CITY http://www.gothamgazette.com/city Fri, 24 May 2019 17:39:41 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Effort Launched to Elect LGBTQ Members to City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8543-effort-launched-to-elect-lgbt-members-to-the-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8543-effort-launched-to-elect-lgbt-members-to-the-city-council  

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 (photo: @RitchieTorres)


On the steps of City Hall Wednesday afternoon, a coalition of LGBTQ rights advocates and current and former City Council members announced the launch of an initiative to elect queer candidates to the Council in 2021, when 35 seats will be open because of term limits.

There are currently five members of the 51-member City Council who identify as LGBT, all of whom are a part of the body’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus, and all of whom are not elligible for reelection to the Council: Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Danny Dromm, Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Carlos Menchaca.

The effort launched Wednesday, dubbed “LGBTQ in 2021,” is intended to ensure that the outgoing cohort of Council members from the queer community is replaced by another, larger, and more diverse group of LGBTQ electeds.

“We want to make sure that we elect lesbians to the City Council, we want to ensure that we elect transgender women to the City Council, we want to ensure we elect LGBT people of color to the City Council,” Speaker Johnson, who is openly gay and HIV positive, said to cheers from the audience assembled.

A number of other Council members were also present at the press conference, including Dromm and Torres of the LGBT Caucus, as well as former Council Members Tom Duane, who was the first openly gay person elected to the City Council, and Elizabeth Crowley, who has helped spearhead the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect more women to the City Council, which was the inspiration for the project announced Monday. The City Council currently has 12 women out of its 51 members.

In the next City Council election in 2021, at least 35 of the body’s 51 seats will be open, meaning no incumbent will be running.

Whereas incumbents enjoy incredibly high reelection rates, races for open seats tend to be vastly more competitive, often comprising more candidates and resulting in narrower margins of victory. Initiatives like LGBTQ in 2021 and 21 in ‘21 are harnessing the opportunities of open seats at the same time that they are meant to combat any loss in representation that may result.

Coming out is “the deepest political thing anyone can do. And that goes for people who are out in legislative bodies. There is no substitute for a seat at the table,” Duane said at the press conference. “We have elected people here in New York City, but we have many more people that we need to get elected to the City Council.”

The coalition, which also includes LGBTQ Democratic political clubs like the Stonewall Demorats and advocacy groups like New York Transgender Advocacy Group and Queer-Amisú, plans to recruit and support queer candidates to run for City Council through training, mentorship, and networking resources. At the moment, LGBTQ in 2021 has a social media presence but an informal operational structure as its members determine its direction. It is currently focused on City Council elections, but may expand its mission in the future.

“It’s only been ten years since Queens has had openly gay elected officials,” Dromm reminded the crowd, after acknowledging Duane and other predecessors as rolemodels for him. “And of course we began to see the Council expand in terms of the numbers of openly LGBT people who were in it.”

“Invisibility is our biggest enemy,” Dromm added. “We had no role models in those days.”

Members of the coalition have drawn lessons from their personal experiences and those of activists in a number of overlapping and intersecting causes -- namely the struggle for LGBTQ rights in New York and nationally, but also the Civil Rights Movement and movements for gender equity.

Melissa Sklarz, a transgender activist, 2018 Assembly candidate from Queens, and former president of the Stonewall Democrats, spoke after Dromm. “I don’t think invisibility is a problem. It’s fear! ‘I can’t run for office, Melissa, I don’t know what to do.’ We’ve got a solution for that. We know what to do. We’ve been involved, we have passion, and vision, and experience, and intelligence. We will help you.”

Torres, a Bronx Democrat planning to run for Congress in the 2020 election, emphasized the active nature of this type of recruitment and mentorship operation. “Progress doesn’t happen by accident. We have to organize for it, we have to fight for it, we have to recruit candidates, raise funds, knock on doors, and win elections,” Torres said. (Sklarz later told reporters that LGBTQ in 2021 does not have plans to raise money for candidates, but intends to educate them on how to create a campaign, and can assist with staffing and grassroots efforts in their neighborhoods.)

Along with the aforementioned groups, the coalition includes Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, Lesbian Gay Democratic Club of Queens, Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, NYC Pride and Power, and LGBT Democrats of Color.

“One of the epiphanies of the Civil Rights Movement is the realization that progress is not inevitable even when it has the aura of inevitability,” Torres observed. “We had more LGBT members of the City Council two years ago than we do today. Or when it comes to gender inequality...we had more women in the City Council in the 1990s than we do today.”

Despite overall progress made in LGBTQ representation in New York City elected office, members of the coalition pointed to significant shortcomings in the political landscape and barriers that still need to be overcome.

Ivy Frias of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group wondered why “only one letter of the LGBT community is represented here in the City Council,” referring to the fact that the City Council’s current queer membership are all gay men. “I think it’s time, as a queer, nonbinary, Dominican person, to tell you guys that it’s time to be here,” Frias said, adding later, “the LGBT community is beautifully diverse and intersectional.”

Sklarz also identified barriers. When asked whether she intends to run for City Council after her unsuccessful bid for the Assembly last year, she told Gotham Gazette, “Where I live is a difficult Council race. Neighborhood is everything. So however big my visage may be in the LGBT community, it’s very difficult in my neighborhood to run for City Council.” The 22nd Council District in Queens, where Sklarz lives, has been represented by Costa Constantinides since 2014 and has never had an openly queer Council member. Constantinides is term-limited and likely to run for Queens Borough President.

Those dynamics at the neighborhood level can play out in the Council itself. “There continues to be places in New York City where even vicious homophobes can be and have been elected to the City Council,” Torres told the crowd. “The homophobic antics of [City Council Member] Ruben Diaz Sr. is a cautionary tale of what happens when we, as a community, take for granted the inevitability of progress.” (Diaz Sr., who was recently punished by the Council for his latest homophobic remarks, is seeking the same congressional seat as Torres.)

“If you think someone’s going to come and save the day for you, then you’re naive. We’re not going take that chance,” Sklarz said to applause. “LGBT people are going to come together, we are going to create a moment, we are going to take care of our own, and make sure something happens.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Thu, 23 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
First City Agency Workplace-Climate Survey Under New Law Raises Questions, Concerns http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8541-first-city-agency-workplace-climate-survey-under-new-law-raises-questions-concerns http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8541-first-city-agency-workplace-climate-survey-under-new-law-raises-questions-concerns cm francisco moya

(photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Last year, amid a national awakening about sexual harassment spurred by the #MeToo movement, the New York City Council passed a package of legislation. Among other things, it required the city to disclose more data about harassment claims and to undertake workplace climate surveys about harassment, discrimination, and other issues in order to create action plans and make improvements.

But the first climate survey results were recently delivered to the City Council and do not contain enough information to illuminate how different agencies handle the problem of harassment, said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity. Rosenthal, who helped lead the charge on the Stop Sexual Harassment Act bill package, told Gotham Gazette the initial climate survey results have prompted her to prepare legislation requiring agency-specific climate survey data.

The climate survey of city agencies was conducted by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), which provided its report to the mayor’s office and the City Council. Gotham Gazette obtained the five-page report through a Freedom of Information Law request.

The survey, which was voluntary for respondents and anonymized, looked at how familiar agency employees were with the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity policies and complaint process, whether they experienced or witnessed workplace discrimination, and also how aware supervisors and managers were of EEO processes.

Of the respondents, 32.4% were supervisors and managers; 59.5% identified as female; 85.5% said they were heterosexual. (The survey broke down the respondents by age, racial background, gender and sexual identity).

Overall, a majority of respondents (the report does not say how many were polled, the law only requires the survey to be offered to all employees) said they were familiar with EEO policies and had received training within the last year, that they had not personally experienced or witnessed discrimination of any type, and that their workplace was safe from EEO violations.

“I commend them for taking the first step,” Rosenthal said, “But..I’m disappointed that their takeaway thoughts are pretty light. It’s thin, it’s just thin.”

Pointing to the report’s general conclusions, she said, “The majority of respondents know the policies, did not personally experience [discrimination], and they indicate their work is safe. Well how do we even know what standard DCAS is comparing this to?”

Data released by the city earlier this year showed that the Department of Education accounted for a majority of sexual harassment complaints -- 186 out of 472 complaints filed in the 2018 fiscal year. What may be true of one agency, DCAS for instance, where there were only eight complaints filed, may not be true of the Department of Education. “So that’s just an out of context assertion that I dont think is valid,” Rosenthal said of the notion that the majority of respondents find their workplaces safe. “I’d like to see a little more rigor there.”

The Manhattan Democrat emphasized that the results are too general and occlude the differences between agencies. For instance, while only 9.6% of respondents said they had personally experienced sexual harassment at work, 14.2% said they had witnessed instances of sexual harassment.

“That could’ve been an interesting finding that they culled out, and say well what does that mean? What does that tell us? Does that mean that people are not reporting? That could be the takeaway. And that’s concerning.” Rosenthal said.

Responses about agency procedures and environments were also of concern to Rosenthal. Asked if their workplace was “safe and free of violations of the EEO policy,” 61.5% said they strongly agree or agree; 18.9% said they strongly disagree or disagree; and 19.7% were neutral on the question. “The truth of the matter is, that’s not a slam dunk for them,” Rosenthal said.

“I suppose if you had the information by agency, then you would see which agencies need a serious action plan,” she added.

