Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/ben-kallos 2017-10-20T14:06:39+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline 2017-10-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7234:city-council-members-still-navigating-outside-income-divestment-ahead-of-deadline Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/paul_vallone_by_john_mccarten.jpg" alt="paul vallone by john mccarten" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Council Member Paul Vallone (photo: John McCarten)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Legislation barring City Council members from making outside income will go into effect on January 1, forcing several sitting and incoming Council members to make tough decisions about their side jobs.</p> <p>The regulations, which were linked to a significant pay increase for all city elected officials, including a salary bump from $112,500 to $148,000 for City Council members, were approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council last year. Only three current City Council members, two of whom voted against the new restrictions, continue to be involved in their private sector businesses, and each is still in the process of figuring out divestment as mandated by the new law.</p> <p>Council Members Peter Koo, Chaim Deutsch, and Paul Vallone -- all still in the process of being reelected to another term -- were required to submit letters to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito by March 1, 2016 indicating whether or not they intended to continue earning outside income and stating an intention to comply with the rules by the January deadline -- in time for the 2018-2021 Council session.</p> <p>When reached by Gotham Gazette, each of the three Council members or a representative described legal and logistical complexities in divesting from or dissolving a limited liability company (LLC), resigning from a job, or recusing oneself from duties in anticipation of the deadline.</p> <p>Meanwhile, some still question whether the Council should have gone to a near-complete ban on outside income (small allowances are provided for members who teach a college course, for example), or if the model should have been akin to the cap on what members of Congress are allowed to make outside of their governmental duty -- a small percentage of their salaries.</p> <p>Vallone, a Democrat who represents District 19 in Eastern Queens, reported earning between $5,000 and $47,999 from his family’s law practice on his 2016 financial disclosure forms. In opposing the new outside income restrictions on Council members, he introduced a last-ditch <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/vallone-to-propose-capping,-not-barring,-city-council-members-outside-income.html#.WdPBx2JSw6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amendment</a> -- citing a statement made by good government group Citizens Union -- that Council members’ outside income should be capped at 15 percent of their Council salaries rather than eliminated. The amendment did not pass, and a spokesperson for Vallone said he is working with his lawyers to figure out how the rules apply to the family’s legal firm, which was founded by his grandfather Judge Charles J. Vallone in 1932, and where three generations of Vallones have since practiced.</p> <p>As managing Partner of Vallone &amp; Vallone, the Council member oversees the company’s day-to-day operations and serves as general counsel for corporate clients, according to <a href="http://vallonelaw.com/partners/paul-vallone-esq/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the firm’s website</a>. The firm also handles estate law, real estate transactions, civil and personal injury litigation, and criminal law.</p> <p>Also a Democrat, Deutsch represents the 48th Council District, in Southern Brooklyn, and currently makes between $100,000 and $250,000 a year through a real estate management company he owns. He said he intends to shut down the business by January, but has not yet determined the process for doing so.</p> <p>“It’s going to take some time to shut down the corporation. I don’t know exactly what the process is,” said Deutsch, who voted against the bills. “What I do know, is that I’m not accepting any more managing fees. I could keep the corporation open for the next five years, and maybe reopen it after term limits. But I will not be receiving the outside income.”</p> <p>Deutsch, like Vallone and Koo, will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 if successful on Election Day this year, which each is expected to be.</p> <p>Koo is a Democrat who owns a chain of pharmacies and represents the 20th Council District in Queens. He reported making between $60,000 and $99,999 as the president of a pharmacy, and another $5,000 to $47,999 at another pharmacy. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but he was the only one of the three who voted in favor of the legislation.</p> <p>Other newly elected Democratic nominees for the City Council said that they had already quit their jobs to focus on their campaigns and that they have no intentions to returning to work before January.</p> <p>“I quit in 2017 in April to be a full-time candidate,” said Keith Powers, who won a crowded District 4 Democratic primary and is the favorite to win the seat in November. “No matter what job I had at the time, I would have given it up; you want to make sure you have all the time to talk to voters.”</p> <p>Like Powers, most candidates for City Council either leave their jobs entirely or take a leave of absence for the key months of the campaign.</p> <p>Powers, a former government aide and, more recently, lobbyist who ran partly on a reform and transparency platform, said he hopes that the City Council rules can be a model for the state Legislature, where the salaries are far lower but the outside income restrictions are minimal and the job is considered part-time.</p> <p>“You should be fully committed to the job that you’ve been elected to for the district. In the district that I am in, I don’t know how you would even have time to do both,” Powers said.</p> <p>State government appeared to be moving toward pay raises for state legislators and others in government last year, but the process was stalled amid disagreements among Governor Andrew Cuomo, members of the Legislature, and appointees to a special panel tasked with determining pay raises and, potentially, other reforms to the relevant jobs. Legislators haven’t had a salary increase in nearly 20 years, with base pay stuck at $79,000, though many legislators receive additional bonuses as well as per diem payouts for trips to Albany.</p> <p>There were and continue to be criticisms about the requirement that City Council members relinquish virtually all outside income. Some stemmed from concerns that an outright ban on outside income could discourage small business owners from running for office, according to Council Member Ben Kallos, who co-sponsored the legislation and chairs the governmental operations committee. The bill was tweaked to make allowances for passive income and would not force electeds to dissolve their business entities completely.</p> <p>“It’s just what we could reasonably expect from people. So, if somebody has spent their career as a small business person, and brought that small business experience to the City Council, &nbsp;which can be invaluable…,” said Kallos. “After four years or eight years, [that person] could return to their community, and continue doing what they did to begin with.”</p> <p>Rather than stripping a small number of elected officials of their non-governmental livelihoods, the goal was to ensure that Council members focus on their districts full-time, and to avoid any real or apparent conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“It is a concern for me that someone with business before the city could hire a member of the City Council in the hopes of gaining influence,” said Kallos, who represents Manhattan’s 5th Council District.</p> <p>Kallos said that before taking office in 2014, he personally retired from the practice of law in three states and dissolved LLCs for companies he had started. He said he is still in the process of dissolving several non-profits he created.</p> <p>“All of them have had, literally had no business since I got elected. But, it can be a complicated and weird, long process,” he said.</p> <p>While dissolving these entities is not required by the bill, Kallos said, “I felt that as the author of the law in question, I have to set a good example and go one step further than the law requires.”</p> <p>Certain passive income, such as interest, dividends, rent, annuities, capital gains, copyright royalties, or retirement payouts are acceptable under the new rules. Council members may also accept compensation for speaking engagements or artistic performances, with advance approval by the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), and income for teaching an accredited college course, “so long as such compensation does not exceed that normally received by others at the institution for a comparable type and amount of instruction.”</p> <p>The language also leaves room for jobs drawing “minimal income, involving a limited time commitment,” with advance approval by the Office of General Counsel, as long as the role does not interfere with the member’s official duties.</p> <p>The pay raise at the City Council may have helped attract a number of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen since 1999. But, the new city guidelines can also create complications for an Assembly member and state senator earning outside income on the verge of election to the City Council. Three state lawmakers won Democratic City Council primaries in September and are either heavily favored or guaranteed to win the seat in November.</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., who won the primary for Council District 18 in the Bronx, earns between $5,000 and $20,000 for his role as pastor at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, which he founded, according to his most recent financial disclosure forms. Diaz Sr. could not be reached for comment.</p> <p>Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, who won the primary for Council District 13 in the Bronx, has earned between $75,000 &nbsp;and $100,000 from a real estate brokerage firm he owns with a family member. A spokesperson for Gjonai said he has started the process with his lawyers and accountants to take the necessary steps to comply with city law.</p> <p>“It's difficult for him to comment, because he's learning himself about that process,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Gjonaj. “I can say that it’s something the Assemblyman is happy to do in order to better serve his constituents.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who won the primary in Queen’s 21st Council District, receives between $5,000 and $20,000 in rental income, according to his state disclosure filings, and will not be obligated to give up the income.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/paul_vallone_by_john_mccarten.jpg" alt="paul vallone by john mccarten" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Council Member Paul Vallone (photo: John McCarten)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Legislation barring City Council members from making outside income will go into effect on January 1, forcing several sitting and incoming Council members to make tough decisions about their side jobs.</p> <p>The regulations, which were linked to a significant pay increase for all city elected officials, including a salary bump from $112,500 to $148,000 for City Council members, were approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council last year. Only three current City Council members, two of whom voted against the new restrictions, continue to be involved in their private sector businesses, and each is still in the process of figuring out divestment as mandated by the new law.</p> <p>Council Members Peter Koo, Chaim Deutsch, and Paul Vallone -- all still in the process of being reelected to another term -- were required to submit letters to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito by March 1, 2016 indicating whether or not they intended to continue earning outside income and stating an intention to comply with the rules by the January deadline -- in time for the 2018-2021 Council session.</p> <p>When reached by Gotham Gazette, each of the three Council members or a representative described legal and logistical complexities in divesting from or dissolving a limited liability company (LLC), resigning from a job, or recusing oneself from duties in anticipation of the deadline.</p> <p>Meanwhile, some still question whether the Council should have gone to a near-complete ban on outside income (small allowances are provided for members who teach a college course, for example), or if the model should have been akin to the cap on what members of Congress are allowed to make outside of their governmental duty -- a small percentage of their salaries.</p> <p>Vallone, a Democrat who represents District 19 in Eastern Queens, reported earning between $5,000 and $47,999 from his family’s law practice on his 2016 financial disclosure forms. In opposing the new outside income restrictions on Council members, he introduced a last-ditch <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/vallone-to-propose-capping,-not-barring,-city-council-members-outside-income.html#.WdPBx2JSw6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amendment</a> -- citing a statement made by good government group Citizens Union -- that Council members’ outside income should be capped at 15 percent of their Council salaries rather than eliminated. The amendment did not pass, and a spokesperson for Vallone said he is working with his lawyers to figure out how the rules apply to the family’s legal firm, which was founded by his grandfather Judge Charles J. Vallone in 1932, and where three generations of Vallones have since practiced.</p> <p>As managing Partner of Vallone &amp; Vallone, the Council member oversees the company’s day-to-day operations and serves as general counsel for corporate clients, according to <a href="http://vallonelaw.com/partners/paul-vallone-esq/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the firm’s website</a>. The firm also handles estate law, real estate transactions, civil and personal injury litigation, and criminal law.</p> <p>Also a Democrat, Deutsch represents the 48th Council District, in Southern Brooklyn, and currently makes between $100,000 and $250,000 a year through a real estate management company he owns. He said he intends to shut down the business by January, but has not yet determined the process for doing so.</p> <p>“It’s going to take some time to shut down the corporation. I don’t know exactly what the process is,” said Deutsch, who voted against the bills. “What I do know, is that I’m not accepting any more managing fees. I could keep the corporation open for the next five years, and maybe reopen it after term limits. But I will not be receiving the outside income.”</p> <p>Deutsch, like Vallone and Koo, will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 if successful on Election Day this year, which each is expected to be.</p> <p>Koo is a Democrat who owns a chain of pharmacies and represents the 20th Council District in Queens. He reported making between $60,000 and $99,999 as the president of a pharmacy, and another $5,000 to $47,999 at another pharmacy. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but he was the only one of the three who voted in favor of the legislation.</p> <p>Other newly elected Democratic nominees for the City Council said that they had already quit their jobs to focus on their campaigns and that they have no intentions to returning to work before January.</p> <p>“I quit in 2017 in April to be a full-time candidate,” said Keith Powers, who won a crowded District 4 Democratic primary and is the favorite to win the seat in November. “No matter what job I had at the time, I would have given it up; you want to make sure you have all the time to talk to voters.”</p> <p>Like Powers, most candidates for City Council either leave their jobs entirely or take a leave of absence for the key months of the campaign.</p> <p>Powers, a former government aide and, more recently, lobbyist who ran partly on a reform and transparency platform, said he hopes that the City Council rules can be a model for the state Legislature, where the salaries are far lower but the outside income restrictions are minimal and the job is considered part-time.</p> <p>“You should be fully committed to the job that you’ve been elected to for the district. In the district that I am in, I don’t know how you would even have time to do both,” Powers said.</p> <p>State government appeared to be moving toward pay raises for state legislators and others in government last year, but the process was stalled amid disagreements among Governor Andrew Cuomo, members of the Legislature, and appointees to a special panel tasked with determining pay raises and, potentially, other reforms to the relevant jobs. Legislators haven’t had a salary increase in nearly 20 years, with base pay stuck at $79,000, though many legislators receive additional bonuses as well as per diem payouts for trips to Albany.</p> <p>There were and continue to be criticisms about the requirement that City Council members relinquish virtually all outside income. Some stemmed from concerns that an outright ban on outside income could discourage small business owners from running for office, according to Council Member Ben Kallos, who co-sponsored the legislation and chairs the governmental operations committee. The bill was tweaked to make allowances for passive income and would not force electeds to dissolve their business entities completely.</p> <p>“It’s just what we could reasonably expect from people. So, if somebody has spent their career as a small business person, and brought that small business experience to the City Council, &nbsp;which can be invaluable…,” said Kallos. “After four years or eight years, [that person] could return to their community, and continue doing what they did to begin with.”</p> <p>Rather than stripping a small number of elected officials of their non-governmental livelihoods, the goal was to ensure that Council members focus on their districts full-time, and to avoid any real or apparent conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“It is a concern for me that someone with business before the city could hire a member of the City Council in the hopes of gaining influence,” said Kallos, who represents Manhattan’s 5th Council District.