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Weekly Web Wrap
May 1st, 2009

  • Hungry and Without Options in New York
    (Mother Jones)
  • New York Sun Back from the Dead?
    (Politico via NYConvergence)
  • City Council Candidates Try to Dazzle in the 39th District
    (Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn)
  • New York City’s New Voters
    (Room Eight)
  • A New Measure of Regional Competitiveness Energy Efficiency
    (DMI Blog)
  • Is Landmarking Worth It?
    (Riverdale Ramblings)
  • Recycling? Fuhgeddaboudit
    (Mother Jones)
  • Wylde: City Can’t Afford Not to ‘Go Green’
    (Huffington Post)
  • Donovan: Putting the ‘UD’ Back in HUD
    (The Ground Floor)
  • Paterson to Ease Mandates and Property Taxes
    (Fox 23)
  • Cartoonist’s Take on the Pension Fund Scandal
    (Matt Davies)
  • Another Hole in the Budget Plan
    (IBO Weblog)
  • Opening Week Problems for Yankees
    (Clawback)
  • What Private Sector Workers Earnings Would Match Public Pensions
    (NY Fiscal Watch)
  • By on May 1, 2009, 2:24 pm
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    Weekly Web Wrap
    March 27th, 2009

  • New York Library Looks To Business Intelligence Software For Help
    (Information Week)
  • The MTA: Finally, Someone Mentions Pensions
    (NY Fiscal Watch)
  • Will MTA Rescue Morph Into Statewide Repair Plan?
    (Tri-State Transportation Campaign)
  • MTA Fare Hikes Dont Even Solve the Budget Crisis
    (DMI Blog)
  • 56 New York City Nonprofits to Follow on Twitter
    (Idealist in NYC)
  • Meet Your Neighborhood Parole Officer
    (Re-Thinking Reentry)
  • Details on Applying for Green Infrastructure Stimulus Funds
    (S.W.I.M.)
  • How To Use Privately Owned Public Space
    (Design Trust for Public Space)
  • Obama’s Urban Opportunity
    (Mother Jones)
  • Jim Crow Laws of the 21st Century: New York Drug Laws
    (Huffington Post)
  • New Verizon Local Cable Channel Coming to City
    (Wall Street Journal via NYConvergence)
  • Gotbaum: End Costly, Temporary Homeless Shelter Program
    (Public Advocate’s Corner)
  • New York’s ‘Slaughtered Neighborhoods’
    (TomDispatch via Planetizen)
  • Inside New York’s Underground Poker Scene
    (Salon)
  • By on March 27, 2009, 4:01 pm
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    Weiner Lays Out Campaign Strategy
    January 12th, 2009

    <i>From Weiner's policy paper on the middle class: Keys to the City</i>

    From Weiner's policy paper on the middle class: Keys to the City

    The doors to change have swung open in Washington, but remain closed here in the Big Apple, Rep. Anthony Weiner said this morning, while outlining the strategy of his 2009 mayoral campaign.

    A bid that will hinge on the generation of “innovative” ideas — a concept collecting dust under the Bloomberg administration, he said — Weiner’s second bid for the city’s top executive was (almost) accelerated today at a Citizens Union breakfast brief. Though Weiner was highly critical of the current administration and said he would be “well armed” for a Democratic primary campaign against Comptroller William Thompson, he cautioned press and policy wonks that January is not a time for politics, but for policy.

    The congressman said he won’t be campaigning fully until about June, and, for now, he will be concentrating on his job in Washington, representing New York’s ninth congressional district.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    By on January 12, 2009, 11:47 am
    In category: Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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    Choking the Big Schools
    January 16th, 2008

    A powerful column in today’s Times by Samuel Freedman describes a disgraceful situation at Richmond Hill High School in Queens: Packed with more than twice the intended number of students, classes in aging, sometimes, decrepit trailers, jerry-rigged schedules in a desperate attempt to accommodate some 3,600 teenagers.

    Who decides to treat people this way? Brian Sutton, a dean and special education teacher at Richmond Hill asks Freedman. You dont build a school for 1,800 students and stick nearly 4,000 in it. Why? Who would want to do something like that to other human beings? On purpose.

