CITY Wed, 19 Sep 2018 11:13:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) 2019 Charter Revision Commission Holds First Public Hearing charter rev thing

The first hearing of the 2019 charter commission (photo: @Charter2019NYC)

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission may be done with its work but a separate commission, empanelled through legislation passed by the City Council, is just getting started.

The City Council-created commission, conceived by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Letitia James, held its first hearing on Wednesday to get suggestions about improving the city’s charter, the document that outlines the central powers, structures, and functions of city government. The 15-member commission is composed of members appointed by the Council speaker, the mayor, the comptroller, public advocate, and the five borough presidents. It is working towards putting questions on the ballot for the November 2019 election (the mayor’s commission recently approved three questions for this year’s general election ballot).

The 2019 commission, as it is being called, has a much broader mandate than de Blasio set for his, though by law charter revision commissions, once established, are able to examine whatever parts of the charter they see fit. The mayoral commission stayed fairly close to de Blasio’s directive, putting forth proposals regarding campaign finance reform, civic engagement, and community board reform. The 2019 commission has been expected to consider major changes related to land use and budgeting processes, and beyond.

[Read: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot]

While the commission will do its own internal deliberations and staff research, it is embarking on a public process to hear from New Yorkers, including issue-area experts and advocates, and everyday people.

Wednesday’s hearing, held at Lehman College in the Bronx, saw more than a dozen New Yorkers present a myriad of ideas over the course of three hours. The proposals broached everything from housing affordability protections and community board structure to government transparency measures and oversight agencies. Among the prominent ideas repeatedly suggested at the hearing were a broad push for police accountability and sweeping changes to the city’s land use policies, which many expected since the commission is being chaired by Gail Benjamin, the former land use division head for the City Council who was appointed by current Speaker Corey Johnson to head the commission.

In testimony, Hannah Birnbaum, who handles community engagement for 32BJ SEIU, the prominent labor union, stressed a “need for a more equitable and more democratic approach to land use decisions.” Among her recommendations were prevailing wage requirements for building service workers when the city disposes of public property, imposing the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) for new construction on land owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and a central public database of land use applications.

A prominent voice for land use reform was Manhattan and Bronx City Council Member Diana Ayala, who testified at the hearing as co-chair of the City Council’s 22-member Progressive Caucus. “It is no secret that the city’s land use and planning processes are deeply flawed,” she said, emphasizing that the city’s approach is largely “reactive” and “randomly” addresses crucial issues of homelessness, environmental justice, rampant private development, and necessary infrastructure. “The status quo of ad hoc planning is just not working…We need a larger vision based on equity, a vision in which low-income communities do not have to slowly bear the brunt of the city’s every housing and infrastructure need.”

Ayala said the caucus’ proposals were based on five guiding principles -- equity and fairness, proactive and responsive plans, inclusive engagement, resiliency and sustainability, and transparency and accountability. She pushed for a “comprehensive planning framework that includes a fair share analysis,” an independent City Planning Commission, and empowering communities to have a voice before, during, and after a land use application process.

Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, the former city planning chief, pointed out that there are existing fair share principles for siting municipal facilities. “How would you suggest they be changed to make them more effective?” Weisbrod asked.

“I would eradicate them because they don’t work,” Ayala said bluntly.

Early on, Jed Holtz, an organizer for the Freedom Socialist Party, recommended allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections and also pushed the commission to address the “complete lack of accountability of the NYPD.” Holtz was one of several people who testified to that point, advocating for an entirely new structure of oversight of the police.

The central idea several advocates pushed was the creation of a publicly-elected Civilian Complaint Review Board, which hears and investigates complaints about NYPD officers -- CCRB members are currently appointed by the mayor, City Council, and police commissioner -- and establishing an elected special prosecutor dedicated to NYPD officer discipline. Current disciplinary procedures, they noted, allow the NYPD commissioner to have the final word on disciplinary recommendations made by the CCRB, and commissioners past and present have more often than not diluted and ignored those recommendations.

Though the advocates insisted that state law does not prohibit the creation of such an elected CCRB and prosecutor, they did struggle to answer probing questions from the commissioners about how the city could set those up without inviting legal challenges. “We’ve done a thorough review of all state law and we can’t find anything in the state law that says that this couldn’t happen,” one advocate said, when Commissioner Sal Albanese questioned whether it would be compatible with the state’s civil service law.

Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, emphasized the urgency of those proposals. “What we have here is the opportunity for New York to be a trailblazer on an issue that has plagued our society since the inception of policing in black and brown communities,” he said, as he went on to cite the names of several New Yorkers killed at the hands of police. “You have the opportunity to right wrongs.”

An appointed CCRB, he said, could never be free of political considerations even if its independent on paper. “This is implicit bias. You know who signs your checks, you know who appoints you, and this is who you’re loyal to,” he said.

There were of course several other proposals, some serious, others parochial and impractical.

Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, suggested an overhaul of Chapter 47 of the city charter, which covers public access to meetings and information. Carl Lanzano, a member of Community Board 12, floated the idea of a Community Board Council made up of members elected from each of the city’s 59 community boards, which would then elect five members -- one from each borough -- to sit on the City Council and introduce and vote on legislation. Dmitri Daniel Glinski, president of the Russian-speaking Community Council of Manhattan & the Bronx, suggested scrapping the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and creating a new commission proportionally composed of members of the city’s immigrant communities. Another individual lambasted the Department of Investigation and said its head should be elected, not chosen by the mayor.

The commission also unanimously approved the appointment of Ed Atkin as the new executive director. The previous executive director, Jeff Metzler, resigned in mid-July.

