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Let the Battle of Maps Begin
August 30th, 2012

Deliberations over how the New York City Council’s district lines will be drawn for the next decade is getting communities and advocacy organizations into a map-making mood.

One coalition of civil rights organizations released a map today of how they think the Council’s district lines should be drawn to account for shifts in demographics and to protect the voting rights of blacks, Asians and Latinos.

The mapmakers say they followed the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the city Charter to come up with their Unity Map. They also say they sought to protect “traditional and emerging neighborhoods.”

The Unity Map is the work of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Institute for Latino Policy and the Center for Law and Social Justice of Medgar Evers College.

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, called it a “fair map.”

“We must ensure that the Latino community has the opportunity to elect members who will pay attention to their needs and concerns,” he said in a statement.

Many more maps are expected to be forthcoming in the next few weeks from various interest groups as the city’s Districting Commission weighs tough decisions about how to shape the Council lines.

By on August 30, 2012, 4:19 pm
In category: City Hall,Governing | 4 Comments »

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Sanders: Quinn Should Bring Paid Sick Leave to Vote
August 30th, 2012

New York City Councilman James Sanders Jr. is imploring Speaker Christine Quinn to bring a stalled paid sick leave bill to a vote.

“There is nothing harder to stop than an idea whose time has come,” the councilman said in a recent interview with the Gotham Gazette.

Quinn has refused to bring the bill to a vote, both in an earlier form in 2010 and after it was revised and reintroduced in recent months. In both instances, she has argued that the bill would negatively affect businesses in a weakened economy.

Sanders is running against Shirley Huntley in the Democrat primary for the 10th State Senate District.

By on August 30, 2012, 3:25 pm
In category: City Hall,Health | 2 Comments »

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Williams and Cabrera Comment on Shootings
August 24th, 2012

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this mornings shooting and their families and friends. It was a terrible act of gun violence and thankfully many more people were not hurt in midtown Manhattan. But its not the only act of gun violence in our city this summer.
Just last night, a 13-year-old child was heading to the store in Brownsville when he was gunned down and killed. We should be outraged and frightened by each and every one of these incidents, and they should strengthen the resolve of every elected official to do whatever necessary to pass meaningful and common-sense gun control measures. We all need to find ways to end gun violence in our city. Whether its on 34th street in Midtown Manhattan, a playground in the Bronx or a school yard in Brooklyn.

Councilman Jumaane Williams and Fernando Cabrera want to remind New Yorker’s that gun violence is an everyday reality for a number of their constituents. The men co-chair the Council’s Gun Violence Taskforce and issued this statement in reaction to the shooting at the Empire State Building:

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this mornings shooting and their families and friends. It was a terrible act of gun violence and thankfully many more people were not hurt in midtown Manhattan. But its not the only act of gun violence in our city this summer.

Just last night, a 13-year-old child was heading to the store in Brownsville when he was gunned down and killed. We should be outraged and frightened by each and every one of these incidents, and they should strengthen the resolve of every elected official to do whatever necessary to pass meaningful and common-sense gun control measures. We all need to find ways to end gun violence in our city. Whether its on 34th street in Midtown Manhattan, a playground in the Bronx or a school yard in Brooklyn.

By on August 24, 2012, 2:47 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Crime & Safety,Eye on Albany | Comments Off

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Coalition For Homeless Blasts Bloomberg
August 23rd, 2012

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was recently quoted as saying that the sharp rise in the length of stays at city homeless shelters has to do with “more pleasurable” shelter conditions. The Coalition for the Homeless called the comments “shocking.” and their executive director Mary Brosnahan issued this statement:

“The Mayor’s assertion that homeless New Yorkers are staying in shelters longer because they are ‘much more pleasurable’ is shocking and offensive. Mayor Bloomberg systematically closed every single path to affordable housing once available to homeless families with vulnerable children. His failed policies are the major factor leading to the record shelter population this summer. Blaming homeless families and suggesting they are luxuriating in ‘pleasurable’ accommodations shows just how badly the mayor is out of touch.”

By on August 23, 2012, 2:07 pm
In category: City Hall,Economy,Housing | 2 Comments »

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City Council Members, Business Groups Rally Against Soda Ban
July 23rd, 2012

City Council members and a beverage-industry backed group rallied on the steps of City Hall today to protest the Bloomberg administration’s proposed soda ban.

Members of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices were joined by city council members and representatives from a local soft drink and beer workers’ union to speak out against the proposal to restrict the size of sweetened drinks sold at certain stores to 16 ounces.

The speakers explained that the regulation would cause economic problems, as well as violate New Yorkers’ right to choose

“This is going to set up an unfair competitive advantage,” said Letitia James, city councilwoman for District 36.

The ban will affect only restaurants and other venues, such as movie theaters and ballparks, that require a health inspection report. Grocery stores and vendors like 7-Eleven, home of the Big Gulp, will not be restricted which Councilman Daniel Halloran argued is inequitable and thus illegal.

“That’s the standard. Either it applies to everyone or it doesn’t,” he said.

Halloran and other soda ban opponents said they were frustrated with the public’s relative inability to affect the decision on the proposal, which was recently backed by the city’s largest healthcare union.

A Board of Health hearing in Long Island City tomorrow may be the only opportunity to comment, and Halloran described the Board as a “strong mayoralty agency.”

“The agency’s already made up its mind. Having the hearing is pointless,” Halloran explained. “The mayor chose to go this route because he knew he would never get this bill passed through the City Council.”

Members of the City Council have already begun taking up the issue with the legislature in Albany, and Halloran anticipates a lawsuit against the ban almost as soon as it is passed.

“The City Council’s function is to set the laws of the city of New York,” he said. “We’re not going to let one man become king in the city of New York.”

