With the specter of the New York City mayoral election looming, demonstrators gathered for a march at City Hall last Sunday and demanded that the city invest in neighborhoods still reeling from Superstorm Sandy one year later.
None of the mayoral candidates were present but Bill de Blasio's catchphrase, "a tale of two cities," resonated strongly with the participants.
"We've heard a lot about a tale of two cities and confronting inequality in this city, all of us are here today to build back one city for all of us. We do not want a tale of two recoveries," said Matt Ryan, executive director of ALIGN: Alliance for a Greater New York.
ALIGN organized the march, which brought together various union and community groups, including 32BJ SEIU, Make the Road NY and Legal Aid Society.
Some of the groups (hailing from areas hardest-hit by Sandy) organized residents who traveled to City Hall together.
Toni Khadijah James made the trek with Red Hook Initiative. She wanted to keep pressure on government officials to finish the job of recovery so that when the next storm washes ashore, her community won't be left out to dry.
"We are still in danger, nothing has changed," Ms. James said. "We need jobs, we need money, [we need] the infrastructure to be taken care of correctly. We need to know that we're safe in these buildings where we occupy, we live here, [and] we have our children here."
One year after the storm, temporary outdoor boilers are still being used at the Red Hook Houses where James lives. Some apartments have lost the battle against mold, while others have leaky roofs, all of this on top of the repairs that needed to be done before Sandy.
Red Hook Houses is the largest housing project in Brooklyn and the second largest in the city with about 6,000 residents, but community organizers say the neglect and lack of repairs is common throughout all of public housing.
"We want the next mayor to understand that the repairs here in public housing should be at the top of the list," said Julian Vigo, community organizer at Red Hook Initiative and Community Voices Heard. "The apartments are in pretty bad shape, the buildings are in pretty bad shape and there's no way we can talk about rebuilding the city if these communities don't get the repairs they need."
But repairs are just the beginning. United by the march's motto, "Turn the Tide," speakers at the event also called on the next mayor to turn the tide on rising inequality by investing in job creation, more affordable housing, sustainable energy and health care.
Iona Folkes, a nurse at St. John's Episcopal Hospital made an especially impassioned plea about the importance of good healthcare and hospitals in the fight for a fairer New York City. Citing the role of St. John's (which had been threatened with closure) in caring for Far Rockaway's patients immediately after the storm, she implored government to keep hospitals open and support healthcare citywide.
"I'm here to ask the elected officials, don't forget the community, don't forget the disenfranchised," stated Ms. Folkes. "Don't forget that the community that needs healthcare the most is the underserved community."
Whoever the city chooses to elect on Tuesday, November 5th, the new mayor will have to decide how to uplift downtrodden neighborhoods with limited resources—no easy task in a city as big as New York, but one that's fairly simple James believes.
The key to banishing a tale of two cities comes down to equal spending.
"Money is the key to everything, you just have to make sure that it's divvied out correctly, that no one gets more than the other one, that it's all split up evenly so everyone gets a chance to expand and make it a better place to live," Ms. James added.