Archive for December, 2006
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Albany Sleaze Joe Bruno?
December 28th, 2006

Bill Hammond in the Daily News says that, if the allegations against State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno prove true, he should be denied his leadership post: “If the latest reports about his private dealings are true – that a businessman he showered with money from a state funds was also paying him hundreds of thousands in consulting fees – Bruno must either resign the leadership job or face ouster by his Republican colleagues…A vote to keep him as majority leader on Jan. 3 is a vote to tolerate Albany sleaze.”

By on December 28, 2006, 8:36 am
In category: Albany,Governing | 1 Comment »

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Preparing For A Future With A Million More New Yorkers
December 27th, 2006

The New York Times, oddly late-arriving in covering Mayor Michael Bloombergs speech planning for New Yorker in the year 2030 which was commented upon amply in New Yorks other newspapers two weeks ago this week ran an editorial
praising the speech
, though wondering how he was going to pay for it all.

With a projection that New York Citys population will reach nine million in 25 years, there is no question that something must be done, the Times said. Consider how difficult it is to find affordable housing, good schools, uncrowded subway cars and reasonably passable streets. Then imagine having to compete for these same services in a city that will have added a population equivalent to the city of San Francisco… Faced with similar pressures, cities like London and Shanghai are charting paths to smart growth.

By on December 27, 2006, 6:40 am
In category: Demographics,Gotham City,Land Use | 1 Comment »

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The Richest Man In The World? New York State's Comptroller
December 27th, 2006

In a column in the New York Sun entitled
Control The Comptroller, Herbert London, a former candidate for the office, focuses on the potential for corruption in the office of New York State Comptroller .

If asked, ‘Who is the richest man in the world?’ likely responses might be the Sultan of Brunei, Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett, but the correct answer isthe New York State comptroller, for he has unilateral control of a $145 billion pension fund.

What sole control has meant is that the comptroller decides which companies manage the assets of the fund and collect high and easy commissions for doing so. Not coincidentally, those very firms have been responsible for most of the campaign contributions to the comptroller.

A correlation between commissions and campaign contributions is undeniable, London writes. What is at stake is far more egregious than the roughly $200,000 of taxpayer money Hevesi used for limousine transportation and household services to assist his wife [T]he fund should not be used as a way to solicit campaign contributions.

London suggests that New York do what most states have already done and “follow the practice of California, where that state’s legislature monitors the California Pension Fund, the largest pension fund in the country.”

By on December 27, 2006, 6:40 am
In category: Public Finance | 7 Comments »

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Goodbye Hevesi,
Hello _______

December 22nd, 2006

The Alan Hevesi saga seems to be nearing its end, and the attention is turning to the question of who will replace him.

The Politicker, the Daily Politics and their readers speculate on who the successor will be.

The New York Times says that the names now being floated are “mostly dismaying,” in an editorial that reads like a classified ad. The paper is seeking a comptroller who is “an expert in money management [and a] scrupulously honest manager who can oversee contracts and financial books of state entities large and small,” and who won’t take campaign contributions from businesses with state contracts.

The Sun agrees that Hevesi’s behavior concerning contributions — not Chauffeurgate — is the “real scandal.”

“The vending-machine government in Albany concerns interest groups putting up money in the form of campaign contributions and getting money out in the form of government contracts or other allocations,” it writes in an editorial. “Mr. Hevesi is hardly the only offender.”

The Sun argues that Hevesi’s resignation deal undermines voters’ decision to elect him despite his crimes — especially since Albany’s worst offenders will decide who replaces him.

By on December 22, 2006, 9:17 am
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | Comments Off on Goodbye Hevesi,
Hello _______

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Albany Crime Wave
December 21st, 2006

Statistically, New York State legislators are more likely than members of the general population to be engaged in criminal activity, former State Assemblyman Nelson Denis writes in todays Sun. Thats the result of a culture in the state capital that is entrenched, well-fed, and hidden from view. And so Denis proposes a numbers of measures to change that. They include: reforming the public authorities, term limits and moving the legislature to New York City where Time Warner Cable could televise the chambers, committee meetings, budget conferences, and public hearings, and the New York press could keep an eye on the politicians.

