Published on February 17th, 2020 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Exclusive: Peter Harrison, NY-12 Congressional Candidate, On Improving New York & More
Peter Harrison has lived in New York’s 12th Congressional District since he moved to the city in 2006. While supporting himself as a bartender, he earned a Masters Degree in Urban Planning at Columbia University, studying tenant organizing and community land trusts within his graduate studies.
Currently, Peter Harrison is a Congressional Candidate for NY-12. He has consulted on housing policy plans for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Center For Popular Democracy, and the Homes Guarantee. If elected, he aims to bring his housing policy and tech and organizing experience to Washington, while working together with his progressive colleagues to ensure that Americans are guaranteed housing and health care as human rights.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Peter Harrison on behalf of The Hype Magazine. More on Harrison’s campaign can be found online by visiting www.peterfornewyork.com.
Your transit plan has a lot of people talking. What is the first step in making it a reality?
Peter Harrison: Winning on June 23rd! But I know I’m just one very junior member of the Democratic Caucus when I get down there. Honestly the first step is raising the public’s expectations that public transportation should be 100% free, accessible, and green. I get a lot of people that say “Wow, I never thought about public transportation being free,” which is almost always followed by “but I totally get why it should be!” Grounding the conversation around economic, racial, and climate justice just opens so many people’s eyes to why we need to do this and how we can do it.
Does your concept of “Freedom Of Movement” actually save New York City money?
Peter Harrison: It will make New York City money! A number of economic studies show how much poor transportation costs the city. One in 2018 by the Partnership For New York City, says that the New York City economy loses about $20 billion a year just because of traffic. The NYC Independent Budget Office did a report saying subway delays cost the city over $300 million annually. That doesn’t calculate the environmental costs or the safety costs either.
That’s just based on the current transportation system. Think about how much economic activity will happen when we have transit coverage in every corner of the region. It’s a no-brainer.
People are also interested in interested in your plan to “free our schools.” Who or what inspired that?
Peter Harrison: That speaks to a couple of things, one straight-forward and one a little more complicated. I’ve been teaching at Baruch College since 2016. CUNY is one of the best innovations the city has ever come up with and for most of its history it was free. Even though the tuition today is affordable compared to private universities, it is still prohibitive for many students and that blocks many people from getting the education that they need to grow in America.
So first, we should make public colleges free again. Second, we need to change what college is in the 21st century. It should adapt to society and the economy of today and to the modern student’s needs. Most students in CUNY aren’t on a traditional four-year degree path. They work or have family obligations that stretch it out, or they come back for professional development. And that’s fine. It’s great, even!
We should encourage that by changing curriculums, course requirements, scheduling to be more flexible and individually geared. More technology and collaboration from faculty and students is needed in the leadership of both the PSC-CUNY union and the university. We need to “free our schools” both for students and for faculty.
People are also talking about your plans to build a million new houses, fund more efforts with regard to childcare and mental health services, and also protect the city from further corporate privatization. Is all of this covered by the current budget? Just a matter of reshifting current spending?
Peter Harrison: The simple answer is that federal government already has the resources to deliver the Homes Guarantee, Medicare For All, and the Green New Deal, among other programs. Yes, we need to pivot current spending in the federal budget. We spend far too much on our military, subsidizing fossil fuel industries, and handing out tax breaks to corporations and billionaires. But taxing Amazon and Jeff Bezos is not enough — although we should and will.
We need to make the kinds of social investments, even if that means deficit spending, to reboot our economy, rebuild our democracy and defend our planet for the 21st century. I give the Republicans credit for this. They have known for 40 years that deficits don’t matter, but they keep getting “Very Serious People” in the Democratic Party to fall for worrying about them. It’s just tragic that they are ignoring deficits to fund endless wars and tax cuts to billionaires and the Democratic Party let’s them get away with it. We can do that by funding healthcare, homes, and green energy. Those investments will pay for themselves pretty darn fast if we get Democrats in office who will fight for them.
Besides your policies and eagerness to help New York City, what do you wish more people knew about you personally?
Peter Harrison: I have wanted to be asked what my favorite TV show is for a while and no one has so I’m going to use this as my change: Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
What is life like outside of politics for you? Any surprising hobbies?
Peter Harrison: Well, I’m also getting married this year, so my partner and I don’t have a whole lot of time or money for other stuff! Date nights tend to be knocking on doors right now. I owe her one hell of a honeymoon!
Finally, Peter, any last words for the kids?
Peter Harrison: I’m not sure if I’m good at this “politics thing,” but I’ve been an activist for 10 years and I’m good at that. I say the same thing whether I’m in front of my students, residents in NYCHA, or neighbors in Stuyvesant Town: no one will fight for your home or your future as hard as you will. So fight for it. Because you’ll find out that a lot of people are fighting for the same thing and it will make you want to fight even harder. Then you’ll see that we can win. And then we will win.Tweet