The second round of primary elections is less than two weeks away, although early voting starts on August 13. And an entirely brand new district creates an opening for a competitive race, bringing a fresh crop of candidates battling it out to represent parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, all in the 59th district. Catch up on our interviews with Elizabeth Crowley and Kristen Gonzalez.

Greenpointers recently spoke to Mike Corbett, a Manhattan native, and longtime union advocate, to learn more about his campaign.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

For readers who might not know you, tell us a little about yourself and your relationship to this district.

I’ve lived in the Manhattan part of the district my entire life. I’m currently sitting in the same rent-stabilized apartment I grew up in as a kid. 40 years, 7 months, and a couple days…I went to public school in the area, know the area very well, as a place I’ve spent my entire life growing up in and living in as an adult. In addition to that, I worked in the New York City Council for the last seven years, for three different council members, which includes a five and a half year stint working for Costa Constantinides in Astoria, which is part of this new Senate district. It’s a place that I know very well. I served in different capacities, working on legislation, budget, and working directly with members of the community, a lot of whom I’ve reconnected with over the last couple months and have been very supportive of this race. 


I think when it comes down to it, it’s a district that I have a lot of history in, and that’s not to say that there’s not parts that I gotta learn a little bit more about. I’ve spent some time in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and I’m looking forward to spending more time there. But I’m also looking forward to learning more about that part of this Senate district. 

What are your top three campaign priorities?

The top priority for the campaign is gonna be the top priority I hear on the street, and that’s gonna be public safety. It’s the one thing no matter where I am, whether I’m having a conversation with somebody in Stuyvesant Town or Queensbridge Houses, or even at McCarren Park, the number one issue is public safety. Look, we have to take a balanced approach to public safety. Obviously, there’s been a call for more accountability, and I don’t think we need to trade safety for accountability. I think we need to make sure our police officers have the resources they need to do their jobs, while also holding them to a higher standard. For me, it’s making sure that they are trained better to identify a mental health issue or where there’s a disability involved, with responding to a 911 call.

I’ve seen this first hand. A friend of mine who has Asperger’s was pulled over at a traffic stop. He identified to the police that he has Asperger’s, and he’s a little bit overweight, he’s like “I’m not gonna be able to walk in a straight line.” And because of that, he got a ticket and was reported to the DMV, and now might have to retake his written test, and this is somebody who’s been driving for 25 years. He has a nearly impeccable record of driving, but because there was no empathy toward the disability, he was reported to the DMV, so we need to do better there. I’m not saying we should have police officers also be mental health professionals — I wanna make sure they can identify these issues, and then make sure we put together funding so that whether it’s a mental health professional, a licensed social worker, or somebody in that vein, available at all times to help respond to a call when it’s clear that someone has been identified with one of these issues.

Number two, I would say the environment. For five and a half years, I worked for Councilmember Constantinides in Astoria, and he was also the chair of the Environmental Protection committee, and we did some wonderful work in the City Council. The biggest of which was getting to work on and head Local Law 97 which would lead to the largest carbon emissions reduction in any major city ever. One of the things I want to do when I get to the Senate is make sure that the implementation of those accordance of plan and those buildings come into compliance, based on Local Law 97. But I also wanna make sure that we continue to work and invest in renewables. We look at Rise Light & Power, which is replacing a dirty power plant with renewable energy, battery storage, that’s the kind of thing we need to be doing more of. It’s smart because it also creates jobs, and it’s gonna lower electricity bills and make things more stable for folks, so I also wanna make sure that all these dirty power plants that are close to public housing and environmental justice areas, I wanna make sure that these new jobs that are created by the clean power plant or the big clean projects such as Rise Light & Power that the jobs are available to the members of those communities and also the folks who previously worked in those jobs. Those are the folks that we need to be taking care of.

The other big focus for me is my background as a third-generation teamster. I learned about the labor movement across the dinner table from my father, who was the president of our local Teamsters union. Walking picket lines as a kid to join the union myself after college didn’t quite work out, and I had a great job that paid well with healthcare benefits, and even had pension money started saving up for me in my early twenties, which was incredible. I wanna make sure that we have those jobs available for everybody. Look, not everybody’s gonna graduate from college. That’s just a fact. But the truth of the matter is, we need to make sure that these jobs are available. We need to make sure that we normalize the fact that if you choose to become a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, anything like that, it’s not a secondary thing, it’s not looked down upon. When I eventually left college and went to work in the moving business, the old timers used to say “You didn’t read the books, now you gotta move the books.” The truth of the matter is moving the books was pretty lucrative for someone in their early and mid-twenties, and I wanna make sure that is expanded into high schools. We need to make sure we’re focusing on more technical education. It will give the students hands-on experience in the trades, and that’s an incredibly big thing. When we look at workers at places like Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and Amazon, there’s a huge new movement of unionization, and with that also comes the retaliation from these big corporations, and I want to make sure that here in New York State, people are protected against those retaliations. One of the workers at the Starbucks in Astoria was fired because he led the union organizing effort. That shouldn’t be happening in New York State; we’re supposed to be the state for unions. So either we’re not enforcing the laws on the books, or we gotta write new ones, and if it’s the latter, you best believe when I get to Albany in January, that’s gonna be one of my first priorities, is to strengthen protections against retaliation for people who wanna form and join a union.