By on December 21, 2006, 8:28 am
In category: Albany,Gotham City | Comments Off on Albany Crime Wave

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A Big Day in Albany for Sheldon Silver ...
December 20th, 2006

Sheldon Silver will have a chance to block the Atlantic Yards project — or to delay it until Governor George Pataki is out of office — at a meeting of the Public Utilities Control Board, a previously obscure state panel controlled by the state’s three most powerful men that has become a graveyard for large-scale development projects in recent years.

The Atlantic Yards Report gives a good roundup of newspaper editorials on the subject, mainly so it can bring up the New York Time’s strange silence on the issue.

Noting that Silver has already used the panel to block two huge development projects — the West Side Stadium (killed outright) and Moynihan Station (delayed indefinitely) — the NY Post runs a new editorial this morning criticizing Silver for hedging his bets.

“Silver no doubt has eyed the plan as a potential hostage,” writes the Post. “That is, he’s calculated what ransom he can get by holding it up.”

Not everyone thinks that delaying an evaluation of the project’s finances would be obstructionist, though. NoLandGrab writes about some of the open questions about the money.

“Here’s the freaking joke on the taxpayer,” the blog writes. “The affordable housing subsidies are still being negotiated, so NO numbers are available. However, the details of the financing of the Atlantic Yards project are ready for a final-approval vote? Tune in this afternoon for the punchline.”

By on December 20, 2006, 8:34 am
In category: Albany,Gotham City,Land Use | 1 Comment »

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... and Joe Bruno
December 20th, 2006

Another corruption investigation is underway in Albany, this one targeting State Senate Majority leader Joe Bruno. Bruno acknowledged yesterday that he is the subject of an FBI investigation.

Somehow that doesn’t come as a shock,” writes the Post.

Bruno “deserves the benefit of the doubt,” writes the Daily News, “but it is not too early to diagnose why he and so many others in Albany have drawn law enforcement attention: Because they have been playing with the taxpayers’ money without regard to accountability or transparency.”

There’s plenty more discussion on the Capitol Confidential message board.

By on December 20, 2006, 8:34 am
In category: Albany,Gotham City,Governing | 2 Comments »

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March for Justice
December 18th, 2006

One of thousand protesters who marched on Saturday to protest the New York City police shooting death of Sean Bell.

By on December 18, 2006, 5:51 pm
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Reforming Housing Subsidies
December 18th, 2006

With the City Council scheduled to vote Wednesday on reforming the 421-a program which provides tax breaks to developers who build housing, the New York Times chooses the middle road. The bill that would best encourage affordable housing, the paper believes, is the one put forth by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. It is, the editorial says, more generous than Mayor Michael Bloombergs original proposal and more flexible and less threatening to the overall market than a measure proposed by several council members. But whatever the specifics of the plan it adopts, the Times urges the council to move quickly to update a law that confers undeserved benefits on developers of high-end housing while doing less and less for people who can barely afford to live here.

(For more on the 421-a program and reforms to reform it, see Gotham Gazettes Community Development page.)

By on December 18, 2006, 2:45 pm
In category: Community Development,Gotham City,Housing,Public Finance | 2 Comments »

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The Pork Barrel Squeals
December 15th, 2006

Whether or not Bronx State Senator Ephrain Gonzlez is guilty of diverting $400,000 in state money to his own use, the charges dramatize the problems inherent in Albanys system of member items, in which legislators parcel out $170 million with virtually no public scrutiny, the Times says in an editorial today. Prosecutors charge Gonzlez with abusing the system to pay for such things as his cigar company, Yankees tickets and his daughters tuition, but other uses of the system, while apparently legal, may raise eyebrows as well. These include a yurt in Suffolk County, a cage for mountain lions in Watertown, $500,000 from Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to Evident Technologies, whose former co-chairman is under investigation for providing private flights at no cost to guess who? Joe Bruno. And Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has funneled lots of member-item funds to the Jewish and Chinese groups important in his district. Even if Mr. Gonzlez is not convicted and not thrown out of the legislature, the paper says, the system itself is a scandal.

