Interview: Candidate James Lane on Eric Garner, Michael Grimm and the Bay Ridge Food Co-op

Green Party Candidate James Lane on Staten Island
Green Party candidate James Lane, via Vote James Lane

Bay Ridge residents (and Staten Islanders) will vote tomorrow, May 5, for a new congressional representative. Much of the attention on the special election to replace Michael Grimm, who resigned after pleading guilty to aiding in the filing of a false federal tax return, has focused on our councilmember, Democrat “Vinnie” Gentile, and Republican Dan Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney who failed to get an indictment against any of the officers involved in the death of Eric Garner. But also on the ballot is Green Party candidate James Lane. We caught up with him by email to find out why he thinks you should vote for him, what he thinks the most important issue facing the neighborhood is, and why it’s not that big of a deal that he lives in Park Slope. 

If I’m upset about the grand-jury decision regarding Eric Garner, shouldn’t I just vote for the major-party candidate that’s not Dan Donovan? That is, why does this race need a third-party candidate?
Every election needs more than what the two corporate parties have to offer. Gentile isn’t Donovan, but he can’t even bring himself to say the words “Black Lives Matter.” He showed no solidarity with the Garner family and #BlackLivesMatter activists in 2014, but later went out of his way to placate the NYPD by promoting a “Go Blue” campaign in his district. It is vital that we bring the voice of the streets into elections: we demand independent investigations of police brutality, demilitarizing the police and safety beyond policing.

What’s the key issue affecting Bay Ridge right now? And how does your approach to it differ from your opponents’?
The shock wave of our citywide housing crises has hit Bay Ridge in the form illegal conversions of one and two-family homes to multiple dwelling. That puts stress on the community in terms of parking and services, and contractor work with false permits raises huge safety concerns. The recent gas explosion in the Village was a deadly and tragic reminder of how dangerous that can be.

The two corporate parties basically work for real-estate interests, and their so-called housing solutions continue to subsidize a sky-high market at the expense of livability for working people. We call for quality, fully funded, mixed-income public housing and community land trusts to reign in the insanity of real-estate speculation. Then we can really plan for sustainable growth instead of letting developers with no community ties exploit neighborhoods with overbuilding.

One criticism I keep hearing about your candidacy from people in the neighborhood is that you don’t live in the 11th district. How do you respond to that?
I respect that some are concerned about that, but it is also important that your representative has integrity, honesty, compassion and a sense of justice. That is what I bring to this campaign. Michael Grimm was from the 11th District, but his constituents have gone without any representation at all for quite some time because of his irresponsibility. Of course I am committed to moving to the 11th, when elected!

How do the needs of the Staten Island side and the Brooklyn side of the district differ?
Both communities have a strong desire for things like a $15/hour minimum wage and fully funded public schools. But I think that a lot of Staten Island’s needs are framed in terms of isolation and neglect from the rest of the city. I have more than once heard residents invoke the phrase “the Forgotten Borough”. Whereas Bay Ridge is part of Brooklyn, with all of the growth and upheaval that goes along with that. Staten Island faces isolation; Bay Ridge faces crowding. But those are just two facets of austerity: our public services need to do more to connect communities together and make sure our infrastructure meets everyone’s needs.

Had you spent much time in Bay Ridge before deciding to run? What’s your favorite part of the neighborhood? 
I do spend time in Bay Ridge—there are some great restaurants in the area. The sense of community on the street is much tighter than in many neighborhoods in our city. It really does still feel like a small town, but not far from everything a big city has to offer. I’ve learned about the Bay Ridge Food Co-op while campaigning and am a big fan of what they are doing there!

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