</p> <p>Kallos said that before taking office in 2014, he personally retired from the practice of law in three states and dissolved LLCs for companies he had started. He said he is still in the process of dissolving several non-profits he created.</p> <p>“All of them have had, literally had no business since I got elected. But, it can be a complicated and weird, long process,” he said.</p> <p>While dissolving these entities is not required by the bill, Kallos said, “I felt that as the author of the law in question, I have to set a good example and go one step further than the law requires.”</p> <p>Certain passive income, such as interest, dividends, rent, annuities, capital gains, copyright royalties, or retirement payouts are acceptable under the new rules. Council members may also accept compensation for speaking engagements or artistic performances, with advance approval by the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), and income for teaching an accredited college course, “so long as such compensation does not exceed that normally received by others at the institution for a comparable type and amount of instruction.”</p> <p>The language also leaves room for jobs drawing “minimal income, involving a limited time commitment,” with advance approval by the Office of General Counsel, as long as the role does not interfere with the member’s official duties.</p> <p>The pay raise at the City Council may have helped attract a number of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen since 1999. But, the new city guidelines can also create complications for an Assembly member and state senator earning outside income on the verge of election to the City Council. Three state lawmakers won Democratic City Council primaries in September and are either heavily favored or guaranteed to win the seat in November.</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., who won the primary for Council District 18 in the Bronx, earns between $5,000 and $20,000 for his role as pastor at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, which he founded, according to his most recent financial disclosure forms. Diaz Sr. could not be reached for comment.</p> <p>Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, who won the primary for Council District 13 in the Bronx, has earned between $75,000 &nbsp;and $100,000 from a real estate brokerage firm he owns with a family member. A spokesperson for Gjonai said he has started the process with his lawyers and accountants to take the necessary steps to comply with city law.</p> <p>“It's difficult for him to comment, because he's learning himself about that process,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Gjonaj. “I can say that it’s something the Assemblyman is happy to do in order to better serve his constituents.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who won the primary in Queen’s 21st Council District, receives between $5,000 and $20,000 in rental income, according to his state disclosure filings, and will not be obligated to give up the income.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Five Democrats Will Be On The Mayoral Ballot, But Only Two Will Debate 2017-08-16T02:11:01+00:00 2017-08-16T02:11:01+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7133:five-democrats-will-be-on-the-mayoral-ballot-but-only-two-will-debate Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/c8ske5txoaa5ql4.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="c8ske5txoaa5ql4.jpg large" width="600" height="439" /></p> <p>Mayoral candidate Robert Gangi (photo:@GangiForMayor)</p> <hr /> <p>The first official debate in the Democratic mayoral primary is set for Wednesday, August 23, where Mayor Bill de Blasio will face former City Council Member Sal Albanese. But three more Democrats, all of whom will be on the September 12 ballot, failed to qualify for the debate and are crying foul that the Campaign Finance Board’s <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/2017_Debate_Program_Criteria.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligibility criteria</a> are excluding them from participation.</p> <p>For candidates to qualify for the first of two official CFB primary debates, they must have raised and spent at least $174,225, which is 2.5 percent of the $6,969,000 primary expenditure limit.</p> <p>For the second “leading contenders” debate, for Democrats on September 6, a candidate must meet the fundraising and expenditure threshold as well as one of three additional criteria. These include an endorsement from a citywide, statewide or federal elected official who represents the area covered by the election; or an endorsement from a organization with 250 members; or “significant media exposure” in the 12 months before the election, defined in this case as 12 appearances in print, television, digital, or other local media.</p> <p>Only de Blasio and Albanese have met the criteria for both primary debates. As of the latest filing, for mid-August, de Blasio has raised $4.8 million and spent $2.4 million, and recently received a public funds matching payment of $2.5 million, giving him $4.9 million in cash on hand. Albanese has raised just over $191,000 and spent $185,000, leaving just over $5,000 in his campaign account as of the filing. He has not yet qualified for matching funds.</p> <p>Candidates who participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program must appear in the debates if they qualify. For non-participants, inclusion in the debates is not guaranteed, the debate sponsors can choose to invite them.</p> <p>The three other Democratic candidates on the ballot -- attorney Richard Bashner, police reform advocate Robert Gangi, and tech entrepreneur Michael Tolkin -- did not meet the threshold for the first primary debate. Both Bashner and Gangi have struggled to raise the necessary funds; Tolkin is the sole candidate of the bunch to not participate in the public funds program and would need to be invited on to the debate stage by sponsors.</p> <p>Bashner, Gangi, and Tolkin are all protesting the CFB requirements and the fact that they will be on the outside looking in when de Blasio and Albanese face off. Even Albanese has criticized the requirements, which he barely met after a furious spending spree, and made an argument for a different threshold.</p> <p>In the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary, the debate thresholds were far lower: candidates had to raise and spend $50,000 but they also had to have received 2 percent in either a <a href="https://poll.qu.edu" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quinnipiac University Poll</a> or <a href="http://maristpoll.marist.edu/about-the-marist-poll/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Marist Poll</a>. Those thresholds were changed late last year through <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2513780&amp;GUID=2E26ED01-75B2-4C56-BDA5-CFAEA8BEA895&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> passed by the City Council -- sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee -- and signed by de Blasio that increased the debate standards to the current 2.5 percent of the expenditure limit, as well as disqualifying loans or outstanding liabilities as counting towards that expenditure.</p> <p>The bill was based on one of 14 recommendations by the CFB in its <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/per/2013_PER/2013_PER.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2013 post-election report</a>, which pointed out that debate thresholds had remained unchanged since 2005 while expenditure limits had increased more than 20 percent. “An increased standard, tied to the expenditure limit, is a better objective indicator of viability,” the report stated, recommending the increase.</p> <p>Bashner has taken particular issue with the bill, insisting that it was a conflict for Mayor de Blasio to sign it into law since it has largely benefited him. The Brooklyn-based attorney and community board member has raised about $118,785 and spent $104,000, but $50,000 in contributions were a personal loan he made to his campaign.</p> <p>In a letter to the CFB on Monday, Bashner called the bill that changed the debate law the “Incumbent Protection Act” and called on the board to allow all the mayor’s challengers to participate in the debates. At the very least, he argued, those who have met the 2013 threshold of $50,000 should be included. “Voters deserve the opportunity to hear where each of these challengers stands on the critical issues facing our city,” he wrote. “To silence the voices of these candidates is to impede democracy.”</p> <p>Council Member Kallos defended the legislation, saying the CFB’s recommendation to increase the threshold was a “reasonable” one. “The piece that I found to be important was that candidates had to actually be spending money towards winning an election and that loans and liabilities wouldn’t count,” he said in a phone interview, insisting that the effect was two-fold. “Wealthy people couldn’t just write themselves a loan that they intended to pay back fully,” to get into the debates. “It also just changes it from a situation where people could loan and spend money that was illusory as opposed to raising and spending actual dollars.”</p> <p>At one point, it did seem that de Blasio would commit to an open debate with his opponents. He initially seemed reluctant, insisting in a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2017/07/24/mondays-with-the-mayor--de-blasio-takes-the-train.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">July interview on NY1</a>, “We’re going to follow the CFB rules.” None of his opponents had qualified for the debates by then. The mayor then changed his position, saying in an August 3 <a href="https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/893088365926600704" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tweet</a>, “Regardless of CFB requirements, I'll be on a debate stage before the Sept 12th primary.”</p> <p>Albanese criticized the mayor’s flip-flop, saying de Blasio issued the statement “when he saw that I was gonna blow past the threshold.” “I don’t find that to be a good government position, it was more of a political, expedient position,” he added.</p> <p>It’s unclear if the mayor will end up debating all the candidates on the ballot. "Under Mayor de Blasio crime is at record lows, jobs are at record highs, and New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace. We are happy for any opportunity to talk about the Mayor’s record and we look forward to debating whoever the CFB and debate sponsors decide to include,” said Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio's campaign, in an email.</p> <p>Gangi and Tolkin have directed their ire more towards the CFB, taking turns to condemn the debate requirements and the board itself.</p> <p>"The CFB's decision is a disgrace,” Tolkin said in a statement Tuesday. “It is reflective of a system virtually designed to keep non-politicians out of the election process. We are studying this decision closely and considering a range of options; however, it is clear that a comprehensive review of the CFB’s decision-making process is long overdue.”</p> <p>Tolkin has taken a peculiar approach to his campaign finances, showing almost $8 million in personal in-kind contributions to his campaign, which are also counted as expenditures. But the CFB determined that those did not qualify him for the debate. Nevertheless, Tolkin challenged de Blasio to participate in three additional debates before the primary with all the Democratic candidates. “Mayor de Blasio’s unwillingness to participate in debates with the full slate of candidates is an obstruction to a fair and transparent primary process - one that he was afforded as a candidate in 2013,” he said.</p> <p>For Gangi, campaign fundraising has been an even bigger challenge. He has raised only about $88,000 and spent just over $75,000. But, like Bashner, he lent his campaign a significant sum, $74,000, which would not count towards the contribution limit for the debates.</p> <p>In a campaign statement on Tuesday, Gangi said the financial thresholds “are inherently unfair and undemocratic” by favoring wealthy candidates and incumbents with access to deep-pocketed donors. He was particularly incensed that he had been excluded after the CFB had issued public funds to de Blasio’s campaign partly based on a de Blasio campaign “<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/follow-the-money/statements-of-need/stn_pdf/SNP-2017-bdeblasio-326-01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement of need</a>” that pointed to Gangi as one of the mayor’s main competitors. “On what basis does the CFB then decide that de Blasio does not have to debate me?” he wondered.</p> <p>“If my campaign is part of the rationale for granting the Mayor an extra [$2.5] million in tax payer [sic] matching funds, then it should have sufficient standing to earn a seat at the debate table,” he added.</p> <p>CFB spokesperson Matt Sollars said in an email that the new thresholds were adopted in advance so all candidates would be aware of them. “City law sets objective, nonpartisan criteria for eligibility to participate in the citywide debates,” he said. “These criteria ensure that voters get a robust debate among candidates who have demonstrated public support.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/c8ske5txoaa5ql4.jpg-large.jpeg" alt="c8ske5txoaa5ql4.jpg large" width="600" height="439" /></p> <p>Mayoral candidate Robert Gangi (photo:@GangiForMayor)</p> <hr /> <p>The first official debate in the Democratic mayoral primary is set for Wednesday, August 23, where Mayor Bill de Blasio will face former City Council Member Sal Albanese. But three more Democrats, all of whom will be on the September 12 ballot, failed to qualify for the debate and are crying foul that the Campaign Finance Board’s <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/2017_Debate_Program_Criteria.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligibility criteria</a> are excluding them from participation.</p> <p>For candidates to qualify for the first of two official CFB primary debates, they must have raised and spent at least $174,225, which is 2.5 percent of the $6,969,000 primary expenditure limit.</p> <p>For the second “leading contenders” debate, for Democrats on September 6, a candidate must meet the fundraising and expenditure threshold as well as one of three additional criteria. These include an endorsement from a citywide, statewide or federal elected official who represents the area covered by the election; or an endorsement from a organization with 250 members; or “significant media exposure” in the 12 months before the election, defined in this case as 12 appearances in print, television, digital, or other local media.</p> <p>Only de Blasio and Albanese have met the criteria for both primary debates. As of the latest filing, for mid-August, de Blasio has raised $4.8 million and spent $2.4 million, and recently received a public funds matching payment of $2.5 million, giving him $4.9 million in cash on hand. Albanese has raised just over $191,000 and spent $185,000, leaving just over $5,000 in his campaign account as of the filing. He has not yet qualified for matching funds.</p> <p>Candidates who participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program must appear in the debates if they qualify. For non-participants, inclusion in the debates is not guaranteed, the debate sponsors can choose to invite them.</p> <p>The three other Democratic candidates on the ballot -- attorney Richard Bashner, police reform advocate Robert Gangi, and tech entrepreneur Michael Tolkin -- did not meet the threshold for the first primary debate. Both Bashner and Gangi have struggled to raise the necessary funds; Tolkin is the sole candidate of the bunch to not participate in the public funds program and would need to be invited on to the debate stage by sponsors.</p> <p>Bashner, Gangi, and Tolkin are all protesting the CFB requirements and the fact that they will be on the outside looking in when de Blasio and Albanese face off. Even Albanese has criticized the requirements, which he barely met after a furious spending spree, and made an argument for a different threshold.</p> <p>In the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary, the debate thresholds were far lower: candidates had to raise and spend $50,000 but they also had to have received 2 percent in either a <a href="https://poll.qu.edu" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quinnipiac University Poll</a> or <a href="http://maristpoll.marist.edu/about-the-marist-poll/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Marist Poll</a>. Those thresholds were changed late last year through <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2513780&amp;GUID=2E26ED01-75B2-4C56-BDA5-CFAEA8BEA895&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> passed by the City Council -- sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee -- and signed by de Blasio that increased the debate standards to the current 2.5 percent of the expenditure limit, as well as disqualifying loans or outstanding liabilities as counting towards that expenditure.</p> <p>The bill was based on one of 14 recommendations by the CFB in its <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/per/2013_PER/2013_PER.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2013 post-election report</a>, which pointed out that debate thresholds had remained unchanged since 2005 while expenditure limits had increased more than 20 percent. “An increased standard, tied to the expenditure limit, is a better objective indicator of viability,” the report stated, recommending the increase.</p> <p>Bashner has taken particular issue with the bill, insisting that it was a conflict for Mayor de Blasio to sign it into law since it has largely benefited him. The Brooklyn-based attorney and community board member has raised about $118,785 and spent $104,000, but $50,000 in contributions were a personal loan he made to his campaign.