Gotham Gazette Sat, 22 Sep 2018 21:01:14 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) In Wide Open Lieutenant Governor Primary, Hochul Targets Votes in Williams’ Backyard hochul in brooklyn w lawmakers

Lt. Gov. Hochul, center, in Brooklyn (photo: @KathyHochul)

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, in campaign mode, has appeared in the Bronx and Brooklyn several times over the past few weeks. The Democratic lieutenant governor, facing a challenge from Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams as she seeks a second term, has been spending more time in New York City as primary day gets closer.

Hochul’s focus on the city, and its communities of color in particular, are indicative of the importance of voters from the five boroughs, especially voters of color, in statewide Democratic primaries, and of her potential vulnerability to Williams, who has been an elected official in Brooklyn since 2010 and is black. A Siena Research poll released Tuesday -- just over six weeks until the September 13 statewide primary vote -- shows Hochul with a 30-21 percent lead among likely Democratic primary voters, with nearly half undecided. In other words, a wide open race.

Hochul seems to know it. The lieutenant governor spent Saturday July 28 at a “Brooklyn Women for Cuomo” event, July 22 in the Bronx with Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez and City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, July 18 giving remarks at the Bronx Democratic Party’s Annual Gala, and July 14 in Brooklyn with State Senator Roxanne Persaud, attending a block party and the opening of Public Advocate Letitia James’ attorney general campaign office in Prospect Heights.

These events, among others both campaign and governmental -- in her role as lieutenant governor, she made an announcement at the Brooklyn Public Library main branch on Tuesday afternoon and appeared at a June gun control rally in the Bronx, for example -- have had Hochul appearing with black and Latino elected officials and posting photos with them to her social media feeds, and highlighting state investments in the boroughs with the highest proportions of people of color.

“Beautiful Saturday with my sisters in #Brooklyn – thank you for coming out to support @AndrewCuomo and I as we run for re-election,” Hochul tweeted on Saturday, with two photos attached, one of herself with four African-American women including Senator Persaud and Assemblymember Latrice Walker.

At the same time, Hochul has begun to zero in on Williams, returning some of his criticism of her as little more than a booster of Governor Andrew Cuomo, unwilling to be independent or speak up about corruption in state government. Hochul, who is from Erie County, where she was county clerk and a one-term member of Congress, has a conservative record on gun control and immigration that Williams has criticized and she has since distanced herself from, expressing more liberal views.

Hochul’s counterattacks have homed in on Williams’ own more conservative stances on abortion and marriage equality, and she has also taken him to task around his late and faulty campaign finance disclosures and unwillingness to release his past tax returns.

Last Tuesday, Hochul released a statement chastising Williams for failing to release his tax returns despite having introduced a resolution in the City Council calling for presidential candidates do so. “It's time for Councilman Williams to live up to his calls for transparency,” Hochul tweeted recently. “Stop trying to deflect and delay. Release your tax returns to the people of New York.”

She has also criticized Williams for issues with filing his campaign finance disclosure and for having to return $50,000 in illegal corporate donations. He has fired back saying that she has talked more about his campaign finance disclosures than about corruption in the state economic development programs that are key to her portfolio as lieutenant governor and have centered in Buffalo, which she represented in Congress.

In some ways, Hochul has appeared to embrace the challenge from Williams -- she calls herself a fighter and has said that while she thinks Democratic infighting hurts the party’s chances to flip Republican seats in Congress and the state Senate, she is happy to defend her record and Cuomo’s -- she enthusiastically supports the governor and explains her role as helping to get administration programs over the finish line and then to promote them around the state. While Cuomo has declined thus far to debate Cynthia Nixon in the gubernatorial primary, Hochul recently took to a Westchester stage with Williams for a forum, with only a moderator between them.

Any Democrat running for statewide office will have to spend a significant amount of time in New York City, with 55 percent of registered Democrats statewide residing within the five boroughs according to an April report from the State Board of Elections. But Williams may pose a different challenge to Hochul than did Tim Wu, Hochul’s 2014 Democratic challenger who ran alongside Zephyr Teachout, who took on Cuomo that year, as he was seeking a second term (Robert Duffy was Cuomo’s first-term lieutenant governor).

