Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/34 Sat, 21 Oct 2017 03:00:29 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Bill Aims to Increase Agency Accountability on Capital Projects http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6852:bill-aims-to-increase-agency-accountability-on-capital-projects http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6852:bill-aims-to-increase-agency-accountability-on-capital-projects council member cohen bill de blasio

City Council Member Andrew Cohen (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City government capital projects -- the building of a school or park, or the reconstruction of a bridge, for example -- are notorious for their delays and tendency to exceed initial budget projections. In an attempt to address these long-standing issues, City Council Member Andrew Cohen of the Bronx is introducing a bill that will require city government agencies to inform communities and their elected officials about expected delays and cost overruns to capital projects in their districts.

No matter the project or the city agency, communities and their elected representatives are frequently left in the dark as to when and at what cost promised improvements will be complete. Frequently, the agencies involved are the Parks Department, Department of Transportation, Department of Design & Construction, and Department of Housing Preservation & Development.

Cohen’s bill, which he’ll introduce at the City Council on Wednesday, will require that agencies send electronic notice to the relevant City Council member, borough president, and community board within 30 days of learning of “any projected or actual delay of sixty days or more,” as well as “any projected or actual change of ten percent or more of the total estimated cost of the capital project.” The bill also mandates that the notice must also include an explanation of the reason for the delay or cost increase.

Speaking with Gotham Gazette, Council Member Cohen said that the impetus for the bill “was really just about improving accountability, telling these agencies that when you make a commitment to our communities, you have to deliver on it, and if you don’t, there will be consequences.”

According to data provided to Gotham Gazette by the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a nonpartisan budget watchdog, as of November 2016, 86 of the 191 city capital projects with budgets of over $25 million are delayed by at least 12 months. Of those 86, 33 have been delayed by more than 24 months, with the median delay for such projects totaling 126 days.

In regards to budgetary concerns, CBC also reported that, of the 191 projects, 81 have current forecasted budgets greater than 120 percent of their original budget. Of those, 18 are projected to double their original baseline projection, leaving the median change in overall budget at an increase of $6.5 million. The total net change in current forecasted budgets for the 191 projects is $5.6 billion above the original forecasted budgets for all projects ($19.4 billion), an aggregate increase of 29 percent.

Jamison Hague, the Director of Infrastructure Studies at CBC, was quick to note that while a number of projects might exceed their initial budget or schedule, this can often be due to a “change in scope,” which, from an agency perspective, would not constitute an over-budget or behind-schedule project.

Council Member Cohen noted that the difficulties he has faced in his district have often been with the Parks Department, but added that every Council member has their own horror story. “Talk to any member and they will agree,” he said. “Every member is frustrated with this issue.”

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

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Bill Aims to Increase Agency Accountability on Capital Projects Tue, 04 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Embraces Mental Health First Aid http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6493:city-council-embraces-mental-health-first-aid http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6493:city-council-embraces-mental-health-first-aid MHFA Training

Mental Health First Aid training (photo via Council Member Cohen's office)


As City Council members we are known mainly for our work of enacting legislation, passing the budget, and land use determinations. What is often overlooked is the business our offices and staff do all day, every day -- the business of constituent services. Any community member can walk off the street into our district offices or call those offices by phone and will be assisted by staff on whatever the issue may be.

You can come in if you need a document notarized or if you call in a 311 complaint and want help to follow up. If you have a problem with your housing situation, a traffic and safety issue, or a quality of life concern in your neighborhood, we can help. It is through this work that we learn about the priorities in our communities and the needs of our constituents, and these interactions are often the inspiration for legislation or for funding a new project.

Constituent services are the lifeblood of our work as Council members. New Yorkers rely upon these services and it is through these services that we encounter all different people, with a variety of needs and concerns, including persons with mental illness. In fact, one in five New Yorkers experience a mental health issue in a given year. Therefore, the Council is participating in the Mental Health First Aid initiative, including a two-day program this week that includes dozens of participants that work for the City Council and its elected members.

Mental Health First Aid trains people to support someone who may be suffering from a mental health condition, helps to reduce bias against mental illness, and allows people to more comfortably engage with mental health issues. The program teaches the common risk factors and warning signs of specific types of illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and schizophrenia. It prepares participants to interact with a person in crisis and connect the person with help, whether it is professional, peer, social, or self-help care. Like CPR, Mental Health First Aiders are certified to deliver the initial intervention to an individual experiencing mental health problems until the appropriate treatment and support are received or the crisis resolves.

