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Public Pensions, Financial Time Bomb
August 22nd, 2006

An editorial in the New York Times entitled Public Pensions In Trouble says there is a dispute over whether there will be enough money to cover the pensions for 180,000 public employee retirees in New York City in the near future. But one thing the editorial says is clear: The governor and the State Legislature have been utterly irresponsible in expanding the citys obligations without providing any money to pay the additional cost. This wasnt as a result of collective bargaining. It was much easier for the unions to do an end run around the system and simply buy the benefits with campaign contributions and political support.

The editorial accompanies a series on the pension troubles entitled Costly Promises. The third installment today is State Upgrades Pensions and City Gets the Bill

In the New York Post, columnist Charles Millard cites the pensions as an example of the hands-in-the-cookie-jar culture that Albany has inflicted on the city.

Another example: Last week, Gov. Pataki signed legislation that increases the city’s liability for deaths that may have been related to the cleanup of the World Trade Center. The measure, however well-intentioned, will cost the city millions of dollars – but the lawmakers who so generously enacted it offered no funding to go with it.

Millards solution: It’s time to put a lid on that jar – or make Albany put in as many cookies as it takes out. At the very least, it should acknowledge its largesse publicly – by putting a price tag on every piece of legislation that will impose a new cost. And admitting who – Albany or local governments – will have to pay that cost.

By on August 22, 2006, 10:18 am
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Public Finance | 1 Comment »

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The Problem With Pensions
December 25th, 2005

With the end to the transit strike, an editorial in the New York Times expresses the hope that an issue “of growing concern all across America” will now be addressed “in a calm and rational way” — the problem with pensions . Pensions “are increasingly at risk and increasingly self-funded” in the private sector, and they are (as Steven Greenhouse pointed out in a news article in the Times yesterday Transit Strike Reflects Nationwide Pension Woes) “a problem confronting cities, counties and states nationwide, causing many budgetary experts to predict a wave of painful fights over efforts to scale back government retirement programs.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in “shaky financial shape,” can no longer ignore “the long-term costs of benefits that Americans long took for granted,” today’s editorial says.

“No one is suggesting that transit workers be denied the pensions they’ve earned. But if they won’t contribute more to finance them, then the unions will have to help to make up the difference in some other way — through increased productivity, or through greater worker contributions to the union’s generous health care benefits, which the workers now get for free. ”

By on December 25, 2005, 12:00 pm
In category: Public Finance,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Talks Held Up by Pensions
December 18th, 2005

Pensions appear to be one of the primary issues holding up contract negotiations between the MTA and transit workers.

The MTA wants to require that new employees not be eligible for a full pension until age 62, compared with age 55 for most current employees. The union argues that this change would require approval by the State Legislature and said it will file a complaint with a state labor board. The authority dismissed the legal action as a public-relations ploy and asserted that both sides had traditionally discussed pensions in their contract talks, according to the Times.

By on December 18, 2005, 10:24 am
In category: Transportation | Comments Off on Talks Held Up by Pensions

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NYC Schools Propose Changes to Discipline Code
June 5th, 2012

The New York City Department of Education is proposing to eliminate suspensions for students who get caught breaking minor rules, such as cutting classes and cussing.

Suspensions for Level 1 and Level 2 infractions would be eliminated under the proposed changes to the schools’ discipline code. The DOE has scheduled a public hearing to discuss the proposed revisions of the code for 6 p.m. tonight at Stuyvesant High School.

“We believe a more progressive discipline is warranted with strongcounseling and youth development support,” said Marge Feinberg, spokeswoman for the DOE. “We want to be able to address improper behavior before it reaches a higher level, and to do that we are focused on providing strong student support services coupled with parent involvement.”

While advocates for students say they applaud some of the changes, they say more needs to be done.

“Changes made are minor and won’t provide systemic change,” said Sarah Landes, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a collection of teachers, students and youth organizations working to reduce suspension and mandate alternative discipline methods.

Shoshi Chowdhury, coordinator for the Dignity in Schools Campaign, said the punishment of suspension should end for the first three levels of school misconduct, including insubordination, pushing and shoving. Suspension should be a last resort as it allows many students to fall behind in schools, she said. In cases of level 4 and 5 fighting in schools, positive alternatives should be offered.

Chowdhury cited one example, Lehman High School in the Bronx, which had faced a high suspension rate. She said increased funding for positive alternatives for the 2010-2011 school year has already led to a decrease in the rate of suspension.

