CITY Sun, 20 Jan 2019 05:15:12 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Michael Blake mxm logo

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

January 16, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Michael Blake

michael blake 277pxMichael Blake is a member of the state Assembly from the Bronx and a candidate in the special election to become the next New York City Public Advocate, which will take place February 26. Blake, who worked in the Obama administration, joined the show to discuss his platform of "jobs and justice" and the approach he would take the role of Public Advocate, as well as his path to victory and more.

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 Thu, 17 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Danny O'Donnell mxm logo

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

January 16, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Danny O'Donnell

danny odonnell 277bDanny O'Donnell is a member of the state Assembly from Manhattan and a candidate for New York City Public Advocate in the special election set to take place February 26. O'Donnell joined the show to discuss his career in the Assembly and his campaign for Public Advocate, what sets him apart from the competition and his path to victory.

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 Thu, 17 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Dawn Smalls mxm logo

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

January 16, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Dawn Smalls

dawn smalls orgDawn Smalls is an attorney who worked in the Clinton and Obama presidential administrations and, running in the special election to become New York City Public Advocate, a first-time candidate. She joined the show to discuss her resume, why she decided to run for office for the first time, her campaign for Public Advocate, the importance of having at least one woman in citywide office, and how she would run the office if elected.

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 Thu, 17 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In First Mailer of Public Advocate Race, Kim Targets Amazon, and Prominent Opponents box kim mail1600

(portion of Ron Kim mailer)

Assemblymember Ron Kim, a candidate for New York City Public Advocate, sent out the first mailed advertisement of his campaign this week, touting his early opposition to the deal between Amazon and New York, and contrasting it with other leading candidates in the race.

The advertisement appears to be the first mailer of the race, a sprint to the February 26 special election to fill now-Attorney General Letitia James’ former seat. Notably, it jabs at four perceived frontrunners, highlighting their signatures on an October 2017 letter signed by most elected officials in New York City to Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, urging him to bring the second Amazon headquarters to New York. Over a year later, the corporate giant and New York City and State officials announced the controversial deal that is now a flashpoint in the public advocate race. Kim, who did not sign the letter, is running on a platform of “people over corporations” and a promise to reinvent the public advocate’s office.

Ron Kim mailerSpecifically, the signatures of fellow public advocate candidates blown up on the mailer are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, State Assembly Member Michael Blake, and City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams -- all Democrats like Kim, who represents parts of Queens. Since signing the letter, which was a broad overture, Mark-Viverito, Blake, and Williams have rejected the specific deal that was reached for an Amazon campus in Queens, which includes roughly $3 billion in tax incentives and grants from the city and state. Rodriguez's position on the Amazon deal is less clear, and his office did not respond to a request for comment.

The mailer reads: “Assembly Member Ron Kim is running for to put Public Advocate for one simple reason: people over corporations. That means an end to corporate giveaways, reforming student debt and busting the mega-monopolies that govern our lives. He knows that the only way to truly help New Yorkers is to once and for all put people over corporations.”

The letter to Bezos is essentially a sales pitch for New York City and cites many resources, like the high number of startups in New York as well as the large population Amazon would have at its disposal.

“After they saw the backlash, [Mark-Viverito, Blake, Rodriguez, Williams] all of a sudden changed their position against Amazon for political expediency,” Kim said by email.

Other prominent elected officials not to sign the letter were Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Queens City Council Member Donovan Richards, as well as two other current public advocate candidates: Rafael Espinal, a City Council member from Brooklyn, and Danny O'Donnell, an Assembly member from Manhattan.

Kim has spoken out against the Amazon deal since before it was announced. In comments to Queens Chronicle about two weeks before Amazon and New York announced the deal, he rejected a possible agreement to bring the online giant to the city. He co-wrote two op-eds heavily critical of Amazon and the deal, first in the New York Times with 2018 New York Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout, and another two weeks later in the New York Daily News with then-State Senator-elect Jessica Ramos.

Shortly after details of the deal were released, Assemblymember Kim announced legislation to block the incentives offered to Amazon and use the money to buy and cancel student debt. As public advocate, he would introduce similar legislation in the City Council.

Opposition to the Amazon deal fits Kim’s thematic messaging for his campaign, he’ll even be on the self-created “People Over Corporations” ballot line on Feb. 26, which includes that push to cancel student debt and promoting local small businesses. The mailer describes the deal as a corporate giveaway and calls for investment in the MTA, schools, and affordable housing instead of the billions of incentives in the Amazon deal.

The role of public advocate is intentionally flexible in the New York City Charter, but the three duties most often assumed by public advocates are introducing legislation in the City Council, bringing issues to the front of public discourse, and serving as a watchdog of city agencies. It appears there is little the next public advocate can do about the Amazon deal, but the most likely influence would be through applying public pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel or make significant changes to the deal.

“As the ombudsman for the people of New York City, the Public Advocate has a strong bully pulpit which I will use to convince (both publicly and privately) my colleagues in government to reject the Amazon HQ2 deal,” said Kim.

The public advocate election to be held next month will have a large field of candidates. Twenty-three hopefuls submitted the required 3,750 signatures to the New York City Board of Elections by the Monday deadline. Also running are Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich, Assemblymembers Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan and Latrice Walker of Brooklyn, former Obama and Clinton administration attorney Dawn Smalls, and journalist and activist Nomiki Konst, among many others.

With competitors trying to set themselves apart, Kim clearly sees Amazon opposition as a winning part of the strategy. Asked about how many mailers his campaign sent, where they were sent, and how much was spent on them, he only said, “I sent the mailer to a broad universe of likely voters across New York City.”

Two names noticeably did not appear on the mailer: Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, the leaders of negotiations with Amazon executives who held a joint celebratory November press conference to announce the deal. De Blasio and Cuomo were immediately and loudly criticized for the deal by a number of elected officials and activists, though they also got some praise and the only public poll on it shows a mixed bag, but with more support than not. The criticism stemmed from the lack of transparency and oversight involved in the process, the incentives involved, Amazon’s business practices, and the potential impact on local housing prices and infrastructure.