By on July 23, 2012, 1:59 pm
In category: City Hall,Gotham City,Health,Law | 5 Comments »

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City Council to adopt budget, override mayoral vetoes
June 28th, 2012

The City Council is expected to adopt a $68.5 billion budget at today’s stated meeting that preserves funding for child care and after school programs, while at the same time raising no new taxes.

But fiscal policy experts say the budget also makes the risky assumption that the the city will reap hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of taxi medallions. The sale has been held up in court.

The Council also plans to override mayoral vetoes on bills that call for a so-called “living wage” on some city-subsidized projects and a “Responsible Banking Act.”

Bloomberg called the living wage bill “a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked, rather than a garden to be cultivated.” The living wage bill would apply to companies that receive at least $1 million in city subsidies.

Bloomberg was equally dismissive of the banking bill.

“Nobody would argue, I would think, that the city has the expertise or the resources to try to regulate the banking industry,” he said at the time the bill was passed by the Council.

By on June 28, 2012, 10:26 am
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Election night results reporting bill passes Assembly
June 21st, 2012

The Assembly passed member Brian Kavanagh’s Election Night Poll Procedure Act today a bill that would allow the state Board of Elections to use modern techniques and digital data to tally un-official results on election night.

The current process involves time consuming hand counts that produce unreliable results.

Public confidence in our elections is eroded when we cant say with any confidence what the results are until long after the voters have spoken, and when the numbers change as clerical errors are uncovered days after the election, said Kavanagh. This bill will improve the integrity, accuracy and speed of this process and take advantage of the best features of the new voting machines.

The bill’s fate in the Senate was not clear at the time of writing. The bill is sponsored in that chamber by Sen. Martin Golden. The bill may have a good chance of passing both houses. The New York City Council, the office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a number of good government groups are backing it.

By on June 21, 2012, 6:37 pm
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City lawmakers propose NYPD inspector general
June 13th, 2012

Lawmakers have introduced legislation into the City Council that would create an inspector general with subpoena powers over the nation’s largest police department.

With criticism mounting daily on the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk and surveillance policies, sponsors of the bill said the aim was to create independent oversight of the law enforcement agency.

The measure, introduced earlier today by Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander, would create an inspector general to conduct investigations and review NYPD policies and operations. He or she would also make recommendations and deliver regular reports to the mayor, police commissioner, City Council and the public.

Lander said they looked at the work of inspectors general on the federal and local levels to draft the legislation. They also reviewed police oversight models in other big cities and the operations of other inspector generals in New York City.

“Inspectors general have worked in New York City a lot of times, have worked at the federal level, have worked in a lot of places. There’s a good framework for doing it,” Lander said. “It just made a lot of sense.”

The mayor and police commissioner have previously said the department does not need increased oversight.

By on June 13, 2012, 4:34 pm
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NYPD stop-and-frisk procedures modified
May 17th, 2012

 

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he has instituted a new procedure to regulate how street stop-and-frisk encounters by patrol officers are monitored and supervised.
In a letter sent earlier today to Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Kelly said top-ranking officials in each police precinct will now be required to audit reports of street stops by officers. This is in addition to a review undertaken at weekly Compstat meetings by the chief of the department, he wrote.�
“I believe these measures will help us more closely monitor the daily street encounter activity of precinct personnel,” he wrote.�
He also said that the department has republished an order prohibiting racial profiling and has created a new training course that “provides personnel with an additional level of clarity in determining when and how to conduct a lawful stop.”
Quinn, who released Kelly’s letter, said in a statement that the changes announced were “an important step forward” but said more needs to be done to reduce the number of stops and “bridge the divide between the NYPD and the communities they serve.”�
A federal judge yesterday granted class-action status to a lawsuit against the city’s stop-and-frisk practices. The lawsuit alleges that the NYPD has systematically targeted blacks and Latinos and trampled on Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.Â�
Over 200,000 stops were made on city streets in the first three months of this year, an increase of over 2011.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he has instituted a new procedure to regulate how street stop-and-frisk encounters by patrol officers are monitored and supervised.

In a letter sent earlier today to Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Kelly said top-ranking officials in each police precinct will now be required to audit reports of street stops by officers. This is in addition to a review undertaken at weekly Compstat meetings by the chief of the department, he wrote.

“I believe these measures will help us more closely monitor the daily street encounter activity of precinct personnel,” he wrote.

He also said that the department has republished an order prohibiting racial profiling and has created a new training course that “provides personnel with an additional level of clarity in determining when and how to conduct a lawful stop.”

Quinn, who released Kelly’s letter, said in a statement that the changes announced were “an important step forward” but said more needs to be done to reduce the number of stops and “bridge the divide between the NYPD and the communities they serve.”

A federal judge yesterday granted class-action status to a lawsuit against the city’s stop-and-frisk practices. The lawsuit alleges that the NYPD has systematically targeted blacks and Latinos and trampled on Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

Over 200,000 stops were made on city streets in the first three months of this year.

By on May 17, 2012, 12:58 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Crime & Safety | 3 Comments »

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Judge grants class-action status to stop-and-frisk lawsuit
May 16th, 2012

A federal judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit alleging the New York Police Department has improperly targeted blacks and Hispanics with its stop-and-frisk crime reduction program.
U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who issued the written decision today, wrote that it was “indisputable” that the NYPD has a vast stop-and-frisk program “designed, implemented and monitored by NYPD’s administration.” She said over 2.8 million stops were made between 2004 and 2009.
She wrote that the city had demonstrated “a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”
Police released data Friday showing an increase in the number of stops on city streets between January and March of this year. The data showed there were 203,500 street stops, compared to 183,326 in 2011.
The city’s Law Department said it disagreed with the decision and was reviewing its legal options.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has strongly defended the practicing and, during a City Council hearing last month, pugnaciously argued that the policy had successfully reduced violence among young men of color.