The commission will continue its initial round of evening public hearings in each borough with events in Brooklyn on Monday and Queens on Thursday, with Staten Island and Brooklyn the following week.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note- This article has been updated to note that Dmitri Daniel Glinski, president of the Russian-speaking Community Council of Manhattan & the Bronx, testified at the hearing. Glinski was not named in an earlier version of this article.

]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 14 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Primary Day Is Here mxm logo

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

September 12, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: 2018 Primary Day is Here

primary day sept 221In a final preview of primary day for state-level races, we discussed the fact that primary day determine the future of the Democratic Party in New York, and dissected the races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, the battles between former IDC senators and their challengers, and more just ahead of the votes. We were also joined by Jill Jorgensen, City Hall bureau chief for the New York Daily News, who discussed Mayor Bill de Blasio's role in the state elections. And we took a few calls from voters explaining their plans to vote for Cynthia Nixon or Andrew Cuomo.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 13 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? $1 Billion, with Linda Gibbs whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 53 -- $1 billion, with Linda Gibbs [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

linda gibbs bm md cbc 2

Linda Gibbs is a former Deputy Mayor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and now a principal with Bloomberg Associates, the philanthropic consulting firm that Bloomberg launched just after leaving office in 2014. Working with cities and mayors around the globe, Gibbs' portfolio includes social services -- she had been the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services from 2005 through 2013. Gibbs joined the podcast to discuss her work for the city as deputy mayor and with other cities in her current role.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Sat, 08 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Vacancy in the Public Advocate's Office? Call the City Council Speaker tish james co jo cityhall

Letitia James and Corey Johnson (photo: Gotham Gazette)

Two former speakers of the New York City Council -- Melissa Mark-Viverito and Christine Quinn -- are on the list of possible contenders for a potential vacancy in the office of public advocate should the current occupant, Letitia James, win the post of attorney general in this fall’s elections. But it’s the sitting Council speaker, Corey Johnson, who will get to do the job first if that scenario came to pass.

James is competing against three other Democrats to win the party’s primary nomination for attorney general on September 13. She has been the presumed frontrunner for months, with the blessing of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Democratic Party, though one of her opponents, Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, has picked up strong momentum and several prominent endorsement in recent weeks.

If James prevails in the primary then the general, assuming she is sworn in an attorney general at the start of 2019, it would trigger a nonpartisan special election to be held roughly 51 days later. And for those seven weeks or so, the City Council speaker would assume her duties.

Under Section 44 of the City Charter, in the event of a vacancy in the public advocate’s office, “the speaker shall act as public advocate pending the filling of the vacancy pursuant to subdivision c of section twenty-four, and shall be a member of every board of which the public advocate is a member by virtue of his or her office.”

It would be the first time since the creation of the office of public advocate and the current office of the speaker, through a charter revision in 1989, that the clause would go into effect. It’s unclear how the speaker would approach the dual role, even in the interim, as he would both lead his 51-member legislative body and large central staff, and, as the title suggests, an office that advocates for the interests of everyday New Yorkers and keeps a watch on the functions and failures of city government. Both Johnson’s and James’ offices declined to comment for this article. Johnson has endorsed James for attorney general.

“If you get a vacancy, you want to get it filled by someone. Elections are gonna take a long time. A short time but a long time,” said Eric Lane, the Eric J. Schmertz Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Public Service at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law, Hofstra University. Lane served as executive director and counsel to the 1989 charter revision commission, which overhauled the structure of city government and created the positions that James and Johnson now hold.

“We definitely didn’t want the mayor to make that appointment,” Lane said, explaining the thinking behind the line of succession for public advocate. “In an intensely administrative government, where the mayor holds so much power, it’s the public advocate’s function to be a watchdog on that power.” The public advocate is also next in line to the mayoralty if a sitting mayor is removed from office or unable to carry out his or her duties. 

The public advocate was formerly known as the City Council president, but the position’s powers were stripped by the 1989 commission through the creation of the City Council speaker. The commission then decided to retain and re-envision the public advocate’s office in its current form, Lane said. “It was, in some ways, the least significant, most controversial topic we considered in the 1989 commission,” he said, noting that there was hotly-contested debate over the necessity of another citywide office. The rationale behind it was two-fold, he insisted. To have another set of independent eyes on the city bureaucracy and to allow minority communities to have a more participatory role in city politics.

Given the public advocate’s connection with the City Council, it then made sense for the vacancy to fall to the speaker. “We could’ve appointed the comptroller,” Lane conceded, “but at the time, we thought it would be more consistent with what the Council does. The Council had a relationship with that office, historically.”

[Read: Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 07 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot charter revision commission 2018

The Charter Revision Commission (photo via Charter Commission)

After months of meetings and deliberations, thousands of suggestions and dozens of hours of public hearings, the charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio voted to put three broad questions on the ballot in November. If approved by voters, the proposals would significantly reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections, create a new agency to civically engage the public, and apply term limits and appointment reforms to community boards.

De Blasio created the commission to review the city charter with an eye on reducing the impact of wealthy donors and special interests in electoral campaigns and drawing more New Yorkers to participate in elections and civic life. The 13-member commission largely stuck by that mandate, though it did consider and reject other significant proposals including independent redistricting of City Council districts and instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting, which the mayor does not support. (A separate City Council-created charter revision commission is also beginning public hearings this month and could possibly take up the issues left unresolved by the mayoral commission. It will recommend ballot questions in 2019.)