Feinberg said “more serious infractions warrant suspensions as an option.”

Advocates have long argued that the discipline code disproportionally affects students of color and those who speak English as a Second Language.

The DOE is required under state law to review and revise the discipline code each year and make changes, if necessary. The proposed modifications are then presented to the public.

By on June 5, 2012, 5:15 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 2 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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State of the City
January 12th, 2012

Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered his State of the City Address today at Morris High School in the Bronx. Here are his prepared remarks:

Thank you. Mayors Koch and Dinkins, Speaker Quinn and Minority Leader Oddo, Public Advocate De Blasio, Comptroller Liu, Borough Presidents, District Attorneys, members of the City Council and State Legislature, my fellow New Yorkers its great to be in the Bronx.

This is the birthplace of legends like Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the workplace of legends like Mariano Rivera. And its also the home of future superstars like every member of The Celia Cruz High School Latin Band, the PS 32 Chorus and the Keltic Dreams Irish Dancers. Werent they fantastic?

In a city that is the Capital of Innovation this one borough has given us some of the worlds great authors, artists and architects, not to mention the pioneers of hip-hop and salsa.

The Bronx has always been a borough of innovators and we can see it most recently in the students here at the Academy for Collaborative Studies, who built an award-winning robot. How about the Robot Club? Read the rest of this entry »

By on January 12, 2012, 1:17 pm
In category: City Hall,Gotham City | 127 Comments »

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Cuomo Signs Ethics Reform
August 15th, 2011

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 into law today. The bill was passed by the legislature over two months ago but was not delivered to Cuomo’s desk until today–reportedly to allow for time to put the new ethics watch dog in place since the new law does away with the Commission on Public Integrity.

Cuomo’s signing of the law comes as it has been revealed that he dipped his finger into an ethical grey area by using state planes for personal travel.

Here is the statement from Cuomo’s office including a description of the legislation.


New law addresses major inadequacies in current ethics system to restore public trust in government

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed into law the “Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011,” establishing unprecedented transparency, strict disclosure requirements, and a strong independent monitor with broad oversight of New York State government.

“Today’s signing is a major step forward in restoring the people’s trust in government and changing the way Albany does business,” Governor Cuomo said. “This new ethics reform law brings an aggressive new approach to returning integrity to the halls of our Capitol. It provides for much-needed disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates an independent monitor to investigate corruption, and issues strong new rules for lobbyists. I thank the Legislature for working to pass this important legislation.”

Once a national model, New York State government’s reputation has been widely discredited through corruption, a lack of independent ethical oversight, and a failure to require more robust disclosure of outside income sources. The Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 includes:

Greater Financial Disclosure: Financial disclosure statements filed with the new Joint Commission on Public Ethics from elected officials will now be posted on the internet and the practice of redacting the monetary values and amounts reported by the filer will be ended. The Act also includes greater and more precise disclosure of financial information by expanding the categories of value used by reporting individuals to disclose the dollar amounts in their financial disclosure statements. The Act requires disclosure of the reporting individual’s and his or her firm’s certain outside clients and customers doing business with, receiving grants or contracts from, seeking legislation or resolutions from, or involved in cases or proceedings before the State as well as certain of such clients that were brought to the firm by the public official.

Increased Access to Who is Appearing Before the State and Why: The Act establishes a new database of any individual or firm that appears in a representative capacity before any state governmental entity.

Additional Disclosures for Registered Lobbyists: The bill expands lobbying disclosure requirements, including the disclosure by lobbyists of any “reportable business relationships” of more than $1,000 with public officials. It also expands the definition of lobbying to include advocacy to affect the “introduction” of legislation or resolutions, a change that will help to ensure that all relevant lobbying activities are regulated by the new Joint Commission.

Forfeiture of Pensions for Public Officials Convicted of a Felony: Certain public officials who commit crimes related to their public offices may have their pensions reduced or forfeited in a new civil forfeiture proceeding brought by the Attorney General or the prosecutor who handled the conviction of the official.

A New Joint Commission on Public Ethics: The Joint Commission on Public Ethics will replace the existing Commission on Public Integrity with jurisdiction over all elected state officials and their employees, both executive and legislative, as well as lobbyists.
Clarifying Independent Expenditures For Elections: The Act requires the state board of elections to issue new regulations clarifying disclosure of Independent Expenditures.

Increased Penalties for Violations: The Act substantially increases penalties for violations of the filing requirements and contribution limits in the Election Law, and provides for a special enforcement proceeding in the Supreme Court. The bill also increases penalties for violations of certain provisions of the state’s code of Ethics that prohibits conflicts of interest.