A federal judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit alleging the New York Police Department improperly targeted blacks and Hispanics with its stop-and-frisk crime reduction program.

U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who wrote the decision filed today in court, wrote that it was “indisputable” that the NYPD has a vast stop-and-frisk program “designed, implemented and monitored” by the department’s administration. She said over 2.8 million stops were made between 2004 and 2009.

She wrote that the city had demonstrated “a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”

Police released data Friday showing an increase in the number of stops on city streets between January and March of this year. The data showed there were 203,500 street stops, compared to 183,326 in 2011.

The city’s Law Department said it disagreed with the judge’s decision and was reviewing its legal options.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has strongly defended the practicing and, during a City Council hearing last month, pugnaciously argued that the policy had successfully reduced violence among young men of color.

By on May 16, 2012, 4:16 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights | 3 Comments »

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NYC Council wants banks to detail efforts in communities
May 15th, 2012

The City Council plans to vote onlegislation that would require banks that receive billions in municipal funds to release information on their lending practices in struggling neighborhoods.

The bill is expected to pass today at the council’s stated meeting. Its supporters, including the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, say it will help policymakers make better decisions about where the city’s money is deposited and encourage banks to invest in communities.

“This bill will make the banking capital of the world the responsible banking capital of the world,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said during the meeting.

Other cities are considering or have passed similar ordinances after a punishing financial crisis. Los Angeles was expected to pass its own today.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told The New York Times he was wary of putting restrictions on where city money could be deposited. “You would think, between the federal government and the state government, we’d have enough bank regulations,” Bloomberg told the newspaper.

The city currently banks with over 30 major financial institutions, including JPMorganChase, Bank of America, New York Community Bank and Citibank.

At a council hearing in March 2011, the city Department of Finance said it was opposed to the bill, saying it was overly broad and could mislead consumers and businesses into believing it regulates banks.

“When procuring banking services, the city focuses and should continue to focus solely on the financial safety and soundness of each bank, its banking capabilities and its pricing,” said Elaine A. Kloss, in testimony before the committees on finance and community development.

The Department of Finance oversees the city’s money, in conjunction with the city comptroller and the Banking Commission. The commission approves or denies applications from financial institutions seeking to do business with the city.

By on May 15, 2012, 12:08 pm
In category: City Hall,Community Development,Economy,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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A new, digital Green Book for NYC
May 11th, 2012

NYC Green Book

New York City’s Green Book has gone digital.

The city announced today an updated online edition of its widely used directory of city, state and county agencies.

Its the first time the directory has been made available as a digital application, viewable from any modern-day browser.

Created in 1918, the book has a storied history, but hasnt been published since 2008. Dog-eared copies of older editions of the book still sit on the desks of researchers, journalists and policymakers, even though many of the phone numbers are outdated and agency heads have long since changed.

The new edition will still be available in print, available exclusively from CityStore in late June.

Continuing with the green theme of the directory, the new edition sports the citys environmentally conscientious mascot Birdie, holding a compact fluorescent light bulb and wearing a Statue of Liberty crown.

The online directory is searchable and will be updated on an ongoing basis. The new directory is a project of the citys Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

Link: www.nyc.gov/greenbook

By on May 11, 2012, 11:33 am
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Bloomberg: Obama support of same-sex marriage is civil rights 'turning point'
May 9th, 2012

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called President Barack Obama’s newly announced support for same-sex marriage “a major turning point in the history of American civil rights.”

“No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people — and I have no doubt that this will be no exception,” Bloomberg said in a statement today.

President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage during an interview earlier today with ABC’s Robin Roberts. The president’s official announcement of his evolution on the matter came a day after he visited Albany, N.Y., accompanied by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The governor, who championed the landmark passage of same-sex marriage legislation in New York last year, told reporters in Albany earlier today that he did not discuss the subject with Obama.

Bloomberg has long been a supporter of same-sex marriage.

Though the billionaire mayor has not announced whether he will endorse a candidate in the presidential race, his support would be valuable for attracting independent voters.

By on May 9, 2012, 3:58 pm
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Williams Calls for State to Raise Minimum Wage
April 30th, 2012

Councilman Jumaane Williams has introduced legislation in the City Council calling on the State to pass a bill increasing the minimum wage. “I am proud to be joined by a number of my colleagues, including Speaker Quinn, in the active support of an increase to our state’s minimum wage,” Williams said in a statement. “Along with other wage-related legislation we are addressing today, the Council has the ability to show its support of New Yorkers who cannot afford to live in the city they have helped make great. New York State should not be behind the curve on minimum wage, yet we somehow are. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have rates higher than that mandated by the federal government, and a number of states have indexed future increases to the cost of living. Economists have shown that raising the minimum wage is a job creator, not a job killer. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the increase in spending that will result from the minimum wage increases passed in eight states in 2012 will lead to an additional $366 million in economic output and create 3,000 jobs.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver supports a minimum wage increase but the measure faces a major obstacle in the form the Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos who adamantly opposes the an increase.

By on April 30, 2012, 2:52 pm
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Living Wage Vote Set
April 30th, 2012

The City Council is set to vote on a living wage bill that would require anyone benefiting from city subsidies to pay their workers a minimum of $10 an hour with health care benefits or $11.50 without. Earlier today Council Speaker Christine Quinn was the feature speaker for the bill. Someone in the crowd shouted out that everyone but, “Pharaoh Bloomberg” was in attendance. Quinn chided the audience and demanded an apology. When none was rendered she stormed off. Colin Cambpell of The Politicker has the video.

Quinn has positioned herself against the mayor recently in the debate over the prevailing wage. Bloomberg vetoed a prevailing wage bill last week and gave an impassioned speech against the living and prevailing wage. Most political observers see Quinn’s recent opposition to the mayor as political posturing for her mayoral run.