People of color, and particularly African-Americans, in the city play an outsize role in statewide Democratic primaries, the “base” of the party that is the most strongly identifies as Democratic.

“We can look at the record, just across the entire United States of America: black women are strong voters and strong leaders in our communities,” Brooklyn City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel told Gotham Gazette on Monday. “Elected or not elected. And we usually are the ones that come out and help folks to get elected. Look at Alabama, right? And so, [Hochul] knows that, campaigns know that, and so it’s the same way you see Jumaane Williams now having conversations with women.”

In seeking to draw a wedge between the two candidates that will resonate with Democratic primary voters, Williams has pointed to Hochul’s votes in Congress for “concealed carry reciprocity,” allowing concealed carry gun permits to be valid in states without concealed carry (it did not pass the Senate), and for Hochul’s opposition to former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

“The lieutenant governor has no real record to speak of in 25 years,” Williams told Gotham Gazette near City Hall on Tuesday, after receiving the endorsement of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus Alliance. “There’s a lot of conversation of what their hands have been in, but my record is rich, in the past nine years, whether it’s communities of more color, whether it’s the LGBT community, whether it’s reproductive rights.”

Hochul has distanced herself from her more conservative past, criticizing the Trump administration’s child separation policy and unsuccessfully campaigning with Cuomo to get the state Senate to pass a “red flag” gun bill, while trumpeting Cuomo’s prior gun control victories. She has also expressed regret about, when Erie County Clerk, threatening to turn in to law enforcement any undocumented immigrants who may seek a driver’s license from her office. And she’s repeatedly pointed to Williams’ conservative personal views on abortion and marriage equality, which he has modified in recent years while touting his legislative record on the subjects as separate from his personal beliefs.

Not everyone is convinced that Williams is a threat to Hochul. Political scientist and Democratic strategist Bruce Gyory, of Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips and SUNY Albany, believes that Williams may not have the political capital among African-Americans necessary to mount a statewide challenge against Hochul.

“Does Jumaane Williams start out with overwhelming black support?” Gyory said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “He didn’t back Bill Thompson [in the 2013 mayoral race], he backed de Blasio that time. He never endorsed Ken Thompson [for Brooklyn District Attorney] in the seminal reform race for black progressives in Brooklyn. He undercut black unity by not stepping out of the race for City Council [speaker] and backing [Robert] Cornegy, who had more support. And if you look at blacks in the Council, they were kinda begging him to do that, I’m sure they’re not thrilled that right after losing that race, he runs here for this.”

Gyory also noted that Williams has not endorsed Tish James, a fellow Brooklynite who would become the first black woman to hold statewide office, for Attorney General. Williams has endorsed Cynthia Nixon for governor and the two are both backed by The Working Families Party. He has also campaigned with Teachout, who is now running for attorney general, and the two seem set up to endorse each other.

Cuomo remains highly popular among black voters, and he, Hochul, and James have all endorsed each other. It’s not immediately clear that support from Cuomo and James will help Hochul among black voters, but it is exceedingly unlikely to hurt. The race may hinge in part on money, and there Williams appears at a significant disadvantage -- not only has Hochul raised more, but she has Cuomo’s immense largesse behind her as well, while Williams has never been a prolific fund-raiser.

"The Lieutenant Governor is very happy with where she stands in this race and the support that she is receiving statewide,” reads a statement from the Hochul campaign. “The poll clearly shows that the people of New York are happy with the record of accomplishments the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have achieved over the past four years. The Lieutenant Governor always campaigns hard and will be spending the next six weeks all over the state talking about that record."

Williams was also optimistic about the poll.

“The biggest poll for me is on election day,” he told Gotham Gazette. “So, don’t get too high or low on the polls in general. We’ve seen polls be completely wrong, so it’s hard. But I will say, it’s encouraging.” He noted that the high numbers of undecided voters in the poll -- roughly 50 percent of respondents -- as a good sign for his campaign.

Hochul’s campaign acknowledged that New York is a difficult state to become well known in, but expressed confidence that it will have the resources to continue to build her name recognition.

