Interview: Mayoral Hopeful Art Chang Wants to Take on the Childcare Crisis

“One of the real roles of government is to use the available innovations to really speed and enable the mission that they set out to accomplish,” says the former JPMorgan Managing Director-turned-progressive.

John Tarleton & Rob Katz Feb 3, 2021

As of early Feb. 2021, the NYC mayoral race is a wide field with more than 20 candidates and no clear front-runner — a throwback to the crowded and elastic 2020 Democratic presidential contest. Art Chang is one of the candidates working to separate themselves from the pack and build name recognition through one of the race’s more liberal platforms.

Chang, a political neophyte like many of his opponents, brings with him a host of public and private sector experiences: the NYC Law Department, the NYS Empire State Development Corporation, the Indiana Department of Child Services, the City University of New York, and the NYC Campaign Finance Board (CFB), where he helped establish NYC Votes, the city’s public-facing suite of fundraising and voter participation tools.

As a Managing Director at JPMorgan Chase, Chang has taken an unusual path to the progressive lane of the mayoral race. His campaign website counterbalances that finance background, claiming that Chang “knows how the system of capital works,” and that he has “taken private sector experience to work for the public good by expanding access to technology as an onramp to the American Dream.” 

He recently appeared on The Indypendent News Hour which airs on WBAI-99.5 FM Tuesdays 5-6 pm. This is a lightly edited version of that interview

Indypendent: You haven’t held any elective office previously. What do you believe you bring to the table that none of the other mayoral candidates do in terms of your life experience and what you’ve accomplished, as well as the platform that you’re running on?

Art Chang: My life experience is pretty unique. I was born in Jim Crow, Atlanta, and grew up in an all-white school district in Akron, Ohio. I faced racism on the street and domestic violence at home. I know what it’s like to feel afraid when I walk out onto the street — in my case, it was because when I saw white boys walking down the street in a group, I would cross the street. I also know what it’s like to be afraid for my mother’s safety and wonder if she’s going to be alive the next morning. I know what it’s like to fear the police as much as I wanted them to help me. 

I took that energy and ended up becoming the second man to graduate with a Women’s Studies degree from Yale. That powered my 30-year career track record in public service, but also a 35-year parallel track record creating innovation in the private sector.

You’ve made providing universal child care here in the city a central plank of your campaign platform. Why is that? And how do you plan to carry it out if you’re elected?

We have a childcare crisis at the moment that is really affecting parents, but especially women. Last year, as of September, over 800,000 jobs were lost nationally by women and primarily by black and Brown women. In December alone, a hundred percent of the job loss was borne by women. 144,000 jobs were lost, all by women in, again, overwhelmingly black and Brown communities, poor communities. 

So the impact is quite significant. And so this has really created a setback for women that has really threatened to undo decades of progress for women in pay equity, career advancement and achieving independence.

Childcare is so important because childcare is the beginning of how we start to re-establish the balance between work and families. [Mothers] can get back to work, they can go and finish their degrees. They can take care of their elder parents. They can do other things that are important for their own wellbeing. 

But we all know about the inequities — social inequities from healthcare and education. As we know, the very early stages of development are absolutely critical for the wellbeing of the child and therefore for the longer-term wellbeing of the family and the community. So we can establish a level playing-field from ages one to four, with nutrition, healthcare monitoring – monitoring things like learning development and physical development – to ensure that these children are all best prepared to be able to succeed in society.

A third reason this is important is because these places can become the center points for community delivery of services from maternal health to prenatal health to dealing with postnatal issues for truly needy families. This can be a place for distributing products like diapers and formula and other things that really will help the lives of these families. 

“[COVID-19]  has really created a setback for women that has really threatened to undo decades of progress for women in pay equity, career advancement and achieving independence.”

Maybe the most important thing is that our vision for universal childcare is community-based. There are thousands of women today in the city who take care of multiple children generally for no pay or sub-minimum wage. This is a way for us to significantly augment the number of community-based organizations, putting childcare in the communities that currently don’t have childcare and providing jobs, real jobs, for women who have previously been unpaid for [this] work. This could be a significant economic boost for underserved communities.

You’ve previously said that you’re most proud of your role in establishing NYC Votes. Can you talk about that a little bit more and why that means so much to you?

I think one of the real roles of government is to use the available innovations to really speed and enable the mission that they set out to accomplish. 

The CFB had two objectives with NYC Votes. The first was to be able to have a much more user-friendly digital way to provide even better information than was available in the Voter Guide to every voter across the city. The other mission of the CFB was to increase the number of first-time and smaller candidates who could then effectively run. Before, the regulations, especially around credit card processing of small transactions, were incredibly burdensome and onerous.

So what NYC Votes did it was it solved both sides of the equation. We created a very user-friendly way to get information about everybody who’s on your ballot in New York City. On the other hand, we made it much easier, much more possible for small and first-time candidates to run. I’m one of those people. You can look around and see how many people are running for the first time this year. There are historic numbers of candidates, and it is a testament to how successful this has been. 

Beyond these innovations that you want to bring into city government, how do you envision, if you were mayor, really rallying this city to address the pandemic and its aftermath and the economic wreckage we’re dealing with? That’s gonna be a tall order for whoever gets the job.

The projected budget’s deficits have been very, very difficult. People will also look at all the failures of the de Blasio administration as signs of how difficult government should be, but there are some actual steps that we can take to both of those issues and then enable us to actually create a vision for how we move forward. 

Very few people seem to be focused on the fact that the city’s budget has grown by about $20 billion in the past eight years. Almost all of that growth has come from added administration and overhead in every department, including the police. So when you think about what we’re spending our money on as a city and what we should be spending money on, there seems to be a huge opportunity to actually reallocate money from overhead into essential services.

The second thing has to do with this sort of general dysfunction in the government. The mayor operates the city in siloed agencies. There is virtually no coordination between the agencies for almost anything. Agencies often conflict with each other, and they have overlapping roles and jurisdictions. This is very painful for everybody, whether you’re trying to get benefits or whether you’re trying to get a building permit or trying to operate a restaurant.

The third area is really collaboration and that’s about shortening the distance between the mayor and the people. I represent that by having open office hours, which are available on my website. Anyone can meet me, just click on the link and select the time that’s convenient for you. I run open office hours seven days a week, and I’d love to meet you.

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