We are embarking on a new era in mental health, one where the shame, silence, and stigma that have surrounded mental illness are losing their stronghold. This City Council and this city administration are leading the way in bringing mental health out of the shadows and into the light. The Council is prepared to do its part in changing the culture of mental health, by doing what we do best: conscientious constituent services, one New Yorker at a time.

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Andrew Cohen is the New York City Council Member representing District 11 in the Bronx, which includes Bedford Park, Kingsbridge, Norwood, Riverdale, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield and Woodlawn. On Twitter @AndrewCohenNYC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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City Council Embraces Mental Health First Aid Tue, 23 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Bill Mandates Review of Criminal Justice Programs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6063:bill-mandates-review-of-criminal-justice-programs http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6063:bill-mandates-review-of-criminal-justice-programs cohen nypd

Council Member Andrew Cohen, second from left (photo: @JeffreyDinowitz)

 


 

NYPD Officer Randolph Holder was fatally shot in October by Tyrone Howard, a man with a history of run-ins with the law. After his fifth conviction on a drug-related crime, Howard was sent by a judge to a treatment program designed to divert people away from the prison system. Howard skipped out on that program and wound up killing Holder.

Drug diversion programs and others are now being called into question and facing critical examination both at the city and state level. Mayor Bill de Blasio immediately called for reforms to the bail process so that people with records similar to Howard’s would not be given such leniency. State Senator Martin Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn, introduced a bill called ‘Officer Randolph Holder’s Law,’ which would make it tougher for criminals with multiple felony convictions to enter alternative treatment programs.

Meanwhile, an almost prescient bill, introduced in the City Council weeks before Officer Holder’s death, went largely unnoticed.

City Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, is the prime sponsor on the bill which would mandate an annual city review “to evaluate the performance of any organization that receives funding from the City for criminal justice-related services.”

Organizations that provide services such as alternatives to incarceration, pretrial supervised release, re-entry and diversion programs, would be evaluated by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in a mandated report submitted to the Mayor and the Council.

“The administration has made commitments about reducing the population of Riker’s Island,” Cohen said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “As chair of the Committee on Mental Health, I don’t want to just move deck chairs on the Titanic. I want to make sure we’re getting results.”

While the report would cover basic details such as amount of funding given and people served, an important aspect would be the study of recidivism and compliance rates. The bill currently has 13 co-sponsors, including Cohen, in the 51-member Council.

Diversion programs are widely considered effective. But the city has yet to undertake a significant long-term review of its own work in the field. The last meaningful audit of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) by the city comptroller of expenditures other than personal services was in 2006. The Mayor’s Management Report entirely ignores the office and its work.

Data published online by MOCJ addresses statistics such as felony and misdemeanor arrests, lengths of detentions and conviction rates, but lacks significant data on alternatives to incarceration (ATI) programs. To be fair to the administration, Mayor de Blasio has committed an action plan and funding toward keeping people with behavioral health issues out of jail, which is an important measure to reduce the city’s overall prison population. But, a year after its launch, the plan has yet to produce significant metrics.

In the aftermath of Officer Holder’s death, de Blasio called for changes to bail laws and a tightening of diversion eligibility. “The death of Officer Randolph Holder was a clear and tragic signal that we must ensure dangerous individuals with long criminal histories do not walk our streets,” de Blasio said in an October statement. “Our judges must be able to look at how dangerous someone is when they decide how much bail is set – and should look at these factors when they decide whether to divert someone away from jail.”

More than just a criminal justice issue, Council Member Cohen stressed that his proposal is also a “good government bill” that will help the Council make sure that it’s getting the bang for its buck. “I think it’s important for the Council to stake its claim in oversight,” he said.

The bill, if it moves, will be heard by the Committee on Public Safety, which is chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, also a Bronx Democrat, who is not among the bill’s sponsors. Gibson’s office did not make her available for an interview for this article nor provide a statement about her view of the bill. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's office did not respond to an inquiry for comment.

A few organizations that tackle criminal justice issues in the city also refused to comment on the bill, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Vera Institute of Justice, and The Bronx Defenders.

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by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid    @GothamGazette

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Bill Mandates Review of Criminal Justice Programs Tue, 05 Jan 2016 18:52:17 +0000
The New Yorker's Guide To The New City Government http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=4792:the-guide-to-new-york-citys-new-government http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=4792:the-guide-to-new-york-citys-new-government CityHall2

Photo by Bill Alatriste/City Council

NEW YORK — The historic overhaul of New York City government this year goes well beyond the mayor's office.

There are 21 new members of the City Council, four new borough presidents, and fresh, yet familiar, faces in the offices of Brooklyn district attorney, comptroller, and public advocate. With the city’s politics taking an increasingly liberal turn, there are few outright conservatives left in city government.