By on August 15, 2011, 4:46 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | 8 Comments »

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Bloomberg and the Achievement Gap
August 4th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement earlier today of a major initiative to help young black and Latino men today, includes a big focus on education. Few would debate the wisdom of that.

Bloomberg has long patted himself on the back for narrowing the gap in academic achievement between the city’s white and Asian students on one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other. Today Chancellor Dennis Walcott sounded the theme. Weve come a long way in improving achievement for black and Latino young men, helping to narrow the racial gaps in state exams and graduation rates,” he said.

But as Bloomberg basks in praise (and some almost fawning press coverage) for tackling a truly tough issue, his record on ending education disparities is — to put it charitably mixed.

The mayor noted the city had narrowed the gap in high school graduation rates between the races. And the evidence backs that up. But in myriad other areas — test scores, admission to elite high schools, admission to gifted and talented elementary programs, suspensions — the gap has remained essentially the same or widened under the Bloomberg regime.

Let’s looks at the numbers after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on August 4, 2011, 3:34 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Demographics,Education | 3 Comments »

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Cuomo Administration Suspends Licenses For 8 Bus Companies
July 25th, 2011

The New York State Department of Transportation has issued suspensions for the operating licenses of eight charter bus operators. The move comes during heightened scrutiny of the industry following a number of fatal bus crashes.

“The frequent, and at times flagrant, violations of state and federal safety regulations by charter bus companies has gone on for too long and put too many lives at risk,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

The eight companies are:



A & W TOURS, Inc.

Touch of Class & Coach, Inc.

Silver Star Limo Company, LLC

Zoladz Limousine Service

Long Island Limousine Service Corp

Big Apple Bus Charter, Inc.

Here is the full release from the Cuomo administration:

Read the rest of this entry »

By on July 25, 2011, 6:32 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Transportation | 9 Comments »

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An Ethics Deal Announcement... Late On a Friday
June 3rd, 2011

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced the long discussed and oft rumored deal on an ethics reform package via press release late on a sunny Friday afternoon. A formal announcement will be held in Albany on Monday.

The main reform will create the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a 14-member ethics watchdog group capable of investigating the executive branch, the legislature and their employees, as well as lobbyists. The group will not be able to punish legislators for misdeeds — instead they will have to pass on their findings to the Legislative Ethics Commission. The joint commission will be made up of six of the governor’s appointees, eight from legislative leaders and four from the political parties.

Legislators will have to reveal any clients they have with business in front of the state. Financial disclosures will now be released to the republic without redacted amounts.

The attorney general be able to take away the pensions of public officials convicted of a crime involving their offices.

The press release does not go into some very important specifics and we will follow up on those shortly.

Full statement from the governor after the jumo.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on June 3, 2011, 5:57 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | 1 Comment »

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Ethics Deal Approaches
June 2nd, 2011

A deal for a sweeping ethics package could be announced as soon as today, say some legislators. Not all of the details of the deal are clear. But the package is expected to replace the Public Integrity Commission with a 12-member body equally appointed by the governor and legislature.

The body would oversee the legislative and executive branches as well as lobbying. Legislators would be required to publicly disclose their outside income and legislators who are lawyers would have to reveal any clients they have with business in front of the state. Judges would be allowed to take away the pensions of lawmakers convicted of felony abuse of their office. In true Albany fashion the bill would purportedly make it easier for legislators to accept drinks and meals from lobbyists–Albany restaurants have complained that current ethics laws are putting a cramp in their cash registers. And legislators need to a drink now and again.

Both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos said they expect a deal shortly. but Silver would not discuss the details of the bill until all parties were in agreement. Cuomo, yesterday told reporters that he hopes to reach a deal before the end of session. He again invoked the specter of a “Moreland Commission” that would give the executive branch almost unlimited ability to investigate legislators.

Skelos who has previously shot down the need for a Moreland Commission told reporters, I don’t believe were going to go to a Moreland Act, and we are going to get ethics reform before this legislative session is over.”

By on June 2, 2011, 7:21 am
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Governing | Comments Off on Ethics Deal Approaches

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Senate Dems Ethics Forum Tomorrow
May 3rd, 2011

Senate Democrats are set to hold a public forum on ethics reform tomorrow in an effort to force the Republican Majority to acknowledge legislation they have introduced. Republicans denied Democrats a chance to hod hearings on the bills so instead they are having a forum. Those bills include:

“Establishing an independent commission on governmental ethics (S31/Squadron);

Increasing financial and client disclosure requirements (S382/Rivera);

Stripping pensions of public officials convicted of misusing their office (S2333/Krueger);

Restricting the personal use of campaign funds (S3053/Krueger); and

Eliminating Pay-to-Play (S1565/Addabbo).”