Gyory said that the swingiest demographic in statewide Democratic primaries is upper middle class, educated Catholic white women from the suburban counties; he said that Williams’ past personal opposition to abortion rights and LGBT rights would hurt him among that demographic.

He believes that Hochul is being tactically wise to target city voters and voters of color, explaining the recent spate of appearances in the city. While there are just over 300,000 registered Democratic voters in Hochul’s home county of Erie, which includes the state’s second-largest city of Buffalo, there are more than 3.4 million registered Democrats in New York City, including 1,096,765 in Williams’ home borough of Brooklyn.

“It would be hard to argue that she’s not being smart, that it’s not a good use of her time, to make him work as hard as he can for those votes in New York City,” Gyory said. “Because if she pins him down there, it’s tough to see him doing what he needs to do outside of New York City. So I think that’s a smart approach.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

In Wide Open Lieutenant Governor Primary, Hochul Targets Votes in Williams’ Backyard Tue, 31 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run justin brannan city council

Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

City Council Member Justin Brannan is everywhere.

He’s at the governor’s mansion discussing the state’s efforts to empower women- and minority-owned businesses. He’s meeting with the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council about the city’s construction industry. He’s at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s 53rd anniversary celebration, posing for photos with Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, state Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. and Yuh-line Niou, and fellow Council members. He’s talking police-community relations with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He’s speaking with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He’s at union rallies, nonprofit galas, senior centers, PTA meetings and parades.

He’s being interviewed on television and photographed at City Hall, and he’s developing more and more of a social media presence, showcasing both his travels around the city but also his focus on constituent services in his district, praising his colleagues, chronicling his subway struggles, and sharing song lyrics. And, he’s campaigning for Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party leader with outsized influence in other parts of government.

All that in the last two months, part of a frenetic start for a Council Member who has only been on the job since January, though he has been involved in city politics for much longer. And those activities haven’t gone unnoticed as Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is emerging very early on as a potential contender to be the next Speaker of the City Council.

The Council Speaker, arguably the second-most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen internally by members every four years, in a process that is less-public facing and more backroom-dealing. In 2021, the next city election year, 36 Council members will be term-limited, portending a sea change in the 51-member legislative body and giving incumbents, who usually sail to reelection, a leg up in the speaker race. Brannan seems to be following the playbook of current Speaker Corey Johnson, who started making moves for the speakership early in his first four-year term.

It is, of course, far too early to tell what the field of candidates will look like, which is why Council sources are reluctant to speak openly. But the buzz around the Council threw up the same names over and over. Besides Brannan, other potential contenders -- all of them Democrats -- include Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Queens Council Members Francisco Moya and Adrienne Adams, Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The list, save for Brannan, who seems to be the most active, is the same as that reported by City & State earlier this year. Some seem to have better odds, given their prominence on the Council and their relationships with the powerful Queens and Bronx Democratic county committees.

Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn, covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He has a deep well of experience, as a former chief of staff to his predecessor, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and as intergovernmental affairs director at the Department of Education. He founded the Bay Ridge Democrats and served as its president. He’s also been a professional musician.

“You can see that he’s been out there, in other Council members’ districts and all over the city, so he might be taking a cue card from Corey Johnson’s playbook,” said a Council source who wished to remain unnamed. The source noted that though it will be an “open field” of candidates in 2021, the names that are popping up early are because of their relationships with county committees. “I think people are trying to get a sense of how to play the it’s early to put money on a particular candidate.”

Another source with knowledge of Brannan’s moves noted that he has the advantage of being one of the few members who will be returning to the Council. “The fact that there’s only a handful of members coming back in four years sort of narrows the pool because...unless people would be OK with another two-term speaker, the next speaker is going to be one of the people that’s coming back,” the source said. Brannan, if reelected, would be serving his second and final term, as would the other contenders previously mentioned.

The source also noted that Brannan has made relationships over the last few years that will be beneficial down the line. “I think Justin’s always had, whether it was through the Bay Ridge Democrats or whether through campaign work he did, he’s always had those relationships,” the source said. “When he goes to the boroughs, it’s not like he’s introducing himself for the first time.”

