Know your candidates: Kamillah Hanks has ‘Master Plan’ in contest for North Shore council seat (2023)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Kamillah Hanks has been an advocate on the North Shore for over 20 years, and has been recognized for her dedication to the community, particularly in times of crisis.

Hanks, a 2020 Advance/ Woman of Achievement for her work during the coronavirus (COVID-19), is one of nine candidates currently on the ballot in the Democratic primary to replace City Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-North Shore).

Given the crowded fields in this year’s races, the Advance/ opted to send questionnaires to each of the candidates in this year’s Mid-Island and North Shore City Council races.

Here are Hanks’ unedited responses:

What will you do to ensure your district fully recovers from the pandemic?

Our pandemic recovery must include assistance for the unemployed and food insecure as well as for small businesses and employers. Once small businesses are open again, jobs will be available and people will be able to return to work. Additionally, the pandemic shed more light on the healthcare disparities that Staten Island faces and the need to invest in more preventative care and provide access to healthcare for all. We must also ensure that once the eviction moratorium is lifted, we are not simply allowing people to become homeless, which highlights the need for truly affordable housing in our district.

I will support efforts that use federal and City funding in creative ways and address the needs of individuals and businesses. For example, the City implemented a GetFood program and provided a million meals a day to people in need while giving small businesses government contracts to provide that food.

I appreciate this type of many birds with one stone approach, and it is what I did with my Youth Build organization when the pandemic prevented regular operations. We obtained funding to have the students learn 3D printing and make face shields, thereby providing them with work and our first responders with desperately needed PPE.

What is your top priority outside pandemic recovery?

There isn’t just one. Part of the problem is that candidates often identify one distinct problem and try to tackle that alone when our issues are much more complex. You cannot separate public safety from jobs and education. You cannot look at transportation without looking at development. You cannot look at development without addressing infrastructure. Therefore, my top priority would be to create a Master Plan for the North Shore, with community stakeholders, that will incorporate solutions to all of these issues.

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I will implement a Master Plan that integrates a solid infrastructure and encourages sensible development, while respecting and preserving our rich historic districts and neighborhoods; create educational initiatives that build career pathways through union apprentice programs and advocate for truly affordable and quality housing for people earning minimum wage as well as working and middle-class residents. A well developed plan will bring good paying, quality jobs to the district and provide funding and resources that improve our district’s healthcare, transportation and school systems.

What do you see as the future of policing in New York City? What is your position on the City Council’s reform package announced Jan. 29?

First, unlike other candidates in this race, I have never uttered the phrase “Defund the Police.” I am a mother first. I know the fear my community has, because I have a black son; I know there are deeply rooted issues in our criminal justice system, but funding is NOT accountability.

It’s a matter of officer training and recruitment. I am the Staten Island representative for the NYPD Reform and Reinvention Collaboration, and I plan to work with the NYPD to ensure public safety on the North Shore. We need to build a police force that is respectful and accountable while still allowing the police to do their jobs. We need to build NYPD relationships within our communities through more Community Policing.

I want to create training tracks and career pathways for our young people to become the new face of law enforcement and change residency laws to ensure police live within the 5 boroughs. We also need to activate men and women of color who are retired to lend their expertise to community/police relations and onboard our patrol officers.

I am proud to have the endorsements of the NYPD Sergeants Union (SEA), NYPD Lieutenants Union (LBA), NYPD Captains Union (CEA) and NYPD Detectives (DEA) who recognize that I am the candidate that can work with them to ensure that our communities are safe.

As a Council Member, the safety of my constituents will be paramount. We cannot have prosperity without public safety.

What efforts started by Councilwoman Rose would you like to continue and what would you like to do differently?

I am honored and humbled to be running for a seat that was held by Debi Rose. As the first black woman ever elected on Staten Island and the first woman ever elected to that seat, Councilwoman Rose broke ground and made the way for a candidate like myself to have a chance to be elected.

I applaud her efforts to expand access to healthcare by securing capital funding for RUMC’s emergency facilities. Similarly, Debi was successful in spearheading a new 770 seat elementary school in Stapleton that will open in 2022, and obtaining funding to re-open the Cromwell Center.

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With respect to what I would do differently, I’d point again to the Master Plan. We cannot continue solving our problems piecemeal. All of the pieces must come together.

How has your prior work experience prepared you for this position?

I bring a variety of work and personal experience to this race that puts me in a unique position that I believe makes me uniquely qualified for this seat. I have learned as a small business owner what it means to do the books, to make ends meet, and how difficult it can be to navigate the City’s bureaucracy.

As the Executive Director of the Staten Island Downtown Council, I developed an understanding of land use and the careful balance we need to strike between sensible development that creates good jobs, desperately needed affordable housing, and ensuring that our infrastructure needs are met while preserving the integrity of our neighborhoods and historic districts.

As the Executive Director of YouthBuild, I see where our schools often fail to provide adequate support to youth in difficult circumstances, and I’ve learned that we need more community schools, apprenticeship programs, and alternate pathways to jobs as well as an increase in literacy programs and mental health support. It is this, my current job, that sparked in me the desire to run for public office to make the changes in the systems that should have been in place a long time ago.

Do you support any of the current mayoral candidates? If so, which one and why?

We must elect a Mayor who not only has the ability to take on the challenges the city faces as we recover from the economic and physical impacts of the pandemic, but someone who will understand that the city of New York is made up of FIVE boroughs and who will be committed to ensuring that we receive our fair share.

