Alone among the aspirants for the 65th Assembly district seat, Alice Cancel can speak not only of what she hopes to do as a member of the Assembly, but of what she has done. That is because Ms. Cancel was elected in April of this year, to serve for the two remaining months of the legislative session, after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted on federal corruption charges.
“In those two months,” she says, “I was able to bring back several packages of funding for local organizations. I got $1.2 million for the Educational Alliance, which provides daycare services and senior housing. And I got $1.5 million allocated for two public parks within New York City Housing Authority projects. I also had $50,000 in discretionary funds, which I divided into blocks of $10,000, and awarded to five Lower Manhattan non-profits: the South Street Seaport Museum, the Urban Justice Center, the Henry Street Settlement House, the Chinatown Planning Partnership, and Vision Urbana, an Hispanic youth organization. I also got additional money to repair roofing and doors at public housing projects.”
“When the legislature resumes works in January,” she predicts, “my priority will be infrastructure. Our neighborhoods are being saturated with tall buildings and luxury high rises that are choking my community. We need zoning that will control this, and also to get something from developers for the community.” Among these priorities, she says, “will be affordable housing, services for seniors, and new schools.”
Another focus in the coming year, Ms. Cancel says, “will be the push to reestablish the 421-a tax program,” which lapsed in 2015, but had for decades provided real estate developers with tax incentives in exchange for creating affordable housing. “My vision is to reform this program, with a greater percentage of affordable units. I think 60 percent of the apartments at market rate, with 40 percent set aside for lower- and middle-income residents, would be a reasonable mix.”
“I’m also very concerned about how we are going to move people around the district, as our residential population explodes,” she says. “We need new bus lines in Lower Manhattan, and other innovative approaches to public transportation.”
She also recounts struggling with difficult compromises in the legislative session that just ended. “The Assembly was asked to consider the City Council’s bill that would levy a five-cent surcharge on plastic bags,” Ms. Cancel recalls. “This is a great idea from a purely environmental perspective. But I also have thousands of senior citizens in my district. Many of them live on fixed incomes, and I know that even a charge as small as five cents per bag would be a hardship for some of them. So I reluctantly voted against the bill. Not because I want it to die, but because I need it to be modified in a way that won’t hurt people I’m supposed to represent.”
A frustration she discovered during her first weeks in Albany was, “that so many good pieces of legislation crossed my desk, and were approved in the committees that I serve on, but then died on the floor of the Assembly.” In other cases, she says, “we got very important bills passed in the Assembly, but these were killed in the Senate.”
But Ms. Cancel cites one new law that did pass, which gave her a measure of personal satisfaction. “We enacted a proposal targeted at elected officials who are convicted of corruption,” she says, “which strips from them any right to a public pension. I was glad to be able to bring that back to my constituents.”