How Shaun Donovan Would Run New York

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HOWARD WOLFSON: Let me start by asking you, as I’ve asked some of the other candidates, about your start in politics and government. You started off as a housing expert, which is different from others in the race. What led you to that field?

SHAUN DONOVAN: My story begins with my grandfather, who was one of 10 poor Irish kids. He grew up on the south side of London. He was working the [docks] as a teenager, and literally got on a boat alone to go to West Africa, to South America, to try to make a living. My dad grew up in Costa Rica and Lima, Peru. He came to this country to get an education, like so many others, and came to New York to build a future. And he started a business, ­­­ran it his entire life, and found success.

But I also saw a very different New York — so many New Yorkers not finding opportunity when I was a kid. And that was what really shaped my career in public service.

I saw homelessness exploding on our streets and started asking myself, “How can it be that in the wealthiest city in the wealthiest country on earth, we let New Yorkers sleep on the streets?” I was watching the South Bronx and other neighborhoods in New York literally burn. I was at the 1977 World Series — the famous “Bronx is burning” World Series — and I will say it really lit a fire under me to try to help the city that I love and that had given me so much.

And so I started volunteering in a homeless shelter in college. I heard about this remarkable leader, Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood — now Bishop Johnny Ray Youngblood — working in Brownsville and East New York to build thousands of Nehemiah homes literally in the ashes of what had happened there. So I came back, went to work for a nonprofit, started partnering with Bishop Youngblood and leaders like Anna Vincenty at Nos Quedamos in the Bronx, and went to work starting to rebuild our city focused on housing, but also on rebuilding neighborhoods more broadly. And that’s really how I got started, and the inspiration for what’s been almost three decades of public service.

HW: You and I share some of these experiences. I, too, was at the 1977 World Series in the Bronx. My family was in Westchester but had come up from the South Bronx when my dad was a boy, and I remember his taking me down to see his old street in the South Bronx in the ’70s. And we very quickly discovered that his old apartment building was the only building still standing on his old block.

So, I have a couple of questions about that period. When you think about the collapse of the Bronx during the ’70s, was that a market failure, or was that a political failure? Or both?

SD: Both. Look, I’ve been a student of cities for a long time. I studied architecture and planning as well as housing policy. And one of the things that I think is really different about me from all the other candidates in this race is that I’ve actually worked with — not just Mike Bloomberg as mayor, but the best mayors across the country, even across the globe. And [in the 1970s] we were seeing a broader change in this country and across the world. Many thought the American city was dying.

The South Bronx was the most extreme example — but not the only example — driven by government policies [like] redlining [and] the building of interstate highways like the Cross-Bronx through many Black and brown neighborhoods. We accelerated the death of a lot of neighborhoods. But obviously, that was compounded by local government failures around investing in quality of life, decisions about reckless borrowing, and other local changes that accelerated and compounded what was a much broader trend.

HW: When you think about the city today — if you pick up the [New York] Post, for instance, you will see constant headlines that suggest things are, if not already back to the quote-unquote “bad old days,” heading that way. How do you see the current moment in the context of the New York City we grew up in? I mean, things clearly aren’t that bad at the moment. But are we at a crossroads where things could get that bad quickly? How do you assess our moment versus that one?

SD: I think the way you framed the last question is important in answering this. I think the broader trends are fundamentally different from what we saw a half-century ago in this city. And what I mean by that is, in the modern economy, which is largely innovation-based and information-based, talent determines where companies and capital go. Not rivers and ports, not iron ore, like they used to. And in that economy, cities that attract talent and grow talent are winning — not just here in the U.S., not just in New York, but across the globe. The world is urbanizing. More and more people are moving to cities because cities are the generators of the jobs of the future. And so in that context, even in the midst of a pandemic, I fundamentally believe that cities will recover.

So the question is not, Will cities recover? To me, the question is, Will this city recover? And we should remember that even before Covid, New York City was shrinking, and more and more people were moving to smaller and middle-sized cities. And I think fundamentally that goes to what the next mayor has to do. I don’t think we’re headed back to losing 700,000 people in a decade like we did in the 1970s. The South Bronx, that neighborhood where your dad grew up, lost 75% of its population in 10 years. I don’t think we’re headed there. But my worry is that if we don’t have a mayor who understands how to attract and grow talent in New York City, we are entering a period of decline that we may not recover from.