By on April 30, 2012, 2:42 pm
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Stringer Blasts Bloomberg's Veto
April 25th, 2012

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer does not have kind words for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of the living wage bill. “The working people of New York City have a fundamental right to wage they can live on, and the Mayor has rejected that idea in his regrettable veto action today. Along with millions of other New Yorkers, I look forward to the City Council swiftly overriding this action and taking the first steps towards genuine wage equity for all people in New York City,” said Stringer.

By on April 25, 2012, 4:29 pm
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Bloomberg Vetoes Prevailing Wage Bill
April 25th, 2012

Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the living wage bill today that would have raised the wages earned by people who work on city-funded developments. Council President Christine Quinn has promised to override the veto.

Bloomberg announced the veto during a speech about job creation.

“Unfortunately, the City Council has recently passed a bill, and is about to pass a second bill, that imposes costly conditions on businesses, and that will make it harder for government to encourage job creation, and harder for businesses to grow,” Bloomberg said.

Those bills the so-called living and prevailing wage bills are a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked, rather than a garden to be cultivated.

In those days, government took the private sector for granted. We cannot afford to go back to those days. We cannot take our economy for granted. And I will not sign legislation no matter how well-intended that that hurts job creation and taxpayers.

And thats why I will veto both the living and prevailing wage bills. But before I do, I wanted to explain the principles guiding my decision,” said Bloomberg.

Comptroller John Liu issued this statement: As a City employee the Mayor continues to ignore the widening wealth gap within the five boroughs. In opposing these bills, he is sending the wrong message, that our scarce taxpayer resources are better spent on lining the pockets of wealthy corporate executives rather than creating fair-paying jobs to support working families and the communities in which they live. Needless to say, my office looks forward to the Council overriding these vetoes, and to continuing to enforce Prevailing Wage Laws, which help promote equality and fairness in our City. Read the rest of this entry »

By on April 25, 2012, 3:18 pm
In category: City Hall,Economy | 4 Comments »

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Jumaane Williams Responds to Kelly
March 16th, 2012

City Councilman Jumaane Williams has responded to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s contentious appearance before the Council yesterday. Williams specifically addresses Kelly’s insistence that council members haven’t offered any alternatives to the stop and frisk programs they say harass their communities.

“What my colleagues, members of the media and observers witnessed yesterday was a NYPD Commissioner on the defensive, forced to defend the fiscal and environmental consequences of unjust policing practices like the department’s use of stop, question and frisk,” said Williams in a statement. “Faced with the legitimate concerns of council members, unfavorable polling data and statistics from his own department which call their policies into serious question, Commissioner Kelly alleged that there is no leadership coming from my colleagues or I on reducing violence in communities of more color. Read the rest of this entry »

By on March 16, 2012, 3:28 pm
In category: City Hall,Crime & Safety | 2 Comments »

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Groups React to Master's Congressional Maps
March 6th, 2012

Roanne Mann, the special master assigned to create the state’s congressional lines should the Assembly and Senate fail to come to a compromise, released her maps today. Reaction has flooded in from interested parties across the state. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters the lines could be a foundation for compromise. Common Cause hailed the maps as “fair. ” Citizens Union used the opportunity to push for a legislative deal that would change the redistricting process permanently through a constitutional amendment.

The Times Union notes that CU’s release goes into an astonishing amount of detail about a possible deal. “Intriguingly, the statement goes into great depth discussing the under-construction constitutional amendment detailed in Fridays TU so much depth that one would think it had already been rolled out with a Red Room presser featuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo, legislative leaders and representatives from Citizens Union, whose members have been most vocal in pressing for the constitutional change as thus far described,” reads the Times Union post.

Meanwhile Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters that he has yet to see the maps.

Perhaps most interestingly is the analysis of the city’s lines by the American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy. Take a look at their breakdown after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

By on March 6, 2012, 6:18 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Demographics,Eye on Albany | 3 Comments »

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Liu's State of the City
February 16th, 2012

Here is the text of City Comptroller John Liu’s State of the City speech for those curious about what the embattled mayoral candidate has in store for the city:

Taking advantage of low interest rates to accelerate capital construction projects, helping stimulate the economy and create 15,000 jobs.
Working with telecommunications companies to offer low-cost internet access to more New Yorkers.
Increasing the New York City Pension Funds economically-targeted investments by $1 billion, thereby putting money back into the local economy while at the same time generating solid returns.
Enhancing the retirement security of New Yorkers in the private sector by having the same staff that manages the Citys pension system oversee a fund for private workers, leveraging their investment expertise and economies of scale.
Slashing personal income taxes for 99 percent of New York City filers joint filers with incomes below $500,000 while nominally raising taxes on top earners.
Establishment of a new government subcontracting system to finally track and monitor the billions of dollars spent on subcontractors each year.
Introduction of Checkbook 2.0, the newest version of the Comptrollers best-in-class website that gives the public the ability to see each agencys budget, revenue, and contracts.
A new 212-NO-WASTE hotline for New Yorkers to report waste.
The full text of the speech as prepared for delivery is below:
New York City Comptroller John C. Liu
Bridging the Great Divide
State of the City Address
City College of New York
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Good morning everyone, and thank you, Geronimo, for sharing your story with us. As someone who is a proud product of New York City public schools myself, it was very moving to watch this group of students, parents, and teachers fight so hard to keep their school open. What a great lesson for all to learn: That if you want something and you work hard for it, you can accomplish it. Congratulations to you and the entire Wadleigh family.
Thanks, also, to Sharlene Ogando for that beautiful rendering of our national anthem. Shes got some voice, doesnt she? American Idol, here we come
Id also like to thank Dr. Lisa Coico and the staff of City College for working so diligently with our office on every detail of this event. City College and the CUNY system are so vital to this City, providing higher education at an affordable cost.
Over the past century and a half, CUNY has had a profound impact on millions of lives. Many who walked through the gates of CUNY were the first in their families to step foot inside a college. Countless New Yorkers are indebted to CUNY for their education and the skills that empowered them to move up the economic ladder.
Its so nice to see so many CUNY people here. Thank you Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Executive Vice Chancellor Allan Dobrin, and Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson. Thank you and the entire CUNY system for the important work that you do.
We are also joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, members of the New York City Council, New York State Senate, and New York State Assembly. Thank you for your service to New Yorkers.
Id also like to take this opportunity to thank Jeremy Lin for all of his contributions to the success of the New York Knicks. Perhaps if I were several inches taller, I would have become one of the first Asian-Americans to play for the Knicks, instead of the first Asian-American to serve as New York City Comptroller.
Regardless, Im sure you can understand why I find Jeremy Lins story so inspiring. As an Asian-American he is managing against all odds to take his career to the next level. And, at the same time hes getting great headlines in the New York Post! I gotta talk to him about that.
And thanks to all of you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here today.
Some of you may know my story: My family immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when I was five years old. When we first arrived in New York I didnt speak a word of English. Our family of five squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment in Flushing. A few years later, we moved into a two-bedroom, until my parents finally made it, and we moved into what felt like a mansion, a three-bedroom house in Bayside.
Moving around a lot meant that I attended three different elementary schools. Later on, I schleppedwhich in Mandarin means traveledtwo hours each way, every day, on the Q27 bus and the 4 or the D train to attend the Bronx High School of Science.
Our lives werent easy back then. As immigrants with little English, us kids were always translating almost anything that was important for our parents. At school I was often picked on and definitely took my share of punches because I looked different than the other kids in my class.
Although we faced many challenges, like other immigrant families, my Mom and Dad embraced this City and believed in the American Dream. So much so that they changed the names of their three sons to John, Robert, and Edward in honor of the Kennedy boys.
New York gave us a chance to make something of ourselves. And we did.
What I want more than anything is for the kids of todays New York kids like Geronimo and Sharlene, and my son Joey to have the same kind of chance that we had. I want them to have access and opportunities to enjoy all the richness that New York has to offer. I want to ensure that the field they play and work on is indeed level.
The recession of the last few years has had an enormous impact on the City of New York, especially on communities of color and on the young. In the fourth quarter of 2011, the unemployment rate among the Citys Hispanic population was 10 percent. Among African-Americans, 13.6 percent, as compared to the overall unemployment rate of 9 percent.
During the recent recession, the employment rate for young people fell to its lowest point since World War II. To make matters worse, many students graduate from college with enormous debt. Many struggle to find jobs in their chosen fields. They are being referred to as The Lost Generation.
Compare that to a generation ago, when my family arrived here in the 1970s. In those years, young people believed that they could change the world. Stop the Vietnam War. Liberate women. Expand civil rights. And they did.
It was a heady time to be an American student. A time of creativity and innovation and opportunity. So much so that my Dad moved his entire family from Taipei to New York City, just to be part of it. And people still come here, from all over the world, hungering for those same opportunities.
Every New Yorker should have the chance to succeed.
As we begin to move from recession to recovery, we need to ensure that people dont get left behind. Because we know, that the wider prosperity is spread, the more sustainable our recovery will be.
Today, Ill give you an overview of the Citys finances and its economy. Ill follow that with some ideas for cutting waste in City spending and doing more with less. Ill also talk about how we can create jobs and provide greater economic security. Ill then discuss economic equity and bridging the divide.
First, the economy
While we can all be proud and grateful that the Citys economy rebounded from the financial crisis far better than anyone expected, we are not out of the woods yet.
In the second half of 2011 we lost more than 12,000 private sector jobs. Just a year ago, the Citys unemployment rate was well below the national average. By the end of 2011, it was higher by half a percent.
The struggles of the financial services industry itself are one reason for the Citys lost economic momentum. 2011 was the worst for Wall Street since the collapse of 2008, and employment in the industry has slipped by some 5,000 jobs since early last year.
A sluggish national economy and international instability present perils for our local recovery.
There is risk to our economic health from Washingtons actions, or lack thereof. Looming at the end of this year are $1.2 trillion in automatic federal budget cuts, scheduled to take effect because some in Congress refused to make the tough choices needed for deficit reduction.
As we saw with the debt ceiling negotiations this past summer, and the stalling of the Presidents jobs bill in the fall, a few in Congress have shown a disturbing willingness to derail even the simplest measures meant to protect our fragile economy.