Spokespersons for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not provide comment on the results of the survey or whether they would support Rosenthal’s proposal to disaggregate data by agency. A spokesperson for de Blasio said “Sexual harassment has no place in the City of New York. The de Blasio Administration is committed to preventing sexual harassment – and all other forms of discrimination – inside and outside of the workplace. We look forward to reviewing the bill.”

About 92.4% of respondents said they were familiar with the city’s EEO policy and 84% said they knew how to file a formal complaint about an EEO violation. But only 57.4% said they knew how EEO complaints were processed after being filed. The report did acknowledge this last statistic, and concluded that more training and communication would be required to make employees more aware of the process after a complaint is submitted. Under the law, DCAS will be required to create an action plan to implement this change by the end of the year, with a report due on actions taken by March 31 of next year. Another survey will also be carried out in July 2020.

Besides sexual harassment, the survey also examined discrimination based on age, gender, racial and ethnic background, religious background, disability status, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, military status, partnership status, a category called “Predisposing Genetic Characteristics/Genetic Information,” prior record of arrest or conviction, and for victims of domestic violence.

Agencies generally performed well, save for a few major categories: about 16.8% of respondents said they had experienced racial or ethnic discrimination, while 20.8% said they had witnessed it; 11% said they experienced gender discrimination, and 13.2% said they had witnessed it; 10.5% said they experienced age discrimination, and 14.5% said they had witnessed it.

Here are a few of the other highlights of the survey:
-70.6% strongly agreed or agreed that their “rights are protected to pursue [their] duties in a respectful workplace”; 14.3% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 15.1% were neutral on the question.

-67.3% strongly agreed or agreed that they felt protected from workplace harassment; 16.2% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 16.6% were neutral on the question.

-61.1% strongly agreed or agreed that they are treated equally and fairly; 20.6% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 18.3% were neutral on the question.

-63.7% strongly agreed or agreed that steps are taken to prevent violations of the EEO policy; 13.8% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 22.5% were neutral on the question.

-59.7% strongly agreed or agreed that violations of EEO policy are taken seriously and investigated; 12.9% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 27.4% were neutral on the question.

-51.2% strongly agreed or agreed that adequate response is provided to those employees who have experienced and submitted claims of violations of EEO policy; 12% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 36.9% were neutral on the question.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been corrected to note that the Department of Education had the highest number of harassment complaints filed in 2018, not the Department of Investigation.

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Wed, 22 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Member Rosenthal Pursues Legislation to Create City Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8540-council-member-rosenthal-legislation-to-create-office-of-sexual-harassment-prevention http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8540-council-member-rosenthal-legislation-to-create-office-of-sexual-harassment-prevention cm h rosenthal during p

Council Member Rosenthal, center (photo: William Alatriste\New York City Council)


City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Committee on Women and Gender Equity, plans to introduce legislation to create an Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention within the mayor’s office, she told Gotham Gazette on Monday night.

Rosenthal, who recently spearheaded passage of sweeping anti-harassment legislation, made a request to draft Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention bill following a recent Gotham Gazette report about a 1993 executive order signed by former Mayor David Dinkins that would’ve created such an office, but was never put into effect.

“I think it’s an exciting idea,” Rosenthal said. “Let’s see where it would fit in to start and then what is its mission, what it would have authority over. There are a lot of important questions that have to be answered.” Those answers would come in both the bill-drafting and legislative hearing and negotiation phases.

[READ: A Citywide Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention? It Almost Happened 25 Years Ago]

In 1993, Dinkins signed an executive order to create the Citywide Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention on a pilot basis for two years. The order was a response to a sexual harassment scandal that led to the resignation of a top Dinkins aide, and followed a larger push by then-Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman to reform anti-sexual harassment policies at city agencies.

But the order was signed two weeks before Dinkins’ term ended, giving him insufficient time to implement it. His successor, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, did not put it into effect and the order lapsed.

Last year, amid the #MeToo movement, New York City officials woke to the issue of sexual harassment, and the City Council passed a slew of new bills aimed at improving how city agencies and the private sector deal with workplace harassment. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bills into law.

De Blasio’s administration then released data on instances of sexual harassment at agencies, and admitted to flaws in the standards for reporting and assessing harassment. The latest data released by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services showed that 472 complaints of sexual harassment were filed in the 2018 fiscal year, and 243 of those were resolved (569 complaints were resolved overall in that period).

Rosenthal has asked the Council’s bill drafting unit to begin creating the legislative framework for a mayoral office that would be dedicated to handling those complaints. Currently, sexual harassment falls under the purview of several agencies and commissions -- the Commission on Human Rights, the Commission on Gender Equity, the Equal Employment Practices Commission. But the CHR and the EEPC existed when Dinkins signed his executive order as well, and sexual harassment has far from ceased to be an issue despite their existence, which is why Rosenthal said a new agency or office would not be duplicative.

Rosenthal’s committee is set to hold a hearing to assess how, or whether, the administration has indeed stepped up enforcement against sexual harassment. (A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, May 22, but has since been deferred. It’s unclear when it will be rescheduled.)

“I would guess the administration would say they’re [enforcing] it now and then in our hearing we’re gonna see whether or not they can demonstrate that,” Rosenthal said. 

To emphasize the need for a standalone office, she pointed to the Department of Education. Of the 472 sexual harassment complaints filed in the 2018 fiscal year, 186 complaints were at the DOE (which can in part be explained by the fact that the DOE has the largest number of city employees of any agency or department).

But, Rosenthal noted, DOE still has only one federal Title IX coordinator whose task it is to monitor complaints of discrimination based on sex, compared with a Title IX office of 20 people in Chicago, a much smaller city with a school system barely one-third the size of New York City’s. “If we had an office that was only looking at sexual harassment, and had we had that for the past 25 years, we’d be in a different spot,” she said.

There’s a long road ahead for any legislation, Rosenthal conceded, but she’s hoping she can introduce it before her committee holds its next hearing. Besides the usual delays in drafting most legislation, there’s likely to be thorny issues in the possibility of creating an entirely new office with a mission that overlaps with other agencies. But Rosenthal says her effort is not merely symbolic. “I wouldn’t want it to be,” she said. “If all it’s going to be is a symbolic gesture, then that’s not meaningful.”

Asked about Rosenthal's pursuit of the legislation, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Marcy Miranda, said by email: “Sexual harassment has no place in the City of New York. The de Blasio Administration is committed to preventing sexual harassment – and all other forms of discrimination – inside and outside of the workplace. We look forward to reviewing the bill.”

A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not provide comment for this article.

[READ: A Citywide Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention? It Almost Happened 25 Years Ago]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Wed, 22 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Johnson Unveils Criminal Justice Agenda with Focus on Reducing Jail Population http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8533-johnson-unveils-criminal-justice-agenda-with-focus-on-reducing-jail-population http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8533-johnson-unveils-criminal-justice-agenda-with-focus-on-reducing-jail-population Corey Johnson criminal justice speech

Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced on Thursday a package of proposals aimed at reforming New York City’s criminal justice system to be more fair and equitable, building on changes championed by progressive politicians and advocates in New York and Albany over the last several years.

Johnson presented a vision of criminal justice in New York based on refocusing the system away from incarceration and expanding the tools available to pursue his version of justice and public safety.

Speaking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, Johnson told the audience, “Going forward, our default response to most arrests should be diversion, treatment, and rehabilitation – not incarceration.”

His package of reforms includes proposals to deal with matters of economic justice, sex work and gender discrimination, and mental health, as well as technical aspects of criminal justice policy. Some of the changes must be approved by state government, some through city government, where Johnson has significant sway as the leader of the legislature, and some he can move based on the power and funds at his disposal, he said.

“These critical reforms and investments in alternatives to incarceration at every stage of the justice system are essential to creating a more efficient and effective justice system,” said former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who now chairs the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which was empaneled under Johnson’s predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who had a significant criminal justice focus and pushed for the closure of the jails on Rikers Island, eventually winning over Mayor Bill de Blasio.

As both crime and the city’s jail population have fallen to record lows, Johnson’s proposals are meant to accelerate those trends, which is essential for restorative justice, he said, as well as closing the Rikers jails. In 2017, the mayor and Mark-Viverito announced a plan to close the Rikers jails in ten years, contingent on siting four borough-based jails and reducing the jail population to 5,000.

That projection was recently modified to 4,000 detainees in nine years, thanks largely to bail reform in Albany, which passed the Democratic-controlled state Legislature earlier this year and will go into effect in 2020. The changes to the law eliminate the use of cash bail in most misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases, the use of which has contributed to the disproportionate incarceration of poor, black, and Latino people.

Johnson’s proposed and planned efforts build on initiatives and proposals from the Council over the past few years, which included policies to reduce criminal penalties and stem the flow of New Yorkers into the jail system. Whereas Johnson’s main area of focus in a little over a year as speaker has been mass transit, his pivot toward criminal justice reform echoes Mark-Viverito, who made it a central part of her platform -- passing the Criminal Justice Reform Act to divert cases from the criminal justice system to the civil system, and creating the commission to explore shuttering Rikers that eventually forced de Blasio’s hand.

Johnson’s policy speech addressed some of the same issues by focusing on individuals prior to incarceration and eliminating charges, fines, and technical violations that trap people inside the cycle of incarceration and recidivism. The individual reforms he announced point to systemic problems that net communities along broad lines of race, class, and gender, which he named and took aim at during his speech.

Police Accountability
The speaker began his speech addressing accountability for individual police officers, who are often the first point of contact between New Yorkers and the criminal justice system. “We need to repeal 50-a, the state law that allows the NYPD to shield police officers from public scrutiny,” he said.

