Even though Stu Sherman is well underway with his campaign for city council, he is still working full time as an attorney. And he’s a new dad. Sherman is undoubtedly a busy guy, but it’s the work he does for his clients, and his personal experience with chronic illness that keeps him motivated. “From my own experience, I know how important it is to have access to medication and from fighting on behalf of my clients, I see how much the inequities and systemic failures are impacting their lives,” Sherman tells Greenpointers over the phone, “But also with the work I do, I see how much is possible, and that’s really what got me into the race, understanding that we can make large scale reform to improve people’s lives.” We spoke with Sherman about housing, making the film industry greener, and how interconnected inequalities are.
For our readers who might not know you, can you give us a quick introduction? What motivated you to run in the first place?
I live in Greenpoint with my wife and four month old daughter. I’m a type 1 diabetic. I was diagnosed when I was 6 years old. Having to struggle with a chronic illness in a country without universal healthcare coverage really opened my eyes to the inequities in our healthcare system and greater inequities beyond that. It’s always been frustrating to me that in a country with so much wealth, there are people that have to ration medication and by initially pursuing an interest in healthcare, I got to see how everything is really interconnected. I’ve always tried to work in healthcare reform based out of my personal experience. I worked initially in health policy and state legislature in New York and had some success there, but really eventually went to doing direct service work.
Right now, I run legal clinics at hospitals and health centers across the city, including Woodhull in North Brooklyn. Everyday I fight on behalf of my clients to help prevent evictions, deportations, and help them get healthcare benefits and public assistance. It’s frustrating to see all these systemic inequalities and how there is such a great need that is not being met. It’s really a matter of life and death.
What would you say are the top three issues or projects specific to this district that you plan to tackle?
Housing, healthcare, and small businesses survival and recovery. For me housing comes first, and we’re in the middle of an unprecedented housing crisis. There’s more homelessness and housing insecurity than since the Great Depression. In order to solve this, there’s three major things we need to do. We need to construct more affordable units, we need to convert existing market rate units to affordable units, and we need to update regulations. In the area of construction, I’m calling for a moratorium on construction of market rate units in these large scale tower developments in areas that are rezoned, and all rezoning needs to create enough affordable housing to meet the needs of the city. I’m also calling for a complete revamp of the zoning commission so that it represents the needs of the city and tenants of New York. I’m calling for that until there’s control of the housing crisis.
Regarding conversion, there’s a number of distressed properties and there’s a number of proposals that I think are very good, in which we should take distressed properties and convert them into affordable units. For basement apartments and community landlords, there’s an opportunity to provide some relief for them in exchange with adding to the affordable housing stock. There’s such a high vacancy rate in a lot of these luxury towers, and I think we need to address that by capturing those vacant units and making them affordable, but affordable at the level of need within the district and in the city. Finally on regulation, we just need to be doing more to assist immigrants, both documented and undocumented to get housing, and we need to adopt a housing first model so that there’s no preconditions on getting housing for people. To end homelessness, we shouldn’t require that they meet certain conditions before they get housing.
In the area of healthcare, I’m looking to expand access to comprehensive coverage. I support the New York Health Act, but once we get that through, the city will have to do a lot of implementation. Because I’m a big advocate for the elderly and working families, I’m a big advocate for having more home care for the eldery and disabled so they don’t have to be institutionalized in nursing homes. And as a diabetic who has had to fight to get medication myself, I recognize the importance of having access to medication without barriers, so I’m calling for the opening of public city pharmacies to enable people to get all medications and not be turned down at the counter.
With small businesses, we’ve seen over 100 businesses close in Greenpoint alone. We need a rent freeze, we need rent forgiveness, and something to prevent a small business eviction crisis because of the back rent that is owed.
What lessons have you learned from your work as an attorney and in health care activism that will serve you in this role?
One thing I’ve learned is how interconnected everything is. Whether it’s housing insecurity, homelessness, housing, education, policing, food insecurity, public benefits, they’re all connected and all important for people’s well-being. You have to deal with and address things on a systemic level to have the major structural reform necessary to improve people’s lives. Working in healthcare, I see how failures in other areas lead to people’s illness and unfortunately to people’s death. I think that has been sadly underlined by the current pandemic, where overcrowded housing and food insecurity lead to people having pre-existing conditions or being unable to socially distance which lead to worse outbreaks and led to worse outcomes. We had problems with nursing homes for decades with them being poorly regulated and poorly run, and we’ve always had infectious control issues, and as we’re seeing now, the impact of that when a pandemic came along was just horrific.
