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And Then There Was One (Voting Machine), For Now Anyway
January 31st, 2008

After years of indecision, the New York State Board of Elections certified three voting machines for counties to choose amongst, and disabled voters would finally find one machine accessible to them at every polling place. A tempered sigh of relief amongst voting machine advocates ensued: The much maligned touch-screen machines had been avoided, and the disabled had finally found a modicum of support for their voting needs by elections officials, albeit court facilitated.

But it was only a fleeting moment of ease. It took less than a day for that decision amongst election officials – years in the making – to be thrown into question.

Immediately after their vote, makers of the electronic machines filed suit. One suit, filed by machine vendor Liberty Election Systems in State Supreme Court, asked that the Board of Elections be compelled to include their product on the list of certified machines. Bo Lipari of New Yorker’s for Verified Voting could “only gape in awe at Libertys unmitigated gall.” While the vendor’s request for a temporary restraining order was denied on Monday, the court will decide whether to force the board to include the machine today.

Then, as the lawsuits went on, the board basically decertified two of the three paper based machines they had approved only days earlier, leaving the only machine certified one that had never been tested in an actual election. The Brennan Center opined that they had “a hard time believing the decision had anything to do with which system was best for disabled voters, or New Yorkers in general.”

And all of this is only for 2008. The state still needs to decide which machines to approve for the replacement of all machines by 2009.

By on January 31, 2008, 2:14 pm
In category: Albany,Civil Rights,Governing,Tech | 2 Comments »

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An Urban Legend That Changed the Way We Think
January 31st, 2008

Over four decades ago, the New York Times reported on a woman in Kew Gardens, Queens, named “Kitty” Genovese who had been murdered in the plain sight of witnesses who did nothing until she was dead. The story was so powerful, it led to the development of the theory called the “bystander effect,” which says that people in groups may not act because they assume somebody else will. The Times article is featured prominently in psychology text books covering the subject.

But the account as told by the Times is “not supported by the available evidence,” according to a study by researchers from Lancaster University and the University of West England. The Atlantic Monthly wrote about it in their most recent issue, but the study is over a year old. A local historian from Kew Gardens found significant inaccuracies in the article as well.

By on January 31, 2008, 11:11 am
In category: Crime & Safety | 4 Comments »

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Garden's Tax Break Blocked (Update)
January 30th, 2008

The City Council gave Cablevision a much anticipated “take that” at its stated meeting today, launching a potential battle upstate between the entertainment conglomerate and New York City legislators.

After several years of staggering and debate, the council approved a resolution calling for the termination of Madison Square Garden’s tax exemption first approved in the 1980s. Council Speaker Christine Quinn charged at the Garden’s corporate owners, mega-company Cablevision, saying the city had lined its pockets for long enough.
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By on January 30, 2008, 5:55 pm
In category: Albany,Economy,Gotham City,Public Finance | 1 Comment »

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America's Loser
January 30th, 2008

As political aficionados in much of the country ponder the Clinton-Obama race and wonder whether John McCain really has a lock on the GOP nomination, New Yorkers, many with a hint of glee, wonder what happened to Rudolph Giuliani. The former mayor, who only months ago had huge leads in the polls, may end his presidential bid today after a weak third-place showing in Florida and a string of primary losses, which, until yesterday, had left him with fewer votes than Ron Paul.

Coincidentally the results came in last night as a group of political experts gathered at the New York Press Club to offer their views and predictions on the campaign. “A clear case of Kerikitis,” said consultant Hank Sheinkopf when he heard the news.
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By on January 30, 2008, 10:29 am
In category: Electoral Politics | Comments Off on America's Loser

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No More Homework
January 29th, 2008

Kids, throw that geometry book out the window. Trash that novel.

Well, not really, but Councilmember Peter Vallone certainly wants to limit how much the citys kids will have to study. His long awaited resolution, which was first talked about late last year and urges the Department of Education to limit homework by minutes for each grade, will be introduced at tomorrows stated council meeting. The limits correspond with grades, that is a second grader could only get 20 minutes of work, while a seventh grader could get 70 minutes.