“Reapportionment and term limits combined to make the City Council younger, a little bit further to the left, perhaps less a product of traditional political organizations or machines, and demographically, a little more like the population of the city,” said Kenneth Sherrill, Chair of the Political Science Department at Hunter College.

New city officials include the first Mexican-American on City Council; old friends of incoming Police Commissioner Bill Bratton from his tenure during the 1990s; yet another member of the Queens Vallone clan; and a progressive new Brooklyn D.A., who has said he wants to re-train the borough's police officers. We've rounded up the full list here.

Citywide

Mayor

Bill de Blasio - De Blasio has been involved in New York City politics since he helped the last progressive mayor, David Dinkins, get elected in 1989. Between that first campaign and his mayoral victory, De Blasio served as the regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, helped Hillary Clinton get elected to the U.S. Senate, spent eight years representing some of Brooklyn’s wealthier neighborhoods on the City Council, and, most recently, served as the city’s public advocate. In an attempt to deliver on a key campaign promise early on, De Blasio has spent the last few weeks drumming up support in Albany for a small tax on the wealthy to fund universal pre-K. Dinkins, somewhat ironically and extremely publicly, recently told him to reconsider, saying “we might have more success” with a commuter tax.

Comptroller

Scott Stringer - Stringer left his post as Manhattan Borough President and took on former Gov. Elliot Spitzer in order to ascend to this quietly powerful office overseeing city finances. He brings with him experience as a trustee of the massiveNYCERS pension fund and a track record of spearheadingpopulist economic initiatives, including the New York City Taxpayer Receipt, a website that allows constituents totrack their tax dollars.

Public Advocate

Letitia "Tish" James - James has served Central Brooklyn on the City Council since 2003 and has opposed several major development and rezoning projects, including Atlantic Yards, which, for years, riled up residents around what is now the Barclays Center. Most recently, James joined progressive groups in calling for higher wages and a change in the city’s economic development policies, including more stringent requirements for banks and corporations that receive city subsidies.

Borough-wide offices

Brooklyn District Attorney

Kenneth P. Thompson - Thompson had tobeat incumbent Charles Hynes twice - first, in the primary, when Hynes was a Democrat, and again when Hynes became a Republican for the general election. In anacceptance speech, the first black Brooklyn DA said voters had chosen him as an alternative to "false accusation, fear-mongering, and race-baiting." As a federal attorney, Thompson prosecutedpolice brutality in Brooklyn and now aims to reduce false arrests byassigning prosecutors to police precincts in East New York and Brownsville. “It is not right to have someone subjected to stop-and-frisk, snake through the system and spend two days in jail just to get out," hetold the Daily News.

Brooklyn Borough President

Eric Adams (D, WF) - Counted as anold friend by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Adams served 22 years in the NYPD before moving on to the State Senate, where he has represented Crown Heights, Flatbush, Sunset Park and Park Slope for the last eight years. A vocal critic of former Commissioner Ray Kelly when stop-and-frisk was on trial, Adams advocates for a "symbiotic relationship" between the police and the community.

Manhattan Borough President

Gale Brewer (D) - Brewer has been a Council member for the Upper West Side and North Clinton since 2002. Her most recent political efforts include a push tomake food trucks greener and to get the city toseek federal funding to expand CitiBike.

Queens Borough President

Melinda Katz (D) - Katz represented Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and other pockets of Queens during her seven-year tenure on the City Council between 2002 and 2009. While on the Council, she was chair of the land use committee, and played a key role in moving forward the massive rezoning the city underwent during the Bloomberg administration.

Staten Island Borough President

James Oddo (R) - After 15 years on the City Council, Oddo is passing his title of Republican minority leader on to fellow Staten Island politician Vincent Ignizio. When it comes to Sandy relief, Oddosupports an "acquisition for redevelopment" plan that would buy out homeowners, open Midland Beach up to developers, and give former residents the option of moving back in.

City Council

Manhattan

Corey Johnson (D) - D3 - Hell's Kitchen, Chelsea, West Village- Johnson, a prominent activist in the LGBT community, will take outgoing Speaker Christine Quinn's seat. Johnson most recently served as Chair of Community Board 4, which also made him aboard member of the Hudson Yards Development Corp. Johnson built much of his campaign around affordable housing, but has been thesubject of controversy as a former employee of GFI Development Co., which has erected its fair share of Brooklyn condos.

