Just days before the April 15 tax filing deadline, visitors to the East River Development Alliance (ERDA) — a nonprofit aimed at improving the lives of Public Housing residents — left with their taxes filed and a handshake from City Councilman Eric Gioia.
“You hear about all these [politicians], but you never seem them. [Gioia] comes out and talks to you,” said Gonzalo Rivera, a dairy company worker who lives in Woodside, Queens.
While Rivera, 49, waited at the Long Island City site for help with his taxes, Gioia (D-Queens) sat next to him and chatted.
With one week left until tax day, Gioia, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Bishop Mitchell Taylor were at the ERDA site to encourage low-income New Yorkers to take advantage of free or cheap tax preparation services.
In an effort to reach out to regular New Yorkers, Gioia, who has represented Long Island City and Woodside since 2002, said he will make many similar visits throughout the five boroughs in his run for public advocate.
“When you engage citizens in the life of their city, you can do great things,” Gioia, 35, said in a forum for the Democratic public advocate candidates at the City University of New York School of Law last month.
Gioia believes he is an ideal public advocate because he, too, is a regular New Yorker — a kid who grew up in Woodside and paid his way through college by working as a janitor and a doorman.
Since he still takes the subway to work, Gioia said he can appreciate how the impending fare increase will hurt the middle class. Instead of fare hikes, Gioia, the chairman of the Council’s Investigations Committee, said he favors a commuter tax, which affects “wealthier people in Westchester.”
At the CUNY forum, the other Democratic candidates — former Public Advocate Mark Green, civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, and Brooklyn Councilman Bill de Blasio — also tried to appeal to the average New Yorker.
Green focused on his past successes and recounted how he fought to rid New York City of cigarette ads. Siegel, defeated by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum in 2001 and 2005, emphasized his plans for the future, which include decentralizing the office of Public Advocate. And de Blasio talked about his work to preserve public school funding.
Because Gotbaum, who was against the City Council’s decision to extend term limits, opted not to run for a third term, the public advocate race should be especially vigorous.
Gioia, also against term extensions, said his grassroots campaign style is “shoe leather,” meaning he seeks direct contact with voters. For this reason, he uses the Internet heavily in his campaigning.
During the coming summer campaign season, he will continue “tapping into existing social networks,” and encouraging community leaders to mobilize their friends and neighbors. “It’s about helping people help themselves,” he said.
The candidate uses social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter to connect with supporters, telling them about his positions on current issues and where he’ll be campaigning.
“Thanks to my family for coming to tonight’s debate, especially my mom and dad,” Gioia tweeted after the CUNY forum.
Gioia has raised $2.2 million, more than the other five candidates — including Republican Alex Zablocki, and currently unaffiliated Imtiaz Syed — combined.
Rivera called Gioia the “perfect” public advocate, saying, “He has my vote for sure.”