The state’s Civil Rights Law, section 50-a, was until recently an obscure, decades-old statute that has newly been interpreted to prevent the public disclosure of police and correction department personnel records, including disciplinary records.

It is a factor in the high-profile NYPD administrative trial of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer accused of choking Eric Garner to death in 2014, because, while the trial is open to the public, the final decision to discipline him may be shielded by the police department. A resolution in the City Council, introduced by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, calls on the state Legislature to repeal 50-a, though only 13 Council members have signed on and the speaker is not one of them.

Both Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill have expressed support for major changes to 50-a, but it has not been an apparent point of conversation in Albany.

Technicalities
For many incarcerated people, jail is the result of technicalities that fall outside the criminal acts that originally brought them to the criminal justice system. Johnson is proposing reforms to parole, which he says would address the roughly 600 people (8 percent of the jail population) who are behind bars because they failed to meet some requirement of their parole, like missing an appointment with a parole officer or not passing a drug test.

His plan includes a program to identify people arrested for parole violations as soon as they are jailed and “fast track” them to release. A second program would “work directly with parole judges to identify individuals they don’t think should be sent back to prison,” and put them “in a community-based program that will provide important services like transitional housing and drug treatment.”

For Johnson, driving offenses are another piece of the mass incarceration calculus that hinges on a technicality. “The fourth most charged crime in our city is driving with a suspended license,” he told the crowd. “Over 15,000 people every year are fingerprinted, booked, and charged with this quote-unquote crime.” According to Johnson 87 percent of people arrested for driving with a suspended license are not white, while 76 percent of all city drivers are white.

Mental Health
A number of the reforms the speaker put forward focus on addressing root causes of mass incarceration.

Several center mental health needs of people in jail and finding alternative methods for addressing those needs, a shift away from the practice of treating the city’s jails as repositories for the hardest to treat. “The health care system has turned away the chronically ill, and left jails as the public caretaker of last resort,” Johnson said.

To ameliorate this, Johnson’s fixes include a pilot program for “men who need transitional housing and not jail,” investing in residential mental health programs for incarcerated people, and funding a program to facilitate engagement between defense lawyers and social workers to identify alternatives to jail early on.

“We also need to address the continued incarceration of individuals whose conditions improve after being in custody,” Johnson said. “People get better, but they don’t get out.” To do this, Johnson has a bill that would require correctional health services to pass on vital information about a detainee’s mental health to their lawyer.

Johnson said he would also seek funding to expand diversion programs, like the Center for Court Innovation’s Project Reset, which provides community-based alternatives to incarceration for misdemeanors, and to pilot an “alternatives to incarceration” courtroom in Brooklyn.

Economic Injustice and Gender Inequity
Theme of Johnson’s proposals are making criminal justice economically just and challenging the standards by which New York assesses criminality. Johnson is seeking to tie civil fines to the value of a person’s daily income, rather than to a fixed rate, which has placed a disproportionate burden on the lowest-income New Yorkers. He would also like the state to do away with mandatory court surcharges.

Johnson wants to decriminalize parts of the sex trade that result in “needless prosecution” including the state law that penalizes loitering for alleged prostitution, which he called “archaic and wrongheaded.”

“Arrests for this offense disproportionately target transgender women and women of color. The number of these arrests more than doubled between 2017 and 2018,” he told the audience. “This is blatant misogyny.”

The speaker went on to identify “survival sex” -- what survivors of sex trafficking are often forced to engage in -- as distinct from sex work in general, and that this should not be a prosecuted offense. “This doesn’t mean I support legalizing the sex trade. But persons involved in the sex trade should be given the services they say they need,” he said.

Many of the proposals will require Johnson to work with other government entities in the city and state to pass laws, secure funding, and establish partnerships essential to his reform package.

A final plank in his plan is to reassess the way city policy in other areas treat people with criminal convictions, speaking to the collateral consequences of incarceration that follow people out of the criminal justice system and into everyday life, including eligibility for crucial city services.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, Raul Contreras, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, wrote, “It’s imperative that we continue to address racial disparities and to make smart investments in people and communities who have been impacted by historic injustices. We look forward to reviewing the Speaker’s proposal.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Fri, 17 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Diaz Jr. Submits Charter Revision Testimony Focused on Land Use and Police Accountability http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8530-diaz-jr-submits-charter-revision-testimony-focused-on-land-use-and-police-accountability http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8530-diaz-jr-submits-charter-revision-testimony-focused-on-land-use-and-police-accountability ruben bx brf

(photo: office of Ruben Diaz Jr.)


One week after the 2019 Charter Revision Commission held its final hearing in the Bronx and one day after its last borough hearing, but before the commission decides what proposals it will put before voters this fall, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. released his testimony to the commission on Wednesday.

While the 15-member charter commission, on which Diaz Jr. has one appointee, is considering a wide range of possible changes to city governance and elections, Diaz Jr. focused his written testimony on two crucial measures: land use and planning, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which performs police oversight. He also touched on budgeting for the borough president offices. His testimony is in large part a reaction to the charter commission’s preliminary staff report, which helped narrow the commission’s likely focus areas as it headed into the now-completed final round of borough hearings and more deliberations.

Diaz Jr. is calling for more community input in land use matters, but not sweeping reforms to the process, and for more power for the CCRB, though he did not come out in favor of a popularly-elected CCRB (its members are currently appointed by several public officials). The CCRB was the focus of significant attention during the Bronx hearing of the charter commission held May 7, at which Diaz Jr. did not appear. And Diaz Jr. wants the charter to codify protections for budget allocations to the borough president offices.

While Diaz Jr. agrees with parts of the commission’s preliminary report on land use, he called the city’s current Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process “insufficient.” He called for more comprehensive reviews of potential displacement from a proposed change in land use rules or a development project. Currently, the CEQR rules do not trigger a socioeconomic impact review until 500 residents or 100 jobs are at likely risk of displacement. Diaz Jr. called for a “lower threshold of estimated residential or commercial displacements,” but did not specify a number.

Diaz Jr. also recommended that the Charter Revision Commission “explore” a requirement for the chair of the City Planning Commission to need a two-thirds approval from the rest of the planning commission in order to be elected -- the chair is currently appointed by the mayor, while members of the commission are appointed by the mayor, public advocate, and borough presidents, and approved by the City Council. “This would give the borough presidents and public advocate a greater voice in the ULURP process, and give the chair greater accountability to all members of the City Planning Commission,” Diaz Jr.’s testimony reads.

He also suggested that the City Planning Commission either vote on certifying ULURP applications “out of the commission,” or that the relevant City Planning Commission Borough Commissioner should reserve the right to place a 30-day hold on certification in cases where they feel “additional consultation” with borough-level officials are needed.

Harkening to the contention over the proposal for a new jail in each of the four boroughs other than Staten Island that will in part make shuttering the Rikers Island jails possible, Diaz Jr. further suggested that when there’s a multi-site proposal like the jail plan, the charter “dictate unequivocally that each borough’s site must undergo a separate ULURP process, to avoid issues such as minimization of community input that is occurring in the jail siting process currently underway.”

Diaz Jr. has repeatedly slammed the process for grouping all four jail openings together, rather than allowing each borough separate input through the ULURP process, where the borough presidents and community boards have advisory input. Diaz Jr.’s charter commission appointee, former City Council Member Jimmy Vacca, advocated for the same idea in last week’s Bronx charter hearing.

Notably, Diaz Jr. did not call for major changes to the land use process, such as giving the borough president the power to effectively veto or restart negotiations on a development proposal. Though there appears to be a lot of discontent across the city about how land use decisions are made and a top-down approach from mayoral administrations, there has not been an apparent appetite among elected officials for sweeping alterations to ULURP.

Like land use, police accountability is a perpetually controversial topic in New York City, brought into particularly sharp relief this month given the NYPD administrative trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s 2014 death.

In his charter testimony, Diaz Jr. also wrote in support of the CCRB provisions included in the commission’s preliminary staff report, which advocate for increased transparency in the process, particularly in terms of the NYPD commissioner being required to explain when he or she differs with a CCRB recommendation in holding an officer accountable.

Diaz Jr.’s testimony expresses his support for guaranteed funding for the CCRB, at 1% of the annual NYPD budget, and creating a “non-binding disciplinary matrix to make discipline for violations clearer and more consistent.”

“This transparency will help restore faith in the good women and men of the NYPD who work so hard to keep us safe,” he wrote. Diaz Jr., who is overtly readying his run for mayor in the 2021 election, is among those attempting to toe the line between community activists and police reformers on one hand and a working relationship with the NYPD and its members’ labor unions on the other. It’s a balancing act that has at times confounded Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others.

Calling borough presidents' offices "conveners, constituent services providers, policy hubs, planning departments, and watchdog agencies" Diaz Jr. also called on the charter commission to protect the budgets of those offices. "Borough presidents’ budgets ought to be set with the current total allocation as a floor that shall not be decreased either in total for all borough presidents’ offices or for any individual borough president’s office. Increases should factor in any increases to the Department of City Planning’s Budget," he wrote in his testimony. Diaz Jr. said the "only exception" to that requirement would be in years when the city's financial picture includes a reduction in the expense budget.

This testimony is the first that Diaz Jr. has submitted to the charter revision commission. When asked on the Max & Murphy podcast in late March if he would submit testimony, he said, “Absolutely. I’m not here for window dressing.”