I have had the opportunity to campaign with Kathryn Garcia, Eric Adams and Ray McGuire on Staten Island and have been impressed with their understanding of the issues we face citywide and on Staten Island. As a Council Member, I will work with our new Mayor to ensure they don’t forget Staten Island until election time comes around.

How would you like to see transit improved on the North Shore?

To live on Staten Island is to understand we have one of the longest commutes in the country. I have experienced this commute myself for many years, so I understand the burden it places on our residents and the time it takes away from our families.

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I assure you that fixing our transportation issues will be a top priority for me. We must finally implement the Bus Rapid Transit on the North Shore and expand bus lines and service. We need to expand fast ferry service across the island to alleviate commuter traffic on the North Shore. We need to install smart lights on major roads and add left and right turn lanes and signals to keep the flow of traffic going.

A West Shore Light Rail can be achieved as well, with federal funding and political will. I have established relationships with City, State, and Federal leaders which will allow me to finally solve our transportation infrastructure issues and make sure it is part of the Master Plan to make the North Shore thrive.

How will you hope to ensure responsible development on the North Shore with a focus on addressing the area’s infrastructure needs?

The North Shore of Staten Island has all the raw ingredients to become one of the most coveted places to live in the City: a stunning waterfront, beautiful parks, and established neighborhood centers and commercial corridors. Yet our district is sorely lacking in the necessities and infrastructure it needs to thrive, including efficient public transportation and sensible rezoning so we can build decent and truly affordable housing.

Again, it all goes back to a master plan that integrates a solid infrastructure with responsible and resilient new development. “Responsible” means a transparent review not only of the environmental impacts, but of the impacts on schools, healthcare, sewer systems, and transportation. We need appropriate community input, not just notice, and the input must be part of the decision making process. I want the North Shore to be all that we all want it to be...a place where our future is determined by us, and a place we can all be proud to call home.

Do you hope to reinvigorate some of the more tourist-focused development? If so, how would you hope to do that?

The Wheel, Lighthouse Point, and Empire Outlets are examples of poor planning. I am encouraged to see Staten Island based entrepreneurs and small businesses beginning to occupy Empire Outlets, and as a Council Member, I will work toward its continued increase in occupancy.

The idea of tourist-based development is something that can help spur our economy, but not at the expense of North Shore residents and our infrastructure, and not when hundreds of millions of dollars are spent for projects that don’t come to fruition. We need to focus on creating the infrastructure needed to support both tourist focused development and other growth on the North Shore to ensure that our residents are not overburdened.

We should support more open spaces, including on our waterfront, for use by residents and tourists as well. I support the aspects of the current waterfront plan for the St. George Fast Ferry and the plan to include CityBikes and Scooters at the launch site, which will hopefully allow tourists easier access to the already amazing parks, arts and cultural institutions we have.

What is your position on a public hospital for Staten Island?

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While I will continue to fight to have a public hospital on Staten Island, the real problem that needs to be addressed is the reason we need a public hospital. As of 2015, over 130,000 Staten Islanders were Medicaid beneficiaries.

DOHMH studies show that North Shore residents report higher instances of poor health outcomes and preventative care is lacking with 21% of adults in the North Shore not having a regular health care provider. Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure plague our adults, and 57% of our children that receive health care are being treated for asthma.

The pandemic response put too much stress on our two hospitals, and the City was slow to provide us with adequate services. All of this, combined with the lack of services available for mental health and substance abuse, is critical. This is an immediate and urgent need that cannot wait for building a public hospital.

As your Council Member, I will approach this issue comprehensively. I will fight for fair and equitable capital and operating funding for our existing facilities to provide services to all, and secure funding to build, invest in and expand access to primary care, mental health and substance abuse and urgent care facilities to address the immediate needs. And, I will continue to advocate for a public hospital.

What is your position on the 44 Victory homeless shelter?

The shelter site was by the Mayor’s office without adequate community input and only the legally minimum notification required. While that is infuriating, the next Council Member will have to address any consequences that occur as a result of that decision, including impacts on our infrastructure, small businesses, schools, and parks in the area. While we cannot hide from the needs of our people, we must have a more equitable distribution of social services.

Homeless shelters are a band-aid approach to a much larger issue. Ultimately, we need to curb homelessness through the master plan by building affordable housing, paths to ownership and supportive wrap-around services, mental health services, and job creation and training to get the homeless off the streets and help them live better, more productive lives.

Where would you like to see funds directed and what steps would you like to see the city take to address drug addiction on the Island?

The opioid crisis on Staten Island continues to affect our communities at an ever growing rate. From 2019-2020 overdose rates requiring Narcan interventions increased by 23%. We had the highest overdose rate of any borough in NYC from 2012-2016.

This is an epidemic and a health care crisis and, as many of my opponents have stated, must be treated as one. I believe it also must be addressed simultaneously as a law enforcement issue. We need to provide adequate services to those who are addicted including providing rehabilitation and diversion programs, including the SIHope program, while ensuring that law enforcement has the tools it needs, including support for the Overdose Taskforce to investigate and interrupt the supply chain and arrest and prosecute the high level dealers that prey on the vulnerable.

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At the same time, education programs, community schools, early intervention and mental health services need to be supported for prevention. Job training and apprenticeship programs should be provided to those who complete diversionary programs to help reduce recidivism. I applaud the work District Attorney Michael McMahon has done on this issue, but we must expand on his efforts and address this issue holistically.

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