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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 30

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Thursday of this week will mark six weeks until the September 13 primary elections (the deadline to register to vote and be eligible for a party primary is August 19 (the deadline to change party enrollment to vote in a party primary has long passed)). Expect competitive primaries to continue to heat up.

It was a busy weekend of endorsement announcements as we head toward those primaries, especially in the most-contested races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and certain state Senate seats -- all on the Democratic side (Republicans have very few primaries across the state, and none for the four statewide state-level positions).

Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams officially endorsed each other on Sunday. Each has been backed by the Working Families Party and a number of other groups and officials, but they had yet to make it official in announcing support for each other. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are nominated separately in party primaries, then run as a ticket for the general election. Nixon and Williams are hoping to win their respective Democratic primary bids against Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

Nixon and Williams also received the endorsement this weekend of the New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.

On Saturday, "Brooklyn women leaders" launched “Brooklyn Women For Cuomo” to endorse and support Cuomo for another term. The women leaders are Public Advocate Letitia James, State Senators Roxanne Persaud and Velmanette Montgomery , and Assemblymembers Latrice Walker, Jaime Williams, and Tremaine Wright, and former Assemblymember Annette Robinson. Cuomo also received endorsements this weekend from NYCHA tenant leaders in Queens and from "The National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund PAC, formerly NARAL NY," which also endorsed Hochul.

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democratic candidate for attorney general, was endorsed this weekend by Comptroller Scott Stringer and several elected officials from the Upper West Side.

And, City Council Member Carlina Rivera endorsed state Senate candidates Julia Salazar and Jessica Ramos.

More endorsements will be coming in this week, and there is other governmental and political business on the calendar -- see our day-by-day rundown below. We’re also awaiting news regarding any special state legislative session in Albany to extend the city’s speed camera program, which has expired, regarding the naming of a federal monitor for NYCHA, regarding next steps in the NYPD trials of the two officers being brought up on departmental charges in the death of Eric Garner, regarding how the Uber-City Council fight will play out as the Council moves ahead with bills that Uber and other for-hire vehicle companies are opposing, and more.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

At 10 a.m. Monday at City Hall, the City Council “Committee on Standards and Ethics will hold a meeting regarding Section 10.80 of the Council Rules.” This appears to be the next step after a prior initial meeting dealing with an allegation against City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. that he improperly used his government email to send political messages.

On Monday at 11 a.m. outside City Hall, 10 of the City Council’s 11 female members will endorse Public Advocate Letitia James for Attorney General.

At 11 a.m. Monday, NYCHA interim chair Stanley Brezenoff and Health and Mental Hygiene Assistant Commissioner Javier Lopez will announce the launch of “Smoke-Free NYCHA” at the Jerome L. Greene Family Center in Chelsea. Per federal regulations, NYCHA is adopting the somewhat controversial no-smoking policy.

On Monday at 11 a.m. in Bushwick, “Revel Transit will hold a press conference to launch the first ever shared electric moped service in New York City...Revel Transit is a brand new, New York-based company that will initially provide users access to electric mopeds in the neighborhoods of Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg. This service is the first of its kind in New York City but follows a model that is wildly popular in global cities such as Berlin and Paris. The mopeds are perfect for short- and medium-range trips and will add a unique option to New York’s diverse transit network.” City Council Member Antonio Reynoso will participate in Monday’s launch event.

At 1 p.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will make an announcement at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Lieutenant Governor Hochul will participate.

“On Monday, First Lady Chirlane McCray will tour the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center with New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera and participate in a roundtable discussion with clients. This event is closed press. Later, the First Lady will participate in a “Teatime Inspiration” event focused on mental health and wellness with Kate Spade New York employees. This event is closed press.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall Monday in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Center for an Urban Future will host a forum on New York’s aging park infrastructure at the Greene Space in the West Village. City Council Member Barry Grodenchik will give introductory remarks, which will be followed by a one-on-one conversation with Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and a panel discussion with former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Susan Donoghue of the Prospect Park Alliance, Lynn Kelly of New Yorkers for Parks, Nilka Martell of Loving the Bronx, and Charles McKinney, former Principal Urban Designer at NYC Parks.

On Tuesday at 9 a.m., "Chancellor Richard A. Carranza will deliver brief remarks at the School Technology Summit" at Beacon High School.

On Tuesday morning, City Council Member Jumaane D. Williams “will begin his trial in New York County Criminal Court for charges related to his arrest while trying to stop the unlawful detention and imminent deportation of immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir. He now faces charges of Obstruction of an Emergency Vehicle and Obstructing Government Administration. Williams will be available to speak to the media prior to the start of the trial, at 9:15am, outside the New York County Criminal Court. He will appear with his attorneys, Rhiya Trivedi and Ron Kuby.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday at Brooklyn Borough Hall, "Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will be joined by Food Bank For New York City COO Lisa Hines-Johnson to launch Brooklyn's participation in Food Bank’s “Woman to Woman” campaign — a donation drive to collect feminine care products and address the critical needs of women and girls living in poverty."