On Tuesday, the members of the mayoral commission met for the final time, at the New York Historical Society west of Central Park, to approve their final report and three “yes” or “no” questions that will be put to voters on the November 6 general election ballot.

“Our job was to try to figure out what could make our city more just, more fair and more democratic and then to put it on the ballot to see if New Yorkers wanted the city to be run in this new fashion,” said Cesar Perales, chair of the commission, on Tuesday. “That’s what we did. I think we did that well and it’s going to be up to the voters in November to determine whether or not these things would be better for our city.”

The first question proposes expansive reforms to the campaign finance law and the city’s public matching funds program, which incentivizes grassroots fundraising by matching the first $175 of every eligible campaign contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio for candidates who choose to participate in the program.

The proposal would reduce contribution limits for participants from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates, from $3,950 to $1,500 for candidates for borough president, and from $2,850 to $1,000 for City Council seats. The proposed limits for those who choose not to opt in to the program are $3,500, $2,500 and $1,500 respectively.

The proposal also increases the matching ratio to 8-to-1 for the first $250 raised by a citywide candidate and for the first $175 raised for all other seats. It would increase the cap on public funds disbursements from 55 percent to 75 percent of the spending limit for a seat, while also doling out the funds earlier in the election cycle.

There was some clear disagreement about how the new campaign finance rules would be applied. A majority of commissioners agreed that candidates should be able to choose to abide by the new rules for the next citywide primary in 2021, and that the rules would be mandatory thereafter.

Two of the commissioners, John Siegal and Wendy Weiser, disagreed with that implementation plan, though both voted to approve the question. “I do not think it is wise public policy to have a situation in which regulated parties get to make the decision as to whether they will or will not follow new regulations,” Siegal said. “I cannot think of another situation in which a regulatory agency has been put in that position. I do not think its necessary. I actually don’t think there’s any benefit to it.” He did, however, hold out hope that candidates would see the benefit of voluntarily participating, since the lower contribution limits would be accompanied by potentially more public funds.

“While I do share the concern about having a choice, I am heartened by the assurances that this is really unlikely to come to pass,” Weiser said, “that everyone is really likely to follow the new system. It is the one that makes much more sense.”

Carlo Scissura, the commission secretary, was the sole dissenting voice on the campaign finance question. He conceded that the commission published an “overall great report” but has in past hearings expressed doubts about increasing the taxpayer contribution by creating a larger public matching funds program. “I wish that on the campaign finance, that we took a little different approach but it does reflect the will of what we heard and the will of the majority of the commission,” he said.

The second question, which was unanimously approved, would create a new 15-member Civic Engagement Commission, with eight appointed by the mayor -- including the chair and executive director -- two by the City Council speaker and one each by the five borough presidents. The mayor would have to appoint at least one member from each of the city’s largest and second-largest political parties, which, likely in perpetuity, means Democrats and Republicans.

Among the roles the commission would play are administering a citywide participatory budgeting program starting in 2020 (it’s currently employed by City Council members in dozens of districts); providing interpreters at poll sites; working on civic engagement with advocacy groups and nonprofit service providers, with a particular eye on outreach to limited English-language speakers; and providing annual reports on progress on those fronts. The proposal also allows the mayor to delegate more powers and responsibilities to the commission.

The notion of an Office of Civic Engagement has recently been pushed forward by City Council Member Brad Lander, who has introduced legislation to create one. If approved, the charter revision creation of such a commission would appear to negate Lander’s legislation. The Brooklyn Council member testified to the commission about the idea of creating a civic engagement body and has held his legislation as the charter commission proceeded with its work.

The most controversial proposals the commission is putting on the November ballot deal with community boards, the most local form of city government. The third question would establish staggered term limits for community board members, to reduce mass simultaneous turnover. Those members appointed or reappointed on or after April 1, 2019, would be allowed to serve four consecutive two-year terms; those appointed on April 1, 2020 may serve five terms; and those appointed after that would again only serve four terms.

The commission also recommended changes to the appointment process, to make it consistent across the five boroughs and to promote diverse membership. The civic engagement commission, if passed, would also be tasked with providing technical assistance to community boards, particularly urban planning expertise and language access. Eleven commissioners voted in favor of the question, while Commissioner Angela Fernandez abstained from the vote.

The commission’s final report was also approved unanimously, and the questions will be delivered to the City Clerk to place on the ballot, giving the commission two months to educate and inform New Yorkers that they’ll be able to choose more than just candidates in November, when New Yorkers will be voting largely on state-level elected positions, including for Governor and members of the state Legislature.

“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “There’s no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Wed, 05 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers Quinn Mark-Viverito

Christine Quinn, center, & Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: City Council on flickr)

The September primary election is just over one week away and if New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wins the Democratic nomination for attorney general over her three primary opponents, she will be a significant favorite to win the position in November owing in large part to the state’s Democrat-heavy electorate. No Republican has won statewide since Governor George Pataki captured a third term in 2002; it’s been far longer for a Republican attorney general.

James winning the nomination will likely kick-off, in earnest, a mad scramble by several sitting and former elected officials who may seek to replace her through the at-that-point nearly certain special election for her citywide seat. Among the stronger potential contenders discussed in Democratic circles are two former speakers of the New York City Council -- Melissa Mark-Viverito, who led the body until last year, and Christine Quinn, her predecessor.

[Read: James Victory in Attorney General Race Would Trigger Citywide Special Election]

While they come from different wings of the New York Democratic Party, both Mark-Viverito and Quinn are firebrand politicians in their own right, and both made history in their respective ascensions to the speakership.

