Meet Layla Law-Gisiko, Candidate to Succeed Assemblymember Gottfried

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NOTE: The section preceding the Q&A was updated on Feb. 9 to reflect new info on the race and its candidates.

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Picture it: January 1, 2021. As New York City’s first COVID-era election cycle unfolds, online forums replace brick and mortar gatherings as the candidate vetting venue of choice. The format proves popular, with tenant organizations and block associations holding their own candidate forums alongside more traditional presenters such as political clubs. Flash forward one year and NYC has a new mayor, comptroller, Manhattan District Attorney, and District 3 City Councilmember—all charged with setting a course to guide the city through the post-pandemic era many thought we’d be in by now.

But as the Omicron variant demonstrated, life is full of game-changing twists—such as the one that came via a December 13, 2021 press release noting New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried will not seek reelection. The 2022 ballot was suddenly the first one in over five decades without Gottfried as a choice for the NYC Assembly District 75 seat. Those who would succeed him were quick to react, with several announcing their intent in little more than 24 hours after Gottfried’s announcement. The current crop of candidates is comprised of five-year Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4) member Chris LeBron, current CB4 member and former CB4 Chair Lowell Kern, Manhattan Community Board 5 (CB5) member Layla Law-Gisiko, former leader of the Reimagine New York Commission’s support for workforce and small businesses Harrison Marks, Penn South Co-Op President Ambur Nicosia, and community organizer Tony Simone. (Campaigns have been suspended by former NYC Council staffer Louis Holden-Brown and Carl Wilson, formally NYC Council Speaker/District 3 rep Corey Johnson’s liaison to CB4.)

Two political clubs have already presented online opportunities to learn about the candidates. First up was Jan. 27’s Zoom-held forum sponsored by the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats (HKDems), available to view by clicking here. A Feb. 2 forum held by the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club can be viewed by clicking here. Chelsea Community News began our own coverage by sending an identical Q&A form to all candidates—which brings us to the below exchange with Layla Law-Gisiko.

Scott Stiffler, for Chelsea Community News (CCNews): Why do you want the job, and what tone will you set to align yourself with, and/or set yourself apart, from your predecessor?

Photo courtesy of Layla For New York/AD75.

Layla Law-Gisiko (Layla): It is an honor to run for a seat that was held for so long by Assemblymember Gottfried. I am particularly well suited to join the state assembly, as in my 16 years on community board five, I have dealt with most of the issues that the legislature deals with, including school funding, MTA, affordable housing programs, to name a few. I have an intimate knowledge of the issues and of the legislative system. I can write a bill and I can read an Environmental Impact Statement. I’m fully fluent in the technical lingo of the job. As an Assemblymember, I will continue to fight against the State project to raze nine city blocks to build supertall office towers around Penn Station. And I will continue to advocate for a real plan to turn Penn into a first class transit hub.

CCNews: What currently enacted Assembly legislation can be strengthened or used in a different manner to further benefit the people you’re running to represent?

Layla: The affordable housing program known as 421-a is an utter failure. It is time to fully repeal this antiquated article that benefits only developers and fails to deliver units of affordable housing. The Governor has proposed an update to the program but in name only. Continuing 421-a is a huge waste of tax dollars and a missed opportunity to invest in sound housing policies that actually work for the communities we serve.

CCNews: During last year’s primary races, we asked candidates what they’d do in January 2022, to create a strong “post-pandemic” NYC. Our assessment was too optimistic. How do you regard the pandemic as it currently stands, what is required before we can declare ourselves in a “post-pandemic” period, and what should we be doing now, at the state level, to facilitate that?

Layla:From the deaths of our elderly and vulnerable to mental health consequences for our children and teenagers, the pandemic has had devastating impact on our community. It is critical to understand that if the COVID-19 virus becomes endemic, we need to have a set of health policy protocols, developed with the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] and the NIH [National Institutes of Health], to determine what our realistic goals are, and what actions we take based on the roadmap we set for our state. Now we must provide at-home test kits, support our healthcare system with PPE [personal protection equipment], and adequate funding for our hospitals—especially for staffing. We must prepare for the next variants. Overall, we need to anticipate and become proactive, as the reactive health policy implementation has been devastating to our community.

CCNews: The time machine has been invented. Once you’ve played the stock market, it’s time to visit your younger self. What, if any, actions do you tell yourself to take or avoid—and what concert ticket do you buy?

Layla: I would tell my younger self to not hold back on strong advocacy. I may have thought that it was somebody else’s job to fix societal problems, or that a bad compromise was better than no compromise at all. The truth is that we need to fight all the good fights. As Aaron Sorkin puts it in Ziegler’s voice, “It’s not the battles we lose that bother me, it’s the ones we don’t suit up for.” As a leader on Community Board Five, I have relentlessly advocated for us to fight all the good fights our district has been faced with. I still have burning regrets that I missed David Bowie’s 50th Birthday Concert at Madison Square Garden in 2018!

CCNews: The current Assemblymember is often seen alongside the Manhattan Borough President, our District 3 Councilmember, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler at press conferences or as a signee to action-oriented letters (often generated by Community Board 4). How will you work local elected officials and stakeholders to advance matters of mutual importance?

Layla: As a member of the leadership of Community Board Five, I work with our elected officials to join our efforts. Many issues in our district are multi-jurisdictional. They absolutely require the concerted participation of all our representatives. For example, I have taken the lead in the Penn area project in working with our colleagues in congress, state and city government to issue letters, work behind the scenes, and push the state, ESD and MTA to deliver a better project. More recently, I persuaded Councilmember Powers to write a letter with all the elected representatives to recommend that LPC designates the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown. Once in the assembly, I will continue to work very closely with my elected colleagues who represent matters of mutual importance and are of concern to my constituents.

CCNews: Conflict and Compromise: What do these words mean to you, in terms of their role in being an effective Assemblymember?

Layla: Conflict: while many will understand conflict to be the confrontation of opposite views, what concerns me the most is actually the conflict of interest that is plaguing our government, especially at the state level. It is essential that JCOPE be entirely reformed, and I will make it a priority to work with Senator Liz Krueger on her version of the bill to reform ethics. Compromise: It is essential to compromise to achieve passing legislations, to hear the other side and work as hard as we can to broker agreements to get work done. Deadlocks are not the way to govern, but by the same token, grabbing the first deal that comes is not in the interest of our community. We need to hold ourselves to the highest standard, to refuse to fall to the sirens of the “victory lap,” and fight for the best possible outcome for our constituents. Compromise has gotten a bad rap because it has been conflated with laziness. I am committed to delivering the most hard-worked good compromises efficiently, in the most practical, least amount of time.

CCNews: Favorite Golden Girl, and why: Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, or Rose?

Layla: Dorothy is my favorite Golden Girl. She is sharp and acerbic. She stands up for her friends and for values that we should all share. I’d want her on my team!

CCNews: You took the time to answer our questions—even that last one, which, frankly, was a little gimmicky. So in the interest of fairness, we end by turning the tables: What one question do you want people to ask themselves when casting their vote in your race?

Layla: I want to ask people to ask themselves: What do you want your Assemblymember to do for you? And what skills and qualities do you want your Assemblymember to possess? A strong representative should have the knowledge, the endurance, the dedication and commitment, the attention to granular details and the big picture view, to serve their constituents. They should be fresh from the old-club politics and the business-as-usual mojo. A good Assemblymember should see this office as an end goal and not a stepping stone. A good Assemblymember should have an open-door policy, with the best possible staff to offer the most dedicated constituents services possible. A good Assemblymember should be free from conflict of interest.


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