In Conversation with Art Chang
Eric Adams is in the lead for the mayoral race, with Maya Wiley and Kathryn Garcia following behind him. However, as the spotlight shined on them, a lesser-known candidate named Art Chang led his own impressive grassroots campaign.
Chang may have only earned 0.7% of the vote, but he still had strong plans for New York City and interesting insight about the process of running for the city’s highest office. For these reasons our paper decided to sit and talk to him to learn more about his ideas and experience.
“I’ve always kind of been open to changing myself, I came from a domestic violence household,” Chang told the paper in a recent interview. “And one thing that is true about people who grew up in violent families is that it’s a cycle, it happens generation after generation.”
“So if you want to break it, you actually have to start with yourself to change. You have to recognize what it is and you have to set a different vision for who you want to be.”
With this mindset, Chang went on to do many things for New York City. For example, he was a co-creator of NYC Votes, a campaign to improve transparency in the government which is where those famous “I Voted” stickers come from. He is also the creator of Casebook, the first web-based software platform for child welfare. He also helped build Queens West in Long Island City, one of only two waterfront developments to not lose power during Hurricane Sandy.
“I did Casebook and NYC votes, not as an employee of the government,” said Chang. “And if you can make those changes from the outside, imagine what I could do from the inside. I’ll be the leader actually making the decisions about how we actually do these things in the city.”
Chang’s experience outside of government gave him room to explore how to transform New York City, especially regarding public safety
“Cutting the budget is not going to change the NYPD,” said Chang. “I can guarantee you that. Unless you actually change the city’s charter, it will do absolutely zero.”
Chang had plans to cut $1.3 billion from the police department’s budget to demilitarize the NYPD, and to focus on communities in crisis. The idea starts with re-framing the use of CompStat to be used to signal where we have potential community distress and to direct intensive and coordinated responses from the different components of government that would decrease that community’s pain and lead to healthier communities.
“If you want to actually change the NYPD, you have to get the state legislature to remove the sole disciplinary powers of the police commissioner and only the legislature can do that with the governor,” Chang elaborated. “And then you have to have real accountability which can only happen through the city charter.”
Along with cutting the budget, Chang proposed the creation of two new offices, an Office of Police Accountability that will allow for increased accountability and enforcement of independent review. The second office would be an Office of Police Discipline that would control the release of data to promote transparency and accountability.
As a baby boomer with fluency in technology, Chang noticed that many small businesses were “Cash Only” and were unable to adapt during the pandemic. He proposed working with the NYC tech industry to create an NYC delivery app as well as create a user-friendly online and mobile service to enable all retailers to post their openings and closings.
“Internet technology is one of the best ways of having resilience because the stores that I know who actually had online presences before the pandemic, flipped over to ecommerce,” said Chang. “Even if they were selling baked goods, they flipped to ecommerce because they were able to do things like DoorDash and things like that.”
Not only were small businesses unable to adapt to the new reality that the pandemic brought, but they also struggled to pay rent and support themselves was another problem. However, that’s another problem Chang had a solution for.
“The city controls property taxes and they can do something that’s called forbearance and eliminate the penalties that people pay on property taxes for landlords who are willing to pass advantage through to their tenants because what we want to do is we want to keep people in their homes, right, and small businesses in their stores,” Chang said. “And that’s the primary thing, because it costs us so much more as a society, if we let people become homeless and let stores go out of business.”
In regards to housing, Chang noticed the problems with NYCHA and planned to fix the problematic housing system by converting NYCHA to some form of tenant ownership, whether that meant social ownership, limited cooperatives, or other structures that can give tenants more control and allow for debt financing to fund the essential repairs.
Chang was committed to meeting the demands of fixing the multilayered problems of NYCHA, with full data review, the use of green materials and green building methods.Chang told our paper that one of his first acts as Mayor would have been to pause every project to have a citywide discussion with constituents and local leaders, which is something that hasn’t been proposed by any other candidate. “I’m not going to have this patchwork, piecemeal, non-democratic approach that doesn’t have equity and justice at its core,” said Chang. “Where are we putting low income housing? Or how are we greening our transportation and our buildings? Where are we putting in parks?”
With Chang’s experience in transforming and adapting to the changes around him, he had plans to reframe what it means to be resilient. “If I can be the person to bring that thinking into government, then we can do all these kinds of things and that goes for systemic change, coupled with the system’s thinking.”
“I believe that I can change the city tremendously across all these different avenues by changing the design of the city and changing all of our governance structures.”
We, at the paper, believe that Chang still has a future in politics should he plan to run again or run for any other position. Nonetheless, he still works outside the state entity to make New York City better.