Archive for July, 2006

Permission to Protest Protest Permits?
July 19th, 2006

Civil libertarians have quickly condemned the the Bloomberg administrations latest
to restrict protests: requiring groups of bicyclists and even 30 or more people walking down the sidewalk to get a protest permit. Faced with court rulings that have gone against it, the city, rather than playing by the rules, wants to change those rules, Gothamist says.

Is it just us, or does requiring small groups of protesters to register with the police smack of the kind of oppression normally found only in Fascist states? Gothamist asks. Civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel — who helped win the rulings that went against the city– says the latest proposal radically changes expressive activity and the right to protest in the City of New York.” New York Civl Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman predicts the police department recommendation will suffocate spontaneous protest activity …. It is completely at odds with New York City’s proud tradition of free expression.

Looking into the background of the rules, Capitoilette writes, that they seem to have roots in the NYPDs persistent and absurd paranoia about the Critical Mass monthly mass bike ride and in Commissioner Ray Kellys more generic fear of anything that might make his city look like some place edgier than, say, Scarsdale on Prozac.

A public hearing will be held on the rules next month. The civil liberties union has said it will ask City Council to block the regulations if the police department does not change them.

By on July 19, 2006, 1:55 pm
In category: Community Development,Gotham City | 6 Comments »

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Keeping Term Limits
July 19th, 2006

The New York Post does not like term limits. New Yorkers should have the right to vote for whomever they wish – even brain-dead, dog-lazy timeservers of the sort found in most legislative chambers, the papers editorial reasons. But, despite that, it says City Council Speaker Christine Quinn should resist any efforts to change the law that limits city officials to two four-year terms. For better or worse, the paper says, the citys voters have spoken on the issue — twice.

By on July 19, 2006, 7:23 am
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | 2 Comments »

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Shutting Down Rikers Island, Compromising On Its Replacement
July 18th, 2006

In the Daily News, Errol Louis endorses Correction Commissioner Martin Horns plan to shut down Rikers Island, which is expensive, old, and overcrowded, and replace it with a network of smaller jails in each borough. But Louis also understands community objection to the plan to build a new jail along the waterfront in Hunts Point, where a coalition of environmental activists would prefer an eco-friendly industrial park. The columnist argues that there is room for both projects. Now would be a good time for statesmen and women at City Hall and Borough Hall to work out a compromise that makes the city safer and cleaner at the same time.

By on July 18, 2006, 5:17 am
In category: Crime & Safety,Land Use | 4 Comments »

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Why The Ban On Gay Marriage Is A Good Thing
July 18th, 2006

In New York Magazine, Kurt Anderson calls the recent New York court decision banning same-sex marriage a blessing in disguise, a pseudo-setback. Because the more that marriage equality can be achieved politically rather than by judicial fiat, the better in the long runnot just for gay rights but for progressivism generally. When courts make certain good decisions too far ahead of public opinion and legislative consensus, the result can be hugely problematic, as weve seen since Roe v. Wade.

By on July 18, 2006, 4:10 am
In category: Civil Rights,Governing | 4 Comments »

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Keeping an Eye on Pataki
July 17th, 2006

As the twelve year run as Governor of the State of New York comes to a close for George E. Pataki, speculation is that he has his sights set on a presidential bid. However, as the governor woos New Hampshire electeds and national political donors, he still has more than five months left in office. Lame duck or not, Pataki still has the power to leverage the office to impact local, regional and statewide issues through allocations, executive orders, appointments and a range of other tools at his disposal. Over the coming months Pataki will also have to sign, or veto, the bills sent to him by the Legislature. What he will do with his final five months may say a lot about his priorities on the campaign trail.

This weekend news media around the state highlighted the following latest Pataki endeavors:

  • The reports on Governor George Pataki and Senator Hillary Rodham Clintons announcement of the opening of a new $30 million, 35,000-square-foot Natural History Center of the Adirondacks in Tupper Lake, New York. The center was designed to teach the public about the park’s ecosystems, and offers lessons on every aspect of the region’s natural history. The museum also includes an outdoor amphitheater, a movie theater, various exhibits, aquariums, a hiking trail, a cafe, an observation tower and 31 acres of preserve.

  • The Daily News reports that Governor Pataki hosted a dozen New Hampshire GOP activists to a taxpayer-funded salmon dinner at the Executive Mansion last month as lawmakers scrambled to wrap up the legislative session.