He also wants to establish a homework free night.
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By on January 29, 2008, 5:02 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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This Park Bench Brought to You by ...
January 29th, 2008

Amid the swirling controversy (oh wait, there’s been hardly a peep of controversy.) over Mayor Bloomberg’s recent rejuvenation of an old proposal to auction off naming rights to city parks and facilities, Gothamist reminds us today that the parks department has been selling off naming rights to Central Park benches for decades.

By on January 29, 2008, 3:53 pm
In category: Parks | Comments Off on This Park Bench Brought to You by ...

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The Not-So-Grand Central Station
January 29th, 2008

The proposed Fulton Street Transit Center was once touted as the new Grand Central Station of Lower Manhattan. The plan called for overhauled subway tunnels under a 50 foot high glass-dome and 23,000 feet of new retail space. But now transit officials say the project is $320 over budget – with a total price tag of more than $1 billion – and so they are reassessing the plan.

Who or what – is to blame?

The MTA says rising construction costs have made the original plan too expensive.

WNYCs reporter Matt Schumerman notes that it cost the MTA $100 million more than expected to acquire properties in the area.

An editorial in the New York Post points the finger at elected officials. Had former Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Spitzer forced a quicker pace, the job might have been done – as planned – before the price-hikes hit home, the Post writes.

And discussion on the blog Second Avenue Sagas has questioned if the MTA had overly ambitious expectations from the beginning. If these projects were designed to be functional and somewhat visually attractive, but not cathedral-like, the MTA could save a boatload of money, wrote one reader.

By on January 29, 2008, 9:13 am
In category: Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Lumbering Indeed
January 28th, 2008

The Daily News reported this morning that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to consolidate duplicative administrative departments and cut 240 jobs in the process, promising a savings of $40 million. The numbers have news readers reaching for their calculators and clamoring for a peek at the MTA books while Gothamist readers are wondering whether 240 is really a “giant step” toward efficiency, as MTA Executive Director Elliot Sander calls the move, particularly considering that it will be five years before the agency realizes any savings, since the consolidated office set up to save money will cost as much as $235 million to set up.

The agency’s tight lips and tighter books have been a subject of contention for years, so it is no surprise that the News characterized Sanders’ “giant step” as lumbering instead.

By on January 28, 2008, 8:09 pm
In category: Transportation | Comments Off on Lumbering Indeed

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Bloomberg Turns to Albany
January 28th, 2008

If New Yorkers want their tax breaks, they better press upstate legislators to open their wallets.

When the mayor released his preliminary budget last week (see our related story here), he said the 7 percent tax cut and $400 rebate were dependent upon the volatile economy and the support the city received from upstate and the feds.

That is where the mayor turned this morning. Bloomberg was slated to testify in front of the state legislature today, and Newsday reports that he said the city has been “shortchanged” by Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s state proposal. Bloomberg claims the state shorted the city about $500 million, of which at least $100 million was in education funding.

Read the rest of this entry »

By on January 28, 2008, 1:36 pm
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Endorsing the 'Farm Girl'
January 27th, 2008

As the endorsements for the February 5 primary come in, the Amsterdam News announced its support for Hillary Clinton. New York’s senator, editor Wilbert Tatum wrote, “is wise, competent and strong enough to lead America with dignity, forthrightness, anger when it has to be, love as it must always be, temperance as required and justice with everything.” He also described Clinton as “a razor wit with a meat, vegetable, corn and potatoes mentality. . a farm girl without the hayseed.”

With no disrespect to the senator, we’re not sure what this means but Clinton undoubtedly welcomed words of approval from a paper that describes itself as “one of New York’s largest and most influential Black-owned and operated business institutions.”

What might be most striking about the editorial, though, is that it does not mention Clinton’s chief rival, Senator Barack Obama, even once — although it a not too thinly veiled reference, Tatum said stated, “It has been difficult to make a decision as to who would be our Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 2008.. It was not easy, but it was fair and it was the right thing to do.”

By on January 27, 2008, 9:31 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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The Moving Image: Taxi Patterns
January 25th, 2008

The images above are animated maps of taxi patterns in the San Francisco area, gleaned from GPS data by Cabspotting, an effort of The Exploratorium, a local museum.While the installation of GPS technology in every taxi in the New York fleet was a major complaint by striking cabbies and their sympathizers, the technology is well on its way to being incorporated into our city. Could New York now use the technology to produce such maps here? What could we gain from it, other than a very interesting art project?