Quinn, a Democrat who represented parts of the lower west side of Manhattan, became the first openly gay and first female speaker in 2006, presiding over the 51-member legislative body for two four-year terms. For the last three years, since being term-limited out of office and losing in the 2013 mayoral primary, she has served as president and CEO of Women in Need (WIN), a nonprofit that provides services to homeless women and children. Some Democrats and others have criticized Quinn for her close working relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including the effort to extend term limits, which allowed Bloomberg, Quinn, and others to seek a third term in 2009 despite public disapproval. She is currently a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her vice chair of the New York State Democratic Committee.

Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican native who represented a district that includes East Harlem and part of the south Bronx, became the Council’s first Latina speaker in 2014, pushing a broad agenda of criminal justice reform, immigrant protection, police accountability and affordable housing. In January, she became a senior adviser at the Latino Victory Fund PAC, a group that supports Latino candidates for elected office. As speaker, Mark-Viverito was at times criticized for her close relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow progressive Democrat, and she has been an outspoken critic of the governor, endorsing his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon. Mark-Viverito is one of a relatively small group of prominent Democrats that is backing Nixon for governor and James for attorney general.

After a New York Law School panel earlier this month, Quinn did not deny having an eye on the office of public advocate. “We have to get Tish James elected and that’s what I’m focused on and also let’s not forget the Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, we have to get reelected,” she told Gotham Gazette, when asked if she had considered running for public advocate in the event of James’ ascension to attorney general. “Right now, I am focused, most importantly, on running WIN and helping the homeless families that we serve...and then in my spare time, so to speak, among other things, I’m helping candidates and friends run for office. So that’s what this summer and fall is about.”

Pressed further, she simply repeated the statement. “That’s what this summer and fall is about.”

Mark-Viverito is slightly less circumspect about her own political future. “I’ve been consistent in saying that I’m really proud of the record that I have accomplished and the issues that I’ve championed and what we’ve been able to get done in the city of New York,” she told Gotham Gazette in a recent phone interview. “I’m not gonna close the door on looking at possibilities in the future if other positions or other opportunities became available...So if there is an opportunity that presents itself, I will definitely be taking a look at that. And I feel strongly that Tish will win so we’ll have that conversation later.”

She emphasized that she brings a strong perspective to policy-making as a Latina representing a low-income community. “I think that’s something that we consistently need to have in positions of authority in the city,” Mark-Viverito said. “And I believe my record speaks for itself and I look forward to being able to continue to serve this wonderful city.”

The special election, if there is one, would take place in March, assuming James is sworn in January 1 and vacates her current seat. Special elections for public advocate are nonpartisan, and each candidate would have to run on their own unique political party ballot line. The winner would then have to run for the seat again in a primary and general election later in 2019, if that person wants to keep the position.

There are several others who have either been floated as candidates or have signalled an interest in becoming the city’s ombudsperson, a post also considered a strong launching pad for a mayoral bid as de Blasio illustrated. They include sitting City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, and Joe Borelli, the only Republican among them. All of them but Borelli will be term-limited out of office in 2021. State Assemblymember Michael Blake is another potential candidate, as are Republican attorney J.C. Polanco and Columbia professor David Eisenbach, who both challenged James when she was up for reelection last year -- Eisenbach in the primary and Polanco in the general. Eisenbach has already officially filed papers with the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

“I think the position obviously has a lot of potential,” said a Democratic consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It has different potential than being the City Council speaker where you’re not just responsible for yourself, you’re responsible for 50 other members, hundreds of staff, dozens of appointments here or there. It’s a different set of responsibilities and in the hands of someone who understands the levers of government, who understands the bully pulpit and is sort of willing to take bold steps, it can be a very strong position.”

The public advocate can act as more than just a “counterweight to the mayor,” the consultant said. “That person also can establish themselves as someone who is also driving the agenda for New York, and that’s something we haven’t really seen since Mark Green,” the person added, referring to the city’s first-ever public advocate, who served from 1994 to 2001.

Espinal, a Brooklyn representative, said in an email, “I’m seriously considering it, and whether to launch a campaign will come down to the positive energy and support from New Yorkers.”

A spokesperson for Rodriguez, whose district covers neighborhoods in upper Manhattan and a small section of the Bronx, said, “[Council Member Rodriguez] is committed to supporting Public Advocate James in her run for attorney general as she is the most qualified in the race. Should there be a special election for public advocate, he would consider running for that seat.”

Torres, in a statement through a spokesperson, said, “I am still thinking about it and where I would be most effective. I’m debating which position would allow me to be a better advocate for the city.” The Bronx Council member is also said to be looking at a run for Congress or Bronx borough president.

Borelli also said he was considering a run for public advocate, though he conceded that it would be tough to retain. “It’s possible to win a special, but it will be difficult for a Republican to win the following November,” he said in a text message.

When asked about Quinn and Mark-Viverito both running, he said, “Each would be formidable.”

Shortly before a primary debate among the four Democratic attorney general candidates on Tuesday, Assembly Member Blake told Gotham Gazette he was watching closely in case James’ seat becomes vacant. “She’s gotta win first, but it would be irresponsible not to be looking at it,” he said about considering a run. “First and foremost, this is brand new terrain for all of us. The possibility for a citywide special election is unique to say the least...Out of respect for everybody in the field, this is a moot point unless [James] is the attorney general, and we’re gonna be respectful of that.”

He added, “As I tell my team often, proper preparation prevents poor performance. So you’re just ready, and if that opportunity presents itself, we have some serious decisions to make.”

