He sponsored legislation that banned flavored e-cigs and created a “right to counsel” for poor New Yorkers facing eviction.
Councilman Mark Levine says he’ll build on that record if elected Manhattan borough president in 2021.
“The future of Manhattan is on the line,” he told the Daily News in making his run official Monday. “We are a borough of neighborhoods and those neighborhoods are under threat from out-of-scale development, from unaffordable housing, from the record homelessness crisis and the shuttering of mom-and-pop stores.”
Manhattan rents increased 18% over the past decade, according to StreetEasy.
“The city needs to double down on its financial investment in the next generation of affordable housing development in Manhattan and beyond,” said Levine, 50.
He added that he’ll roll out an affordable housing plan focused on Manhattan in the coming months that’s “even more ambitious” than Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to build or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026. Levine said he’s not taking campaign contributions from the real estate industry, following a recent trend among city pols.
The councilman said he wanted to see fewer buildings like the skyscrapers lining “Billionaires’ Row” overlooking Central Park and more efforts like the one unfolding in his Uptown Council district, where Morningside Heights became a historic district in 2017. Levine said the change has protected 115 buildings, and he’s working to get the neighborhood rezoned to allow for more dense buildings that come with height limits.
While the borough president is viewed as a largely ceremonial role, the office comes with power to vote on land use issues, distribute millions in discretionary funding and appoint community board members, along with a loud bullhorn that’s made term-limited Borough President Gale Brewer one of the best known local pols in Manhattan.
Levine said he’d call on those powers to tackle homelessness, which has spiked during the de Blasio administration.
“We need to attack it on multiple fronts, by doing even more to help keep vulnerable New Yorkers in their homes,” he said. “We need to make sure that more of the affordable housing we are building is earmarked for homeless families. And we need to build more housing that is targeted toward people with mental-health needs.”
He touted his own “right to counsel” bill, which guarantees legal help for poor New Yorkers facing eviction. The Legal Aid Society linked the 2017 law with an 18.3% decrease in evictions over the past six months.
Levine’s recently passed ban on flavored e-cigs has also boosted his profile beyond his district, which covers Hamilton Heights, Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville and Morningside Heights.
Fellow Democratic Councilman Ben Kallos, 38, is also running for borough president, though his rep for being something of a maverick makes him the underdog in the battle for endorsements.
Levine enters the race with endorsements from Uptown Assemblyman Al Taylor and Downtown Councilwoman Margaret Chin, both Democrats, along with a dozen current and former Assembly district leaders.
“That has been really the defining quality of my entire political career — building broad, diverse coalitions,” said Levine.
“Manhattan should be in the lead nationally on making policy to solve urban problems, and that has been my record in the City Council,” he added.