CITY Sat, 17 Nov 2018 04:57:30 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) At First Debate, Candidates for Public Advocate Pitch Visions for the Role The candidates, moderator and hosts

The candidates, moderator and hosts (photo via Gotham Gazette)

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James’ victory in the race for state attorney general has kicked off what will be roughly three months of jostling by candidates running to replace her. While James won’t be sworn in until January and the nonpartisan special election for her seat won’t be held till February, several candidates have already declared their interest in the seat and, on Wednesday evening, seven of them shared a stage at New York Law School, staking out their positions on the roles and responsibilities of the office and how they would employ the limited powers of the public advocate.

The 90-minute forum, hosted by AARP-NY and good government group Citizens Union, featured New York City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Eric Ulrich and Jumaane Williams, Assembly Members Michael Blake and Daniel O’Donnell, Dawn Smalls, a former Obama White House appointee, and journalist Nomiki Konst. Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max moderated the discussion, which largely focused on how the candidates would execute the role of public advocate, but also touched on a number of issues, from development in the city to the recently-announced deal that would bring an Amazon headquarters to Queens.

The candidates were all in the same neighborhood in defining the role of the public advocate as an independent watchdog in city government that provides a voice for the voiceless and holds the mayor accountable. Each presented their vision of the key responsibilities of the office and how they would creatively use its resources, and discussed areas of government function and city agencies where they would focus their efforts. There was minimal daylight among them, all Democrats save for Ulrich, who admitted he was the “elephant in the room” as the only Republican on stage (he calls himself a Rockefeller Republican and is pro-choice, pro-labor union, and opposed to President Donald Trump).

The candidates mostly agreed that the office is underfunded, at $3.3 million for the current fiscal year, and agreed that the budget should be independent of the whims of the City Council and the mayor, though none of them offered specific projections for adequate funding.

Council Member Espinal pitched his record of bringing resources to his district and fighting for affordable housing, chiefly through the East New York rezoning plan that included $250 million in city investments in the neighborhood. He agreed that the public advocate should use their position to hold the mayor accountable for his decisions. “But I also believe that the public advocate should be responsible for making sure that we have a plan that’s going to benefit the future of New York City,” he said, insisting that the role should be about more than just reacting to crises after the fact. “NYCHA’s crumbling, the MTA’s crumbling, but no one’s talking about what are some sustainable solutions on how the city should move forward to make sure those problems do not end up at our steps at City Hall.”

Espinal said the office should be empowered to audit city agencies, conduct independent environmental studies on land use deals, and should run the city’s most efficient constituent services program. Asked how he would work to make the city more aging friendly, he promised to advocate for investments in infrastructure and accessibility, and to push for increased senior services and funding for health care facilities.

Ulrich repeatedly made some of the most forceful pledges to hold the mayor accountable, arguing he is best suited to do so given his party affiliation. “The office of the public advocate was supposed to be, or was designed to be, I believe, a check on the power of the executive branch in this city, not a rubber stamp,” he said, noting that officials sometimes fail that duty when both the public advocate and mayor are members of the same party while giving credit to several prior public advocates for ways in which they used the office.

Ulrich said the powers of the office could be expanded without increased funding, by allowing the public advocate to sit on the boards of more city commissions and authorities, such as the MTA executive board and the CUNY board of trustees.

To aid seniors, Ulrich said he would push to expand support for naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs), advocate for legislation in Albany to give tax credits to caregivers of senior citizens and also promote greater affordable housing set asides for seniors. He stressed that it was necessary to set up a communication pipeline, perhaps within the office, dedicated to seniors’ complaints and issues.

The presumed frontrunner in the race is Council Member Williams, who is fresh off a defeat in the primary for lieutenant governor in which he nonetheless won nearly 47 percent, more than 640,000 votes, against the incumbent, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Williams prides himself on being an “activist elected official” and has vowed to bring that philosophy into the public advocate’s office. “I want to make sure that people feel someone is watching the mayor, the City Council, the agencies to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” Williams said. More than just raising issues with government failures, he said the public advocate should also propose solutions to solve them.

Williams pushed for the office to receive subpoena power and an independent budget with enough resources to hire a dedicated investigations staff and to give them the ability to file lawsuits and see them through. To Williams, the biggest issues facing seniors are the lack of affordable housing in the city and “resource inequality” across neighborhoods for which he pointed fingers at Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, promising that he would prioritize those problems if elected.

Smalls, an attorney who worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations and formerly as a commissioner at the New York State Joint Commission for Public Ethics, pitched herself as an independent candidate from outside the established political structure. “I am running for public advocate because I believe in government as a force for good, but only if it works,” she said.

Smalls said she would reorganize the office to be “laser focused” on a few key areas, in particular the city’s subway system, affordable housing, homelessness, and voting reforms. “Rather than doing a little bit of everything, when you have such a limited budget, and you have such a limited staff, I think the way to leverage that is to really focus in on a few key issues that affect all New Yorkers and really use that watchdog status to drill down and hold leaders accountable,” she said.

Smalls also said she supported providing more affordable housing for seniors and a caregiver tax credit, and said the city needs to put more money into NYCHA which is home to many seniors and is experiencing a “five-alarm emergency.”

Similarly to Smalls, Konst touted her independence from politics as her strongest qualification. “I’m running for public advocate because it is independent, it should be independent of politics,” she said. Konst previously served on the Democratic National Committee Reform Commission, appointed by Senator Bernie Sanders, and has been a vocal proponent of reform within the party. A democratic socialist, she also holds what are in this race likely the furthest left positions on many issues.

She offered several unique ideas for how she would use the public advocate’s office including setting up a unit of out-of-work reporters to investigate public corruption, creating a conflicts of interest map to portray the connections between elected officials, lobbyists, and special interests, and appointing a representative of the public advocate’s office in each of the 51 City Council districts to monitor community issues. “The public advocate is there to shine light on all the dark places in this city, expose it and take it on,” she said.

Konst said senior issues were “intersectional” and argued that across the board, underfunding of government services was the root of the problem, whether it be in NYCHA or the MTA. She promised to sue landlords that improperly evict elderly tenants and inveighed against overdevelopment that she said was leading to services and resources being concentrated in richer communities.

Assemblymember Blake, who was recently reelected for a third term and is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, said the number one responsibility of the office is “to be the watchdog of the agencies and to fight for the people.” He outlined four critical areas where he would “mobilize” the office’s resources -- the MTA, NYCHA, affordable housing, and the Department of Education. Blake repeatedly chided the deal signed between the city and state with Amazon to help the tech giant establish a satellite office in Long Island City. The deal was struck without input from local elected officials and will cut out the City Council from the land use review process. Blake said it was a chief example of why the city needs a strong public advocate.

Blake called for an expansion of the SCRIE program, which provides rent freezes for seniors, insisted that the city should expand transit options for the elderly and also emphasized the need to provide services to senior veterans and seniors living in public housing. Additionally, he emphasized a focus on preventative health care for the city’s aging population, insisting that “too often we’re addressing the crisis on the back end.”

“I’m running for public advocate because I don’t want to be mayor,” said Assemblymember O’Donnell, insisting that anyone seeking to use the office as a springboard should be “disqualified” from the race. (Only Ulrich would later say that he would consider running for mayor, while the rest either denied or deflected). “You have to have an independent outside voice who’s unafraid of the consequences of telling the truth,” O’Donnell added.

O’Donnell said his first legislative proposal would be to give the public advocate’s office the power to subpoena city agencies, later touting his experience conducting investigations as head of the Assembly’s ethics committee. He repeatedly said the top issue the office should combat is overdevelopment and gentrification he says is running rampant across the city.