“Both were wrong to offer $3 billion in taxpayer handouts to Amazon instead of funding MTA reconstruction, affordable housing development, programs to fight climate change or a whole host of other priorities,” said Kim, when asked about omitting de Blasio and Cuomo from the mailer. “But neither the Governor nor the Mayor are running for Public Advocate.”

by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Truman Stephens) City Thu, 17 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
23 Candidates Submit Petitions to Get on February 26 Public Advocate Ballot first ave marathon

(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

The field of candidates running for public advocate in the special election scheduled for February 26 remains massive after 23 candidates submitted ballot petition signatures to the New York City Board of Elections by a Monday deadline to get on the ballot.

Candidates were required to submit a minimum of 3,750 signatures though many of them went far beyond the requirement with some submitting more than 10,000. What remains to be seen is how many challenges are filed against certain candidates’ petitions in an effort to disqualify those hopefuls from the race and the results of those challenges. Four candidates are already facing objections to their petitions -- Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rafael Espinal, Ron Kim, and Danniel Maio -- though the details of those objections are not available. Candidates have till Thursday to file objections.

The special election is nonpartisan, with each candidate creating their own party line that cannot resemble an existing political party. Here are the 23 candidates who submitted ballot petition signatures, with their party lines, in order of appearance on the Board of Elections’ ledger:

1) Melissa Mark-Viverito (Fix the MTA), former speaker of the New York City Council
2) Michael Blake (For The People), state Assembly member from the Bronx
3) Dawn Smalls (No More Delays), attorney who formerly served in Clinton and Obama presidential administrations
4) Eric Ulrich (Common Sense), New York City Council member from Queens
5) Daniel O'Donnell (Equality For All), state Assembly member from Manhattan
6) Latrice Walker (People For Walker), state Assembly member from Brooklyn
7) Rafael Espinal (Livable City), New York City Council member from Brooklyn
8) Jumaane Williams (The People's Voice), New York City Council member from Brooklyn
9) Ron Kim (People Over Corporations), state Assembly member from Queens
10) Ydanis Rodriguez (UNITED FOR IMMIGRANTS), New York City Council member from Manhattan
11) Danniel S. Maio (I Like Maio), mapmaker and former congressional candidate
12) Gary Popkin (Liberal), libertarian and retired professor
13) Benjamin Yee (COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT), entrepreneur and activist
14) Ifeoma Ike (People Over Profit), community activist
15) Manny Alicandro (Better Leadership), attorney
16) Michael Zumbluskas (FIX MTA & NYCHA NOW), Reform Party leader
17) David Eisenbach (Stop REBNY), history professor at Columbia University and 2017 candidate for public advocate
18) Nomiki Konst (Pay People More), journalist and activist
19) Jared Rich (Jared Rich For NYC), attorney
20) Anthony Herbert (Housing Residents First), community activist
21) Walter Iwachiw (I4panyc), perennial candidate for elected office
22) Theo Chino (Courage To Change), Bitcoin entrepreneur
23) Helal Sheikh (Friends Of Helal), former City Council candidate

[Read: Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Tue, 15 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
As Acting Public Advocate, Johnson Eyes Information Commission Revived by James But Killed by De Blasio Corey Johnson Tish James

Corey Johnson, Laurie Cumbo, Tish James (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

A charter-mandated city commission meant to help New Yorkers access information about their government sputtered to a stop in 2016 owing to a lack of funding, barely three years after being revived by former Public Advocate Letitia James. Now, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is also acting public advocate for the next several weeks, is taking up James’ unfinished business and attempting to raise the commission from its grave.

The Commission on Public Information and Communication (COPIC) was created in the City Charter in 1989 with a mandate of informing the public about data created and maintained by the city and helping New Yorkers access it. Chaired by the public advocate, the commission is meant to regularly examine the city’s information policies as well as monitor agency efforts to comply with them.

The charter requires the commission to hold at least one hearing each year and issue an annual report. COPIC must also annually publish a directory of “computerized information produced or maintained by city agencies which is required by law to be publicly accessible,” though it has not done so since perhaps the 1990s. The commission does not have a website, despite being in existence for 20 years, and records of past meetings and reports are not easily accessible (the public advocate’s website hosted some of this information but was archived once James vacated her seat).

The commission was also tasked with evaluating the implementation of the city’s webcasting law, passed in 2013 and requiring agencies to broadcast meetings online and archive them. In 2015, James’ second year as public advocate, the commission was exploring ways to assist agencies with their webcasting requirements and setting up a central repository of all webcasts.

The body’s membership, all unpaid, is meant to comprise the heads of several city agencies or their delegates including the city Law Department, the Department of Records and Information Services, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications; one City Council member; two other members appointed by the mayor; one member appointed by the public advocate; and one appointed by the borough presidents as a group.

But COPIC hasn’t held a hearing since March 2016 when James was in the midst of her attempt to rescue the commission from bureaucratic apathy only to be denied resources by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. As James’ predecessor in the public advocate’s office, de Blasio himself had only convened one hearing of the commission. The public advocate’s office receives little funding for its own duties, let alone to hire staff for COPIC.

It’s unclear why James did not continue her advocacy for the commission after having revived it with some fanfare early in her tenure (her office even created a new Twitter account just for COPIC). A spokesperson for James did not respond to a request for comment.

When James was sworn in as New York’s attorney general, the public advocate office fell to Speaker Johnson’s stewardship until a new public advocate is chosen by voters in a special election scheduled for February 26. In the limited time available to him, Johnson is eyeing several avenues of his expanded responsibilities. “I absolutely want an active COPIC, and I want to build on the work Tish James did as Public Advocate in this area,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is something she fought for and it’s something I want to keep working on in my time as acting Public Advocate.”

One reason that COPIC has been unable to publish the requisite public data directory is because the Law Department argued in 2014 that the city’s Open Data portal already accomplishes this goal. But Johnson’s office disagrees. A spokesperson said that though the two databases have significant overlap, COPIC’s public data directory could and would go further, identifying new datasets that members of the public can then request under the city’s Freedom of Information law. The Open Data portal, on the other hand, relies on agencies self-identifying datasets that they believe should be subject to the open data law. Earlier this month, Johnson sent a letter to the mayor requesting that information with a February 15 deadline for a response.

“We’ll look into it,” said mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips, in an email, when asked about the speaker’s letter and the lack of funding for COPIC.

Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, who was the Council’s pick to be on the commission, said the fault for COPIC’s inactivity lies solely with the mayor’s office as he praised James for trying to resuscitate the commission. “COPIC is yet another board that is completely controlled by mayoral appointments, which has a responsibility to be a check on the mayor, which is why it has probably never been funded properly in my recent memory,” Kallos said in a phone interview, noting that the mayor chooses seven of the 11 COPIC commissioners. “COPIC is a powerful agency in the charter which has been written out of the charter by a chronic defunding of the agency as a whole.”