Then we see the uncertainty in Europe that has depressed stocks, introduced a high degree of volatility into financial markets, and deterred firms from making new investments.
A European debt crisis is the most significant risk to the Citys economy this year. My economists have long warned that a meltdown of the Euro Zone could cause pandemonium in financial markets and lead to a severe worldwide recession. We trust that Europes leaders will prevent this from happening.
But even a mild European recession and continued stress on European banks will have adverse repercussions here in New York. The reality is that Europes banks are New York Citys banks.
European banks have more than a trillion dollars of assets in their New York City offices. They own or lease more than 8.5 million square feet of office space. And they employ approximately 45,000 people in New York City.
They are also active lenders to local businesses. Should European banks reduce their asset portfolios and trim their payrolls, the effects would ripple throughout the New York City economy.
Barring catastrophes in Europe or in Washington, though, my office projects that growth will be slow but somewhat steady in the next couple of years. The Presidents efforts this month, if successful, would help considerably. An extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance would inject $2.6 billion into our economy helping to create or maintain 13,000 jobs.
Today, more than 350,000 New Yorkers languish in unemployment. That is more than twice the number of unemployed this City had a few years ago. Is it any wonder that people occupy parks, clamoring for a better economic plan, when they are left jobless year after year?
The economic divide has indeed grown wider and wider. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, nearly 80 percent of the income growth in New York City in recent years went to the wealthiest 5 percent of our taxpayers.
Economic recovery is not our only objective; so is economic equality. There is no prosperity when wealth is shared by only a tiny portion of the Citys residents.
The adverse economic environment also depresses the Citys finances.
Over the past decade, the City has been able for the most part to avoid many of the devastating budgetary cuts and layoffs that other states and municipalities have faced thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council. The Citys accumulation of unused surplus, built up during a period of robust revenue growth, created a financial cushion for the economic downturn. The existence of this cushion, though, has masked the budgets structural imbalance. Which in plain English means that the City is spending more money than it takes in.
Dipping into our retiree health fund combined with other one-off measures has allowed the mayor to balance a $68.7 billion budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The City is projecting budget gaps of $3 billion in Fiscal 14 and $3.5 billion the year after that. These will have to be fixed the old fashioned waywith careful decisions about public priorities.
Given that our City continues to face these budgetary fiscal challenges my top priority continues to be cutting waste. Through our Audit and Contract review powers, we work vigorously to ensure that money is recouped and saved whenever possible.
Our audit staff, led by Deputy Comptroller Tina Kim, have completed nearly 200 audits of City agencies, recouping money for the City treasury and providing guidance on how more can be done with less. In one case, a City agency is returning $120 million to City coffers.
Our Contracts team, led by Deputy Comptroller Geneith Turnbull has applied new approaches and technology towards increasing scrutiny of City contracts, especially when expensive consultants are involved. In one case, Geneith and her staff rejected a $286 million contract for a backup 911 Call Center. Not because we dont think the project is important, but because the bulk of that money was allotted to unspecified time and expense costs, which we believe incentivizes cost overruns and time delays. We set out guidelines for restructuring the contract, resulting in a nearly $200 million reduction in the cost of the contract.
And famously, we stopped the hemorrhaging of City funds on the City Time project, the cost of which had mushroomed from its budget of $68 million to more than $600 million by the time I took office. With the leadership of Deputy Comptroller Simcha Felder we turned the spigot off on City Time.
We worked with City Hall to get the project back on track. And we put a final deadline on it so we could get something back for all of the taxpayers money already spent. Last June, we signed an agreement with the Bloomberg Administration for the gradual transfer of the systems operation from outside consultants to City employees. That resulted in additional savings of more than $20 million per year.
We asked taxpayers to get involved by giving us their ideas about where to look for waste in City spending. Our office held a series of town hall meetings in every borough to introduce our audit staff to the public and gather insight so that we could do our job even better.
We also conducted training for almost 500 auditors and investigators from over 40 City and State agencies to strengthen their skills in fraud detection and, at the same time, bring better controls to government financial operations.
The work weve done to cut waste, together with the overwhelming imperative to close the Citys future budget gaps, convinced us that we need to build on our success and do even more. So let me spell out a four point Campaign to Cut Waste.
Point Number OneWell establish a waste hotline212-NO-WASTE, thats 212-N-O-W-A-S-T-Eas well as a website where City employees, contractors, and members of the public can report waste.
Number Two – We will implement Checkbook 2.0, the newest version of our best-in-class website that gives the public the ability not only to see every single dollar the City spends but also each agencys budget, revenue, and contracts. Under the supervision of Deputy Comptroller for Public Affairs Ari Hoffnung, our goal is to make New York City the most financially transparent government in the United States. When the public can easily track government spending, government will be that much more judicious with the publics money.
Number Three In order to rein in runaway IT costs that drain our Citys scarce resources, we call for the Citywide implementation of an Information Technology dashboard. This system, mirroring one used by the federal government, would require City agencies to track their IT projects according to budget, schedule, and performance. A New York City IT Dashboard would act as an early warning system which could prevent a boondoggle like City Time from happening again.
Number Four – We call for a new system to track government subcontracting, also based on a federal model, that forces prime City contractors to be responsible and accountable for the performance of the subcontractors they use. This will help the City enforce prompt payment policies and more accurately track the actual spending with minority and women-owned businesses.
Beyond cutting waste, we work to make government smarter, more innovative, and more efficient. Our Bureau of Public Finance, led by Deputy Comptroller Carol Kostik, supervised multiple refinancings of the Citys debt, saving more than $560 million in the last two years alone. Today, we have commenced another bond refinancing that itself may yield another $100 million in savings.
The pursuit of smarter government requires us to look closely at how we engage community based organizations that many residents rely upon for essential services. These organizations should be able to focus on their core missions of helping people, rather than being forced to waste time complying with unnecessary bureaucracy.
Shortly after I was elected, I met with Mayor Bloomberg and spoke about the need to reform the VENDEX system, especially to reduce red tape for our Citys nonprofits. Lets get it done. And while were at it, lets eliminate the VENDEX administrative fees for nonprofits as well.
Smarter government also compels us to think outside the box, to look at processes that have been in place forever but may no longer work well. Take for instance the system by which we invest pension assets. The process is the same as it was 70 years ago, even though the financial markets and our portfolio today are vastly different.