According to a Gotham Gazette review of Diaz Jr.'s recent schedules, he held an April 1 meeting with Vacca, his commission appointee.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo both released testimony during early stages of the charter revision commission process, in September of 2018. Brewer also testified at the Manhattan borough hearing last week. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz have not submitted testimony to the commission.

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sjacobson@gg.com (Savannah Jacobson) City Wed, 15 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Fundraising Exposed Grey Area for Ethics Board http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8531-de-blasio-fundraising-violation-exposed-grey-area-for-ethics-board http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8531-de-blasio-fundraising-violation-exposed-grey-area-for-ethics-board mayor bdb fl chir

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography)


In the last three years, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been investigated by law enforcement and oversight entities at the city, state, and federal levels for soliciting donations from people seeking favors from his administration. While several of the investigations have concluded without chargers, investigators and others have criticized the mayor for shirking conflicts of interest and campaign finance rules.

In the case of the city investigation, conducted by the Department of Investigation (DOI) and referred to the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), it is hard for the public to know just how close to breaking the law the board felt he came.

What is known is that DOI investigated thoroughly and found the mayor had violated guidance from the COIB, the agency tasked with enforcing the city’s ethics statute, when he raised money for a political nonprofit from individuals with or seeking city business; and that COIB, despite the DOI’s substantiation of the claim, did not take formal, public action against the mayor. It has also become clear that de Blasio is unwilling to be fully transparent about his communications with COIB, and that the mayor’s case has led COIB to adopt a new rule around the type of fundraising he did.

For serious violations of the conflicts of interest law, COIB has a range of enforcement options, from issuing public admonishments and imposing fines, to negotiating discipline, including termination, with the employee’s agency. But for minor violations or when something in the law prevents prosecution, which includes the grey area the mayor has operated in, COIB can only respond from a grey area of its own.

In the absence of charges, the DOI referral may still have resulted in what COIB refers to as a “private warning letter,” a tool it employs outside its formal adjudication process, sent to the mayor. Strict privacy provisions in the city charter and due process concerns prevent the board from discussing it, and the mayor, who is at liberty to be fully transparent, refuses to answer questions about the recently-revealed investigation into his behavior, including the DOI findings and potential COIB correspondence.

Richard Briffault, the COIB chair, told the New York Times that the board was prevented from issuing a fine or a public reprimand in de Blasio’s case because of restrictions in the ethics law. (Two other penalties -- joining a settlement with the violator’s employing agency, and ordering the employee to pay back any financial gain -- would not apply to the mayor’s fundraising.)

De Blasio has refused to speak on the matter since the latest news was revealed, first in reporting by The City, only saying that he believes he has sufficiently addressed an issue that is now past, without acknowledging the new information about the DOI referral -- including findings of wrongdoing by him -- or the question of whether he received a private warning letter from COIB.

When pressed yet again by reporters at an unrelated news conference last week, the mayor maintained his stance, saying, “I’m just not going over it. Every investigation was closed, no further action was taken, and the entity involved is defunct.”

The Conflicts of Interest Board cannot reveal whether any action is taking place or took place unless it formally determines the law has been violated. That would require the board to fully adjudicate a case and issue a public determination including action taken, which it typically does multiple times a month, often for cases in which a city employee misuses city resources, like using official email accounts for personal business or having outside employment without a waiver from the COIB.

It appears the type of fundraising de Blasio did through his now-shuttered non-profit did not meet the legal requirements for a formal penalty, even though he ignored COIB guidance.

A new rule issued by COIB last week now makes the type of fundraising de Blasio carried out -- soliciting donations to government-affiliated nonprofits from people and companies with pending city business -- a punishable offense.

The rule is based on two COIB advisory opinions from 2003 and 2008, respectively, which were cited in the DOI referral; “an advisory opinion is not a ‘rule of the Board,’” according to a statement that accompanied the new rule, and as such cannot lead to penalty on its own, even if violated.

The episode casts light on how far New York City’s conflicts of interest law goes and what COIB is able to do to enforce it. The de Blasio case has shown challenges around how to bring the ethical underpinnings of the law to bear in cases where there is not a well-established precedent or official proscription.

“The Board has now acted”
In the absence of formal enforcement the board has, since 1995, retained the option of issuing a private warning letter to city employees who have come close to violating the conflicts of interest law, but whose behavior fails to satisfy some element of it.

A COIB spokesperson provided Gotham Gazette a list of four instances in which a private warning letter might be used, including when there is not enough evidence to support a violation, or when “there is some legal reason why the Board is unable to engage in a formal enforcement action.”

Also on the list of instances are when the public servant has already been disciplined by their employing agency and when “a current or former public servant has allegedly committed a minor or isolated violation, particularly if self-reported, e.g., a public servant sent a single email using his City email account related to his private business.”

The latter two are unlikely to be the case for de Blasio and the Campaign for One New York, given that de Blasio does not appear to have ever been formally disciplined, and the fact that his non-profit raised approximately $4 million and solicited donations from people with business before the city on multiple occasions, according to the DOI report.

The conflicts of interest law was enshrined in the city charter in 1990, and there is nothing in it that mentions private or confidential warning letters.

In 1995, while its enforcement staff was severely diminished and facing a mounting backlog of cases, COIB was employing letter notices to ensure compliance in financial disclosure matters. The same year, the board issued six “informal warning[s] or other confidential letter[s]” for the first time. Also that year, the board established a formal liaison with the Department of Investigation to bolster the enforcement work of its anemic staff.

For the past decade COIB has sent between 46 and 88 private warning letters per year, according to its annual report. In 2018, the year the DOI referred the Campaign for One New York case to COIB, 62 private warning letters were sent.

“It’s questionable that an agency can actually create policy without promulgating rules because it’s required that they go through a public process where there’s a hearing and people have input,” Alex Camarda of Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog organization, told Gotham Gazette.

But the private warning letter appears to be an informal tool COIB uses to ensure the law is followed, and tracked every year in the board’s annual report.

“A private warning letter is simply a letter written by the Board to a current or former public servant or lobbyist to educate the recipient about the law relevant to his or her alleged conduct,” the COIB spokesperson told Gotham Gazette in an email.

In COIB’s Monograph, which provides commentary on the conflicts of interest law, it states that private warning letters “sometimes prove useful in the enforcement process if a public servant who has been so warned commits another offense.”

Going forward, the new COIB rule will make soliciting donations from entities with city business to nonprofits affiliated with the city or a city official subject to the ethics law. Violations could result in fines of up to $25,000, the highest the board can impose.

But the new rule is not likely to apply to de Blasio’s past actions. In the COIB statement announcing the rule, the board said, “Without any ‘rule of the Board’ governing official fundraising, the Board is prohibited by the Charter from imposing a penalty on a public servant” who violated the Charter’s “catch-all” provision related to conflicts with one’s official duties. In the case of fundraising for nonprofits affiliated with a city agency or public servant, the statement says, “The Board has now acted to fill this gap.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Thu, 16 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
At Manhattan Charter Commission Hearing, Pleas to Reconsider Major Planning Changes http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8524-at-manhattan-charter-commission-hearing-pleas-to-reconsider-major-planning-changes http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8524-at-manhattan-charter-commission-hearing-pleas-to-reconsider-major-planning-changes anhd thriving communities rally

(photo: @ANHDNYC)


The City Hall chambers of the New York City Council were packed with over 100 people on Thursday evening for a hearing of the 2019 Charter Revision Commission. New Yorkers who attended, including some elected officials, were largely focused on always-contentious land use issues and processes that the commission is considering as part of its larger effort to rethink aspects of city governance.

The Manhattan hearing was the fourth of the five boroughs, to be followed by Staten Island on Tuesday night, where the 15-member commission heard reactions to its recently-released “preliminary staff report,” wherein the commission staff sought to narrow the scope of the body’s final months of deliberations as commissioners propose changes to voters on the November ballot. The commission will announce its city charter revision proposals this summer, providing months for public education on the potential changes that could touch on the powers of certain elected offices, city budgeting, voting procedures, and more.

Many who testified -- and rallied outside City Hall ahead of the hearing -- were members of organizations in the Thriving Communities Coalition, which is calling for more sweeping changes to city planning and land use processes than the charter revision commission appears to be considering.

Other topics of interest among those who testified over the course of more than six hours were elements included in and excluded from the staff report, such as the creation of a budgetary rainy day fund, instituting ranked-choice voting, strengthening the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which deals with police misconduct allegations, and the creation of a city chief diversity officer.

The Thriving Communities Coalition argues the status quo in city planning is racist and socio-economically unequal. Members of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus, which is backing the idea of the city charter being amended to include a mandatory comprehensive city plan every ten years, something the charter commission appears disinclined toward, joined the rally to urge the commission to consider such a proposal.

Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso, and Brad Lander were among those who spoke. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also spoke at the rally and proceeded to give testimony in front of the Charter Revision Commission.

“The city needs to and must intentionally plan and invest for communities like the South Bronx, if it wants to assure an equitable, diverse, and thriving future for the city,” said Carmen Vega-Rivera, leader of Community Action for Safe Apartments.

Uniform Land Use Procedure (ULURP) and Broader City Planning
The rally leading up to the hearing mostly focused on the city’s ULURP process, neighborhood rezonings, and city planning. Several people who testified at the hearing said they believe the possible charter revisions being considered by the commission, per the staff report, are appropriate, but inadequate.