Kallos requested funding for the agency in three successive budgets. In 2015, several civic technology groups and good government advocacy organizations also joined that push, including Common Cause New York, Citizens Union, the New York Public Interest Research Group, BetaNYC, Civic Hall, Reinvent Albany, the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, and the Women’s City Club of New York. “Given the promise of COPIC to increase public accessibility of city government meetings, data and information, we request the modest budget of $250,000 for staffing of COPIC to ensure it is able to fulfill the duties outlined in the City Charter,” the groups wrote in a 2015 letter. That funding is estimated to be sufficient to hire a full-time executive director and general counsel, which the charter mandates.

Kallos was disappointed that those calls went unheeded. “The mayor never included it in the budget. I pushed for it. Tish pushed for it. The good government community pushed for it,” he said. The most impactful role that COPIC could play, Kallos said, is providing advisory opinions to members of the public, elected officials, and city agencies about laws requiring public access to meetings, transcripts and records.

“COPIC has the potential to be the equivalent of the Committee on Open Government at the state level,” he said, referring to the state agency that gives the public, press, and state government advice on the state Freedom of Information Law, the Open Meetings Law, and the Personal Privacy Protection Law. Kallos said he would advocate for the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to strengthen COPIC’s powers.

“You can only expect people to work for so long without being compensated for their work, and with the federal government shut down, we’re seeing those limits tested,” Kallos said. “In this case we have COPIC being operated and moved forward for three years without any funding and I hope that people will finally fund this important agency that very few have ever heard of but would have the power to really force the executive to really open up.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Tue, 15 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In State of the City, De Blasio Promises More from Government to Improve New Yorkers' 'Quality of Life' deblasio appleton

Mayor de Blasio gives his 2019 State of the City (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Delivered his sixth State of the City address on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio loftily touted his accomplishments of the last five years and pledged ambitious efforts to make New York City “the fairest big city in the country.” Speaking at the Symphony Space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the mayor unveiled new ideas aimed at improving the lives of working New Yorkers and reiterated sweeping proposals that he announced earlier this week on everything from health care to paid vacation days, early childhood education to bus speeds, and much more. He also outlined much, if not all, of the agenda he wants passed at the state level this year.

Before a packed auditorium filled with fellow elected officials -- including Attorney General Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council members, state legislators, and congressional representatives -- de Blasio spent nearly an hour invoking the themes of the “tale of two cities” that first got him elected mayor in 2013, with a newly stated focus on improving people’s “quality of life” and underscoring a call for the redistribution of income.

“Life in the fairest big city in America should never feel impossible,” he said, speaking of the personal struggle that he and First Lady Chirlane McCray faced when raising their children and also caring for their ailing parents. “We shouldn’t feel such pressure on the quality of our lives.”

The mayor articulated how working New Yorkers feel those pressures, and vowed new initiatives to provide relief. “Millions of people in this city, tens of millions across the country, are boxed in to lives that just aren't working for them,” he said. “You haven't been paid what you deserve for all the hard work. You haven't been given the time you deserve. You're not living the life you deserve.”

Among those proposals were two that the mayor announced this week, garnering national attention by releasing the announcements through national media. The first is an expansion of the city’s health care programs to provide care to 600,000 uninsured residents by increasing enrollment of insurance-eligible individuals in the city’s public option, MetroPlus, and by creating NYC Care, which would give undocumented immigrants and those who won’t or otherwise can’t join MetroPlus access to primary and specialty care, mental health services, and more. NYC Care, which aims to provide a health care card to as many eligible individuals as possible and match all of them to a primary care doctor, is expected to cost $100 million annually once fully implemented by 2021.

The second proposal is a push for City Council legislation, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams since 2014, to guarantee two weeks of paid personal time to workers, which the city estimates could affect more than 500,000 full-time and part-time employees who currently receive no paid time off. It would apply to anyone working at a company or organization of more than five employees.

“For decades, working people have gotten more and more productive,” the mayor said. “At the same time, they've gotten a smaller and smaller share of the wealth they create. Here's the truth...there's plenty of money in the world. There's plenty of money in this city. It's just in the wrong hands.”

Though de Blasio has repeatedly called on state lawmakers to increase taxes on higher earners, and he did so again on Thursday, de Blasio has not convinced Governor Andrew Cuomo or state legislators to follow his pleas. Appearing somewhat resigned to that fact, even in a new Albany era where Democrats control the executive and legislative branches, de Blasio laid out a variety of other proposals he believes will foster greater equity.

Riding high on his successive policy announcements, the mayor seemed more emboldened and enthusiastic than during past State of the City addresses, which have at times been more sobering. Last year’s speech contained few novel ideas save for his announcement that he would convene a Charter Revision Commission to explore campaign finance reforms and improvements to voting and civic participation (the commission’s eventual proposals, including lower campaign contribution limits, a new civic engagement commission, and term limits for community board members, were overwhelmingly approved by voters in November). And that speech came on the heels of a successful 2017 reelection campaign in which de Blasio offered almost no new policy plans, largely pledging to deepen and expand ongoing work.

The mayor had more to offer on Thursday, though much of what he discussed also fits under the category of expanding existing programs, like a faster rollout of his 3-K initiative to provide free early education to three-year-olds. He announced a number of new proposals including expanding the mandate of the city’s consumer affairs department. De Blasio rechristened the agency the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, reflecting its new responsibilities of safeguarding the interests of all temporary and permanent workers, even undocumented ones, with a new focus, he said, on freelancers, nannies, and others who may not have traditional benefits through their employers.

The mayor also signed an executive order on the spot to create a new Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, aimed at tamping down tenant abuse and combating predatory landlord practices. He also vowed that in cases of the worst landlords, who fail to rectify their behavior after repeated fines and violations, the city would move to seize buildings and transfer them to nonprofit management. It’s unclear whether the new mayoral office’s mandate would overlap with the Department of Buildings’ Office of Tenant Advocate, which was created by the City Council through legislation passed in 2017.

De Blasio also announced new public transportation initiatives, including an expansion of the NYC Ferry system, such as connecting Staten Island to the west side of Manhattan, and improvements to the bus system to ensure faster travel time, installing new protected bus lanes and an NYPD tow unit dedicated to keeping those lanes free of parked cars.