By on December 15, 2006, 8:29 am
In category: Albany,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Albany's Crime Wave Continues
December 14th, 2006

Another state lawmaker, Efrain Gonzalez, has been indicted on corruption charges (again, actually), and many see it as the latest strike in a crime wave that Henry Stern has said is gripping the state capitol for months.

Gonzalez’s alleged crimes are similar to those of Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (they both, for instance, were indicted for allegedly looting Little League teams. The Politicker has a diagram illustrating them.

Gonzalez is accused of steering state-funded grants, or member items, to local non-profits which then used the money to pay his personal expenses. These grants have long been seen as a murky, corrupt part of Albany’s daily business. The Daily News says that “no one should be surprised that Gonzalez’s alleged misdeeds stem from what are politely called member items; until a recent court ruling, these were doled out in secret without any oversight or rules.”

It wasn’t just Gonzalez who was up to no good, the Post writes. While he was being indicted, it agues in an editorial, “there’s no honest way to sugar-coat this – lawmakers were milling about … while their leaders negotiated ‘yes’ votes on several bills in exchange for a pay raise. (Can you say bribe?)”

The pay raise deal didn’t go through, however. The Post dismisses the idea that this is evidence of a new Albany conscience about such dealings. So maybe it’s another illustration of that other much-discussed Albany attribute — the inability to get anything done.

By on December 14, 2006, 5:44 pm
In category: Albany,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Will Silver Kill Atlantic Yards?
December 14th, 2006

An editorial in the
New York Post praises the proposed Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, says there’s virtually no downside, and little real opposition to it but for a handful of holdouts with personal stakes and misguided, ivory-tower, eminent-domain purists. However, the editorial wonders whether it will be killed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is one of the three voting members of the Public Authorities Control Board, which is slated to give the final approval for the project next week. Tune in next week. And keep your eyes on Silver.

By on December 14, 2006, 10:39 am
In category: Albany,Gotham City,Governing,Land Use | 3 Comments »

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Goldman Sachs' Gain, Poor New Yorkers' Loss
December 14th, 2006

Here is an editorial in the Daily News, entitled, “How To End Poverty”:

“The merry moneymakers at Goldman Sachs will end the year with $9.5 billion in profits, and they’ll divide $16 billion in bonuses – about $622,000 for each employee. We do not begrudge these conquerors of capitalism, but we note two points.

“First: Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg lavished Goldman with subsidies so it would build a headquarters near Ground Zero. The giveaway grows more obscene as Goldman rakes in ever more money.

“Second: Goldman’s numbers offer a vivid example of the growing gap between the rich and everyone else in America. In the city, 1.5 million people live below the poverty line of $16,000 a year for a single parent with two kids. Goldman’s bonus pool could raise each of their incomes by more than $10,000. Something is wrong when one firm’s bonus pool is big enough to end poverty in America’s largest city.”

By on December 14, 2006, 10:28 am
In category: Gotham City,Land Use,Public Finance | 17 Comments »

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Lawsuits and 9/11 Health Issues
December 14th, 2006

Continued revelations about how damaging 9/11’s environmental effects were to the health of rescue workers and residents are expected to lead to waves of litigation. Kenneth Feinberg, the man who headed the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, which gave $7 billion to injured survivors and to the families of those who died in the attacks in large part to avoid lawsuits, writes in the New York Times today that he thinks that a similar formula could be used to deal with them.

By on December 14, 2006, 7:51 am
In category: Environment,Health,Law,Public Finance | Comments Off on Lawsuits and 9/11 Health Issues

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Bloomberg: Schools Are Flabby, Inefficient And Outdated
December 14th, 2006

In an essay in the Wall Street Journal, Mayor Michael Bloomberg uses the occasion of a report on the rate of high school graduation and college enrollment in the United States to criticize the nations education system, which looks a lot like the U.S. auto industry in the 1970s — stuck in a flabby, inefficient, outdated production model driven by the needs of employees rather than consumers.