Community Board 8 Manhattan Chair Alida Camp asked that boards like hers, which provide non-binding input on land use matters that require city approval, receive earlier notification and an additional 45 days as part of the process to provide public notice and vote on applications. Camp also said the Mayor has too much power in the rezoning process. “We ask that mayoral zoning overrides be prohibited,” she said.

Borough President Brewer urged that the possible proposals on ULURP as outlined in the commission staff report go forward. These include providing more time for the early stages of the ULURP process and clarifying how city plans and projections impact each other. She also advocated that Borough Presidents should play more of a role in ULURP.

Brewer also criticized the mayoral administration over neighborhood rezonings that have been moved for targeting neighborhoods of low-income people of color, urging for the Department of City Planning to take a more long-term approach.

“I further urge the commission to propose a charter amendment requiring decennial review of the zoning resolution,” she said.

Brewer further argued the charter should mandate a publicly accessible map portal for Zoning Lot Development and Easement Agreements as well as specifications regarding how “major” and “minor” modifications are defined when it comes to Special Permits from the City Planning Commission.

The Civilian Complaint Review Board
As it has at other hearings, the CCRB received a lot of attention during the Manhattan meeting on Thursday. The consensus for most people giving testimony was that the Police Department needs further oversight via the CCRB and that the NYPD commissioner should not have the current level of discretion in the disciplinary process.

Whether the CCRB should be elected or appointed by elected officials as is currently the set-up was subject to more debate because of perceived bias from the City Council, which must approve the 13 appointees.

Charter Revision Commissioner Sateesh Nori came out strongly against the idea of popular elections of CCRB members. “That is why we have Donald Trump in office,” he said of decisions by the masses. When challenged on that stance, he responded saying that the CCRB discussion was “hinging on an election when every other discussion is about how elections are flawed.”

When Brewer testified, commissioners asked her if she thought the CCRB should be decided through a vote, and she said, “I am not supportive of the vote because people don’t turn out unless they are aware.” She agreed with the charter commission’s proposals, but also suggested further amendments, which included codifying the current Memoranda of Understanding to ensure cooperation between the CCRB and police department and setting the CCRB budget at 1% of that of the Police Department’s.

Ranked-Choice Voting
As has been the case throughout the charter commission process, most who testified and discussion ranked-choice voting on Thursday expressed strong support for instituting the process, which would help avoid costly runoff elections and also provide for more apparent popular support among the winners of heavily contested elections.

New York City only currently holds runoffs for citywide positions, where as elections for borough presidencies and the City Council can be won by simple plurality. Ranked-choice voting could eliminate run-offs and provide so that the winner of all races has reached whatever the set threshold is, perhaps 50%, after multiple rounds of tallies.

Rainy Day Fund
Andrew Rein, President of the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a non-partisan, nonprofit watchdog and think tank, gave detailed testimony supporting the creation of a possible Rainy Day Fund (RDF), which would also need state approval and, he said, help the city better prepare for recessions and tough budgetary times. He recommended mandates that the RDF be big enough to cover a two-year, multi-billion-dollar budget gap and be provided minimum annual deposits when there is economic growth, with restrictions on withdrawing from the fund unless there is an economic contraction.

Overall, Rein said CBC hopes the commission will keep its proposals for changes to city budgeting minimal. “Since the current system isn’t a problem, we shouldn’t try changing it,” he said.

Chief Diversity Officer
Wendy Garcia, the Chief Diversity Officer from City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, stressed the need for a citywide chief diversity officers as well as one at every city agency. Stringer has made the push for such requirements his number one priority in charter revision.

Garcia indicated that there is evidence of the effectiveness of her position, saying that it has helped the comptroller’s office increase contract spending with minority- and women-owned businesses from 11% to 29%.

*Note: Gotham Gazette did not stay for the entire six hour-plus hearing.

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by Ashad Hajela, Gotham Gazette

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ahajela@gg.com (Ashad Hajela) City Wed, 15 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Experts Point to Anxiety, Short-Sightedness and Political Climate in Amazon Deal Demise http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8525-experts-point-to-anxiety-short-sightedness-and-political-climate-in-amazon-deal-demise http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8525-experts-point-to-anxiety-short-sightedness-and-political-climate-in-amazon-deal-demise Amazon deal New York announcement

Announcing the Amazon deal that later fell apart (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Current and former city officials and veteran city planners met Monday night to discuss the interplay of politics and policy in the notorious demise of the plan to site an Amazon campus in Long Island City.

A central theme of the panel discussion, hosted by the Urban Land Institute in midtown Manhattan, was the balance the city must strike between articulating and acting on its long-term need for growth and the experiences of people immediately impacted by development.

How the dynamics of those relationships played out in the lifecycle of the Amazon deal was the source of regret and reflection amongst the panel participants, all of whom presented views in support of the tech giant’s migration to New York.

Entitled “Does Amazon Signal the End of a Pro-Growth Political Climate in NYC?,” the discussion occurred before an audience of many urbanists, developers, and architects; and featured James Patchett, president and CEO of the city’s Economic Development Corporation; Carl Weisbrod, former chair of the City Planning Commission; Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect who oversaw the Manhattan office of the Department of City Planning in the early 2000s; and Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, who served as moderator.

The conversation had an air of familiarity -- the result, for the most part, of decades working at the center of New York City development efforts. While all four participants agreed that continued growth is a necessity and the Amazon campus was a lost opportunity, there were nuanced opinions on whether growth is inevitable in a city as big and diverse as New York, and what the political climate has to do with it.

As they agreed on the need for growth, the panelists also agreed populist opposition to economic development projects around the city has shown that the city needs to do a better job communicating the benefits of those projects to the city as a whole.

“We do have a process problem,” Chakrabarti said. “Process is important and I think that people needed to feel like things weren’t happening in some backroom deal.”

Shortly before Amazon announced its plan to move to Queens last November, Crain’s reported that the state intended to circumvent the city’s land use review process, which gives deference to local City Council members and incorporates a lengthy public process. Days later, Amazon announced it would come to New York, triggering a backlash to the project, expressed largely by a core of progressive politicians and advocates expressing a range of criticisms about Amazon as a company, as well as the deal and the process that led to it.

“I think it's less what we -- we meaning the city and state governments -- did wrong than the times that we are in, in New York,” said Weisbrod, who after decades mostly in city government is now a consultant. “And I do think we all know we're in a period, on one hand, of extraordinary success in New York, and at the same time that success has created a lot of anxiety among a lot of people.”

Patchett, who was intimately involved in wooing Amazon to the city, expanded on the idea of an emerging psychology of anxiety around growth as opposed to stagnation, remarking that the city is experiencing “a moment in time when we're having a lot of growth -- we're not in a recession. So it feels like what we have today, we don't need to be as worried about what we might have tomorrow.”

“We have a youngish population who has experienced brutal housing prices and a congested subway system, who really have no memory or inkling of a time when this city was against the ropes,” added Chakrabarti, who helped lead post-9/11 economic recovery efforts, a bit later in the program. “And it's really hard to explain to people that that could and will happen again, probably at some point for some shock we don't know about sitting here today, and that those 25,000 jobs and the multiplier effects it would have had would help insulate us against that future shock.”

For Weisbrod, who has been a fixture in New York City urban development projects since the 1970s, this represents a “fundamental change” in the conversation. “We've always been a city that has, irrespective of political ideology, sort of implicitly if not explicitly recognized that we have to grow, not only for growth's sake, but because we are a city that provides more in the way of social benefits to our residents than any other city in the country.”

Because of the particularities of New York City -- it’s incorporation of five counties rather than being a part of a single one, its commitment to providing broad social services, and the lack of federal contributions to the tax base -- “we are increasingly dependent on our own ability to generate revenue,” Weisbrod added.

Another shift in the public dialogue, revealed by opposition to Amazon moving to a so-called outer borough, has to do with location.

“For 50 years at least...the city has had an economic development strategy of diversifying and dispersing jobs outside of the Manhattan core,” said Weisbrod. “And the irony is that this resistance to 25,000 jobs, however narrow-minded that resistance was, is the kind of resistance that took place because this was an effort to further the city's economic development policy, not simply in terms of tech, but also in terms of geography.”

Wylde challenged the panel to consider whether the problem had as much to do with the city’s approach to the deal -- especially its ability to engage with community stakeholders -- as the evening’s conversation suggested.

“Do we really think that this would have happened if it wasn't the biggest corporation, run by the richest man in the world, after the 2018 primary election?” she asked, with apparent reference to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over Joe Crowley in last year’s congressional primary, representing a Queens and Bronx district.

For Chakrabarti, it is a combination of the political moment’s hostility toward “big corporate” and local anxieties Weisbrod referred to. “It's really hard to extricate that because people were taking advantage of those anxieties in order to make their political point,” he said.

During a question-and-answer session, one audience member disagreed with the thrust of the conversation. The spectator told the panel, “I'm a little disturbed by the attitude that I hear from the EDC and also the Mayor that the primary problems involved in this were around communication, Amazon not being willing to work with the city, the national climate, and not really lending a lot of credence to people's opposition, that either for a large number of people this would negatively impact their lives or at very least they have very few mechanisms for pushing back at the way the city is transforming around them.”

According to Patchett, of the EDC, two-thirds of New Yorkers thought the Amazon deal would be good for the city, including more than 70 percent of Queens residents. “But that is not to undermine the very legitimate concerns that people had about this case” and about growth in general, he told the audience. “That's not just a feeling, that's a reality for a lot of people.”

