State Senate Candidate Andrew Gounardes Interview Part I: “I Went to the Jay-Z Concert and Waited 45 Minutes for an R Train!”

10/17/2012 9:00 AM |

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Do you think there’s anything good that Marty Golden has done for the district?
[Long pause] Well, yeah. He has brought money home to the district. And that’s money that’s good—money for schools and whatever. But it’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough. And he passes it off as if this is the solution to our problems when it’s really not. He voted against $30 million in new school construction over the last 10 years, which I think is terrible. We have a serious overcrowding crisis in [School] District 20 alone, and he says that we got 8,000 new teachers over the last 10 years, which is true. But we need 10 times that amount, or whatever the actual number is. We still have a serious overcrowding.. so you can’t pass off the little drop in the bucket he’s done for what we really need. And that goes back to what I was saying earlier: Dean Skelos gives him the few plums to appease us, this way they can continue to do what they want to the rest of New York City. And that’s not fair to us. So he has done something. But it’s not nearly enough. Not nearly enough for the real problems that we face.

What are your priorities? If you go to Albany, what do you get to work on first?
Definitely the Fair Pay Act. Women in New York lose $24 billion a year to paycheck discrimination here because they only earn 83 cents to the dollar. And the Fair Pay Act probably won’t eliminate that gap completely but it’ll definitely go a long way toward closing that gap. And, you know, Golden says the bill is too vague, it’s not specific enough, we don’t have the right answers. That may be true. But I’ll amend the bill, I’ll fix the bill, and to get it passed we actually solve that problem. You know, I’m not gonna say, “it’s not good enough” and then not do anything about it. That’s a big one for me.

The other thing is, I think we need to rewrite the funding formulas that come down from Albany for our schools. I don’t think it’s a secret that Albany sends less money to New York City schools than they do to other school districts across the state, Long Island or Upstate or wherever else. And the funding formulas they use give geographic “bonus factors,” if you will; they weight basically any city outside of New York, any school district outside of New York City, they give them an extra weighted bonus to give them more funds. We need to rewrite those funding formulas and give us all our fair share. Every school district needs money, and they could all use more. I’m not trying to say rob Peter to pay Paul. But let’s start with a fair formula first, let’s spread the money equitably and fairly, and then we can see what our true education needs are, and then we can figure out ways to increase them appropriately. But those funding formulas need to be rewritten. And I don’t know if you know, there was a lawsuit filed a few years ago by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, where a group of parents… actually, this started back in ’92, ’93. A group of parents filed suit saying we were being denied our fair share of education funds. In 2004, 2005, a judge said, “you’re right,” after it went through appeal and this and that. Albany owes New York City schools $15.5 billion. Just to catch up! Because of the inequities in the funding formulas. Just to catch up. Not even to stay on par. Well, we saw $2 billion and nothing else. We still have a long way to go to fix those inequities. I really wanna tackle that issue.

And the third priority—the immediate priorities; there are so many things I want to try work on—is mass transit. The N, the R, the D are some of the worst train lines in the entire system. I myself have waited a half an hour to transfer during rush hour from the N to the R at 59th Street. There’s no reason why anyone in our neighborhood should be subject to that. That’s just not right. Whereas other neighborhoods have no problem. You know, you wait two minutes for a train in Manhattan, you wait three minutes for a train. You can wait 15, 20 minutes sometimes. How many trains pass by: Not in Service, or this and that. The MTA is woefully broke and needs a steady funding stream. It also has management issues I want to tackle. But I think we need to get serious about fixing the MTA and funding the MTA fairly and appropriately, and get serious about mass transit options to all five boroughs and not just Manhattan or not just other parts of the city. Especially here in southern Brooklyn.

What about express buses?
Yeah, that’s included. Trains are just one example of how the MTA is letting us down. Bus service, more regular bus service. The B37, the B64 we finally got restored. You know in Bensonhurst we got the B4 bus, in Sheepshead Bay, in Marine Park it’s still cut. We have one of the largest senior populations in the entire city here in southwest Brooklyn, and yet not one of the subway stations in this district are handicap-accessible. None of them. So seniors can’t take the trains because they can’t get down in the train station. And we keep cutting bus service so they can’t get around on the bus to go the doctor or the hospital or this or that or wherever. We need serious bus service back in southwest Brooklyn. That includes express bus service. Now we got the express buses back on the weekends. Thankfully, Councilman [Vincent] Gentile fought really hard to get that done. I know Marty takes the credit for it, but in reality you ask anyone who paid attention to that fight and it was Vinny who did that. You look, we got the B64 back, and Marty took credit for that as well. But again you look at all the… Bill Colton got that done because he got 5,000 signatures on a petition. Because he worked with the TWU and the community to lobby the MTA to get the job done. And I was a part of that. We helped get signatures and we were at the rallies he held and things like that. So we definitely need more bus service. More meaningful service.

Aren’t those express buses underused, especially on the weekends?
Well if more people knew about the options to use them, I think we would have more people using them! And as train service continues to be horrible on the weekends I think the express buses are a great option for people who want to get into the city and not take an hour. They can get there in half the time. We can definitely increase ridership, for sure. I think we should be increasing ridership, telling people about them more and more. Should they run every 10 minutes on the weekend? No, of course not. But we should give people the opportunity to get into the city. And as long as senior citizens can’t get onto a subway because they can’t get down the stairs, we need to provide other means of access to get into the city or other parts of Brooklyn. Seven days a week.