Blake, who is a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, was the campaign manager for 2013 public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani, giving him some recent experience with a citywide race. He was then elected to the Assembly in 2014.

No current elected official would have to give up their seat to run in the special election, but, if victorious, would then have to vacate their position to become public advocate.

As Borelli alluded to, one effect of numerous Democrats entering the fray is that they could split the vote in what will likely be a low-turnout special election, offering up an opportunity for a Republican to claim victory.

Polanco, the attorney and former public advocate candidate, recognizes that opening. Having run for the seat just last year, he has certain advantages. “Whoever is gonna come from our side, there has to be just one candidate,” Polanco said in a phone interview. “We’re small enough as it is. Even in a non-partisan race, you’re gonna need organizational support. So the organizations have to line up behind one candidate from the beginning in order for us to have a shot.”

Polanco noted that the nonpartisan aspect of the election is “always good for democracy, always good for participation,” since voters won’t necessarily make choices along party lines. But he also echoed the risk for any sitting Republican elected official who might run, as Borelli noted. “Do you give up your Council seat for that? I don’t know whether that’s a good gamble or not, especially if you have three years left on your Council seat,” Polanco said.

Polanco also weighed in on the potential contest between two former Council speakers, saying Quinn would be the “ultimate” candidate. “She’s the most qualified of the candidates on that side running,” he said. “But I think the Democratic Party of today is more along the lines of Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world, the democratic socialists, are getting momentum. She represents that faction. We can’t kid ourselves.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Tue, 04 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 5,000 with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 52 -- 5,000, with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

glazer elizabeth pod

Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to close the jails on Rikers Island, in part by reducing the overall city jail population to 5,000 detainees, down from about 8,000 now, which is down from well over 20,000 two decades ago. Liz Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, joined the podcast to discuss the administration’s criminal justice policies.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Fri, 31 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Campaign Finance Board Report Shows Small Donors with Large 2017 Footprint  cfb chart

As a mayoral charter revision commission readies to release proposals that would, if approved by voters in November, reduce the impact of large donors in municipal elections, a report released Thursday by the New York City Campaign Finance Board highlights how small donors are increasingly playing a larger role in city elections.

The CFB’s 2017 post-election report examined last year’s citywide election, in which the three citywide positions, five borough presidents, and all 51 City Council seats were on the ballot. The CFB administers the city’s campaign finance law and its public matching funds program, which currently matches the first $175 of every qualifying donation at a 6-to-1 ratio, incentivizing candidates, especially those who lack deep pockets or access to moneyed donors, to run for election on grassroots campaigning and fundraising. The program is considered a national model and has been emulated in municipal elections in other states.

In 2017, the eighth citywide election under the program, small donors played a bigger role than they ever have before, the report found. About 73 percent of contributors to mayoral candidates were small donors, giving $175 or less. That number was 43 percent in the 2013 election cycle and 70 percent in 2009.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Republican general election opponent, state Assembly member Nicole Malliotakis, both participated in the public funds program last year. De Blasio made a concerted effort to court small donors for his reelection after having faced allegations -- which also prompted official investigations that closed with no charges filed -- that his administration took favorable actions for donors with city business who gave large contributions to his campaign and two extra-governmental nonprofits he created to promote his agenda.

Notably, though the number of small dollar contributions were overwhelming -- 13,767 out of 18,796 contributions to mayoral candidates -- they only accounted for $783,699 or 11 percent of the total value of fundraising by all mayoral candidates. For comparison, there were only 656 contributions of the maximum-allowed value -- $4,950 for the last cycle -- which accounted for $3.24 million or 45 percent of the total fundraising by mayoral candidates.

Participation in the public funds program was also widespread, with 84 percent of candidates opting in for the September primary and 64 percent participating in the general election. In 2013, 91 percent of primary candidates and 62 percent of general election candidates were participants, with the larger primary percentage than 2017 likely due to the greater number of open seats in that cycle. In 2017, for instance, five out of 41 City Council incumbents did not face a challenger in the primary or general election.

In total, the CFB doled out $17.7 million in public funds, $5.9 million of which went to de Blasio and Malliotakis. The report also found that City Council candidates got more than 50 percent of their funds from the public matching program.

“For 30 years, New York City’s Campaign Finance Program has shaped the landscape of city elections and strengthened New Yorkers’ relationship to their government," said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement. “Our 2017 Post-Election Report highlights why our program continues to be a model for citizens across the country who want to reduce the impact of big money in politics.”

The report also includes several proposals to improve the campaign finance program through legislation. The board recommends lowering contribution limits, increasing the matching fund ratio and the cap on public funds, lowering both the threshold for citywide candidates to qualify for public funds and the lowest matchable contribution.

The CFB issued these same recommendations to the mayor’s charter revision commission in June, and the commission has taken some of them into consideration as it creates its final proposals, which will be released in the coming weeks and put before voters on Election Day in November. Among other suggestions, the commission will recommend lowering contribution limits for citywide candidates to $2,000 for those who participate in the public funds program and $3,500 for those who do not. The current limit is $5,100. The commission is also proposing increasing the ratio of matching funds to 8-to-1 and matching the first $250 of every contribution for citywide candidates. Under another proposal, the public funds cap would increase from 55 percent of the spending limit for a position to 75 percent.

