New York Congressman Dan Goldman On Affordable Housing, the Migrant Crisis and More

His district includes Lower Manhattan and much of Brooklyn, so that also means discussing the crumbling BQE and the congressional bagel caucus

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Last summer, Dan Goldman edged ahead of a crowded field of candidates that included a congressman, two state lawmakers and a former mayor to win the Democratic primary for a newly configured U.S. House seat in Manhattan and Brooklyn. 

Goldman had plenty of experience in Congress already. He was a staff investigator with the House Intelligence Committee, and his work as lead counsel for President Donald Trump’s first impeachment inquiry made him a rising star in Democratic circles. (He was the one who didn’t carry his papers in a Fresh Market tote bag.)

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Since then, Goldman has gotten up to speed on an array of issues, including congestion pricing, the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, the asylum seeker crisis, and repairs for public housing properties.

 Commercial Observer caught up with Goldman on July 13 after he finished a hastily scheduled House Oversight Committee hearing and two Homeland Security Committee hearings in Washington, D.C.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Commercial Observer: What should the House Oversight Committee be focusing on instead of the Biden family?

Dan Goldman: Well, I think we should be focusing as one example on Louis DeJoy and the Postal Service and making sure that our agencies are running appropriately. Oversight is an important part of Congress’s job. The fact that we’ve had three different hearings on the District of Columbia, a city of 700,000 people, is a complete waste of time and reflects the unserious nature of the Republican leadership on the committee.

How do you work with Republican Congress members with a far different view of the world?

I make a point of making an extra effort to get to know my Republican colleagues even if I disagree with them on a number of things. What’s important for any member of Congress is to keep your eye on the ultimate goal, which is to improve the lives of the American people. And working in a bipartisan way is the best way to achieve that. 

What I’m trying to do is push back on the extremism that’s so prevalent in the Republican Party but also look for opportunities to work in a bipartisan way, even with members of the Republican Party that I disagree with on almost everything. That doesn’t mean we can’t work together on the few things that we agree on. 

Has Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democrats’ leader, given you any advice? 

I was very lucky to have an opportunity to work with him on the first impeachment when he was an impeachment manager on the Senate trial.

We are very lucky to have him as our leader. He’s done a fantastic job. There’s no one better at distilling the messages that convey to the American people what we are doing as Democrats and why we are different than Republicans — why we are focused on improving the lives of all Americans as opposed to the top 1 percent that Republicans are focused on.

You’ve represented Lower Manhattan and a lot of Brooklyn for six months now. What’s the issue that constituents bring up to you most frequently?

It varies based on the context. There is a housing crisis in New York City at every point on the economic spectrum, from public housing to affordable housing to market-rate housing. We are in desperate need of more housing. 

There’s a tremendous need for infrastructure improvements. We’re very proud to benefit from and implement the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, a good portion of which is coming to New York to help with everything from the Gateway Tunnel to renovating the BQE to improving access to subways to improving safety for bikers and pedestrians. And then there’s a lot of work regarding environmental justice and resiliency.

One issue that has emerged is the arrival of so many migrants that have recently come to America trying to escape horrific and gang-infested regimes in the Northern Triangle especially. We’re trying to make sure they receive the necessary services and support that everyone pursuing the American dream deserves. We’re trying to figure out a way for many of them to get expedited work authorizations, which is something I’ve heard repeatedly from the business community because there is such a demand for labor that is not being filled by people who have been here. 

Mayor Eric Adams and other city officials have come down to ask for more federal funding for migrants. He estimated the city could spend $4.3 billion on the crisis. Do you know when we’ll see the dollars they need?

There’s currently nowhere near that money available in applicable programs in reimbursement. I am on the Homeland Security Committee. The program available for reimbursement for those expenses is the shelter and services program with FEMA. That program provided $100 million to the city in June. It’s only an $800 million program that has to be divided up around the country. So it’s not enough.

The other thing that I have been pushing for is an emergency declaration, requested by the governor and approved by the Biden administration, which would allow federal land to be used to create shelters and that would alleviate the city from having to pay for that.

Part of the reason work authorizations are so important is that it would allow workers to earn money, move out of shelters into their own homes, and become a vibrant part of the economy — which is essential to eliminating the city’s expense as well.

This sounds like a funding issue that won’t get passed in a Republican-controlled House.

That additional appropriation would be very difficult to do, if not impossible, in a Republican-controlled House.