Given that poor market returns have been the main driver of escalating pension costs over the past decade, we took a hard look at our investments. While New York Citys funds have performed, more or less on par, there are some public pension systems that have consistently outperformed the Citys.
By adopting the best practices gleaned from those systems, we proposed, together with Mayor Bloomberg and many of the Citys labor leaders, a comprehensive overhaul of asset management for our pensions.
Based on the experience from those pension systems, we can enhance returns on our funds and therefore reduce pension costs; this could easily save City taxpayers $30 billion over 30 years. And this would be done without reducing anyones benefits. Ricardo Morales, our first deputy comptroller, will continue to play a major role in making this initiative a reality.
Now lets talk about expanding opportunities and creating jobs.
Part of the Citys current budget is a $35 billion four-year capital plan to build schools, fix roads and bridges, and upgrade other parts of our infrastructure. The decision has already been made to borrow and expend those funds.
Right now, interest rates are at historical lows, which makes borrowing less expensive. Since were going to borrow that money over the next few years, why not do some of it sooner? Interest rates are super low and we can potentially lower the overall costs of the capital plan. Moreover, there is unused capacity in the construction industry and the jobs are needed now.
I therefore challenge City agencies to identify $2 billion of spending on construction projects that could be accelerated and developed over the next two years. Needless to say, my Public Finance folks stand ready to work on raising the necessary funds in the capital markets. These accelerated investments would help stimulate the economy by creating 15,000 jobs. Now thats a shot in the arm we could use!
Theres another way to help create jobs in New York City. Our pension funds have been at the forefront of making what are called economically-targeted investments, which means that they plow money back into the local economy. For example, over the years, our pension funds have financed more than 38,000 workforce and affordable housing units in New York City.
At the moment, we have approximately $1 billion of these investments. We plan to invest another billion of capital, as part of this initiative. This exciting effort will be led by Deputy Comptroller and Chief Investment Officer Larry Schloss.
My office will work to broaden the reach of our economically targeted investments to potentially include small business loans, growth capital, green job projects, and housing preservation and development.
We will, of course, continue to pursue market-level returns as well as specific benefits to New York City, in particular, to low, moderate, and middle income communities. This will help create and preserve local jobs and strengthen our New York City economy. We look forward to working with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the other pension trustees to make this happen.
As we create jobs within the City, it is imperative that we keep in mind the need to reduce not only unemployment, but unemployment disparities as well.
One way to reduce these disparities is by opening up City business to minority and women entrepreneurs. These businesses have a strong track record of creating jobs in neighborhoods where jobs are needed the most.
Since my office launched our MWBE Report Card for City agencies a year ago, the numbers have inched up, though only by a minimal amount. Opening up contracting opportunities for MWBEs will not only create jobs locally, but also achieve better results for our taxpayers.
Working with our pension trustees, weve expanded the pension investment allocation with MWBE firms to $6.5 billion. Weve also substantially increased opportunities for MWBEs in the underwriting of billions of dollar of City bonds.
Managing government finances and finding ways to put people back to work are critical to our Citys success. We also have to help people plan for long-term economic security.
The discussion of pensions today is remarkably one-sided and short-sighted. It seems to be all about cost, with no consideration of need. Worse yet, the scapegoating of public employees seems to be relentless.
Its silly to blame our police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other City employees for what happened during the recession. They didnt cause it and they are certainly not responsible for the economic problems we have today. Taking pensions away from those who have them is not the answer.
Its like a bunch of people waiting for a bus in the rain. If only one person has an umbrella, does it make sense to take her umbrella away? Of course not. What does make sense, and what were trying to figure out, is how to give everyone an umbrella so that they are all protected from the storm.
We partnered with a renowned expert on pension and retirement issues at The New School, Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci, who is here with us today.
Teresa and her staff did outstanding work for us, in a report called Are New Yorkers Ready for Retirement?and the answer to that question, by the way, is unfortunately a resounding no.
In fact, our City is already experiencing the early stages of a burgeoning retirement crisis. It was recently reported that the number of elderly people in New York Citys homeless shelters shot up 55 percent over the last 10 years. Half of that increase occurred in the last two years alone. This is both a social and an economic issue.
If we dont help people plan for their eventual retirement now, the increasing strain on the Citys social services from seniors living in poverty will be overwhelming. Lets face it, we are not, nor do we want to be, a City that lets our seniors go hungry and homeless.
Dr. Ghilarducci has been advancing the concept of Personal Retirement Accounts for private sector workers. For employers who choose to participate, the program would pool employee and employer contributions into a professionally managed retirement fund, one that can leverage economies of scale and offer portable, efficient, low-cost pension benefits. Studies have shown that when offered the chance, workers will participate in retirement plans with their own contributions.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to retire solely on Social Security. That is why this proposal holds such great promise.
Dr. Ghilarduccis proposal is to have the same staff that manages the New York City pension funds oversee a fund for private workers. This fund would leverage the expertise of the Asset Management Bureau, but the money it invests would be wholly providednot by taxpayersbut by participating employers and their employees.
This idea, by the way, is now being considered by the California legislature. What a shame it would be if a great idea, homegrown here in New York City, was launched elsewhere first. Lets not forget that Frances Perkins, the driving force behind Social Security, worked in New York State government before she became FDRs Secretary of Labor and the first woman cabinet member. Who knows? Bigger things may lay ahead for Dr. Ghilarducci.
As a City, we should also advance greater economic equity and begin to narrow the wealth gap. To do this, I wholeheartedly support Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringers call to create a progressive Personal Income Tax system in New York City. Ever since the Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature were able to achieve the overhaul of state income taxes, discussions about how to do it in the City have been abuzz.
My office has developed a tax plan that would more closely track the progressive curve inherent in the federal tax brackets. Our plan would cut personal income taxes on joint filers with incomes below $500,000. All told this would reduce personal income taxes for 99 percent of all New Yorkers.
