By Lily Wolfson
New York City, New York
Zach Iscol is a Democrat running in New York City’s mayoral race. While Iscol was still on active duty as a Marine, he testified before Congress to advocate for a visa program that created pathways to citizenship for thousands of Iraqis who helped U.S. troops with peace efforts, risking their lives to do so.
After returning from deployment, Iscol saw a mental health decline among his fellow Marines. Hoping to ameliorate this problem, Iscol met with mental health experts and veterans, and he founded the Headstrong Project, a nonprofit that provides free and accessible mental health care. Iscol also founded Hirepurpose, a hiring platform that seeks to help Gold Star families and veterans find jobs, along with Task & Purpose, a platform that investigates various social issues in veteran communities.
When asked why he decided to enter the New York City mayoral race, Iscol said, “There are two reasons. Number one is that there’s something remarkable about this year’s election, which is that this is the first time kids born after 9/11 are going to be able to vote for mayor, and the world that you have all grown up in has been marked by crisis after crisis after crisis.”
“There are incredible and scary times, and I think that we need new leadership to make sure that your generation in particular isn’t living an entire life marked by crisis. As a dad, there’s nothing more important than doing better for future generations for New Yorkers and Americans,” Iscol said. “The other thing is that earlier this year I served as deputy director at Javits Medical Center.”
Iscol went to Javits Medical Center to work as a volunteer on March 27 and walked into an environment that he described as “very familiar.” He was soon asked to serve as Deputy Director, taking care of almost 1,100 New Yorkers suffering from COVID-19.
“The story that hasn’t really been told is that we turned around Javits Medical Center,” Iscol said.
“The government was not working effectively, but the people who were working there were some of the best people I’ve worked with in my career,” Iscol said. “I saw that outside the building we had politicians who didn’t want to work with each other, who would rather see each other fail than see each other succeed because if they fail, they have something to blame each other for.”
When asked about how he would improve the New York City public education system, Iscol said, “Number one is invest in it, and part of that is making sure every dollar is spent to improve outcomes. Number two is that we need to make sure that every child in our school system is food and housing secure. We need to think more comprehensively about what it means to be able to actually educate a kid. We know that it’s not just about what you teach them in a classroom. It’s also about making sure they have a safe community that they’re going home to.” Iscol also hopes to implement programs to improve students’ physical and mental health, as well as decrease class sizes.
“And this is something that if I was mayor today, I would be doing it immediately: we need to start thinking creatively about how we diagnose where every child in the school system is in their learning,” Iscol said. “I would put together a task force of technology companies, gaming companies and education companies to come up with a online test that can be used to diagnose where every single kid is in math and reading. Once you have that information, you then can know what we need to actually close that gap.”
About mental health in New York City, Iscol said, “It’s a huge issue. It’s one of the number one things I hear from people around the city, that they can’t sleep at night.”
When Iscol came home from deployment in Iraq, he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and survivor's guilt, as he lost many friends overseas. “I know what we can do to address it, because I have addressed this within the veteran community,” Iscol said. “We need to expand the ability to provide mental health services and counseling to people. So that’s increasing capacity at clinicians, training more psychologists and psychiatrists, expanding telemedicine so that we can provide people with greater access to online health. We also need to reduce the demand for those services.”
About transportation in New York City, Iscol said, “The bottom line is we need to make sure we’re serving all constituencies. One of the goals of my administration would be to make public transportation free––and at least affordable.”
On education, mental health, public safety reform, combatting homelessness and more, Iscol said, “There’s no reason that New York shouldn’t be leading the way on these issues instead of falling behind.”
Iscol noted that more comprehensive policy plans will be released on his campaign website’s issues page.