  • The Times Herald Record reports that activists gathered this weekend to urge Governor Pataki and federal lawmakers to stop a private company from taking property by eminent domain to build a power line, the New York Regional Interconnect, which would run from Utica to New Windsor. Pataki has yet to act on a bill passed by the Legislature that stops the company from using that power.

  • The New York Times reports on Governor Patakis pledge to cover the local portion of expenses for infrastructure repairs as part of a package to help upstate communities recover from the devastating floods that hit three weeks ago. Estimates put total recovery costs for New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey at $1 billion. The Mid Hudson News Network also reports that Governor Pataki waived Department of Motor Vehicle fees for replacement motor vehicle documents for victims of the devastating floods that occurred last month.

  • The Albany Times Union reports on Patakis announcement of $1,056,787 in Environmental Restoration Program grants for the investigation or cleanup of environmental contamination in seven counties across New York State. The funds come from a bond act passed a decade ago by New York State voters.

  • According to the Journal News, Governor Pataki announced Thursday that the state would contribute $24.8 million in homeland security funding to the New York City area to help offset an $83 million cut in funding to the metropolitan area from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The $24.8 million is the state’s mandated 20 percent share of the $124 million awarded to the region through the federal Urban Area Security Initiative program.

By on July 17, 2006, 7:07 pm
In category: Eye on Albany | Comments Off on Keeping an Eye on Pataki

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Battle for the Stomachs of Brooklynites
July 17th, 2006

The real estate blog Curbed has been following a battle of food stores in Brooklyn. Two months ago, a new Fairway opened in Red Hook. Over the same period of time, the Park Slope Food Coops membership has fallen by 700. The message board on Curbed is full of passionate posts: some complaining about the co-op’s rules, others blasting the poor produce at Fairway, and those who cant wait for a Whole Foods to open. Some even advocate driving to Pathmark in New Jersey.

“I love these arguments,” writes one person with the screenname Combustiblegirl.

By on July 17, 2006, 7:27 am
In category: Community Development,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Living in the City, Working in the Burbs
July 17th, 2006

In the New York Post, Steven Malanga makes a case against a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New Yorkthat argues that the city’s economy is stronger than its sluggish job growth suggests andfinds that New Yorkers’ incomes are rising faster than the national average.

Malanga argues that this is because New Yorkers are now going to the suburbs to find work.

“To get a glimpse of what New York has been missing, consider this,” Malanga writes, “the engine of New York’s economy, Wall Street, added nearly as many jobs in New Jersey (143,000) as it did in New York (154,000) from 1970 through 2000. And things are only likely to get worse.”

By on July 17, 2006, 6:50 am
In category: Gotham City,Public Finance | 2 Comments »

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Second Try for West Side Development
July 16th, 2006

Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed in his first attempt to develop the West Side of Manhattan, because he tied his plan to the Jets stadium and the Olympic bid. Now the mayor is trying again. This time, he wants the city to purchasethe 13-acre rail yards from the MTA, and build housing, office space, and parks.

The New York Times calls the mayor’s plans “impressive and bold,” but admits that most of the details have not been spelled out.

There are many unanswered questions: How will the project be financed? Who will pay for the extension of the 7-train? How much should the MTA get for the land?

“Mr. Bloomberg is understandably eager to jump-start redevelopment,” the Times writes. “But his sense of urgency should not stop officials from taking a careful look at all the financial implications of the deal before committing themselves.”

By on July 16, 2006, 4:35 pm
In category: Gotham City,Land Use,Transportation | Comments Off on Second Try for West Side Development

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Money Machine
July 14th, 2006

Money Machine

Its the filing deadline for campaign reports in Washington and New York. The Empire Zone reports that Hillary Clinton says she has raised almost $5.7 million for her Senate campaign in the last three months and has about 100 times as much cash on hand as K.T. McFarland one of the two Republican contenders. Of course, as followers of her lurid family saga know, McFarlands had other things to worry about these days. No one seems to have figures yet for the other GOP contender, John Spencer.

By on July 14, 2006, 1:54 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | Comments Off on Money Machine

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Elected for Life?
July 14th, 2006

With last nights filing deadline for candidates for the legislature and other state offices, New York continues to be a haven for incumbents. While a few challengers have popped up around the city, the Queens Chronicle finds Central Queens heading for another uneventful state election season, as there have been no challengers to any of the State Senate or Assembly incumbents.

The lucky politicians include one Republican — Senator Serphin Maltese — and several Democrats. The presence of so many secure Democrats prompts Urban Elephants exasperation. Aren’t we challenging some of these folks?, the Republican blog asks.