The Exploratorium takes suggestions for various Cab Projects, which are individual websites that use the technology for differing purposes, to help answer that question. One of their projects found anecdotal evidence (point 8 on the map) that new cabbies congregated around the San Francisco downtown area, while more experienced drivers traveled between residential areas and medical centers.

Here in New York, another design intensive taxi study occurred a few months ago, before GPS technology arrived. A comprehensive look at the cabbies’ world was presented in a similarly engaging, albeit static, presentation (a 160 page book) called Taxi 07: Roads Forward, published by The Design Trust for Public Space, in cooperation with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

But if the animation has captured your imagination, The New Museum is featuring the Cabspotting project on Friday, Feb 8, as part of their monthly New Silent Series.

By on January 25, 2008, 11:20 am
In category: Arts,Tech,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Times Endorsements: Anyone But Rudy?
January 24th, 2008

Tomorrow morning’s New York Times — and its Web site now — endorses Hillary Clinton and John McCain for their parties’ nomination for president.

On the Democratic side, the paper sees many similarities on the stands taken by Clinton and her chief rival, Barack Obama. But, while crediting the Illinois senator’s gifts and appeal, the editorial page opts for experience: “The next president needs to start immediately on challenges that will require concrete solutions, resolve, and the ability to make government work. Mrs. Clinton is more qualified, right now, to be president.”

As much as the Times likes Clinton, it has doubts about her campaign — and the way her husband has been acting. The tone of the campaign, the paper says, ” is not good for the country, the Democratic Party or for Mrs. Clinton, who is often tagged as divisive.”

On the other side of the aisle, the Times has little use for the positions of any of the Republicans candidates. That said, though, the paper sees an easy choice in opting for McCain, “the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe.”

While the Times has “shuddered at Mr. McCains occasional, tactical pander to the right,” they cite his principled stands global warming and immigration and laud him as a “genuine war hero[who] argues passionately that a countrys treatment of prisoners in the worst of times says a great deal about its character.”

As you might expect, since the Times does not want anger, it really does not want Rudy Giuliani (who it endorsed for mayor in 1997). The attack on the former mayor is so scathing it sounds like something he would come up with (if he was a writer).

Giuliani, the editorial says, ” is a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man who saw no need to limit police power. Racial polarization was as much a legacy of his tenure as the rebirth of Times Square.”

“Mr. Giulianis arrogance and bad judgment are breathtaking,” the editorial says recounting his squandering of budget surpluses, firing of Police Commissioner William Bratton and later giving the job to Bernard Kerik. The paper continued, “The Rudolph Giuliani of 2008 first shamelessly turned the horror of 9/11 into a lucrative business, with a secret client list, then exploited his citys and the countrys nightmare to promote his presidential campaign.”

The editorial goes on to say that Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee “offer no better choices.” Maybe, but neither of them gets 150 words of vitriol.

By on January 24, 2008, 10:14 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City | Comments Off on Times Endorsements: Anyone But Rudy?

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[No] More Delay on Voting Machines
January 24th, 2008

State elections officials have delayed meeting federal requirements on voting machines for so long, that a federal judge threatened to throw them in jail for contempt or strip them of their authority if they don’t do so by tomorrow. And yesterday, the state Board of Elections met to do as the judge demanded and certify machines that counties across the state can choose among. But those in the audience for this event-of-events in the voting world spent several hours of their day watching the board ultimately decide nothing.

[…Until just an hour ago, right as I started this post. They approved three machines, none of them “touch screen.”… Unless, of course, a lawsuit by two makers of the touch screen technology holds any sway… Also, only one machine per polling place will consist of those approved until 2009, where touch screens may come back into the picture again.]

New York [was] the only state in the country not to comply with a federal law called the 2002 Help America Vote Act mandating the use of new voting machines. The recalcitrance had been so exasperating to some that it led Newsday to compare the situation to a comic opera and a a cry of kudos for the judge’s suggestion of jail time from the Daily News.