O’Donnell also raised the issue of so-called food deserts in low-income communities, which lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are generally linked to worse health outcomes. He said he would work to solve that problem. “I believe the public advocate’s office is the perfect place to promote it, to organize it,” he said.

He also touted a bill he authored to remove social security income from SCRIE application numbers, alleviating pressure on seniors who cannot afford their rent, and he said the city should take over control of the bus system from the MTA, to ensure better transit options for seniors.

Not all of the participating candidates are officially declared, Ulrich indicated he hasn’t made up his mind about running yet, and others who were not part of the forum are running or may run. Among others who are running or considering a run are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, David Eisenbach, Ben Yee, and Theo Chino. Candidates will have to officially petition in early January to get on the February ballot. As soon as James vacates the seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself a former public advocate, will have to call the special election.

[LISTEN: Public Advocate Candidate Forum - Nov. 14, 2018]

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 16 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
LISTEN: Public Advocate Candidate Forum - Nov. 14, 2018 pa forum aarp afterward

The candidates, moderator and hosts (photo via Gotham Gazette)

With Public Advocate Letitia James' victory to become the next New York State Attorney General, she will vacate her current position on January 1 and there will be a special election to fill it sometime in February, once the Mayor decides on the exact date within a limited window he has to call it. In the days before and after Election Day 2018, candidates for Public Advocate have announced their intentions to run, or at least explore it, in some cases. Seven of those candidates participated in a forum on Wednesday, Nov. 14, hosted by Citizens Union, AARP NY, and New York Law School: Assembly Members Michael Blake and Danny O'Donnell; City Council Members Eric Ulrich, Jumaane Williams, and Rafael Espinal; activist and journalist Nomiki Konst; and attorney and former federal aide Dawn Smalls (there are other candidates who have declared or are exploring a run -- candidates will have to decide early in January at the latest).

The debate touched on a wide range of issues, but was especially focused on how the candidates would approach the office of Public Advocate and what issues they would focus on, and it was moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max. Listen to the debate through the audio embedded below, or find it wherever you get your podcasts under "Gotham Gazette" and "Max & Murphy" -- we've added it to those podcast streams.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 15 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Field for Public Advocate Special Election Comes Into Focus Rafael Espinal

Council Member Rafael Espinal (photo: William Alatriste)

Letitia James’ win in the race to become the next New York Attorney General means there will be a special election early in 2019 to name New York City’s next Public Advocate. The candidates for what will be a roughly three-month race were just beginning to become clear when news broke of planned City Council legislation calling for the position of public advocate to be abolished, as reported by Politico.

Though the post of public advocate has had critics since it was created during a massive 1989 New York City Charter revision process, the Council bill faces an uphill path to passage, and the race to replace James as one of just three popularly-elected citywide officials will capture much of the city’s political attention over the coming weeks.

The somewhat undefined and underfunded role of public advocate is largely shaped by the person who fills it. It is broadly expected that the public advocate will do as the name suggests and fight for public interests, serving as a watchdog over the rest of city government. It is also seen as a stepping stone post -- Bill de Blasio launched his successful 2013 campaign for mayor from the perch.

With James expected to win her race for attorney general since she launched her campaign several months ago, a long list of potential public advocate candidates formed. Now that Election Day is in the past, some are making it official, while others are still officially in the considering phase.

Pushing the decision-making is that organizations have begun to host candidate forums, including the first on Monday night, held in Manhattan by several progressive advocacy groups and Democratic clubs. Another will follow on Wednesday night, hosted by government reform group Citizens Union and AARP-NY. Candidates must also consider fundraising and pursuing endorsements from groups, labor unions, and high-profile individuals.

Even before James won her race, a handful of candidates declared their candidacies: City Council Member Jumaane Williams, state Assembly Members Daniel O’Donnell and Michael Blake, activist and journalist Nomiki Konst, and Columbia history professor David Eisenbach, who ran in the 2017 public advocate Democratic primary against James.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is said to be nearing the launch of a campaign, while there have been grumblings that her predecessor in that role, Christine Quinn, may also give the race a look. There has also been some question about whether Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams would consider it, though he has expressed his intention to run for mayor in 2021. Both Quinn and Adams appear unlikely candidates at this point.

Meanwhile, along with Williams, who just lost a bid to become the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, current City Council Members either starting or flirting with a run for public advocate include Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican in the mix at this point. (Meanwhile, five of their colleagues - Kalman Yeger, Robert Holden, Ruben Diaz Sr., Mark Gjonaj, and Rtichie Torres -- announced on Monday that they are backing a new bill to eliminate the position.)

Also in the running for public advocate are Dawn Smalls, a Manhattan attorney with a background in federal government, open government advocate and Democratic Party activist Ben Yee, and systems engineer Theo Chino. Other names could easily emerge in the coming days and weeks.

Once James is officially sworn in as attorney general on January 1, Mayor de Blasio will have just a few days to call a special election, likely to take place in late February. That election will be “non-partisan,” meaning there are no party primaries and each candidate must create their own ballot line through petitioning to accrue signatures from voters.

Once the special election is decided, the winner will only hold the office until the end of 2019. In the fall, there will be a “regular” election, with party primaries (as necessary) and a general election. The winner of that election will serve out the rest of James’ term until the end of 2021. He or she would be eligible to run for reelection that fall and able to serve two full terms on top of the partial term, though there is of course talk that whoever holds the seat at the start of 2020 may very well run for mayor in 2021, when de Blasio is term-limited out of office.

The forum on Wednesday will be held at New York Law School starting at 6:30 p.m., participating candidates including Blake, Williams, Espinal, Ulrich, O'Donnell, Konst, and Smalls.

[Updated: Listen to the full Wednesday forum here]

by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

This story has been updated to indicate that City Council Member Robert Cornegy told Gotham Gazette he is not running for public advocate and that he is pursuing a run for Brooklyn borough president in 2021.

]]> (Victor Porcelli & Ben Max) City Tue, 13 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 12 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week we continue to process the results of the past week's elections, but also turn our attention to the race in the special election for New York City Public Advocate, whereby Letitia James will be succeeded after she ascends to Attorney General. The election will likely take place in February, but several candidates have already declared and others surely will soon, and this week will see the first forums for those in the running.

There's also government happening this week, including a lot of action at the City Council - see our day-by-day rundown below. And, this will be criminal justice week in the new “Agenda 2019” project brought to you by Gotham Gazette and City Limits, wherein the two publications are teaming up to set the stage for 2019 in New York City and State politics and government. Read the initial overview: Agenda 2019: Major Policy Tests Ahead for State and City.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

"On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at the Flight 587 17th Annual Memorial Service. This event is open press." In the evening, "the Mayor will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall" during the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

At noon Monday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will deliver keynote remarks at VoteRunLead’s 2018 “Women & Power” National Town Hall, discussing the midterm elections and the future. Other speakers will include Representatives-elect Lauren Underwood and Ilhan Omar. The town hall will take place at the Times Square WeWork.

On Monday evening several Manhattan Democratic clubs and the New York Progressive Action Network will host a candidates' night in the race to replace Tish James as Public Advocate via a special election likely to occur in February. Candidates are set to address the crowd one at a time over the course of several hours at ThoughtWorks in Manhattan.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law to “establish a demonstration program to facilitate the creation and alteration of habitable apartments in basements and cellars of certain one- and two-family dwellings.”
--The Committee on For-Hire Vehicles will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws, including laws to “create a task force to study sale prices of taxicab medallions,” creating an “Office of Inclusion” within the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and “financial education for persons considering purchases or leases of for-hire vehicles or taxicab licenses.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to information disclosure and trainings on harassment at nightlife establishments and the “disclosure of service fee charges associated with tickets to entertainment events in New York City,” as well as to discuss a resolution “calling on the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Office of Public Safety to update its mandatory security guard training curriculum to include sexual harassment prevention and bystander intervention training for all security guards who work in nightlife establishments.”
--The Committee on Veterans will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “benefits counseling services for veterans,” “creating veterans resource centers,” and creating a “veterans resource guide.”
--The Committees on Youth Services and Juvenile Justice will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “reentry programs for formerly incarcerated youth.”
--The Committee on Technology will meet at 1:30 p.m. to discuss a proposal to create an “Office of Data Analytics.”

