By: Elisheva Kohn  | 

Leading NYC Mayoral Candidates Speak to YU via Student-Organized Virtual Forum

Four leading Democratic NYC mayoral candidates — Kathryn Garcia, Scott Stringer, Ray McGuire and Eric Adams — participated in a virtual forum on Monday evening, organized by the Yeshiva University Political Action Club (YUPAC) and the J.P. Dunner Political Science Society, to discuss various issues ahead of the June NYC Democratic primary election. Former presidential candidate and current NYC mayoral frontrunner Andrew Yang was expected to partake in the program but canceled mid-event. 

According to YUPAC Co-President Meir Lightman (SSSB ‘22), the organizers reached out to all NYC candidates who were polling above 1% –– those who had a “viable chance” of becoming mayor –– to invite them to the forum, as directed by the university. “YU is a non-profit,” Lightman explained, which is why the organizers had to “set a barometer and invite all the leading candidates” to avoid supporting one candidate over another. According to Lightman, the student organizers worked with the Office of Student Life and Jon Greenfield, director of YU’s Office of Government Relations, to plan the virtual forum.

The event started with opening remarks from Lightman and McGuire, the only candidate who arrived at the forum on time. Stringer joined shortly thereafter, followed by Garcia, who arrived around 20 minutes late due to traffic and apologized at the forum, and Adams, who signed on a few minutes before 7 p.m., which is when he was slated to join.

McGuire spoke about his “long-standing relationship with the Jewish community,” particularly Hassidic groups and the Agudath Israel of America, and how NYC has provided him with many opportunities despite his background. “I had a great education … a lot of debt and I had no money, and this city has been great to me,” he said. 

After congratulating the YU Maccabees on their successful season, Stringer spoke about his upbringing in Washington Heights, and how he plans on tackling the long-term effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on the city, which he said are “akin to the Great Depression.” 

Following a round of brief introductions, students asked candidates various questions relating to the relationship between the Jewish community and public officials, inequity in Washington Heights, hate crimes in the city, funding for private schools, Jewish school curricula, the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) movement, NYC partnerships with Israel and many other issues. 

Both McGuire and Stringer, the only candidates present at the time, addressed the uptick in hate crimes targeting the Jewish and Asian-American communities in NYC. “Hate is on the rise,” acknowledged Stringer, who attributed parts of the phenomenon to former President Donald Trump, who he said “legitimized hate and white supremacy.” McGuire spoke about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s civil rights activism and his collaboration with Martin Luther King Jr. Combating hate crimes, he said, would be his “highest priority.”

“We need to be supporting all of our schools, regardless of whether or not they are public or non-public,” said Garcia –– who had joined a few minutes earlier ––  in response to a student question about funding for private schools. The two other candidates present at the time –– McGuire and Stringer –– agreed; McGuire emphasized that “every educator should have access to equitable sources of funding,” and Stringer talked about his experience bringing kosher and halal food options to NYC’s public school system.

Regarding the equivalency in instruction at Orthodox private schools, Garcia maintained that “parents need choice,” and that authorities should “not try and enforce and shove requirements down people’s throats.” 

McGuire, Garcia and Stringer all condemned the BDS movement. “I reject the BDS movement and believe it is anti-Semitic and anti-Israel,” said Garcia. Similarly, Stringer said that he “doesn’t support” the BDS movement, which McGuire also “absolutely and full-heartedly” renounced.

Shortly after Adams tuned in to the forum and Stringer left to attend another campaign meeting, a student asked the candidates whether they would pledge not to run for the presidency while mayor. McGuire, Adams and Garcia said yes and added that they also wouldn’t run for any other office.

The candidates also addressed various other issues relevant to the upcoming election; Adams promised to appoint deputy mayor of youth engagement, Garcia spoke about the need to “have interfaith conversations,” and collaborate with Israel’s tech industry, McGuire discussed the “systemic inequalities that exist in healthcare, in education” in Washington Heights, home to the Wilf Campus and Stringer addressed how he would improve the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the city.

The event concluded with a “lightning round,” in which the candidates revealed their favorite Yiddish word (McGuire’s was “tachlis,” Garcia chose “shlep” and Adams opted for “mazal tov” after a pause), as well as other light-hearted tidbits of information.

Yang’s expected attendance was only confirmed the day before the forum took place, and students were disappointed to hear mid-event that he canceled. “I was shocked by the announcement that Mr. Yang canceled. It took a lot to get him confirmed, so I was surprised,” said Yael Evgi (SCW ‘21), the vice president of YUPAC.

Members of YUPAC did not release the number of people who participated in the end, though Lightman reported that over 300 people had signed up to attend in advance. Several journalists reporting on the greater NYC area also tuned into the virtual forum, according to various Twitter threads.

Some mayoral candidates mentioned during the event that much campaigning ahead of the primaries in June and the general election in November has been taking place virtually due to the pandemic. Just a day before the forum with YU, Garcia met with YU High School for Boys (MTA) via Zoom. 

“The forum took many hours of planning over two months by over a dozen students and shows that YU students can accomplish anything and garner the attention of politicians, community leaders, and journalists from across the city with hard work and determination," Alex Friedman (YC ‘22), co-president of the J.P. Dunner Political Science Society, told The Commentator.

Evgi said, “Overall, the event was successful at educating the YU community about the top polling NYC mayoral candidates regarding their political stances and what they plan to do.” Charlie Kramer (YC ‘23), who tuned in Monday evening, shared a similar sentiment. “It was so great seeing candidates take the time to come to YU, and share their campaign visions,” he remarked. “Thank you to the YUPAC and Dunner society presidents for leading such a successful event!”

Photo Caption: A screenshot of the virtual forum that took place on March 22.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University Political Action Club

Editor's Note: This article was updated to clarify the candidates' party affiliation and arrival times.