</p> <p>In a letter to the CFB on Monday, Bashner called the bill that changed the debate law the “Incumbent Protection Act” and called on the board to allow all the mayor’s challengers to participate in the debates. At the very least, he argued, those who have met the 2013 threshold of $50,000 should be included. “Voters deserve the opportunity to hear where each of these challengers stands on the critical issues facing our city,” he wrote. “To silence the voices of these candidates is to impede democracy.”</p> <p>Council Member Kallos defended the legislation, saying the CFB’s recommendation to increase the threshold was a “reasonable” one. “The piece that I found to be important was that candidates had to actually be spending money towards winning an election and that loans and liabilities wouldn’t count,” he said in a phone interview, insisting that the effect was two-fold. “Wealthy people couldn’t just write themselves a loan that they intended to pay back fully,” to get into the debates. “It also just changes it from a situation where people could loan and spend money that was illusory as opposed to raising and spending actual dollars.”</p> <p>At one point, it did seem that de Blasio would commit to an open debate with his opponents. He initially seemed reluctant, insisting in a <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2017/07/24/mondays-with-the-mayor--de-blasio-takes-the-train.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">July interview on NY1</a>, “We’re going to follow the CFB rules.” None of his opponents had qualified for the debates by then. The mayor then changed his position, saying in an August 3 <a href="https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/893088365926600704" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tweet</a>, “Regardless of CFB requirements, I'll be on a debate stage before the Sept 12th primary.”</p> <p>Albanese criticized the mayor’s flip-flop, saying de Blasio issued the statement “when he saw that I was gonna blow past the threshold.” “I don’t find that to be a good government position, it was more of a political, expedient position,” he added.</p> <p>It’s unclear if the mayor will end up debating all the candidates on the ballot. "Under Mayor de Blasio crime is at record lows, jobs are at record highs, and New York City is building affordable housing at a record pace. We are happy for any opportunity to talk about the Mayor’s record and we look forward to debating whoever the CFB and debate sponsors decide to include,” said Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio's campaign, in an email.</p> <p>Gangi and Tolkin have directed their ire more towards the CFB, taking turns to condemn the debate requirements and the board itself.</p> <p>"The CFB's decision is a disgrace,” Tolkin said in a statement Tuesday. “It is reflective of a system virtually designed to keep non-politicians out of the election process. We are studying this decision closely and considering a range of options; however, it is clear that a comprehensive review of the CFB’s decision-making process is long overdue.”</p> <p>Tolkin has taken a peculiar approach to his campaign finances, showing almost $8 million in personal in-kind contributions to his campaign, which are also counted as expenditures. But the CFB determined that those did not qualify him for the debate. Nevertheless, Tolkin challenged de Blasio to participate in three additional debates before the primary with all the Democratic candidates. “Mayor de Blasio’s unwillingness to participate in debates with the full slate of candidates is an obstruction to a fair and transparent primary process - one that he was afforded as a candidate in 2013,” he said.</p> <p>For Gangi, campaign fundraising has been an even bigger challenge. He has raised only about $88,000 and spent just over $75,000. But, like Bashner, he lent his campaign a significant sum, $74,000, which would not count towards the contribution limit for the debates.</p> <p>In a campaign statement on Tuesday, Gangi said the financial thresholds “are inherently unfair and undemocratic” by favoring wealthy candidates and incumbents with access to deep-pocketed donors. He was particularly incensed that he had been excluded after the CFB had issued public funds to de Blasio’s campaign partly based on a de Blasio campaign “<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/follow-the-money/statements-of-need/stn_pdf/SNP-2017-bdeblasio-326-01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement of need</a>” that pointed to Gangi as one of the mayor’s main competitors. “On what basis does the CFB then decide that de Blasio does not have to debate me?” he wondered.</p> <p>“If my campaign is part of the rationale for granting the Mayor an extra [$2.5] million in tax payer [sic] matching funds, then it should have sufficient standing to earn a seat at the debate table,” he added.</p> <p>CFB spokesperson Matt Sollars said in an email that the new thresholds were adopted in advance so all candidates would be aware of them. “City law sets objective, nonpartisan criteria for eligibility to participate in the citywide debates,” he said. “These criteria ensure that voters get a robust debate among candidates who have demonstrated public support.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
A Rarity: City Council Candidate Releases Detailed Reform Agenda 2017-08-14T20:28:30+00:00 2017-08-14T20:28:30+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7127:a-rarity-city-council-candidate-releases-detailed-reform-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/powers_petitioning_stuytown_keithpowersnyc.jpg" alt="powers petitioning stuytown keithpowersnyc" width="600" height="471" /></p> <p>City Council candidate Keith Powers (photo: @KeithPowersNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Candidates across the city this year are running for City Council on all sorts of issues, but only one has released a detailed list of government, campaign finance, and voting reform proposals. That agenda, called “<a href="https://www.keithpowers.nyc/Sunlight?utm_source=Friends+of+Keith+Powers&amp;utm_campaign=e348847a12-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_23&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b8b0ccfe87-e348847a12-82283181" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunlight in the City</a>,” has been put forward by Keith Powers, a Democrat competing in the crowded field to replace term-limited City Council Member Dan Garodnick on Manhattan’s East Side.</p> <p>At a time of widespread distrust in government, continued problems with public corruption and unethical conduct, and low voter turnout, especially here in New York, Powers’ agenda is especially noteworthy. The 22-point platform on government and electoral reform in New York City is something of an amalgamation of longtime goals for voting reform advocates and good government groups. Some of the measures have actually already been passed or implemented; some have to be approved at the state level.</p> <p>Powers’ reform agenda also comes as he is has been attacked by opponents for his work as a lobbyist -- he was until May a vice president at the firm Constantinople and Vallone. Sunlight in the City includes several planks directly related to lobbying, including more disclosure of lobbying meetings held by City Council members and more detailed lobbyist reporting to indicate, among other things, “who got lobbied, who did the lobbying, and the specific bill or subject matter.”</p> <p>Some of the mainstay priorities of electoral and government reform advocates that appear in Powers’ platform include a move to instant runoff voting for all city elections and lowering the number of City Council issue committees to diminish patronage and redundancy in the legislative body. These planks have been proposed in the Council and, in the case of instant runoff voting, at the state level, but have gone nowhere.</p> <p>Powers also calls for lowering the individual contribution limit to Council candidates campaigns from $2,750 to $1,225, “to make small donors and large donors equal in their donation capacity.” Ideally, his agenda says, he wants to see 100% publicly financed elections in the city to replace the city’s current matching funds mechanism, starting with a pilot program for special elections. Kallos introduced a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increase the matching funds payout</a> for Council races “to a full match with the expenditure limit,” which is currently in committee.</p> <p>A few planks in the platform are already in place, such as the closure of the “doing business loophole” that allows those doing business with the city to circumvent donation limits by giving to political nonprofits. The loophole was closed in a bill passed by the Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016, after the mayor himself was investigated for issues related to his own political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, which was shuttered amid controversy.</p> <p>“I think it’s important we’re always sort of constantly evaluating our process by which we do government or help get people elected or otherwise,” Powers said in an interview, “we can always do better.” He indicated he believes the City Council is, in most cases, a model for transparent government, but that there’s still more that can be done.</p> <p>In part because of his reform agenda, Powers has received the endorsement of City Council Member Ben Kallos, himself an advocate of open and ethical government and the representative of a neighboring Council district to the one Powers hopes to represent. Kallos also chairs the Council’s government operations committee, which often hears bills related to government and campaign finance reform.</p> <p>“In terms of his Sunlight in the City report, it is a list of the 22 items that the City Council is currently working on or should be working on to really clean up government,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette. Kallos said that he hasn’t seen anything like it from anyone running this year.</p> <p>While few City Council candidates are talking about government and campaign finance reform, Democratic mayoral hopeful Sal Albanese has made the topic central to his attempt to unseat de Blasio. Albanese has proposed a significant campaign finance reform to completely eliminate private money from the system, something de Blasio has said he favors in theory, but has not advanced legislation on.</p> <p>Powers acknowledges the difficulties in getting some things on his list passed, but said that shouldn’t be a reason to not try.</p> <p>“I think the City Council reform, I think that is the one where I look at as there being a lot of really achievable ideas in there,” said Powers, citing the creation of an independent bill drafting unit as something that many legislators are clamoring for, despite the existence of such a unit. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5587-new-city-council-bill-drafting-unit-up-and-running-lander-mark-viverito" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The unit</a> was part of a package of Council reforms passed in 2014, but Powers believes that these reforms can go further; regarding the drafting unit, Powers believes the current iteration is an improvement, but that it should be even more autonomous in instances such as the number of bills that can be introduced at a given time.</p> <p>Another Council reform Powers sees as achievable deals with bill aging. Currently, a bill ages seven days after introduction for public input, but Powers claims that it just sits in City Hall and is essentially unavailable to the public. He believes it should publicly age online.</p> <p>Powers said that the challenge of moving some of the reforms through the state government shouldn’t be a deterrent, that the city shouldn’t be “abdicating our authority to Albany.” Kallos said that the voting reform planks, other than ending patronage at the Board of Elections, don’t have to go through the state Legislature. Many of the other planks need city passage, some can be done through City Council rules.</p> <p>On closing doing business loophole, which already became law, Powers conceded to have not known the full extent of the legislative package that was passed. He also was largely nonspecific on his proposed additions to the 2014 member item reform, stating that there’s a lot to look at where the Council can “do better.”</p> <p>The Powers agenda received an enthusiastic response from democratic reform group Citizens Union, which interviews candidates and releases preferences in some city elections based on good government bona fides.</p> <p>“Keith Powers has put forward an ambitious and wide-ranging plan to increase transparency and accountability, and bring some needed sunlight to the New York City Council. While we do not support all of his proposed reforms, Citizens Union has long been advocating for several of them and will continue to do so in the upcoming session,” said Rachel Bloom, Citizens Union’s Public Policy director.</p> <p>For example, Citizens Union is not in support of the full public financing of city elections plank of Powers’ platform -- the organization “feel[s] that candidates should have to raise money in the districts they seek to represent,” Bloom said. However, it is supportive of Powers’ proposed pilot program in special elections. The organization has not yet made its preference in the Council District 4 race or any other.</p> <p>In the Democratic primary to be voted on September 12, Powers is competing against Marti Speranza, Jeff Mailman, Bessie Schachter, Maria Castro, Vanessa Aronson, Barry Shapiro, Rachel Honig, and Alec Hartman, none of whom have released government reform platforms, though Shapiro called for transparency in lobbying in a <a href="https://vimeo.com/216324768" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">campaign video</a>.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Citizens Union candidate interview and preference process is wholly separate from Gotham Gazette operations. Gotham Gazette does not endorse or support candidates for office.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/powers_petitioning_stuytown_keithpowersnyc.jpg" alt="powers petitioning stuytown keithpowersnyc" width="600" height="471" /></p> <p>City Council candidate Keith Powers (photo: @KeithPowersNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Candidates across the city this year are running for City Council on all sorts of issues, but only one has released a detailed list of government, campaign finance, and voting reform proposals. That agenda, called “<a href="https://www.keithpowers.nyc/Sunlight?utm_source=Friends+of+Keith+Powers&amp;utm_campaign=e348847a12-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_23&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b8b0ccfe87-e348847a12-82283181" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunlight in the City</a>,” has been put forward by Keith Powers, a Democrat competing in the crowded field to replace term-limited City Council Member Dan Garodnick on Manhattan’s East Side.</p> <p>At a time of widespread distrust in government, continued problems with public corruption and unethical conduct, and low voter turnout, especially here in New York, Powers’ agenda is especially noteworthy. The 22-point platform on government and electoral reform in New York City is something of an amalgamation of longtime goals for voting reform advocates and good government groups. Some of the measures have actually already been passed or implemented; some have to be approved at the state level.</p> <p>Powers’ reform agenda also comes as he is has been attacked by opponents for his work as a lobbyist -- he was until May a vice president at the firm Constantinople and Vallone. Sunlight in the City includes several planks directly related to lobbying, including more disclosure of lobbying meetings held by City Council members and more detailed lobbyist reporting to indicate, among other things, “who got lobbied, who did the lobbying, and the specific bill or subject matter.”</p> <p>Some of the mainstay priorities of electoral and government reform advocates that appear in Powers’ platform include a move to instant runoff voting for all city elections and lowering the number of City Council issue committees to diminish patronage and redundancy in the legislative body. These planks have been proposed in the Council and, in the case of instant runoff voting, at the state level, but have gone nowhere.</p> <p>Powers also calls for lowering the individual contribution limit to Council candidates campaigns from $2,750 to $1,225, “to make small donors and large donors equal in their donation capacity.” Ideally, his agenda says, he wants to see 100% publicly financed elections in the city to replace the city’s current matching funds mechanism, starting with a pilot program for special elections. Kallos introduced a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increase the matching funds payout</a> for Council races “to a full match with the expenditure limit,” which is currently in committee.</p> <p>A few planks in the platform are already in place, such as the closure of the “doing business loophole” that allows those doing business with the city to circumvent donation limits by giving to political nonprofits. The loophole was closed in a bill passed by the Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016, after the mayor himself was investigated for issues related to his own political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, which was shuttered amid controversy.</p> <p>“I think it’s important we’re always sort of constantly evaluating our process by which we do government or help get people elected or otherwise,” Powers said in an interview, “we can always do better.” He indicated he believes the City Council is, in most cases, a model for transparent government, but that there’s still more that can be done.</p> <p>In part because of his reform agenda, Powers has received the endorsement of City Council Member Ben Kallos, himself an advocate of open and ethical government and the representative of a neighboring Council district to the one Powers hopes to represent. Kallos also chairs the Council’s government operations committee, which often hears bills related to government and campaign finance reform.</p> <p>“In terms of his Sunlight in the City report, it is a list of the 22 items that the City Council is currently working on or should be working on to really clean up government,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette. Kallos said that he hasn’t seen anything like it from anyone running this year.