Zach Iscol (D) served his country as a marine. Upon returning from war, he served his fellow veterans by providing them with mental healthcare. Now, he aspires to serve the city of New York as Mayor.
A veteran of the Second Battle of Fallujah, Iscol served in the Third Battalion First Marines: “one of the hardest-hit battalions of the Iraq War.” Citing care for those under his command as an important part of his military philosophy, which he called “a lifelong commitment,” Iscol shared his concern about the high suicide rate of his old comrades.
“Last year, we lost our thirty fourth Marine, meaning we’ve now lost more marines to suicide than we did to enemy action,” he recalled.
The loss of his friends would inspire him to found his nonprofit, the Headstrong Project, which offers top-notch mental health care free of charge for veterans.
“We wanted to remove every barrier to care: cost, bureaucracy, stigma, to make sure that veterans can get the help that they need. By it’s metrics, it’s one of the most successful treatment programs in the country,” Iscol explained.
As the coronavirus pandemic sweeped New York in late March, Iscol helped manage the temporary hospital at Javits Center. He also volunteered with solutionsNOW, a Harlem-based nonprofit that strives to help underserved communities. There, he began to see many of the challenges the city faces that the crisis helped expose.
“I got a front row seat to how bad things are in the city,” he told this reporter. “I spent time volunteering with an organization in Harlem called solutionsNOW. They do a food drive every Tuesday. That food line gets two or three blocks longer every week. We’ve lost half a million jobs in the city, possibly on our way to a million. We’ve lost a third of our small businesses and restaurants.”
Iscol explained that his experiences uniquely equip him to get the city through the current challenges. “Somebody who is a lifelong politician is not going to be able to get us through this crisis,” he said. “We need someone who has experience bringing people together. If we’re going through a pandemic fueled by a healthcare crisis, I think it makes sense to have a mayor who has actually delivered health care to people.”
On other issues, such as police reform, Iscol insisted that he could be trusted to hold the police accountable, citing his time in the military making life or death decisions and “creating a culture of accountability”.
Still, he insists that the biggest problem facing the City right now is growing economic uncertainty.
“We have another year and a half before we’re gonna have an administration that’s taking these problems seriously,” he said, criticizing Mayor Bill De Blasio’s (D) failure to meet with his small business task force in two months. “You’re gonna have food lines growing in this city, you have people that are out of work and struggling to pay their bills, you have landlords that are not gonna make it through and will have to declare bankruptcy, you have businesses that are going to shut their doors this winter and will never reopen.”
To solve these problems, he said, the City can’t afford to stand by and wait for the federal or state government to sweep in; it has to take charge of its own recovery.
“The federal government isn’t coming to bail us out,” he said. “The state’s not going to bail us out. The only way the city is going to get through this is for the whole city to come together and helping each other during these dire times.”