But for the panel of city planners and economic development experts with pro-growth lenses, the look back at the Amazon deal was more of a post-mortem than an assessment of local concerns.

“I sort of have a sense like I’m at a memorial service here,” Weisbrod said at the outset.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Wed, 15 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio's Budget Savings Plan Contains Few Real Efficiencies, Experts Say http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8526-de-blasio-s-budget-savings-plan-contains-minimal-real-efficiencies-experts-say http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8526-de-blasio-s-budget-savings-plan-contains-minimal-real-efficiencies-experts-say Mayor de Blasio city budget executive plan

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s much-touted budget savings program is not what he has made it seem.

After rapidly growing the budget over his first five years in office and resisting calls to find significant efficiencies at city agencies, de Blasio this year instituted his first “program to eliminate the gap,” or PEG, to achieve hundreds of millions of dollars in “savings.” But though the mayor boasted at his executive budget presentation of $916 million in identified savings over the current and next fiscal years -- including $629 million in agency PEG savings -- his budget has little by way of true city agency cuts to existing spending.

The mayor’s spendthrift approach has led to a $20 billion increase in the city budget since he took power, while savings and rainy day funds, though solid, have remained below optimal levels, according to budget experts. Exceedingly good economic times have allowed the mayor to spend somewhat lavishly on programs and personnel without having to make many tough decisions about cuts.

The city is also maintaining about $5.72 billion in reserves each year, though the mayor has not added to them this year and the City Council is pushing for an additional $250 million infusion.

The mayor’s latest spending plan, a whopping $92.5 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, is no exception to his spending growth trend. And as de Blasio touts new savings, fiscal watchdogs are casting doubts and poking holes.

One in particular, Citizens Budget Commission, says city budget officials are misclassifying savings, passing off re-estimated spending and cost shifts as efficiencies at city agencies.

Instituting a targeted PEG for the first time this year, de Blasio required city agencies to make specific spending reductions through various means -- efficiencies, re-estimates of spending and revenue, and service reductions. The mandated PEG, with target amounts for each agency set by the mayor’s budget office, came after years of the administration relying on a Citywide Savings Plan, which had agencies offer voluntary savings, re-estimates, and revenue-raising ideas.

All told, the mayor’s executive budget estimated the $916 million in savings between fiscal years 2019 ($419 millions) and 2020 ($496 million). An analysis by Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, of the overall savings plan shows that for 2020 the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget identified about 62.5% of the savings from what it classified as agency efficiencies.

Melanie Hartzog, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, in testimony before the City Council at a budget hearing last month, stressed the “high levels of efficiency savings” at city agencies that were found through the PEG. That included service reduction for the first time under de Blasio.

“In Fiscal Year 2020, the first full year impacted by the PEG, efficiencies account for two-thirds of the savings. To achieve these savings agencies streamlined and improved practices, yet maintained service levels,” she said.

But CBC’s analysis shows that the estimate of efficiencies in the executive budget savings plan may be overblown. Agency efficiencies in fiscal year 2020 only accounted for about 20.77% of the savings, while re-estimates and funding shifts accounted for the bulk, about 66.4%, according to the analysis, performed by CBC’s Riley Edwards.

City Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the finance committee, echoed CBC’s concerns about finding true efficiencies at last month’s budget hearing, saying the Council “is struggling to understand the purpose of the PEG.” He noted, as CBC pointed out, that the PEG and savings plan together did not find sufficient efficiencies or recurring savings at agencies. He noted that PEGs are supposed to force administrations to find “true efficiencies and recurring savings.”

Dromm pointed out that the mayor has typically relied on the voluntary CSP instead of a PEG, during a period of healthy growth and positive economic conditions.

“Since the implementation of that program, the Council has been urging the administration to search for savings more rigorously because the majority of the program consisted of accruals, re-estimates, and increased revenue projections that would have occurred even in the absence of a savings program,” Dromm added. “So, when the administration announced a mandatory PEG this year, the Council was hopeful that the mayor was finally getting serious about reining in inefficient spending. Unfortunately, the result of the PEG is just more of the same.”

CBC experts point out that certain categories of savings that OMB classifies as efficiencies aren’t truly that, including swaps where state or federal funds are used in place of city funds or the hiring freeze that OMB says saved about $116 million across fiscal years 2019 and 2020. According to OMB, the hiring freeze involves permanently taking down 1,600 positions in the executive budget (many are currently filled and will be eliminated when they become vacant without affecting agency performance) after 1,000 vacancies were already eliminated in November. The freeze reduced net planned headcount growth this year for the first time under de Blasio and is meant to create savings every year till 2023.

“Because we’re dealing with positions that are already vacant, we consider that a re-estimate rather than an efficiency,” said CBC’s Edwards, in a phone interview.

CBC director of city studies Ana Champeny said this savings plan has largely been a “continuation” of past years’ plans. “There was a change in their approach in setting the targets for the agencies but they still haven’t delivered substantially more efficiency savings,” she said. According to CBC, these could be achieved through redesigning programs and shrinking or eliminating inefficient ones, as the mayor did by eliminating Extended Time Learning at Renewal and RISE schools; by using technology to improve operations; sharing resources across agencies; finding alternative service providers within or outside the public sector; and strengthening centralized management of cross-agency operations.

Champeny said the city should not stop looking for savings through re-estimates or funding shifts, which are “routine budget management that you would expect every administration to be doing. Our criticism is that there should be more PEG savings, more efficiency savings in addition to this routine budget and fiscal management.”

Ideally, efficiency savings in one year would equal about one percent of the city-funded budget, she said. “That’s about $700 million in one year, not across two years,” she said.

Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, concurred. “I think the PEG is pretty superficial in the context of this larger budget,” she said, noting that the executive budget increases overall agency spending by about $1.4 billion compared to the mayor’s initial proposal released in January, allowed by higher revenues than earlier projections. Those higher revenues “are giving them some room to increase spending while sticking to this narrative of savings,” she said. “Overall, agency spending is not shrinking by any means. It would be hard to call this an austerity program.”

“It would be good if agency spending pretty much kept pace with inflation, going up 1.5-2% a year,” she said.

Budget watchdogs have also repeatedly urged the administration to find long-term recurring savings rather than temporary ones. Gelinas pointed out that hiring freezes, in particular, “don’t last forever” as a source of savings.

“It’s kind of superficial because the mayor has increased hiring by so much already that it’s kinda time for a pause,” she said. “Hiring freezes are not very good management. This is the same problem at the MTA. If you need a new person to do something, you should hire that person. If there’s something that the government is doing that it shouldn’t be doing anymore, repurpose that person. But just a sort of general hiring freeze oftentimes means positions that should be filled aren’t being filled. So it’s kind of the opposite of efficient.” 

De Blasio has overseen a large increase in the city workforce, from about 297,000 employees when he took office to roughly 332,000 now. Still, he has budgeted for many more positions at various agencies that have gone unfilled each year, with many of those now “frozen” and the act of keeping them empty being counted toward savings.

OMB spokesperson Michael Greenberg said in a statement Tuesday, “Our aggressive approach helped us meet ongoing, fundamental needs, and balance the budget. We will continue to find ways to save money for New Yorkers in future financial plans.”

In a Thursday statement, after this article was published, Greenberg pushed back against the criticism from Gelinas and CBC. "The 2,600 positions we have permanently eliminated since November will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, much of it recurring annually, and agencies will provide the same level of service with fewer employees. Despite what others might say, this is the actual definition of 'efficiency savings,'" he said. 

Short of creating more efficiencies, the city risks major service reductions should an economic downturn set in. Even without a downturn, the city faces a budget gap of $3.5 billion in 2021 and $3 billion annually in the years after, according to its own documents. While those numbers are manageable and fairly typical, they become much more concerning if there is a recession.

“A recession could easily double or triple these out-year budget gaps that we already need to fill,” Champeny said. “Right now you have the ability to take the time and do a careful analysis of where you can make efficiency changes or improve your processes whereas if you’re cutting during a recession, you’re sometimes looking for quick savings and you’re not as precise and you’re going to have more negative impacts in services reduction.”

Gelinas added, “The city always depends on revenues coming in higher than expected and then because it says it conservatively budgeted, it has these extra revenues. So these budget deficits basically disappear. But that only happens if the city’s economy is doing well. If we do fall into a recession...then suddenly these are real deficits so you’d need a lot more than a billion dollars in savings in two years. So that’s when you really start to see layoffs and service cuts.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with additional details about the administration's partial hiring freeze. 

Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from OMB spokesperson Michael Greenberg. 

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Wed, 15 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Former City Taxi Commissioner on Regulating the App Companies and Saving the Yellows http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8521-former-city-taxi-commissioner-on-regulating-the-app-companies-and-saving-the-yellows http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8521-former-city-taxi-commissioner-on-regulating-the-app-companies-and-saving-the-yellows Meera Joshi taxis

Meera Joshi, right, at a rally (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


Meera Joshi’s five-year tenure as the head of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission coincided with a tumultuous time for the industry she was tasked with overseeing and regulating. Joshi, who left the de Blasio administration in March, joined the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Citizens Budget Commission and Gotham Gazette to discuss her tenure, the taxi industry and key steps she spearheaded to regulate it, and what’s next for app-based for-hire vehicle companies like Uber and Lyft.