Those relationships, including with Crowley and labor union leaders, will largely determine how the speaker race shakes out. The other members on the list of contenders have their own strengths and connections as well, and the speaker race often comes down to powerful stakeholders compromising in support of one candidate, taking into account a wide variety of factors.

Council Member Salamanca chairs the powerful land use committee and is a product of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Salamanca’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Council Members Moya and Adams are closely aligned with the Queens Democratic County Committee and its powerful boss, Rep. Crowley, who played kingmaker in the election of Johnson as speaker, in partnership with others, especially state Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx Democrats. Moya has the added bonus of having worked in the Assembly with Crespo.

“I’m sure this makes for great debate among all the political junkies out there, but the speakership is more than three years away,” Moya said in a statement. He insisted his focus is on his community, particularly on affordable housing, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and protections for workers in the building industry. “There will be a time and place to talk about the speakership but that’s a long ways away,” he said, not denying interest.

Stacey Yearwood, a spokesperson for Adams said the Council Member would not comment on being a speaker contender “as it is premature.”

None of the six potential candidates denied an interest in being the next speaker of the Council.

Council Members Rivera and Ampry-Samuel are viewed as rising stars in the Council and have have both been given prominent committees to lead -- hospitals and public housing, respectively. Rivera also received considerable support from Johnson in her election to the Council; they represent neighboring districts. Rivera declined to comment. Ampry-Samuels said in a statement, “My focus right now are the constituents of the 41st District and the residents of public housing.”

There’s no one predictable path to the speakership. “I think it’s hard because there’s been so few speakers that to go back and look historically how a speaker gets made, it’s different every time,” said the second Council source. “There’s the wisdom that Queens and the Bronx never make their own person the speaker, that would mean that Salamanca and Moya wouldn’t be the speaker. But who knows? There’s a lot of dynamics. There’s also the demographic dynamics. If we have a white mayor, chances are Justin’s not gonna be the speaker. If we have a black mayor, maybe there’s a chance there.”

In this last speaker’s election, there was vocal indignation that yet another white man was going be elected to a powerful seat in city government -- both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are white men, Public Advocate Letitia James is a black woman. There were calls for electing a speaker of color, including from black and Latino Council members who were running for the seat themselves. All that could change, as the source noted, if the citywide seats aren’t occupied four years from now by mostly white men.

Brannan is coy about his plans, even if they seem transparent to others. “It’s April 2018!,” he said with a jovial laugh, when asked outside City Hall whether he was making an early move for the speakership. “It’s barely four months into my first term and I’m just laser-focused on being a good Council member for my district. Having succeeded a guy that was in office for a long time, I’ve got a lot to prove. So that’s my number one focus.”

He added, “It’s fun and flattering to be mentioned in that circle [of speaker potentials]. I think this new crop of my colleagues are all very talented and very smart. To be mentioned with this class is great.”

He conceded that maybe another white man may not be the way the Council will look to go and that diverse representation is sorely lacking in the legislative body. “Bottom line is that it’s gotta be someone that’s qualified for the job...I’ve already said in my Council seat, I would love nothing more than to be succeeded by a woman. So those things are important to me too. I’m certainly not blind to those dynamics but it’s just so far away.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run Thu, 12 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term 38866913345 afd4b05a3e z

City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.

New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.

“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a request for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year.  

Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”

Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.

After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”

Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.

Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.

[Related: New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates]

The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.

Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”

Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.

Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter.  

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.

In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.

Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards & Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently investigating an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.

Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.

Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.

Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.

Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.

Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility. "The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."

Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.  

When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of  Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.

Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”

Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.

by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.

City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
'Tears of Joy,' Hope for a District in Alicka Samuel's Win alicka samuel facebook crop

Alicka Ampry-Samuel (via Facebook)

It was late Tuesday afternoon, primary day, in Brooklyn, and amidst the rattle of the subway and wafting aroma of a not-far-off Popeyes fried chicken restaurant, Alicka Ampry-Samuel danced on the sidewalk with Corey Johnson, a current City Council member from Manhattan, to “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now.” Although the outcome of Samuel’s race -- she was a leading candidate in the crowded Democratic primary for the open City Council District 41 seat -- was uncertain, the atmosphere was quasi-celebratory, with family, friends, and supporters swaying to the beat blaring from speakers stationed nearby. It was a moment of levity during a day of grueling campaigning.