You mentioned that the environment is one of your top priorities. Could you tell us a little bit more about your vision about environmental issues as it relates to Greenpoint and the numerous environmental issues that have plagued us over the past few decades?

Well, I’ll start off by saying that I know that Greenpoint has shouldered a lot of the environmental brunt of the city for the past century. I was pleased to see that the state delayed the Greenpoint Energy project, I think that was good, a little pulled together, but I’m glad it was at least delayed. The next thing I wanna see right now is I wanna focus on renewables, and I wanna get away from talking about more natural gas. The last thing we need to do is expand our natural gas. We need to focus on renewables, and we also need to reclaim our waterfront. One thing we worked on in council was closing polluting infrastructure and making sure that when it comes down to it, the community has a say in what the land looks like. Newtown Creek is one of the biggest environmental issues here in New York City. For me, it’s gonna be an issue that’s important to me because it’s literally smack dab in the middle of the Queens and Brooklyn part of the district. I wanna make sure that we’re working with the federal government to get that cleaned up, and making sure that folks in Greenpoint have the ability to have a say in what things look like. 

But also, the truth of the matter is that climate change is already affecting us. And I don’t think we can deny that anymore. Folks who are denying it, look no further than some of the storms that have happened in the last decade, like Sandy. It’s kind of ironic because the 59th senate district, if you look at the district, virtually that entire district was underwater. This is a district that’s being affected by climate change right now…the waters are gonna come when the storms come, and storms are just gonna get stronger. And if we’re just putting up bandaids and making sure that certain communities are protected from the water, that’s not helpful because the water’s gotta go somewhere. I wanna look at a project that’s called barrages. It’s done in Europe, I believe in the Netherlands. They’re built deep underwater, across long stretches between the ocean and the rivers and inland waterways and when you see an approaching storm, you have the ability to raise these. It takes about 24 hours to raise them, and they block the storm surge coming from the ocean. Is it gonna be expensive? Sure, it’s gonna be expensive. But in the long term, what’s more expensive? Getting flooded every time there’s a storm, or spend money into this and solving the problem so that communities aren’t affected, that people aren’t displaced, that the economy isn’t affected by it as well. To be quite honest, I think that doing something like that would be economically prudent in the long term. That’s one of the things that I really wanna push hard for in the State Senate, to find a way, whether it’s the state doing it with another state, or the federal government, or if we have to look at the Army Corps of engineers on this to help us build it, whatever it takes, I wanna make sure that we’re taking that time and having that conversation, and if it’s feasible, let’s do it. 

You have a day off, but you have to spend it all in the district. Where are you going, what are you eating, what kinds of activities are you doing?

I would definitely wanna spend a lot of time outdoors. There’s wonderful outdoor spaces on the East River waterfront, StuyTown, Peter Cooper, but also there’s wonderful outdoor spaces in Long Island City, Astoria, and Greenpoint. I’ve spent many a day hanging out in McCarren Park with friends of mine who live out there. That would be great. Playing softball on the field at McCarren Park, maybe walking over to Federoff’s for a cheesesteak afterward. Unfortunately, there was a fire there recently but I would have gone to Union Pool afterwards, hung out at the outdoor taco truck over there.

The Long Island City waterfront has been beautified beyond belief from when I grew up. Spending time there would be great. Walking along Astoria Park, walking up and down the great lawn. Spending time just walking around, if I’m being honest. I think that’s one of the best parts of this district, that you can walk anywhere, whether it be in Manhattan, Queens, or Brooklyn, and just have places you can enjoy. If I’m in Long Island City, I’d probably make sure that I stop by Sac’s Place for a couple of slices. If it’s here in Manhattan, virtually anywhere I go, I could grab a bite to eat and hang out with friends. 

Anything else you want readers to know about you?

For all the great ideas that we talked about today, the biggest thing that I could do as State Senator for this district is listen. I could come in with a million great ideas, but the best ideas are gonna come from a conversation with somebody from the community. So I’m always going to be listening intently and making sure that where I’m doing my job well, I can continue to do it, and when I’m not, I’m making sure that we’re doing better to serve all the different parts of this senate district, but the main one is that I need to make sure that I’m consistently listening to the community, to make sure that I’m doing my job well. 

The final thing is that when I thought about running, there was a phrase that came into my head: “Nobody wins, unless everybody wins.” It’s something that Bruce Springsteen used to say during his concerts in the 1980s in the midst of the Reagan era, while asking concert-goers to donate to the local food bank. What that phrase means is that until everybody has a good paying job, has a roof over their heads, everybody can put food on the table for their families, we can’t consider ourselves winners. So in the end, nobody wins, unless everybody wins, and that’s the reason I’m running.

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