The state commission on legislative and executive branch compensation is set to meet on Tuesday.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Business Council of New York State will host its “2018 Annual Environmental Conference,” discussing “the latest in environment regulation and law.” Speakers will include EPA Region 2 Administrator Peter Lopez; NYSERDA CEO Alicia Barton; Diane Burmon, a member of the Public Service Commission; and State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. The conference will take place at the Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Springs.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a public meeting at 125 Worth Street.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will deliver remarks at the opening of NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn. At 12:30 p.m., Hochul will make an announcement at Bausch + Lomb Vision Care in Rochester. And at 2:15 p.m., Hochul will tour Perry's Ice Cream on its 100th Anniversary, in Akron.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will be in Cambridge, MA, where he will deliver keynote remarks at the MIT School Access and Quality Summit.

On Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. at City Hall, ""Council Member Rafael Espinal, representatives from Brooklyn venue House of Yes, and other advocates will gather before the Committee on Consumer Affairs hearing to rally in support of a package of legislation sponsored by Council Member Espinal that will combat sexual harassment in nightlife."

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York State Compensation Committee Meeting.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Deputy Mayor J. Philip Thompson, and DCP Population Division Director Joseph Salvo will host a town hall on the 2020 Census at Queens Borough Hall.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at the Council's Puerto Rican Heritage Celebration, at City Hall.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will host the City’s Human Rights Commissioner, Carmelyn Malalis, for a discussion on the city’s recently effective Human Rights Law, aimed at eliminating bias in the workplace and public accommodations.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will attend the Brennan Center for Justice Legacy Awards Reception & Dinner.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m. at New York Law School, Common Cause New York and Fair Vote will co-host "an in-depth panel discussion that will highlight the current state of election outcomes in New York City and explore the potential impact of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in New York City." It will be moderated by Susan Lerner, Executive Director, Common Cause/NY and include panelists New York City Council Member Brad Lander, Karen Brinson Bell, an elections administration consultant, & Betsy Sweet, a former Maine gubernatorial candidate.

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Council Speaker Corey Johnson will likely host the usual pre-stated press conference at 12:30 p.m.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss “authorizing an increase in the amount to be expended annually in 14 BIDs.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, City & State will host “NY Women’s Power 100” at the New York Academy of Sciences. Public Advocate and Attorney General-elect Letitia James will deliver keynote remarks.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Aging will meet in Albany for a public hearing “to explore programs and services that help older New Yorkers who want to remain in their homes and communities as they grow older, as well as current challenges facing these older New Yorkers and best practices that can enhance the quality of life for older adults.”

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Alcoholism + Drug Abuse, Health, and Correction will meet jointly at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing “examining the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment programs in state and local correctional facilities in the state.”

At 11 a.m. Wednesday outside the MTA's downtown offices, "The #FixTheSubway Coalition, composed of diverse, progressive organizations focused on labor, civil rights, racial justice, environmental, transit, and other issues and elected officials will rally in favor of a comprehensive transit funding plan with congestion pricing at its core and against the prospective transit fare hike." The coalition is led by Riders Alliance and other groups.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy program will air on WBAI radio and will include interviews with State Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins about Democrats' agenda for taking power in the new year and with Assembly Member Latrice Walker about recent and upcoming criminal justice reform efforts in the state Legislature. The show airs at 99.5FM and and is later available as a podcast.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, the Hunter Foundation will host a town hall meeting at Harlem Hospital on “battling K2 and the opioid crisis in America.” CNN’s Don Lemon will moderate a panel consisting of television host and Hunter Foundation founder Wendy Williams; City Council Member Andy King; Dr. Bunmi Asana, addiction psychiatrist at NYC Health + Hospitals; Dr. Ronnie Swift, Chief of Psychiatry at Metropolitan Hospital; and Dr. Lipi Roy, an addiction medicine expert.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will be the featured guest speaker at the Queens Parent Advisory Board at Queens Borough Hall.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, TransitCenter will host “Fare Capping: A Formula for Fairer Fares,” discussing the potential benefits of fare capping, a technique whereby single-ride fares are “‘capped’ when they reach the cost of an unlimited-ride pass.” Panelists will include Andy Shaw, Senior Product Manager for Payments at Transport for London; Nick Sifuentes, the Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign; and Jaqi Cohen, campaign coordinator for the Straphangers Campaign.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting at Saint Claire Catholic Academy in Rosedale, Queens.

On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at New York Law School, AARP NY and Citizens Union are hosting a candidate forum in the race to replace Attorney General-elect Tish James as Public Advocate. Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max will moderate the forum.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Contracts will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “reporting of promptness of agency payments to contractors.”
--The Committee on Public Housing and the Subcommittee on the Capital Budget will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding NYCHA’s 2017 Physical Needs Assessment.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon.
--The Committees on Health, Immigration, and General Welfare will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the impact of the proposed ‘public charge’ rule on NYC.”
--The Committees on Criminal Justice, Mental Health, and Hospitals will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding correctional health.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s will host its 2018 “Health Care Summit” at the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square, discussing “population health” and how location and other socioeconomic factors can weigh on health outcomes. Speakers will include Dave Chokshi, Chief Population Health Officer at NYC Health + Hospitals, as well as several private health care and hospital executives.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will join Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia for an “exclusive tour” of the Sanitation Department’s Manhattan garages. Garcia “will give a brief presentation at the beginning of the tour.”

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Election Law and the Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement will meet jointly at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing on “improving opportunities to vote in New York State,” “including through early voting and no-excuse absentee ballot reforms.”

At 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the Housing Justice for All coalition will march against “corrupt landlords” and call on the new Democratic leadership in state government to enact “universal rent control.” the march will begin at the Museum of the American Indian in the Financial District.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law at New York Law School will host David Hansell, Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, for a “CityLaw Breakfast.”

At 10 a.m. Friday, the Assembly Standing Committee on the Judiciary will meet at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing on “electronic filing of court papers.”

Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday at 10 a.m.

At 11:30 a.m. Friday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet in Albany for a public hearing on recycling.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

]]> (Ben Max & Ben Brachfeld) City Sun, 11 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
With Nod from De Blasio and Push from Johnson, Momentum for Ranked-Choice Voting in New York City bdb at voting machine

(photo: Gotham Gazette)

With all three of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision proposals approved by voters by wide margins on Tuesday, eyes are now on the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, empaneled by the City Council and other officials, which will, in some respects, pick up where the 2018 commission left off, possibly considering issues that the mayor’s commission did not act on.

Key among those is ranked-choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting), an alternative method of voting wherein voters rank their candidate preferences rather than simply voting for one. For whichever races it is applied to, if no candidate wins the required percentage of the vote on initial count, the last place candidate is eliminated, and the second preference of the eliminated candidate’s voters receives those votes. This continues until one candidate secures the required percentage, often set at 50 percent.

As of now, New York City only holds runoffs for citywide positions -- mayor, public advocate, comptroller -- and if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote. Mayor Bill de Blasio narrowly avoided a runoff in the 2013 Democratic primary for mayor, but there was one that year for public advocate.

That runoff, in the Democratic primary between eventual winner Letitia James and Daniel Squadron, led to heightened calls for ranked-choice voting, especially given the high cost of the runoff relative to the budget of the public advocate’s office.

