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/bill-de-blasio 2018-02-22T21:06:26+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Bronx Electeds, Residents Cry Foul as Mayor and Council Announce Jail Site 2018-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7486:bronx-electeds-residents-cry-foul-as-mayor-and-council-announce-jail-site Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_1.jpg" alt="Bronx jail site NYPD tow pound" width="600" height="310" /></p> <p>Planned Bronx jail site (photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced last week that they’d reached a deal to speed up the closure of Rikers Island by creating or expanding jail facilities in every borough except Staten Island, it seemed to be a clear sign of a productive partnership between the administration and local elected officials.</p> <p>The mayor and speaker made the announcement at a news conference at City Hall, alongside four Council members -- Diana Ayala, Karen Koslowitz, Stephen Levin, and Margaret Chin -- willing to accept the political risk of a new or expanded jail in their districts. The city will launch a unified land use review application for all four jails, the mayor and speaker said, combining the arduous and lengthy multi-stage approval process for siting certain municipal facilities.</p> <p>But the proposal to build the Bronx jail -- the only one of the four that is not either a current or former jail facility -- immediately raised the hackles of elected officials from the borough other than Ayala, a newly elected Council member whose districts spans East Harlem and part of the South Bronx.</p> <p>“Look the site in the Bronx is a site owned by the City of New York. It is a very smart site in terms of its closeness to the courthouses,” de Blasio explained at the news conference, when asked about a critical statement put out by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who had not been kept in the loop by the administration or the Council. “There is going to be a full community process, but let's be clear, we're going to talk to everyone, we're going to listen to everyone, we're going to try in every way possible address community needs and address other benefits that communities need.”</p> <p>De Blasio emphasized, “That being said, up here are the people who ultimately have to make the decision – the Council, represented by the Speaker, the members who represent those individual districts, and me and my administration.”</p> <p>Ayala was aware of the criticism she may face for supporting a site in her district. “We all know that this siting process is bound to be controversial,” she said. “In the Bronx in particular, we are not repurposing an existing detention center but instead building a brand new facility that will require additional careful thought, serious consideration and robust community engagement, and I really wanna underline that…We also know that in the Bronx, too often we see a concentration of city facilities in our borough and there is rightfully some resistance to that. But we in the Bronx also understand the urgent need for criminal justice reform.”</p> <p>Top Bronx officials were taken aback that this was the first they were hearing of a new jail intended for their backyard. Any consultations that had happened had excluded Borough President Diaz Jr.; Assemblymember Michael Blake, whose district neighbors the one where the proposed site is located at 320 Concord Avenue, currently an NYPD tow pound; and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the Democratic Bronx County party leader whose support helped Johnson win the speakership.</p> <p>“I was surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx,” said Diaz Jr. in a statement that preceded the mayor and speaker’s Wednesday news conference. The proposed site had been first revealed by the <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasio-to-build-jail-in-the-bronx-1518565743?mod=WSJ_NY_LEFTTopStories&amp;tesla=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Wall Street Journal</a> the previous night, just after de Blasio delivered his State of the City address. “I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” Diaz Jr. said. (At the news conference, Johnson showed some contrition immediately, apologizing to Diaz Jr. and promising a “robust, meaningful” community engagement process.)</p> <p>“It is simply disrespectful that a decision of this magnitude of proposing to open a new jail in the South Bronx was made behind closed doors, without engaging the broader Bronx community,” said Assemblymember Blake, in a statement released Wednesday night.</p> <p>Crespo, the Democratic Bronx county boss, took to Twitter, calling out the mayor and speaker. “We spent so much time talking the last few months how did this rikers plan in my district never come up?” he wondered.</p> <p>“I think we were all caught off guard with how far ahead the city seems to be when no one in the Bronx was informed of the process,” Crespo later elaborated, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “Once you decide on a site, that’s gonna have an impact for generations.”</p> <p>Crespo and the other electeds aren’t opposed to the administration’s goal: building capacity in the boroughs so that Rikers can close. But, he said the Concord Avenue site is not the best option, and the city should explore alternatives. The community and the borough already host their fair share of municipal facilities, Crespo insisted, echoing widespread criticism that the city has long chosen to place seemingly undesirable facilities such as jails, homeless shelters, and waste treatment plants in low-income communities of color. “Make no mistake about it, this borough has been handling an unfair share already for a long time,” he said.</p> <p>“There’s major investments and their success would also be endangered,” he said of the Mott Haven neighborhood, where new development is underway literally across the road from where the jail would be situated.</p> <p>The rapid outpouring of criticism didn’t seem lost on Speaker Johnson, who quickly seemed to equivocate on the Bronx site. “I am committed to facilities in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Johnson <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/bronx/politics/2018/02/16/council-speaker-says-he-is-not-wedded-to-specific-locations-for-new-jails" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told NY1</a>. "We are not wedded to an individual location. If there is a better location I am happy to have that conversation."</p> <p>Responding to an assertion that he was backpedaling, Johnson said in a subsequent tweet that he is “not at all” backing away from the site, but reiterated that the main goal is closing the jails on Rikers Island and that he is “not wedded” to one location. “If there's a better one,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CoreyinNYC/status/964309861688336384" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he wrote</a>, “I'm all ears. No other location has been presented.”</p> <p>If the Bronx elected officials were stunned by the announcement, it’s little wonder that those who live in the neighborhood around the proposed site were likewise surprised and offended to learn of the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_2.jpg" alt="bx jail site 2" width="325" height="187" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The site is located in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, north of the Harlem River, with large industrial and manufacturing spaces running between the waterfront and the Major Deegan Expressway.</p> <p>Residents and others expressed a mix of astonishment, resignation, anger, and resentment as Gotham Gazette told them on Friday that the city intended to build a jail within blocks of their homes and places of work.</p> <p>“I thought they were gonna do a mall,” said Jesus Ortiz, 50, who runs an auto-repair shop across the street from the NYPD tow pound that occupies the block.</p> <p>The site is sandwiched between East 141st and 142nd Streets, next to Bruckner Boulevard, in a neighborhood with a mix of housing and commercial properties. Enclosed by metal sheet walls, the tow pound is almost a hill overlooking its neighbors, with impounded cars visible from the street through a peripheral treeline that is leafless in February.</p> <p>“They’re trying to rebuild the South Bronx to make it nice,” said Ortiz, “That’s not the way to rebuild, by putting a jail here.” Having worked there 15 years, Ortiz said he’s seen rapid development in recent times. Even the building that houses his auto shop was recently bought out, he said, and the landlords gave him a one-year lease till 2019. He’ll soon be gone from the neighborhood too.</p> <p>“They’re buying all around,” he said.</p> <p>Adam Bele, 40, loads containers at the lumber supply warehouse that sits behind 320 Concord. “Nobody wants to be near a jail,” he said. His biggest concern, one that others shared as well, is for the children that attend the several schools in the neighborhood.