NEW YORK — Shaun Donovan, a top housing official in the administrations of President Barack Obama and Mayor Mike Bloomberg, kicked off his campaign for New York City mayor Tuesday.
Donovan spoke from a rooftop at a Bronx affordable housing development, Via Verde, with the Manhattan skyline looming in the background — addressing supporters by Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is within our grasp to repair the torn fabric of our city — to restitch and rebuild, to reimagine the people and places that constitute our lives as New Yorkers, and to make a city that works for everyone,” he said.
Donovan was the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and then director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration, and was Obama’s point man for recovery after Hurricane Sandy. He was commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development under Bloomberg.
Donovan proposed remaking New York as a city of “15 minute neighborhoods” — where all residents live within a short walk of a good school, rapid transit, a place to buy fresh food, and a park.
“If you’ve lived in a wealthy neighborhood, you may never have known a New York where anything you wanted wasn’t immediately accessible to you. We must have a city where the same benefits of New York life are available to all,” he said.
It’s a concept that has been pushed by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo — one of several mayors from around the country and the world whose visions Donovan invoked, while lamenting that New York is no longer leading the way on such innovations.
“We are the greatest city in the world. We are a city that has, under previous mayors, led the world in many areas. I think New Yorkers are hungry to be the best city in the world again, in so many different areas,” he said.
He said he would build a bus rapid transit network modeled on Mexico City and Bogota, with legal e-bikes and scooters filling in gaps. And unlike Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is shuttled around the city in an SUV, he promised to be a frequent straphanger.
“I’ll be on the subway every day,” he said
The newly-minted candidate repeatedly name-checked Obama — who is also featured in footage in his campaign launch video — but did not mention Bloomberg, whose legacy may be more controversial among Democratic primary voters.
But when asked, Donovan embraced the former mayor.
“I’m deeply, deeply proud to have served this city in a different time of crisis, after 9/11, and to have served with a mayor who is a great manager, a strong leader,” he told reporters.
Though Bloomberg’s administration built many new income-restricted apartments, the billionaire mayor was often criticized for shaping a city of developments that catered to the rich, even as homelessness spiked. His policing record, especially the widespread use of stop and frisk, is also controversial.
“This is a different time. We’re in a different type of crisis. And we need new types of tools and solutions in affordable housing,” said Donovan, who vowed to revamp the “right to shelter,” which guarantees homeless New Yorkers a bed in a shelter, to instead be a “right to housing.”
He enters a Democratic primary field that already includes City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, attorney Maya Wiley, Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, and others.
Donovan rolled out several endorsements from former mayors around the country: Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, Manny Diaz of Miami, and Ashley Swearengin of Fresno, Calif.
Closer to home, he was backed by Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood, a leader in East Brooklyn Congregations and the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation.
“I am a lifelong New Yorker, deeply rooted in this city,” Donovan said. “That is what New Yorkers will have if I become mayor, is a leader who deeply understands the challenges of every community in New York. But they will also get someone who can pick up the phone and talk to anyone at the White House, including the president and vice president. They’ll get someone who has seen what the best mayors across this country and even across the world are doing, what kind of innovations we can learn from.”
Donovan did not focus heavily on controversies around policing that have roiled the city in recent months, but said he would reduce the role of police — removing them from responsibilities like mental health calls and overseeing much of the city’s Open Streets program — so they can focus on violent crime.
He also proposed keeping all library branches open seven days a week.
Donovan has raised roughly $670,000 according to the latest campaign filings which date from July. The next filing will be due in mid-January.