</p> <p>While few City Council candidates are talking about government and campaign finance reform, Democratic mayoral hopeful Sal Albanese has made the topic central to his attempt to unseat de Blasio. Albanese has proposed a significant campaign finance reform to completely eliminate private money from the system, something de Blasio has said he favors in theory, but has not advanced legislation on.</p> <p>Powers acknowledges the difficulties in getting some things on his list passed, but said that shouldn’t be a reason to not try.</p> <p>“I think the City Council reform, I think that is the one where I look at as there being a lot of really achievable ideas in there,” said Powers, citing the creation of an independent bill drafting unit as something that many legislators are clamoring for, despite the existence of such a unit. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5587-new-city-council-bill-drafting-unit-up-and-running-lander-mark-viverito" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The unit</a> was part of a package of Council reforms passed in 2014, but Powers believes that these reforms can go further; regarding the drafting unit, Powers believes the current iteration is an improvement, but that it should be even more autonomous in instances such as the number of bills that can be introduced at a given time.</p> <p>Another Council reform Powers sees as achievable deals with bill aging. Currently, a bill ages seven days after introduction for public input, but Powers claims that it just sits in City Hall and is essentially unavailable to the public. He believes it should publicly age online.</p> <p>Powers said that the challenge of moving some of the reforms through the state government shouldn’t be a deterrent, that the city shouldn’t be “abdicating our authority to Albany.” Kallos said that the voting reform planks, other than ending patronage at the Board of Elections, don’t have to go through the state Legislature. Many of the other planks need city passage, some can be done through City Council rules.</p> <p>On closing doing business loophole, which already became law, Powers conceded to have not known the full extent of the legislative package that was passed. He also was largely nonspecific on his proposed additions to the 2014 member item reform, stating that there’s a lot to look at where the Council can “do better.”</p> <p>The Powers agenda received an enthusiastic response from democratic reform group Citizens Union, which interviews candidates and releases preferences in some city elections based on good government bona fides.</p> <p>“Keith Powers has put forward an ambitious and wide-ranging plan to increase transparency and accountability, and bring some needed sunlight to the New York City Council. While we do not support all of his proposed reforms, Citizens Union has long been advocating for several of them and will continue to do so in the upcoming session,” said Rachel Bloom, Citizens Union’s Public Policy director.</p> <p>For example, Citizens Union is not in support of the full public financing of city elections plank of Powers’ platform -- the organization “feel[s] that candidates should have to raise money in the districts they seek to represent,” Bloom said. However, it is supportive of Powers’ proposed pilot program in special elections. The organization has not yet made its preference in the Council District 4 race or any other.</p> <p>In the Democratic primary to be voted on September 12, Powers is competing against Marti Speranza, Jeff Mailman, Bessie Schachter, Maria Castro, Vanessa Aronson, Barry Shapiro, Rachel Honig, and Alec Hartman, none of whom have released government reform platforms, though Shapiro called for transparency in lobbying in a <a href="https://vimeo.com/216324768" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">campaign video</a>.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Citizens Union candidate interview and preference process is wholly separate from Gotham Gazette operations. Gotham Gazette does not endorse or support candidates for office.</p>
Protecting Tenants from Construction Harassment 2017-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 2017-07-30T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7096:protecting-tenants-from-construction-harassment Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/sts_op-ed.jpg" alt="sts op ed" width="600" height="380" /></p> <p>photo, including three of the authors, via the Progressive Caucus</p> <hr /> <p>We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.</p> <p>For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.</p> <p>We, as members of the City Council members and its Progressive Caucus, see the writing on the walls: our city needs more protections in place for tenants facing construction harassment.</p> <p>Understanding the need to strengthen the ability of the Department of Buildings (DOB) to protect tenants from construction as harassment, the grassroots Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) has partnered with the Progressive Caucus to put forth a package of legislation aimed at achieving just that.</p> <p>These 12 STS bills, most of which are sponsored by members of the Progressive Caucus, with strong support in the Council, will put in place much tougher penalties against abusive landlords for illegal construction practices and enact preventative measures to help tenants protect their homes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The goal is to change the way DOB handles construction harassment so that the agency is empowered to become more proactive with regard to issuing construction permits and facilitating communication among tenants, landlords, and city agencies. Such renewed tenant protections are intended to quicken and fortify the City’s response to construction harassment so vulnerable residents in rapidly changing neighborhoods are able to stay in their homes and communities.</p> <p>As policymakers, we know that construction harassment by unscrupulous landlords only exacerbates the affordable housing crisis already facing residents of New York City. In recent years, the average rents in some city neighborhoods have risen by 20%; in such neighborhoods especially, unethical landlords can use construction as a way of cashing in on rising rents instead of protecting the existing tenants. Calls the City has been receiving from New Yorkers reflect this; construction-related complaints number in the thousands each year.</p> <p>Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done, the least of how this city can maintain a fair and just society. With the city losing affordable housing every year, we cannot afford to ignore any way in which tenants are threatened by eviction from their homes.</p> <p>As the clock ticks toward the end of the current City Council session, we need the Council to pass this Stand for Tenant Safety package of legislation as soon as possible. The New York City Council just made history by passing the city’s first ever Right to Counsel legislation, which will provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court. We urgently need to continue making progress on tenant rights in New York City by strengthening preventative measures that will help keep tenants from facing eviction in the first place.</p> <p>It is time that the City renew its commitment, through strengthening the enforcement power of the Department of Buildings, to standing up for residents living under adverse conditions and protect our communities from abusive, unethical landlords. As long as economic inequality and hazardous building conditions threaten health and safety, the City must continue to strengthen every person’s opportunity for a livable and affordable place to call home. As progressive City Council members, we hope our colleagues and the de Blasio administration will work together with us to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable tenants are protected.</p> <p>***<br />Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal &amp; Ben Kallos are all members of the City Council and leaders of its Progressive Caucus. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/CMReynoso34" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@CMReynoso34</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/DRichards13" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@DRichards13</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/HelenRosenthal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@HelenRosenthal</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/BenKallos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BenKallos</a>, &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCProgressives" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCProgressives</a>.</p> <p>

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

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/sts_op-ed.jpg" alt="sts op ed" width="600" height="380" /></p> <p>photo, including three of the authors, via the Progressive Caucus</p> <hr /> <p>We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.</p> <p>For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.</p> <p>We, as members of the City Council members and its Progressive Caucus, see the writing on the walls: our city needs more protections in place for tenants facing construction harassment.</p> <p>Understanding the need to strengthen the ability of the Department of Buildings (DOB) to protect tenants from construction as harassment, the grassroots Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition (STS) has partnered with the Progressive Caucus to put forth a package of legislation aimed at achieving just that.</p> <p>These 12 STS bills, most of which are sponsored by members of the Progressive Caucus, with strong support in the Council, will put in place much tougher penalties against abusive landlords for illegal construction practices and enact preventative measures to help tenants protect their homes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The goal is to change the way DOB handles construction harassment so that the agency is empowered to become more proactive with regard to issuing construction permits and facilitating communication among tenants, landlords, and city agencies. Such renewed tenant protections are intended to quicken and fortify the City’s response to construction harassment so vulnerable residents in rapidly changing neighborhoods are able to stay in their homes and communities.</p> <p>As policymakers, we know that construction harassment by unscrupulous landlords only exacerbates the affordable housing crisis already facing residents of New York City. In recent years, the average rents in some city neighborhoods have risen by 20%; in such neighborhoods especially, unethical landlords can use construction as a way of cashing in on rising rents instead of protecting the existing tenants. Calls the City has been receiving from New Yorkers reflect this; construction-related complaints number in the thousands each year.</p> <p>Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done, the least of how this city can maintain a fair and just society. With the city losing affordable housing every year, we cannot afford to ignore any way in which tenants are threatened by eviction from their homes.</p> <p>As the clock ticks toward the end of the current City Council session, we need the Council to pass this Stand for Tenant Safety package of legislation as soon as possible. The New York City Council just made history by passing the city’s first ever Right to Counsel legislation, which will provide legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court. We urgently need to continue making progress on tenant rights in New York City by strengthening preventative measures that will help keep tenants from facing eviction in the first place.</p> <p>It is time that the City renew its commitment, through strengthening the enforcement power of the Department of Buildings, to standing up for residents living under adverse conditions and protect our communities from abusive, unethical landlords. As long as economic inequality and hazardous building conditions threaten health and safety, the City must continue to strengthen every person’s opportunity for a livable and affordable place to call home. As progressive City Council members, we hope our colleagues and the de Blasio administration will work together with us to ensure that our city’s most vulnerable tenants are protected.</p> <p>***<br />Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal &amp; Ben Kallos are all members of the City Council and leaders of its Progressive Caucus. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/CMReynoso34" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@CMReynoso34</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/DRichards13" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@DRichards13</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/HelenRosenthal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@HelenRosenthal</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/BenKallos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BenKallos</a>, &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCProgressives" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCProgressives</a>.</p> <p>

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City Releases Latest Progress on Open Data Plan 2017-07-25T04:00:09+00:00 2017-07-25T04:00:09+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7086:city-releases-latest-progress-on-open-data-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/opendata1.jpg" alt="open data portal" width="600" height="300" /></p> <p>(screenshot from Open Data Portal)</p> <hr /> <p>The city released its <a href="https://moda-nyc.github.io/2017-Open-Data-Report/" target="_self">annual update</a> to its Open Data plan on July 15, detailing the progress by city agencies to release all of their public data by 2018. The initiative, originally launched in 2012 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was expanded by the de Blasio administration two years ago under its <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/reports/2015/NYC-Open-Data-Plan-2015.pdf" target="_self">Open Data for All</a> plan, which aimed to make the data more accessible to everyday New Yorkers. City agencies periodically add data sets to the portal for public access.</p> <p>In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the transparency efforts intrinsic to the open data plan. “Transparency is vital for a healthy government and flourishing democracy,” he said. “That’s why Open Data for All is delivering more data, in more ways, to more New Yorkers than ever before.”</p> <p>Under the Open Data plan, information from 92 participating agencies is compiled by the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and released <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us/" target="_self">online</a> in datasets. According to the city, the portal has been visited 3 million times and is home to 1,700 data sets, 165 of which were added in the past year. The city also redesigned the portal in March, which it says led to a 367 percent increase in data inquiries from the public. According to Miguel Gamiño, New York City’s Chief Technology Officer, the portal is visited by 140,000 users each month, including 50,000 new users.</p> <p>The new datasets released in the update include NYPD complaint data on felonies, misdemeanors and violent crimes reported between 2006 and 2016; details of City Council participatory budgeting projects from 2012 onwards; data on the programs, benefits and resources for 40 health and human services available to New Yorkers; and a Department of City Planning database of more than 35,000 records on public and private facilities from 50 sources. Other new aspects of the program include legal mandates for compliance with FOIL requests and on timing of responses to data requests.</p> <p>Though FOIL requests involving data are being streamlined, City Council Member Ben Kallos, a longtime advocate of open data, thinks that it can be improved further by passing his “Open FOIL” bill, which would create “one searchable database of Freedom of Information Law requests sent to city agencies.” Kallos also believes that the city could do more outreach about the existence of the open data initiative.</p> <p>"The City is getting better and better at getting the word out about Open Data,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette. “I for one want to see Open Data classes taught at our city libraries so anyone can learn how to use the data sets, not just techies." Indeed, while many data sets are available, they aren’t always easy to digest or utilize to find patterns or other takeaways.</p> <p>Hundreds of datasets are currently scheduled for release. While some of these datasets are collected and released monthly, others involve large studies that will be aggregated on the portal for the first time, including a study on poverty in New York City that augments national spending to reflect the high cost of living in the city. The mayor’s office will also release an “inventory” of greenhouse gas emissions in the city in the ten-year period covering 2005 to 2015 on September 30. Large amounts of wage data from the comptroller’s office will be aggregated on the portal come November 3, along with other data from the comptroller’s office such as an updated quarterly measure of the city’s debt limit. Participation data in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps from the Human Resource Administration will be aggregated on the portal in December.</p> <p>The continually increasing number of datasets has been praised by elected officials and good government groups.</p> <p>“Open Data is a fantastic resource for civic organizations, local businesses, and City residents,” said City Council Member James Vacca, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Technology, in a statement accompanying the recent release. “I’m very happy to see that the number of datasets continues increasing and that the Open Data Portal is being made even more accessible to New Yorkers. I congratulate the City’s Open Data team on these promising results.”</p> <p>However, the process is not without its criticisms. John Kaehny, co-chair of the NYC Transparency Working Group and Executive Director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, has praised the open data law but says that many city agencies are kicking the can down the road in releasing some datasets. Many datasets are scheduled for release in December 2018, when the law expires. He recommended that the mayor and City Council prod agencies to get the data out on time.