    The answer: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    By on January 16, 2008, 5:21 pm
    In category: Education,Gotham City | 3 Comments »

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    Thompson on Darfur
    April 4th, 2007

    Photo by Michael Kamber for Vanity Fair

    There has been a lot of discussion lately about what New Yorkers can do to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, where hundreds of thousands have been killed and around 2 million displaced by fighting between rebel forces and the government. And much of this discussion has focused having New York’s public pensions sever their investments in businesses in Sudan.

    But City Comptroller William Thompson doesn’t think that’s a good idea. Writing in the Compact Quarterly, the publication of the United Nation’s Global Compact, which seeks to promote responsible corporate citizenship, Thompson argued that rather than divest, the city pension funds should approach the foreign companies it invests in that do business in Sudan (due to U.S. sanctions, there are no U.S. companies) and ask them to help deliver much needed services.

    Thompson held an event at the Global Compact to, in his words, “discuss the development of a framework for institutional investors and businesses to collaborate in protecting human rights in conflict zones, such as Sudan.” And he wrote to 14 companies the fund invests in that have investments in Sudan.

    But Councilmember Eric Gioia doesn’t think New York should rule out divestment. He points to California, which plans to strategically divest from businesses that are “financing these atrocities,” rather than from all companies operating in the country, reports Metro New York. Gioia is pushing a resolution in the City Council that would call on the city and state to divest in companies doing business with Sudan.

    And Anne Stausboll, of the California Public Employees Retirement System, writing in the same publication as Thompson, points out that California seeks to negotiate with businesses, but will use divestment as a last resort.

    There are currently three bills in the state legislature that would divest from any companies doing business in Sudan, and one that would divest from companies doing business with the government of Sudan.

    In the meantime, you can look and see the record your mutual fund has in Sudan and make your own decision.

    By on April 4, 2007, 3:50 pm
    In category: Civil Rights,Public Finance | Comments Off

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    Spitzers Victory
    September 13th, 2006

    Eliot Spitzers resounding victory in yesterdays primary — and his lead in the polls over Republican John Faso reflect the fact that New Yorkers are fed up and looking for the candidate with the most promise to banish the Pataki-Silver-Bruno Axis of Feeble, that has ruled Albany, the Daily News says in its post-election editorial. But Spitzer is not governor yet. So between now and the November 7 general election, the paper calls for debates between the two candidates and for Spitzer to give more specifics on issues, such as how he will resolve the lawsuit over funding for the city schools and control the soaring cost of public employee pensions.

    Appearing on WNYCs Brian Lehrer Show this morning, Village Voice columnist Wayne Barrett seemed awed by the sheer size of the Spitzer victory. In November, Barrett thinks, Spitzer could get the greatest mandate of any governor in our lifetime.

    But Barrett sees a cloud — in the person of Andrew Cuomo who will share the Democratic ticket with Spitzer as the partys candidate for attorney general. Cuomo won his lopsided victory partly due to the support of Service Employees Union 1199, which represents health care workers. Cuomo owes those workers, but if Spitzer is elected, Barrett believes he must cut Medicaid spending, perhaps adversely affecting those same workers. The result? Spitzer and Cuomo. Barrett predicts, could be on a collision course.

    By on September 13, 2006, 10:43 am
    In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Health | Comments Off

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    "Dwarf Planets" and Con Ed's "Customers"
    August 25th, 2006

    At first, one might think that Pluto being stripped of its planetary status has little to do with New York City. (Okay, he or she would probably be right). But Clyde Haberman uses the shift in the semantics of the cosmos to remind us that changing how something is classified doesn’t really mean changing anything.

    We are no strangers to the meaningless reclassification, Haberman writes today in his column in the TImes. Fire response times have been tinkered with to make the fire department seem quicker; Con Edison classifies the word “customer” in a radically different way than most New Yorkers would, making the Queens blackout seem insignificant; the New York Knicks long used an optimistic definition of “sold out”, that includes half-full arenas. And so on.

    “But as with Plutos journey through the cosmos, we slog on, knowing that the revisions rarely change a thing,” writes Haberman. The now-dwarf planet will continue its “odd, oblong orbits” — and we should continue to take those stats about the speed of our elevators, the amount of housing being produced, and the health of the city’s pensions with a grain of salt.