Increasing support from elected officials and among the public led to ranked-choice voting being considered and discussed by the 2018 charter commission; in its final report, the commission said that it had received a “considerable volume of public comment about ranked choice voting.” In the end, the commission demurred on ranked-choice, arguing that more research and time were required and recommending that a future commission tackle the issue.

It may not take long; that commission may well end up being the 2019 commission, which has already met six times, twice in Manhattan and once each in the other boroughs, and has a much longer timeline on which to tackle issues. It is expected to continue deliberations, solicit online feedback, and hold hearings and meetings throughout the first half of next year, with its ballot proposals likely due by early September.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who got to name several commissioner including the chair, Gail Benjamin, testified at a recent hearing in favor of ranked-choice voting, urging the commission to look into it. De Blasio, meanwhile, singled out ranked-choice voting when asked by Gotham Gazette at a press availability what he would like the 2019 commission to tackle, though he did not endorse the idea outright.

“There was a very vibrant discussion in this charter revision commission, for example, about ranked-choice voting,” the mayor said. “For me, the jury’s still out on ranked-choice voting. I grew up with it in Massachusetts. I think it has strengths and I think it has weaknesses. And I’d sure like to see a lot more research on it. But there’s a lot of people who believe it might be very beneficial in New York City.”

Despite not taking an affirmative stance on the issue, de Blasio’s answer is a signal of his evolving position on ranked-choice, according to Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a good government group that supports ranked-choice voting.

“I think it’s significant,” Camarda said. “I think what’s telling is we’ve now seen, in the last few months, the mayor last week and the Council speaker at the Manhattan charter revision commission hearing, both called on the commission to consider instant runoff voting, and ‘here are the different arguments for it.’ And I think that’s a signal to the commission that they should seriously look at this.”

“I think there’s a new openness to it on their parts that at least wasn’t public in the past,” he continued. “De Blasio in 2013 went on The Brian Lehrer Show and actually took a position against IRV, and said at the time that the starkness of two candidates in the runoff, he thought was clarifying for voters. So clearly, his position seems to have evolved.”

Aside from good government groups, which almost uniformly support it, ranked choice also has the support of other prominent city elected officials: along with Johnson, support comes from Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate James, who was elected State Attorney General on Tuesday and in May called herself “the face of instant runoff” given her 2013 race. City Council Member Brad Lander has sponsored a bill to implement "instant run-off voting" (James is a co-sponsor) in the Council.

"As the upcoming Public Advocate race shows, Ranked Choice Voting is an idea whose time has come for New York City," Lander said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Stronger majority support, better outreach to diverse communities, less negative campaigning, and it even saves money. What's not to like?"

Advocates, including those in New York, note that ranked-choice both makes third parties more viable (by limiting the need for “strategic voting”) and forces candidates to appeal beyond their base, in the hope of attracting voters as second preference. Ranked-choice would also allow city elections to avoid costly, low-turnout runoff elections when no candidate secures the required threshold of votes.

“We think that enabling voters to rank candidates creates an environment where there's more substantive policy debate, and there’s less negativity in campaigning, because candidates have to appeal to second choice and even third choice votes,” Camarda said.

In 2013, the runoff between James and Squadron was estimated to cost about $13 million, for a position with a $2 million budget, in an election with 6.5% turnout. In a report released the following year, the city’s Campaign Finance Board recommended that New York City adopt ranked-choice voting for municipal elections.

Advocates also claim that ranked-choice increases turnout, though studies have been conflicting on the matter. Some have charged that it can be confusing to voters, decreasing turnout and the diversity of the electorate. Turnout in San Francisco, the largest American city using ranked-choice, has been generally depressed since the implementation of ranked-choice, while in Minneapolis, the results have been far more promising.

Ranked choice has taken a higher political profile after Maine voters adopted the system by referendum in 2016, after a string of gubernatorial elections going back to 2002 where no candidate received a majority of the vote. The measure survived several legal and legislative challenges and was used in this year’s midterm elections; the Democratic gubernatorial candidate won an outright majority, but the race in the 2nd Congressional District is currently being decided by instant runoff.

Along with San Francisco and Minneapolis, ranked-choice is used in cities such as Oakland and Memphis, where voters approved ranked-choice in 2008 but it has not yet been implemented. On Tuesday, voters in that city rejected a ballot proposal to abandon ranked-choice, and it will be used in 2019. And de Blasio’s hometown of Cambridge has used ranked-choice since the 1940s; Cambridge’s system is a unique hybrid of ranked-choice and proportional representation.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This story has been updated.

]]> (Ben Brachfeld) City Fri, 09 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The 3 Big Reasons Why Elections in New York City are So Poorly Run and cuomo nov2

Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)

Election Day in New York City was, as City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote on Twitter, “like Groundhog Day,” where yet again, voters were forced to wait in long lines as ballot scanners across the city broke down, a sign of the abysmal election administration that New Yorkers have come to expect every time they visit the polls.

The past few elections -- city, state, and federal -- conducted in New York City have repeatedly shown instances of failure on the part of the New York City Board of Elections, an entity whose name belies the fact that it is a state-created agency charged with administering several elections each year. City BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan -- who is hired by the board’s ten commissioners and reports to them -- suggested on Tuesday, in a brief video posted to Twitter by NY1 reporter Lindsey Christ, that the cause of the latest debacle was a combination of higher turnout, an unwieldy two-page ballot (owing to three ballot questions on the back) and wet ballots because of voters coming in from rainy weather.

The BOE’s problems, long recognized by government reformers, some elected officials, and of course voters, came urgently to the forefront after the 2016 presidential primary, in which more than 117,000 voters were improperly purged from the rolls in Brooklyn, the city’s most populated borough. The purge, originally reported by WNYC, led to a federal lawsuit against the BOE, which later opted for a settlement in which it admitted that it broke the law. But while the settlement prompted improvements to voter roll management, the BOE’s inability to smoothly run elections has stretched far beyond that one area or even the last few years.

“I think there’s many different problems at many different levels that lead to a day like this,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group.

In a statement, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, who serves on the Rules, Judiciary, Health and Election Law committees, said, “Today’s problems should have been prevented. Rainy weather and high voter turnout should not be impediments to a functional election system.”

So why is the New York City Board of Elections so dysfunctional? What is standing in the way of New Yorkers and easy voting experiences?

A Structural Problem
Part of the reason for the BOE’s continued failures is the agency’s structure itself. Though the agency is funded by the city, and the City Council conducts regular oversight of its function after each election, it is a creation of the state. Its commissioners are chosen by county party committees according to state law -- by the top two vote-getting political parties in the five boroughs, which, for all intents and purposes, means Democrats and Republicans. Each party selects one commissioner from each borough who is then confirmed by the City Council to make up the ten-member board, which decides on everything from election management procedures to candidates’ inclusion on the ballot.

The entire process is rife with patronage, with not only the commissioners, but most of the BOE’s staff employees appointed by county chairs along party lines. The board has been resistant to efforts by the city to professionalize its ranks, pushing back against City Council legislation that would require appointments akin to civil service jobs. Broadly speaking, criticism of the board boils down to the belief that it is more concerned about keeping the county party leaders happy than it is about delivering good service to voters, and that it is not necessarily well-prepared to deliver top-notch service even if that was the main focus.

Immediately following the 2016 election snafu, Mayor Bill de Blasio even offered the BOE an additional $20 million to implement reforms including hiring an outside consultant and creating a blue ribbon panel to conduct a top-to-bottom review of systemic issues, providing more transparency in hiring, and new methods of communication with voters. The BOE, however, refused the offer.  

Speaker Johnson, who called for Ryan’s resignation on Tuesday, said in a phone interview that there is a dire need for reforms at the state level. But, he insisted, “Until that happens, we need competent leadership at the staff level from the Board of Elections.”