The competition for the seat was fierce. Ampry-Samuel was one of nine candidates on the primary ballot, in a district encompassing portions of Bed-Stuy, East Flatbush, Crown Heights, and Ocean Hill-Brownsville, where the Democratic primary winner would be assured the seat given no candidates from other parties are running.

Vying to replace Darlene Mealy, a long-time Council member widely considered ineffective, the candidates were seeking the opportunity to better represent one of the poorest and neediest districts in the city. For Ampry-Samuel, primary day meant exhaustive hustling across the district in a last-minute pursuit of votes. It meant dozens of handshakes and leaflets with her face and name on them, and visits from the likes of Johnson, a candidate to become the Council’s next speaker, from Mayor Bill de Blasio, himself seeking a primary election victory, and others.

It also meant support from many campaign volunteers and family members eager to see Ampry-Samuel charged with addressing community issues like affordable housing, including public housing, employment opportunities, school quality, parks, social services, and more.

Samuel, dressed in bright red, entered primary day with optimism and a resume packed with political experience. She was a former district leader, chief of staff for Assemblymember Latrice Walker, and most recently a senior advisor at NYCHA. However, she was realistic about her chances, acknowledging the crowded field, which included multiple candidates who also have strong resumes.

In an interview, Ampry-Samuel said “we know that a lot of folks don’t come out for the local elections.” And she was right, with just 10,557 votes cast in her primary. But, she received enough of them -- 3,320 votes, or 31% -- to prevail, besting the second-place finisher, Henry Butler, who received 2,318 votes, by 1,002, a margin less than the 1,197 votes received by third-place finisher Cory Provost and just a few more than the 915 votes good for fourth place.

Ampry-Samuel started Tuesday out on the street, greeting commuters near the subway entrance on Ralph Avenue and Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Stating that she “was clearly exhausted,” she said she was also “energized.” On what she termed her “third wind,” given the long months of campaigning, she approached the largely thankless task of handing out fliers with cheer and charm. After one man said his wife’s last name was Samuel, she replied, “So, you gotta vote for your cousin!”

Ampry-Samuel canvassed during rush-hour traffic along with prominent politicians in the community, including Congressional Rep. Yvette Clarke, the wizened former Rep. Edolphus Towns, and childhood friend Latrice Walker, still an Assembly member from nearby.

“We out here in these streets, girl!” exclaimed Walker, dressed in bright pink and especially energetic.

Not only did Samuel accrue the endorsements of most relevant local politicians, she had managed to reel in the biggest fish in the pond, de Blasio. Having previously endorsed her candidacy and campaigned with her over the weekend, he arrived at Ralph Avenue and Fulton Street to support her, and his own campaign, accompanied by men whispering into their sleeves, a communications team, and additional police officers.

Although Ampry-Samuel said de Blasio’s “endorsement is a positive for the community,” his presence was somewhat divisive. While they were talking up voters, a driver in a pickup truck yelled, “Boo de Blasio! Anybody but de Blasio!” Earlier in the morning, Samuel had a tense conversation with a woman who pointedly asked, “Why do you support de Blasio?” And a young man named Anthony explained that although he supported Samuel, that “in a sense, yes” it bothered him that she and de Blasio were associated.

Samuel responded to this criticism, explaining that “we gotta get a seat at the table.” By accepting the mayor’s support, she is gaining a powerful ear in city government, attention that could be leveraged for the community’s benefit. As Dion Turner, her brother, said in an interview, “If you’re not at the table, you’re just a menu.”

Many were happy to see de Blasio, though.

Surviving the madhouse of the mayor’s awed admirers, Ampry-Samuel and her team took a quick breather before leaving the subway stop, setting off to engage residents in the many public housing developments of Brownsville, a neighborhood that has the highest concentration of public housing in the nation.

Having grown up in Brownsville public housing herself, Ampry-Samuel seemed at home embracing those she saw on the street. As she greeted friends, family, and voters, a campaign aide pointed out that she was “giving things a personal touch.”