</p> <p>“It’s like a teacher telling a kid that they can turn all their homework in on the last day of school,” Kaehny told Gotham Gazette in an interview, “but gives them the entire year to do the homework. And then the kid’s like ‘great, I’m gonna turn in all my homework on the last day of school.’ Well, you believe that, you know. They’re gonna finish all their assignments and turn it in on the last day? That’s not credible.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/opendata1.jpg" alt="open data portal" width="600" height="300" /></p> <p>(screenshot from Open Data Portal)</p> <hr /> <p>The city released its <a href="https://moda-nyc.github.io/2017-Open-Data-Report/" target="_self">annual update</a> to its Open Data plan on July 15, detailing the progress by city agencies to release all of their public data by 2018. The initiative, originally launched in 2012 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was expanded by the de Blasio administration two years ago under its <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/home/downloads/pdf/reports/2015/NYC-Open-Data-Plan-2015.pdf" target="_self">Open Data for All</a> plan, which aimed to make the data more accessible to everyday New Yorkers. City agencies periodically add data sets to the portal for public access.</p> <p>In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the transparency efforts intrinsic to the open data plan. “Transparency is vital for a healthy government and flourishing democracy,” he said. “That’s why Open Data for All is delivering more data, in more ways, to more New Yorkers than ever before.”</p> <p>Under the Open Data plan, information from 92 participating agencies is compiled by the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and released <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us/" target="_self">online</a> in datasets. According to the city, the portal has been visited 3 million times and is home to 1,700 data sets, 165 of which were added in the past year. The city also redesigned the portal in March, which it says led to a 367 percent increase in data inquiries from the public. According to Miguel Gamiño, New York City’s Chief Technology Officer, the portal is visited by 140,000 users each month, including 50,000 new users.</p> <p>The new datasets released in the update include NYPD complaint data on felonies, misdemeanors and violent crimes reported between 2006 and 2016; details of City Council participatory budgeting projects from 2012 onwards; data on the programs, benefits and resources for 40 health and human services available to New Yorkers; and a Department of City Planning database of more than 35,000 records on public and private facilities from 50 sources. Other new aspects of the program include legal mandates for compliance with FOIL requests and on timing of responses to data requests.</p> <p>Though FOIL requests involving data are being streamlined, City Council Member Ben Kallos, a longtime advocate of open data, thinks that it can be improved further by passing his “Open FOIL” bill, which would create “one searchable database of Freedom of Information Law requests sent to city agencies.” Kallos also believes that the city could do more outreach about the existence of the open data initiative.</p> <p>"The City is getting better and better at getting the word out about Open Data,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette. “I for one want to see Open Data classes taught at our city libraries so anyone can learn how to use the data sets, not just techies." Indeed, while many data sets are available, they aren’t always easy to digest or utilize to find patterns or other takeaways.</p> <p>Hundreds of datasets are currently scheduled for release. While some of these datasets are collected and released monthly, others involve large studies that will be aggregated on the portal for the first time, including a study on poverty in New York City that augments national spending to reflect the high cost of living in the city. The mayor’s office will also release an “inventory” of greenhouse gas emissions in the city in the ten-year period covering 2005 to 2015 on September 30. Large amounts of wage data from the comptroller’s office will be aggregated on the portal come November 3, along with other data from the comptroller’s office such as an updated quarterly measure of the city’s debt limit. Participation data in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps from the Human Resource Administration will be aggregated on the portal in December.</p> <p>The continually increasing number of datasets has been praised by elected officials and good government groups.</p> <p>“Open Data is a fantastic resource for civic organizations, local businesses, and City residents,” said City Council Member James Vacca, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Technology, in a statement accompanying the recent release. “I’m very happy to see that the number of datasets continues increasing and that the Open Data Portal is being made even more accessible to New Yorkers. I congratulate the City’s Open Data team on these promising results.”</p> <p>However, the process is not without its criticisms. John Kaehny, co-chair of the NYC Transparency Working Group and Executive Director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, has praised the open data law but says that many city agencies are kicking the can down the road in releasing some datasets. Many datasets are scheduled for release in December 2018, when the law expires. He recommended that the mayor and City Council prod agencies to get the data out on time.</p> <p>“It’s like a teacher telling a kid that they can turn all their homework in on the last day of school,” Kaehny told Gotham Gazette in an interview, “but gives them the entire year to do the homework. And then the kid’s like ‘great, I’m gonna turn in all my homework on the last day of school.’ Well, you believe that, you know. They’re gonna finish all their assignments and turn it in on the last day? That’s not credible.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
High Participation in Campaign Matching Funds, But Several Big Name Opt-Outs 2017-06-28T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-28T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7041:high-participation-in-campaign-matching-funds-but-several-big-name-opt-outs Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/kallos_council_street_presser.jpg" alt="kallos council street presser" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Kallos (photo: City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As the September 12 primary elections approach and campaigns kick into high gear, a vast majority of candidates for the city’s elected offices will have their coffers bolstered by the Campaign Finance Board’s (CFB) public matching funds program, which matches eligible donations at a 6-to-1 ratio.</p> <p>Most candidates, but not all. According to data provided by the CFB, 14 of 51 incumbents this cycle are not participating in the program, which was created by the city in 1988 in part to allow challengers to compete on a more level playing field with incumbents, who are usually better able to raise money. The deadline for certifying in the matching program was June 12, three months before primary day, September 12. There will be 51 City Council, five borough president, and three citywide seats on the ballot this fall.</p> <p>While there are several prominent elected officials not participating, there is plenty of good news for the program at large. ”Overall participation rate remains very high this cycle,” said Campaign Finance Board spokesperson Matt Sollars. “In fact, it may end up higher than in 2013 when 79 percent of all registered candidates participated in the program.” Current participation stands at 82 percent of all candidates.</p> <p>Supporters of the program contend that it both incentivizes political participation from potential candidates that are not independently wealthy and do not have the connections and fundraising chops of others, especially incumbents, and it incentivizes incumbents to focus their efforts on courting large numbers of possible donors from their own constituencies as opposed to going after a few big-dollar contributions.</p> <p>To qualify for the matching program, candidates must hit contribution and contributor thresholds and are subject to stringent spending caps.&nbsp;For example, participants running for City Council must raise contributions of $10 or more from 75 donors in their district and $5,000 in the matchable portion (the first $175) of contributions from any city resident. Participants are limited to spending $49,000 in out-years&nbsp;– the years preceding the election year – and $182,000 for each the primary and general election. Funds spent in excess of the cap during off years are counted against the election year caps.</p> <p>Gotham Gazette <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6882-city-council-members-opt-out-of-campaign-finance-program" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported in April</a>&nbsp;that 10 City Council incumbents had surpassed the out-year limits and several were not planning to participate in the matching program. Of these, eight – Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Andy King, Peter Koo, Jimmy Van Bramer, Brad Lander, David Greenfield, and Jumaane Williams – ultimately are not using the program in their reelection campaigns.</p> <p>At least four of them have been open about their desire to replace term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker of the City Council, a separate campaign in its own right, albeit one that courts fellow Council members as opposed to district constituents. This usually involves hiring consultants and campaign staff, and occasionally making contributions to Council colleagues and other influential figures, all as part of the cycle’s overall raise and spend efforts.</p> <p>Council Member Costa Constantinides surpassed the off-year spending cap, with just over $64,000 in spending, but is still a participant in the program. Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who spent over $269,000 in off-years and had been considered a front-runner in the Speaker race, announced recently that she is not running for reelection.</p> <p>Told of his colleagues’ reticence to participate, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Governmental Operations Committee and one of the matching funds program’s most steadfast defenders, expressed frustration and said he was “surprised to see so many elected officials not taking part.”</p> <p>“Those public dollars are there to incentivize elected officials, perhaps more importantly than candidates, to take small-dollar donations instead of the more corrupting checks for $2,750,” he said, referencing the individual donation contribution limit for City Council races.</p> <p>A Gotham Gazette analysis of campaign finance data found that the three Council candidates who have received the most max contributions of $2,750 this election cycle -- Greenfield, Van Bramer, and Johnson -- are also not participating in the program. Greenfield, who has spent a total of over $350,000 this election cycle – <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6719-council-member-funds-weekly-radio-show-through-campaign-funds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partly to air a weekly radio program</a> – has received the most: 163, well over double the next highest amount of max donations to a Council candidate.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Greenfield said, in an emailed statement, “the out-year limits make it impossible for elected officials in leadership positions in the Council, including over a dozen Council Members seeking re-election, to participate.” While Greenfield is chair of the powerful Committee on Land Use, it is not clear why it was necessary to spend over six times the off-year limit, a limit adhered to by, for example, Deputy Leaders Deborah Rose and Ritchie Torres, who are both running for reelection.</p> <p>Five Council incumbents – Andrew Cohen, Rafael Salamanca, Jr., Rory Lancman, Daniel Dromm, and Rafael Espinal – did not hit their spending caps but still opted not to participate in the program. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams similarly did not hit his off-year spending cap – which for borough president races is $146,000 – but did not opt in to the program.</p> <p>A Gotham Gazette analysis of campaign finance data, based on the zip codes of the neighborhoods that the Council members represent, found that Cohen and Salamanca do not appear to have yet hit the district contributor threshold of 75 individual donors in this election cycle. Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, stressed that the threshold does not need to be met as of yet, but until the candidates begin receiving public payments in August, after the ballot is set.</p> <p>Lander, Cohen, and Dromm do not have registered opponents. While payouts from the program require candidates to have an opponent on the ballot, candidates can still join in anticipation of incoming challengers.</p> <p>According to Kallos, any step back in participation is “a side effect of not having proper incentives.”</p> <p>To create some of these incentives, last year he introduced a bill, Int. 1130, that would increase the public funds disbursement cap, currently 55 percent of the spending limit, to the full amount of the spending limit. This would mean that if a candidate raised enough funds from their constituency, they could receive matching funds that would bring them to the full spending limits for the primary and general elections – $182,000 each for Council candidates, more for borough and citywide offices. The bill is currently in committee – if it were to pass it would not be in effect for this city election cycle.</p> <p>No candidates have yet hit election year spending caps for program participation; the Council incumbent closest to the cap is Corey Johnson, who has spent $121,174 so far this year, but he is not a participant in the program.</p> <p>Council Member Williams defended opting out of the program, saying that he didn’t need the funds and “you don’t always want to spend the public’s money if you don’t have to.” He also drew attention to his candidacy to the Speaker role, and argued that part of the problem was “no allotment for that,” and mentioned the possibility of a legislative fix.</p> <p>According to Sollars of the CFB, participants in the program can elect to turn away payments if they don’t feel that they need them, a strategy that was employed by several officials in the last cycle.</p> <p>“I don’t intend to spend more than the cap anyway,” Williams said, adding “I fully intend to make sure I have the small donor amounts that I would have if I was taking public funds.”</p> <p>One source familiar with the Council and the CFB system who spoke on the condition of anonymity pointed to a bill passed last year by the Council, Local Law 189, as a potential dissuasive force to candidates entering the program. The law standardizes a process for transferring campaign funds between "political" and "principal" committees, essentially allowing candidates to roll campaign funds from one election into the next and effectively enabling them to build up large campaign war chests over time.</p> <p>Aside from Brooklyn's Adams, the other four borough presidents, all also seeking reelection, have opted in. As have the three incumbent citywide elected officials: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Letitia James. Republicans seeking those positions, even some who have criticized the public campaign finance system in the past, are also participating.</p> <p>The CFB, for its part, is happy with the overall triumph of its initiative. “This outstanding participation rate demonstrates the strength of New York City's small-donor matching program to encourage more fair and equitable city elections,” said Executive Director Amy Loprest in a statement.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/kallos_council_street_presser.jpg" alt="kallos council street presser" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Kallos (photo: City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As the September 12 primary elections approach and campaigns kick into high gear, a vast majority of candidates for the city’s elected offices will have their coffers bolstered by the Campaign Finance Board’s (CFB) public matching funds program, which matches eligible donations at a 6-to-1 ratio.</p> <p>Most candidates, but not all. According to data provided by the CFB, 14 of 51 incumbents this cycle are not participating in the program, which was created by the city in 1988 in part to allow challengers to compete on a more level playing field with incumbents, who are usually better able to raise money. The deadline for certifying in the matching program was June 12, three months before primary day, September 12. There will be 51 City Council, five borough president, and three citywide seats on the ballot this fall.</p> <p>While there are several prominent elected officials not participating, there is plenty of good news for the program at large. ”Overall participation rate remains very high this cycle,” said Campaign Finance Board spokesperson Matt Sollars. “In fact, it may end up higher than in 2013 when 79 percent of all registered candidates participated in the program.” Current participation stands at 82 percent of all candidates.</p> <p>Supporters of the program contend that it both incentivizes political participation from potential candidates that are not independently wealthy and do not have the connections and fundraising chops of others, especially incumbents, and it incentivizes incumbents to focus their efforts on courting large numbers of possible donors from their own constituencies as opposed to going after a few big-dollar contributions.</p> <p>To qualify for the matching program, candidates must hit contribution and contributor thresholds and are subject to stringent spending caps.&nbsp;For example, participants running for City Council must raise contributions of $10 or more from 75 donors in their district and $5,000 in the matchable portion (the first $175) of contributions from any city resident. Participants are limited to spending $49,000 in out-years&nbsp;– the years preceding the election year – and $182,000 for each the primary and general election. Funds spent in excess of the cap during off years are counted against the election year caps.