Johnson said the reasons Ryan gave in the video on Twitter, including the rainy weather and higher turnout, were “predictable” factors. “Those aren’t valid reasons to have hundreds of machines breaking down...That did not give me confidence in him understanding the depth of anger that New Yorkers felt at the polls,” he said.  

Voting and electoral laws
New York employs what good government groups call “passive voter suppression” with election and voting laws that tend to discourage turnout. The state is one of 13 that does not have early voting, which means that the nearly 13 million registered voters across the state must cast their ballots in a 15-hour period on the day of the general election (During the September primary, poll sites were only open for nine hours in 49 out of 62 counties). Besides depressing turnout, the lack of early voting also forces the BOE to resolve issues as they arise at the ballot box on election day rather than be able to preempt them.

“On the one hand, the problem today seems to be with the scanners, the hardware and software,” Camarda said. “But obviously if reforms had been passed like early voting, that would’ve provided a dry run to prevent these kinds of issues from occurring.”

The state has also failed to pass common-sense voting reforms such as no-excuse absentee ballots, mail-in ballots, electronic poll books or consolidating primary election dates. Case in point, New York held two primaries this year, one in June for congressional seats and the second in September for state candidates. In terms of voting, the state also does not allow same-day voter registration and has one of the longest deadlines for switching party registration.

The Democrat-led State Assembly has repeatedly passed many of those reforms and Democratic leaders, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, have blamed Republicans who control the State Senate for blocking them in turn. Though Cuomo has often said he supports that broad reform platform, he has put little capital behind it and has been promising this year to advance them if the Democrats flip control of the Senate, which they did on Election Day. Senate Democratic leaders have listed voting and election reform as a top priority for early 2019.

Overworked, Underpaid and Untrained Poll Workers
Though there have been efforts in the Assembly to provide raises to poll workers, who are volunteers, and reduce the long shifts that they are required to serve, most workers continue to be underpaid and overworked. Poll worker training is also seen is inadequate and often causes some of the issues seen on election day, contributing to long lines, confusion, and frustration.

The mayor’s funding offer would have required the BOE to provide a plan to improve both poll worker pay and training, including bonuses for those who volunteered at multiple elections in a year. Electronic poll books may also aid efforts to run elections more quickly and smoothly, they are on the list of potential reforms.

Many of the less-controversial reforms are long overdue. An audit released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer in November last year found that in three elections since 2016, out of 156 polling sites, 90 percent showed significant breakdowns ranging from mishandling of affidavit ballots and inadequate staffing to a lack of assistance for voters with disabilities. “After a thorough review of the agency, it’s clear the voter purge is a reflection of larger, systemic, day-to-day breakdowns,” Stringer said in a statement at the time. “Elections matter, and every vote must be counted in every election. That’s why the BOE needs to fundamentally change its operations.”

Camarda’s group has for years advocated for a municipal poll worker program. “The executive director of the Board of Elections has a very difficult job because you’re managing a temporary workforce of roughly 35,000 people across some 1,300 poll sites,” he said. “If you want to have qualified people to do these jobs, you’ve got to pay them.”

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Wed, 07 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Election Day Live Show with Special Guests mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

November 6, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Election Day Live Show with Special Guests

jumm williams 2On Election Day 2018 Max & Murphy held a special live-audience edition of their show, broadcast on WBAI from Commons Cafe in Brooklyn, 5-7 p.m. as New Yorkers continued to go to the polls and/or await election returns. Guests included Democratic City Council Member Jumaane Williams, NY1 anchor Errol Louis, Republican attorney and 2017 public advocate candidate JC Polanco, and Kadia Goba, a reporter for BKLYNER.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Wed, 07 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 5 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Tuesday is Election Day! Be ready to vote.

Catch up on all of Gotham Gazette's election coverage here.

See what races you'll be voting in and which candidates you'll get to choose from by using the interactive election guide from Gotham Gazette, WNYC and City Limits.

Read up on the three (New York City-only) ballot questions here.

Monday will be a big get out the vote day, with final rallies and pitches from candidates and campaigns, and then it all comes down to getting people to the polls on Tuesday. There's a great deal at stake this election, both at the state and federal levels. Read Gotham Gazette's 10 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York.

And while it is the main event, there's more than just Election Day this week, of course - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday at noon, “Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at the Goddard Riverside Senior Center...In the evening, the Mayor will appear live on NY1’s Inside City Hall” in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

During Monday’s Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio (10 a.m.-12 p.m.), Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max and Dr. Christina Greer of Fordham University will preview Election Day in New York at 11 a.m. Their segment will be followed by a debate between City Councils Members Helen Rosenthal and Brad Lander over the three ballot proposals.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the Bartow Ave Animal Shelter proposal.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday.

The case over the Trump administration including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census will be heard starting Monday in federal court in Manhattan.

At noon Monday, members of the Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus will join architect Rodney Leon and others to rally against the “racist act of vandalism” at the site of the African Burial Ground Monument which occurred on Thursday.

Tuesday is Election Day. Polls in New York City open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. Vote!

Mayor de Blasio and other special guests will join the Max & Murphy live-audience election night show at the Commons Cafe in downtown Brooklyn. The show will air on WBAI radio (99.5FM) and at from 5-7 p.m. and will include the mayor, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, and others, and audience participation. Seating is limited, but there are seats still available.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, City & State will host “Tech in New York” at the NYIT Auditorium on Broadway on the Upper West Side. Speakers will discuss “the course of government tech, connected citizens, digital policy and the future of our city and state.” The City’s Deputy CTO, Jeremy Goldberg, will deliver the opening keynote. Other speakers will include City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez; Cordell Schachter, CTO of the City’s Department of Transportation; and Tariq Habib, Chief Information Security Officer at the MTA.

From 5-6 p.m. Wednesday, Max & Murphy will air during its usual weekly slot on WBAI radio, and will include discussion of the election results. Tune in at 99.5FM or

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Transit Center will host “Activists Running Transit” at One Whitehall Street, discussing how having transit riders of diverse backgrounds create transit policy can produce better outcomes. Panelists include David Jones, President of the Community Service Society and an MTA Board Member, and Flozell Daniels, President of the Foundation for Louisiana and Board Chair of the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, New York City Transit President Andy Byford will hold a “community conversation” for Bronx residents on the Fast Forward plan at Hostos Community College.

At the City Council on Thursday: the Committee on Higher Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “career services and job placement at the City University of New York.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday, City Council Member Keith Powers and Assemblymember Dan Quart will host a discussion on bail reform in New York at PS 198 on the Upper East Side. They will be joined by a panel consisting of former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Insha Rahman of the Vera Institute, Julio Medina of Exodus Transitional Community, and Nicole Follmann of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Pilots, Plans, & Promises: Is Desegregation Possible in New York City’s Schools?” Speakers include Matthew Gonzales, Director of the School Diversity Project at New York Appleseed; Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation; City Council Member Brad Lander; Emily Liss, Chief of Staff at DOE’s Division of Early Childhood Education and Student Enrollment; and Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Vera Institute will host Kerry Kennedy, president of RFK Human Rights and the spearheader of the recent mass bailout at Rikers, for a discussion “examining the living legacy of her father’s work to end the criminalization of poverty, the future of bail reform, and the movement and impact surrounding existing efforts to end cash bail.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Museum of the City of New York will host “Activist New York: The Next Generation.” Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman will moderate a panel of young activists discussing their work in the city. The panel will consist of Brea Baker, a juvenile justice activist and Program and Youth Coordinator at the Gathering for Justice; Ramon Contreras, an anti-gun violence activist and founder of Youth Over Guns; and Hebh Jamal, an anti-Islamophobia activist who is New York Youth Director of the Muslim American Society.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

]]> (Ben Max & Ben Brachfeld) City Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's the [DATA] Point? 3, with Cesar Perales, Charter Commission Chair whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 58 -- 3, Cesar Perales, chair of the mayor’s 2018 charter revision commission [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

cesarpicCesar Perales, chair of Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2018 Charter Revision Commission, joined the podcast to discuss the commission's work and the three ballot proposals it put forth that go before voters on Election Day: Tuesday, November 6, which deal with campaign finance reform, creating a civic engagement commission, and term limits for community board members, among other details.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Fri, 02 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Nearly 160,000 New Democratic Voters in 7 Months; 22,000 New Republicans 30833380106 11c5de4882 h

New Yorkers line up to vote (photo: Edwin Torres/Mayor's office)

Close to 160,000 New Yorkers registered with the Democratic Party in the last seven months, according to the latest enrollment numbers released by the State Board of Elections on Thursday, compared with just over 22,000 voters who joined the Republican Party and close to 113,000 who registered but did not pick a party affiliation. In total, there were 12.7 million registered voters across the state, an increase of about 300,000 since April.