He did of course make it clear that the greatest transit priority for the city was funding the MTA to fix the subways -- he reiterated his support for a dedicated additional tax on high earners -- but seemed to acknowledge there’s more momentum for other options like congestion pricing, which he has warmed to without actually expressing support for. He called on his fellow elected officials to lobby the state before the budget is due on April 1. “In the next 80 days, the fate of the MTA, the fate of our subways and buses, will be determined once and for all,” he said.

Boasting of the success of his universal pre-kindergarten program, de Blasio also touted the expansion of prekindergarten to 3-year-olds, which he announced in 2017. The program is expected to reach 20,000 children in the coming school year, he said, outlining several new neighborhoods where the program will open soon. He also announced a new plan to recruit and retain more teachers at schools in the Bronx and an expansion of an existing partnership with Warby Parker to give free eye exams and glasses to kindergartners and first-graders across the city.

Early in the speech the mayor reviewed what he sees as some of his major successes, including early childhood education, higher graduation rates, record-low crime and traffic fatalities, more tenant protection, paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage, and more. He very briefly mentioned areas of significant challenge to his administration, such as management of crumbling public housing and reducing homelessness.

At different points, de Blasio ticked off aspects of what he wants to see from state government this year, especially from now until a new state budget is due April 1, a list topped by MTA funding, but also including criminal justice and voting reforms, an extension of mayoral control of city schools, and stronger rent regulations that help protect tenants.

Toward the end of the speech, de Blasio said the city would help establish retirement plans for all workers who lack them in the city. In 2016, the mayor had attempted to move forward with a “Retirement Security for All” plan but it was eventually hamstrung by federal regulatory changes signed by President Donald Trump in 2017. City Council Members Ben Kallos and I. Daneek Miller reintroduced the legislation before the Council earlier this year and heralded the mayor’s announcement, which follows a new state law with a similar goal. The city plans to help workers set up private retirement accounts and may mandate some businesses to offer the option for workers to make contributions to their accounts, but no public or private money will be contributed to the accounts, only a portion of workers’ income, if they choose to participate.

“This country has spent decades taking from working people and giving to the one percent,” de Blasio said. “This city has spent the last five years doing it the other way around. We give back to working people the prosperity they have earned. And we are just getting started.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 11 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Gives Little Mention to Several Major Challenges in State of the City Speech sotcoffice

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

As Mayor Bill de Blasio touted significant accomplishments of his five years in office and laid out a new agenda for expanding his fight against inequality during his Thursday State of the City speech, he made little or no mention of a number of important challenges facing the city and his mayoralty.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that the mayor barely mentioned the city’s public housing, which is crumbling, mismanaged, and mired in negotiations with federal authorities over its future, or many other issues he must deal with in 2019 and beyond. De Blasio’s opportunity to shape the narrative around the state of the city under his leadership was a chance for him to discuss safer streets, low crime, high employment, and the expansion of city government that he has overseen in his efforts to provide more of a safety net and greater equality. The annual event also afforded him the venue to lay out the next steps of his vision, and he certainly couldn’t address every issue, but after all the tumult around NYCHA in 2018, it spoke volumes how little the mayor spoke about the city’s public housing, as well as other topics of great importance.

“We're also showing public housing residents that we can begin to reverse decades of disinvestment and make their lives better,” de Blasio said, at the start of his sixth year in office. “The New York City Housing Authority has a plan to bring brand new everything to 175,000 NYCHA residents, from new roofs to new kitchens and bathrooms,” he added, but did not mention what is being done for the other 225,000-plus residents, or the issues of lead abatement and heat and hot water outages. He did not try to explain to or sell the city on his recently-released and controversial plan to increase the amount of new housing development on NYCHA land to bring in much-needed revenue to make repairs.

But NYCHA wasn’t the only important challenge he left mostly or completely on the sideline. De Blasio made minimal mention of the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis and what he’s doing about it, though he did discuss plans to enhance efforts to prevent evictions.

“We still grapple with too many people in this town who need our help because they're homeless,” he said, and highlighted that his administration has “moved more than 2,000 homeless New Yorkers off the streets and into a permanent situation where they can be taken care of and they can get the help they need” and that the city has closed 180 shelters. But he did not use the pulpit to reiterate his plan of opening up dozens of new shelters or to remind New Yorkers that all must work together to help those in need, including by accepting the opening of shelters in their neighborhoods.

The limited attention to what de Blasio has repeatedly said is his top failure as mayor reinforces the timidity of his goal of reducing the shelter census from roughly 62,000 to 57,500 over five years, and his refusal to adjust his affordable housing plan to provide more homes to those coming out of shelter.

De Blasio did not talk at all about increases in rape reports, failing to address the issue head on and assure New Yorkers that they should continue to report such crimes and that the city is enhancing its efforts to both prosecute offenders and help survivors. He did not mention police accountability, despite the fact that the officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s 2014 death is about to stand trial at the NYPD and the police commissioner has empaneled a special commission to suggest improvements to the disciplinary system that has regularly led to few, if any, consequences for officers who break the public trust. He did not discuss efforts to reduce racial disparities in law enforcement, even as he touted how arrests and the jail population are down significantly since he took office, while most major crimes are also down.

The mayor made a very brief mention of corporate giant Amazon agreeing to build a new campus in Queens, despite the fact that just two months ago he announced the deal among the city, the state, and Amazon as a major victory for the city and its residents. That deal has been the subject of intense protests from elected officials and activists, with de Blasio distancing himself from some of the subsidies involved and insisting that while it’s a big net positive for New Yorkers, he’ll be working with Amazon on its labor practices, relationship with federal immigration authorities, and more. De Blasio shied away from centering the Amazon deal in his argument for how New York is becoming a more fair city with opportunity for everyone.

Early on in his remarks, he said, “New York City is now one of the world's premiere tech hubs, and all those jobs are now here for the people of New York City. The major new announcements from Amazon and Google show that the world's most innovative companies want to be here, and they want to hire New Yorkers.” And that was it for Amazon.

Even as he repeatedly talked about efforts to make New York “the fairest big city in the country,” de Blasio made no mention of the new Fair Fares program whereby low-income New Yorkers will get reduced-priced Metrocards to more easily ride the subways and buses. The glaring omission of a program the mayor just held a mostly celebratory press conference about reinforces the notion that he has not prioritized Fair Fares, which he rolled out late and in underwhelming fashion.

