later point in time.
That's why I love the notion of the gifted and talented campus because it creates a capacity that allows for more accessibility. If you continue to restrict opportunities, it's always going to be harder for folks to get in. I say the more, the merrier. In order to enable that, I think we just need more. That's really what I'm looking to do here.
Brian Lehrer:: This is WNYC-FM HD and AM New York, WNJT-FM 88.1 Trenton, WNJP 88.5 Sussex, WNJY 89.3 Net Con, and WNJO 90.3, Toms River. We are New York and New Jersey Public Radio and live streaming at wnyc.org.
In our 51 Council Members in 52 Weeks series, we're in district 50 with City Councilman David Carr from Mid-Island, Staten Island for a few more minutes. Let's take a phone call from right across the bridge. George in Bay Ridge, you're on WNYC. Hi, George.
George: Hi. Thank you for taking the call. I have family members who live and work in Staten Island and a few are in addiction support industry or help. I think that's an under-the-radar issue in Staten Island that doesn't get a lot of play. This serious heroin, in particular, addiction problem in Staten Island. I'd like to know what the councilman is doing about it.
Brian Lehrer:: In lots of places in that city, I think. Councilman, are you seeing it in your district?
David Carr: Yes. I've been experiencing this as an issue in terms of the opioid crisis since I was in high school. I remember hearing of students, fellow classmates who were already using Vicodin recreationally. That's how the opioid crisis began. It began with taking of prescription drugs that were just handy in households. Then it's evolved over time to this issue with heroin and then fentanyl and all of that that entails, and so I've been very focused on this.
I was a co-sponsor of Council Member Ossé's bill in Brooklyn to provide Narcan opioid antagonists and training to how to use them to institutions in the nightlife industry that were willing to enter into that program.
I actually have a Narcan training coming up this week in order to train folks on how to use this responsibly because when folks OD, you have to bring them back to get them on the road to recovery. I support a number of different recovery programs in the addiction field, namely Camelot of Staten Island, the Beanie Fund, and the South Shore of Staten Island.
We do a lot in the City Council delegation to support those who are trying to get people's lives back on track into combat addiction and then also working on the education front. We fund different groups that go into schools to teach, age-appropriate ways, the dangers of drugs and to do so in a way that isn't just talking at kids but making sure that they're part of the conversation.
I think education, enforcement of our laws, as well as trying to help those who are looking to recover from addiction, you have to do all three. That's what I've been trying to do since I took office earlier this year.
Brian Lehrer:: Question from a listener via Twitter on a City Council issue right now. This says, "Will council member support the New York City retirees--" that's the city government retirees, workers who've retired, "in keeping their senior care or Medicare, Medigap, or is the councilman in favor of privatizing our healthcare with lots of pre-authorizations and few doctors even taking Medicare Advantage Insurance, to begin with?"
Well, we know where that listener stands. This is, of course, a big issue that is partly in City Council's court on whether to back up this Medicare Advantage as opposed to traditional Medicare for city employee retirees. Do you have a position?
David Carr: Yes. The city made a promise to its retirees to give them a level of health coverage, and that's a promise that we have to keep. I'm not in favor of enabling a transition to Medicare Advantage. I think asking retirees to pay an extra $191 a month per person is a lot to ask when they're essentially on fixed incomes. More importantly, we made a commitment.
I think if we're going to find ways to bring about healthcare savings or just savings overall in the budget, and I'm all for that, but it's not going to be on the backs of retirees. If anything, the savings we need to find in the budget is to make sure that we can keep our commitment to retirees when it comes to healthcare. I'm a no on this. There's no bill pending and, hopefully, there never will be.
Brian Lehrer:: The third priority that your office listed in addition to need for a gifted and talented campus on Staten Island and property tax reform is public safety. Obviously, we're talking about that constantly in the city these days. How is crime in your district compared to the rest of the city and compared to before the pandemic?
David Carr: I think that crime is pretty much matching the rest of the city in terms of where things are statistically. I think what folks feel--
Brian Lehrer:: Do you think that's true? I think a lot of people would assume Mid-Island, Staten Island, a lot of single-family, two-family homes, like you've described, probably much lower crime rates than a lot of other parts of the city.
David Carr: No. I think that's true, but I'm talking about the fluctuations. I think those trends tend to match, but what I'm saying is I think folks don't feel as unsafe in their home communities. They feel unsafe on their commutes. They feel unsafe when they're going to work.
We are very dependent on the state of public safety in Manhattan because many of our residents go to work there. The same for other parts of the city. We do have a local jobs economy here, but many folks still commute to Manhattan. I think people feel very unsafe on public transit on the subways, people take the ferry into Manhattan, then they take their subway to points North.
I think people are genuinely concerned. That's why one of the things that I've called for, since Iran and earlier this year, is that we need to hire new police officers. We need to hire, I believe, 6,000 police officers over the course of five fiscal years.
Brian Lehrer: Expand the force.