</p> <p>“You don’t want children hanging around a jail,” said the father of two infants who will likely attend one of those schools, he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>As with other residents, Bele was wary of the process for choosing the site. “It’s like they know it’s gonna be unpopular so they tried to hide it and do it quick, quick, quick,” he said. He had a simple piece of advice for the mayor. “Be transparent. Listen to this community, and take our recommendations into consideration.”</p> <p>But Bele empathizes with the city’s rationale that detainees deserve to be housed closer to their families in humane and modern facilities, and that Rikers needs to close. “You don’t want them treated like animals, they’re human like us,” he said. The mayor and speaker have promised to seek community feedback on the proposed site and, as required by the city’s land use review process, community boards will get an opportunity to hold votes, albeit nonbinding, to approve or reject the proposal. Borough presidents also get to weigh in with advisory opinions.</p> <p>Along Concord Avenue, in what could eventually be the shadow of a new jail, sit rowhouses, a few of them old and abandoned and showing signs of disrepair. “For Sale” signs hung in a few windows.</p> <p>In one of those houses lives Nereida Chavez, 38, a stay-at-home mom with four kids. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed on hearing that her biggest neighbor could one day be a jail.</p> <p>“I don’t like the idea of having a jail here,” she said. “It’s just scary.”</p> <p>She worried that a jail could mean more traffic along a little-traversed street. “We have our kids and they love to play out here with their bikes,” she said. And, it might also mean that parking, which has become an issue already owing to the large lumber and oil and gas companies around them, might worsen. “We hardly have any parking here. It’ll be even more complicated if they put a jail here,” she said.</p> <p>But Chavez was more concerned that she hardly had an opportunity to be heard on an issue that quite directly would affect her. “It makes me worried that things happen around us and we don’t know anything,” she said. “They also put shelters around us. They don’t let us know until it’s there.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_3.jpg" alt="bx jail site 3" width="325" height="161" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />At a bodega on East 141st Street, Mel McKenzie, 33, was buying milk. Gotham Gazette asked if the homemaker knew about the city’s plan to build a jail, three blocks from her home.</p> <p>“For real?” she said.</p> <p>“I’m not with it,” she frowned. “It should stay an impound lot....[A jail] won’t bring the community together. It’ll probably make us scared. And it’s too close to home.”</p> <p>Another shopper, Nancy Lopez, 43, chimed in. “Why move it so close when there’s other areas where they could put it?” she wondered. “Put it across Bruckner where it’s more industrial. There’s kids that walk by everyday on Concord.”</p> <p>The city’s plan to close Rikers and replace some of its capacity in borough facilities near courthouses entails building for about 6,000 inmates, with the goal of getting the jail population down to about 5,000, according to the mayor.</p> <p>McKenzie acknowledged that its a laudable objective to help detainees, most of whom are pre-trial and not convicted of any crime, remain connected to their communities. “That makes sense,” she said, but she also expressed concern about what school-going children would take away from it. “That’s the message they’re sending? You’re gonna be close to home if you get locked up.”</p> <p>“What happens if a prisoner escapes?” said Lopez, who said she is on disability and lives on Concord Avenue in the same row as Nereida Chavez. Instead, she proposed a “positive” alternative. “Why don’t they build affordable housing?”</p> <p>Both women had one shared concern, however, that neither of them had received an opportunity to weigh in. “They should notify the public,” McKenzie said.</p> <p>“As it’s happening, not when it’s already decided,” added Lopez. The city will present plans to the public, particularly through the community board, when the site is set for its place in the land use review process. It may be up to local residents to seek out opportunities to hear more and provide their feedback.</p> <p>Presenting the site as a “fait accompli” would undermine the process, said the Bronx borough president in his statement, but it’s what one resident seemed to expect from the administration. “The city does whatever it wants,” said Hector Camilo, 55. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t argue with the city.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been corrected to note that Assembly Member Michael Blake does not represent the district where the proposed jail site at 320 Concord Avenue is located. He represents a neighboring district.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_1.jpg" alt="Bronx jail site NYPD tow pound" width="600" height="310" /></p> <p>Planned Bronx jail site (photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced last week that they’d reached a deal to speed up the closure of Rikers Island by creating or expanding jail facilities in every borough except Staten Island, it seemed to be a clear sign of a productive partnership between the administration and local elected officials.</p> <p>The mayor and speaker made the announcement at a news conference at City Hall, alongside four Council members -- Diana Ayala, Karen Koslowitz, Stephen Levin, and Margaret Chin -- willing to accept the political risk of a new or expanded jail in their districts. The city will launch a unified land use review application for all four jails, the mayor and speaker said, combining the arduous and lengthy multi-stage approval process for siting certain municipal facilities.</p> <p>But the proposal to build the Bronx jail -- the only one of the four that is not either a current or former jail facility -- immediately raised the hackles of elected officials from the borough other than Ayala, a newly elected Council member whose districts spans East Harlem and part of the South Bronx.</p> <p>“Look the site in the Bronx is a site owned by the City of New York. It is a very smart site in terms of its closeness to the courthouses,” de Blasio explained at the news conference, when asked about a critical statement put out by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who had not been kept in the loop by the administration or the Council. “There is going to be a full community process, but let's be clear, we're going to talk to everyone, we're going to listen to everyone, we're going to try in every way possible address community needs and address other benefits that communities need.”</p> <p>De Blasio emphasized, “That being said, up here are the people who ultimately have to make the decision – the Council, represented by the Speaker, the members who represent those individual districts, and me and my administration.”</p> <p>Ayala was aware of the criticism she may face for supporting a site in her district. “We all know that this siting process is bound to be controversial,” she said. “In the Bronx in particular, we are not repurposing an existing detention center but instead building a brand new facility that will require additional careful thought, serious consideration and robust community engagement, and I really wanna underline that…We also know that in the Bronx, too often we see a concentration of city facilities in our borough and there is rightfully some resistance to that. But we in the Bronx also understand the urgent need for criminal justice reform.”</p> <p>Top Bronx officials were taken aback that this was the first they were hearing of a new jail intended for their backyard. Any consultations that had happened had excluded Borough President Diaz Jr.; Assemblymember Michael Blake, whose district neighbors the one where the proposed site is located at 320 Concord Avenue, currently an NYPD tow pound; and Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the Democratic Bronx County party leader whose support helped Johnson win the speakership.</p> <p>“I was surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx,” said Diaz Jr. in a statement that preceded the mayor and speaker’s Wednesday news conference. The proposed site had been first revealed by the <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasio-to-build-jail-in-the-bronx-1518565743?mod=WSJ_NY_LEFTTopStories&amp;tesla=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Wall Street Journal</a> the previous night, just after de Blasio delivered his State of the City address. “I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” Diaz Jr. said. (At the news conference, Johnson showed some contrition immediately, apologizing to Diaz Jr. and promising a “robust, meaningful” community engagement process.)</p> <p>“It is simply disrespectful that a decision of this magnitude of proposing to open a new jail in the South Bronx was made behind closed doors, without engaging the broader Bronx community,” said Assemblymember Blake, in a statement released Wednesday night.</p> <p>Crespo, the Democratic Bronx county boss, took to Twitter, calling out the mayor and speaker. “We spent so much time talking the last few months how did this rikers plan in my district never come up?” he wondered.