The numbers were released, as they typically are on November 1, just a few days before New Yorkers head to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots for governor and other statewide positions, as well as members of the state Legislature and U.S. House of Representatives, among other seats. Democrats are hoping to keep control of all the statewide positions on the ballot as well as the state Assembly, while flipping control of the state Senate and enough House seats to contribute to a takeover of that chamber nationally.

Democrats have long maintained an overwhelming registration advantage in the state and that has only been growing in recent years, likely in part in response to the Trump presidency and the Republican-led Congress. Prior to going to the polls in November 2016, there were 6.18 million registered Democratic voters statewide. They have grown to 6.36 million, of which 5.78 million are active registered voters and 579,000 inactive voters.

Republicans have not fared as well. There were 2.84 million voters registered with the party in November 2016, increasing by only about 6,000 more voters in the latest numbers. Of those, 2.63 million were active voters while 212,000 were inactive. Unaffiliated voters, commonly referred to as “independents,” numbered 2.72 million two years ago and have increased to 2.75 million, with 2.48 million active voters and 270,000 inactive ones.

Most of the minor parties did not see drastic change over the last four years. The Independence Party did add about 10,000 new voters to its base, reaching total of just above 491,000, and notably the Green Party added nearly 6,000 new members to its small base, reaching slightly over the 31,000 mark.

Voter turnout also surged in primary elections this year -- there was a congressional primary in June and the state primary in September -- with several competitive Democratic races but few Republican ones. New York has more often than not seen low turnout at the polls, a trend that most expect will change this year particularly as Democrats are turning out in increasing numbers amid a nationwide “blue wave,” the electoral impact of which is yet to be seen in full, with November 6 set to show its actual impact.

In the four years since the last statewide election, voter enrollment increased by almost 900,000, including nearly 520,000 new Democrats, about 73,000 new Republicans and more than 280,000 new unaffiliated voters.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 02 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Pushes 'Yes' Vote on 3 Ballot Proposals de blasio 3 ballet

32BJ's Hector Figueroa, with Mayor de Blasio and others (photo: @32BJSEIU)

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday continued his eleventh-hour push for the ballot proposals put forth by his Charter Revision Commission, with a rally at the headquarters of labor union 32BJ SEIU, where he was joined by other unions, elected officials, and advocates in favor of the three reforms that will appear on New York City voters’ ballots on Election Day.

De Blasio, who announced the commission in his 2018 State of the City address to examine and propose revisions to the city’s charter, characterizes the three proposals as ones that will strengthen democracy in New York City. Broadly speaking, though each has numerous accompanying details, the proposals are to lower individual campaign contribution limits and increase the public match ratio; create a civic engagement commission that would run a citywide participatory budgeting program and do other tasks to promote civic involvement; and, most controversially, term limits for community board members and other changes to the community board membership process.

After saying virtually nothing about them for weeks, the mayor has been on something of a last-minute whirlwind tour in favor of the proposals. On Sunday, the mayor stumped for them at two Manhattan churches. On Tuesday, he conducted a telephone town hall and published an op-ed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle supporting the measures. He and his team have been urging allies, including Senator Bernie Sanders, to promote “yes” votes, and the mayor’s social media feeds have been promoting the measures and expressions of support for them.

The Thursday rally, backed by the “Democracy Yes” coalition of unions, advocates, good government groups, and community groups that support the proposals, is the latest in de Blasio’s campaign sweep through the city in favor of the charter revisions.

The mayor and the assembled crowd characterized the measures as a way to wrest control of the democratic process away from old, wealthy, white men and towards more democratic control and greater representation for young people, people of color, immigrants, and low-income people.

“If what young people hear from everyone else around them is, ‘wait your turn,’ that is not a way to create a healthier, stronger democracy,” de Blasio said, referencing opposition to the community board term limit proposal. Critics say term limits would lead to a brain drain on community boards to the benefit of real estate developers, though the real estate lobby itself is against term limits. The proposal would limit members to four consectuve two-year terms, but those term-limited from reapplying would only have to sit out one two-year term before being eligible for reappointment by their borough president.

The borough presidents, aside from Brooklyn’s Eric Adams, and Comptroller Scott Stringer (the former Manhattan borough president) have led the charge against Proposal 3.

“Our message needs to be the opposite,” the mayor continued.

“Imagine if the system was not rigged against everyday people, but actually strengthened the hand of everyday New Yorkers so we could lead our own city,” de Blasio said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton also spoke in favor of all three proposals, making racial justice arguments and calling the measures models for the country and bulwarks against voter suppression nationwide, invoking the memory of civil rights movement protesters.

“These measures that we’re voting in New York is what they fought for to give us the right to vote,” Sharpton said. “They did not fight, and some die, to give us the right to vote for only people with rich friends to be able to run for office.”

The city’s public campaign financing system, whereby the first or up to $175 of a donation is matched 6-to-1 by public dollars, is often considered a model for the nation for how to achieve sustainable public financing of campaigns. Proposal 1 would increase the match to 8-to-1, and match donations up to $250. It would also lower campaign contribution limits for all city offices. Advocates say that it would allow more people to run for office and lower prospective candidates’ reliance on wealthy people for funding.

“When we consider running for office, we encounter barriers so difficult to overcome, many feel defeated,” said Hercules Reid, the former student government president at the New York City College of Technology and current legislative director for the CUNY University Student Senate. “It is a herculean task trying to get elected in this city.”

“Barriers to office are real, and a real big one is that not a lot of us know a ton of rich people,” Reid continued. De Blasio later echoed this point, though the mayor has raised significant funds from large donors, both for his election campaigns and outside groups. It was fundraising for those outside groups -- nonprofit advocacy organizations -- that led to investigations of de Blasio and his associates that resulted in no criminal charges but sharp criticism from law enforcement leaders and good government advocates, among others, as well as new city laws meant to curb the type of fundraising de Blasio did.

The second ballot question would establish a “civic engagement commission” to increase participation in New York’s civic life, including voting. The mayor noted improving translation services at the polls as a particularly important item for the commission to take up, while City Council Member Brad Lander discussed increasing community engagement with and knowledge of community boards, PTAs, and other institutions. The most significant job of the commission, however, would be to expand participatory budgeting citywide.

Practiced in 31 of the 51 City Council districts this year, participatory budgeting allows community residents to suggest and vote on specific projects within their districts that they would like to fund with tax dollars allocated through the local Council member’s capital funds.