Filers earning over half a million dollars per year would pay a nominal additional amount. We dont believe that they will flee the City as a result. Mayor Bloomberg has consistently said that New York City is a premium product and worth every penny of it. And we agree. Indeed, it is draconian cuts to essential services that have the most potential to cause flight. All New Yorkers want to live in a City with safe streets, strong schools, and clean parks.
Whether it be the Borough Presidents plan or ours, making the personal income tax system more progressive will also help the Citys economy. Since low- and middle-income households tend to spend a higher proportion of their overall disposable income, and a higher proportion of it locally, cutting taxes for them will generate strong multiplier effects in our Citys economy.
Let me say one more thing about City taxes. If the economy improves more than we expect, lets use the extra revenues generated by income taxes to roll back a portion of the Citys sales tax, which is arguably the most regressive tax we have. Its time we get serious about lowering the burden on working families by making the Citys tax structure more just.
Another proposal which would improve the lives of working families is to expand the prevailing wage law. Unfortunately many workers have been cheated out of fair wages for work performed on City projects. Our Bureau of Labor Law has collected over $10.5 million from contractors in the last two years on behalf of these workers. We have also debarred 11 contractors from doing business with the City in connection with labor law violations.
We applaud Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council for their efforts to expand the universe of workers covered by prevailing wage. This bill would empower my office to do even more to protect the working men and women of this City by ensuring that those employed on City-funded projects are paid a decent wage.
The wealth divide is not the only profound gap in our society. It rests on top of another divide, one that is easy to ignore but needs to be addressed immediately in order for prosperity to be shared equally. Im talking about the digital divide that makes it difficult for kids without access to technology and the Internet to do their homework and to perform to the best of their ability in school. This digital divide also affects the unemployed or under-employed, who cannot look for work successfully without the ability to search and apply for jobs online.
Working with the Federal Communications Commission, the largest cable companies in America have already agreed to provide families, whose kids qualify for the National School Lunch program, with broadband Internet access at a steep discount for $9.95 a month. This program will soon be launched in all 50 states, including our own, and will make a huge difference in low-income communities.
I believe we can and should expand this program even further. Id like to see New York Citys telecommunications companies offer the same kind of discount to low-income households, like those on Food Stamps, or living in Section Eight housing, on Medicaid, or on SSI. There are many people in our great City who can benefit from broadband Internet access. They need to be connected or they will be left behind.
Which brings me back to where we started today, talking about access and opportunity and ensuring that there is a way in for all New Yorkers, especially our children.
We decided to come to City College today, because CCNY represents the best of what weve been talking about. It has been the way in for so many people, that for generations would otherwise have been kept out, because of language, or race, or financial status.
High quality education is the cure for what ails us on almost every level in our society, from elementary schools in local neighborhoods to New York Citys world class specialized high schoolsincluding the new Math, Science, and Engineering school right here at City College. We need to build on the great foundation we have in New York City and pour our energy and resources into making these schools the best they can possibly be. Because they are the key to spreading prosperity and to bridging the great divide between the haves and have-nots in our society.
Thats why I applaud the mayors successful efforts to attract a new engineering school to New York, the partnership between Cornell University and Israels Technion Institute.
Now lets build on that.
Lets make New York City the education capital of the world. Lets attract universities and colleges from across the country and around the globe to open up facilities and campuses here.
Currently we have a Mayors Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting. Lets establish a Mayors Office of Colleges & Universities, that would market the City to educational institutions and make it easier for them to open up shop here, or partner with our terrific CUNY colleges.
In exchange for public incentives, we would also encourage greater access for minorities and women at these institutions so that they can fully participate as faculty and students.
It is crucial that minority students not fall behind in math, science, and technology because as we know, these are the skills and knowledge that they will need to compete in a global economy.
As our Citys Chief Financial Officer, I am often asked for stock picks. My response is always the same education is the best long-term economic investment.
Ladies and gentleman, brothers and sisters, Ive been privileged to serve as your City Comptroller for the past two years, just past the halfway point in my term of office.
Ive laid out for you where we are with the Citys economy and budgetary outlook
What my office has been doing with short and long term fiscal challenges
And some ideas and initiatives to make New Yorkers and the City as a whole more economically and fiscally secure.
Through it all, I continue to stress that
Its not just about numbers, its about people.
Its not just about costs, its about need.
Its not just about recovery, its about equity.
As we all work to move New York City forward, you can expect me and my office to vigorously discharge our duties. Expect us to be objective and diligent. And expect us to defy conventional thinking and past practice when we feel it necessary.
You never know what potential could be unlocked when new stuff is given a chance. I mean, how about those New York Knicks! And whos been carrying them these last couple of weeks? Its been sheer Lin-Sanity! Just think about what Jeremy Lin has achieved, what would have been unimaginable just a couple of weeks ago.
Lets make New York City a place where new ideas are welcomed and people have a way to bridge the great divide.
And through it we can make this City an incredible place of opportunity, a place of infinite possibility, like the City me and my family found, when we arrived here forty years ago.
Thank you so much for joining me this morning.

“Good morning everyone, and thank you, Geronimo, for sharing your story with us. As someone who is a proud product of New York City public schools myself, it was very moving to watch this group of students, parents, and teachers fight so hard to keep their school open. What a great lesson for all to learn: That if you want something and you work hard for it, you can accomplish it. Congratulations to you and the entire Wadleigh family.

Thanks, also, to Sharlene Ogando for that beautiful rendering of our national anthem. Shes got some voice, doesnt she? American Idol, here we come

Id also like to thank Dr. Lisa Coico and the staff of City College for working so diligently with our office on every detail of this event. City College and the CUNY system are so vital to this City, providing higher education at an affordable cost.

Over the past century and a half, CUNY has had a profound impact on millions of lives. Many who walked through the gates of CUNY were the first in their families to step foot inside a college. Countless New Yorkers are indebted to CUNY for their education and the skills that empowered them to move up the economic ladder.

Its so nice to see so many CUNY people here. Thank you Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Executive Vice Chancellor Allan Dobrin, and Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson. Thank you and the entire CUNY system for the important work that you do. Read the rest of this entry »

By on February 16, 2012, 10:42 am
In category: City Hall | 3 Comments »

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