The charter commission is set to meet on Tuesday to vote on the final language of questions that will be placed on the ballot for voters. Should any of the CFB’s recommendations fail to make the grade, they will likely be taken up by the City Council in the form of legislation or by a separate Council-convened charter commission that will start to hold public hearings in mid-September and is planning to put recommendations before voters in 2019.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Fri, 31 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Hochul, Williams Outline Drastic Differences in Lieutenant Governor Debate lt gov

Jumaane Williams and Kathy Hochul (photo: Gotham Gazette)

New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams on Wednesday pledged to remake the lieutenant governor position he is seeking, as Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul defended her record and approach to the job, as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tenure. The two Democrats were appearing in their only scheduled televised debate ahead of the September 13 vote.

The 30-minute debate, hosted by Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) and moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max, aired Thursday evening on MNN, while also being live-streamed on the MNN website and posted on YouTube.

The two candidates not only discussed their differing views of the position they are seeking to fill, but also corruption in state government during the Cuomo-Hochul administration, economic development and their respective records as elected officials. Williams repeatedly criticized Hochul and Cuomo, while the incumbent touted major accomplishments of the last four years and beyond, saying she is proud of her partnership with Cuomo and what they have achieved.

Hochul, who became Cuomo’s running mate in 2014, is seeking a second term while the governor seeks a third. (Robert Duffy served during Cuomo’s first-term as lieutenant governor, and declined to seek a second term). The governor and lieutenant governor are nominated separately in party primaries, but run as a ticket in the general election.

During the debate, Williams critiqued Hochul, previously a one-term member of Congress from the Buffalo area, as a political insider and tied her to broader qualms about “establishment Democrats” like he said she is, repeating the “any blue just won't do” slogan Williams has used on the campaign trail to signify that Democrats must elect candidates from the progressive wing of the party. But the debate largely centered on the approach a lieutenant governor ought to adopt, especially vis-à-vis the governor.

Williams, allied with fellow insurgent candidate Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo from the left, said he holds a “fundamentally different vision” of the position than Hochul, lamenting the current iteration of the lieutenant governor job as one in which the official “does what the governor says to do.”

“I reject that,” he continued. “I believe the lieutenant governor should be the eyes, the ears, and the voice of the people of the state of New York.”

“The role of lieutenant governor is to be experienced and prepared to step in as governor should the need arise,” Hochul said in her first remarks of the debate, several times describing herself as a steady-handed leader who knows government and “gets things done.”

She also defended acting in lockstep with Cuomo, and wouldn’t — or couldn’t — name a time at which she had disagreed with him or changed his mind on a policy.

“This state is better served when you have the two executive officials, the governor and lieutenant governor, working in partnership,” she told reporters after the debate. She said during the debate and after it that she has had private conversations with the governor that she is keeping private, but that she is not afraid to speak up when she has something to say.

On a host of issues, Williams said Cuomo’s administration had mishandled policy while Hochul was missing in action. As in the past, he said that should he be elected governor, he’s play role akin to New York City's public advocate — a contrast to what Williams said has in recent years been purely ceremonial, giving Cuomo a “rubber stamp” on his agenda and traveling around the state cutting ribbons.   

“When a ribbon is cut that means something good is happening,” Hochul said in response, going on to reference the act of opening up a drug treatment facility.

Hochul said lieutenant governors were meant to partner with the governor and the Legislature, not act as a thorn in their sides. And Hochul said she has not merely followed Cuomo’s orders during her tenure.

"As a strong woman, I do not do what men tell me to do,” she said.

But when asked by the moderator for examples of changing the governor’s mind on an issue, Hochul did not cite any, saying her views have largely been in line with Cuomo’s.

During the debate the lieutenant governor highlighted accomplishments like a law that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour in many areas of the state and a paid family leave law, as well as efforts to create jobs, and to fight the opioid epidemic and sexual assault on college campuses. When Williams said that activists like himself had pushed Cuomo, Hochul, and others to the “Fight for $15” campaign, she countered that government is where things get done, and she’s proud of what has been passed, especially given Republican control of the state Senate.

Under Cuomo, Hochul’s portfolio has included high-profile economic development programs, some of which have been plagued by corruption. Williams made multiple references to these scandals, which have recently seen close allies and donors to the governor convicted of federal crimes.

“Too many of those have been actually massive failures," Williams said of economic development programs. "What's sad is the lieutenant governor's office hasn't been used to highlight that."

Hochul countered, including with reference to Buffalo, where the Cuomo administration has made its largest investments, some of which were taken advantage of.

“We've empowered the local people to chart their own vision…and it has been an overwhelming success,” Hochul said, in apparent reference to the Regional Economic Development Councils and other programs she has helped shepherd. “By any metric, Governor Cuomo’s economic development programs have been successful.”

She added that there have been measures put in place to prevent against corruption and cronyism in economic development initiatives. "We have zero tolerance for anyone who abuses the trust that they have been given," she said, though she did not express direct support for additional anti-corruption measures related to economic development for which watchdogs and some legislators have called, dismissing some as sought by Republican legislators who want to be able to hand out more pork spending to their districts.

Hochul, when asked by the moderator about her apparent lack of involvement as the governor negotiated new anti-sexual harassment policy with other male elected officials behind closed doors, said she did play a meaningful role as the state passed new laws. Those laws, included in the state budget agreement reached in March, passed amid criticism from survivors of workplace sexual harassment for not including women in the legislative process and a lack of public hearings.

“I was very involved in those conversations,” Hochul said. “I was there helping chart the course that the state ended up adopting.”

Williams was asked about promising to be a bold, tell-it-like-it-is lieutenant governor, yet abstaining on more than 200 votes in the City Council, not choosing to vote yes or no, despite no apparent conflicts of interest. He said that many had been land use decisions that he wanted to register his discomfort about while being “collegial” with his Council colleagues.