By on July 14, 2006, 7:34 am
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | 1 Comment »

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Blaming Albany for Exploding Houses
July 13th, 2006

The New York Timestakes advantage of the explosion of Manhattan townhouse to point out New York’s outdated divorce laws – and it places the blame on the State Legislature, which as refused to institute a no-fault system.

“Obviously, even New Yorks dysfunctional government is not bad enough to drive people to blow up their houses,” the Times writes. “[But] thanks to Albany, the state has notoriously cumbersome divorce laws that regularly produce both hideous domestic squabbles and inflated lawyers fees.”

By on July 13, 2006, 6:09 am
In category: Albany,Gotham City,Law | 10 Comments »

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The Border Photo Project
July 12th, 2006

A picture of an immigrant preparing to take the oath of citizenshipfrom the WNYC Brian Lehrer Show Border Photo Project, part of a public radio series on immigration.

By on July 12, 2006, 2:58 pm
In category: Gotham City | Comments Off on The Border Photo Project

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Former City Planning Commissioner Weighs in on Atlantic Yards
July 12th, 2006

The Web site of Develop, Dont Destroy, the group hoping to stop the Atlantic Yards project, has posted a statement by former City Planning Commissioner Ron Shiffman.

“Until this month, I have chosen not to speak out publicly concerning Forest City Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards project,” Shiffman writes, “[I]n part because I believed that the inclusionary housing component was an important victory and believing that a more rational plan would eventually emerge.”

“However, that alternative has not emerged,” he continues. “Forest City Ratner and, by extension, the City and State of New York, continue to follow a process that is fundamentally flawed in pursuit of a plan that, if implemented, would scar the borough for decades to come.”

Shiffman argues that he is not against development – and admits that he likes the idea of having a basketball team in the neighborhood – but says the density and height of the proposed buildings far exceed the “capacity of the areas physical, social, cultural, and educational infrastructure.”

By on July 12, 2006, 12:06 pm
In category: Community Development,Gotham City,Land Use | 7 Comments »

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Diane Gordon's Indictment
July 11th, 2006

Brooklyn State Assemblymember Diane Gordon was charged with bribery, accused of demanding a $500,000 home from a developer in return for helping the builder acquire city land – and many opinion writers are leafing through the indictment and weighing in on the situation.

The New York Posts Andrea Peyser writes, “Assemblywoman Diane Gordon sure likes the poor folks she represents in East New York, Brooklyn. She likes them so much, she plotted to move into a swanky, marble- and wood-inlaid house – in Queens. Free of charge.”

The Empire Zone observes that this “marks the third time in recent years that state lawmakers from Brooklyn have been implicated in criminal cases.” The other two: Brooklyn Democratic boss and Assemblyman Clarence Norman and Assemblyman Roger Green.

It Takes A Blogger has a connection between Gordon and Norman, who in his trial testified that he did not steal $5,000 from his campaign committee, but said he loaned Gordon the money personally because she needed it right away.

The Daily Politics quotes an investigation commissioner who said Gordon “dreamed of living in a gated community, but not the one she bargained for when she abused her authority as a public official.”

By on July 11, 2006, 7:22 am
In category: Albany,Crime & Safety,Gotham City | 8 Comments »

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The Legal Obstacle to Reform
July 10th, 2006

The US Supreme Court is a proven obstacle to political reform. In two recent decisions, the Court again overturned reform efforts one the redrawing of Congressional and legislative district lines in Texas, and the other Vermonts system of public financing of elections.

In the Texas decision, the Court struck down a challenge to the Tom DeLay-inspired redrawing of district lines. You may remember the Texas case. A few years ago, former US House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom Delay pushed the Texas legislature to redraw Congressional district lines. The reason for this unusual move districts lines are drawn once a decade, not twice was that DeLay was trying to solidify his partys hold on the U.S. House of Representatives. If the Texas legislature which is controlled by Republicans redrew the lines, it would likely lead to more Republican members of Congress. DeLay was successful and the changes in the Texas Congressional lines helped the Republicans keep their advantage in the House of Representatives.

DeLays moves were challenged as unconstitutional since the Texas legislatures mid-census redistricting was carried out solely to achieve partisan advantage. In its decision, the US Supreme Court conceded that one of the Congressional districts needed to be redrawn as it violated the rights of Hispanic voters there. However, it rejected the larger claim that the Texas Republicans had unconstitutionally engaged in partisan gerrymandering. Apparently, the Court is not interested in tackling the issue of partisan rigging of elections.