At the same time, the prospect of action unnerved many of those same people. They worried that when the board did act, it might plunge New York into the company of a body of regrettable decisions made by a number of other states. They worried that by forcing the state into quick action, it might hustle them into weakening the strict standards the state has developed for voting security.
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By on January 24, 2008, 12:49 pm
In category: Albany,Governing | 2 Comments »

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Ferry Point Fiasco (cont.)
January 23rd, 2008

The saga of the still-unbuilt Ferry Point golf course, reviewed in this week’s Gotham Gazette article by Anne Schwartz, is one of those situations that prompts some of us to scratch our heads and wonder, “What’s really going on here?”

The article prompted that reaction from reader Daniel Millstone who posed some thoughtful questions about the problem-plagued project. For his questions and Anne’s reponses, click here.

You may still have some questions about what in heaven’s name is going on in Throggs Neck — but you’ll also have some more answers. And feel free to continue the discussion — either here or on our Message Board.

By on January 23, 2008, 3:44 pm
In category: Environment,Land Use,Parks | 8 Comments »

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Observer for Obama
January 23rd, 2008

With less than two weeks before the primary, the Observer announces its preference in the Democratic race — and it’s Barak Obama. “While [Hillary] Clinton is an extraordinary United States senator for New York, we believe that Mr. Obama can be a great president for the United States of America,” the paper said.

The editorial continues, “Mr. Obamas idealism and fresh ideas would ensure that the end of the Bush era would also mean an end to government by secrecy, Cheneyism, arrogance, oligarchy; an end to mindless armed unilateralism abroad; an end to the blustering, rank partisan disputes of the last quarter-century.”

In this editorial at least the paper, which finds many of its readers in the once solidly Republican Silk Stocking district of Manhattan, does not weigh in on the GOP race. (Though the writers clearly do not like the current Republican administration, which it accuses of having “polluted, sullied and compromised” American democracy.)

Are there other endorsements out there we should know about (and link to)? Let us know.

And for a look at whether it makes any difference, go here.

By on January 23, 2008, 1:26 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City | Comments Off on Observer for Obama

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Child Health Insurance Rerun: UPDATED
January 23rd, 2008

If Gov. Eliot Spitzer plans on pushing forward a crucial element of this year’s budget proposal – child health care – he is likely turning a hopeful eye towards Washington today, where the House of Representatives will attempt to once again override a presidential veto on an insurance program’s expansion.

The house approved the program’s expansion, which would dramatically increase the amount of federal funding dedicated to insuring children within certain household income requirements, twice last year. It attempted to override the president’s first veto in October, but fell 13 votes shy. Today they will give it another try.

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By on January 23, 2008, 11:19 am
In category: Albany,Gotham City,Health | Comments Off on Child Health Insurance Rerun: UPDATED

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Individual Donors Combine Like Voltron Through Intermediaries
January 23rd, 2008

Council Speaker Christine Quinn – or shall we say, Prospective Mayoral Candidate Christine Quinn – may be lagging behind in fundraising totals among mayoral candidates, but she’s the leader in contributions received from intermediaries.

A roster of 48 individuals have contributed $772,760 as intermediaries to Quinn, according to a review by Gotham Gazette of Campaign Finance Board records. That’s nearly a third of the $2,476,740 she has raised so far. They not only make up a larger percentage of her total contributions than each of her likely competitors, but the total raised by her bundlers is nearly double what their intermediaries have raised combined.

Intermediaries are individuals who collect contributions from a variety of donors and hand it over to a campaign bundled under their name. Many observers have said that low contribution limits have increased the influence of bundlers, who are allowed to bring in as much money as they can.