</p> <p>Gotham Gazette <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6882-city-council-members-opt-out-of-campaign-finance-program" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported in April</a>&nbsp;that 10 City Council incumbents had surpassed the out-year limits and several were not planning to participate in the matching program. Of these, eight – Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Andy King, Peter Koo, Jimmy Van Bramer, Brad Lander, David Greenfield, and Jumaane Williams – ultimately are not using the program in their reelection campaigns.</p> <p>At least four of them have been open about their desire to replace term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito as Speaker of the City Council, a separate campaign in its own right, albeit one that courts fellow Council members as opposed to district constituents. This usually involves hiring consultants and campaign staff, and occasionally making contributions to Council colleagues and other influential figures, all as part of the cycle’s overall raise and spend efforts.</p> <p>Council Member Costa Constantinides surpassed the off-year spending cap, with just over $64,000 in spending, but is still a participant in the program. Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who spent over $269,000 in off-years and had been considered a front-runner in the Speaker race, announced recently that she is not running for reelection.</p> <p>Told of his colleagues’ reticence to participate, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Governmental Operations Committee and one of the matching funds program’s most steadfast defenders, expressed frustration and said he was “surprised to see so many elected officials not taking part.”</p> <p>“Those public dollars are there to incentivize elected officials, perhaps more importantly than candidates, to take small-dollar donations instead of the more corrupting checks for $2,750,” he said, referencing the individual donation contribution limit for City Council races.</p> <p>A Gotham Gazette analysis of campaign finance data found that the three Council candidates who have received the most max contributions of $2,750 this election cycle -- Greenfield, Van Bramer, and Johnson -- are also not participating in the program. Greenfield, who has spent a total of over $350,000 this election cycle – <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6719-council-member-funds-weekly-radio-show-through-campaign-funds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partly to air a weekly radio program</a> – has received the most: 163, well over double the next highest amount of max donations to a Council candidate.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Greenfield said, in an emailed statement, “the out-year limits make it impossible for elected officials in leadership positions in the Council, including over a dozen Council Members seeking re-election, to participate.” While Greenfield is chair of the powerful Committee on Land Use, it is not clear why it was necessary to spend over six times the off-year limit, a limit adhered to by, for example, Deputy Leaders Deborah Rose and Ritchie Torres, who are both running for reelection.</p> <p>Five Council incumbents – Andrew Cohen, Rafael Salamanca, Jr., Rory Lancman, Daniel Dromm, and Rafael Espinal – did not hit their spending caps but still opted not to participate in the program. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams similarly did not hit his off-year spending cap – which for borough president races is $146,000 – but did not opt in to the program.</p> <p>A Gotham Gazette analysis of campaign finance data, based on the zip codes of the neighborhoods that the Council members represent, found that Cohen and Salamanca do not appear to have yet hit the district contributor threshold of 75 individual donors in this election cycle. Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, stressed that the threshold does not need to be met as of yet, but until the candidates begin receiving public payments in August, after the ballot is set.</p> <p>Lander, Cohen, and Dromm do not have registered opponents. While payouts from the program require candidates to have an opponent on the ballot, candidates can still join in anticipation of incoming challengers.</p> <p>According to Kallos, any step back in participation is “a side effect of not having proper incentives.”</p> <p>To create some of these incentives, last year he introduced a bill, Int. 1130, that would increase the public funds disbursement cap, currently 55 percent of the spending limit, to the full amount of the spending limit. This would mean that if a candidate raised enough funds from their constituency, they could receive matching funds that would bring them to the full spending limits for the primary and general elections – $182,000 each for Council candidates, more for borough and citywide offices. The bill is currently in committee – if it were to pass it would not be in effect for this city election cycle.</p> <p>No candidates have yet hit election year spending caps for program participation; the Council incumbent closest to the cap is Corey Johnson, who has spent $121,174 so far this year, but he is not a participant in the program.</p> <p>Council Member Williams defended opting out of the program, saying that he didn’t need the funds and “you don’t always want to spend the public’s money if you don’t have to.” He also drew attention to his candidacy to the Speaker role, and argued that part of the problem was “no allotment for that,” and mentioned the possibility of a legislative fix.</p> <p>According to Sollars of the CFB, participants in the program can elect to turn away payments if they don’t feel that they need them, a strategy that was employed by several officials in the last cycle.</p> <p>“I don’t intend to spend more than the cap anyway,” Williams said, adding “I fully intend to make sure I have the small donor amounts that I would have if I was taking public funds.”</p> <p>One source familiar with the Council and the CFB system who spoke on the condition of anonymity pointed to a bill passed last year by the Council, Local Law 189, as a potential dissuasive force to candidates entering the program. The law standardizes a process for transferring campaign funds between "political" and "principal" committees, essentially allowing candidates to roll campaign funds from one election into the next and effectively enabling them to build up large campaign war chests over time.</p> <p>Aside from Brooklyn's Adams, the other four borough presidents, all also seeking reelection, have opted in. As have the three incumbent citywide elected officials: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Letitia James. Republicans seeking those positions, even some who have criticized the public campaign finance system in the past, are also participating.</p> <p>The CFB, for its part, is happy with the overall triumph of its initiative. “This outstanding participation rate demonstrates the strength of New York City's small-donor matching program to encourage more fair and equitable city elections,” said Executive Director Amy Loprest in a statement.</p> <p>

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Mayoral Control or Not, Calls Continue for Contracting Reform at City Department of Education 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7021:mayoral-control-or-not-calls-continue-for-contracting-reform-at-city-department-of-education Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/34245950295_dc5da482b5_z.jpg" alt="34245950295 dc5da482b5 z" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City elected officials and independent watchdogs continue to voice concerns about the Department of Education’s transparency and contract procurement process. The issue became a flashpoint in the debate over mayoral control of New York City schools, which Albany lawmakers have yet to extend despite a June 30 expiration date. Like other powers over the schools, education-related contracting -- totaling billions of dollars per year -- has been centralized under the Mayor and the DOE through the mayoral control model of school governance.</p> <p>In the recently adopted city budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, about one-third of the $85.2 billion of operating funding is allocated to the DOE. Most of that funding goes to personnel, but there is a significant sum, about $7 billion, which will be devoted to outside contracts. While there have been no major recent scandals, the process by which the DOE awards those contracts, as well as the availability of information about the contracts, continues to draw criticism.</p> <p>Chief among those critics have been Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Contracts. They are joined by nonprofit leaders who have scrutinized DOE practices for years, including under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first won mayoral control of city schools in 2002, ending the old Board of Education system. While there have been multiple high-profile contracting scandals, recently the concern has been a constant stream of smaller-scale, everyday contracts awarded without proper processes, critics say.</p> <p>Stringer has repeatedly and publicly pressured the DOE to disclose more information and clean up its procurement practices. Most recently, Stringer did so in testimony to the City Council as the new budget was being debated. In part, Stringer said that as revenue growth to the city is slowing, there is heightened need for the DOE to be sufficiently scrupulous.</p> <p>According to Stringer, the Department still does not pay enough attention to ensuring the DOE’s billions in contract funding is spent efficiently. “Time and time again, my office finds that current departmental processes are inadequate,” Stringer stated in his testimony, citing $6.7 billion for fiscal year 2018. “Whether it is through an audit of DOE or a review of DOE’s contracts, we find a lack of transparency and a lack of detail that is frightening when you are talking about billions of dollars earmarked for our children.”</p> <p>“The DOE claims to have a system of checks and balances,” Stringer continued, “but if you dig into the details you will find a lack of independent review, a lack of accountability and whole lot of rubber stamps.”</p> <p>Stringer also called the DOE “one of the least transparent agencies in the government,” adding he felt the DOE would “rather hide everything than open up their books." (Stringer’s statements were quickly used by state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the mayoral control debate. The comptroller quickly reiterated his support for mayoral control in no uncertain terms.)</p> <p>When pressed for specifics, a spokesperson for Stringer pointed to wasted funds on technology initiatives, failure to detect collusion to drive up prices by food suppliers, late release of 70% pre-kindergarten contract information prior to the 2014 school year, and overpaying on custodial supplies, which Stringer has pointed out over the last three-plus years since he took office as Comptroller and de Blasio became Mayor.</p> <p>Along with these examples, there have been several other instances in which improper contracting practices have cost the city and harmed the DOE’s reputation. In 2008, the city Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) found the DOE had squandered $437,000 on payments to DynTek, a vendor for the DOE’s Department of Instructional and Information Technology which had been paying computer consultants employed by ERS Systems without the DOE’s authorization. “ERS billed DynTek for these services and DynTek, in turn, marked up these costs before billing the DOE,” according to the SCI. Three years later, a consultant Willard (Ross) Lanham was charged with funneling $3.6 million of DOE funds into his own pockets.</p> <p>In 2015, Custom Computer Specialists, a contractor the DOE considered, almost received a $1.1 billion deal to provide hardware and software to schools despite questions about the size of the contract and process involved, as well as the firm's indirect connection to an overbilling scheme. Outcry, led by education activist Leonie Haimson and Council Member Rosenthal, killed the potential deal. Most recently, in May, the Comptroller’s office released an analysis that revealed that after spending over $347 million on upgrading internet services, 45 percent of teachers said their schools’ internet quality “did not meet their instructional needs,” a survey of middle school teachers found.</p> <p>At a May City Council hearing regarding the 2018 budget, Rosenthal asked if the city Office of Management and Budget has unearthed similar problems to the ones in 2015, such as approval of “specious contracts.” “I would like to know that the OMB is doing a regular audit of its contracts,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>“I would want to know that the DOE is regularly being investigated,” said Rosenthal. “If we were to do that more systematically then we would have more available to us to spend on things we so desperately need.”</p> <p>Rosenthal, who chairs the contracts committee and sits on the education committee, credits Haimson with calling attention to chronic DOE contracting deficiencies. As a response to Haimson bringing awareness to the issue, she has headed efforts to ignite change in the Department. Rosenthal, however, declined to explicitly comment on Stringer’s testimony, and separated herself from the Comptroller's narrative. The Manhattan Council member believes that the DOE has actually improved considerably of late in contracting and openness, especially since she's undertaken efforts to bend the department toward better practices.</p> <p>“I do thank you for what’s been done,” Rosenthal said to Dean Fuleihan, Director of the OMB. She framed the situation by contending the previous mayoral administration had “dug a hole,” and the current one is in the process of getting New York City public education out of it.</p> <p>"What I’ve seen is positive steps that have allowed for more oversight and transparency,” Rosenthal said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The Upper West Side lawmaker emphasized that, in her view, DOE has allowed City Hall to both scrutinize the Department and collaborate with it. "They have made the contracting process more transparent...they have improved, I think, the oversight relationship with the city agencies,“ she said. Rosenthal noted that if capital and service contract costs rise, that information is now relayed to the City Council. "That's a big change.”</p> <p>According to Rosenthal, contracting practice woes have been ameliorated and their details brought into the limelight in recent years, as evidenced by the Department beginning to post contract information online.</p> <p>Still, while Rosenthal was clear that the DOE has progressed, there is room for improvement. "Is it perfect yet? Of course not,” she said. “But is it much better? Absolutely.” Rosenthal was optimistic about the prospect of additional improvements. She said the City Council and DOE have a “good constructive relationship moving forward.”</p> <p>Nonetheless, Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group, is not as satisfied with the DOE as Rosenthal. “The budget is still increasing with little or no transparency," Haimson said in an email to Gotham Gazette. By phone, Haimson expressed skepticism about how the DOE manages its enormous budget and its forthrightness in doing so.</p> <p>“I am very disappointed in the whole process because we’ve been sounding the alarm for years now about the lack of transparency with these huge contracts that go through the PEP [Panel for Educational Policy],” she said.</p> <p>The PEP is a body consisting of 13 members appointed by elected officials, predominantly by the Mayor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Panel to replace the Board of Education after the city gained mayoral control of schools. The PEP is designed to conduct independent oversight of the Department of Education but has not necessarily functioned in that manner.</p> <p>As the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/08/school-spending-panel-doe-bullies-us-to-side-with-de-blasio/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a> reported last summer, one former PEP member alleges the group is comprised of members who were not equipped to properly review the budget and were pressured into doing the Mayor’s bidding. And, in Haimson’s opinion, the PEP still does not properly vet contracts, allowing the DOE to act with impunity. "I don't think it’s ever turned down a contract in its existence,” Haimson said, referring to the reputation the PEP has as a rubber stamp, both on policy and contracting. "It hasn't gotten better in some ways and in many ways it has gotten worse," she said of the DOE overall.</p> <p>The DOE engaging in sloppy, questionable dealings in secret is not new, said Haimson, who has worked as an education activist since the early aughts. Like Rosenthal, she alleges these problems became rampant under Mayor Bloomberg. “[A]s the budget rose dramatically and the oversight was more critical, Bloomberg didn't want any more scrutiny,” she said.</p> <p>However, unlike Rosenthal, Haimson says the DOE’s forthcomingness has gotten worse, not better, with de Blasio at the helm. “Under Bloomberg, I was able to go to OMB meetings,” she said, alleging she had been barred from these meetings in recent years. "The fact that the Mayor’s Office has more oversight may be good. [But] [w]e don't even know," Haimson said. “There doesn't seem to be anyone looking over their shoulders," she said, adding that providing ample DOE oversight would necessitate an independent commission.</p> <p>The Department of Education disputes claims that it is not careful or candid in its contracting processes. “Our procurement process is transparent and has strong oversight mechanisms, while delivering essential services to students and schools,” a DOE spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Though not related to contracting practices, Council Member Ben Kallos <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/nyregion/nyc-public-schools.