While neither candidate used as fodder certain high-profile, contentious campaign issues — such as Williams’ past personal financial troubles or prior stated personal opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage; Hochul’s role in thwarting an effort to give driver’s licenses to undocumented New Yorkers or past support from the National Rifle Association (NRA) — the debate did include litigation of recent campaign trail controversies, with Williams accusing Hochul’s campaign of employing racially insensitive and classist tropes about him and his past financial struggles, which have included a home foreclosure and failed restaurant.

In addition, Williams referred to former state Democratic Party chair Judith Hope, who in a fundraising email for Hochul labeled Williams a “young charismatic black man,” and the Hochul campaign’s advertisements that he said depicted him as an “angry black man.” Hochul denied her campaign played a part in writing the email and said she can’t control what supporters say.

Hochul also denied her campaign has made use of race and class to attack Williams. “I don’t believe there are [racial overtones]. I believe that we’re running our race that talks about our records and that is what I’m going to continue to do.”

In her closing statement, Hochul made the case the administration's accomplishments earned her a second term so that she and Cuomo can continue to serve as a “check” on President Donald Trump, and lead the “resistance” against him.

“I’m going to continue what I’ve done, helping elect Democrats to the New York State Senate, but also to Congress,” she said. “We, as New York State, have a special responsibility — a moral obligation — to stand up and fight back.”

For his part, Williams emphasized in closing that it was not only his race and ability to bring diversity to state government that made him worthy of voters’ support, but also the issues he would champion if elected and how he would approach the role of lieutenant governor.  

"Identity politics is important,” he said. “But that cannot be the only thing. That's the gravy. We have to have a meal.”

Toward the end of his post-debate talk with reporters, Williams expressed willingness to participate in another televised debate ahead of the September 13 primary, and criticized Hochul for not agreeing to additional debates. Hochul, who on NY1 said she wanted to debate Williams on the network, backed out of that debate, leaving Williams with the alloted time to appear with anchor Errol Louis in a segment that aired last week.

[Watch the Hochul-Williams debate on YouTube]

]]> (Sam Raskin) City Thu, 30 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Arguing Throughout, Cuomo and Nixon Debate Experience and Vision cuomo nixon close up

Cuomo and Nixon at the debate on CBS

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term incumbent Democrat running for reelection, came face-to-face with his primary challenger, actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon, at the first and only scheduled debate of the race on Wednesday evening at Hofstra University on Long Island. The two Democrats exchanged acerbic attacks over the course of an hour, with no shortage of finger-wagging from the governor and eye-rolling from his insurgent opponent.

The debate, taking place just over two weeks from the September 13 vote, reflected much of the campaign rhetoric from recent weeks, with Nixon taking aim at what she sees as Cuomo’s lackluster commitment to progressive policies and the governor pivoting to paint himself as the incumbent with accomplishments who is also more qualified to take on President Donald Trump. The debate aired on CBS-2 and was moderated by anchor Maurice DuBois and  political reporter Marcia Kramer.

Nixon has sought to portray herself as an outsider to a broken culture and legislative process in Albany, depicting her lack of experience in government as an advantage, rather than a weakness. “Experience doesn’t mean that much if you’re not actually good at governing,” she said in an aside at Cuomo, while touting her background as a longtime advocate on issues that include education funding, LGBTQ, and women’s rights. Still, Nixon struggled to firmly answer the first question of the night from DuBois, which was, in part, to explain what has prepared her to be the chief executive of the state.

“The governor of New York is not a job about politics, it’s not about advocacy,” Cuomo said, while arguing that he is leading New York as the “first line of defense” against Trump. “It’s about doing, it’s about management.” Though many have speculated that Cuomo has been laying the foundation for a presidential bid himself, he also said for the record that he would serve as governor for the full four-year term if reelected. “The only caveat is if God strikes me dead,” he joked.

Nixon attempted, as she has on the campaign trail, to tie Cuomo’s record, and his apparent failures, to his wealthy donors. “When it comes to opposing Donald Trump in New York State, we already have a corrupt corporate Republican in the White House, we don’t need a corrupt, corporate Democrat in Albany as his main opposition,” she said, excoriating Cuomo for failing to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, refusing to push for a single-payer healthcare system, and failing to pass the Reproductive Health Act, the Climate and Community Protection Act, and the Liberty Act.

For his part, Cuomo repeatedly accused Nixon of making misleading claims, while calling her a “corporate donor” herself, an apparent reference to her setting up an S-corporation to file her taxes. “My opponent lives in the world of fiction. I live in the world of fact,” he said. While Nixon has indeed established an S-corporation, as she explained a common tactic for actors, she does not appear to have used it for political donations, instead making those personally, including to Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom Nixon supported vigorously in his initial 2013 mayoral run.

At several moments in the debate, especially in the early going, Nixon interjected as Cuomo spoke, sparking one particularly heated exchange. “Can you stop interrupting?” Cuomo said.

“Can you stop lying?” Nixon retorted.

“As soon as you do,” the governor replied.

There were sharp disagreements between the two on funding the MTA to repair the broken subway system, on implementing single-payer healthcare, and on allowing public sector union workers to strike.

Pushed on improving the city’s subways and whether he would consider delaying or cancelling an upcoming fare hike, Cuomo sought to displace the blame for the system’s troubles, saying as he has in the past that the city bears more responsibility than the state, despite the fact that the governor appoints a plurality of the MTA board and its top leadership. “I would support cancelling the fare hike because the service is not what people deserve. It has to be a joint funding responsibility between the city and the state,” he said, suggesting a 50-50 split on both covering a hypothetical cancellation of the long-planned fare hike and whatever portion of the $33 billion funding needs for the system that won’t be covered by tolls and fares.

