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23 Candidates Submit Petitions to Get on February 26 Public Advocate Ballot


first ave marathon

(Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

As Acting Public Advocate, Johnson Eyes Information Commission Revived by James But Killed by De Blasio


Corey Johnson Tish James

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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In State of the City, De Blasio Promises More from Government to Improve New Yorkers' 'Quality of Life'


deblasio appleton

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.



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