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Governor Cuomo will make an announcement at LaGuardia Airport.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

On Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., “Calling on Mayor de Blasio to embrace their newly proposed “Fast Bus, Fair City” plan, riders will turn the City Hall steps into a stage and dramatize their daily struggles riding New York’s local buses. The riders’ performance will demonstrate how their proven suite of transit policy changes will enhance quality of life and social inclusion for more than two million daily bus riders. Then the coalition and local elected officials will elaborate on the specific components of the call and why they are important. “Fast Bus, Fair City” would complement the City’s adoption of Fair Fares and the MTA’s Bus Plan. Once set in motion, all three could provide unparalleled access to city neighborhoods and resources, ensuring that the mayor’s own goal of making New York the fairest big city in America is fully realized.” Participants include Riders Alliance, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Transit Center, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, New York League of Conservation Voters, elected officials, and bus riders.

At the City Council on Tuesday: The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss “the naming of one thoroughfare and public place, Jean-Jacques Dessalines Boulevard in the Borough of Brooklyn.”

On Tuesday at 1 p.m. at City Hall, "State Senator Tony Avella, Assembly Member William Colton, and Council Member Bob Holden will stand with community groups Coalition EDU and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance to reveal their legislation aimed at saving the Specialized High School Exam."

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will make an announcement at Brooklyn Public Library's main branch, Grand Army Plaza.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at the Matthews-Palmer Playground ribbon cutting with Parks Commissioner Silver and other elected officials.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission will hold a public hearing at McKee High School in St. George, Staten Island. This is the last of a new round of public hearings in each borough after the release of the commission’s preliminary staff report. Recommendations from the commission that will be on the ballot in November for voters to approve or disapprove, are due out by September 7.

This week’s Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio will feature interviews with State Senator Marisol Alcantara, a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference from Manhattan, and her Democratic primary opponent Robert Jackson. Tune in at 5pm Wednesday on WBAI, 99.5FM or wbai.org. The Max & Murphy podcast recently moved to WBAI, with the first two shows featuring interviews with Democratic Attorney General candidates Letitia James, Zephyr Teachout, and Leecia Eve (the fourth candidate in the primary, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, will be a guest on the show on August 8). The show is still available as a podcast if you can't or prefer not to listen live.

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 9:45 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 10 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at noon.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, City & State will celebrate its “Brooklyn Power 50” list at a reception at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. Borough President Eric Adams will deliver keynote remarks.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Indivisible Westchester will host a forum for Democratic Attorney General candidates at the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester in White Plains. The participating candidates are expected to be Letitia James, Zephyr Teachout, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Leecia Eve. The forum will be moderated by Damon Jones of the Westchester Black Political Conference.

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

De Blasio will leave on Friday afternoon for this year’s Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans, where he will be until Sunday morning, when he returns to New York City. According to the mayor's office, he will have a series of policy meetings with local and national elected officials and activists while he's there, and he’ll address the gathering’s attendees Saturday evening. He'll also have a few political meetings while there.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

What's The [Data] Point? 7.42%, with Labor Commissioner Bob Linn

whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 48 -- 7.42% with Bob Linn [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

bob linn on wtdp ben maria

Bob Linn has one of the hardest, most complicated, and under-the-radar jobs in city government: he runs the labor relations department and negotiates contracts with the city's many municipal labor unions. Linn joined the podcast to discuss his career in labor relations, both from the city side and the union side, but mainly his work under Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiating contracts that impact hundreds of thousands of city works and the rest of New Yorkers who rely on those workers and how their contracts impact city finances.

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

Read more by this writer.

City Health Commissioner Explains Essential Path to Fight Opioid Epidemic

brasset hac

Dr. Mary Bassett (photo: @nycHealthy)

Last year, 1,441 individuals in New York City died of a drug overdose, most of which were opioid-induced, and current trends indicate that the death count in the city only stands to rise. But as much as these drugs can cause death, Dr. Mary Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, is arguing that others can prevent it.

During a recent appearance on the What’s the [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, Bassett, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that the controlled use of narcotics like methadone and buprenorphine do wonders for those addicted to opioids, and that the city must increase accessibility to and use of these life-saving treatments.

Methadone treatment has long been the primary means of treating opiate addiction. Methadone is an opioid, like morphine, heroin, and oxycodone, but its relative mildness is meant to alleviate a recovering addict’s desire for the stronger opioids. By inhibiting opioid receptors in the brain, methadone is also meant to reduce feelings of withdrawal.

Similar to methadone, buprenorphine is a drug that can minimize cravings and withdrawal symptoms in a person with an opioid-use disorder. Unlike methadone, it is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that its euphoric effects are weaker than those of full opioid agonists like methadone and heroin. Buprenorphine’s opioid effects intensify with increases in dose size only up to a certain point, meaning that a user would get no stronger effect from a large dose than they would from a medium one, an appealing trait for addiction specialists.

“People on methadone or buprenorphine get their lives back, they restore their relationships with their family and they go back to work,” Bassett said on the podcast, pointing to their significantly more prevalent use elsewhere in the world.