De Blasio did not address the city’s most-struggling schools, even as more of them face potential closure and his program to rescue them, Renewal Schools, is not showing the results that were hoped for, even promised. He announced an expanded program to get free eyeglasses to young students who need them and additional neighborhoods that will see his 3-K program for three-year-olds, and he talked up the city’s graduation rate, but he did not dive into the most difficult aspects of the education system he runs, like work to integrate the city’s deeply segregated schools, even as he talked about needing state government approval later this year to allow him to keep running it.

De Blasio also did not talk about impending neighborhood rezonings, where the city is aiming to add to its list of communities where it has changed land use rules in order to build more housing, some of it affordable, and make investments as part of the mayor’s much-discussed housing plan.

That housing plan and some of the rezonings that have occurred have been the target of significant criticism as de Blasio has repeatedly dismissed calls for his housing plan to better serve lower-income New Yorkers and people experiencing homelessness, though he has tweaked the plan multiple times. He has also been questioned for almost exclusively upzoning low-income communities of color, as opposed to seeking more housing density, including many affordable units, in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.

Like on other fronts, it was a missed opportunity to make a very public pitch for his plans, lay markers, and sway public opinion behind them.

While the mayor raised many eyebrows and grabbed some national headlines with something of a reinvigorated approach to his annual speech and several new and exciting proposals -- from increasing bus speeds to mandating paid vacation time, some of which, if implemented well, promise to improve people's lives -- he glossed over several significant crises facing the city, leaving others to give a more sober assessment of its state.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Fri, 11 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio's 2019 mxm logo

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

January 9, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio's 2019

jill jorgensen jan 9Mayor de Blasio had a tumultuous and somewhat sleepy 2018, the first year of his second term after winning reelection in a race where he offered few new ideas, but has come out of the gate in 2019 with new energy and proposals. Jill Jorgensen of the Daily News, who has covered de Blasio closely for most of his tenure as mayor, joined the show to discuss where de Blasio stands as the new year begins, his recent proposals and choppy rollout of the Fair Fares discount Metrocard program, his impending State of the City address, and other important matters and dynamics.

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 Thu, 10 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Eric Ulrich mxm logo

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

January 9, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Eric Ulrich

eric ulrich january 9City Council Member Eric Ulrich, a self-described "moderate" and "Rockefeller" Republican in the mold of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is running for New York City Public Advocate in the special election set for February 26. Ulrich, who represents parts of Queens, joined the show to discuss his candidacy and argue why he is the candidate best-qualified to hold Mayor Bill de Blasio accountable as public advocate.

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 Thu, 10 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In First Year as Council Speaker, Johnson Establishes Countervailing Force Corey Johnson Mayor de Blasio

Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)

One year ago, New York City Council Member Corey Johnson was near-unanimously elected speaker of the 51-member legislative body, becoming the city’s second-most powerful elected official behind the mayor. In an emotional inaugural speech, he spoke of the heavy burden the Council bears in tackling the issues that face everyday New Yorkers. “There has never been a more important time to ensure that our City has a strong, unified and independent Council to take on these challenges,” he said.

In the year since, Johnson has indeed led a chamber that has drawn a stronger line between itself and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, while Johnson has established himself as a new force in New York, operating with an obsession for politics, an enthusiasm for his job, and a wear-it-on-your-sleeve penchant for empathizing with the plights of New Yorkers. Johnson’s style and instincts have drawn a clear counter-figure to de Blasio, though the speaker and the mayor have appeared on good terms throughout Johnson’s first year in the new job, even as he has publicly disagreed with the mayor on numerous occasions and taken a harsh tone with several de Blasio administration officials.

Johnson’s chosen a few areas of legislative focus, but has yet to put forth a clear policy agenda that signals his true priorities, though he said upon taking the speakership that strengthening the “social safety net” was of utmost importance to him. He has made transit a major focus, riding the subway daily, voicing his displeasure with the system's reliability, and even calling for municipal control of the trains and buses.

The City Council was particularly active in 2018, passing nearly three times as much legislation in the first year of this new four-year session as the previous Council class did in 2014. Though there are mitigating factors at play -- like the fact that most of the current Council is holdovers from the past session -- legislative productivity is an apt defining feature for the body under the stewardship of Johnson, the outgoing, outspoken speaker who has quickly established himself as a formidable opposite — not oppositional, he says — force to de Blasio and who has injected a different energy into the city’s political landscape, even shaking up discussions around the next mayoral race.

“One of the things that’s just sort of in my DNA is, I like to work...I get bored if I don’t,” Johnson said in a phone interview about his first year as speaker, “I’m not good at downtime. So that kinda means that I live and breathe this every single day.”

Johnson’s path to the position and approach once in office have been poles apart from his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, though both are groundbreaking officials. Mark-Viverito was the first Latina to be speaker and Johnson is it’s first openly gay male and openly HIV-positive one.

Mark-Viverito in part owed her ascendance in 2014 to de Blasio, himself newly-elected and especially powerful, who helped put her over the finish line in a tight contest with City Council Member Daniel Garodnick. With the mayor’s help, Mark-Viverito and her allies corralled a newly-elected group of progressive City Council members and bucked the traditional bastions of county party power in Queens and the Bronx.

A Democrat representing the west side of Manhattan, Johnson became speaker despite the mayor, emerging above a crowded field of candidates and receiving support from those two counties. In what looked to be an almost overt rejection of the mayor, leaders of the Democratic machines in the two boroughs announced their decision to back Johnson when de Blasio was out of town, while much of the discussion around Johnson’s colleagues support for him was not about working with de Blasio to pass sweeping progressive programs, as it had been in 2014, and more about independence from the mayor.

Johnson repeatedly vowed that he would not be beholden to the other side of City Hall, an allegation that dogged Mark-Viverito for her tenure as she balanced her support for the mayor’s policies with occasional rejection of them and very much charted her own agenda, often bringing de Blasio along, like on the closing of the Rikers Island jail complex.

A City & State profile of Johnson published in December — titled “Is Corey Johnson already mayor?” — noted that he had made converts of several City Council members who had opposed him during the race for speaker and who worried that he may exact revenge on them if elected. “If Corey had an approval rating in the City Council, I suspect it would be nearly 100 percent,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, quoted in the article. Torres said Johnson was filling a vacuum of leadership left by the mayor, who is increasingly absent from City Hall and who seems more intent on building a national profile than running the city. It’s an observation that’s been thrown around more and more even though Johnson disagrees with it.