There has been a spate of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Jewish residents that has intensified since the pandemic. What is your office doing to address these patterns of violence? 

My district has a large AAPI community, including historic Chinatown in Manhattan and growing Chinatown in Sunset Park as well as a large Jewish population, and a large LGBTQIA+ population. All three of those groups have all seen significant rises in hate crimes.

I am a member of the bipartisan task force for combating anti-Semitism. I have been very active in condemning the rise in anti-Semitism as well as promoting all the good deeds that the Jewish community has done, and does routinely and regularly as part of our society. We have been making sure nonprofit security grants, a relatively new program that was increased in the last appropriations bill, gets to places of worship so that they are protected. 

There are a number of things we’re doing in conjunction with the city and state. Gov. Hochul recently apportioned $50 million to combat hate in communities around the state. I was at a bill signing on Monday for a law that would require educational institutions to document hate crime incidents so we can get a better understanding of what’s going on.

We need to educate, we need to engage, and we also need to make sure we are punishing those who commit hate crimes, including with a sentencing enhancement if a crime is committed with a discriminatory motive.

Do you support congestion pricing? 

I’m a strong supporter of congestion pricing. It’s something that we need to do not only to reduce congestion in Manhattan but to also significantly reduce greenhouse gases and pollution to make sure we have the necessary funds to invest in, electrify and modernize our public transportation. It has proven to be incredibly beneficial in other cities around the world, including London, which saw a reduction of traffic in the city’s central business district by 30 percent and allowed for significantly more green space to be created because of that.

What do you say to constituents who are worried people will park in Dumbo or Brooklyn Heights, where spaces are scarce, and take the train into the city?

I have not heard very many complaints at all from the Brooklyn portion of my district that is not in the central business district. That is because Brooklynites are very proudly politically engaged and very much care about our environment. They recognize that the benefits of congestion pricing far outweigh the initial difficulties that may have to be worked out.

What are the complaints on the Manhattan side?

The concerns on the Manhattan side that I’ve heard come from Chinatown and the Lower East Side areas, where residents cannot easily afford the tolls if they leave the central business district and then come back. And there are broader concerns about potential impacts on small businesses. 

We are in the process of going around to all the communities in our district on a listening tour about congestion pricing so we can have a discussion with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Traffic Mobility Review Board, and the city more broadly to figure out how we make sure this is implemented equitably and does not harm small business owners and less affluent members of our communities.

Some of your colleagues across the Hudson are opposed to congestion pricing. Have you had any conversations with them about why you think it’s necessary?

Yes, we’ve had conversations. The point I consistently make to them is that the majority of commuters from New Jersey commute by public transportation. So, if public transportation is improved in New York City, that helps the majority of their constituents.

I’ve also noted to them that their constituents very much benefit from what New York City has to offer, yet they don’t pay taxes in New York. So this is not at all some kind of discriminatory tax system on those who commute from New Jersey to New York City and get all the benefits that New York City has to offer.

How do you get to Washington? Do you drive, take Amtrak, or fly?

I do a little train and I do a little flying.

Can you do anything to get Amtrak’s prices lower and make it run faster?

I’m not on the T&I [Transportation and Infrastructure] Committee, but I do think something we need to turn to next is high-speed rail. The U.S. is very far behind our European and Asian allies whose technology systems are far more advanced than ours. It would be a tremendous benefit not only to the Washington-to-Boston corridor but the entire economy of the U.S. if we could get high-speed rail going.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler had long advocated for a cross-harbor freight tunnel between New Jersey and South Brooklyn. Do you support it?  

Broadly, I do support it. I think it will take a very long time. It’s not something that we can just sit around and wait for. 

We are very focused on identifying alternative means of transportation for goods and services like using waterways in a more robust way and trying to figure out how to streamline how much we need trucks to be transporting our goods. That is very important for the environment, especially in environmental justice communities like Red Hook and Sunset Park, where asthma rates are significantly higher and where a lot of last-mile pollution that comes from warehouses there does not help. 

We are looking to work with the city and state on the Red Hook Cruise Terminal area to see if we can both improve opportunities to use the terminal for the delivery of goods by water and reduce the use of larger trucks in that neighborhood.

The Brooklyn Queens Expressway under the Brooklyn Heights promenade is deteriorating. What’s the best way to replace it? 

This is a project that is long overdue, and I give a lot of credit to Mayor Adams and his administration for aggressively moving forward to actually get it done. There is no question the triple cantilever needs to be addressed. This is really an opportunity to holistically reimagine infrastructure in the city at large.

