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City Council Examines De Blasio's 'New York Works,' Said to Have Produced 3,000 Jobs of 100,000 Goal


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EDC President James Patchett (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to create 100,000 “good-paying” jobs, with annual salaries of $50,000 or more, within 10 years, giving New Yorkers a pathway to the middle class. On Monday, City Council members held an oversight hearing on that plan, attempting to more fully gauge how the de Blasio administration is doing on its promise.

Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigation, co-led a tense Council hearing where the head of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), James Patchett, was grilled about how many jobs had been created as part of de Blasio’s jobs plan and who has been getting them.

“Anyone who heard the mayor’s [2017] State of the City would believe there are actual jobs,” said Torres, “but anyone who believes that is operating under a false assumption.”

Patchett responded to Torres’s rapid-fire questioning about unclear jobs numbers with a consistent message: answering a simple question like “how many jobs have been created” is not so easy.

De Blasio declared good-paying jobs to be those that pay $50,000 or more, and said those in his plan would be in economic sectors that will be around for years to come. When de Blasio, Patchett, and then-Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen laid out the plan a few months after de Blasio announced the goal during his 2017 State of the City speech, they said that they would only count jobs spurred by some kind of city action.

On Monday, Patchett said jobs are only counted towards the mayor’s 100,000 goal if they are created as a direct result of the five-point strategy laid out in the jobs plan, known as “New York Works.”

The plan focuses on investing in city-owned property, providing tax incentives to small and large businesses, making infrastructure investments, using zoning tools, and directly investing in companies that can bring 21st century jobs to New York City.

About $1.3 billion in capital funding has been allocated to New York Works, with about $300 million already spent, Patchett said, on projects like the Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the FutureWorks advanced manufacturing shop at Brooklyn Army Terminal.

But even with specific strategies and budget numbers, there still remains a fair amount of estimation in gauging the impact of the plan.

At one particularly tense point in Monday’s hearing, Patchett was asked about the 2018 New York Works progress report, where EDC reported the city had “laid the foundation for 19,000 good paying jobs.”

“Of the 19,000, how many are actually working today?” asked Torres.

“3,000,” replied Patchett.

“We make projections based on the best available data,” said Patchett, explaining that in some scenarios, when EDC completes a project under the New York Works plan, actual jobs are still yet to come.

The economic development agency tries its best to project how many jobs will be created based on the expertise of their in-house economists, detailed economic data, and, in some cases, specific contracts that have been signed.

A recent example can be found in the Staten Island Teleport Campus.

In 2018, EDC reported in the New York Works progress report that it had “closed a deal” to create office space on the Staten Island campus meant for medical tenants, a charter school, adult education programs, and a variety of social ventures. Though no businesses had formally moved in, the agency estimated 750 jobs would be created and counted that towards de Blasio’s goal.

In the same report, EDC also noted the city “opened 500,000 square feet of space” at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, creating 1,000 good-paying jobs towards the mayor’s 100,000 jobs goal. It is unclear whether these jobs have actually been created or are still a projection, according documents published by the Council.

Patchett also confirmed that if out-of-state residents were to get a good-paying job created under de Blasio’s jobs plan, it would count towards the mayor’s goal.

When de Blasio announced the New York Works jobs plan in June 2017, he said the good-paying jobs would be meant primarily for New Yorkers who wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have access to such opportunities.

“These are jobs that we intend to be open to New Yorkers of every background,” he said at the time, “we can’t address the affordability crisis if we don’t turn the city into a place where more and more good people get a good paying job.”

But for City Council members that represent the city’s lowest-income residents, there are persistent concerns whether these good-paying jobs end up accessible to people in their districts.

Brooklyn Democrat Inez Barron, who represents the 42nd Council District where more than 30% of residents are under the poverty line according to census data, wanted to know why most of the $1.3 billion allocated to New York Works is for building and development projects rather than programs that could help train residents to actually qualify for the good-paying jobs de Blasio’s plan sets out to create.

Patchett mentioned that workforce development strategy is outside the purview of EDC, but he reassured the Council member that the agency works closely with higher education institutions such as LaGuardia Community College and other CUNY schools, along with the New York City Department of Education to inform them of what they think the skills of the future are that educational institutions should be aware of when creating training programs.

Monday’s hearing was also co-led by Queens Council Member Paul Vallone, chair of the Council’s Committee on Economic Development. Vallone left the hearing unimpressed.

“We just had a hearing on the progress of a jobs plan that revealed that there is no conclusive data on the jobs created by that plan,” Vallone said in a statement. “How can we rely on projections and job pathways when there is no tracking to ensure that they actually materialize into real jobs for New Yorkers?”

Near the end of the hearing, tensions between Torres and Patchett simmered down a bit, with Patchett offering a solution to Torres’ contention around confusing jobs numbers.

“I will try to provide not just projections,” Patchett said, “but an estimate as to actual jobs created based on the best data available.”

Torres responded with the crux of his complaint: “If my constituents ask me how many jobs are created by that plan, I want to be able to answer that question.”

***
by Pranshu Verma for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Conflicts of Interest and Chief Diversity Officer


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(photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)


On Thursday evening, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard from experts in city government and activist circles to discuss possible charter amendments that could enhance precautionary measures against conflicts of interest in city government, and the potential mandated addition of a chief diversity officer in the mayor’s office, at mayoral agencies, and elsewhere. The push for adding chief diversity officers is being led by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who created such a position in his office and has made the effort one of his top priorities among many suggested charter changes.