Part of the apparent discrepancy stems from their different approaches to communicating with the public — Johnson is an open book and known to say what’s on his mind, often on Twitter, and responds immediately to virtually every significant event related to public life in New York and with compassion to the plight of suffering New Yorkers. De Blasio, on the other hand, seems to struggle to express empathy and often has a measured, almost academic response to any given crisis. Johnson appears to relish being a New Yorker, holding public office, and doing any and all part of the job, even if some are less fun or interesting than others. De Blasio appears to dislike most aspects of his job.

There are times when the speaker has been more outspoken than the mayor -- his response to the city’s handling of the November snowstorm; his immediate call for the resignation of Board of Elections executive director Mike Ryan after the abysmal administration of the general election; and his more direct statements on incidents of apparent police misconduct. But Johnson has pushed back against the narrative that he is playing the role that the mayor should, as emotional leader of the city and its cheerleader, as the elected official who cares about every detail of city government and how it performs.

“We have one mayor. He was elected twice and I do not think I’m mayor,” Johnson said, echoing remarks he had made earlier in a television interview when asked about the City & State profile, which had the city political scene buzzing. “I do not have the powers of the mayor. I do not have the everyday responsibilities of the mayor.” He repeatedly emphasized that his relationship with de Blasio has been productive and collaborative, rather than combative. “It’s flattering in some way,” he said of the comparison with the mayor, “but I don’t think it comports with reality.”

It was early on in 2018, as budget season was kicking off, that Johnson showed he would test the mayor’s mettle. He dug his heels in on funding Fair Fares, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, a program that de Blasio had repeatedly dismissed as a state obligation that shouldn’t burden the city’s coffers. Johnson spearheaded an advocacy campaign, sending Council members into the field to talk with commuters outside subway stops and heavily spotlighting the push on social media.

It became the Council’s top priority in budget negotiations with de Blasio, and the mayor eventually relented, a six-month Fair Fares pilot program was approved in the budget — and is launching this month, though the de Blasio administration has apparently dragged its heels on implementation, rolling it out late and in phases that have left some questioning the mayor’s commitment to the program. In a telling decision, Johnson has chosen not to publicly criticize the mayor for his approach to the program, the speaker’s signature accomplishment thus far.

Johnson also flexed the Council’s muscles to push the mayor on several other priorities -- more fair student funding for city schools, deeper savings and greater set asides in the city’s reserves -- though he did not win a desired property tax rebate that was at the top of the Council’s wish list; and has taken a clearly more critical tone in public comments. While he regularly stresses that “it’s not personal,” Johnson has made pointed comments about the mayor’s attention to matters, city agency performance, and policy priorities he believes the mayor should adopt, such as an outspokenness about reducing the city’s deference to cars in its public policies and his call for municipal control of the subways and buses (something he told the New York Times he would soon have more to say about).

“To see him emerge as such a strong and confident leader has been really exciting to watch,” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, a close Johnson ally and first African-American woman to serve as the Council’s majority leader. She cited two successful legislative efforts that she sponsored under Johnson of which she is particularly proud -- the “Mother’s Day” package aimed at helping pregnant women, new mothers, and parents more broadly; and a bill that just passed to mandate that the administration report on pay levels in the city’s workforce, disaggregated by race and gender. “He’s just done an extraordinary job of raising the issues that members are really concerned about, solidifying our place as an equal branch of government to balance out the powers of the mayor.”

Among Johnson’s first acts as speaker was to bolster the City Council’s resources and staff, to be better able to hold its own with the mayor’s administration. Johnson increased the Council’s budget by millions of dollars, raised salaries across the board, beefed up several divisions — land use, finance, bill drafting (which helped to increase legislative productivity) — and created new committees to reflect the changing issues affecting the city (and reward supporters). Those include a subcommittee dedicated to the massive capital budget and a committee dealing with for-hire vehicle services such as Uber and Lyft. And he added new life to the oversight and investigations committee, now helmed by Torres, which has allowed the Council to more deeply scrutinize the failures of the de Blasio administration and city agencies.

Johnson, who often leads the hearings in tandem with Torres, has repeatedly called on agency heads at those hearings to apologize for their failings, though he insists he is not trying to embarrass the administration or pander to the cameras. “I think we’ve been an independent branch of government and independent not in a way just to score cheap political points or grab a headline,” he said, “but independent to serve the city as a whole and our constituents that expect results.”

But he has aggressively demanded answers from the administration, most recently by convening the first of a series of hearings on the joint state-city deal with Amazon to build a massive new campus in Long Island City. Critics pointed out that while it may be right for Johnson and his colleagues to ask questions after the announcement, they were silent as the well-known but secretive negotiations were happening.

Johnson doesn’t have a legislative agenda that can be summed up easily. Where Mark-Viverito’s chief concerns were immigrant rights and criminal justice reform, Johnson says he’s just trying to make the city fairer, strengthening the social safety net, and working on issues “that affect the most number of people and the most vulnerable.”

“I would love for us to be the fairest city in America,” he said, using a similar phrase to what the mayor has adopted as a second term goal, “but to do that, it’s not easy, it can’t be done overnight. It has to be done in collaboration with the state government and with the federal government. We don’t solely control our own destiny.”

The Council’s legislative record under his leadership is growing, though the political landscape is very different given what Mark-Viverito worked with de Blasio to advance during the first four years of the new Democratic era in the city and the latest policies out of the Cuomo and Trump administrations. Mark-Viverito spearheaded or worked with de Blasio on a long list of accomplishments, from a city bail fund to a municipal identification card program to shifting how low-level, non-violent offenses are policed in the city.

Still, the hundreds of bills the Council passed in 2018 include a landmark package of anti-sexual harassment laws, new rules for the for-hire vehicle industry (which Johnson had opposed under Mark-Viverito but came around on, admitting fault for prior opposition), a waste equity bill aimed at reducing the environmental burden on low-income communities of color, and regulations aimed at illegal short-term rentals through Airbnb. The Council’s efforts also pushed the mayor to change the NYPD’s policy on marijuana arrests and added to the significant cascade of criticism about how NYCHA has been run, eliciting new plans from de Blasio. Johnson worked with de Blasio and the Cuomo administration on a creative city-based solution to the state Legislature allowing authority for speed cameras in school zones to expire, reviving the program.