The BQE is the most trafficked highway in the state of New York. We have to not only address the triple cantilever but make sure the communities to the north and the south, which are most impacted by environmental justice issues, do not bear the brunt of the renovation of the BQE.

We are working to reimagine how transportation can work, provide means for transportation to reduce traffic, and utilize areas around the expressway for more productive purposes, especially because, as it cuts through Brooklyn in the south, it separates communities. We ought to be thinking more boldly in terms of how we can restructure the expressway to allow for more public space and more green space and more connections between.

Should there be three lanes in each direction, as City Hall is exploring?

No. What we need to be focusing on is figuring out a way of narrowing this down to two lanes. The data is pretty clear that it incentivizes people to take alternative means of transportation. We also, by doing that, need to correct for and incentivize a reduction of the use of the BQE so that traffic is not unbearable. There are a number of things that could happen to deter large 18-wheelers from using the expressway and also make sure we are promoting and improving public transportation. 

Should it be torn down entirely or buried underground?

That’s very much on the table. We have a working group of local and state people, and me and my office, that meets biweekly and monthly with the mayor’s office to discuss progress. There’s been a lot of community engagement to figure out what the best pathway is.

But, yes, we need to be thinking about trying to use this opportunity to efficiently run a highway through a very populated area while also creating an area for more public space and green space. Lowering and putting the BQE through the Brooklyn Heights area and other areas as we go forward can allow for some decking and the creation of usable green space, which would be a great outcome.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) needs $78 billion to repair its properties after the latest federal required assessment. Where is Congress going to find the money for that?

The problem with these NYCHA developments is that essential capital improvements have been continually kicked down the road, which means they become more and more expensive the longer they go without.

With Republicans in control, they have no interest in helping to fund public housing. So we’re trying to be creative to focus on different ways to get some funding. We’ve asked HUD to allow NYCHA to get all the benefits of their bulk-rate negotiations of utilities, which could add about $50 million to the budget. We are looking at using the Inflation Reduction Act incentives, subsidies and rebates to see if there are ways of using those funds to improve and modernize NYCHA systems.

A federal monitor said the city should be held in contempt for its management of Rikers Island. Should the federal government take control of the jail?

I think we’re getting right up to about that time. The continuation of completely unacceptable conditions and gross abuses at Rikers simply has not been adequately corrected by the Department of Corrections and the city. It is unacceptable. If it is not improving as the federal monitor has indicated, then we should move toward federal receivership.

How do you think Mayor Adams has been doing so far managing the city?

One of the clear directives that the mayor has given to all of those working in his administration is a mandate to get things done, and to figure out a way to get to yes.

I am very appreciative of that can-do attitude and that effort to make sure we are doing everything we can to address the problems of the city and improve them. He should be commended for that. I also think he and his administration should be really praised for their efforts and abilities to deal with this migrant crisis. I toured one of the HERCs [humanitarian emergency response and relief centers] in Brooklyn several months ago. I recently went to the arrival station at the Roosevelt Hotel. I have seen firsthand the heroic work the city has been doing, including NYC Health and Hospitals and the emergency management agency in operating it. It is a yeoman’s task that they are doing day and night, seven days a week, to make sure we are providing adequate support for migrants.

We notice you’ve introduced bagels to your carb-starved colleagues. What are your favorite bagel places? Please rank them in order of deliciousness.

Oh, come on. The first lesson in politics is you never choose among your children. You will not get me to rank any favorites. My district is blessed to be the home of the best bagels in the world. 

And I’ve been very excited to introduce many of my colleagues to such outstanding bagels. It’s been really nice to have an opportunity to have lighter conversations with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. We don’t get a lot of opportunities to mingle and socialize in a more relaxed atmosphere. So the bagel caucus has helped provide a forum for that. We’re excited to bring the best of New York City and the best of the world to Washington, and help facilitate friendship and conversation. 

We have a list on our website. We’ve probably had bagels from almost a dozen shops around the district. 

Should Congress members wear Nike Air Jordans or rubber-soled loafers at the office? 

Yes. People should be allowed to wear shoes of their choice. Especially when we’re in Washington, we’ve got long days and we put in a lot of steps. I fully support comfortable shoes. I have a few pairs of hybrid loafer sneakers and I am a member of the sneaker caucus as well. I think it’s been a great addition to the Congress.