    By on August 25, 2006, 9:42 am
    In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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    What To Demand Of Your State Legislators
    July 31st, 2006

    In two editorials over the weekend (and a promise of more to come), The New York Times asks New Yorkers not to give state legislators their votes without demanding something in return reform.

    In Note To Voters: Dont Go Easy, The Times specifically asks voters to question the candidates to see if they support
    1. an independent redistricting commission
    2. a campaign finance reform package proposed by many good-government groups, including the Brennan Center, Citizens Union, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group.
    3.a real ethics reform law that would (among other things) strengthen bans on the personal use of campaign contributions no more golf outings or parking tickets on the political dole.”
    4. rules reform.

    A second editorial Promises, Pensions and Politics, urges the defeat of a current crop of bills that would increase pensions for county sheriffs and other state workers. In an ideal world, we would all like to have better pensions. But as New York City staggers under its long-term obligations to retired workers, it cannot afford to have Albany adding extra costs without any suggestion as to how to pay for them. The survival of the politically connected is no way to run benefit programs.

    By on July 31, 2006, 6:52 am
    In category: Albany,Governing | 4 Comments »

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    Albany, Do Something!
    January 3rd, 2006

    On the eve of Governor George Pataki’s 12th and final State of the State address, editorials in three NYC metro newspapers today call on him to take action.

    In Pataki’s Last Hurrah , Newsday calls on the governor to enact budget reform, including “an independent budget office and a later budget deadline. And somehow, the state must find a way to stop piling up debt.” It also calls for accomplishments in education, property taxes, Medicaid, economic development (especially speeding up the building at Ground Zero), and criminal justice (focus on sex offenders, easing up on Rockefeller Drug Law sentencing, and toughening up gun ammunition laws.)

    The Daily News focuses on one issue in its editorial, Albany Must Retire Plush Pensions:
    “State lawmakers and governors, including George Pataki, have given away the store to public employee unions for years, resulting in excessively sweet retirement benefits at a huge cost to taxpayers. The annual pension bill for state and local governments soared by $3 billion over the last four years, and it’s still heading up.”

    In The Wrath Of George, the New York Post finds Pataki’s ire over the pension fund reimbursement in the transit deal “entirely understandable” but says he should not reject the overall deal, since for the first time it calls for workers to contribute towards their health insurance. “[T]he health-insurance payments will continue — and grow — over time, while the pension givebacks are a one-shot deal.[T]here is the core of a good contract here; all parties must proceed with care.”

    For a look at the effect of Albany’s dysfunction on the city, and what reformers are proposing can be done about it, see Gotham Gazette’s Issue of the Week, Waiting For Albany.

    By on January 3, 2006, 8:30 am
    In category: Crime & Safety,Gotham City,Public Finance,Transportation | Comments Off

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    Pension Tension
    December 22nd, 2005

    The Daily News runs two guest opinions on its editorial page today, one supporting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s call for “pension reform,” the other supporting the Transport Workers Union’s condemnation of attempted changes in their pension benefits.

    Charles Brecher of the Citizens Budget Commission argues that the pensions are too costly, and they are no longer needed to attract good workers because of the relatively high wages. “The savings in the next few years may be tens of millions, but in the longer run, recurring savings can be in the hundreds of millions annually” — which could affect future fare increases.

    James A Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute argues that the transit workers’ pension benefits are not the reason for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s huge budget gaps —- the reason is Governor George Pataki’s tax cuts, “forcing the MTA to borrow much more than it had in the past” —- and that the workers’ current benefits are both fair and right. They are fair because the MTA gave those benefits to management: “The cost to the MTA for extending this benefit to top management dwarfs the savings the MTA would see if it got its way with the TWU.” They are right because they should not be sacrificed when both real wages and living standards for workers are in decline.

    By on December 22, 2005, 9:35 am
    In category: Public Finance,Transportation | 5 Comments »

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    Toussaint Speaks
    December 21st, 2005

    Transport Workers Union president Roger Toussaint spoke to the press this afternoon, breaking a 36-hour silence and leaving no doubt that pensions are key to any settlement of the transit strike. In his statement, Toussaint said his members would consider returning to work without a new contract settlement — if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority drops its demand that new union members contribute 6 percent of their salaries to their pension plans. Analyzing the statement, WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein said this seemed to put pressure on the MTA to respond.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki, Toussaint charged, are seeking to use the transit talks to establish a “new pension principle” “The mayor and the governor in order to pursue this agenda…have taken New Yorkers hostage,” he said.