</p> <p>“I think we were all caught off guard with how far ahead the city seems to be when no one in the Bronx was informed of the process,” Crespo later elaborated, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “Once you decide on a site, that’s gonna have an impact for generations.”</p> <p>Crespo and the other electeds aren’t opposed to the administration’s goal: building capacity in the boroughs so that Rikers can close. But, he said the Concord Avenue site is not the best option, and the city should explore alternatives. The community and the borough already host their fair share of municipal facilities, Crespo insisted, echoing widespread criticism that the city has long chosen to place seemingly undesirable facilities such as jails, homeless shelters, and waste treatment plants in low-income communities of color. “Make no mistake about it, this borough has been handling an unfair share already for a long time,” he said.</p> <p>“There’s major investments and their success would also be endangered,” he said of the Mott Haven neighborhood, where new development is underway literally across the road from where the jail would be situated.</p> <p>The rapid outpouring of criticism didn’t seem lost on Speaker Johnson, who quickly seemed to equivocate on the Bronx site. “I am committed to facilities in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan,” Johnson <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/bronx/politics/2018/02/16/council-speaker-says-he-is-not-wedded-to-specific-locations-for-new-jails" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told NY1</a>. "We are not wedded to an individual location. If there is a better location I am happy to have that conversation."</p> <p>Responding to an assertion that he was backpedaling, Johnson said in a subsequent tweet that he is “not at all” backing away from the site, but reiterated that the main goal is closing the jails on Rikers Island and that he is “not wedded” to one location. “If there's a better one,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CoreyinNYC/status/964309861688336384" target="_blank" rel="noopener">he wrote</a>, “I'm all ears. No other location has been presented.”</p> <p>If the Bronx elected officials were stunned by the announcement, it’s little wonder that those who live in the neighborhood around the proposed site were likewise surprised and offended to learn of the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_2.jpg" alt="bx jail site 2" width="325" height="187" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The site is located in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, north of the Harlem River, with large industrial and manufacturing spaces running between the waterfront and the Major Deegan Expressway.</p> <p>Residents and others expressed a mix of astonishment, resignation, anger, and resentment as Gotham Gazette told them on Friday that the city intended to build a jail within blocks of their homes and places of work.</p> <p>“I thought they were gonna do a mall,” said Jesus Ortiz, 50, who runs an auto-repair shop across the street from the NYPD tow pound that occupies the block.</p> <p>The site is sandwiched between East 141st and 142nd Streets, next to Bruckner Boulevard, in a neighborhood with a mix of housing and commercial properties. Enclosed by metal sheet walls, the tow pound is almost a hill overlooking its neighbors, with impounded cars visible from the street through a peripheral treeline that is leafless in February.</p> <p>“They’re trying to rebuild the South Bronx to make it nice,” said Ortiz, “That’s not the way to rebuild, by putting a jail here.” Having worked there 15 years, Ortiz said he’s seen rapid development in recent times. Even the building that houses his auto shop was recently bought out, he said, and the landlords gave him a one-year lease till 2019. He’ll soon be gone from the neighborhood too.</p> <p>“They’re buying all around,” he said.</p> <p>Adam Bele, 40, loads containers at the lumber supply warehouse that sits behind 320 Concord. “Nobody wants to be near a jail,” he said. His biggest concern, one that others shared as well, is for the children that attend the several schools in the neighborhood.</p> <p>“You don’t want children hanging around a jail,” said the father of two infants who will likely attend one of those schools, he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>As with other residents, Bele was wary of the process for choosing the site. “It’s like they know it’s gonna be unpopular so they tried to hide it and do it quick, quick, quick,” he said. He had a simple piece of advice for the mayor. “Be transparent. Listen to this community, and take our recommendations into consideration.”</p> <p>But Bele empathizes with the city’s rationale that detainees deserve to be housed closer to their families in humane and modern facilities, and that Rikers needs to close. “You don’t want them treated like animals, they’re human like us,” he said. The mayor and speaker have promised to seek community feedback on the proposed site and, as required by the city’s land use review process, community boards will get an opportunity to hold votes, albeit nonbinding, to approve or reject the proposal. Borough presidents also get to weigh in with advisory opinions.</p> <p>Along Concord Avenue, in what could eventually be the shadow of a new jail, sit rowhouses, a few of them old and abandoned and showing signs of disrepair. “For Sale” signs hung in a few windows.</p> <p>In one of those houses lives Nereida Chavez, 38, a stay-at-home mom with four kids. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed on hearing that her biggest neighbor could one day be a jail.</p> <p>“I don’t like the idea of having a jail here,” she said. “It’s just scary.”</p> <p>She worried that a jail could mean more traffic along a little-traversed street. “We have our kids and they love to play out here with their bikes,” she said. And, it might also mean that parking, which has become an issue already owing to the large lumber and oil and gas companies around them, might worsen. “We hardly have any parking here. It’ll be even more complicated if they put a jail here,” she said.</p> <p>But Chavez was more concerned that she hardly had an opportunity to be heard on an issue that quite directly would affect her. “It makes me worried that things happen around us and we don’t know anything,” she said. “They also put shelters around us. They don’t let us know until it’s there.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/bx_jail_site_3.jpg" alt="bx jail site 3" width="325" height="161" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />At a bodega on East 141st Street, Mel McKenzie, 33, was buying milk. Gotham Gazette asked if the homemaker knew about the city’s plan to build a jail, three blocks from her home.</p> <p>“For real?” she said.</p> <p>“I’m not with it,” she frowned. “It should stay an impound lot....[A jail] won’t bring the community together. It’ll probably make us scared. And it’s too close to home.”</p> <p>Another shopper, Nancy Lopez, 43, chimed in. “Why move it so close when there’s other areas where they could put it?” she wondered. “Put it across Bruckner where it’s more industrial. There’s kids that walk by everyday on Concord.”</p> <p>The city’s plan to close Rikers and replace some of its capacity in borough facilities near courthouses entails building for about 6,000 inmates, with the goal of getting the jail population down to about 5,000, according to the mayor.</p> <p>McKenzie acknowledged that its a laudable objective to help detainees, most of whom are pre-trial and not convicted of any crime, remain connected to their communities. “That makes sense,” she said, but she also expressed concern about what school-going children would take away from it. “That’s the message they’re sending? You’re gonna be close to home if you get locked up.”</p> <p>“What happens if a prisoner escapes?” said Lopez, who said she is on disability and lives on Concord Avenue in the same row as Nereida Chavez. Instead, she proposed a “positive” alternative. “Why don’t they build affordable housing?”</p> <p>Both women had one shared concern, however, that neither of them had received an opportunity to weigh in. “They should notify the public,” McKenzie said.</p> <p>“As it’s happening, not when it’s already decided,” added Lopez. The city will present plans to the public, particularly through the community board, when the site is set for its place in the land use review process. It may be up to local residents to seek out opportunities to hear more and provide their feedback.</p> <p>Presenting the site as a “fait accompli” would undermine the process, said the Bronx borough president in his statement, but it’s what one resident seemed to expect from the administration. “The city does whatever it wants,” said Hector Camilo, 55. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t argue with the city.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been corrected to note that Assembly Member Michael Blake does not represent the district where the proposed jail site at 320 Concord Avenue is located. He represents a neighboring district.&nbsp;</p>