“A little over half the city now has it, but almost half does not, and most New Yorkers don’t yet know about it, because we’ve not been able to invest real citywide resources in it,” Lander said. “Participatory budgeting functions like a gateway drug to democracy.” Some projects funded in Lander’s district in the last cycle include replacing “derelict Kindergarten sinks at PS 282,” replacing a broken gate at the PS 118 schoolyard to make it accessible, and building a “playground” for seniors.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Comptroller Stringer both take issue with the civic engagement commission, which Stringer characterizes as a power grab by the mayor, who would appoint a majority of its members. Brewer, who has formed an independent expenditure committee in opposition to questions 2 and 3, asserts that the commission’s outreach and assistance efforts with community boards would be an encroachment by the mayor on a duty typically performed by borough presidents.

“A ‘Civic Engagement Commission’ controlled by any Mayor also puts communities at a disadvantage and won’t enhance democracy in our neighborhoods,” Stringer said in a statement released soon after the mayor’s rally. Asked for a response, de Blasio said that the commission’s structure as proposed is “organized for effectiveness” but didn’t elaborate, and noted that he supports a “professionalized” Board of Elections.

On the third and most controversial proposal, which is centered on term limits for community board members, the mayor and advocates claim that term limits have been successful for elected city officials, and instituting them for community boards would free up space for new voices where older and whiter ones than the communities they represent typically reign. The proposal would also require borough presidents to seek people of “diverse backgrounds” for appointments, to make the boards more accurately represent their communities, and provide more public information.

“If the door’s not open, that’s not democracy,” de Blasio said. “Community boards have to be for everyone, every community, every background, young, old, everyone needs a chance to serve. Term limits for community boards is simply the way of saying ‘let’s give everyone a chance to participate.’”

Opponents of term limits, such as Brewer and Stringer, have charged that an exodus of longtime, experienced community board members would cause both a brain drain and a diminution of influence on complex land use decisions, allowing developers to run roughshod over them.

“It would have the effect of allowing developers and their lawyers—who are never term limited!—to dominate development negotiations, because those long-time members will be gone,” Brewer wrote in an email to supporters in October signaling her opposition to Questions 2 and 3. “And on long-term city projects like street redesign or sustainability, newly-appointed community board members would have little influence over long-term projects. Every Board’s institutional memory would be wiped out.”

De Blasio did not buy the arguments. “I have term limits, my colleagues in the City Council have term limits, the President of the United States has term limits,” he said. “I think there’s something healthy about the notion that all public servants have an opportunity to turn over the reins once in a while.”

“Let’s say someone served for 20 years on their community board,” he continued. “Under this ballot measure, they will get to serve another eight years, they would take a two year break, and if they wanted to come back and there was a seat, they could have that seat. I think there will be plenty of institutional knowledge preserved. But honestly, what we’re missing right now is new voices, we’re missing diversity, we’re missing young people.”

Another charter revision commission, empaneled by the City Council through legislation pushed by Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James, started while the mayor’s commission was underway and is working to produce its own ballot measures for 2019. The mayor told Gotham Gazette that the commissions are not rivaling each other, and that his office is working with the 2019 commission, on which he has several appointees.

Some issues were considered and rejected by the mayor’s commission, including independent redistricting of City Council districts and ranked-choice voting. The mayor told Gotham Gazette that he hopes the 2019 commission continues looking into ranked-choice voting, in particular.

“There was a very vibrant discussion in this charter revision commission, for example, about ranked-choice voting,” he said. “For me, the jury’s still out on ranked-choice voting. I grew up with it, in Massachusetts. I think it has strengths and I think it has weaknesses, and I’d certainly like to see a lot more research on it. But there’s a lot of people who believe it might be very beneficial in New York City. That’s the kind of thing that deserves a really thorough airing of all the facts.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Brachfeld) City Fri, 02 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Checks In On Department of Veterans Services, Discusses Reporting Bill committee vets hearing

Veterans Services Commissioner Loree Sutton, middle (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

The New York City Council’s Committee on Veterans met Monday to discuss a bill that would require the city’s Department of Veterans Services to release an annual report detailing certain information about its work to help the city’s military veterans, including the number of its employees and types services it is providing.

The chair of the committee, Council Member Chaim Deutsch, a Brooklyn Democrat, advocated for the bill, Intro. 1118, as a necessary step toward better understanding of what DVS is doing and what may be needed to improve services for veterans. However, DVS Commissioner Loree Sutton suggested that an additional report would be redundant, as DVS is already required to give a report to the committee under law (Local Law 23 of 2015, introduced by Council Member Paul Vallone, a Queens Democrat) and it also takes part in the Mayor’s Management Report, which gives detailed accounts of city agencies and their effectiveness.

“Currently, City budget documents and the MMR include most of the information sought through Intro. 1118,” Sutton said. “While DVS looks forward to continued collaboration with the City Council concerning DVS personnel and performance metrics, we are confident that these aims can be best achieved through existing reporting mechanisms.”

The bill would specifically ask for the title of and services provided by each employee, as well as the number of veterans and families to whom services had been provided and how they learned about the services.

Most of this information is indeed available elsewhere. The Mayor’s Management Report gives a summary of the services provided by DVS, the number of veterans and their families engaged by DVS and the number of them given assistance. When it comes to DVS employees and their titles, those can be found on the department’s website. However, this leaves questions concerning how the veterans and their families learned about services provided by the department and what services each employee specifically provides unanswered.

While Sutton believes any additional information should simply be added to the current required report, Deutsch said the bill is an important step forward.

“I think that this bill is a step forward to receiving the information that we need and we deserve and the veterans deserve,” Deutsch said. “And this way we can better continue to understand what the issues are and how we could better implement [solutions in] some of the areas that need improvement.”

After discussion between Deutsch and Sutton, the committee allowed advocates to voice their views.

President and Founding Director of NYC Veterans Alliance Kristen Rouse said the bill does not require enough reporting on the part of DVS.

“We state our strong support for this committee providing oversight of the services provided to veterans and their families by DVS and other city agencies, programs, and funding,” Rouse said. “We are, however, uncertain of whether Intro. 1118 or other recent bill proposals will effectively accomplish the oversight and accountability that our community has called for and deserves.”

Rouse went on to mention that the information DVS provided the committee under Local Law 23 had not yet been made publicly available, and that even better than the proposed bill would be “for this committee to examine ways it can further empower DVS to accomplish its mission.” Asking for the report to be made public, better tracking of services provided by DVS through VetConnect, and the creation of an Agency Chief Contracting Officer to manage city contracts for veterans services, Rouse proposed multiple reforms to which Deutsch responded, “we’ll have the committee get back to you.”

Director of the Veteran Advocacy Project Coco Culhane said her organization “supports the introduction of Local Law 1118 and believes that DVS reporting on even more figures than they already do will benefit the entire community.”

Senior Veteran Transition Manager of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Vadim Panasyuk noted the redundancy of the bill Sutton alluded to earlier, suggesting that different metrics should be used to better evaluate DVS.

“IAVA supports the intent behind this bill,” Panasyuk said. “However, it appears that it is somewhat redundant as some of the data is already available, and does not require the reporting of necessary metrics to accurately evaluate this department’s performance and many of its various initiatives.”

Panasyuk would like to see more qualitative data used in conjunction with “organizational and programmatic” metrics in order to better understand the population being served by DVS and the needs of that population.

Another adjustment to the bill was suggested by Vallone, who said it was “critical” that they incorporate a requirement for DVS to distinguish in reports which veterans found them through sister agencies and which came directly to them.

Ashton Stewart, coordinator with SAGE Vets Program, an LGBT veterans advocacy group, also requested a more detailed report. “This bill is just a start of the reporting, we need to start from somewhere,” Deutsch said.