    Toussaint sought to portray the strike, which is illegal under state law, as a campaign for justice and fairness — comparing it to Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955 and calling for better treatment for women transit workers. Objecting to the mayor’s characterization of the union, he said, “We are dignified men and women” who get up at 3 a.m. so the transit system can run. “This is not the behavior of thugs or selfish people,” he said.

    In a press conference about two hours before Toussaint’s, Mayor Bloomberg stuck to his position — repeated frequently in the last 36 hours — that the strike is illegal and a threat to the health and safety of New Yorkers. He again said talks should not resume until the workers return to their jobs.

    By on December 21, 2005, 4:52 pm
    In category: Public Finance,Transportation | 6 Comments »

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    The Pension Play
    December 21st, 2005

    Although the union is getting most of the flak for the transit strike, some observers question the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Monday night offer to the Transport Workers. It would have increased wages and no longer called for raising the retirement age. But, Steven Greenhouse reports in the Times, the MTA introduced a “surprise demand” that new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from the current 2 percent. This would save the authority less than $20 million over the next three years — far less the city will lose in a single day of the strike. But for new workers it would, the union says, amount to a 4 percent pay cut – a problem for someone making around $30,000 a year.

    Blaming Governor George Pataki for the plan put forth by MTA Chair Peter Kalikow, Wayne Barrett writes in Power Plays,
    “The same governor who could find unimaginable billions in pension goodies when he was still running in this state was ready, once he knew he’d never run again, to provoke a devastating strike over a few million in pension savings.”

    Robert Linn, a former New York City labor commissioner, also questions the MTA’s decision. “They might have picked a union that was more willing to consider the subject,” Linn told the Times. Even E. J. McMahon, of the Manhattan Institute, no fan of unions, expesses doubts: “On one hand, the transit workers are the hardest union to bring this up with. On the other hand, this has really put a spotlight on the pension issue.”

    Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News writes that Mayor Michael Bloomberg “apparently wants … the TWU to accept a two-tier pension system. Then he can get all the municipal unions to follow suit and accept a weak new pension tier in their next contracts…. There was no need for this strike.”

    And why, asks Reality Based Educator, is the press, except for Gonzalez, Greenhouse and a few others, playing along with the MTA. Self interest perhaps? The blogger writes that Daily News owner Morton Zuckerman ” is an infamous union-buster,” that the News itself has a “history of ugly contract negotiations and strikes” and that “most newspaper publishers or TV conglomerates have an interest in union-busting and tailoring a line that the workers are ‘selfish’ and ‘greedy.'”

    By on December 21, 2005, 9:42 am
    In category: Gotham City,Public Finance,Transportation | 3 Comments »

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    Retirement Age Not the Issue
    December 20th, 2005

    Apparently the debate over retirement age – which had been one of the main issues holding up negotiations between the MTA and the transit union – was not the critical reason for the strike.

    The MTA dropped its demand to raise the retirement age for a full pension to 62 for new employees, up from 55 for current employees, according to the New York Times. But the authority did want all future transit workers to pay 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions for their first 10 years of employment, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay.

    By on December 20, 2005, 10:54 am
    In category: Transportation | 2 Comments »

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    The Sticking Points
    December 20th, 2005

    A look at the key issues in the New York City transit strike, according to the Wall Street Journal :

    • PENSIONS: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to raise the age at which new employees become eligible for full a pension from 55 to 62. The union calls the proposal unfair, saying it would be an undue burden on future generations of workers.

    • WAGES: The MTA has proposed annual raises of 3%. The union wanted higher pay increases, but is willing to lower its demand if the authority agrees to reduce the number of disciplinary actions taken against workers.

    • HEALTH: The MTA wants new employees to contribute 1% of their salary to pay for health insurance. Transit workers currently do not have to pay anything for health insurance.

    • SECURITY: The union also wants disaster-preparedness training for its work force, following transit system bombings in Madrid and London.

