Thoughts From Today’s Mayoral Forum

I attended today’s forum for NYC mayoral candidates on animal issues in NYC. I was pleasantly surprised to see the forum very well attended by animal activists of all focuses, and this forum was indeed historic: it was attended by many of the leading candidates. It was gratifying to see these issues getting attention from candidates and that activists in NYC are gaining power to have their issues considered, addressed and taken seriously enough by candidates to make time to appear at this event.

The actual proceedings were somewhat less encouraging.

Attending the forum were Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson, John Liu, John Catsimatidis and Sal Albanese. Front runner Christine Quinn did not attend the forum and that was probably a wise decision on her part – I’m not sure she would have been able to get a word out over the booing and she was frequently a target for the other candidates. Not her crowd, to say the least. I will spare you the play-by-play of every question (which is on my Twitter feed if you’re so inclined) which I expect to be available from news sources soon and will just offer a few thoughts on the candidates in attendance.

I would note that all the candidates that appeared with the exception of John Liu expressed support for the Stringer shelter reform plan and for building 2 more shelters in the remaining boroughs with varying degrees of convincingness and/or understanding – the problem there being that it’s going to take more than just support. It will really take a mayor with some passion for it to expend the political capital to make it happen, and I just did not feel that from any of the candidates here. None of them displayed the type of command of the issue that Scott Stringer possesses – not that they necessarily would be able to in a one to two minute answer. The only real passion that came from any of these candidates on policy issues was from de Blasio when he spoke of the need to ban carriage horses in NYC. Shelter reform does not seem to inspire in him the same fire in the belly. Several candidates floated ideas to better fund shelter operations through increased focus on dog licensing compliance and higher fees, evidently not realizing that those fees are set by, and their use determined by New York State.

I’m really not sure why John Catsimatidis bothered to show up for this one. Although he spoke convincingly about his personal relationships with animals, he had little familiarity with the issues at hand and trotted out a few off-the-cuff solutions that were obviously wildly impractical to snorts and guffaws from the audience. At one point he seemed to confuse the ASPCA with Animal Care & Control. He supports the continuation of the carriage horse industry in NYC, which was not at all popular in this crowd. He consistently came off as unprepared, uninformed, and not terribly bright.

Bill Thompson was fairly middle-of-the-road here and ultimately failed to stand out to me in any way. He too does not support a carriage horse ban but a “reform” of their practices. As the NYC comptroller Thompson authored reports highly critical of NYCACC that ultimately changed very little; one would think that after his close study he might have something original to contribute to ideas for reform. Other than a general indication of support for the Stringer plan and some thoughts on increasing revenue, he evidently does not.

I knew very little about Sal Albanese prior to this event and find myself wanting to know more, although his chance of winning the race seems exceedingly slim. Even when I disagreed with him I generally found his answers intelligent and thoughtful. Interestingly only Albanese and Liu currently support a ban on NYC pet stores selling non-rescue animals.

de Blasio was the obvious crowd favorite here and put in a good showing. As noted, he seems to genuinely have a passion for a horse carriage ban (or, the cynic in me says, a passion for the real estate development interests that would benefit from such a ban). He had very little of note to say about shelter reform other than a general indication of support for a Stringer-type plan, and that’s really all we’ve heard from him so far. I’d like to support de Blasio, but I need details that he does not seem to be willing or able to provide.

Liu was the surprise of the evening – often self-contradictory and wildly firing in every direction at once. He was very likable and open, bluntly and repeatedly stating that he hadn’t always voted on the side that most in the room wished he had. He scored major points with well-tuned phrases like “abolishing the policies of euthanasia” at NYCACC but then undercut that by not supporting systemic reform, stating that all ACC needs is more money from the city. As another comptroller who has recently audited the ACC, he should – and probably does – know better, and he declined to use the power of his office to make an accurate audit, instead letting ACC get away with stonewalling him. He emphatically supports a ban on selling all non-rescue animals in NYC pet stores, but does not support a ban on carriage horses. Although he was entertaining and well spoken there was not much consistency to his viewpoint. Liu was talking like a man who had little to lose, and indeed he may not. I would not be surprised to see him drop out of the race soon, hopelessly tainted by his office’s recent scandals.

I’d say de Blasio got done what he wanted to do here and cemented his position as the front runner among animal advocates of NYC – but I do not have much hope that he would initiate or adequately support reform of New York City shelters. Albanese and Thompson put in decent, solid, if unremarkable showings. Liu was the wild card, and John Catsimatidis would have been better off at home.

All in all I am still left wishing that Scott Stringer were still running. Maybe next time.

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