The forum will be interactive and allow constituents to communicate through social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The event will be broadcast on livestream. The forum is scheduled to start at 1 PM or as soon as the Senate finishes session.

Here is the full release from the Democrats: Read the rest of this entry »

By on May 3, 2011, 6:07 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | 2 Comments »

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Cuomo Emerges
April 26th, 2011

People have been wondering if Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been resting up since his big budget win. Legislators have been out of Albany for over a week–working in their districts–and Cuomo has been just about as out of sight as they have. “Why isn’t he spending is political capital?” some wondered. But fear not–Cuomo has returned with some major policy initiatives.

Cuomo’s office just announced a ban in the insurance department on any lobbyist, elected official or placement agent from pension fund business and announced a program bill that would prohibit, “any state employee or elected official convicted of a felony in relation to their office from receiving their taxpayer-funded pension.”

The bill is in reaction to the sentencing of former comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Here is the full release from Cuomo’s office: Read the rest of this entry »

By on April 26, 2011, 2:39 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | 4 Comments »

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Bloomberg Testifies
February 7th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg led off the state budget hearing on local governments this morning with a long list of complaints. He said that current state mandates the city operates under will force the city to lay off for more people when budget cuts hit. In other words Bloomberg wants things like the first in last out rule for teachers done away with and certain pensions requirements. Bloomberg estimates the state is cutting $2.1 billion from the city’s budget. Bloomberg called on city legislators to stick together to protect the city from the cuts. Bloomberg was complimentary of the Cuomo administration, while still lashing out against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed cuts. Here is Bloomberg’s prepared testimony: Read the rest of this entry »

By on February 7, 2011, 12:37 pm
In category: Albany,Economy,Eye on Albany,Governing | Comments Off on Bloomberg Testifies

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Snow Update from Bloomberg
January 27th, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg updated New Yorkers on the progress of snow removal status this morning at City Hall. His remarks, verbatim, are below:

Good morning. Let me bring you up to date on the storm that hit our city last night and this morning. The Police Commissioner is here. He has to go to another meeting, so unless anybody has any real questions for him I dont think you do when he walks out it isnt that he doesnt care, its just that Ive told him do the other meeting.

When the snow stopped falling at about 4:00 AM, the official reading in Central Park was 19 inches. This is roughly twice the amount of snow that yesterdays evening National Weather Service forecast told us to expect. And we have now had the snowiest January in New York City history. We have had 36 inches since January 1st, breaking a record last set in 1925.

The heavy overnight snowfall which amounted to a foot or more of new snow by the early morning hours is why we decided to close schools today. Emergency agencies, like police, fire, and the public hospitals, have remained open. And as I said over the course of a dozen or so interviews with TV and radio stations this morning, as transportation options get better, City employees should come in to work.

The weather emergency that we declared yesterday afternoon remains in effect. Street cleaning and meter regulations will be suspended today and tomorrow. Clearing the streets remains our number one job and to do that, motorists should please, please refrain from driving.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on January 27, 2011, 11:42 am
In category: City Hall,Electoral Politics,Environment,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Governing,Measuring UP,nextNY,Public Finance,Transportation | 3 Comments »

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Where's the Revenue?
June 7th, 2010


A banner unfurled at the hearing this morning. Credit: Photo Housing Works/Julie Turkewitz

A balanced budget is a simple thing.

If you don’t have enough cash, you have to cut. If you don’t want to cut, then you have to raise the cash.

Makes sense, right?

This morning at City Hall, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mark Page, tested council members’ grasp on the concept. For the most part, those council members would much rather raise revenue instead of slash at city services.

They had a couple of suggestions — none of which were palatable to Page. Staying in his usual character, Page shot them down, one after the other.

Take Councilmember Letitia James, who suggested early retirement incentives to help ease the burn of layoffs.

To Page, that would only make matters worse.

“When you take a group of city employees and accelerate when they leave, what you are doing is moving from that 40-year municipal lifetime to something shorter,” Page said. “You pay them a premium for retiring early. … Now say that person would work another four years. Well, that four years you are paying the first guy that premium and you’re paying somebody else’s pension and health costs.”