We need, he writes, a top-to-bottom rethinking of our school system, one that insists on a performance-based culture of accountability that is oriented around children, not bureaucracies. It will require us to offer higher teacher salaries to attract more of the best and brightest, and to offer financial rewards to the most successful teachers. It will require us to set and uphold high standards, encourage innovation and competition, and end social promotion — the harmful practice of advancing students to the next grade despite their poor academic performance. And it will require us to invest in early childhood development and distribute funding more equitably.

These are exactly the goals we have been working toward in New York City, and even though we still have a long way to go, the early results are encouraging.

By on December 14, 2006, 7:39 am
In category: Education,Gotham City | Comments Off on Bloomberg: Schools Are Flabby, Inefficient And Outdated

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Will Hevesi Hang On?
December 13th, 2006

Alan Hevesi’s decision to reimburse the state an additional $33,000 for using a government employee to take care of his ailing wife comes as some writers move to the comptrollers defense. At the core of the arguments: 1) everyone does it; and 2) Hevesi may be a scoundrel but hes the voters scoundrel.

The Daily Politics noted, “Seems to me that the public debate over Alan Hevesi has really shifted. His critics are a bit worn out of calling for his blood, and a couple of important pieces came into the debate today.”

If Hevesi goes through a removal process in the Senate, he could call witnesses who “could provide quite a window” how legislators use their staffs, cars and other perks of offices, writes Spincycle. “Regardless of where you stand on the comptroller’s fate and misdeeds, this could become one of the biggest procedural spectacles to hit Albany in decades.”

While critics think Hevesis offense will undermine his ability to do his job, “pesky” voters disagree, writes Clyde Haberman in the Times: “They knew about Mr. Hevesis misdeeds, and still they handed him another term.” If they are overruled and Hevesi leaves, Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer will then name the comptroller, in short getting to select the person whose job will be to monitor the probity of the state government.

“An effort to drive an independently elected executive from office, based on facts that were widely known at the time of his election, seems to be an over-reaching attempt to frustrate the public will,” says Henry Stern. “One does not impeach a state-wide elected official for misusing his car and driver, just as one does not impeach a President of the United States for a personal affair.”

In perhaps the most spirited defense of Hevesi, Wayne Barrett in the Voice focuses on what Spitzer will do: “An administration poised to challenge the culture of the capital will begin, on Day 1, by negating the judgment of 2 million fully informed voters and handpicking a fellow insider to audit its own performance.” Barrett then offers 10 reasons the effort to remove Hevesi should end.

But whatever the merits of such arguments may be, Spitzer has withdrawn support from Hevesi, has made ethics a core principle and is expected to try to remove the comptroller. Whether he can backtrack is questionable. “Plans by Eliot Spitzer to push for the removal of New York’s comptroller, Alan Hevesi, are threatening to backfire on the governor-elect, who is facing pressure to reverse course and accept the growing possibility that Mr. Hevesi will survive his ethics scandal and serve a second term in office,” writes Jacob Gershman in the Sun.

Meanwhile, the voters have their doubts. A Quinnipiac University poll released today found 45 percent of New York State voters say Hevesi should resign and 43 percent think he stay in office.

By on December 13, 2006, 11:10 am
In category: Albany,Gotham City,Governing | 2 Comments »

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NYC in 2030: Remedies for Growing Pains
December 13th, 2006

Following his speech on the challenges facing a growing New York City between now and 2030, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets high marks for “the vision thing (Click here for his speech.)

“In a world of civic tortoises who huddle in their shells fearing any change, the mayor with his vision that the city must build housing and infrastructure so that the metropolis can accommodate more than 9 million residents in 25 years is a lion embracing the unpredictable but optimistic path of urban expansion,” cheered Harvard professor Edward Glaeser in the Sun.

The Daily News said the mayors goals are “inarguably good ones.”

But when it comes to the details of what should be done and how to do it, let alone how to pay for it, things get dicey. The Sun, which for the most part applauds the mayors vision, and the Post both fault the mayor for giving in to what the Sun terms “the global warming fad.” But, the Post goes beyond that to advise the mayor to think more about the present. Citing a recent report on the citys inability to issue accurate water bills, the editorial says, “If Mayor Mike has infrastructure on his mind, you’d think he’d be worried about the municipal water pipes in the here and now. Instead of roads, bridges, parks, subways and the electrical grid in 2030 – far enough in the future to fret about while not actually having to do anything. Except maybe cobble the topic into a presidential platform.”