Next Steps and Recent Precedents for De Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission 2018-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7488:next-steps-and-recent-precedents-for-de-blasio-s-charter-revision-commission Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/38445040820_f6404fc2b3_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio State of the City" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in his State of the City speech that he would convene a commission to consider changes to the city charter, New York City’s seminal governing document. De Blasio said the charter revision commission would undertake the significant task of reducing the impact of “big money” on local elections and to engage voters in a democracy that has suffered from their apathy. The mayor is hoping the commission members, whom he has yet to name, will prepare recommendations in time for voters to approve or reject the commission’s ideas on Election Day this November through one or more ballot questions.</p> <p>De Blasio is ready to utilize a power available to him, though some are already questioning why he isn’t pursuing his desired changes through legislation at the City Council, while others are criticizing the mayor for pre-determining the panel’s outcomes. But, de Blasio will do as several predecessors have done and call a commission. How exactly does it work?</p> <p>The mayor has the power to call a Charter Revision Commission under <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/MHR/36" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Section 36</a> of the state’s municipal home rule law. A commission can be composed of between 9 and 15 members, who would all have to be residents of the city. The mayor simply has to file the names of his chosen members, who can include current public officials, with the City Clerk’s office. There is no public vetting process, but de Blasio has conceded that he is open to input from concerned elected officials about who should serve on the body.</p> <p>“I’m going to act in the manner stipulated in the City Charter,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference on Feb 14, when asked by Gotham Gazette if he’d let other elected officials choose members for the commission, as some were calling for even before de Blasio’s announcement. “So, I’ll be naming the commission. I’m happy to talk to my colleagues in government about people they think would be right to serve, but I will name the commission just as previous mayors did.”</p> <p>De Blasio said in his State of the City speech that he would “give [the Commission] the mandate to propose a plan for deep public financing of local elections.” Despite being elected with maximum contributions from wealthy donors (the limit is $4,950 per person to a mayoral candidate), the mayor has been a frequent critic of the influence of big money in elections. He also established multiple extra-governmental fundraising entities that took in hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities with city business and led to new city laws restricting such groups.</p> <p>De Blasio has directly spoken out against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to untold amounts of unaccountable election spending, and has repeatedly called for broader campaign finance reforms to be enacted by the state.</p> <p>“I will also charge the Charter Revision Commission to propose a plan to empower the city government,” de Blasio continued during his State of the City, insisting that the city should be able to take on duties he believes are currently mishandled by the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency.</p> <p>However, the mayor cannot technically charge the Commission, which is meant to be independent, with exploring any specific agenda item. A commission could take up any issue its members deem appropriate and recommend changes to the charter that even the mayor could not reject. Final recommendations would have to be approved by a voter referendum.</p> <p>“The mayor I think has made it clear he has certain questions in mind, which seem to be well intended,” said Joseph Viteritti, a professor at Hunter College who served as research director for the 2010 Charter Revision Commission created by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Viteritti also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7164-max-murphy-podcast-de-blasio-author-joseph-viteritti" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently wrote a book about de Blasio</a>). “That said, once a commission is appointed, it can go where it chooses.”</p> <p>The 2010 commission held public hearings in each of the five boroughs and, based on feedback from the public and from elected officials, examined five broad subjects: voter participation, public integrity, government structure, term limits for elected officials, and land use. In its final report, the commission made several recommendations which ultimately formed the basis for <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/charter/downloads/pdf/final_ballot_questions_combined.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">two ballot questions</a> that were both <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/html/results/2010.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">approved</a> by 52 percent of voters.</p> <p>The first question reduced the number of terms that city elected officials can serve from three to two for those elected in 2010 and after, and prohibited the City Council from changing term limits for incumbents. The second question dealt more widely with elections and government administration. Among other things, it required the disclosure of independent expenditures in city elections; reduced the number of ballot petition signatures that candidates need to run for office; tasked the city’s Campaign Finance Board with voter assistance functions; established mandatory conflicts of interest trainings for all public servants, while also increasing fines for violations.</p> <p>“I would assume they’ll have public hearings and when you do that...people can introduce things that may or may not be on the agenda,” Viteritti said. “Any commission opens up the entire charter to review potentially. There’s no constraints once it’s appointed.”</p> <p>Notably, the 2010 Commission did not propose a ballot question on nonpartisan primary elections, a change that Bloomberg had made clear in the past that he wanted to see happen and that would allow any registered voter to vote in one party primary of their choosing. The Commission debated the issue extensively -- although Bloomberg did not raise it again that year -- but they did not include it in their final recommendations.&nbsp;“We decided not to propose that because we didn’t think we had enough time to consider the potential consequences of such a major change,” Viteritti said. “What that should tell anybody is that the mayor can express his priorities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be reflected in the final deliberations of the commission.”</p> <p>The last time the city’s charter was thoroughly reviewed was by the 1989 Commission, on which Viteritti served as a consultant. That commission radically changed the structure of city government by eliminating the Board of Estimate -- a body made up of the citywide electeds and borough-wide officials who together exercised complete control over the city’s budget and land use -- and by assigning its roles to the City Council, which saw its number of seats increase from 35 to 51.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College's School of Public and International Affairs, praised the mayor’s announcement but said his priorities should be broader. “It’s gotta be far more extensive and it’s gotta be funded appropriately,” said Muzzio, who was on an expert panel on government structure that testified before the 2010 Commission.</p> <p>Muzzio pointed to an <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3331869&amp;GUID=693BF4E3-7810-4823-B0AB-6CC9AC1C98D9&amp;Options=ID|Text|&amp;Search=charter+revision" target="_blank" rel="noopener">alternate proposal</a> put forward in legislation by Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, both second-term Democrats like de Blasio. The proposed bill would create a charter review commission composed of representatives appointed by the mayor, who would get a plurality of appointees, the speaker of the City Council, the borough presidents, the public advocate and the comptroller. “In terms of greater diversity of views on something as important as the charter, I would prefer the Brewer-James proposal,” Muzzio said.</p> <p>“Charter revision is important and needed,” Brewer <a href="https://twitter.com/galeabrewer/status/965978668295172096" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted</a> on Tuesday, “but appointments should come from many electeds and the issues to be discussed should come from the group.”