Ben Kallos (D) - D5 - Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island - Kallos, a lawyer and lifelong Upper East Sider, advocated for state constitutional reform as the Executive Director of the groupEffectiveNY and has put the issues of government accountability and transparency at the forefront of his campaign. He has also pledged to try toaid local businesses affected by the interminable Second Avenue subway construction.

Hellen Rosenthal (D) - D6 - Upper West Side and North Clinton - Rosenthal, who is coming from a post in the City Hall Budget Office, has been amajor supporter of participatory budgeting and has advocated bringing it to her district, where, in the past, she served as Chair of Community Board 7.

Mark Levine (D, WF) - D7 - parts of Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights/West Harlem, Manhattan Valley, Washington Heights, and part of UWS - Over the course of his uptown political career, Levine founded the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan and a credit union called the Neighborhood Trust. He also briefly ran the New York chapter of the controversial Teach for America program, of which he was an early participant. Levine's proposals for city schools includeexpanding the curriculum to teach about LGBT history, animal welfare, and environmental issues.

Brooklyn

Laurie Cumbo (D) - D35 - Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and part of Bedford Stuyvesant - Cumbo is best known in Brooklyn for her leadership and expansion ofMoCADA, the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts, and other cultural programs she has jump-started. But Cumbo has had a rough start as a Council member. She already had toapologize to her new constituents for racially chargedcomments she made about the 'knockout attacks' in Crown Heights last month.

Robert Cornegy, Jr. (D) -D36- Bedford Stuvesant and parts of Crown Heights - Cornegy is transitioning from a position as Legislative Analyst for the Council's Aging and Veterans Committee. The former district leader and president of VIDA, Central Brooklyn's Vanguard Independent Democratic Association,eked out a primary win in a race that ended with a highly contested recount.

Rafael Espinal, Jr. (D) - D37- Cypress Hills, Bushwick, East New York, City Line, Ocean Hill, Brownsville - Two years ago, Espinal, then 27, became the youngest member of the State Assembly, representing District 54. Most recently, hesponsored legislation related to domestic abuse and, in the past, has sponsored bills that would require insurance companies to expand women's health coverage. Espinal has said he is determined to repair the infrastructure in neighborhoods that have been "completely ignored" by the city, like Cypress Hills, where he grew up.

Carlos Menchaca (D) - D38 - Bayridge Towers, Greenwood Heights, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace - Menchaca'srelief efforts in Red Hook following Hurricane Sandy helped him get the support he needed to beat his district's incumbent. Now, he and incoming Council Member Mark Treyger want tostart a Sandy relief committee on the City Council. Proudly claiming the dual titles of "first Mexican-American on the City Council" and "first openly gay legislator in Brooklyn," Menchaca cut his teeth in the offices of outgoing Borough President Marty Markowitz and outgoing Speaker Christine Quinn.

Inez Barron (D) - D42 - NEIGHBORHOODS - In her five years representing State Assembly District 60, Barron hastaken a progressive stance on issues from gun regulation to sex education. She alsofought to end mayoral control of city schools after a decades-long career as a public school teacher and administrator. Barron's more incendiary husband, Charles, is passing her the torch in their Council district.

Alan Maisel (D) - D46 - Canarsie, Mill Basin, Marine Park, Bergen Beach, Gerritsen Beach, part of Sheepshead Bay - Environmental issues and public safety, including 'fracking' regulation, have been prominent among the legislation Maisel hassponsored in his tenure serving State Assembly District 59. Much of Maisel's civic work in Brooklyn has been done through the international Jewish organization B'nai B'rith, although he has also served on his local school and community boards.

Mark Treyger (D) - D47 - Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Coney Island, and Sea Gate - After Superstorm Sandy hit, Treyger founded STRONG, the Sandy Task Force Recovery Organized by Neighborhood Groups, and is now joining forces with fellow incoming Council Member Carlos Menchaca to call fora Sandy relief committee on the City Council. Treyger, long active in local politics, has been a high school teacher since 2005, with strong involvement in the United Federation of Teachers.

Chaim Deutsch (D) - D48 - Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, and Brighton Beach - Over the past 20 years, Deutsch, who has a strong foothold in Brooklyn's Jewish community, has taken community safety into his own hands as president of the Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol. He founded the Patrol in the early 1990s in response to rising crime and has worked closely with both Commissioner Bill Bratton and outgoing police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Deutsch even held an appreciation ceremony for Kelly, during which hepresented the city’s top cop with a mezuzah, which Jews hang in their doorways for protection. He alsopraised Bratton for having "excelled at police-community relations and law enforcement strategies" during his previous tenure on the NYPD.