I learned a lot of this from Mike Bloomberg, but also other mayors around the country: The single most important economic development tool that a mayor has to attract talent is quality of life. Because talent decides where it wants to live, and companies and capital follow. And so that means not only safe streets and good schools; it means ending homelessness in this city. It also means arts and culture, and so many of the other things that make this the most interesting, exciting city in the world.

We have to pay attention to affordability. But we’re never going to be the most affordable city. We need to manage and make sure that we keep housing affordable, but we’re going to win on [having] the highest quality of life. That’s what a mayor has to focus on. And I’m concerned those are not the things that we’ve been focused on the last eight years.

HW: You mentioned affordability, and let me just stick with housing for a second, because it’s so much an area of expertise for you. Can we really build more affordable housing in New York? And if so, how?

SD: This is as much a political challenge as it is a policy challenge. And what I mean by that is we, more and more, have seen political divisions in this city stop the potential to grow our economy and to create more affordable housing. We’ve seen that with Amazon and Industry City; we’ve seen it with the defeat of housing rezonings as well. And the only way we’re going to be able to solve that is to have a mayor who can create what I would call a progressive coalition for equitable growth. What does that mean? That means having a mayor who understands how to work with the communities that are so often left behind, to build support for the right kind of growth, and then to actually implement the policies that will do that.

And that’s what I’ve done my whole career. I talked about starting to work with Bishop Youngblood and East Brooklyn congregations in Brownsville and East New York, and organizations like Nos Quedamos in the South Bronx. Under Mayor Bloomberg, we built the most sustainable, healthy, beautiful affordable housing in the country, in Via Verde in the South Bronx. We got alliances between leaders like Bertha Lewis at ACORN to build thousands of units of affordable housing behind the Barclays Center. We’ve, I think, lost the ability over the last eight years to build those kinds of coalitions.

And if we had a mayor who could, we would’ve gotten Amazon now. Let’s be very specific here. The resident leaders at Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, working with Bishop Taylor, were ready to welcome Amazon if they made a commitment to training residents of public housing. Gail Mellow, the president of LaGuardia Community College, was ready with her students to build training programs so they could get those jobs at Amazon. But we didn’t have a mayor who brought all those forces together and was able to strike a deal to ensure that the revitalization of that community that Amazon might bring was something that happened with and for the community, rather than to the community.

HW: One final housing question: Given the enormous backlog of deferred maintenance, which is in the tens of billions of dollars, is the crisis at NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] solvable? I mean, at some point, does this become a dollars-and-cents proposition that’s impossible to square — it costs X to run it, and, and we don’t have X?

SD: It is a money problem, and it’s a management problem. When President Obama asked me to be HUD [Housing and Urban Development] secretary, as bad as the problems at NYCHA were, there were housing authorities across the country facing even worse problems. San Francisco was a good example. And I created tools that allowed public housing to unlock billions of dollars of investment that other cities around the country started using — and that New York City was very slow to take advantage of. It’s just in the last couple of years that we’ve seen the first public housing being renovated and fixed using those tools.

To be very specific, we have a $40 billion backlog. We could get the vast majority of that — probably around $30 billion — using tools that I created as HUD secretary. And as mayor, I would also commit $2 billion a year of city capital and bring innovative partnerships — things like what we call energy-performance contracts that would build solar on the roofs of NYCHA, that would replace the plumbing and electrical systems with cutting-edge sustainable systems that actually lower energy costs. And with the savings, you could raise the final amount of money that you needed to get to that $40 billion. So not only is it possible, I’ve actually done it in other places.

The other thing I will say is: Money alone won’t fix it. Again, let me be very specific. Right now, if you’re a resident of public housing and your shower is leaking, you put in what’s called a ticket to get it fixed. And by the time the 15 people who need to, sign off — all the way to 250 Broadway, the headquarters of NYCHA — that leak in your shower has become mold that is causing your kid asthma; the ceiling in the apartment below may have collapsed and now needs to be fixed. We’ve got a fundamental problem in management, too, that has to be fixed.

And the way to fix it is what’s called site-based management. So that a public-housing resident can go down to the office [and] look a person in the eye who has the authority, the money and the tools to get it fixed. Why — and you know, Mike Bloomberg was the leader on this — why can’t we bring 21st-century technology to fixing these problems? Why can’t a resident of public housing take a picture on their phone and send it in, geolocated, as “Here’s the problem”?