</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/give-nyc-charter-thoughtful-revamp-article-1.3713580" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a New York Daily News editorial</a> in December, Brewer and James called for a revamp of the city’s charter, noting that “the last real overhaul” was in 1989. Citing a new world and new challenges, a charter revision commission, they said, could give communities a stronger voice in the city’s land use processes, provide City Council members with greater say over the city’s budget, and streamline agencies with shared responsibilities. “Our goal is simple: empower a panel of genuine experts to do a top-to-bottom review of how our government could work better, and put their recommendations up for public discussion and a vote,” they said.</p> <p>Time will likely be a constraint on de Blasio’s commission and if they are to be ready to make recommendations by November, they will have to move quickly. The 2010 commission was convened in March and had issued its final report by August.</p> <p>Both Muzzio and Viteritti also pointed out that many of the improvements to campaign financing and election laws that the mayor wants to accomplish are held back by inaction by the state Legislature and Citizens United.</p> <p>Although the mayor may not drastically change how New York City’s massive municipal government works, he has nonetheless set the stage for a broader discussion of voting laws, election funding, and the city’s waning democracy, Viteritti insisted.</p> <p>“To me the most important thing to come out of this is to raise the consciousness of people to how broken and troubled the democratic process is,” he said. “The more public discussion we have about these issues the better...We have to start the conversation somewhere. It’s not starting in Albany. It’s not starting in Washington, D.C., that’s for sure.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article noted earlier that the 2010 Charter Revision Commission did not take up the issue of nonpartisan primary elections. The Commission, in fact, debated the issue but did not include it in their final recommendations. The article has been updated. &nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/38445040820_f6404fc2b3_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio State of the City" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in his State of the City speech that he would convene a commission to consider changes to the city charter, New York City’s seminal governing document. De Blasio said the charter revision commission would undertake the significant task of reducing the impact of “big money” on local elections and to engage voters in a democracy that has suffered from their apathy. The mayor is hoping the commission members, whom he has yet to name, will prepare recommendations in time for voters to approve or reject the commission’s ideas on Election Day this November through one or more ballot questions.</p> <p>De Blasio is ready to utilize a power available to him, though some are already questioning why he isn’t pursuing his desired changes through legislation at the City Council, while others are criticizing the mayor for pre-determining the panel’s outcomes. But, de Blasio will do as several predecessors have done and call a commission. How exactly does it work?</p> <p>The mayor has the power to call a Charter Revision Commission under <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/MHR/36" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Section 36</a> of the state’s municipal home rule law. A commission can be composed of between 9 and 15 members, who would all have to be residents of the city. The mayor simply has to file the names of his chosen members, who can include current public officials, with the City Clerk’s office. There is no public vetting process, but de Blasio has conceded that he is open to input from concerned elected officials about who should serve on the body.</p> <p>“I’m going to act in the manner stipulated in the City Charter,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference on Feb 14, when asked by Gotham Gazette if he’d let other elected officials choose members for the commission, as some were calling for even before de Blasio’s announcement. “So, I’ll be naming the commission. I’m happy to talk to my colleagues in government about people they think would be right to serve, but I will name the commission just as previous mayors did.”</p> <p>De Blasio said in his State of the City speech that he would “give [the Commission] the mandate to propose a plan for deep public financing of local elections.” Despite being elected with maximum contributions from wealthy donors (the limit is $4,950 per person to a mayoral candidate), the mayor has been a frequent critic of the influence of big money in elections. He also established multiple extra-governmental fundraising entities that took in hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities with city business and led to new city laws restricting such groups.</p> <p>De Blasio has directly spoken out against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to untold amounts of unaccountable election spending, and has repeatedly called for broader campaign finance reforms to be enacted by the state.</p> <p>“I will also charge the Charter Revision Commission to propose a plan to empower the city government,” de Blasio continued during his State of the City, insisting that the city should be able to take on duties he believes are currently mishandled by the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency.</p> <p>However, the mayor cannot technically charge the Commission, which is meant to be independent, with exploring any specific agenda item. A commission could take up any issue its members deem appropriate and recommend changes to the charter that even the mayor could not reject. Final recommendations would have to be approved by a voter referendum.</p> <p>“The mayor I think has made it clear he has certain questions in mind, which seem to be well intended,” said Joseph Viteritti, a professor at Hunter College who served as research director for the 2010 Charter Revision Commission created by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Viteritti also <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7164-max-murphy-podcast-de-blasio-author-joseph-viteritti" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently wrote a book about de Blasio</a>). “That said, once a commission is appointed, it can go where it chooses.”</p> <p>The 2010 commission held public hearings in each of the five boroughs and, based on feedback from the public and from elected officials, examined five broad subjects: voter participation, public integrity, government structure, term limits for elected officials, and land use. In its final report, the commission made several recommendations which ultimately formed the basis for <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/charter/downloads/pdf/final_ballot_questions_combined.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">two ballot questions</a> that were both <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/html/results/2010.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">approved</a> by 52 percent of voters.</p> <p>The first question reduced the number of terms that city elected officials can serve from three to two for those elected in 2010 and after, and prohibited the City Council from changing term limits for incumbents. The second question dealt more widely with elections and government administration. Among other things, it required the disclosure of independent expenditures in city elections; reduced the number of ballot petition signatures that candidates need to run for office; tasked the city’s Campaign Finance Board with voter assistance functions; established mandatory conflicts of interest trainings for all public servants, while also increasing fines for violations.</p> <p>“I would assume they’ll have public hearings and when you do that...people can introduce things that may or may not be on the agenda,” Viteritti said. “Any commission opens up the entire charter to review potentially. There’s no constraints once it’s appointed.”</p> <p>Notably, the 2010 Commission did not propose a ballot question on nonpartisan primary elections, a change that Bloomberg had made clear in the past that he wanted to see happen and that would allow any registered voter to vote in one party primary of their choosing. The Commission debated the issue extensively -- although Bloomberg did not raise it again that year -- but they did not include it in their final recommendations.&nbsp;“We decided not to propose that because we didn’t think we had enough time to consider the potential consequences of such a major change,” Viteritti said. “What that should tell anybody is that the mayor can express his priorities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be reflected in the final deliberations of the commission.”</p> <p>The last time the city’s charter was thoroughly reviewed was by the 1989 Commission, on which Viteritti served as a consultant. That commission radically changed the structure of city government by eliminating the Board of Estimate -- a body made up of the citywide electeds and borough-wide officials who together exercised complete control over the city’s budget and land use -- and by assigning its roles to the City Council, which saw its number of seats increase from 35 to 51.