He’s also allowed members to drive the agenda more than in the past when some raised concerns that the speaker’s office throttled their priorities in service of its own, Johnson says.

“Part of my role is to amplify and support the voices of all Council members while at the exact same time balancing a citywide agenda that I believe in,” Johnson said. Members agree. To some, it’s been an entire year of the Council stepping in where the mayor and his administration have dropped the ball.

“I think the first year has been a good year, it’s defined our Council leadership style in a world where the mayor continues to make himself irrelevant,” Brooklyn Council Member Carlos Menchaca told Gotham Gazette, shortly before a hearing in the Council chambers. He pointed to a “vacuum” of leadership amid the policies emanating from the federal government and even the lack of state action, and said the Council has been taking up the charge by championing the issues raised by their communities. “And that’s the kinda participatory democracy that I know the speaker believes in…and you’ll see that as a defining pillar of this Council,” he said.

Council Member Joe Borelli, one of only three Republicans in the 51-member body, drew sharp comparisons between Johnson’s management style and Mark-Viverito’s “top-down approach.”

“We go to him and say ‘this should be, this must be, this oughta be,’ and there’s a receptive ear,” he said. “That’s a lot different than the Melissa Mark-Viverito approach where it’s ideology and personal ambition first and good government second.” 

In a statement on Monday, Mark-Viverito had tough words for Borelli. "When you’re a woman in power who has a vision to make this city more fair and just, you end up with Trump-loving men like Joe Borelli calling you a mean, ambitious woman," she said. "It's no surprise that the Councilmember who wholeheartedly defends pussy-grabbing Donald Trump has a problem with women who speak their mind. What a joke."

Borelli also said Johnson had been taking on a more prominent role in the absence of leadership by major citywide officials. “The major political issues of the day fall on Corey Johnson because the mayor has not always been a voice on the right side and the public advocate has been running her campaign and doing what she needs to do to be attorney general,” he said.

Freshman Council Member Bob Holden, a Queens Democrat elected on the Republican line, had effusive praise for Johnson. “He does more than any other human being that I know,” Holden said. “He just operates on another level. I can’t say enough about him.”

Johnson’s looking forward to the year ahead, with several large packages of legislation awaiting passage including tenant protection bills, legislation to require energy efficiency retrofits on the buildings in the city with the greatest carbon footprint, and one that would eliminate non-disclosure agreements when city officials negotiate economic development deals with private firms, prompted by the secrecy around the Amazon deal. There will also be the next phases, including ballot proposals, from the 2019 City Charter Revision Commission, the creation of which Johnson helped spearhead, and which could propose significant changes to how city government is structured and functions.

He also teased a reshuffle of committee memberships to come in January, based on requests from Council members, including a few chair positions. Several sitting members are also running for public advocate in a special election expected in February, which could create a vacancy that would need to be filled.

Not everyone is happy that the Council has been quite so active. “I think more the years before term limits, the agenda of the Council is very diffuse and is set by individual members who have far more discretion to introduce legislation,” said Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit group that represents the business sector. Term limits put pressure on Council members to achieve big legislative victories very quickly, she said, as they look to their next job in government. “I think what the current speaker is doing is using his bully pulpit and his personal style and relationships to set a tone and to affirm the interests of the Council as a whole,” she added. “But there’s such a cacophony of legislative initiatives, 18 bills on the crisis du jour, that he’s in a tough spot. It’s hard.”

Though Wylde did say that she’d like to see “more collaboration, less confrontation,” as has been apparent at some of the oversight hearings, she said Johnson has created a healthy counterpoint to the mayor. “In New York City, where there are so many different interests, I think it’s positive that Corey Johnson feels comfortable putting out his ideas even when they’re not in sync with the mayor,” she said. “I think that’s a good thing.”

Johnson has suggested bringing the MTA’s subways and buses (New York City Transit) under the control of the city, and has supported a congestion pricing plan for the city and legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults long before the mayor or governor did.

There have been bumps in the road for Johnson. Early on he tried his hand at negotiating with the governor over funding for city public housing (NYCHA), only to publicly be undermined by the Cuomo administration (in what seemed to be a tactic aimed at leverage over de Blasio). He was also elevated to his position with the help of Joe Crowley, the Queens county boss and Democratic giant who lost his Congressional seat to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now a national political star. Johnson endorsed Crowley, a move that earned him some criticism, particularly as he later went on to support several insurgent and unabashedly progressive Democrats running competitive primaries against more moderate incumbents at the state level, though those races did have the added element whereby the incumbents had formed a rogue conference and governed with Republicans.

Johnson also endorsed Cuomo for reelection, over Cynthia Nixon, another insurgent Democratic primary challenger, though at times he seemed to support Nixon’s ambitious agenda, including single-payer health care. He also backed City Council Member Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor over Cuomo's running-mate, incumbent Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, angering Cuomo's inner circle and likely getting the governor's attention.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, has known Johnson since before he took elected office. “I believe that Corey has remade city government, with the City Council playing a crucial role in decisions impacting all New Yorkers,” Appelbaum said in a phone interview.

Johnson appears to be a likely contender for the 2021 mayoral race, though he hasn’t expressed direct interest in the position, nor has he ruled it out. He would join a field likely to include Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, among others who may throw their hats in the ring (including, possibly, Mark-Viverito).

“I think that the most important thing he’s done is the way that he’s elevated the role of the City Council to have a real voice in decision making and I think that the Council is adding transparency to government in the city,” Appelbaum added. “We’ve seen the most professional City Council operation since I’ve been a New Yorker and that has resulted in important victories.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updated with comment from former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. 

]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Mon, 07 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate ballot tish

Tish James voting (photo via Gotham Gazette)

Updated as of January 18.

Next month, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to cast a ballot for a new public advocate in the first-ever special election for a citywide office. The current vacancy was created when the most recent officeholder, Letitia James, was officially sworn in as the state’s attorney general, a position she won in the November general election.

The public advocate is the people’s representative, a watchdog and ombudsperson, with a post that has little direct influence over city policy but a strong bully pulpit from which proposals can be made, grievances can be amplified, and the mayor and the rest of local government can be held to account. The office is charged with hearing complaints from New Yorkers about city services and can investigate the work of city agencies though with limited ability to enforce reforms. The office holder can also introduce legislation in the City Council but cannot cast a vote.