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced</a> a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2962029&amp;GUID=DB5A6F41-42F2-4EC8-9AC9-3DD4F67004CE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=Education" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> in February that would require the DOE to more thoroughly disclose information about applications and enrollment to New York City public schools. The bill was pre-considered, and a hearing was held on it before it was introduced.&nbsp;</p> <p>"The bill has received some internal support, it has had its hearing and negotiations are ongoing to possibly move it forward," said a spokesperson for Kallos regarding the bill’s status.</p> <p>A representative for City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Committee on Education, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of the Kallos legislation, along with inquiries pertaining to DOE transparency and contracting practices.</p> <p>“We have our own issue with DOE," Kallos’ spokesperson said. "Obviously Council Member Kallos wouldn’t have released the bill if [the DOE] was a model of transparency.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the bill introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos.<br />Note: This article has been updated to more accurately depict the situation involving Custom Computer Specialists and a potential contract it was being considered for.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/34245950295_dc5da482b5_z.jpg" alt="34245950295 dc5da482b5 z" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City elected officials and independent watchdogs continue to voice concerns about the Department of Education’s transparency and contract procurement process. The issue became a flashpoint in the debate over mayoral control of New York City schools, which Albany lawmakers have yet to extend despite a June 30 expiration date. Like other powers over the schools, education-related contracting -- totaling billions of dollars per year -- has been centralized under the Mayor and the DOE through the mayoral control model of school governance.</p> <p>In the recently adopted city budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, about one-third of the $85.2 billion of operating funding is allocated to the DOE. Most of that funding goes to personnel, but there is a significant sum, about $7 billion, which will be devoted to outside contracts. While there have been no major recent scandals, the process by which the DOE awards those contracts, as well as the availability of information about the contracts, continues to draw criticism.</p> <p>Chief among those critics have been Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Contracts. They are joined by nonprofit leaders who have scrutinized DOE practices for years, including under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first won mayoral control of city schools in 2002, ending the old Board of Education system. While there have been multiple high-profile contracting scandals, recently the concern has been a constant stream of smaller-scale, everyday contracts awarded without proper processes, critics say.</p> <p>Stringer has repeatedly and publicly pressured the DOE to disclose more information and clean up its procurement practices. Most recently, Stringer did so in testimony to the City Council as the new budget was being debated. In part, Stringer said that as revenue growth to the city is slowing, there is heightened need for the DOE to be sufficiently scrupulous.</p> <p>According to Stringer, the Department still does not pay enough attention to ensuring the DOE’s billions in contract funding is spent efficiently. “Time and time again, my office finds that current departmental processes are inadequate,” Stringer stated in his testimony, citing $6.7 billion for fiscal year 2018. “Whether it is through an audit of DOE or a review of DOE’s contracts, we find a lack of transparency and a lack of detail that is frightening when you are talking about billions of dollars earmarked for our children.”</p> <p>“The DOE claims to have a system of checks and balances,” Stringer continued, “but if you dig into the details you will find a lack of independent review, a lack of accountability and whole lot of rubber stamps.”</p> <p>Stringer also called the DOE “one of the least transparent agencies in the government,” adding he felt the DOE would “rather hide everything than open up their books." (Stringer’s statements were quickly used by state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, against Mayor Bill de Blasio in the mayoral control debate. The comptroller quickly reiterated his support for mayoral control in no uncertain terms.)</p> <p>When pressed for specifics, a spokesperson for Stringer pointed to wasted funds on technology initiatives, failure to detect collusion to drive up prices by food suppliers, late release of 70% pre-kindergarten contract information prior to the 2014 school year, and overpaying on custodial supplies, which Stringer has pointed out over the last three-plus years since he took office as Comptroller and de Blasio became Mayor.</p> <p>Along with these examples, there have been several other instances in which improper contracting practices have cost the city and harmed the DOE’s reputation. In 2008, the city Special Commission of Investigation (SCI) found the DOE had squandered $437,000 on payments to DynTek, a vendor for the DOE’s Department of Instructional and Information Technology which had been paying computer consultants employed by ERS Systems without the DOE’s authorization. “ERS billed DynTek for these services and DynTek, in turn, marked up these costs before billing the DOE,” according to the SCI. Three years later, a consultant Willard (Ross) Lanham was charged with funneling $3.6 million of DOE funds into his own pockets.</p> <p>In 2015, Custom Computer Specialists, a contractor the DOE considered, almost received a $1.1 billion deal to provide hardware and software to schools despite questions about the size of the contract and process involved, as well as the firm's indirect connection to an overbilling scheme. Outcry, led by education activist Leonie Haimson and Council Member Rosenthal, killed the potential deal. Most recently, in May, the Comptroller’s office released an analysis that revealed that after spending over $347 million on upgrading internet services, 45 percent of teachers said their schools’ internet quality “did not meet their instructional needs,” a survey of middle school teachers found.</p> <p>At a May City Council hearing regarding the 2018 budget, Rosenthal asked if the city Office of Management and Budget has unearthed similar problems to the ones in 2015, such as approval of “specious contracts.” “I would like to know that the OMB is doing a regular audit of its contracts,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>“I would want to know that the DOE is regularly being investigated,” said Rosenthal. “If we were to do that more systematically then we would have more available to us to spend on things we so desperately need.”</p> <p>Rosenthal, who chairs the contracts committee and sits on the education committee, credits Haimson with calling attention to chronic DOE contracting deficiencies. As a response to Haimson bringing awareness to the issue, she has headed efforts to ignite change in the Department. Rosenthal, however, declined to explicitly comment on Stringer’s testimony, and separated herself from the Comptroller's narrative. The Manhattan Council member believes that the DOE has actually improved considerably of late in contracting and openness, especially since she's undertaken efforts to bend the department toward better practices.</p> <p>“I do thank you for what’s been done,” Rosenthal said to Dean Fuleihan, Director of the OMB. She framed the situation by contending the previous mayoral administration had “dug a hole,” and the current one is in the process of getting New York City public education out of it.</p> <p>"What I’ve seen is positive steps that have allowed for more oversight and transparency,” Rosenthal said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The Upper West Side lawmaker emphasized that, in her view, DOE has allowed City Hall to both scrutinize the Department and collaborate with it. "They have made the contracting process more transparent...they have improved, I think, the oversight relationship with the city agencies,“ she said. Rosenthal noted that if capital and service contract costs rise, that information is now relayed to the City Council. "That's a big change.”</p> <p>According to Rosenthal, contracting practice woes have been ameliorated and their details brought into the limelight in recent years, as evidenced by the Department beginning to post contract information online.</p> <p>Still, while Rosenthal was clear that the DOE has progressed, there is room for improvement. "Is it perfect yet? Of course not,” she said. “But is it much better? Absolutely.” Rosenthal was optimistic about the prospect of additional improvements. She said the City Council and DOE have a “good constructive relationship moving forward.”</p> <p>Nonetheless, Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy group, is not as satisfied with the DOE as Rosenthal. “The budget is still increasing with little or no transparency," Haimson said in an email to Gotham Gazette. By phone, Haimson expressed skepticism about how the DOE manages its enormous budget and its forthrightness in doing so.</p> <p>“I am very disappointed in the whole process because we’ve been sounding the alarm for years now about the lack of transparency with these huge contracts that go through the PEP [Panel for Educational Policy],” she said.</p> <p>The PEP is a body consisting of 13 members appointed by elected officials, predominantly by the Mayor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Panel to replace the Board of Education after the city gained mayoral control of schools. The PEP is designed to conduct independent oversight of the Department of Education but has not necessarily functioned in that manner.</p> <p>As the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/08/school-spending-panel-doe-bullies-us-to-side-with-de-blasio/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a> reported last summer, one former PEP member alleges the group is comprised of members who were not equipped to properly review the budget and were pressured into doing the Mayor’s bidding. And, in Haimson’s opinion, the PEP still does not properly vet contracts, allowing the DOE to act with impunity. "I don't think it’s ever turned down a contract in its existence,” Haimson said, referring to the reputation the PEP has as a rubber stamp, both on policy and contracting. "It hasn't gotten better in some ways and in many ways it has gotten worse," she said of the DOE overall.</p> <p>The DOE engaging in sloppy, questionable dealings in secret is not new, said Haimson, who has worked as an education activist since the early aughts. Like Rosenthal, she alleges these problems became rampant under Mayor Bloomberg. “[A]s the budget rose dramatically and the oversight was more critical, Bloomberg didn't want any more scrutiny,” she said.</p> <p>However, unlike Rosenthal, Haimson says the DOE’s forthcomingness has gotten worse, not better, with de Blasio at the helm. “Under Bloomberg, I was able to go to OMB meetings,” she said, alleging she had been barred from these meetings in recent years. "The fact that the Mayor’s Office has more oversight may be good. [But] [w]e don't even know," Haimson said. “There doesn't seem to be anyone looking over their shoulders," she said, adding that providing ample DOE oversight would necessitate an independent commission.</p> <p>The Department of Education disputes claims that it is not careful or candid in its contracting processes. “Our procurement process is transparent and has strong oversight mechanisms, while delivering essential services to students and schools,” a DOE spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Though not related to contracting practices, Council Member Ben Kallos <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/nyregion/nyc-public-schools.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced</a> a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2962029&amp;GUID=DB5A6F41-42F2-4EC8-9AC9-3DD4F67004CE&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=Education" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> in February that would require the DOE to more thoroughly disclose information about applications and enrollment to New York City public schools. The bill was pre-considered, and a hearing was held on it before it was introduced.&nbsp;</p> <p>"The bill has received some internal support, it has had its hearing and negotiations are ongoing to possibly move it forward," said a spokesperson for Kallos regarding the bill’s status.</p> <p>A representative for City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Committee on Education, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of the Kallos legislation, along with inquiries pertaining to DOE transparency and contracting practices.</p> <p>“We have our own issue with DOE," Kallos’ spokesperson said. "Obviously Council Member Kallos wouldn’t have released the bill if [the DOE] was a model of transparency.”</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: This article has been updated to clarify the status of the bill introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos.<br />Note: This article has been updated to more accurately depict the situation involving Custom Computer Specialists and a potential contract it was being considered for.</p> Bill Seeks Fix to Conflicts Disclosure Deadline for Candidates 2017-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7011:bill-seeks-to-fix-conflicts-disclosure-deadline-for-new-york-city-candidates Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26412389754_0977bb6ae3_z.jpg" alt="26412389754 0977bb6ae3 z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council Committee on Governmental Operations met on Monday to discuss a bill to relax the deadline for candidates seeking public office to submit disclosure reports to the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB).</p> <p>COIB is a city agency tasked with enforcing conflicts of interest laws for public officials and preempting potential conflicts for those seeking elected office. Candidates for public office are required to submit financial disclosures to the agency detailing, among other information, their sources of income, assets, liabilities, and positions held in any organization. These disclosures are then made available to the public, with the goal of ensuring that elected officials do not take office with financial ties to outside interests that may impact their decisions as public servants.</p> <p>The proposed bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984629&amp;GUID=98008456-4F2C-4364-85A8-2C7F4B6A2F8D&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1517</a>, would allow candidates an additional 30 days after the deadline for submitting ballot petitions to disclose their financial information. The petition submission deadline, which is July 10 this year, is the date by which candidates seeking public office must obtain a set number of signatures, depending on the office he or she is seeking, to gain ballot access. Currently, all candidates must file a disclosure report to COIB “on or before the last day of filing his or her designating petitions pursuant to the election law,” as outlined in the City Charter.</p> <p>This current framework, according to Julia Lee, director of annual disclosure and special counsel at COIB, produces a “Catch-22 situation.” Since the COIB is not aware of who delivered petitions until after the petition deadline, the Board is “unable to notify candidates of their obligation to file an annual disclosure report after they are already out of compliance,” she said. The penalty for such a violation ranges from a $250 to $10,000 fine.</p> <p>The bill, she said, “would remedy this problem” by giving the COIB sufficient time to notify candidates and to provide reports to the public before an election.</p> <p>Extending the deadline would also level the playing field between first-time candidates and seasoned politicians, argued Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of the legislation. “Experienced candidates, or candidates retaining lawyers or compliance professions, may be knowledgable about the financial disclosure deadlines,” Kallos said. “New candidates, however, may lack such experience or the funds for experienced campaign staff.”</p> <p>Kallos recalled that he failed to meet the disclosure deadline himself when he ran for City Council in 2013, noting that campaign novices are often not aware of the disclosure requirements until it is too late. “There is a potential for such candidates to be disproportionately impacted and found out of compliance before they are ever notified of the requirement,” he said.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26412389754_0977bb6ae3_z.jpg" alt="26412389754 0977bb6ae3 z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council Committee on Governmental Operations met on Monday to discuss a bill to relax the deadline for candidates seeking public office to submit disclosure reports to the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB).</p> <p>COIB is a city agency tasked with enforcing conflicts of interest laws for public officials and preempting potential conflicts for those seeking elected office. Candidates for public office are required to submit financial disclosures to the agency detailing, among other information, their sources of income, assets, liabilities, and positions held in any organization. These disclosures are then made available to the public, with the goal of ensuring that elected officials do not take office with financial ties to outside interests that may impact their decisions as public servants.</p> <p>The proposed bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984629&amp;GUID=98008456-4F2C-4364-85A8-2C7F4B6A2F8D&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1517</a>, would allow candidates an additional 30 days after the deadline for submitting ballot petitions to disclose their financial information. The petition submission deadline, which is July 10 this year, is the date by which candidates seeking public office must obtain a set number of signatures, depending on the office he or she is seeking, to gain ballot access. Currently, all candidates must file a disclosure report to COIB “on or before the last day of filing his or her designating petitions pursuant to the election law,” as outlined in the City Charter.