The introduction and explosion of those ride-hailing apps has shaken the overall for-hire vehicle industry, disrupting the traditional taxi sector in New York City and beyond, and creating new challenges in terms of street congestion, driver working conditions, and more. In two years, the number of for-hire vehicles in New York City grew 59% and they now outnumber yellow and green taxi cabs my many thousands, having surpassed taxis in 2017, according to TLC data. As of last year, there weree 13,587 licensed yellow cabs in the city, along with 3,570 green cabs, and 107,435 app-based for-hire vehicles.

At the same time, the value of taxi cab medallions has depreciated from a peak over $1 million to $175,000, leading to financial hardship and even suicide, and questions about a government bailout.

On the podcast, Joshi discussed the challenges of regulating an emerging business model while also attending to the decline of another, as well as other issues that came up during her tenure as chair and CEO of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, a position she was appointed to in 2014 by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Joshi had served under the pior TLC commissioner and also held positions at the city’s Department of Investigation and with its police oversight body, the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

During Joshi’s five years leading the TLC, the de Blasio administration, at times working with the City Council, sought to be aggressive in response to the industry disruption posed by Uber and Lyft.

Under her and de Blasio’s leadership, the city made a failed attempt to extend some regulations to the for-hire apps in 2015, when the companies were smaller, losing a battle over placing a cap on the number of new cars that could be licensed after a high-profile battle with the companies and their supporters. The Taxi and Limousine Commission did mandate that larger app-baseds companies share trip data with the city, taking a significant step toward understanding how the emerging sector was influencing traffic and travel patterns in the city.

The city wound up getting the cap in 2018, while also creating sweeping new pay protection for for-hire drivers. New York City was the first municipality in the country to take the series of actions, leading to significant changes for both the companies, their traditional taxi competitors, and the city’s transit scene.

“In New York City, we have a good history of data-driven policy,” Joshi said on the podcast. She pointed out that taxi cabs have been tracked in great detail since 2007. The city Department of Transportation uses that information to understand traffic flow and the TLC uses it to make driver protection, licensing, and other regulations. The city’s mandate that app-based taxis share trip data followed this precedent and allows for similar data-driven policy, according to Joshi.

In what would become the final months of her tenure, New York City rolled out several new regulations that have impacted the app companies.

Last year, the City Council, with the blessing of Mayor de Blasio, voted for a one-year cap on new for-hire vehicle licenses, unless for wheelchair accessible cars, and mandated a minimum wage of $17.22 per hour for rideshare drivers. It also empowered the TLC to set minimum pay rates. These actions enabled the TLC to study the impact of ride-hail apps on the city’s congestion, among other dynamics. Uber and Lyft have opposed these legislative and regulatory actions.

The city’s recent actions have come under legal scrutiny since they were announced, but the city has prevailed when legal challenges have been filed and the cases have been closed. “This is an industry that is very litigious,” Joshi admitted.

New state congestion charges for taxis ($2.50) and rideshare vehicles ($2.75) were ruled to be legal by a New York judge in February. This month, another judge upheld the new minimum wage rates against challenges from Lyft and Juno. However, the app companies’ lawsuit against the one-year cap is still ongoing.

The new regulations are having clear effects. In April, Uber and Lyft both stopped accepting new driver applications, perhaps because of the new utilization rate structure and wage minimums, not to mention the vehicle license cap. The utilization rate structure effectively penalizes rideshare companies for having a large number of drivers on the road at the same time who are not moving passengers.

During the interview, Joshi explained that “40% of every hour the app drivers that are on the road don’t have passengers. The driver pay rules try to address that balance in a way that works off of incentives and penalties. You’re going to have to pay more if you can’t keep your drivers busy,” she said. She pointed to the April announcements from Uber and Lyft as being “great news” for existing drivers, because they are the ones most hurt by oversaturation.

Joshi also believes the move was “a good example of where regulation and the market worked together,” where “the regulation is aimed at the problem and the reaction came from the companies.” This was the main goal of the policy, according to Joshi, who said “closing the pool is what we really wanted to get at.”

On May 8, some app-based drivers in New York and other cities across the country went on strike in protest of low wages and low quality of life at work, though some in New York hailed the city’s new laws and said they were striking in solidarity with drivers elsewhere and against the companies more generally. This came just ahead of Uber’s initial public offering (IPO) of stock. The New York Taxi Workers Associations coordinated the strike in New York City.

Despite her criticisms of ridesharing apps, Joshi also recognized the benefits that the industry had for the city. She said that “this is a good service, a popular service filling a void.” According to Joshi, the boroughs outside Manhattan have seen the biggest benefit from the apps and the effect on those areas “was the concern when the cap legislation was passed.”

However, Joshi also said that TLC data has shown “that there is still continuous growth” in mobility in boroughs other than Manhattan through the apps, which she attributes to the “built-in excess in the business model.”

While Joshi oversaw these new regulations and implemented them in the face of opposition from the major companies, she has also been criticized for negative consequences that the growth of these apps, including the falling value of taxi cab medallions and wages for taxi drivers, to the increased stress and suicide rates of drivers.

When asked why she is not in favor of a bailout for taxi medallion owners, Joshi said that “the problem stems from the loan,” pointing out that taxis earn profits when they are on the road and saying that banks were irresponsible in their lending.

“So many of these taxi medallions have outsized loans attached to them because the price was inflated,” comparing the situation to the housing bubble of the late 2000s. She believes that a bailout would primarily benefit the banks who offered loans for taxi drivers to acquire the medallions, saying, “I don’t know if the individual owner is better off, because they still may owe a tremendous amount of money to the banks.”

Joshi believes that banks “are going to have to write [the loans] down anyway” and “resize them for what they’re selling for now, because they have to take the loss and they might as well keep the borrower.”

As Joshi moves on to a position at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Policy as a visiting scholar and a policy advisor at Remix, the debat eover the future of the taxi industry in New York City continues, with some of her moves hailed as major progress to help save the yellow taxis and improve the lives of drivers of those and other for-hire vehicles, while others say the city has not acted quickly or aggressively enough to help taxi medallion owners, for-hire vehicle drivers, and others.

Inarguably, New York City was the first U.S. city to effectively increase regulation of the app-based for-hire vehicle companies, despite significant opposition from the industry.

Additionally, TLC was one of the agencies responsible for implementing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero street safety program. Fatalities involving TLC vehicles dropped 50% during Joshi’s tenure. Lastly, Joshi has been credited with overseeing an increase in wheelchair-accessible vehicle availability.

[Listen to the full conversation: What's The [Data} Point? with former Taxi Commissioner Meera Joshi]

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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amillman@gg.com (Andrew Millman) City Mon, 13 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's the [Data] Point? 125,323, with Former Taxi Commissioner Meera Joshi http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8507-what-s-the-data-point-125-323-with-former-taxi-commissioner-meera-joshi http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8507-what-s-the-data-point-125-323-with-former-taxi-commissioner-meera-joshi whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 73 -- 125,323, Meera Joshi, former chair of the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp meera joshiMeera Joshi was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014 to chair the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission, which sets rules for and has oversight over the city's taxi industry, including yellow and green cabs, app-based for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft, and more. Joshi left city government in March and joined the podcast to reflect on her tenure at TLC, including the major challenges of dealing with declining yellow and green cab sectors and booming for-hire vehicle sector.

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!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) City Fri, 10 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Hearing Highlights Big Gaps in City Planning Processes http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8513-council-hearing-highlights-big-gaps-in-city-planning-processes http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8513-council-hearing-highlights-big-gaps-in-city-planning-processes hearing city hall cm rafael salamanca jr

Council Member Salamanca, center (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


A Tuesday City Council hearing about how city planning is done revealed major flaws in the process and showed significant divides between the mayoral administration and the Council over a set of bills aimed at changing relevant processes. Specifically, the legislation addresses how the outcomes of neighborhood rezonings -- where land use rules are adjusted in certain geographic areas to meet new development goals -- are projected and evaluated.

The hearing, which included racial overtones, was centered on oversight of the “City Environmental Quality Review,” known by its initials, CEQR, the city’s pre-rezoning assessment of the potential impact discretionary changes may have on the area and its residents.

Questions from members of the Council’s land use committee to representatives from the de Blasio administration brought into focus what planning and evaluation tools the city does and does not use when it pursues a major neighborhood overhaul or plans key infrastructure developments, and in measuring what impact these developments have on the communities.

A key concern expressed at the hearing was whether the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission are appropriately and accurately evaluating the local impact of zoning changes to inform future studies and planning. Several of the Council members present sponsor bills intended to improve the way the city evaluates the potential impact of rezonings on local transportation, schools, and residential displacement, changes that often fall along racial and economic lines.

With real estate always at a premium in New York City, the restrictions the city places on how land can be used in the five boroughs has incredibly broad effects on the character and utility of neighborhoods. Anything from the number of apartments available (and the number of affordable ones), what commerce and industry operates, the density of sidewalks and public transportation, and what city services will be accessible, can all be dramatically affected by zoning decisions.

The shifting needs of neighborhoods and the interplay of local economies throughout the metropolitan area makes development -- and, consequently, land use rule changes -- a necessary reality in New York City. But as has been the case in other periods of its history, with drastic recent changes over the last two decades, the city has had to grapple with how to grow responsibly.

City government has a lengthy process for considering and making changes to zoning restrictions, which requires that a lead city agency be designated to conduct a review of the “potential adverse environmental effects” of a rezoning proposal. Except for certain actions deemed by the lead agency to be too minor to warrant review, the study must result in an Environmental Impact Statement with proposals for mitigation strategies to avoid unfavorable outcomes.

The rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn in 2004 and of parts of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in 2006 both required Environmental Impact Statements, and were the subject of scrutiny at Tuesday’s oversight hearing.

While representatives of the Department of City Planning and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination (MOEC) spoke to the process of conducting and assessing environmental impact studies, they could not speak to the outcomes of these rezonings and whether the environmental reviews have been able to accurately predict the reality that followed.

What became painfully evident during the hearing was the fact that there is no procedure, or even an intention, to assess the accuracy of environmental impact predictions integral to the city’s consequential decisions to change the way land may be used.

The reality in those two cases is far different from what was predicted by the environmental impact statements, both Council members and administration representatives agreed. Downtown Brooklyn was rezoned largely to create opportunities for commercial development, while allowing some residential expansion; the result 15 years later is a vastly different neighborhood dominated by residential development, and a new economic landscape that has pushed out most of the community there before the rezoning, according to several of the Council members present.

While the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning was intended for residential development to accommodate what was a growing need in 2006, an “explosion” of land speculation, land use variances, and illegal conversions in the years since have also displaced a large portion of residents, according to Council Member Antonio Reynoso, whose district includes parts of the neighborhood. The Environmental Impact Statement for that rezoning predicted a number of adverse impacts, including the indirect displacement of approximately 2,510 residents, and suggested mitigation strategies including the preservation and creation of additional affordable housing in the neighborhood.

The Department of City Planning has never revisited these figures or strategies. (Nevertheless, it considers Downtown Brooklyn to be a “very successful rezoning,” according to Susan Amron, general counsel at DCP, who testified on Tuesday.)

Amron told Council members at the oversight hearing that such a post-rezoning review does not fall under the agency’s purview.

“It is important to remember that environmental review is a disclosure process that applies only to discretionary decision-making, and not to the as-of-right developments that constitute nearly 80% of projects in the City,” she said. “Environmental review is also not a tool that looks backward to identify causes of current conditions...Again, it is a disclosure tool prepared at a specific moment in time, intended to aid decision-makers.”

But Council members present at the hearing could not understand why such a process wouldn’t include a retrospective assessment of whether the methodologies employed are sound and instructive, at times expressing shock and frustration.

“That answer doesn’t sit right with me,” Salamanca said. “How can the City of New York put a report out, submit it to the City Council, and then not go back and double-check to see how accurate that report was?”

Two of the bills being discussed would require city agencies to produce a comparative report on the projected and actual effects of a rezoning on transportation and school overcrowding, sponsored by Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Francisco Moya, respectively. They would further require the Department of City planning or the lead agency to make recommendations on how to amend the CEQR Technical Manual, which provides technical guidance on environmental impact studies, to “more accurately forecast such impacts in future land use actions.”

Another bill, sponsored by Moya, on the table Tuesday would require the city’s housing agency to produce a similar comparative report on residential displacement, and a fourth bill, sponsored by Reynoso, would require the city to track mitigation commitments.

At the hearing, Hilary Semel, director and general counsel of MOEC, the agency responsible for producing the CEQR Technical Manual, said that the office will soon launch an update to the manual, but has not yet determined its scope or the timeline of its release. City agencies “with expert jurisdiction over certain technical areas led the updating to those methodologies” in the past, Semel told the committee. But the manual has only been updated four times since it was first published in 1993, the most recent update in 2014, largely to accommodate changes to local, state, and federal law and policy.

In terms of tracking mitigation strategies, Semel said, OEC “is currently actively working on initiatives that will incorporate aspects of mitigation tracking. OEC will be able to apply its unique CEQR expertise, the developmental process, and the development of a public mitigation tracker.”

These initiatives, while still in the early stages of development, missed the crux of the matter for a number of the Council members present, many of whom are black and Latino and represent districts in which communities of color have been displaced or are under extreme economic pressure. Under Mayor de Blasio, a series of lower-income communities of color -- including East New York, East Harlem, Inwood, and others -- have been home to rezonings targeted at increasing housing density while providing broader public benefits. Several other proposed rezonings, in a more diverse mix of neighborhoods, are at various points in the lengthy process.

“The fact that you believe CEQR requires some changes because...everything can be improved and not speak to the gross miscalculations made by whatever formula exists in the CEQR manual, that you would come in here and say the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was a success and that it’s something you’re proud of, is beyond me,” said an emphatic Antonio Reynoso, Council member from Williamsburg, Bushwick, and other areas who sponsors the bill to track mitigation strategies.

“You are part of the reason why 30,000 Latinos were displaced in ten years,” he continued. “You did that intentionally if you don’t think you have a problem with your manual. The manual needs to be modified so it can speak to real world problems.”

Council Member I. Daneek Miller of Queens wondered aloud about the racial make-up of the Department of City Planning. Only 28% of the department is black or Latino, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, as of the 2017 fiscal year. For the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, an agency involved in mitigating displacement through affordable housing, that metric is a much higher 61%.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) City Fri, 10 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Progressive Caucus Endorses in Brooklyn Special Election http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8514-city-council-progressive-caucus-endorses-in-brooklyn-special-election http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8514-city-council-progressive-caucus-endorses-in-brooklyn-special-election jum williams monique

Monique Chandler-Waterman & Jumaane Williams (photo: @MoniqueForNYC)


The political arm of the New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus is endorsing Monique Chandler-Waterman in next week’s special election for the Council’s District 45 seat. The district was previously represented by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, whose own special election victory led to the vacancy being filled through a vote this coming Tuesday, May 14.

Chandler-Waterman is a community activist and founder of East Flatbush Village, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth in the community. She is one of eight candidates vying to represent District 45, which includes the neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Canarsie and Flatlands. The other candidates in the race, a nonpartisan special where there are no formal party labels, are Anthony Alexis, Victor Jordan, Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, Adina Sash, and L. Rickie Tulloch.

A longtime ally of Williams -- who held the seat since 2010 before being elected public advocate in February -- Chandler-Waterman served as his community outreach director for two years. Last month, Williams endorsed her over another candidate, Farah Louis, who was a staffer in his Council office for years.

The Progressive Caucus Alliance, in its announcement provided to Gotham Gazette, said it chose to endorse Chandler-Waterman “not only because of her progressive credentials but because she has shown a long history of strong resolve and concrete ability to better her communities.” The Caucus Alliance includes 16 members from the 21-member Progressive Caucus within the larger 51-seat City Council. Endorsements are made by a two-thirds majority of the Alliance.

“We are confident that she will provide excellent constituent service, represent their communities with distinction, and champion legislation that helps create a more just and equal New York City - that forwards racial, gender, and social justice campaigns in the Council and beyond - which is the key mission of the Progressive Caucus,” the announcement said. The Alliance plans to aid Chandler-Waterman’s campaign with voter outreach along with allies in labor and the nonprofit world.

“I’m overwhelmed with excitement...The Progressive Caucus Alliance endorsement means a lot,” Chandler-Waterman said in a brief phone interview, pledging to join the Progressive Caucus if she wins the election.

She said her first priority would be to push for more district engagement in the Council’s legislative and budgeting processes, through monthly meetings with community members. On the policy front, she spoke of addressing the issue of recent police-involved shootings of emotionally disturbed persons in the district.

“I don’t think the NYPD should be responding to those who are in crisis,” she said, striking a similar note on an issue Williams has been vocal about. And, also in keeping with Williams’ positions, she said she would push to overhaul the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, which she said has failed to create enough “true affordable housing” in the community.

Notably, two organizations that are working to elect more women in local government -- Amplify Her and 21 in ‘21 -- have also endorsed Chandler-Waterman, though 21 in ‘21, in its first foray into electoral influence, issued a dual endorsement, also giving its support to Radix.

The 51-seat Council currently has only 11 women representatives, down from a high of 18 in 2009. A nonprofit, 21 in ‘21, aims to help elected 21 women to the Council through the upcoming 2021 city election cycle, when many Council members will be term-limited out of office. The District 45 special election offers an opportunity to get to 12.

In line with that goal, Council Member Ben Kallos, a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said the PCA only interviewed women candidates -- all of them were invited except Adina Sash -- in the race before making its endorsement. “We need to elect more women to the City Council,” he said in a brief phone interview. “Monique has experience in the Council and the community. Whenever she’s seen a problem, she’s rolled up her sleeves and fixed it herself, and that’s the kind of attitude we need in City Council members.”

Chandler-Waterman said she looked forward to increasing the ranks of women in the Council, not only by being elected herself but “also going back and helping other women that want to be in politics and continue this movement of making sure that women’s voices are at the table.”

The PCA’s support adds to a list of prominent endorsements that Chandler-Waterman has received, including from a variety of Brooklyn officials such as Assemblymember Nick Perry (who is also her campaign chair), state Senators Zellnor Myrie and Kevin Parker, and Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Antonio Reynoso. The Working Families Party is also supporting her campaign, as are progressive organizations like New York Communities for Change, New York Progressive Action Network, and Make the Road Action. The influential unions DC37 and 32BJ SEIU also endorsed her.

If Chandler-Waterman wins the race next week, she will hold the seat through the end of this calendar year and have to defend it later this year, first in the June 25 primary election if a challenger emerges and then in the November general election, again only if a challenger is on the ballot. The winner in November will serve the remainder of the term, which ends in 2021.

[READ: Special Election Provides Testing Ground for Push to Elect More Women to City Council]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that the Progressive Caucus Alliance did not invite all the five women candidates for their endorsement interview. 

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 10 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000