There’s so many different things that we need to bring to public housing and to manage it better, where it’s not just money alone that’s going to fix it. And that’s where, again, I think I have unique experience. Nobody else in this race has managed a $4 trillion budget. Nobody else understands how to make government work more effectively for real results.

HW: So, let’s talk about management. What is the Shaun Donovan management style, and how would you contrast that with the current mayor?

SD: First, you manage what you measure and you measure what you value. We have to reorient government around relentlessly measuring what works and do more of that, and stop doing what doesn’t.

Again, let me try to be specific here. When I became HUD secretary, we had a growing homelessness problem across this country in the midst of the Great Recession. And I set up something called HUDStat modeled on the old CompStat system in New York, and started measuring veteran homelessness. And it wasn’t just that we measured it; we figured out where things were actually working, places like Salt Lake City or Phoenix. We sent teams out to understand, What are they doing right? Why are they able to move people to housing faster? We also looked at the places that weren’t doing so well and sent teams there to figure out, What’s the problem? And then we took those practices, those innovations, and applied them in other places. And the result? We cut veteran homelessness nationally in half. In 80 cities and states, working with the best mayors, we ended veteran homelessness, not reduced it. Ended it.

The second thing I would say that was critical to that success is knowing that so often in government, our most complicated problems can’t be solved by just one issue or one agency. Again, on homelessness, the fundamental reason we have more homeless people in this city than at any time since the Great Depression is because we have a mayor who thinks you can solve homelessness with homeless programs. Homelessness is not just a problem of a shelter over someone’s head. It’s a criminal-justice problem and a mental-health problem and a substance-abuse problem. And only when you bring together every part of government and get them to work effectively and collaboratively can you solve these big problems.

And that’s what I did on homelessness as well. I created an interagency council on homelessness with all of my cabinet colleagues, and we went to work together to solve it. And that’s what I would do as mayor, the same thing. Right now, we have a homeless agency that is spending $3 billion a year to put a giant Band-Aid on that problem rather than actually solving it, which would be, as I’d say, reimagining our right to shelter as a right to housing. So that every time someone gets out of Rikers or the mental-health wing of one of our hospitals, we have a data system across the city that directs them to the housing and services that they need. Right now, you fall into homelessness, it takes six months to do that, because we have not organized the government in New York City to be able to do that.

HW: Let me ask you about a specific management responsibility that you were given during your tenure in the Obama administration — overseeing the [Hurricane] Sandy recovery, from the federal government’s perspective. Was that a success, looking back on it?

SD: I think there are things that worked very, very well, and there were some failures, too. Overall, if you look at New York’s recovery from Sandy compared to almost every disaster that I’ve seen and worked on, which is many — [Hurricane] Katrina is a good example — overall, that recovery worked well. But again, there were challenges.

To be specific, we got $60 billion for New York from the federal government faster than any previous disaster. And we were able to put that money to work effectively. In fact, I was talking to somebody the other day whose brother lost his home in the Rockaways and very quickly got the full check they needed from FEMA to be able to move on with their life.

And if you go back — I walked the boardwalk in the Rockaways with [Queens Borough President] Donovan Richards on the anniversary of Sandy, and saw that what’s now happening in the Rockaways, the community-level work that was done has built a beautiful new boardwalk that’s more resistant to sea-level rise and storms, and much more resilient than what was there before. And so there were lots of longer-term successes. Part of that — I led an effort called Rebuild By Design, which brought the best designers and the best scientists from around the world to help communities think about how to build back better and smarter.

The specific thing that I think didn’t work as well was the Build It Back program. One of the things that has encouraged me to run for mayor — it wasn’t just on Sandy, but on a number of things, like public housing — I saw that I could make resources available, provide help from the federal government, but at the end of the day, if the city government isn’t connecting the dots and getting that help directly to people on the ground in effective ways as quickly as possible, that the recovery isn’t going to work. And I think on Build It Back in particular, we were very frustrated that the city didn’t move more quickly or more effectively to rebuild the homes that were most damaged.

HW: Is that a critique of the de Blasio administration?

SD: One of the challenges around the storm was that it happened just before the transition in administrations. And I think there were some challenges in Build It Back, setting up that program, that happened under the Bloomberg administration. But primarily it was a failure of the de Blasio administration — and I’m not saying anything that I didn’t say directly to the mayor or to his team at the time. This was largely a challenge under their watch.

HW: You’ve been pretty critical of Mayor de Blasio during your campaign. What overall grade would you give him?