Page went on: “You save money the first year. You start losing money in the second year. By the fourth year, you’re under water.”

If the city were going to layoff a large number of workers (let’s say, hypothetically, the 4,400 teacher layoffs were back on the table), then the prospect of early retirement or buyouts could be explored, Page said.

Well, why not use the surplus from the city’s health care trust fund — which officials estimate will be at $1.4 billion this year — to soften the budget blow, asked Councilmember Vincent Gentile?

Page said no way.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on June 7, 2010, 5:31 pm
In category: City Hall,Economy,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Public Finance,Social Services,Work and Labor | Comments Off on Where's the Revenue?

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Big Cuts, Little Drama
May 24th, 2010

Despite the draconian budget cuts in play, today’s City Council session on the Department of Education budget featured few fireworks and little drama.

With the state unable to agree on a budget, the Bloomberg administration is anticipating a $500 million gap in state education aid. With enrollment rising and costs for pensions and special education, among other things, increasing, this translates into a $750 million gap, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Repeating the bad news in the mayor’s executive budget released earlier this month, Klein told the council members this would mean the loss of 6,400 department staff, mostly teachers.

How that translates in to individual schools remains unclear since the department has not yet sent principals their budgets. But in response to questions, he said class size — which many believe is too big to start with — could climb by two to five students per room, with the increase particularly severe in middle schools. Read the rest of this entry »

By on May 24, 2010, 6:52 pm
In category: Albany,City Hall,Education | 1 Comment »

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Brill vs. the UFT -- Part II
May 19th, 2010

Steven Brill, who took on New York City’s “rubber rooms” in a controversial article in the New Yorker last summer continues his attack on the teachers union in The Teachers’ Union’s Last Stand in the upcoming Times magazine. It sounds many of the same themes as the New Yorker article: blaming unions for what’s wrong with education, crediting Schools Chancellor Joel Klein (referred to as a “patron saint” of reformers this time around) for what’s right, and taking Klein et al’s positions on key issues from teacher compensation to charter schools.

And, as in the previous instance, it can also mean playing fast and loose with the facts. While saying Harlem Success charter serves the same community as P.S. 149, Brill does not look into complaints that charters do not have the same number of challenging students — special ed kids, English language learners and homeless children. He discusses the cost of teachers but conveniently leaves out the cost of administrators, notably Harlem Success’ Eva Moskowitz who makes far more than Klein, and of private management companies. (For a more balanced look at some of these issues, see the recent profile of Moskowitz in New York Magazine.)

And for someone who once made significant contributions to journalism, he fails to follow the basics. He quotes United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew as saying teachers should not be fired at the whim of their supervisors because “teachers are just different” but then does not follow up with the obvious question: Ok, why are they different?
Read the rest of this entry »

By on May 19, 2010, 5:53 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Electoral Politics | 7 Comments »

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Weekly Web Wrap
April 16th, 2010

The New Graffiti Removal Laws
(Habitat Magazine)
Cartoonist’s Take on Paladino
(Adam Zyglis)
Upstaters Debate Gas Drilling
(The American Prospect)
Renter’s Rights Flash Cards
(Idealist in NYC)
Taking Issue with Liu on 401(k)-Style Pensions for City Workers
(NY Fiscal Watch)
Mitigating Sewage Overflows
(Urban Omnibus)
Executive Budget Proposal for Higher Education Funding Reform
(Citizens Budget Commission)
Proposed Road Expansion Squeezes Out Other Worthy Plans
(Tri-State Transportation Campaign)
Inside the Croton Water Filtration Plant Construction Site
(Bronx News Network)
Is Financial Reform Bad for New York?
(DMI Blog)

By on April 16, 2010, 9:21 pm
In category: Gotham City | Comments Off on Weekly Web Wrap

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Comptroller Candidates Go at It
September 25th, 2009

With four days before Tuesday’s runoff election, the politesse that had characterized much of the campaign for city comptroller largely vanished last night as the two candidates debated at NY1 — and assailed each other’s integrity. In what figures to be their final face-off, Councilmembers John Liu and David Yassky spent far less time discussing the issues than each other.

(To see it for yourself, go here.)

Yassky was first to the attack, helped by a debate format that began by showing two television ads: one by Liu highlighting his “life of struggle” and work in a sweatshop as a child — a resume that news reports have called into question — and the other by Yassky assailing Lu’s integrity.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on September 25, 2009, 8:12 am
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Public Finance | 2 Comments »

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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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