The leading group of bundlers for Quinn is made up of real estate interests, who have contributed over $243,000. Lawyers are the runner up and have donated over $125,000. But her largest individual bundler is a Jewish singer named Shloime Dachs who collected $53,850 for Quinn, which is eligible for $4,500 in matching public funds, her campaign claims. The next highest intermediary, pulling in $43,000, is Cheryl Effron, and the campaign estimates that is eligible for $3,350 in matching funds. Effron lists her occupation with the board as unemployed, but in 2006, she was listed as a real estate developer. The average giving rate by intermediaries to Quinn is $16,000 apiece.
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By on January 23, 2008, 1:52 am
In category: Governing | Comments Off on Individual Donors Combine Like Voltron Through Intermediaries

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Loser Lose All
January 22nd, 2008

Whoever wins New York’s Republican primary on February 5 will get all the state’s delegates to next summer’s convention, leaving the other contenders in the hotly contested race with nothing. According to the Daily News, party bigwigs in New York, and New Jersey and Connecticut as well, set up the winner-take-all primary to boost the presidential hopes of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani: “They wanted to discourage anyone from challenging him on their turf, so they decreed that the winning Republican in each state, presumably Giuliani, would take all the delegates.”

But if current polls have any validity, the plan may backfire. Giuliani’s commanding lead in the region he claims to have saved from terrorism, blight and economic collapse has dwindled of not vanished. A Siena poll released yesterday finds Giuliani trailing Arizona Sen. John McCain by12 points. The Marist and Zogby polls also give McCain the edge — a rather astounding turnaround from several weeks ago — although the Quinnipiac Poll sees a tie.

However it turns out, the News said, by allowing winner-take-all — a practice the Democrats forbid — “the state parties have done a disservice to their members.”

By on January 22, 2008, 8:58 am
In category: Electoral Politics,Governing | Comments Off on Loser Lose All

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Campaign Finance Summaries
January 21st, 2008

The vast majority of campaign finance disclosure statements have been filed with the Campaign Finance Board and the summaries have now been posted online. Here’s a wrap up of some of the more interesting numbers for declared City Council candidates:

The highest fundraiser is David Greenfield, who has already surpassed the limit for campaign finance program participants of $161,000 by nearly $10,000. The first time candidate will receive the maximum amount of $88,550 in public funds available to a City Council candidate if he participates in the program, placing him at $249,550 for the primary – almost two years before it happens.

Greenfield is competing for Simcha Felder’s term limited Brooklyn seat in the 44th district. He threw a very successful bi-partisan fundraiser in early December, and none of his potential competitors, including Assembly Member Dov Hikind, have filed with the board.

The next highest fundraisers are candidates looking to hold on to their seats. Vincent Gentile, whose Brooklyn seat is the 43rd district, has raised $117,665 dollars so far and spent $34,667 of that. Jessica Lappin, whose Manhattan seat is the fifth district, has raised $96,311 and spent about 10 percent of that.

Elizabeth Crowley, who is looking to take over Dennis Gallagher’s term limited seat, the 30th district in Queens, has raised the fourth highest amount for declared council candidates with a total of $70,770. Crowley, who ran for the seat in 2001 and is the cousin of the Queens Democratic Party Leader, Joseph Crowley, has already spent $20,660. The only other declared candidate, Angelo DiGangi, has raised just $12,558 and spent $9,926 of that.

A couple of races among declared council candidates are a bit more financially competitive.
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By on January 21, 2008, 10:29 am
In category: Electoral Politics,Governing | 2 Comments »

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The Bad News is the Good News
January 20th, 2008

Most New Yorkers applaud the drop in crime. But to every silver lining there must be a cloud. Lower crime rates mean fewer prisoners, and Errol Louis writes in today’s Daly News, that concerns upstate communities whose economies rely on prisons and prisoners.

The Spitzer administration is seeking to shut down four prisons, saving the state more than $44 million over the next two years. But officials in some of the affected areas want to stop the move. After all, prison work crews clean and repair roads — virtually for free, residents have jobs in the prisons and the practice of counting prisoners as residents of the communities where they are incarcerated swells the upstate population, bringing in more aid and giving those areas political clout.

None of that impresses Louis. “Downstate advocates of prison reentry – a policy of redirecting public resources to schools, housing, jobs and recreation programs instead of prison – need to get fired up and jump into this debate,” he writes. And he says Spitzer must “hold firm and make clear that the last thing upstate’s ailing economy needs is a fiscally and morally bankrupt

By on January 20, 2008, 3:20 pm
In category: Albany,Crime & Safety,Demographics | 1 Comment »

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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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