And while giving Bloomberg enormous credit for daring to address our growing pains, Michael Goodwin in the News sees a gap between Bloombergs rhetoric and reality. “Bloomberg’s team rarely says no to any new project. He has blithely ignored concerns about the size of the huge Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, essentially arguing that bigger is always better,” Goodwin writes. If Bloomberg really listens to what New Yorkers think about their growing city, the columnist continues, he will “get an earful about noise. If he looks carefully, he’ll see that erratic enforcement of parking and driving regulations contributes to artery-clogging traffic. He’ll learn about architects and builders who thumb their noses at his Buildings Department, especially outside Manhattan. The agencyonly seems to show up when there is a disaster, which helps explain why nearly 100 workers have been killed in construction accidents since October 2001.”

And even the generally effusive Glaeser has qualms. If the city is to continue to grow, he writes, “The mayor should be at least as concerned with eliminating taxes and regulation as he is with building subway extensions.”

But the most churlish reaction may have come from the Times, which dismissed the speech in a 103-word news brief and noted the speech was “accompanied by videos and images of himself in a plaid bathrobe making toast and drinking coffee.”

By on December 13, 2006, 10:15 am
In category: Demographics,Gotham City,Land Use | 4 Comments »

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Transgender Reversal
December 12th, 2006

Last month, the New York City Board of Health proposed allowing transgendered New Yorkers to change the gender listed on their birth certificate whether or not they have had sex re-assignment surgery. The proposal inspired much debate, and a strong backlash and the board withdrew its proposal.

In an analysis in Slate, Yale Law School Professor Kenji Yoshino criticizes the Board of Health for a sloppy process: It did not anticipate the wave of practical concerns that surfaced when the plan was publicized Reservations were also voiced by institutions like hospitals, jails, and schools, which routinely segregate according to sex. If transgender people ever win more discretion over their own self-definition, it will be because the countervailing considerations have been overcome rather than ignored. In failing to consider those interests, the board failed the group it was ostensibly seeking to protect.

By on December 12, 2006, 8:49 am
In category: Civil Rights,Demographics,Gotham City,Health | 8 Comments »

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Congestion Pricing
December 8th, 2006

This is the week, for some reason, where traffic was front and center and especially one strategy for addressing traffic congestion, congestion pricing, the practice of charging vehicles for driving into a traffic-clogged part of town during peak periods. It is one of the strategies that has been successfully deployed in London, where traffic has decreased 17 percent.

This week saw two separate reports on traffic and congestion pricing — one of which, from the Partnership for New York City, says that traffic congestion costs $13 billion a year in lost productivity a column by Gotham Gazettes land use topic page writer Tom Angotti, and a public forum.

It has now received some editorial support, more or less:
“While the idea is politically dead on arrival, a serious study would shed light on the value of congestion pricing here, writes the Daily News (second editorial). Would benefits of speedier traffic outweigh the pain of hammering thousands of drivers, many of whom lack viable public transit, for, say, $75 a week? We’re skeptical, very skeptical. But let’s have a look

An echo in an editorial in Newsday: Even though “Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not ready to push for congestion pricing,” he “should quickly apply for federal funding to study what can be done and how it might work in practice.”

Update: The New York Times has now weighed in as well: “The discussion of how New York might implement a pricing plan is less important right now than keeping it on the table as an option.”

By on December 8, 2006, 7:27 am
In category: Gotham City,Transportation | 3 Comments »

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Gun Ho
December 8th, 2006

An editorial in the New York Sun, entitled Bloombergs Foot (as in, hes shooting himself in it), seems to oppose the mayors strategy of monitoring out-of-state gun dealers, implying that its a waste of New York taxpayers money, and that Bloomberg will learn how non-New Yorkers hate this approach if he runs for president.

By on December 8, 2006, 7:25 am
In category: Crime & Safety,Electoral Politics,Gotham City | Comments Off on Gun Ho

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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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