SD: I have been critical, Howard. I have also absolutely given him credit where I think credit is due. Like so many others in the city, [I] believe that his signature accomplishment is getting pre-K done. And I want to build on that.

I think there are other areas, as well. I think one of the things that he’s done that’s been really important is to build more tools to help keep people in their homes. One of the lessons I learned from leading the recovery in the mortgage crisis was the critical importance of housing counseling and legal services to help keep people in their homes. That’s true for homeowners. It’s also true for renters, where gentrification and displacement is a real threat around this city.

And I think — while he’s come late to it, and I don’t think has gone as far as I would have liked — focusing on creating greater equity in our schools is something I would give him credit for as well. So, I want to be fair there.

But overall, I’d have to give him a C grade for his leadership. Particularly in the last year, where I think there’s been a failure of leadership in this crisis that has been deep and devastating. So specifically in the last year, I’d give him a failing grade in the response to the pandemic.

HW: Let me follow up with that and ask: What you would have done differently — obviously with the benefit of hindsight? And what would you do going forward around the pandemic?

SD: For me, the moment that crystallized the failures of leadership in this pandemic happened when early on, his health commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, came to him and challenged him that he needed to move more aggressively and forcefully to stop the spread of the virus. And his response was not only not to listen to that advice — and remember, just a couple of weeks later, [Barbot] left the administration — but most profoundly, he took contact tracing and testing away from arguably the best health department in the world and gave it to the Health and Hospitals Corporation. And I think it’s very clear now that cost many New Yorkers their lives, and made a pandemic that would have been bad even worse.

And for me — I know what it means to lead through crisis. I believe the single most dangerous thing for any leader, particularly in moments of crisis, is to surround yourself with people who won’t tell you the truth. And here was the mayor, in the midst of the worst crisis of his eight years in office, sending a very clear signal that he did not want his team to tell him the truth. That cannot happen — in normal times, but especially in moments of crisis.

And I think it led not only to that failure, but to the inability to reopen our schools in September, which absolutely would have been possible if the mayor listened more clearly to his teachers, his principals, parents and communities, and [had] done the work of [improving] ventilation in the schools and opening classrooms outdoors or in gyms, at YMCAs, or other things. I also think it would have led to a more equitable distribution of vaccines that would ensure that the city recovers faster.

But you asked about what I would do. I would bring the entire effort back under the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. I would reorient resources that are focused on contact tracing and testing to the vaccination effort, because that is absolutely the highest priority right now. And I would both implement what I call my Safest Cities Commitment — which ensures that we are creating, through 21st-century tracing tools and other things, the safest city in the world — and let the world know that we are the safest city in the world as we recover. So New Yorkers come back to New York, so people can get back to work, but also so tourists come back to New York and make sure that so many of the key industries that drive our city — our small businesses, our restaurants, arts and culture, Broadway — that those are restarted as well.

HW: You mentioned ensuring that New York is the safest city, and that people know we’re the safest city. Murder in the city went up 40% last year — it was the single biggest one-year jump since World War II. What does a Mayor Donovan do to arrest that increase?

SD: There are three key things we need to do. One is to create real reform of policing. There needs to be more transparency and accountability. We need to weed out the bad apples. And I do think the evidence is that de-escalation training and other things really can lead to improved results. We’ve seen that in Camden, New Jersey, which was one of the leading efforts at reform across the country, and we’ve seen it in other places. So I think there’s a number of things that we can do for real transparency and reform for the police.

But I think the other thing is: We need to reduce what we’re asking the police to do right now. We’ve asked the police to take on so many different roles in this city that put them in conflict with communities and build tensions. We have essentially criminalized homelessness by asking the police to be mental-health experts and to respond when the vast, vast majority of examples of homelessness that we see are not going to turn into violent — there is no crime there. And there are models around the country that I’ve worked to implement, like CAHOOTS in Oregon, that create alternative 911 systems that allow teams that are trained in mental-health issues and others to respond. I do think we need to reduce police presence in our schools.

And let me give you another example: Our Open Streets program, which we started in the midst of Covid — 75% of those streets are the responsibility of police to oversee. They have to put up barricades. We know that these [things] work much better when community organizations oversee them. So if we reduced those roles for the police and really focused them on guns and violent crime, the things that you are talking about — that New Yorkers broadly, especially Black and brown communities, where we’ve seen the spike in gun violence, are focused — we could create safety and respect in a way that would be powerful, I think. And look: I mean, Bloomberg himself has said that where the city went with stop-and-frisk was a mistake.

