Among the candidates looking to succeed Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (D) next year, Elizabeth Caputo distinguishes herself as a political outsider.
Born in Indiana and educated at Harvard University, Caputo moved to Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1995, and has lived there ever since. Upon arriving, she got involved in grassroots community organizing, notably running a political group called Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century for about ten years.
“I really focused on locating, educating, and activating a new generation of young people to get involved in politics and civic life,” Caputo recalled, adding that she balanced this position with a private sector day job in municipal finance.
About ten years ago she joined Community Board 7, working her way up to becoming its longest-serving chair from 2013 to 2016. In 2014, Caputo started her current job at the World Economic Forum, which she considers deeply relevant to the borough president position.
“I run our work with the U.S. government doing a lot that combines public and private and global and local,” Caputo explained. “I really have loved the work in the neighborhood, and I’m just excited to bring a fresh spirit and carry on all the great work that Gale has done and also really try to move the office and the city forward during a time when we desperately need qualified, new executive leadership.”
She went on to explain that her decision to run for the position of borough president was motivated in part by being a woman.
“I think there’s a lot that could potentially get done in the legislature, but our current legislative situation has really not been great at both the city and the state level,” said Caputo. “I think there is a need, especially for qualified women who have shown they can do a particular job function very, very well as I have, to be elected to executive offices.”
As borough president, she hopes to utilize land use and development policy to “make this city safer, cleaner, greener, and more equitable” and to “build bridges” between Manhattanites from all walks of life.
“The leader and Manhattan Borough President need to be talking to everyone, and I will do that as borough president. I have a record of doing that from my time as a community board chair,” Caputo said.
“Everything from what you’re seeing in the news about the homeless crisis, what you’re seeing about the lack of affordable housing, what you’re seeing about how we want to bring people back into Manhattan who have left, those are all things that require a leader and somebody who’s done it at the very, very local level, but also knows what’s happening in other places around the world where it’s being done more equitably and better. I want to bring that knowledge to the borough president’s office.”
Caputo has also expressed concerns about the MTA’s operations amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Getting the MTA back up and running is critically important,” she said. “We must do it in a way where we’re not borrowing our way out of the crisis, but thinking of some responsible solutions on how we can do that, especially in the absence of what’s looking like we’re not going to get a lot of federal help.”
On public health, Caputo calls herself “a big believer in following science and data.”
“A lot of people go on social media and talk about things that are happening with the pandemic,” she said. “Nobody who’s running for this office is a medical doctor, and until things are safe for people to go back, we need to think of creative ways to bring people back into Manhattan and keeping people here.”
Caputo also promised to develop innovative solutions to the current economic uncertainty, such as allowing pop-up retail stores similar to outdoor dining. She also noted the importance of thinking ahead, citing the scarcity of heat lamps to keep outdoor diners warm in the colder months.
Other proposals include loan forgiveness for Broadway employees and hiring them at city schools.
“I worry about the long-term success of Manhattan, but I think there’s so much talent and creativity here right now that we can leverage that,” said Caputo. “What this job requires is leadership across the city, both in Manhattan and whoever becomes the mayor to think about a long-term plan for how the city is gonna move forward in the next ten or even twenty years.”