In the Vermont case, the Court reaffirmed its previous decisions that limits on contributions are generally constitutional. However, it struck down Vermonts public financing system arguing that the program mandated contribution limits were too low.

According to the Court, it is legal for legislative district lines to be rigged solely for partisan advantage. And it is also illegal for states to enact low campaign contribution limits.

So where does that leave reformers? Not in court, thats for sure. The legal system provides no realistic path to changing the nations elections mess. The only hope is through politics.

What remains clear is that reforms are needed.

Step 1 is to fight for legislation creating an independent redistricting commission. Combined with strict standards for the drawing of districts, an independent redistricting commission is the best way to ensure that antics like the one advanced by Tom DeLay cannot happen. Politicians should not be drawing the district lines. When they do, its an effort to rig elections. An independent commission leaves the mapmaking in the hands of those with the technical skills but not the conflict of interest.

Step 2 is to fight for a system of public financing of elections. The Courts action against the state of Vermont was based on contribution limits being too low it did not strike down public financing per se.

New York already has a system of public financing that could serve as a model for the state. The city of New York has a system that relies on public financing and it has been in place for over 15 years plenty of time to learn from their experiences.

Public financing of elections provides the best way for people of average means to run for office. The current system which is based on private donations either benefits the wealthy, or puts candidates in a terrible conflict when elected. That conflict stems from the inherent problem of relying on private donations, namely that those who give the money expect something in return. And they must get it or they wouldnt fork it over.

Unfortunately, the failure of the current governor to take the lead on these issues has resulted in little action. The Assembly has approved sweeping campaign finance changes, but done nothing on redistricting reform. The Senate has done nothing.

The new governor provides the best hope for change. New Yorks governor is far and away the most powerful political figure in the state. If he digs in, he can force a real debate over these issues. And if history is any guide, whoever gets elected in November is likely to get re-elected in four years. In that second term, if the governor has pledged himself to reform, he can refuse to approve the district lines that are to be drawn after the next Census in 2010.

His role in redistricting places him in a powerful position with legislative leaders. If you want Albany to change, pay close attention to what the candidates for governor have to say on these issues. The more specific the promise for reform, the more likely it will occur.

By on July 10, 2006, 12:27 pm
In category: Eye on Albany | Comments Off on The Legal Obstacle to Reform

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Congestion Relief?
July 10th, 2006

Following the outcry over recent bicycle deaths (extensively commented on in The Wonkster), Transportation Commission Iris Weinshall is coming under attack.

Streetsblog features a message from the director of the transportation departments Bicycle Program, who left the job Friday. Andrew Vesselenovitch criticizes the department for hindering programs to encourage bicycling. He cites slow progress on increasing bike lanes in the city and says the department ignored warnings about hazardous joint covers on the Williamsburg Bridge, which resulted in many injuries to and lawsuits by cyclists before they were removed. Vesselenovitch concludes, I waited for a long time for the direction from the commissioner’s office to change, or for the commissioner to be changed. I hope that you won’t have to wait much longer.

And last week Streetsblog reported on Weinshalls trip to an international transportation conference in Stockholm where congestion pricing to reduce traffic was a key topic. Weinshall evidenced little interest in the topic, not bothering to look at how the policy of charging cars to travel in downtown districts was working in the Swedish capital. New Yorkers tend to view traffic congestion as something akin to the weather. It’s good, it’s bad, there is nothing much you can do about it, the blog writes, but other world cities are proving that it is entirely possible to do something to reduce urban traffic congestion. If Commissioner Weinshall sat in on some of the presentations of her European colleagues on Thursday, she knows.

Meanwhile, a report by the advocacy group Environmental Defense concludes, A staggering amount of global warming pollution comes from U.S. cars.

By on July 10, 2006, 12:10 pm
In category: Environment,Gotham City,Transportation | 7 Comments »

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Diploma Deficit
July 10th, 2006

Dont be fooled by the rising percentage of New York high school students getting Regents diplomas, the New York Post warns today. The state has lowered the requirements for the diploma, reducing the number of Regents tests a student has to pass from eight to five. Why not take that strategy to its logical conclusion, the editorial asks rhetorically. Why doesn’t Albany lower the number of tests students must pass to zero?

This is not the first tme the state has relaxed requirements, the Post says, charging, These kinds of gimmicks make it look like the schools are doing a better job of turning out better-prepared students. But it does the kids no favors.