David Carr: Because we're currently idling in the 34,000 number in terms of the NYPD uniform headcount right now. We had a high in the Giuliani era of close to 40,000. I think we need to get on that level in order to adequately enforce our laws, whether it's the basic stuff from the traffic, we have a lot of traffic safety issues that's, frankly, speed cameras are not the answer to, as well as the more serious crimes.
We have a significant police presence between the NYPD and the MTA police down in the subways now because of this plan that was launched by the mayor and the governor. If that's going to be sustainable long term, you need to have a uniform headcount that can still respond to everything.
To me, that's key here. The other key is what's been going on in Albany. I think that we do need to have a dangerousness standard so that judges can remand individuals into custody outside of the bail system. I think that the early discovery laws that the state legislature imposed on our district attorneys was a big mistake because I think that it could potentially lead to witness intimidation when that's disclosed too early.
I also think that we've done things at the city level that need to change. You know, this so-called chokehold ban that was enacted by the council in the previous term. I don't know how an officer can effectuate an arrest on someone who's resisting without incidentally compressing their diaphragm. That's the standard that was put into the city law. You end up taking police officers on the wrong side of the law when they're just trying to do their jobs.
I think that we need to do more to empower the police, raise morale so that we have fewer people seeking to retire or resign from the department, and then also have a plan to rebuild, to get us to the point where we have a police force that's actually adequate to police a city of close and closer to 9 million people.
Brian Lehrer: One follow-up on that whole, and of course, we could talk about individual things that you just mentioned with respect to public safety. One hot button that you ran over there is the red light cameras, which people have different points of view on, but we're not going to get into any of those really in general, obviously, also, bail reform, chokehold, but if you look at the map of who voted for Hochul and who voted for Zeldin in this last election, and Zeldin, of course, ran heavily on the issue of crime and public safety.
The lower the crime rate, like in your district, the more likely people were to vote for Zeldin. The higher the crime rate, like in many areas of Brooklyn and the Bronx, and also in Manhattan where you say a lot of people, of course, commute to for work, and so they feel it's relevant to them, but the more they live there, the more likely they were to vote for Hochul.
It probably tells us that the neighborhood's really plagued by crime. Think a Zeldin-style crackdown is not in their interest, maybe because they have two problems. They have crime and they have mass incarceration among the families in those districts. They see Democrats as trying to strike that balance perhaps. Republicans is not so much concerned about the mass incarceration part.
Does that sound right or wrong to you, or how else would you explain that curve of the higher crime districts tending to vote Democratic more?
David Carr: I don't think most voters are single-issue voters. Even in the binary you're talking about where it's the incarceration versus enforcement to make community safer. I think Rome wasn't built in a day. The Asian community, which has been highlighted in this discussion as trending in the direction of the Republican party and coming out stronger than it ever has been for Congressman Zeldin than it has for any Republican nominee before. That didn't happen overnight.
This has been a sustained dialogue between leaders in our party and these communities in tandem with them, seeing the effects of the policies that have come out of one-party rule in Albany and how they're being in particular affected by it.
I think that we have our work cut out for us to kind of take our case to the voters in the communities that you're talking about. Then also to talk about other issues on which we can be helpful to them, I think, as communities and how that we're an agenda that's focused on job creation. We're an agenda that's focused on giving educational opportunities.
We're an agenda that's looking to make sure that crime is addressed in their neighborhoods. Some of the biggest opponents of the defund the police movement and the council have been representatives of communities of color.
I think that it's a much more complicated dynamic than that binary of, oh, incarceration versus enforcement. I think that all these dialogues are ongoing, and it's going to take time to build bridges to communities that traditionally have not voted our way. Just like it's taken time to make the progress we've made with the Asian American community here in the five boroughs.
Brian Lehrer: We're almost out of time. I'm going to ask you the two closing questions we ask the council members generally in this series. We ask everyone, what's the number one reason since you were sworn in in January that constituents contact your office?
David Carr: Easily, potholes. People want their roads to be smooth. That's easily what we get the most calls about, potholes and resurfacing.
Brian Lehrer: Finally, we invite every council member to bring a show-and-tell item from their district. Shout out something in the district you might like other people to know about.
David Carr: Sure. My show-and-tell is Ariemma's Deli and Grocery on Hylan Boulevard at Buel Avenue. It's a locally owned family business still run by the family of the original owner and founder. They make great sandwiches. They have great Italian delicacies. They're a very affordable place to shop. The city's a city of corner stores, and they're among the best.
The borough president and other elected colleagues and I recently brought them a new American flag that unfortunately their original had been snatched by a passerby. We brought that with them because they're a very patriotic family. They're great Staten Islanders. They love their borough and they give a lot to the people that they serve and who patronize them every day.
Brian Lehrer: All right. What's your favorite thing to eat from that Deli?
David Carr: I love a good potato and egg hero. That's my breakfast stop if I get to get over there in the morning.
Brian Lehrer: With the potato and egg hero, we leave it with City Council member David Carr, Republican, and freshman from Mid Island, Staten Island District 50 in our series 51 Council Members in 52 weeks. Thanks so much for joining in. We look forward to talking to you again as your term goes on.
David Carr: Thank you so much, and have a happy holiday.
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