Methadone and buprenorphine treatment regimes are strictly regulated in the United States.

Methadone is one of the most extensively controlled therapeutic drugs in the country, according to the National Institutes of Health, and its medical use is regulated by a host of government bodies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration. Federal regulations require patients to take methadone in-person at a treatment site while medical professionals observe. Patients who take the medication regularly for six months can receive permission to take home up to a month’s supply of methadone, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Buprenorphine has similarly strict regulations. In the United States, doctors must take a special, eight-hour class in order to qualify for a physician waiver that would allow them to dispense buprenorphine. However, barriers like the high cost of classes, the daunting nature of treating drug-addicted individuals, and lack of information can discourage medical professionals from receiving the waiver.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who helps coordinate the administration’s health care initiatives, have both spoken about the need to expand the number of doctors and physicians who can prescribe buprenorphine. Nevertheless, the development of buprenorphine prescribers has been slower than expected.

Bassett said she’s dedicated to training more physicians so that they can get the authorization required to distribute Buprenorphine.

“Physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners can now prescribe it due to a new law which expands the access to buprenorphine prescribing,” Bassett said during the podcast. “But getting trained to prescribe it isn’t enough, so we have a nurse care-manager program where we work with primary care practitioners to actually make sure that they start prescribing and identifying people who are using opioids.”

The city has a goal of increasing the number of patients who receive buprenorphine treatment from 38,000 to 58,000 over the next five years. Bassett said that there is no definitive estimate of the number of New Yorkers who are misusing opioids, but the number has clearly increased, as has the death toll.

“Buprenorphine is very underused in the United States compared to other countries,” Bassett said. “France, for example, stopped its opioid use almost entirely with buprenorphine…We’re training people, we’ve committed to training 1,500 new prescribers.”

Bassett said the U.S. should look to follow in the footsteps of other countries that have distributed buprenorphine at higher rates. In France, in response to a severe heroin crisis, doctors have been able to prescribe buprenorphine without special licensing or training since 1995. As a result, ten times as many addicted patients received medication-assisted treatment than they had before the loosening of restrictions, and, within four years of the policy’s initiation, overdose deaths had declined by 79 percent.

New York City is also expanding the distribution of naloxone, a synthetic drug similar to morphine that blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system and can be used to halt potentially-lethal overdoses. The city recently added $22 million to its citywide plan to fight the opioid crisis, HealingNYC, increasing total investment to $60 million a year. The new investment will be used toward establishing peer intervention programs at more hospitals and increasing the distribution of naloxone. Since the launch of HealingNYC, the city has distributed nearly 100,000 naloxone kits to opioid overdose prevention programs. Some of the money has also been dedicated to policing efforts, which has drawn criticism from some advocates. The city is also planning to pilot four "overdose prevention centers," a controversial program by which people can find a safe place to take drugs, while also being pitched on counseling and other services.

Bassett said she helped spearhead the initiative to provide those struggling with addiction greater access to naloxone, which included making the drug available over-the-counter at every major pharmaceutical chain in New York City.

“We began with a real press to get naloxone out to people who are using drugs, to people who know people who use drugs, and we want anybody who’s using drugs to have naloxone around so that they can be reversed,” Bassett said during the podcast. Individuals suffering from an overdose “start out blue and you give them naloxone and they pink up. They start breathing again and it’s really a miracle, and now it’s provided in formulations that are really easy to administer.”

But she cautioned that naloxone is not a form of treatment: “It literally just reverses overdoses.” Bassett stressed that people “want to live” and that people abuse drugs because they are addicted, while there are often other underlying causes.

Naloxone is more important than ever now, Bassett said, due to the rise of fentanyl, a potent street opioid said to have helped caused overdose rates to increase by 50 percent between 2016 and 2018.

“Our street drugs have never been more dangerous,” she warned.

Bassett said that, though New York City has seen some successes, it has more work to do.

“What the numbers show is that we’ve flattened the curve,” Bassett said of opioid overdose deaths. “We want to see it go down, and it has gone down in Staten Island and Manhattan, but it still hasn’t gone down in the Bronx or in Brooklyn.”

Race complicates the matter, as well. Bassett spoke frankly about race affecting perceptions of opioid users; the current opioid epidemic, wherein victims are mostly coded as white, has spurred far more sympathetic, public health-oriented action than previous opioid epidemics wherein victims were mostly represented as black.

While white Americans do suffer from opioid addiction at higher rates than black Americans, the nation recently experienced a 50% increase in overdose deaths of African-Americans, said Bassett. She also pointed to the stigma around methadone as something that needed to be further tackled, while indicating that stigma is another reason to pursue more prescription of buprenorphine.

For all the geographic, racial, and class-based distinctions among opioid users, though, Bassett’s guiding public health principle is that “Every life counts.”

A methadone provider in the city can be found here, buprenorphine providers are found here, and anyone struggling with addiction can contact NYC Well, New York’s confidential hotline, by calling (888) NYC-Well (888-692-9355) or texting “WELL” to 651-73.

by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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