Assemblyman Michael Blake (D) is turning out to be one of the more formidable candidates in the special election for Public Advocate.
The Bronx native has been at the state level for three terms, but has not forgotten his roots in the city and hopes to bring his state level experience to improve the lives of all New Yorkers. He currently represents the 79th Assembly District in The Bronx that includes parts of Concourse Village, Morrisania, Melrose, Belmont, Claremont and East Tremont.
Earlier this month, Blake canvassed alongside friend and campaign supporter Alfre Woodard as they met with some voters at a luncheon in Bedford-Stuyvesant, while another supporter, Assembly Member Tremaine Wright (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) hosted.
Woodard and Blake initially met while campaigning for then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 as they rode in a minivan together in the snowy cornfields of Iowa while being part of the early voter operation.
Woodard an accomplished film, stage, and television actress, producer, and political activist from California noticed even then a certain empathy and honesty to the Blake.
“Mike was the head of operations in Iowa and he could talk to every stripe of Iowans. Even back then I clocked that he was smart, that he was politically savvy and that he really sees and cares about all types of people,” said Woodard.
Fast forward 11 years and now the two are on another campaign trail this time in New York City and this time there was no snow or minivan but there was excitement. Woodard had only a few days between shooting productions and decided to use them for Blake, a testament to her belief in his ability to be a city-wide leader.
“The best is Mike Blake. He really sees people where they are, and he sees value in every person. I believe in him because he is going to be that person in the room to troubleshoot for New Yorkers. He is honest and trustworthy and more importantly he shows people how much power than can really have,” added Woodard.
He might be a Bronx native but the assemblyman is working to appeal to all voters across all backgrounds in the five boroughs.
“I think that our base starts in the Bronx but we are trying to reach out everywhere. I also think we have a strong base with Caribbeans across the city, which of course Brooklyn has a sizeable amount. In terms of how do we expand from there, we have been picking up support from all over the city. The more people get to see me, I think the more people start coming home,” said Blake.
Though at the state level for almost five years, Blake is very familiar with the issues facing the local population including helping lead the charge to Raise The Age of criminal responsibility so that 16 and 17 year olds are not tried as adults in criminal court.
“We’ve been able to do a lot over the last four and a half years, that has had an impact locally and I think people are starting to get to know me. Whether it be on housing, where we spend a lot of time on affordable housing, rent stabilization and public housing to criminal justice with Kalief Browder being our constituent, those are policies that apply no matter what your zip code maybe. So for me, my job in the next 20 days is to connect me to the policies that are helping them,” said Blake.
The Bronx native, has three major priorities if elected to the city’s top government watchdog position including tackling the affordable housing crisis through penalties to questionable landlords, protecting homeownership and improving public transportation.
“We should rescind tax credits to landlords that aren’t implementing rent stabilization, I don’t think anyone should be able to benefit if they aren’t helping communities across the city. We have to be very focused on homeownership, in particular a moratorium on Third Party Transfers, going after deed theft. I think that people should be able to keep their homes and the opportunities that exist there. And finally, we need to assess public transportation. I think the public advocate should have a seat on the MTA Board because when you have a scenario where fair fares aren’t being implemented, you don’t have a clear strategy of how to help people when there are constant train delays, the concerns for when someone lives in a transit desert and they don’t have access to the city’s ferry. You have to have someone who is a voice for New Yorkers, that is able to represent, ” said Blake.
In fact, Blake is proposing the city look at other avenues for increasing housing options, including air rights.
Air rights are the property interest in the “space” above the earth’s surface. Generally speaking, owning, or renting, land or a building includes the right to use and develop the space above the land without interference by others.
“I think that we are serious about housing, we have to look at air rights. What happens with air rights, how do we assess vacant plots of land that the city has, potentially build on those plots. There also the opportunity to incentivize developers to do more affordable housing and for our Seniors, we need to give them more affordable housing,” said Blake.
When it comes to the embattled transit authority, Blake is a supporter of congestion pricing with some modifications.
“I believe you do have to have congestion pricing. There are new ways to assess this, for example, if you look at a person that is headed for the airport to be an opportunity for revenue. If someone has the ability to travel that maybe a fairer system in terms of generating revenue. I don’t think we should be looking at having an impact on most of the individuals on the outer boroughs but most of the numbers are not for the outer boroughs but for those going in and out of Manhattan. So if we are serious about transportation improvement then we have to be focused on all options for revenue and congestion pricing is one of them,” said Blake.
Blake, who was part of an initial letter to bring Amazon to the city, is honest about his disdain for current HQ2 deal but sees potential in bringing the multi-billion dollar retailer to Queens.
“I was one of several people who was on an initial letter to start a conversation, that is dramatically different from a deal that was agreed to behind closed doors. So can it be potentially it possibly can but currently I don’t think it’s something people across the city want to see,” said Blake.
“The current deal does not do that. When you look at the current proposal, which the Governor and Mayor have to be held accountable for this, agreed to without engaging most of us on. It does not have the opportunities that will actually help people, for example, those no guarantees of local hiring, there’s no guarantees of Minority or Women Owned Business (MWBEs) of getting the contracts. The numbers that have been proposed for public housing are pretty underwhelming in terms of the training and hiring, there’s no guarantee that the wages that they’ve talked about will go to New Yorkers as well. And on top of that the Union busting tactics that Amazon has had before. Blake went on to note his initial role in bringing interest from Amazon to the city, but claims that it was the beginnings of a conversation that turned into a backroom deal.”
Though critical of Mayor Bill de Blasio at times, Blake knows that watching over government officials is a daily part of the role of public advocate.
“There has to be the space to ask ourselves consistently, ‘What are we doing?’ There’s a lot of flash that gets tossed out there but what people need right now is substance and vision,” said Blake.
Though the office has a history of launching the careers of politicians to higher office, Blake wants to first concentrate on doing the work of the people before anything else.
“If you do your job, people will decide what you do afterwards. For now, I’m an assembly member running for Public Advocate,” said Blake.
The current pack of candidates vying to be the next Public Advocate include former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, City Council members Rafael Espinal, Eric Ulrich and Ydanis Rodriguez, and Assemblymembers Danny O’Donnell and Michael Blake.
The special election is Feb. 26.