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Elections 2022: Christian Amato on Education, the Environment and Quality-of-Life

By EMILY SAWAKED

CHRISTIAN AMATO
Photo courtesy of Christian Amato

The son of Italian immigrants and former theater professional, Christian Amato is a candidate for State Senate District 34, covering parts of both the East Bronx and Westchester county, in this year’s Democratic primary. He began his campaign in February and said he is eager to continue to serve the people of The Bronx.

Amato’s political career first started with organizing in response to Trump’s election. “I got my start organizing, connecting immigrant Bronxites to DACA initiatives,” he said. “As the son of immigrants, that was really important for me. You know, that was the time we saw the Muslim ban and all these different sorts[s] of violations towards our immigration system from the Trump administration.”

He continued, “My family had this opportunity to come to this country and build a life for themselves, and that’s an experience that I think every immigrant should be entitled to.” After being asked to help a campaign in North Carolina, he came back to The Bronx to apply what he did in Raleigh, there.

“That’s when Alessandra Biaggi ran [for Senate District 34, in 2018],” Amato said. “I got involved in her race from her. I was one of her field leads from her, and I also was her lead digital strategist, developing much of the messaging and digital strategy that helped us win that campaign. ”

He said after that, he helped lead her effort in the general election, and added that the senator, who is currently running for Congress in NY-17, chose Amato to be her chief of staff and district director, which he did for quite some time. There were some rumors of discord amid Amato’s departure from Biaggi’s office and the senator recently endorsed Amato’s opponent in the SD 34 race, Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez (AD 80). Norwood News reached out to both Biaggi’s office and Amato’s campaign for comment.

We did not receive an immediate response from Biaggi’s office. Amato responded, saying, “You know, people are free to endorse whoever they want. Based on the support Nathalia’s gotten from Republican pro-charter backers from IDC (Independent Democratic Caucus) members, you know, I think it’s certainly interesting, but the things people do for the sake of politics, you know, don’t surprise me. ” Norwood News reached out to the assemblywoman for comment on Amato’s statements, and her campaign had no comment.

We also asked Amato if he had had a dispute with Biaggi around the time of his departure from his office. He replied, “You know, her and I have differences of opinion when it comes to how to serve the community. I’m running because I have a clear vision on how I want to serve the community. I’m focused on my race, and fighting for the policies that my district is looking for me to fight for.”

Meanwhile, in terms of his career to date, Amato continued, “I went on to continue doing the work of elevating Democrats across The Bronx and Westchester, overlapping with this region.” During the pandemic, Amato said he organized to help those without the proper PPE needed for everyday use. “We live in the wealthiest state in the world, and here we are, we can’t even get people a box of PPE,” he said. “When I learned that the city was sleeping on resources, and there were millions of masks sitting in basically airplane hangers across the city with an inch thick sheet of dust over them, I said, ‘What are we doing here?’”

He said he later drove around street corners with a flatbed truck giving out full boxes of masks and sanitizer and COVID kits. This, he said, he paid for out of pocket at the height of the pandemic.

Later, he said he began to deliver food. “I formed a $3 million food partnership with Driscoll foods that we would deliver,” he said. “We would distribute hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh produce weekly, and the same thing. I’d rent trucks out of pocket. I’d often do four food drives a day, driving to different communities with a full truck of produce.”

The young candidate said he wasn’t the only one doing this. “I’d have 15 to 20 community leaders from across The Bronx meet me at the drop-off point,” he said. “Each would load up a truck, filled with fresh fruits and vegetables from Driscoll foods.” Amato said he has also done plenty of community work, including helping out at shelters and working to elevate transgender wellness and equity.

In terms of the policies he wishes to implement, if elected, he said, “Education, fully funding our public schools, making SUNY and CUNY free for all New Yorkers and expanding universal pre-K up to Westchester county.” He added, “Environment, expanding our coastal resilience, offering tax incentives, weatherization, and investing in our hard and soft green infrastructure.”

His third priority is quality of life. He cited accessible public transportation, affordable healthcare, and quality housing for seniors. “I’m going into this expecting to win and then ready to work with my colleagues and build bridges with my colleagues across the State to be able to do good things for our communities,” Amato said.

“These policies don’t just have an impact here. Remember, as a senator, you’re impacting all New Yorkers. So, if I can help expand universal pre-K to Westchester, that also means we’re expanding that to several counties in the State outside of New York City, and that’s very important. In a time where parents are suffering with finding a job, trying to find a good job, figuring out what to do with childcare, something like that can be transformative for the quality of life and the economic mobility of many in our communities across the state .”

To implement these policies, Amato said he would use funding allocated in the State budget by Gov. Kathy Hochul, and federal funds allocated by President Joe Biden. He also believes in taxing corporations that contribute the most to pollution.

“Our budget rivals most economies, our taxes are the highest in the country and yet, we can’t afford to be a leader,” he said. “It doesn’t add up, this politics of austerity, in the time where we have to uplift as many New Yorkers as possible, not just coming out of this pandemic, but we’re in a perceived downturn that might become a recession again .”

Amato said investment was needed to stimulate growth. “All of these things that I’m proposing come with job growth and job creation, and so, these investments aren’t just in our quality of life and improving our communities and providing housing or safety and security. These are economic generators as well. You look at the Climate, Community and Investment Act, which would create a tax on our largest polluters, corporations who are our largest polluters, that would generate $15 billion a year.”

The candidate’s concerns for the upcoming election are voter turnout, which he said was “abysmal” in the past during the elections for State governor and Mayor of New York City. However, he said he had confidence in his team, and his campaign.

During a BronxNet debate which aired on Monday, Aug. 8, with the other candidates in the race, Amato was criticized by his opponent, John Perez, for his alleged prior stance on publicly defaming the police by carrying a sign that read, “All Cops Are B*stards.” Amato addressed the point, saying crime budgets may vary year-to-year depending on priorities, that he had “marched for police accountability” and that investment in other areas like cure violence programs was another way to reduce street crime.

Norwood News followed up with Amato to ask him if he was in favor of defunding the police then or now. He replied, “No, I’ve called for police accountability. I expect accountability in all forms of our governments and in all forms of our agencies, and I think it’s completely okay to be critical of our government and expect it to perform better.”

I added, “I’ve never called for defunding the police. My viewpoint is that budgets are fluid documents. You know, in 2019, after seeing such a rise in police brutality, it absolutely made sense to commit to investing dollars into community resources. You know, coming out of this pandemic, though, with spikes in crime, I think it makes absolute sense to invest those dollars in better training our officers to respond to these local crises.”

He concluded, “So, budgets are fluid documents and it’s going to change based on the climate of our communities where the dollars should go. Right now, I’m very believing that we need to invest in restoring the dignity of what it means to be a police officer, invest in restoring community respect and instilling trust, and absolutely better training and stronger accountability.”

His final message to voters was the following: “I’m the only candidate who has been, who is a lifelong Bronxite, who has been born and raised here, and worked in these communities, and served these communities. I’m the only candidate running with a roadmap for our communities, and my friends live here, my family lives here, and I’m really interested in fighting to make sure that this community gets the attention it deserves.”

Election Day is Aug. 23 and early voting starts Aug. 13. Voters are reminded to check their polling site prior to heading to the polls as it may have changed. For more information, click here.

*Yesle Moloney contributed to this story.

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