Fed up with what he describes as ‘radical’ criminal justice reforms making New York City less safe, disgruntled Democrat-turned-Republican Brian Robinson, who aims to unseat incumbent Council Member Keith Powers in representing City Council District 4, covering the western half of the Upper East Side, is focusing his bid on public safety. A former small-business owner with no experience in government, Robinson says getting tough on crime is the message that will resonate with voters.
“Because we are so relaxed about crime here in New York City, it’s actually emboldened criminals to commit more crimes, and that to me is radical,” Robinson told Upper East Site in a recent interview. “If somebody assaults somebody and they’re not held in jail, in my opinion, that’s a radical notion of criminal justice that puts more emphasis on the person who assaulted someone rather than the victim.”
While total crime is marginally down citywide, felony assaults and car thefts have increased. On the Upper East Side, crime has declined just under 4% from last year, though felony assaults have risen 8.2%, according to NYPD data.
Robinson, a father of two, started his career in finance, moved to New York City in the early 2000s and opened a small credit consolidation business. Last year, he ran for Congress in District 10 as a Democrat. However, after losing the primary and becoming increasingly disillusioned with the direction and policies of the Democratic Party, he bolted to the GOP.
“Joe Biden won the 2020 election,” he confirmed to Upper East Site, dispelling any notions he’s aligned himself with far-right election deniers.
The Democratic party “has changed to the tune of something that people don’t even recognize, myself included,” Robinson said. “It’s become really usurped by a new type of politician that has much more radical ideas for societal transformation, social transformation, that I don’t think [are] necessarily very well-conceived.”
Robinson is serious about improving public safety in District 4, which covers the western part of the Upper East Side, sections of Midtown, as well as Times Square and Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village. First and foremost, he said, the city needs to further empower the NYPD and scale back recent bail reforms.
Homelessness and a lack of mental health care are also contributing to rising crime rates, Robinson said.
He went on to detail an alarming encounter other Upper East Siders have experienced themselves when a man, who Robinson believes was homeless, followed his wife and then-4-year-old daughter into their apartment building and wouldn’t leave them alone. Though Robinson was able to escort the stranger outside without anyone getting hurt, the incident has shaped his commitment to public safety.
“There’s been so many uncomfortable encounters, and it’s really an issue that nobody can deny, and it needs to be nipped in the bud,” Robinson said. He believes the city should start enforcing Kendra’s Law — which grants a judge the authority to mandate mentally ill people deemed unable to take care of themselves be required to undergo psychiatric treatment — more strictly.
“I don’t agree with housing first, for homeless[ness], because I think if you have somebody with untreated severe mental illness, which is often comorbid with drug abuse, it doesn’t matter if you give them a roof, they’re going to prefer to be outside anyway.” He offered no evidence to support this.
Should he be elected, Robinson said he would work to bring back old-school law enforcement tactics, like ‘broken windows’ policing and stop-and-frisk. Both strategies have been criticized for their racist implementation within the NYPD.
In order to prevent this, he argues law enforcement training academies should “weed out police officers that have a tendency toward that type of behavior,” possibly through more rigorous psychological examinations.
Another public safety issue he vows to tackle is the increasing presence of unlicensed and unregistered e-bikes and mopeds whizzing through traffic, congregating in front of businesses, and sometimes injuring pedestrians.
Robinson said he supports a bill, currently in committee, that would require all electric bikes to be registered and adorned with a license plate. Robinson’s opponent, Council Member Keith Powers is co-sponsoring this bill, and has supported other e-vehicle safety legislation.
“There is far too much chaos on the streets when high-powered e-vehicles are rushing through sidewalks and intersections,” Robinson said. “Accountability is everything to change that type of behavior.”
He is also committed to identifying and prosecuting the owners of unlicensed smoke shops selling cannabis products without a license. “It’s just egregious that shops can pop up in an illegal manner, marketing and selling unregulated high potency drugs to children,” Robinson said. “We have to shut them down.”
Though he is the underdog in the upcoming race, Robinson is confident that his message will be heard.
“I’m a parent, former small business owner, somebody who understands fiscal responsibility, somebody who understands the importance of feeling safe in your neighborhood and not feeling like you always have to look over your shoulder.”
The City Council election will take place this November 7th, with early voting from October 28th to November 5th. To find your polling place, visit New York City’s Board of Elections website.