Nixon said a fare hike would be “unconscionable” and said she would, as governor, have the state assume the estimated $325 million cost for it. “[The MTA] is a state agency and to pretend anything else is completely disingenuous,” she said of the authority, noting Cuomo’s penchant for diverting MTA funds for unrelated or unnecessary costs in the past. “[Cuomo] used the MTA like an ATM and we see the result,” she quipped.

Nixon also said the state, and the Democratic Party, should embrace a proposed single-payer health care proposal laid out by Democrats in the state Legislature and evaluated in the Rand Corporation study released a month ago. The plan could cost roughly $200 billion to implement in the short-term but would likely lead to long-term savings for both the state and taxpayers. “This is the kind of change that New Yorkers really care about, this is the kind of change that our Democratic Party should be embracing in order to address the incredible inequality here,” she said. “Healthcare is a human right.”

Though Cuomo agreed on that last point, he said single-payer ought to be implemented by the federal government rather than funded by the state budget, which is already roughly $170 billion. He said long-term it might save money but that it would be very expensive in the initial years.

Even in other areas, when they seemed to agree, Nixon took every opportunity to critique the governor’s seven-and-a-half years in office. On campaign finance reform, for instance, Cuomo reiterated his calls for ending the LLC loophole, banning outside income for legislators, and greater financial disclosure by lawmakers. He said those changes, which he has supported for years, could only happen with a Democratic majority in both houses of the state Legislature. As he has before, he also offered them as answers to corruption scandals that have hit his administration, without naming policies more closely in line with his economic development programs that were abused.

Nixon has advocated for similar reforms -- but has also refused corporate and LLC donations to her campaign -- and insisted that Cuomo is a flawed messenger having raised millions from LLCs for his own campaigns and for tolerating and empowering the Independent Democratic Conference, which shared power with Senate Republicans for seven years before disbanding in April. “To say he is disincentivized to close [the LLC] loophole would not begin to describe it strongly enough,” she said, also criticizing Cuomo’s 2014 closure of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, which he set up the previous year, as it looked at his donors and allies.

The two repeatedly bickered back and forth. Cuomo accused Nixon of being less than transparent herself, bringing up her failure to release her tax returns from the past several years until last Friday, when reporters were given three hours to peruse them in person. In response, Nixon noted that Cuomo did not release his own tax returns when he first ran for governor until after he was elected.

Responding to a moderator’s question, Nixon touted her support for the right of public union workers to strike. “We need to return to public sector workers every tool in the tool kit,” she said. Cuomo called it a “terrible idea” that could paralyze vital public systems such as schools, transit, and sanitation, and even cited de Blasio’s opposition to the idea.

Cuomo and Nixon did converge on the legalization of recreational marijuana, though Nixon views it as a racial and economic justice issue while Cuomo, until last year, called it a “gateway drug” and only recently changed his position -- something Nixon takes credit for, a theory Cuomo dismissed when she offered it again at the debate. He created a state taskforce in January to explore the issue, and it recommended a regulated, legalization program last month.

Perhaps the most alignment between the two candidates occurred when they were asked if either wanted de Blasio’s endorsement. Neither said they would accept or refuse it.

Cuomo, who has famously feuded with the mayor for years, said, in what could easily be taken for sarcasm, “I love Mayor de Blasio, I’m sure he loves me in a strange sort of way. After 30 years, we have a dysfunctional relationship. He makes his own political decisions, not me.”

Nixon, an ally of the two-term mayor who even sat on stage at both his inaugurations, said, “This is a race that I am running on my own. This does not have to do with any particular endorsement that I’ve gotten or haven’t gotten. But this has to do with the vision I’m enumerating for New York State, a vision of New York as a real progressive beacon, not just as a rhetorical progressive state the way we have now.”

Was that a yes or a no?

“It’s neither,” she said.

The debate didn’t end with hostilities, however. Cuomo, who refused to even look his last primary opponent in the eye in public, walked over to Nixon who was still seated and the two shook hands, smiling.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Samar Khurshid) City Thu, 30 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 1, with Attorney General Barbara Underwood whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 51 -- 1, with New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

barbara underwood

Barbara Underwood is the first female Attorney General of New York State. She was serving as Solicitor General when she was made Attorney General in May 2018 after the sudden resignation of Eric Schneiderman amid domestic abuse allegations. This podcast episode features Underwood's remarks at a CBC breakfast discussing the agenda of the Office of the Attorney General under her leadership.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Sat, 25 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Preparing for Primary Day mxm logo

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

August 22, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Preparing for Primary Day

mara gay rectangle custom1 v2Mara Gay of the New York Times editorial board joined the show to discuss the statewide Democratic primaries for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, and the larger political dynamics at play as New Yorkers consider the candidates and prepare to go to the polls in just three weeks, on September 13 for the primaries. Gay also explained the editorial board's recent decision to endorse Zephyr Teachout in the open, highly-competitive attorney general race.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 23 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Race & Politics in Ten Years Since Obama's Nomination mxm logo

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

August 22, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Race & Politics in Ten Years Since Obama's Nomination

christina greer mcsilverDr. Christina Greer of Fordham University joined the show to discuss how President Barack Obama did, or didn't, live up to expectations, and how his presidency fits into the larger dynamics of race and politics.

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


by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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]]> (Ben Max) City Thu, 23 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000