After having held a series of open public hearings around the city, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission announced its focus areas and is holding a series of “expert” hearings as it considers major potential overhauls to the city charter for the first time in 30 years. The commission will submit revisions to the city’s foundational laws before voters this November, though the proposals will undergo several rounds of public input before reaching the ballot.

The commission has already heard from experts on election reform, police accountability, and city budgeting and contracting. The commissioners on the charter revision commission were appointed by a variety of elected leaders, including the mayor, who had the most appointments but not a majority, the comptroller, the public advocate, the City Council speaker, and each of the borough presidents.

The charter currently aims to stamp out corruption in part through the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which consists of five mayoral appointees approved by City Council and a staff that executes trainings and investigations, among other tasks.

The COIB currently has four primary goals: educating public servants about the city’s rules on conflicts of interest as delineated in Chapter 68 of the charter, offering advice regarding public servants’ interpretation of Chapter 68 and the Lobbyist Gift Law, prosecuting politicians who break these rules, and enforcing the Annual Disclosure Law that requires yearly financial disclosures from all city politicians. The COIB oversees the mandate of a one-year freeze on politicians’ ability to lobby their former agency once they leave office.

Current COIB Chair Richard Briffault was the only expert on conflicts of interest and corruption to speak before the commission. He did not propose any amendments to the charter, but fielded questions from the commissioners and explained why he believes the COIB is working well in its current form.

“Our small size facilitates deliberation and action. The combination of mayoral appointment and Council confirmation...assures that any issues about any nomination can be publicly aired,” he explained.

Charter Commissioner Sal Albanese -- a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, including in the 2017 Democratic primary against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- asked if serving under mayoral appointment poses an inherent conflict of interest, implying that the current COIB structure incentivizes protection of the mayor. Briffault said he understood the concern, but explained that diversifying appointment power could enhance the notion that a COIB member should serve the politician who appointed them. A standard of mayoral appointees, Briffault argued, promotes a sense of cohesion within the body.

Briffault also cautioned against changing the COIB to operate more like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the highly-controversial state body that many argue is ineffective, and which draws appointments from the governor and legislative leaders.

Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, echoed Albanese’s concerns, asking Briffault if the COIB would benefit by drawing members from a wider variety of employment sectors. Briffault conceded that attorneys currently comprise the majority of the COIB, if not its entirety. “The plus side [to that change] is guaranteeing that different perspectives are there,” he said. “But a lot of what we do is interpret and enforce the law.”

Albanese further inquired about the COIB’s opinion regarding the one-year lobbying ban on public servants leaving office, suggesting that a five-year or even lifetime ban would better root out corruption. Briffault declined to take a position on the matter. “We’re not policy-makers,” he said. But he did affirm the current yearlong measure, positing that a longer ban might “discourage high-quality people from going into government.”

While Albanese expressed concern about lobbying power and methods of circumventing the Lobbying Gift Law, Briffault maintained that certain actions like campaign donation bundling cannot be regulated as lobbying.

Commissioner Stephen Fiala asked if Briffault sought to increase the COIB’s relatively small annual budget of $2.5 million. Briffault remained ambivalent, though he said that either consistently re-adjusting the budget for inflation or tying the budget to a percentage of that of City Council would benefit the COIB. In recent years COIB has pushed for more funding during City Council budget hearings, with representatives explaining that it is challenging to perform all of the trainings and other tasks it has given its staffing levels and high turnover based on lower-than-ideal pay.

The commission also heard from experts regarding the installation of a chief diversity officer within the mayor’s office and deputy officers in each city agency to oversee the Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program (MWBE). While all experts and commissioners agreed on the program’s importance, contention arose over whether the chief diversity officer program should be codified into the city charter when an MWBE system has already been legislated into effect with Local Law 12.

Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff and Wendy Garcia, chief diversity officer for the office of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, both argued in favor of codification, while director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs and Dawn Pinnock, executive deputy commissioner of people operations and risk management at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, argued that Local Law 12 should stand on its own. Andrea Bowen, an transgender and gender-nonconforming rights activist, did not take a clear stance on the issue, but pushed the commission to consider ways to codify increased hiring of trans folks around the city.

The commission was supposed to hear concerns about the sprawling public pension system, but experts from Comptroller Stringer’s office, who oversee the city pension system, were unable to attend, frustrating Albanese who requested time at the start of the session to rail against the absence of Stringer and his staff. “He’s missing in action and so is his staff,” Albanese said. “It’s a politically tough issue, but that’s what you get paid for as an elected official.”

The next charter commission hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, on other issues of governance, including the role of the public advocate.

LISTEN: Queens District Attorney Candidate Debate (3/12/19)


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3/12 Queens DA debate (photo: @alyssaguilera)


Six of the seven candidates for Queens District Attorney gathered for a debate on Tuesday, March 12 at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, sponsored by a broad range of reform groups that have formed the "Queens for DA Accountability Coalition" and moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout. This year, Queens will elect its first new District Attorney since 1991. The Democratic primary is June 25. The six participating candidates at Tuesday's forum were Tiffany Cabán, Melinda Katz, Rory Lancman, Gregory Lasak, Betty Lugo, and Jose Nieves. The seventh candidate in the race, Mina Malik, was unable to attend due to illness.

Listen to the full debate via the embedded audio below, or you can find it in the "Max & Murphy" podcast stream from Gotham Gazette wherever you get your podcasts. [Read more about the candidates and the race here: 'We're in a New Era': Inside the Race to Elect the Next Queens District Attorney.]

 



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