Earlier in the hearing, other topics were discussed as part of oversight by the committee. Deutsch expressed concern over a decrease in applications for and awards of vending licenses to veterans, and inquired about why significantly more veterans where using federal housing vouchers in the Bronx than any other borough. Sutton commented on the delay of federal GI Bill housing allowances for student veterans, noting that DVS would collaborate with the Department of Social Services to attempt to allocate resources towards supporting students negatively affected by the delays.

by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Victor Porcelli) City Wed, 31 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City’s First Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Trains Candidates to Transform Democracy sayubook ahc

Sayu Bhojwani (photo: Sean Zanni)

On the same day the planes struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Sayu Bhojwani cast her first ever ballot in an American election.

It was a series of strange coincidences for Bhojwani: a newly naturalized citizen voting for the first time, a tragic event triggering a hostile and xenophobic environment for many immigrant communities in New York, and a referendum on the ballot that fateful Tuesday that would establish an Office for Immigrant Affairs in the city Charter – the very office Mayor Michael Bloomberg would appoint her to helm as the first commissioner just six months later.

“Had I been appointed commissioner a year earlier, before September 11, it would have felt very different,” said Bhojwani, 51, at a recent press conference with NYU journalism students. An Indian immigrant from Belize, she first arrived in the U.S. at age 17 for college. “The symbolism of someone from my community being in that position was far more important than I realized to the community,” she said.

Bhojwani has been busy in the 14 years since her two-year stint as the commissioner of the Office of Immigrant Affairs, where she acted as a liaison between the Bloomberg administration and the city’s many immigrant communities and an advisor to the mayor on related policy. This month, the New Press published her debut book, “People Like Us: The New Wave of Candidates Knocking at Democracy’s Door,” a quasi-how-to-run manual centered on immigrant experiences in politics. Much of the book’s anecdotes come from candidates who worked with New American Leaders, the non-partisan organization Bhojwani founded in 2010 that trains immigrants and other underrepresented communities to run for office.

Her timely appointment as the first commissioner of Immigrant Affairs in New York City may seem serendipitous, but the main tenet of “People Like Us” is not to say that representatives from marginalized communities are elected through happenstance. Rather, her book highlights the unique struggles that distinguish candidates of color – and, in particular, those with immigrant backgrounds – from the usual players and power-brokers within the political system.

So often, immigrants running for office face what Bhojwani calls “our own glass ceilings,” a psychological barrier that keeps candidates from believing that they are ready to serve in public office. But there are also systematic setbacks, like a lack of financial means to run a competitive campaign, that keep people from entering the political arena. Candidates of color often do not have the same access to wealth as white candidates, they are often not part of the same networks of power.

“We don’t realize that it’s a system. That’s the problem,” Bhojwani said. “We think, ‘Oh, it’s us. If only I had more networks. If only I studied more.’”

Bhojwani mentions that New York City dismantles several institutional setbacks present in other places or levels of government. The city has term limits and a public financing system for municipal positions, pays good salaries, and is home to single-member districts – all of which help to prime the political arena for newcomers.

Still, New York can do better, Bhojwani argues, at both the city and state levels.

In 2015, Latinos made up 8 percent of the New York State Legislature although they composed nearly 19 percent of the state’s population, according to a study conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Additionally, only two Asian-American representatives, Assemblymembers Ron Kim and Yuh-Line Niou, currently serve in a Legislature of 213 seats. And in a city where women are over 50 percent of the population, only 11 of the City Council’s 51 members are female. In fact, the underrepresentation of women in the City Council spurred 21 in ‘21, an initiative launched by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others to elect at least 21 women into the Council by the year 2021, which is the next city election cycle.

Along with underrepresentation in New York government, newcomer candidates must also overcome the challenge presented by establishment-backed competitors, including incumbents, and the state’s well-oiled Democratic machinery.

“The Democratic machine is incredibly strong in New York,” Bhojwani said. However, in the wake of a robust primary season that saw insurgent, progressive challengers unseat a web of incumbents in the State Senate as well as long-time Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, she added, “I think everything is topsy-turvy this year.”

Candidates like Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, who defeated Crowley, and Julia Salazar, women of color who both handily defeated Democratic incumbents in their respective district primaries after campaigning on their immigrant backstories (Salazar with much controversy), are part of this reactionary wave of young progressives aiming to carve out a place for themselves and their community in the political landscape.

After the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, Bhojwani said that New American Leaders (NAL) experienced an 80 percent increase in the number of applications that same year.

Catalina Cruz – likely to become the first ‘Dreamer’ to serve in elected office in New York after winning her primary election for State Assembly in a Queens district including neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona – tapped into NAL’s network after deciding she wanted to run in November of last year.

“The importance of having a program that recognizes the uniqueness of the immigrant experience of trying to run for office, it’s key at getting more immigrants and people of color to actually run for office,” Cruz said of NAL in comparison to other candidate-training organizations.

At a weekend-long conference hosted by NAL, Cruz gained crucial insight on how to run a campaign and to navigate different elements of the political system. The path to political office is a trail she says is tread upon differently by women of color and, particularly, those from low-income backgrounds, than by traditional politicians. Asking for campaign donations, for example, was a psychological barrier she had to overcome. “When you grow up poor, like a lot of us did in [NAL’s conference], you have a very different relationship with money,” Cruz said. “So asking for donations is not the easiest thing to do because you are taught that nobody outside your house was supposed to know you're having money issues.” For Cruz, NAL’s training session helped to unpack this key campaign component.

“What we face when we walk in a room in politics is very different than people who are not immigrants,” Cruz said.

NAL training sessions – which require a $150 registration fee, although waivers are available for those who can’t afford it – hone the skills that potential candidates already have. The workshops also provide resources for the basics of running a campaign, such as public speaking, fundraising, and campaign messaging.

The organization emphasizes the importance of preserving a candidate’s story. “There’s a lot of whitewashing that happens of candidates,” Bhojwani said. “We really emphasize the importance of showing up the way you are and talking about it.”

NAL has trained over 600 people since its inception in 2010, with 63 alumni in elected office. One of them is Carlos Menchaca, the City Council member for Brooklyn’s District 38, who is also the city’s first Mexican-American in public office and the first openly gay Council member from Brooklyn.

“One of the biggest influences that the New American Leaders has had on me is helping me realize how powerful my immigrant story is,” said Menchaca, who is featured in Bhojwani’s book. “That can be one of the most powerful things that can happen in a campaign running for office.”

When Menchaca first ran for City Council in 2013, he attempted to unseat incumbent Sara Gonzalez, a daunting task that he took on with enthusiasm and skill, but no infrastructure. Menchaca started small. He called his friends, old classmates, people who knew him, and asked each for a $38 donation for the 38th district. “That's the thing about the New American Leaders,” Menchaca said. “They make you realize that you have a powerful network of people who believe in you and and that share the values that you have.” Within the first two weeks, Menchaca raised $40,000 – twice the required amount needed to run – for his campaign.

He ended up winning a hard-fought primary, the only candidate to unseat an incumbent in that year’s primaries, and went on to win the general election with 90 percent of the vote. However, unseating establishment-backed incumbents -- or any incumbents, really -- is “not the kind of thing that happens regularly in New York,”  Bhojwani said.

“Machine politics are very strong with the caveat that the ground is shaking beneath us right now,” Bhojwani said of 2018.

What comes next is unclear. While NAL experienced a surge of applications in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, it is still hard to generalize an entire movement or to predict its trajectory in dismantling a system of barriers for immigrants in U.S. politics, Bhojwani said.

“I think about the work we do as being about expanding the tent of democracy…rather than saying, 'OK, I'm going to run and I'm going to get South Asian voters to support me,'” Bhojwani said. “That is not how Catalina or Alexandria…won, right? They won by inviting more people to participate.”

by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

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]]> (Chelsey Sanchez) City Tue, 30 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000