We should also remember that the city became the leading city of the world on gun safety, and we need a mayor who’s going to aggressively go back to leading not just in the city but nationally on those issues. We have to make sure that we are closing down the out-of-state gun pipeline, going after rogue dealers in our region.

And we need a mayor who can partner with the federal government much more aggressively. You know, there are other candidates who say, Oh, I’ve got the president’s cell phone. But this is really about having a mayor who understands how to partner with government, knows all of the legal systems, the national efforts that we can partner with the Justice Department on.

The last thing: we talk a lot about policing. We need to focus more broadly on our criminal-justice system.

Our corrections system is spending huge sums of money and getting bad results. And just to be very specific: We spend over $400,000 per prisoner per year in our corrections system. Think about that. Over $400,000. And yet we are not getting results from that. Our parole system — if anything, the evidence shows after the first few months, [it] actually increases crime rather than decreases it.

One of the things I’m proudest of that I did under Mayor Bloomberg was start a pilot program working with [Correction Commissioner] Marty Horn, where we gave some of our housing vouchers to folks coming out of Rikers. A year later, 95% of them were stably housed, getting back to work, and hadn’t re-offended — dramatic results. Imagine what we could do if we took some of that $400,000 a year, put it not just into housing but job training, and expanded many of these community-based efforts that are really working. We could break the cycle of incarceration.

HW: You talk about your access to decision makers. Obviously, you have access to the man that you worked for — President Obama. Do you expect that he will be endorsing you?

SD: Well, he’s already said publicly that he doesn’t see it as his role to endorse [candidates] in a Democratic primary. But you also may have seen that he was very complimentary about the work that I’ve done in crisis after crisis in this city and in this country. And that’s the record that I’m running on: that I was trusted by Mayor Bloomberg, by Barack Obama, by Joe Biden, by so many people, to lead [through] crisis after crisis.

HW: What is the Shaun Donovan path to victory at this point? Some of the other candidates are ahead of you in the polls. There’s still obviously time left to make your case, but is there a lane for a relatively affluent private-school kid, Harvard-educated, who hasn’t been involved in New York City politics in the last few years?

SD: Well, not only is there a path, but I wouldn’t trade my path in this race with anybody else. And here’s why: New Yorkers really want change. They wanted change before Covid hit, and they absolutely want change now. Almost every other candidate in this race represents the status quo in some way. They worked for Mayor de Blasio; they’re current elected officials. There are very few of us that represent real change.

And usually the change candidate has the least experience. I actually have the most, compared with the other candidates who aren’t part of the current government in New York City. I’m the only one that has real experience in government. And so what we’re finding is that’s what New Yorkers want. And in fact, you’ve seen the recent polls — I’m rising faster than anyone in the polls. I’m now in the top tier. And most importantly, that’s happening when I have less name recognition than the other candidates in the race.

I mean, you know this better than I do; you’re an expert on campaigns. [With] modern mayoral campaigns, we absolutely know that building name recognition is possible. Mayor de Blasio was in, you know, fifth place at this point. Lori Lightfoot in Chicago; Mike Nutter and Jim Kenney in Philly; Kasim Reed in Atlanta — all of them rose from being in fifth to seventh place early on, to winning. Because they were the right candidate at the right moment, and they ran good campaigns. And I believe I’m the right candidate at the right moment.

And as you know, ranked-choice is something that really does favor a candidate like me. It increases turnout. It requires [you] to run a more optimistic, visionary campaign, because when you run negative, you actually hurt yourself in ranked-choice. And finally, you have to [campaign] everywhere in the city. You have to get to 50% of New Yorkers, and at the end of the day, you’re not going to be able to win if you run an old machine-style campaign where you’re just hoping to get to 30% and then squeak into a runoff. You’ve really got to go everywhere and appeal broadly to New Yorkers. And what we’re finding is that’s what’s happening with me: I’m able to appeal in many, many different parts of this city.

HW: You mentioned ranked-choice voting. This is the first time that the mayoral race will be run under a ranked-choice system. New Yorkers get to rank their favorites, one through five, on their ballots. Is there anyone who gets the No. 2 position on the Shaun Donovan ballot?

