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Our sit-down with Bay Ridge City Council Candidate Liam McCabe

Making his pitch: Bay Ridge City Council Candidate Liam McCabe spoke with the editors of the Bay Ridge Courier on Aug. 11.
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Republican candidate Liam McCabe, who gave up his job working for Rep. Dan Donovan (R–Bay Ridge) over the winter and now works as a driver for Uber, also sat down with the editors on Aug. 11 to discuss his run to replace Gentile. A self-described “compassion­ate conservati­ve,” McCabe started his journey to politics as a registered Democrat, but soon shifted to the Conservative Party — after becoming friends with state Conservative Party chairman Mike Long back when he worked in his political mentor’s Fifth Avenue liquor store, Long’s Wine and Liquors — before more recently switching to the Grand Old Party. During the wide-ranging discussion, McCabe — who has $95,095 in his war chest — also had much to say about the quality-of-life issues plaguing the district, but the recovering alcoholic also touched on city-wide and national concerns, including the growing opioid epidemic.

On his qualifications and why he’s running:

McCabe said his constituent-service work for Congress members representing the district both inspired his run and gave him the necessary experience to serve on the Council. Most of all, he said, he wants to give back to a community which supported him through adversity.

“My experience in public service, helping people is probably what motivated me to run more than anything else. I really enjoy solving problems and helping people. I’d like to take the experience I have, and the passion I have for community service and politics, and take it to the next level on the Council. One of the things I say on the stump is that my community raised me up when I was down, and it’s my turn to give back. I grew up in poverty, my father was homeless, my father was a veteran. It was a tough upbringing that I had — my parents were divorced, we were pretty poor. That gives me an intimate and more unique understanding of homelessness, why homeless people do the things they do, sometimes they just refuse the help.”

On the Council’s pay raise, and outside income:

McCabe opposed the raise, but said that Council members should be allowed to earn outside income as long as there was no conflict of interest.

“I definitely don’t agree with the raise — I think it’s way too much. There definitely should be a concern with lobbying and consulting. You really shouldn’t be tied to any law firms that have a lobbying wing. Employment that provides a conflict of interest, the Conflict of Interest Board should review all types of employment, all streams of revenue, to make sure it’s kosher, but they can’t dictate everything. What if I wanted to be an Uber driver?”

On the opioid crisis and funding for heroin-injection sites:

McCabe, who says his homeless, alcoholic father died in 2005 from hypothermia after passing out in a drainage pipe, said he would rather aggressively fund treatment options for addicts instead of opening so-called “safe spaces” for supervised injection. Specifically, he favors sending addicts to in-patient rehab facilities — which he credits for his own recovery — rather than less-rigorous out-patient treatment. McCabe also accused rival Bob Capano for fear-mongering on the issue.

“It’s a tough but compassionate approach — one of the things I’d like to see with opioid abuse is, I think that a lot of people that are caught up in the court system, legal process with drugs are often given outpatient sentences, so to speak, so they go pee in a cup a few times and basically get out of it and get back [into using drugs]. Maybe it costs more funding, but we have to get people into long-term inpatient treatment. What really helped me was going into rehab, spending some time. It really does work, and I’d like to see that integrated in the way we approach opioid abuse. … I’m against the idea of safe injection facilities, but this has been used by Bob Capano sort of like a scare tactic and real reactionary, fear-mongering towards addicts. I don’t agree with the idea of safe injections — I don’t agree with that in terms of methodology, solving the epidemic — but I also don’t agree with sort of the fear-mongering towards it, because our kids are dying in large numbers in the neighborhood and I find that tactic a little classless. I think that if it were my son, we really should get them into in-patient rehab.”

On connecting with the district’s Muslim and Arab community:

McCabe has been an avid supporter of President Trump, and in particular the controversial ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries — often referred to as the “Muslim ban” — but he rejects that characterization, and said that in his work for Donovan and disgraced former Rep. Michael Grimm, he did much to help refugees and immigrants from those same countries.

“I take issue with your calling it ‘Muslim ban.’ I would call it a ‘travel ban.’ That word ‘Muslim ban’ is loaded and I don’t think it’s a Muslim ban, I think it’s a travel ban. Security has to come first, and I’m saying this as the one person with the most experience in federal government in the race, dealing with immigration and foreign embassies. I have dealt on a personal level with the embassy in Yemen. I know there are security concerns, a temporary travel ban is not a Muslim ban — it’s loaded, it’s very political, and I have the guts to take a position on it that might not necessarily be popular even within the Muslim community, but I think it’s the right thing. No one has as an extensive relationship with the Arab and Muslim communities as I do, because of eight years working in a congressional office in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights — 80–90 percent of the work we did for Michael Grimm and Donovan was immigration work. I’ve done more for people of Arab background than anybody in the race, and if I have a position on immigration that some people may think is controversial, I’m not afraid to take that position. I have a good relationship with the Arab community, I have a good relationship with the Muslims in my district, but I’m not going to pander.”