I think that the understanding of all these systems with the perspective of someone who has both worked on them on a policy level, but also directly works with people and knows that policy itself is sometimes not enough, the implementation is just as important. I’ve a lot of clients who I helped fight to get benefits that the law says they’re entitled to but there’s an administrative system in place that prevents them from getting it. There’s these bureaucratic barriers put in their way. For me, I think what’s going to be important is knowing all that policy, but also knowing what it’s like for the people that that policy impacts and how the implementation needs to happen.
What is your favorite thing about living in this district?
I really, really love this district. It’s an amazing place to live. My favorite would probably be just the creative energy that abounds. There’s so much innovation and people creating and experimenting and doing new things. It feels like one of the creative epicenters of the country, in a way. The small businesses we have, many of which I’m at on a frequent basis, are doing new and creative things all the time. Our restaurants, our nightlife, our bars, it’s just a really great community and an exciting place to live.
As a father, it’s a great place to raise a kid, especially with the waterfront nearby and all the wonderful opportunities, it’s really exciting to raise her in a really wonderful environment.
You have a proposal to make the film industry green, can you talk a little bit about that?
It’s a really exciting issue for me. The thing that brought that to my attention is living in Greenpoint. We are the film set for so many shows. Right across from me right now, Billions is filming. I have a friend who lived next to Kimmy Schmidt’s house. The entire Marvel universe on Netflix is set in our neighborhood. One thing you realize when you walk by film sets time and time again is how labor intensive and how energy intensive they are. Being a waterfront district, we’re also at the forefront of needing to address global warming and sustainability.
If you look at a map of what District 33 might look like in 70 years, a lot of it might be underwater if we don’t act now and quickly. So it’s the perfect space to jump off towards greening the film industry. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are working on this, and there’s a lot of ways that we can do this that are not mandates on the industry, that are not going to force people out, but rather save film productions money and be beneficial to them, so that it’s through assisting them we can actually make it more appealing to work in New York and be on the forefront of a green, sustainable film industry.
Unlike Los Angeles where you have large film studios, they can have warehouses and save stuff. For us, when sets [are broken] down, a lot of things get thrown out. There’s not really a way to store it and reuse it without the city’s intervention. I think what we really need is a film recycling center so that they’re not throwing out dumpster after dumpster when a shoot is done. It can go there and be used for another shoot, because a lot of these things are reusable, and some of them can actually be used in other areas, because there’s doors and there’s windows for housing. The other area is energy consumption. When you walk by a film set, you’ll see a lot of times gas generators lighting streets, which are both loud and very environmentally destructive. There’s an opportunity for green generators, battery generators, that are not diesel operated, and if we’re able to encourage the use of them, they’re actually more energy efficient and better for the environment. So if we do things like encourage productions to lower their carbon footprint through increasing tax incentives or enabling them to shoot in certain places where they wouldn’t otherwise because those generators are silent, I think we can encourage better energy use and reduce emissions from the film industry.
Any other last thoughts about what our readers/voters should know about you?
Running is really important to me. I’m still working full time, fully focused on my job, fully focused on assisting my clients in whatever way possible. I have a caseload of over 100 clients who I’m assisting. I’m also raising a newborn with my wife and campaigning full time. It’s a lot, and I love it. I wouldn’t want it any differently. It’s so important to me to create systemic change in the district and in the city to make people’s lives better, to improve people’s wellbeing. No matter how much I have going on, this is so essential. I feel like I need to do it. I feel like it’s that important. For me, for my own family, for my daughter whom I want to grow up and live in a more equitable and just New York and District 33.
New York City’s 2021 Primary Election is on June 21. Ranked-choice voting will allow voters to select their top five candidates for each position. Greenpointers will feature an interview with every City Council Candidate for District 33. Catch up on our conversations with Lincoln Restler, Victoria Cambranes, Ben Solotaire, April Somboun, and Elizabeth Adams.