Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY 16) recently won the Democratic primary in New York’s Congressional District 16 with over 57% of the vote. This district is comprised of most of Westchester County, south of Interstate 287 and its four largest cities —Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains and Yonkers, as well as a section of the north-central Bronx.
Bowman is running against. Dr. Miriam Flisser of Scarsdale, New York. The election is November 8 and early voting starts October 29th. I interviewed Representative Bowman to talk about the key economic and financial issues facing New York District 16.
What is your platform?
For all of us, for every member of congress, we have to save our democracy. I was sworn in on January 3, 2021, and there was an insurrection three days later, because the former president pushed the big lie that the election was stolen. He inspired his supporters to come to Washington to attack the capital. When we are on the brink of the destruction of democracy, saving democracy is the overarching key item we are all working on.
I am also working on education, especially because of my background. I was a teacher for twenty years, and for ten years, I was a middle school principal. So, I know the issues in education inside and out. Education is the pillar of our democracy, and we have to make sure that we have an exemplary education system.
Another issue that I am working on is climate change, because we have to save our planet. We have to stop these consistently severe storms that are destroying people’s homes and killing people. If we do not respond aggressively now, this will get much, much worse.
I also focus a lot on the economy and the financial system, which for a very long time has benefitted the very wealthy, the 0.1%, while the rest of us have to struggle and claw just to survive. The financial system is rooted in inequality; hence, this issue is a major focus of our office.
What do you see as the top priorities for District 16?
When I zoom out and think of broader economic issues, affordable housing is a major issue in our district. It is a significant issue because there has been a consistent defunding of affordable housing and public housing at the federal level. Much of this housing is being put in private hands, which presents a major concern, because of how long is public housing going to remain affordable if it is in private hands. We are moving to where housing is becoming more of a commodity. When you look at rents in the last couple of years, rents are even higher, and buying a home is even more expensive since the pandemic.
We also have high level of concentrated poverty and underfunded schools. Many in our district do not have access to jobs or workforce development. We do not see financial literacy development happening in our district. Not only do we not see public investment in these areas, we also do not see private investment either. Previous initiatives have not yielded the results that we had hoped for.
What can you influence on student loan initiatives?
Student loans are under the umbrella of finance. Student loans come up consistently across racial lines and across class lines. Our office has been vocal and engaged with the White House on this issue, and we believe that this is one of the reasons the President decided to cancel some student loan debt. We are very happy and excited about this. We are living in something similar to war time America. We have had over one million people die from a global pandemic. And we now have a war happening in Ukraine, which has impacted our economy and the global one tremendously. Many women still have not recovered and people of color still have not recovered. If there were ever a time to cancel student loans out right or a major portion, this would be the time as we go forward restarting our economy. We need to put money back into people’s pockets so they can make the investments, such as buying a home, and savings they want. People need relief right now, not just economic but psychological relief after such an incredible pandemic.
What kind of legislation might you want to introduce to help combat inflation?
We already introduced three pieces of legislation designed to target inflation. On piece goes very specifically to the issue of inflation, that is, the Emergency Price Stabilization Act. This bill, first, and foremost calls for transparency.
We the American people need to understand better what is causing supply chain issues, what is happening with corporate books, and what is happening with the price gouging that is contributing to inflation. WE want to empower the President and the President’s task force to open up those corporate books and tell the American people exactly what is going on. People cannot afford to live. We are not talking about price controls across the board. We are talking about some specific areas such as housing and rent, utilities, energy. We need to do the research and be transparent with the research and to do something about prices that are damaging people’s quality of life and their ability to afford to live. We still do not have universal childcare or pre-k. So, people are paying large amounts for childcare, housing and utilities. People are really struggling. Our Emergency Price Stabilization Act looks to solve these problems. If we need to control price, this may be something that we have to consider. We are also sponsoring Ending Corporate Greed Act and Babies over Billionaires Act to help the people in my district and the rest of the country.
How do you respond to people who criticize controlling prices since they could distort markets?
There is precedent here; there were price controls during WWII to help us recover from that horrific war. These were not price controls put into place forever. We need to have a conversation about longer-term price controls, because we have a free-market system that does not work for everybody. We have a free-market system that allows inflation to be controlled by having millions who are unemployed. To me that is a flawed system. We have a system that dissuades banks from lending and dissuades people from getting living wage jobs in order to control inflation. That is a flawed system. We need a system really routed in the values of our democracy: equity, well-being, quality of life and affordability, where people can work and earn a living wage and where inflationary pressures are not what they are now. That is why we have to talk about price gouging, so that companies are not benefitting from a global pandemic.
What are your views about private equity ownership of housing?
We need to save the public goods. In a democracy, there is such a thing as a public good: water, housing, healthcare, and education. When we have a system that is focused only profits, what you are going to have, is people dying, because they do not have access to affordable, dignified housing or due to lack of health care. In my district, we had four or five public housing facilities and all, but one, are moving to a private ownership model. We hear that it will remain affordable, but what does that mean? What does that look like when profits are too big to pass up? When everything is driven by profit and not the well-being of people, people suffer. And those people are usually poor, black or brown.
Senator Elizabet Warren is a friend and supporter, and she is brilliant in these areas. God willing, if I win my election in November, I will continue to work with her in Congress.