On Citi Bike moving into Bay Ridge:

Declaring that Citi Bike doesn’t serve the car-driving, working-class families of Bay Ridge and would only hasten the encroaching gentrification of the neighborhood, McCabe took the strongest possible stance against the bike-rental scheme.

“Over my dead body. No parking spots would be removed over my dead body. I would cause hell to stop Citi Bike from taking up parking spots. I’m not opposed to biking — I think it’s great — but middle-class, working-class kids aren’t riding Citi Bikes. Gentrification, that’s what rides on Citi Bike, it’s a gentrification accelerator. I’m not looking to bring Citi Bike into the neighborhood. … These are things for hipsters to ride in Williamsburg, it’s not family-oriented. A family of five isn’t spending whatever it would cost to rent a bunch of Citi Bikes. I don’t see a great use for it other than taking up parking, and a way to bring in more gentrification into a community that is maybe the last great hope for Brooklyn.”

On illegal home conversions:

McCabe said that he sees the potential to make a major impact on what he considers one of the most pressing and fundamental problems facing the district. He vowed to work with local activists to identify locations and push city agencies for aggressive enforcement.

“I’d like to really try to work on that in a bigger sense — macro level. That’s a big issue for me and it’s related to so many of the other problems — one- and two-family homes being converted into single-room-occupancy, 30 people into a house, especially in Dyker Heights. All of a sudden a block that could have a couple of hundred people could have a thousand, so sanitation now has double the work, triple. There are issues with education, in terms of our schools, you can’t build schools quick enough to fix this problem, our transportation infrastructure is overwhelmed. These illegal home conversions are a death trap for firefighters. It creates all types of concerns on all levels of civics. I’d like to empower the local activists to be a partner with my office. I would put a map on my wall day one and pinpoint all of the alleged illegal home conversions. The Community Board keeps a good record — and started a task force, I would empower that task force. It’s not rocket science — I would be a pain in the ass, just be so aggressive in dealing with the Department of Buildings. I think the reason why it hasn’t been done is because it’s just not a passionate issue for some electeds. I think it’s politically not that sexy an issue, you don’t want to look as a bad person.”

On the city’s homelessness crisis:

McCabe faulted the mayor for failing to use the police to move homeless people off the streets and into shelters where they can be connected with social services that could help with the underlying causes of their predicament. He suggested that such a tough policy might even have save his father’s life.

“I think we have to have compassion — we have to be tough, but compassionate. There’s clearly a policy issue, in my opinion, from DeBlasio, in that he refused to use the police to enforce vagrants, really get the homeless off the streets. I don’t think he wants to deal with that criticism. I think you have to do that, I think you have to be tough, I think you have to put people into custody. A lot of them have mental health issues, substance issues, and they need professional help. Had my father been arrested maybe he’d be alive. I don’t know if it would have saved him overall, but I’m not afraid to have a tough approach to homelessness in the first instance, and then I think the follow-up part is really where you have to be more compassionate, maybe have to increase funding to certain mental health programs. One of the things we can do is try to track people better once they get into the system. You gotta be tough, gotta get them off the streets.”

On his political aspirations:

McCabe was blunt about his prospects in the general election, and said he wasn’t looking past the Council.

“If I were to get elected it’d be a miracle, it’s a tough race, I think it’s an overwhelmingly Democratic district, I’m not crazy, I know it’s going to be hard. If I did it would be a wonderful thing, I’d love it, I’d throw myself at the job. If I don’t win I’d still be happy being involved, I just wouldn’t do it as the Councilman.”

Lightning round:

At the end of the meeting, McCabe answered a quick series of questions.

• Favorite restaurant: New Corner on Eighth Avenue and 72nd Street

• Favorite movie: “Spaceballs”

• Last book read: “The Tender Bar: A memoir”

• Main source for news: Facebook

• Fracking in upstate New York?: Yes

• Does global warming exist, and if so, is it caused by humans burning fossil fuels?: “I think that it does exist, of course. I think that whether it’s completely related to fossil fuels or completely related to the way the sun interacts with the ozone, let’s err on the side of caution.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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