By Jason Curtis Anderson
After eight years of progressive leadership came to a boil in the summer of 2020, the call for “common sense” Democrats has finally returned to NYC—Maria Danzilo is just that. Like many of us, Maria is a socially-liberal lifelong Democrat. Her family has deep roots in NYC small businesses including her family members owning a local hardware store on Spring Street, and an eyeglass store on Christopher Street where her maternal great uncle and his partner lived and worked for decades. She is a fierce pro-choice fighter for women’s equality, free speech, and the unique needs of seniors, including their safety.
Maria Danzilo ran for City Council in 2021 on the “common sense” platform at the behest of many distraught Upper West Side residents who no longer recognized their own neighborhood. With over eight candidates running Maria came in second place, which is no small feat for a first-time candidate. Today she is running for New York State Senate against Brad Hoylman, the proud architect of the controversial bail reform bill.
WestView: Maria please tell us a bit about your platform.
Maria Danzilo: Public safety is at the top of my platform because the most important job of a public servant is to keep people safe. We need to tighten bail reform laws, target hate crimes, address rampant shoplifting, and strengthen anti-gun laws. There is much more we can do to improve public safety like having working security cameras in our subways and commercial areas and improving security in areas hardest hit by crime. I meet with people in public housing regularly, and their number one complaint is they don’t feel safe. They want security systems in their buildings and better lighting. We aren’t spending enough on sanitation, and it is causing an unprecedented rat infestation and public health crisis. We need to upgrade to rat-proof cans throughout the City, increase sanitation pick-ups, provide funding to groups that employ people to keep the streets clean (like the Doe Fund), and enforce sanitation laws. We also need to address the explosion of graffiti on abandoned storefronts and buildings.
WestView: You have been critical of Brad Hoylman for his leading role in bail reform. What will you change about this law if you get the chance?
Maria Danzilo: Brad Hoylman is a co-sponsor of the bail reform law, but New York is the only state to enact bail reform without allowing judges to consider whether someone arrested for a crime would be a public safety risk if released into the community without conditions, so we need to let judges determine dangerousness as every other state does. Whether people want to say it or not, dangerousness is a real thing, as is recidivism. Repeat offenders are committing a large percentage of crimes, so judges need to consider prior arrest records. Even NY’s District Attorney is frustrated by the fact repeat offenders are not detained. Governor Hochul has acknowledged the problems with the law and attempted to make some changes, but she did not have the legislative support to add the dangerousness standard and address recidivism. These common-sense reforms are widely supported by people living in the areas of the city hardest hit by crime and it is time we listen to them. At the same time, we can acknowledge that fixing the problems in the law is totally possible without disrupting very legitimate issues that reform addresses. I should add that it is important that New York invest in a safe, state-of-the-art pre-trial detention facility and that is why I support redeveloping Rikers Island.
WestView: Tell us what you think about the mental illness crisis and homelessness in New York.
Maria Danzilo: It is estimated that about 25% of the homeless have an untreated mental illness and/or a substance abuse issue. I support lifting what is known as the IMD (Institutions for Mental Diseases) exclusion to Medicaid. Lifting this cap would allow federal funding for in-patient treatment that so many mentally ill people desperately need. This will add to the number of beds in New York and make it possible for people with untreated mental illness to get treatment. There are studies proving it should cost about $5 billion a year to provide this in-patient mental health treatment to every patient in the country. This is a very low price tag to address what many consider to be one of the most serious problems in New York State and all over the country and will go a long way to getting the mentally ill people living on the streets of New York the help they need. It’s important the federal government step up and repeal the exclusion, and not make this the sole responsibility of New York taxpayers.
Another thing that we must take a close look at and fix, is how much we spend on homelessness, and what we get in turn for it. We are spending $122k per homeless person, and we must hold the service providers accountable for failing to deliver safe and clean shelters. Many people living on the streets say that our shelter system is unsafe and dirty. We must demand the service providers step up and do their jobs.
WestView: What are your thoughts on education?
Maria Danzilo: Less than 14% of our most vulnerable kids are proficient in reading, writing, and math when they finish 8th Grade. Fixing education doesn’t fix our economy now but it does fix it for the future. Our abysmal education system is not preparing our own children to compete in the job marketplace of the future. If we don’t course correct, our kids will lose those jobs to people from places that understand the importance of education. This shouldn’t be a politicized issue, both sides of the aisle should be screaming from the rooftops about this.
WestView: What about the economy?
Maria Danzilo: In a city where the cost of everything keeps getting higher while quality of life gets lower, I support tax reform and lowering taxes for hard-working New Yorkers and small businesses. Last year the State lost $19.5 billion in revenues because more people left the state than any other state in the country. A competitive tax structure will lift our state’s economy by attracting more businesses and stop the exodus to lower tax states We won’t feel the pain from it right away because we have federal stimulus money, but when it runs out it’s going to hurt. NY has double the national unemployment rate and it’s going to get worse if we don’t find ways to grow our economy and create more jobs. We need to do more to help our small business community survive and thrive.
WestView: You are friends with key figures of the political reform movement in San Francisco. What do you feel we can learn from that situation in terms of addressing homelessness, drug addiction, and criminal justice reforms?
Maria Danzilo: SF has many deep and intractable problems that will take time and commitment to fix, but they do have some outstanding community leaders, and they just successfully recalled an unpopular District Attorney whose policies were undercutting public safety. Like NY, special interests have an outsized influence, and voter turnout is low. Some neighborhoods, like the Tenderloin, have become high-crime areas filled with open-air drug markets and tent encampments. City leadership does not seem to have the ability to restore public safety. I highly recommend Nellie Bowles’ excellent article in The Atlantic, “How San Francisco Became a Failed City” and the book San Fransicko by Michael Shellenberger. Is there hope for the American City in 2022? I do believe studying the mistakes made in other cities will give us the insights, knowledge, and information we need to avoid the same pitfalls.
WestView: Any other final thoughts?
Maria Danzilo: I am pro-choice, support LGBTQ+ rights, and strict gun laws. On cultural issues, I am probably close to my opponent. But we have very different views on other issues though, and I believe the progressive policies he supports on safety, education, homelessness, mental illness, and the economy have failed New York miserably and it’s time for a reset. There are a lot of things with the electoral system that I’d like to change but the one I feel most passionate about is bringing open primaries to NYC. There should be one primary, all parties, every New Yorker can vote for whomever they want, then the final five candidates go on to the general. Arguing about the extremes of both parties isn’t helping our city. We need to do everything we can to make sure the best person for our city always gets the job. How great would that be?