The special election to fill one of just three popularly-elected citywide positions has a crowded field and a short timeline. Here’s what you need to know.

When is the election?
Mayor Bill de Blasio officially proclaimed on January 2 that the election would be held on Tuesday, February 26.

Who is running?
There are 23 candidates who have filed petition signatures with the New York City Board of Elections to get on the ballot, but it is possible that not all of them will qualify. Once the mayor signed the city proclamation, the many candidates had 12 days to collect the 3,750 petition signatures they needed to get on the ballot. Signatures can come from any registered voter in the city, and many candidates pursued far more than the minimum required in order to protect themselves from challenges of invalid signatures.

Special elections in New York are nonpartisan -- no candidate can run on an existing party line like that of the Democratic or Republican Party -- and each candidate has created their own ballot line that is not supposed to resemble another political party’s name. Another quirk in the system is that ballot position is decided by the order in which petition signatures are submitted, which made the mad scramble to get on the ballot that much more frantic.  

The number of candidates, even in a narrowed field, could test the limits of modern ballot design since half a dozen sitting and former New York City Council members, several State Assembly members, and a number of activists and others outside of government are running. They include former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who submitted her petition signatures first and will likely be at the top of the ballot; sitting City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican office-holder in the race; Assemblymembers Michael Blake, Latrice Walker, Ron Kim, and Daniel O’Donnell; activist and journalist Nomiki Konst; Columbia University professor David Eisenbach, who ran against James in the 2017 Democratic primary for public advocate; attorney Dawn Smalls; entrepreneur Benjamin Yee; and consultant Ifeoma Ike; among others.

The actual field will become much clearer once petition challenges have been ruled on by the Board of Elections -- four candidates are already being challenged -- whereby candidates can have their ballot access denied due to faulty petitions. Candidates often file suit to get other candidates kicked off on technicalities -- something as small as a missing cover sheet on a petition can ensure that a candidate does not qualify.

How much campaign cash can they raise and spend?
Along with his announcement of the date of the special election, the mayor also signed into law a bill sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos that immediately puts into effect new campaign finance regulations that were approved by voters through a ballot referendum in November.

The new rules allow candidates to choose between two tiers of participation in the city’s public matching funds program, administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which monitors campaign fundraising and spending. The program currently gives participating candidates a 6-to-1 match for the first $175 of every campaign contribution. Those who choose to abide by these old rules would be limited to a maximum campaign donation of $2,550, and can receive a maximum of $2.5 million in public funds.

The second, new tier allows candidates to opt for a $1,000 contribution limit and receive an 8-to-1 match in public funds for the first $250 of each contribution, allowing them to receive up to $3.4 million in public funds. To receive public funds, a candidate would have to meet the dual threshold of raising a total of $62,500 from at least 500 individual contributors.

Those that choose to participate in the public funds program will have to abide by a $4.5 million spending limit, though any candidate is unlikely to reach that astronomical number in just seven weeks. They will also have to complete a mandatory campaign finance training at the CFB.

The first campaign finance disclosure deadline passed on January 15, with several candidates showing strong fundraising numbers. The next disclosure deadline is January 25. 

Will the candidates debate?
Many of the candidates have already appeared and are regularly appearing at a series of public forums and debates organized by advocacy groups, political clubs, and others to lay out their platforms and positions on specific policies. But there will also be two official debates organized by the CFB. The first debate will be held February 6 and the second one is scheduled for February 20. Both will be broadcast by Spectrum News NY1, and livestreamed on NY1's website and Facebook page. 

To qualify for the first debate, candidates will have to raise and spend at least $56,938 by January 21, the campaign finance disclosure deadline just prior to the debate. The second debate, for “leading contenders” will have greater thresholds -- candidates will have to raise and spend $170,813 by February 11, and must be endorsed by a state, local or federal elected official representing New York City, or by a membership organization with 250 members living in the city. The sponsors of the debates include Politico New York, Citizens Union, the League of Women Voters, the Latino Leadership Institute, Borough of Manhattan Community College, NAACP New York State Conference Metropolitan Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., East Kings County Alumnae Chapter.

Unlike in the past, the debates will also be simulcast by the city-run NYC Life, making them freely and publicly accessible.   

What will the election cost?
The New York City Board of Elections estimates that the special election will set the city back at least $15 million, a price that is nearly five times the actual annual budget of the public advocate’s office.

But, unlike a regular citywide election, there will be no costly runoff if a candidate does not meet a certain threshold. The candidate with the most votes wins, even if a large field means the winner takes a small percentage of the vote.

Who can vote and who will vote?
Every registered voter in the city can vote in the special election but turnout is likely to be low, though it is hard to predict since the city has never held a citywide special election before. New voter registration applications sent by mail must be postmarked no later than February 1 but the BOE will accept in-person applications till 5 pm on February 16. 

In City Council special elections, turnout tends to be severely depressed owing to several factors -- a lack of awareness of the election, an election date outside of the expected September-November window, voter apathy.

In the 2017 election, when James was reelected to a second term, a total of 1.1 million New Yorkers voted for public advocate, only about 22 percent of the total registered voters in the city at that time.

Who will win?
Who knows. But, we do know that the winner of the special election will, if he or she wants to keep the office, have to run for reelection in the fall. By city law, there will be a typical set of primary and general elections in September and November to decide the public advocate for the rest of the current four-year term, which runs through the end of 2021. The winner of the special election will only be guaranteed the office through the end of this year.

Democratic and/or Republican primaries will be held as needed in September before a November general election. There could also be a run-off if there is a crowded primary or general election field and no candidate earns 40 percent of the vote initially. In 2013, James won the Democratic nomination in a primary run-off before easily winning the general election.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updated to include the voter registration deadlines for the special election.

]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 04 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Rafael Espinal mxm logo

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

January 2, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate Rafael Espinal

rafael espinal 1 2 wbai insetCity Council Member Rafael Espinal, a Brooklyn Democrat, is among the candidates running in the special election to become the next New York City Public Advocate. With the election set for Tuesday, February 26, it's a sprint for candidates to craft their messages, collect ballot petition signatures, raise money, reach voters, and secure support. Espinal joined the show to discuss his candidacy, including his record in the City Council and his vision for the role of Public Advocate. He explained he's running on the "Livable City" ballot line in the non-partisan special election, and why, and much more.

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 Thu, 03 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000