</p> <p>This current framework, according to Julia Lee, director of annual disclosure and special counsel at COIB, produces a “Catch-22 situation.” Since the COIB is not aware of who delivered petitions until after the petition deadline, the Board is “unable to notify candidates of their obligation to file an annual disclosure report after they are already out of compliance,” she said. The penalty for such a violation ranges from a $250 to $10,000 fine.</p> <p>The bill, she said, “would remedy this problem” by giving the COIB sufficient time to notify candidates and to provide reports to the public before an election.</p> <p>Extending the deadline would also level the playing field between first-time candidates and seasoned politicians, argued Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of the legislation. “Experienced candidates, or candidates retaining lawyers or compliance professions, may be knowledgable about the financial disclosure deadlines,” Kallos said. “New candidates, however, may lack such experience or the funds for experienced campaign staff.”</p> <p>Kallos recalled that he failed to meet the disclosure deadline himself when he ran for City Council in 2013, noting that campaign novices are often not aware of the disclosure requirements until it is too late. “There is a potential for such candidates to be disproportionately impacted and found out of compliance before they are ever notified of the requirement,” he said.</p> <p> </p> Three More State Legislators Seek City Council Seats 2017-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6948:three-more-state-legislators-seek-city-council-seats Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/diaz_sr_and_gjonaj_crop.jpg" alt="diaz sr and gjonaj crop" width="600" height="479" /></p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, &amp; AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)</p> <hr /> <p>There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.</p> <p>Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)</p> <p>Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.</p> <p>The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.</p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)</p> <p>Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.</p> <p>As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.</p> <p>Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”</p> <p>For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”</p> <p>“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”</p> <p>In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”</p> <p>John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.</p> <p>Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.</p> <p>In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.</p> <p>All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.</p> <p>Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”</p> <p>But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”</p> <p>Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6946-the-may-money-race-in-open-city-council-seats" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/diaz_sr_and_gjonaj_crop.jpg" alt="diaz sr and gjonaj crop" width="600" height="479" /></p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, &amp; AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)</p> <hr /> <p>There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.</p> <p>Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)</p> <p>Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.</p> <p>The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.</p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)</p> <p>Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.</p> <p>As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.</p> <p>Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”</p> <p>For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”</p> <p>“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”</p> <p>In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”</p> <p>John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.</p> <p>Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.</p> <p>In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.</p> <p>All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.</p> <p>Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”</p> <p>But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”</p> <p>Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6946-the-may-money-race-in-open-city-council-seats" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Members Question Campaign Finance Board Audit Process 2017-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6934:city-council-members-question-campaign-finance-board-audit-process Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/greenfield_nyccouncil.jpg" alt="greenfield nyccouncil" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member David Greenfield (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>At a City Council hearing on Friday, representatives of the city’s Campaign Finance Board expected to answer questions about their proposed budget for the next fiscal year but instead found themselves defending their processes for post-election auditing of campaigns.</p> <p>One of the Campaign Finance Board’s prime functions is to perform detailed examinations of how candidate campaigns utilize funds and whether they adhere to the strict requirements of campaign finance law. These post-election audits sometimes take years to complete and can involve hefty fines, in the range of thousands of dollars, for campaigns that are found to have committed campaign violations. They can also involve repayment obligations for candidates who receive public matching funds from the CFB.</p> <p>Of the 234 campaigns from 2013, the last city election cycle year, the CFB has completed audits on 214, with a few more slated for completion next month, according to testimony at the hearing from CFB executive director Amy Loprest. Some of those 214, including that of Mayor Bill de Blasio, were completed earlier this year. Audits of two campaigns from the 2009 election cycle also remain incomplete, Loprest said, owing to a long-running investigation in one campaign and a legal challenge by another.</p> <p>For City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, and City Council Member David Greenfield, a committee member, those delays in audits are just one reason that they believe the CFB’s system is flawed and in need of change. In December, Kallos, Greenfield, and other Council members ushered through nearly two dozen campaign finance related bills, some of them tweaks to how the Campaign Finance Board operates. Several of the measures were based on recommendations from the CFB, others were seen as addressing problems with the CFB identified by Council members and their consultants.</p> <p>The Friday hearing did touch on the CFB’s budget needs for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1 and in which there will be a citywide election with a primary in September and a general election in November. These city elections account for a massive increase to $56.7 million for the 2018 fiscal year from last year’s CFB budget of $16.17 million.</p> <p>About half of the proposed budget, $29 million, is allocated to the public matching funds program, which provides participating campaigns with 6-to-1 matches of small contributions up to $175. Another $11 million will go to printing and distributing a voter guide for the upcoming election.</p> <p>But Kallos seemed more concerned that the board was spending more money, and time, on auditing campaigns than the money they received from resolutions of those audits. When Loprest told the committee that the CFB’s candidate services unit has seven full-time employees and the audit unit has 26, Kallos insisted that the CFB should dedicate more resources to candidate services and campaign liaisons, so campaigns can preemptively steer clear of missteps in navigating a complex campaign finance system, and avoid fines and penalties down the line.</p> <p>“We’re trying to balance the needs of the work and be fiscally responsible,” Loprest said, welcoming the idea of more personnel funding for candidate services.</p> <p>“I guess I have an overarching concern here,” Kallos responded, “just that you’re spending four times more on auditing and penalizing candidates than you are on supporting them and your candidate-to-liaison ratio far exceeds what would be allowed in a public school at this point [for student-to-teacher].” He said the candidate services unit should at least be on par with the audit unit, to provide more personal attention to campaigns, and later floated the idea of legislation to mandate it. “I feel a bill coming up,” he said.</p> <p>Kallo also questioned the CFB’s spending on lobbying the state Legislature to push election and voting reforms, arguing that perhaps it needs to focus its attention closer to home in the city. The CFB’s mandated voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, engages in efforts around voter awareness, voter registration, and election law lobbying.</p> <p>Greenfield was more vociferous in his rebuke of the system, repeatedly interrupting and talking over Loprest as she sought to defend the necessity of the in-depth auditing process.</p> <p>Loprest told Greenfield that more than half of the 214 campaigns from 2013 that had been audited received some or the other penalty or a repayment obligation, which is not always considered a violation since it can involve leftover funds in a campaign’s account. Greenfield wasn’t pleased with the answer, seeing it as an indication that the program is faulty. “Either there’s a program that is designed for people to fail...or you’re not spending enough time and resources helping people through the program,” he said.</p> <p>He added, “To me that’s a very serious concern about how the system works. If we have a system where most people who are part of the system end up failing the system, then the reflection is not on the people, rather it’s a reflection on the system.”</p> <p>Greenfield said the system was unfair, painting candidates as having committed wrongdoings, as opposed to minor accounting mistakes. “Every time one of these things happens, our very capable reporters...they blow it up,” he said, pointing to the press section in the City Council chambers to illustrate his point (Greenfield repeatedly gestured toward the press section and referred to stories that look like more than they really are).</p> <p>Loprest refuted his contention about CFB violations. “Many of these things are more akin to parking violations,” she said.</p> <p>“I don’t think it’s fair, it’s very high stakes,” Greenfield said, interrupting Loprest and insisting that CFB violations are not as “benign” as parking tickets. “To compare it to parking tickets, I don’t think that’s really fair because you’re a government agency and the implication is that these people are engaged in some sort of wrongdoing and it gets blown out of proportion.” He pressed the point that the CFB’s audit process is in fact discouraging electoral participation, particularly for first-time candidates, and needs to be simplified.</p> <p>Although Loprest pushed back, she did concede near the end of the hearing that the process could be better and that the CFB was already taking steps to that end. “One of the things we’re engaged in right now is a review of our audit processes in order to to make the audit process simpler and more streamlined,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/greenfield_nyccouncil.jpg" alt="greenfield nyccouncil" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member David Greenfield (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>At a City Council hearing on Friday, representatives of the city’s Campaign Finance Board expected to answer questions about their proposed budget for the next fiscal year but instead found themselves defending their processes for post-election auditing of campaigns.</p> <p>One of the Campaign Finance Board’s prime functions is to perform detailed examinations of how candidate campaigns utilize funds and whether they adhere to the strict requirements of campaign finance law. These post-election audits sometimes take years to complete and can involve hefty fines, in the range of thousands of dollars, for campaigns that are found to have committed campaign violations. They can also involve repayment obligations for candidates who receive public matching funds from the CFB.</p> <p>Of the 234 campaigns from 2013, the last city election cycle year, the CFB has completed audits on 214, with a few more slated for completion next month, according to testimony at the hearing from CFB executive director Amy Loprest. Some of those 214, including that of Mayor Bill de Blasio, were completed earlier this year. Audits of two campaigns from the 2009 election cycle also remain incomplete, Loprest said, owing to a long-running investigation in one campaign and a legal challenge by another.</p> <p>For City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, and City Council Member David Greenfield, a committee member, those delays in audits are just one reason that they believe the CFB’s system is flawed and in need of change. In December, Kallos, Greenfield, and other Council members ushered through nearly two dozen campaign finance related bills, some of them tweaks to how the Campaign Finance Board operates. Several of the measures were based on recommendations from the CFB, others were seen as addressing problems with the CFB identified by Council members and their consultants.</p> <p>The Friday hearing did touch on the CFB’s budget needs for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1 and in which there will be a citywide election with a primary in September and a general election in November. These city elections account for a massive increase to $56.7 million for the 2018 fiscal year from last year’s CFB budget of $16.17 million.</p> <p>About half of the proposed budget, $29 million, is allocated to the public matching funds program, which provides participating campaigns with 6-to-1 matches of small contributions up to $175. Another $11 million will go to printing and distributing a voter guide for the upcoming election.</p> <p>But Kallos seemed more concerned that the board was spending more money, and time, on auditing campaigns than the money they received from resolutions of those audits. When Loprest told the committee that the CFB’s candidate services unit has seven full-time employees and the audit unit has 26, Kallos insisted that the CFB should dedicate more resources to candidate services and campaign liaisons, so campaigns can preemptively steer clear of missteps in navigating a complex campaign finance system, and avoid fines and penalties down the line.</p> <p>“We’re trying to balance the needs of the work and be fiscally responsible,” Loprest said, welcoming the idea of more personnel funding for candidate services.</p> <p>“I guess I have an overarching concern here,” Kallos responded, “just that you’re spending four times more on auditing and penalizing candidates than you are on supporting them and your candidate-to-liaison ratio far exceeds what would be allowed in a public school at this point [for student-to-teacher].” He said the candidate services unit should at least be on par with the audit unit, to provide more personal attention to campaigns, and later floated the idea of legislation to mandate it. “I feel a bill coming up,” he said.</p> <p>Kallo also questioned the CFB’s spending on lobbying the state Legislature to push election and voting reforms, arguing that perhaps it needs to focus its attention closer to home in the city. The CFB’s mandated voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, engages in efforts around voter awareness, voter registration, and election law lobbying.</p> <p>Greenfield was more vociferous in his rebuke of the system, repeatedly interrupting and talking over Loprest as she sought to defend the necessity of the in-depth auditing process.</p> <p>Loprest told Greenfield that more than half of the 214 campaigns from 2013 that had been audited received some or the other penalty or a repayment obligation, which is not always considered a violation since it can involve leftover funds in a campaign’s account. Greenfield wasn’t pleased with the answer, seeing it as an indication that the program is faulty. “Either there’s a program that is designed for people to fail...or you’re not spending enough time and resources helping people through the program,” he said.</p> <p>He added, “To me that’s a very serious concern about how the system works. If we have a system where most people who are part of the system end up failing the system, then the reflection is not on the people, rather it’s a reflection on the system.”</p> <p>Greenfield said the system was unfair, painting candidates as having committed wrongdoings, as opposed to minor accounting mistakes. “Every time one of these things happens, our very capable reporters...they blow it up,” he said, pointing to the press section in the City Council chambers to illustrate his point (Greenfield repeatedly gestured toward the press section and referred to stories that look like more than they really are).</p> <p>Loprest refuted his contention about CFB violations. “Many of these things are more akin to parking violations,” she said.</p> <p>“I don’t think it’s fair, it’s very high stakes,” Greenfield said, interrupting Loprest and insisting that CFB violations are not as “benign” as parking tickets. “To compare it to parking tickets, I don’t think that’s really fair because you’re a government agency and the implication is that these people are engaged in some sort of wrongdoing and it gets blown out of proportion.” He pressed the point that the CFB’s audit process is in fact discouraging electoral participation, particularly for first-time candidates, and needs to be simplified.</p> <p>Although Loprest pushed back, she did concede near the end of the hearing that the process could be better and that the CFB was already taking steps to that end. “One of the things we’re engaged in right now is a review of our audit processes in order to to make the audit process simpler and more streamlined,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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