At a mayoral forum hosted by the NYC Hospitality Alliance last Wednesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley and former Citi executive Ray McGuire discussed how to best help revive the struggling restaurant industry.
A fifth mayoral hopeful, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, was also supposed to attend, but missed the event because he was at home recovering from COVID-19.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the alliance and the moderator of the forum, noted that over the past year the city lost 140,000 jobs in restaurants and bars. He said the industry has been “absolutely devastated.”
“We need our city’s restaurants and nightlife spots to be at the core of the recovery,” he said. “The next mayor is going to be so critical in helping rebuild and support our industry during a long recovery.”
Adams, who described himself as an “old friend” to the nightlife industry, touted several proposals in his “100 Steps Forward” plan that outlines policies he would enact as mayor. One of his ideas is to launch “MyCity,” a centralized portal where business owners can manage paperwork and interact with city agency representatives.
The borough president also calls for implementing a warning system for violations that prioritizes education instead of fines. Under this system, “red” violations need to be repaired right away, “yellow” ones have to be addressed in one to two weeks and a “green” violation gives business owners 30 days to fix.
“We have to stop the heavy-handed enforcement,” Adams said. “We are more focused on ‘I gotcha’ than ‘I got your back.’”
The mayoral hopeful said under his administration, city agencies would no longer operate “in silos” and work together to help businesses.
“Too many people believe you are an endless cash chow,” he added. “We have to stop thinking that way.”
Stringer painted himself as a proven public servant with 30 years of experience and the financial skills to bring back the restaurant industry. His recovery platform includes providing tax incentives to small businesses opening in high-vacancy commercial corridors. He also called for reducing fines and fees on restaurants.
The candidate has called for splitting the Department of Buildings in half, reforming the inspection process to make it more user friendly and getting rid of the “expeditors” who help small businesses navigate the complex permitting process.
“When I win this primary, I will be ready on day one,” Stringer said. “No training wheels.”
Wiley introduced herself as a longtime “changemaker” who has spent three decades building coalitions and designing policies to create equity. While her father was a prominent civil rights leader, her mother, Wiley noted, was a small business owner.
When the bottom “fell out” of that venture, her mother opened up an art gallery.
The first-time candidate said she will soon put out a plan to address the issue of high commercial rents, which she said is a huge problem affecting small business owners today.
“I will be a cheerleader for the industry,” she said.
Wiley also called for creating a “one-stop shop” where city agencies will coordinate in a centralized way to help small businesses.
“The problem is people in government trying to help us have never run a business,” she added. “It becomes one-size-fits-all and doesn’t take into account different industries.”
McGuire, a Wall Street executive, said at the forum that he understands the world of budgets and business through his own financial career. He has released a “Comeback Plan” that includes a wage subsidy to bring back 50,000 jobs for small businesses, providing relief for rent and utility bills, and empowering business improvement districts (BIDs).
He also plans to host the “NYC Comeback Festival” in spring 2022, a year-long event that will include venues, galleries, performance stages, bars and restaurants in every neighborhood.
As for city regulations, McGuire is proposing a “shot-clock” for businesses, where agencies would have 180 days to complete permit approvals. The plan also includes creating a commission to reduce red tape.
As mayor, McGuire said his Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and deputy mayors would be empowered to treat small businesses like clients.
“In my four decades in business, I’ve never gone with a promise unfulfilled,” he said.
When asked about their positions on balancing wage and benefits increases for workers against the growing costs of running small businesses, all four candidates called for striking a proper balance.
Wiley said business owners and workers should not be pitted against each other, and that she will not shy away from those “hard conversations,” but rather lead them.
Adams said while he supports wage increases and policies like paid time off, he said government should find ways to help businesses alleviate their costs. One idea he proposed is using local chambers of commerce to help with documentation and filing.
“I am clear that when we increase the minimum wage, we improve our city,” he said. “We [also] need to bring down your costs of doing business to allow you to be productive.”
McGuire called for more public-private partnerships to help small businesses ease their burdens while also ensuring workers have benefits. Similarly, Stringer said he supports workers being paid fairly while also working to offset those costs so small business owners can invest in their employees.
“I do believe this is something we can accomplish by bringing both together,” he added.