By on July 10, 2006, 7:51 am
In category: Albany,Education,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Back to New York
July 10th, 2006

The news that corporate headquarters are returning to New York would see to fly in the face of conventional wisdom about technology making cities obsolete, writes Paul Krugman in todays Times (available only to subscribers to Times Select). But actually, he says, technology has helped make Manhattan attractive: Top executives can work in New York — enjoying its many advantages — while lower levels employees work in cheaper places, communicating with the headquarters in New York. In other words, according to Krugman, relatively low-paid finance jobs are moving out of New York, while highly paid jobs are actually moving in.

This is not an unalloyed good, the columnist says. The city has essentially lost all of its manufacturing, and it’s now in the process of outsourcing both routine office work and many middle-management functions to other parts of the country…. Economic disparities in New York, as in the United States as a whole, are wider than they have been since the 1920s, Krugman writes. But for once, let me focus on the positive: The world’s greatest city, a city that a generation ago seemed to be in irreversible decline, seems to be doing OK.

By on July 10, 2006, 7:40 am
In category: Gotham City,Public Finance | 1 Comment »

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Could New York State Shutdown Too?
July 10th, 2006

New Yorkers love to dump on New Jersey, but this week, Albany officials should thank the Garden State for making New Yorks state government look good, despite its infamous dysfunction. The Garden States fiscal peril and government shutdown make Albanys late budgets and inaction seem less appalling, but could New York get stuck in such a position too? A fight over taxes triggered New Jerseys shutdown, and some warn that a duel in New York could incite similar tensions. New Jersey Governor Corzine ended the shutdown after he and the Legislature were able to agree on sale and property taxes, as well as other budget cuts, though Corzine will only sign off on the rest of the $30.9 billion budget after reviewing it. In New York, these negotiations are taken care of privately, thus preventing shutdown, but perhaps the threat of an actual shutdown from a Legislature and Governor that do not always agree would open up the process…almost violently.

Rather than suffering the inconvenience and shame of a shutdown, New York State always seems to eke out a budget and pass enough stop gap measures to keep services running. New York City came closest to a shutdown during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Accused by the federal government of handling its money like a heroin addict, the city pulled itself together through loans and oversight from the Financial Control Board, which continues to serve as a friendly probation officer even decades later. With the city generating so much of the states revenue, the state government took a hit as well, but did not have to shutdown.

Over the years, the Legislature and Governor have employed a variety of tools to solve budget tensions, such as leaving budgets unbalanced, borrowing money, parking debt outside the usual budget process in public authorities, and more. Reformers have advocated for measures to make state officials more responsible in budgeting, and with the 2006 election approaching, the Legislature, Governor and Comptroller are having a more public discussion about some of these policies. At the end of the session, the Legislature introduced a package of budget reforms intended to make budget negotiations more transparent and punctual. The Citizens Budget Commission analyzes and comments on the various proposals. Just a couple of days after the Legislature seemed to be taking specific steps to improve the budget process, the Albany Times Union sued the Legislature over its refusal to disclose the details of member item moneys and requests from the $200 million of assorted allocations Budget Cleanup bill, which made its way through the committees, floor and vote in just one day. The release of such information would expose the full details of which districts and local projects received which money at whose suggestion. The Legislature may be slow on reform, but demonstrated that it can be efficient when it wants to take care of its own, passing the multimillion dollar bill in one day. Twenty out of twenty one budgets have been late, but all eventually passed.
If the Legislature and Governor stall even longer, what is usually a late budget may turn into a budget. This selective expediting of bills and coordination between Legislature and Governor have staved off budget collapse in the past, but perhaps next Independence Day, New Yorkers might have to sweat out a shutdown, forcing legislators to skip BBQs and fireworks displays to hash out the budget.

By on July 10, 2006, 7:00 am
In category: Eye on Albany | 1 Comment »

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Redistricting Reform
July 9th, 2006

Its time to end the incumbent protection racket in Albany, the New York Times says. Now redistricting is in the hands of the legislature which , the paper charges, stack the deck so voters wind up choosing between the incumbent and a sacrificial lamb dragooned by an opposition that has no hope of victory.

To change that, the paper endorses a bill proposed by Assemblymember Michael Gianaris that would would require the state to set up an independent commission to redraw the maps and the legislature would approve or reject then, with no tinkering allowed. To put pressure on politicians to support that plan, the Times urges New Yorkers to ask politicians looking for their vote to support fair mapmaking.

By on July 9, 2006, 7:38 pm
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | Comments Off on Redistricting Reform

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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