February 19, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
“We need to raise the wages that people earn,” says City Councilmember Andy L. King, who represents the northeast Bronx neighborhoods of Gun Hill, Baychester, Edenwald, Wakefield, and Co-op City. The district’s residents are mostly working to middle-class, Afro-Caribbean immigrants mixed with an older Jewish and Italian population.
King, a former child-protection caseworker and youth-basketball coach who was also Bronx lead organizer for Local 1199 SEIU’s Healthcare Education Project, won the seat in a special election in 2012 after incumbent Larry Seabrook was convicted of federal corruption charges. He serves on the Council’s civil rights, community development, cultural affairs, education, sanitation, and youth services committees.
He identifies youth and education services as his top priority, along with increasing services for the elderly, access to affordable health care and housing, public safety, small-business development, and living-wage jobs. That makes him a strong supporter of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten initiative.
It’s better to spend money on “the front end,” on educating young children, than on “the back end,” incarcerating them when they’re grown, King says. “The best way to educate people is to get them early, put a value system in place that allows them to be productive adults, an education system that offers them skills and gives them options so they can be contributors to society instead of destroyers.”
On the mayor’s other signature issue, reducing income inequality, King says the best way to do that is by “raising the bar on how people get paid.” While he supports raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, he adds, “I think 10 dollars is not enough,” that people in New York City need to make at least $23.50 if they’re going “to live somewhat comfortably and not be stressing and stressing.”
“I’ve never met a billionaire who cleans toilets, who drives trains, who keeps the parks clean, who changes diapers, who tends to the elderly,” he says. “These people do the vital work that helps the system move forward.”
Legislatively, that translates into supporting living-wage measures for employers receiving city subsidies. People getting grants, funding from the city, and tax credits are getting a break, he says, so they should give a break to “the people who are actually showing up every day on the worksite,” and the Council has the power to set “the rules you’ve got to play by.”
His union background, King says, allows him to “sit at the table and always have the mindset of the working person.” And having worked in social services “allows you to have compassion for your brother and your sister…. It allows you to understand the importance of organizing individuals, it allows you to understand the importance of educating people to be organized, and more important, it allows you to keep your eyes focused on the prize and put together a real strategy to get to that prize.”