Clutching a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, Ampry-Samuel eventually strolled past two women near the Van Dyke Houses. They were wearing deep blue shirts printed with the name of opponent, Henry Butler.

“Definitely, her biggest competitor is Henry Butler,” explained Jamell Henderson, a former City Council candidate and current Ampry-Samuel supporter.

Placing second in the primary with 22% of the vote, Butler is a native of Bed-Stuy and District Manager for Community Board 3. Although he had stopped by the subway entrance earlier that morning and proclaimed that “we’re all good Democrats,” he had a contentious relationship with Ampry-Samuel and her campaign.

Dion said that there had been a lot of “negativity created by him” and alleged that his supporters were “tearing down posters.” He expressed frustration with Butler’s blue-shirted backers who he claimed disrupted Ampry-Samuel and de Blasio that morning by “putting posters behind de Blasio’s head.”

Anthony Green, Ampry-Samuel’s cousin, also expressed irritation, telling those same supporters, “Don’t be disrespectful!”

Despite any of that, Ampry-Samuel joked good-naturedly with the women wearing Butler t-shirts and went on to schmooze with residents near the Van Dyke Houses. Having chatted up friends and strangers, Ampry-Samuel entered the latter half of primary day and took a needed rest at her campaign headquarters.

“I’m just ready for nine o’clock to come and go,” she vented to her friends, referring to when polls closed.

Joining a small convoy led by a minivan plastered with campaign posters, Ampry-Samuel soon set up shop in the late afternoon in front of the subway entrance on Rockaway Avenue. Biggie Smalls blasted from speakers in her campaign vehicle. With the volume way up, Ampry-Samuel enjoyed the moment and connected with voters returning home.

“It sounds like she really cares about the community,” said Jonathan, a student studying journalism and media.

Community was a recurring theme in Ampry-Samuel’s campaign. Having grown up in the area, her extensive family was her campaign’s foundation. In fact, she said in reference to nearby supporters that “for the most part, most of the people that you see are family.” Throughout the day, her cousin, brother, aunt, and mother were all seen trekking through the streets to support her.

Her husband, a U.S. diplomat working in Washington D.C., even flew in to visit. “Even as we were traveling across different countries, she’s been focused on this community,” he explained, wiping sweat off his wife’s brow with a paper towel.

Community issued dominated the campaign and appeared to determine voters’ choices. Anthony, the same young man who said de Blasio’s support for Ampry-Samuel bothered him, criticized Butler, saying he represented the interests of Bed-Stuy, not those of Ocean Hill-Brownsville.

Conversely, Kenneth, a Butler supporter from Bed-Stuy, praised him. “He lives in the community I live in. He’s trying to work for the community,” he stated, canvassing near the Atlantic Towers.

Under the waning daylight, with campaign fliers littering the sidewalk, Samuel sat near the same Atlantic Towers, visibly fatigued. An hour before, she had voted with her son in tow and had spent the remaining time before polls closed near a popular voting site, flashing the same broad smile at residents she had early that morning.

“I feel exhausted, but emotional because it was such a long day, and emotional because there was just a lot of love out there in the entire district,” said Ampry-Samuel. Polls were set to close at 9 p.m., 15 hours after they opened.

Anxious, she and her family, friends, and supporters went to a nearby lounge to watch the election results. With music playing in the background and balloons hovering near the ceiling, the numbers came in earlier then expected.

At one point, “Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz & Benz” by Lost Boyz played over the lounge’s loudspeakers. Ampry-Samuel danced in celebration. Effectively Council Member-elect, Ampry-Samuel will be sworn in come January, part of a new class of 51 City Council Members. One early and big question for her is whether she will be more effective than her predecessor. At a recent candidate forum, Ampry-Samuel promised to bring th energy and attentiveness to the Council that she says she has brought to all her other public service roles.

Reached by phone the morning after the primary, Ampry-Samuel said, “There were tears of joy.”

by Ben Weiss, Gotham Gazette

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'Tears of Joy,' Hope for a District in Alicka Samuel's Win Sat, 16 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000