Antonio Reynoso - D34 - Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn; Ridgewood in Queens - Reynoso is taking the seat of his former boss, Councilwoman Diana Reyna, who he has been working for since 2007, most recently as her Chief of Staff. A Williamsburg native, Reynoso has made affordable housing his top issue, speaking out frequently about the neighborhood's luxury makeover. He beat out a seasoned politician, former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who was forced out of the Assembly earlier this year following a sexual harassment case.

Queens

Paul Vallone, Jr. (D) - D19 - College Point, Auburndale-Flushing, Bayside, Whitestone, Bay Terrace, Douglaston, and Little Neck - Leaving his practice at Queens law firm Vallone and Vallone to take a seat on the City Council, Vallone seems to be leaving onefamily business for another. His father, former Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr., served on the City Council for 25 years, leaving in 2001, when his brother, Peter, Jr., was elected to represent the 22nd District (his term is up this year). Beyond his family ties, Vallone has established thousands of dollars in scholarship funds for Queens high school students and based his campaign platform on a mix of progressive issues — such as women's access to birth control — and local issues like noise pollution from overhead flights.

Costa Constantinides (D) - D22 - Astoria, Long Island City, part of Jackson Heights, Rikers Island, Randalls Island, and Wards Island - In the district that includes the city's largest jail, Constantinides earned valuable campaign support from the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association. Constantinides aims to reduce both crime and unemployment by hiring more police officers. He has also been active in the fight for voter rights throughout the state as a member of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council, and says it's time to dump thehundreds of outdoor trailer classrooms” that are disproportionately found in Queens schools.

Rory Lancman (D) - D24 - Briarwood, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest Estates, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, Utopia Estates, and parts of Forest Hills, Flushing, Jamaica and Rego Park - When Lancman attempted to run for Anthony Weiner's old seat in Congress last year,WNYC reported that he had made some enemies and that one source had even called him the "most hated member of the state Assembly." Lancman, a lawyer who served Assembly District 25 for six years, has also passed a significant volume of legislation, including theLibel Terrorism Protection Act, which aims to protect journalists writing about terrorism abroad from being hit with defamation lawsuits, and a host of bills related to equality andsafety in the workplace.

Daneek Miller (D) - D27 - St. Albans, Hollis, Cambria Heights, Jamaica, Baisley Park, Addisleigh Park, and parts of Queens Village, Rosedale, and Springfield Gardens - In December, Millerreceived a "Champion of Labor" Award, along with Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James. In Southeast Queens, where subway service is spotty, Miller has championed bus drivers and riders as president of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transportation Union. He also co-founded a mentor program called Brothers Unlimited.

Bronx

Andrew Cohen (D) - D11 - Kingsbridge, Riverdale, Woodlawn, Norwood, and parts of Bedford Park, Wakefield, and Bronx Park East - Cohen, a Riverdale attorney, has had a long career in law, including several years as a court attorney to a Bronx Supreme Court Justice, legal counsel to State Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz, and a stint as an assistant adjunct at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He has called for raising the minimum wage and has gained the support of the United Federation of Teachers.

Ritchie Torres (D) - D15 - Bathgate, Belmont, Crotona, Fordham, East Tremont, Van Nest and West Farms - Torres, only 24, is one of many young Latino Democrats making their way into city politics. He has worked with Councilman James Vacca since his 2005 campaign and was named his housing director in 2011. Torres, who grew up in NYCHA housing, has worked to create tenants' associations and to advocate for basic rights of NYCHA residents in the Bronx, like building improvements andheating.

Vanessa Gibson (D) - D16 - West Bronx, Morrisania, Highbridge, and Melrose - A Bronx transplant from Brooklyn, Gibson was elected to State Assembly District 77 in 2009, where she has focused on housing and social services. She began her political career as the Bronx district office manager for Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene.

Staten Island

Steven Matteo (R) - D50 - in Brooklyn, parts of Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach; in Staten Island, Arrochar, Bulls Head, Concord, Dongan Hill, Emerson Hill, Fort Wadsworth, Grant City, Graniteville, Grasmere, Island of Meadows, Midland Beach, New Dorp, Prall's Island, Richmondtown, South Beach, Todt Hill, Travis, Westerleigh, Willowbrook - Sandy relief is still the number one priority in Staten Island, but Matteo has identified other issues affecting residents, including rampantprescription drug use. Matteo also said hehopes to work with the mayor  "to wrestle toll setting authority” from the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

This is an updated version which corrects the number of incoming City Council members to 21 and adds information on Councilman Antonio Reynoso.

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The New Yorker's Guide To The New City Government Tue, 31 Dec 2013 16:55:08 +0000