SD: I would say that I have a lot of respect for the civil rights work that Maya Wiley has done over her career. As you know, I’ve been deeply involved in that work myself. I led racial equity work for President Obama; I won landmark Supreme Court decisions. I created the policies that Donald Trump — when he still had a Twitter account last year — was attacking as ‘destroying the suburbs,’ because I was making sure Black and brown people could live wherever they choose. I also would say [that] I was very proud in the wake of Mike Bloomberg’s efforts to make sure we had marriage equality in New York. I was the very first cabinet secretary in history to endorse marriage equality and did path-breaking work on transgender rights. So I have a lot of respect for the work that Maya has done over her career. I do think she remains my second choice, after me, because I’ve actually implemented those policies in government.

HW: I believe that you have come out in favor of raising taxes on the wealthy. I’m wondering — given how easy it is now for New Yorkers, especially wealthy New Yorkers, to work outside of the city and telecommute — if your position on that issue has changed.

SD: Let me be very clear about my position. I’ve said I am open to a temporary surcharge to deal with what is likely to be a big budget challenge, just as Mayor Bloomberg imposed temporary increases on property taxes. I believe that may be necessary. I’ve also said clearly that I believe we should roll back, at the national level, some of the Trump tax cuts, and that we need our national system to be more progressive. I believe the right way to do this is to make our national system more progressive and to increase aid to New York, which I would be able to do given my deep relationships in Washington. We send $23 billion more from New York to Washington than we get back from D.C. in services every year. That needs to change.

What I have also said, though, is we’re not going to tax our way to recovery. And I have not been supportive, as you know — many of the other candidates have supported six different tax increases, including a transaction tax and others. I’ve been clear that I am not supportive of many of those. We need a mayor who actually knows how to get our budget under control — by making government more efficient, finding innovative ways to bring revenues like congestion pricing and some of the value-capture things we pioneered at the Bloomberg administration. And I am open to a temporary increase on the highest earners to help us.

HW: The subject of charter schools has been somewhat controversial under this administration. Are you in favor of more charters? Do you want to see them reduced? What’s your position on the charter sector?

SD: I’m for good schools. And what I mean by that is, I think all different kinds of schools in the city can be part of the solution. I’m most interested in our kids learning and succeeding. And on average, what we see is that charters are actually doing a good job of educating our kids. I also believe that we have to create real accountability, and not all charter schools are measuring up. We need to focus on those and ensure that we are making sure every school is a good school.

I also believe that we could benefit from a mayor who doesn’t always put ideology before people. And what I mean by that — I love what Fiorello LaGuardia used to say, which was There’s no Republican or Democratic way to take out the trash. I think we need to focus on ensuring every school is a good school.

From my perspective, charters can be a small but important part of that network. We shouldn’t pretend that charters are going to solve all the education problems in this city. We need our traditional public schools, which are always going to be the vast majority, to work better. That needs to be the primary focus. But I absolutely think that charters can be part of the solution. I’m open to more of them, because what I see is demand. I see many, many parents, particularly in Black and brown communities, who are choosing that for their child. I’m open to doing more. But I also think we’ve got to de-escalate the tensions around this. I think there are really interesting partnerships that have started between charter schools and traditional public schools that we should build on. We should be ensuring that we’re taking the best lessons from both of them and sharing them across all our schools.

HW: You have a plan to promote “15-minute neighborhoods.” What is a 15-minute neighborhood, and how do we create them?

SD: I think most people in New York who live in our wealthier neighborhoods understand what a 15-minute neighborhood is. It means that within 15 minutes of your front door, you’ve got access to a great school for your kids. You’ve got a great job that sustains your family, or access to transportation that gets you there quickly. You’ve got health care where you can get a test for Covid or get a vaccine. You’ve got fresh food. You’ve got access to a park where you can play — particularly in a moment like this, where we all need to get outdoors in fresh air. You’ve got all the things that you need for a life of opportunity.

And here’s the problem: In New York City, the single biggest predictor of a kid’s life chances, even their life expectancy, is the ZIP code they grow up in. And that’s got to change. And so what I’m proposing is that we reorient the way we plan in New York City around 15-minute neighborhoods, and ensure that every time we make a decision about investing in health care or transportation, that we’re looking at which communities need those investments the most, and ensuring that every New Yorker lives in a 15-minute neighborhood.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Howard Wolfson has worked in New York politics for nearly 30 years and served as a deputy mayor to Mike Bloomberg from 2010 to 2013. He is currently a senior adviser to Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP.

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