    By on December 20, 2005, 5:39 am
    In category: Transportation | 4 Comments »

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    Reading the Tea Leaves of a Transit Strike
    December 17th, 2005

    Ted Kheel, a veteran of dozens of high-profile New York labor battles including several involving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, tells the Daily News that he doesn’t think there will be a system-wide transit strike.

    “I think the union will be looking for some way to accept [the current proposal] because the prospect of a strike and the penalties are so severe,” said Kheel.

    However, in the same paper, columnist Juan Gonzalez writes that the chances of a crippling transit strike “are now bigger than ever – and anyone who doesn’t think so is badly underestimating the union’s resolve.”

    On the Wonkster message board a transit worker named Gary writes that behind the negotiations over wages, pensions, and retirement are more basic issues of respect.

    “I think much of the emotion TA workers display at these contract times, stems from oppression from management that is so charged with abuse and harassment, which would never be tolerated in the private sector,” writes Gary. “So many factors come into play on the worker level, and yet we have to allow our local president, represent us as he feels is best.”

    Still Gary thinks that if TWU President Roger Toussaint can bring home a raise – that will be the key to avoiding a strike.

    “I’m new to this (9 years) but after the last contract, with a “0” in the first year, Roger needs to bring home at least double digits over 3 years,” he writes. “Straight 4’s would probably do the trick.”

    By on December 17, 2005, 11:14 am
    In category: Transportation | Comments Off

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    Transit Talks: Behind Closed Doors
    December 15th, 2005

    With the two sides in the transit talks still reportedly far apart, the phrase “binding arbitration” has started to surface. Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chair Peter Kalikow suggested at a news conference today that that might be the best way to break the apparent impasse.

    But Transport Workers Union President Roger Toussaint is apparently not a fan of binding arbitration. According to NY1, he said the union would negotiate until midnight — when the contract expires — but would not agree to letting a panel dictate a deal that both sides would have to accept.

    Meanwhile, reporters try to get a sense of what is really going on behind those closed doors.

    Lisa Colagrossi of WABC thinks indications are that wages can be negotiated, but that pensions may pose a thornier problem.

    And NY1 find sources who think the union will reduce some of its salary demands if the MTA agrees to limit disciplinary actions against workers. Newsday’s Ray Sanchez has written that many workers consider the transit authority’s rules “petty and punitive.” Previously, Larry Hanley, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, told Sanchez, “There was some level of respect by management for the union and for the workers. Now it’s run like a military state. There is absolutely no compassion.”

    By on December 15, 2005, 2:07 pm
    In category: Transportation | Comments Off

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    Greedy Transit Workers Or Inept Transit Management?
    December 13th, 2005

    Alex Storozynski in the New York Sun, and an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by City Journal contributing editor Nicole Gelinas, make the same basic point — transit workers don’t have it so bad. “The starting salary for a NYC Transit train operator is $52,644 a year, before overtime. In the new contracts that the city’s municipal unions negotiated this year, the starting salary for a New York Police Department officer will be $25,100 a year,” Storozynski writes.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority “is a generous employer by any standard,” Gelinas writes. “Its employees take home bigger paychecks and more lavish benefits than most of the city’s private employees. The authority is not looking to drastically slash those salaries and benefits. It is merely proposing to increase worker productivity and to cut back modestly on its own pension and health-benefit obligations.”
    Storozynski’s essay is entitled “Start Hiring” and recommends that officials “can look to President Reagan’s example of how to deal with an illegal strike” — i.e., as in the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike, fire them and hire replacements.

    Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez sees it differently: “When it comes to money, [Gary Dellaverson, head of MTA labor relations] says, transit workers should act responsibly and accept tough times. In other words, they shouldn’t follow the MTA way.” That way, Gonzalez charges, is “the way of lies, smoke screens and funny money math.” For example, he writes, it is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s long-ago sweetening of the pensions for the workers on the Long Island Rail Road, not in the city, that has created a huge deficit. “As for the transit workers who devoted their careers to working in the city, the MTA’s contributions to the regular municipal retirement system are dramatically lower than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.”

    By on December 13, 2005, 9:55 am
    In category: Public Finance,Transportation | 16 Comments »

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    Gotham Gazette the Place for Politics and Policy

    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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