Exclusive: Mayoral Hopeful Curtis Sliwa Talks CUNY, Education, Vax Mandate

Mayoral Candidate Curtis Sliwa./AP Photo by Mary Altaffer

By Owen Russell


   After the mayoral primaries in June, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams became the Democratic nominee, while Curtis Sliwa, the founder of a crime prevention non-profit called the Guardian Angels, won the Republican race. 

   While the two candidates have spoken about healthcare and law enforcement publicly, little is known about their plans for CUNY if elected. The city’s next mayor will be responsible for appointing five members to the university’s Board of Trustees, a panel that oversees CUNY’s budget and decisions. They will also negotiate the budget of CUNY community colleges, tuition assistance programs like CUNY ASAP, food pantries, and other services, as reported by The Envoy.

   The Vanguard reached out to both primary nominees to ask for their take on issues pertinent to CUNY students. Adams’ campaign did not respond to The Vanguard’s interview requests. Sliwa, however, sat down and discussed his views on the current state of New York City’s public higher education.

   “CUNY for generations has been the stepping stone for the poor and lower middle class sons and daughters of New York City,” Sliwa said, “and it needs to continue in that tradition.” As for how Sliwa plans to maintain CUNY’s status as a “stepping-stone,” his first concern is ending remote learning.

   “We have to get students back in the classroom as soon as possible.” he said, “We understand that there will be some hiccups, but this online learning is not working.” Though more in-person and hybrid classes have returned this semester, with 50 percent of fall courses at Brooklyn College instructed in one of these modalities, Sliwa thinks more students should return to the classroom. 

   “Why should an entire generation be made to suffer and be forced to lose a year or more of valuable education?,” said Sliwa, noting that his three sons, while not yet college aged, have struggled with online learning.

   For students who returned to campus this fall, CUNY implemented a vaccine mandate and a deadline for approved verification that passed this Oct. 7, per former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s orders. Under the current policy, students may be exempted from showing proof of vaccination due to approved religious or medical reasons. Despite being vaccinated himself, Sliwa believes that if a student does not want to be vaccinated, they should not be required to receive the jab. His opponent Adams, however, has voiced his strong support for vaccine mandates

   “I would encourage any faculty or students to get vaccinated,” said Sliwa, “but if you choose, for whatever reason to not get vaccinated, then you deserve the option to get tested weekly.” 

   In addition to the vaccine mandate, Sliwa stressed that many of the problems CUNY faces need to be addressed before students enter college.

   “CUNY is expected to make up for the lack of education people are receiving in the public school system,” Sliwa said, explaining that the education system needs to be fixed from the ground up.

   “The problem needs to be addressed at the junior high school level,” Sliwa opined. He said throughout the interview that he believes there should be more of a focus on making sure students retain information from their classes before they are passed to the next grade. 

   Sliwa also thinks some students should consider vocational training. A vocational school focuses its teaching on trade jobs, such as plumbing, electrical work, and carpentry.  

   “Many students may have a propensity to these skills, which will be in high demand,” noted Sliwa. 

   Sliwa ended the interview by comparing the CUNY system to that of Ivy League schools, stressing that he wants to help the university in any way possible. Though Eric Adams did not speak with The Vanguard, students can hear both him and Sliwa discuss New York City’s most pressing issues in two separate debates streamed by WNBC-NY. The first will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 20 and the second on Tuesday, Oct. 26. 

   Early voting for the election begins on Oct. 23 and ends on Oct. 31. On Nov. 2, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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