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College's School of Public and International Affairs, praised the mayor’s announcement but said his priorities should be broader. “It’s gotta be far more extensive and it’s gotta be funded appropriately,” said Muzzio, who was on an expert panel on government structure that testified before the 2010 Commission.</p> <p>Muzzio pointed to an <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3331869&amp;GUID=693BF4E3-7810-4823-B0AB-6CC9AC1C98D9&amp;Options=ID|Text|&amp;Search=charter+revision" target="_blank" rel="noopener">alternate proposal</a> put forward in legislation by Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, both second-term Democrats like de Blasio. The proposed bill would create a charter review commission composed of representatives appointed by the mayor, who would get a plurality of appointees, the speaker of the City Council, the borough presidents, the public advocate and the comptroller. “In terms of greater diversity of views on something as important as the charter, I would prefer the Brewer-James proposal,” Muzzio said.</p> <p>“Charter revision is important and needed,” Brewer <a href="https://twitter.com/galeabrewer/status/965978668295172096" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweeted</a> on Tuesday, “but appointments should come from many electeds and the issues to be discussed should come from the group.”</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/give-nyc-charter-thoughtful-revamp-article-1.3713580" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a New York Daily News editorial</a> in December, Brewer and James called for a revamp of the city’s charter, noting that “the last real overhaul” was in 1989. Citing a new world and new challenges, a charter revision commission, they said, could give communities a stronger voice in the city’s land use processes, provide City Council members with greater say over the city’s budget, and streamline agencies with shared responsibilities. “Our goal is simple: empower a panel of genuine experts to do a top-to-bottom review of how our government could work better, and put their recommendations up for public discussion and a vote,” they said.</p> <p>Time will likely be a constraint on de Blasio’s commission and if they are to be ready to make recommendations by November, they will have to move quickly. The 2010 commission was convened in March and had issued its final report by August.</p> <p>Both Muzzio and Viteritti also pointed out that many of the improvements to campaign financing and election laws that the mayor wants to accomplish are held back by inaction by the state Legislature and Citizens United.</p> <p>Although the mayor may not drastically change how New York City’s massive municipal government works, he has nonetheless set the stage for a broader discussion of voting laws, election funding, and the city’s waning democracy, Viteritti insisted.</p> <p>“To me the most important thing to come out of this is to raise the consciousness of people to how broken and troubled the democratic process is,” he said. “The more public discussion we have about these issues the better...We have to start the conversation somewhere. It’s not starting in Albany. It’s not starting in Washington, D.C., that’s for sure.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article noted earlier that the 2010 Charter Revision Commission did not take up the issue of nonpartisan primary elections. The Commission, in fact, debated the issue but did not include it in their final recommendations. The article has been updated. &nbsp;</p>
City Pays $2.6 Million De Blasio Legal Fees; Campaign-Related Debts Unclear 2018-02-15T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7482:city-pays-2-6-million-de-blasio-legal-fees-campaign-related-debts-unclear Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/28250598779_0092a55251_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio city hall blue room" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>At a public hearing Thursday morning in downtown Manhattan, an official from the city’s Law Department plainly read the fifteenth item on the docket: a proposed contract for legal services that would cost the city $2,627,500. No individuals testified and the hearing was over in less than five minutes, allowing the city to move forward with its intent to award the contract.</p> <p>That contract is just the latest development in the long-running saga of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ethical and fundraising scandals, which invited federal and state investigations of the mayor and his aides but resulted in no criminal charges. The $2.6 million city contract award was to the law firm of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis and Frankel for services provided to the mayor in an investigation by the Manhattan United States Attorney’s office into to what extent the mayor and his administration gave favorable treatment to his campaign donors.</p> <p>By March 2017, the city had already spent about $10.5 million on 11 outside law firms for work related to the two investigations.</p> <p>Although the separate investigations by the U.S. Attorney and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which was looking at de Blasio’s involvement in 2014 state Senate races, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">closed</a> in March 2017, the cloud of scandal around the mayor’s administration never entirely cleared.</p> <p>Then-Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/acting-us-attorney-joon-h-kim-statement-investigation-city-hall-fundraising" target="_blank" rel="noopener">noted</a> in 2017 that though the mayor would not face charges, he had nonetheless sought donations from donors and then “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.” Recently, in a separate case in Long Island, one of those donors pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe the mayor, raising a new round of questions -- which de Blasio has repeatedly refused to answer -- on how far the mayor and his administration went to help out close allies and campaign funders.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly argued that he and his associates acted legally and ethically, and has said that thorough investigations with no charges proved that to be the case. However, there are major leaps in his logic that have been undercut by many critics, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/nyregion/joon-kim-bharara-prosecutor.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">including Kim</a>.</p> <p>As his legal bills mounted and though he always maintained his innocence, de Blasio had pledged that taxpayers would not foot the cost of his representation. While the City would pay for any outside counsel needed to represent other governmental employees, the mayor said he would not saddle taxpayers with his own costs. De Blasio eventually reversed course, leading to the contract approved on Thursday morning. But, there is also the matter of de Blasio’s legal bill for representation in the District Attorney’s investigation of his efforts to elect Democrats to the state Senate and possibly violations of state campaign finance law.</p> <p>The administration has been less than forthcoming on what legal bills remain unresolved, nearly a year after the investigations concluded. The contract approved on Thursday wasn’t available for review except for a summary of the “scope of services” provided. Nicholas Paolucci, a Law Department spokesperson, said in an email that the contract had yet to be finalized. “The hearing was scheduled before final contract was established,” he wrote. “We are in the process of finalizing.”</p> <p>Paolucci did provide the “scope of services” summary from the contract, which runs from April 11, 2016 through June 30, 2018, referencing the U.S. Attorney’s investigation. “Contractor’s services will include provision of all legal and related services necessary for satisfactory disposition of the Matter and incidental and related matters,” it reads.</p> <p>“You will have to foil for contract when it's complete,” Paolucci added, referencing a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.</p> <p>“The purpose of today’s hearing was to give members of the public an opportunity to speak on the record concerning the proposed contract. The hearing is required by law. Next steps: the city can now proceed to completing the City procurement process, executing the contract, and submitting the contract to the Comptroller for registration,” Paolucci said in a subsequent email. Though asked, he did not provide any estimates on the mayor’s legal bills.</p> <p>“We anticipate completing the remaining procurement steps promptly and the Comptroller has 30 days to register once the contract is submitted,” Paolucci wrote in a follow-up email.</p> <p>Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips declined to comment when asked about the total legal bills faced by the mayor and the administration in the investigations, and the outstanding amount from the D.A. investigation and how the mayor plans to pay it. Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for the mayor’s reelection campaign and for the mayor’s political nonprofit at the center of the federal investigation, the Campaign for One New York, directed Gotham Gazette to Phillips. Levitan’s firm, BerlinRosen, was also among the players <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6797-the-big-hole-in-the-mayor-s-money-into-pockets-defense" target="_blank" rel="noopener">involved</a> in the 2014 efforts to flip the state Senate to Democrats.</p> <p>During a March 2017 City Council hearing, just days before the simultaneous U.S. Attorney and District Attorney announcements that no charges would be filed in either investigation, Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter, the city’s top lawyer, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6805-law-department-budget-hearing-focuses-on-de-blasio-administration-legal-defense" target="_blank" rel="noopener">testified</a> that the Law Department had spent about $10.5 million already on outside law firms for the legal defense of the mayor and his aides in both investigations. (Earlier news reports had <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigations.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=N.Y.%20%2F%20Region&amp;module=RelatedCoverage&amp;region=Marginalia&amp;pgtype=article" target="_blank" rel="noopener">revealed</a> that the city had entered into contracts with outside law firms worth about $11.6 million for those purposes).</p> <p>When insisting for months that he would not allow taxpayers to bear the burden of his legal costs, de Blasio had indicated he would explore setting up a legal defense fund to raise the money. “That’s money that will have to be raised. So that’s the reality, because I guess you didn’t know, I’m not a billionaire like my predecessor,” de Blasio said <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170204/long-island-city/de-blasio-probe-federal-grand-jury-investigation-bharara" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in February</a> 2017.</p> <p>But, after The Conflicts of Interest Board, an independent watchdog and advisory agency, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/downloads/pdf5/aos/2017/AO2017_2_legal_defense_fund.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">issued guidance</a> that effectively <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6841-conflicts-of-interest-board-opinion-could-limit-mayor-s-legal-defense-fund" target="_blank" rel="noopener">limited</a> donations to such a fund to just $50 from any individual or entity, the mayor found himself having to avail of public money for as much of his legal defense as applied to his government work.</p> <p>In a post from June on the online publishing site Medium, de Blasio <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/our-legal-bills-9fdb22748fb6" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote</a> that roughly $2 million would come from the city’s coffers, corresponding with the contract that was approved Thursday. For the rest of the fees, related to “some non-governmental work” that was the subject of the District Attorney investigation, the mayor said he would have to raise about $300,000 from private donors through a legal defense fund.</p> <p>“Employers have a legal and moral responsibility to cover the costs of representation when employees are doing their jobs, like we were,” the mayor said in the post. “It’s true in the private sector and it’s true in government.”</p> <p>When asked in June 2017 what his level of frustration was given that he had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the investigations but still had the legal bills to pay, de Blasio said, “I’m beyond frustration. I don’t register that emotion anymore. Look, it is what it is. I said what I believe – that was had done things the right way. This is the world we’re living in. It’s something we have to find a way to deal with.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/28250598779_0092a55251_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio city hall blue room" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>At a public hearing Thursday morning in downtown Manhattan, an official from the city’s Law Department plainly read the fifteenth item on the docket: a proposed contract for legal services that would cost the city $2,627,500. No individuals testified and the hearing was over in less than five minutes, allowing the city to move forward with its intent to award the contract.</p> <p>That contract is just the latest development in the long-running saga of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ethical and fundraising scandals, which invited federal and state investigations of the mayor and his aides but resulted in no criminal charges. The $2.6 million city contract award was to the law firm of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis and Frankel for services provided to the mayor in an investigation by the Manhattan United States Attorney’s office into to what extent the mayor and his administration gave favorable treatment to his campaign donors.</p> <p>By March 2017, the city had already spent about $10.5 million on 11 outside law firms for work related to the two investigations.</p> <p>Although the separate investigations by the U.S. Attorney and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which was looking at de Blasio’s involvement in 2014 state Senate races, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener">closed</a> in March 2017, the cloud of scandal around the mayor’s administration never entirely cleared.</p> <p>Then-Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/acting-us-attorney-joon-h-kim-statement-investigation-city-hall-fundraising" target="_blank" rel="noopener">noted</a> in 2017 that though the mayor would not face charges, he had nonetheless sought donations from donors and then “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.” Recently, in a separate case in Long Island, one of those donors pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe the mayor, raising a new round of questions -- which de Blasio has repeatedly refused to answer -- on how far the mayor and his administration went to help out close allies and campaign funders.</p> <p>De Blasio has repeatedly argued that he and his associates acted legally and ethically, and has said that thorough investigations with no charges proved that to be the case. However, there are major leaps in his logic that have been undercut by many critics, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/nyregion/joon-kim-bharara-prosecutor.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">including Kim</a>.</p> <p>As his legal bills mounted and though he always maintained his innocence, de Blasio had pledged that taxpayers would not foot the cost of his representation. While the City would pay for any outside counsel needed to represent other governmental employees, the mayor said he would not saddle taxpayers with his own costs. De Blasio eventually reversed course, leading to the contract approved on Thursday morning. But, there is also the matter of de Blasio’s legal bill for representation in the District Attorney’s investigation of his efforts to elect Democrats to the state Senate and possibly violations of state campaign finance law.</p> <p>The administration has been less than forthcoming on what legal bills remain unresolved, nearly a year after the investigations concluded. The contract approved on Thursday wasn’t available for review except for a summary of the “scope of services” provided. Nicholas Paolucci, a Law Department spokesperson, said in an email that the contract had yet to be finalized. “The hearing was scheduled before final contract was established,” he wrote. “We are in the process of finalizing.”</p> <p>Paolucci did provide the “scope of services” summary from the contract, which runs from April 11, 2016 through June 30, 2018, referencing the U.S. Attorney’s investigation. “Contractor’s services will include provision of all legal and related services necessary for satisfactory disposition of the Matter and incidental and related matters,” it reads.</p> <p>“You will have to foil for contract when it's complete,” Paolucci added, referencing a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.</p> <p>“The purpose of today’s hearing was to give members of the public an opportunity to speak on the record concerning the proposed contract. The hearing is required by law. Next steps: the city can now proceed to completing the City procurement process, executing the contract, and submitting the contract to the Comptroller for registration,” Paolucci said in a subsequent email. Though asked, he did not provide any estimates on the mayor’s legal bills.</p> <p>“We anticipate completing the remaining procurement steps promptly and the Comptroller has 30 days to register once the contract is submitted,” Paolucci wrote in a follow-up email.</p> <p>Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips declined to comment when asked about the total legal bills faced by the mayor and the administration in the investigations, and the outstanding amount from the D.A. investigation and how the mayor plans to pay it. Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for the mayor’s reelection campaign and for the mayor’s political nonprofit at the center of the federal investigation, the Campaign for One New York, directed Gotham Gazette to Phillips. Levitan’s firm, BerlinRosen, was also among the players <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6797-the-big-hole-in-the-mayor-s-money-into-pockets-defense" target="_blank" rel="noopener">involved</a> in the 2014 efforts to flip the state Senate to Democrats.</p> <p>During a March 2017 City Council hearing, just days before the simultaneous U.S. Attorney and District Attorney announcements that no charges would be filed in either investigation, Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter, the city’s top lawyer, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6805-law-department-budget-hearing-focuses-on-de-blasio-administration-legal-defense" target="_blank" rel="noopener">testified</a> that the Law Department had spent about $10.5 million already on outside law firms for the legal defense of the mayor and his aides in both investigations. (Earlier news reports had <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigations.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=N.Y.%20%2F%20Region&amp;module=RelatedCoverage&amp;region=Marginalia&amp;pgtype=article" target="_blank" rel="noopener">revealed</a> that the city had entered into contracts with outside law firms worth about $11.6 million for those purposes).</p> <p>When insisting for months that he would not allow taxpayers to bear the burden of his legal costs, de Blasio had indicated he would explore setting up a legal defense fund to raise the money. “That’s money that will have to be raised. So that’s the reality, because I guess you didn’t know, I’m not a billionaire like my predecessor,” de Blasio said <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20170204/long-island-city/de-blasio-probe-federal-grand-jury-investigation-bharara" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in February</a> 2017.</p> <p>But, after The Conflicts of Interest Board, an independent watchdog and advisory agency, <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/conflicts/downloads/pdf5/aos/2017/AO2017_2_legal_defense_fund.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">issued guidance</a> that effectively <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6841-conflicts-of-interest-board-opinion-could-limit-mayor-s-legal-defense-fund" target="_blank" rel="noopener">limited</a> donations to such a fund to just $50 from any individual or entity, the mayor found himself having to avail of public money for as much of his legal defense as applied to his government work.</p> <p>In a post from June on the online publishing site Medium, de Blasio <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/our-legal-bills-9fdb22748fb6" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote</a> that roughly $2 million would come from the city’s coffers, corresponding with the contract that was approved Thursday. For the rest of the fees, related to “some non-governmental work” that was the subject of the District Attorney investigation, the mayor said he would have to raise about $300,000 from private donors through a legal defense fund.</p> <p>“Employers have a legal and moral responsibility to cover the costs of representation when employees are doing their jobs, like we were,” the mayor said in the post. “It’s true in the private sector and it’s true in government.”</p> <p>When asked in June 2017 what his level of frustration was given that he had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the investigations but still had the legal bills to pay, de Blasio said, “I’m beyond frustration. I don’t register that emotion anymore. Look, it is what it is. I said what I believe – that was had done things the right way. This is the world we’re living in. It’s something we have to find a way to deal with.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Comptroller Again Calls Out City on Vacant Land; City Again Punches Back 2018-02-13T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7475:comptroller-again-calls-out-city-on-vacant-land-city-again-punches-back Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/stringer-vacant-lot-presser-raskin.jpg" alt="stringer vacant lot presser raskin" width="600" height="429" /></p> <p>Comptroller Stringer press conference at a vacant lot (photo: Sam Raskin)</p> <hr /> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer held a press conference Monday morning in front of a vacant lot on West 115th Street to criticize the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) for “dragging its feet” on creating affordable housing on empty city-owned land.</p> <p>Stringer released an update to his 2016 audit on vacant lots, which initiated a reshashing of a yearslong dispute between the comptroller and the de Blasio administration over the latter’s use of such land, or lack thereof. There are several points of conflict between Stringer’s office and HPD, and both sides continue to dispute the other’s numbers, intent, and competency. An escalating war of words and different presentations of data continue to cloud the reality of the city’s use of its vacant land, an essential piece of creating more affordable housing in a city desperate for it.</p> <p>Stringer’s office maintains that HPD’s efforts to create affordable housing on vacant lots has been lacking and it has not been open to the public about their practices. HPD, for its part, says that the city has achieved far more on the vacant lot front since 2016 than the audit suggests, and that any setbacks and slowness is par for the course, not due to ineptitude or an unwillingness to act.</p> <p>The comptroller’s analysis shows that as of late 2017 the city has not built upon over 1,000 parcels of undeveloped land in its possession. Since the initial audit was conducted two years ago, little progress has been made on filling these empty lots with affordable housing, according to Stringer’s follow-up report. The comptroller’s report claims that almost 90 percent of the land identified in the 2016 audit had yet to be utilized for affordable housing. What’s more, according to the report, HPD has fallen short of the progress it had promised in moving lots through the development process, only transferring 26 percent of its projected total to developers.</p> <p>“What the audit that we’re releasing today shows, they’ve done nothing. Nada,” Stringer said of HPD.</p> <p>According to Stringer, HPD’s failure to build on vacant city-owned land only helps to cement the city's affordable housing crisis. “We’re no longer just a tale of two cities -- were becoming a tale of two blocks, with luxury towers on one corner and struggling families on another,” he said.</p> <p>Stringer urged HPD to build on its vacant lots through non-profit developers to ensure the housing reflects the community's’ needs and to do so in a timely manner, while disclosing timelines on impending projects.</p> <p>In recent years, HPD has pushed back against the comptroller’s criticism, both in terms of its statistics and on whether it has been slow to act on building affordable housing on vacant lots, and did so following the press conference in a statement to Gotham Gazette, though it does acknowledge some delays in the pipeline.</p> <p>“HPD is aggressively developing its 1,000 remaining public sites for affordable housing, almost all of them small and hard to develop lots,” said HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, through a spokesperson.</p> <p>“The comptroller’s report misrepresents the facts and denies the very real progress made by HPD over the last four years from Seward Park, which now has housing after decades of neglect, to the hundreds of small sites where affordable homes and apartments are in the works,” Torres-Spring continued. &nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, in the agency’s written response to Stringer’s new report, HPD casted doubt on the significance of Stringer’s claim north of 1,000 parcels had not been utilized for affordable housing; many of these lots were not meant to be converted into affordable housing units to begin with, HPD said, because they lack the requisite size or infrastructure.</p> <p>HPD also argued it had achieved more in the two years since the first report than the audit had revealed. “HPD has conveyed or transferred more than 200 tax lots since the beginning of the audit,” HPD’s response reads. “Your special report fails to acknowledge this fact.”</p> <p>The written response went on explain that HPD had designated 450 of the 1,000 vacant lots for either Requests for Proposal or Request for Qualifications, while also noting that the number of buildable lots is actually closer to 600.</p> <p>HPD spokesperson Elizabeth Rohlfing explained that along with the misleading number of 1,000 empty lots the comptroller uses, Stringer’s report failed to appreciate the complications that arise and how many lots are unsuitable for housing development. Some of the empty parcels, HPD says, don’t have enough space for a residential building. “Maybe they’d be a good community garden or something,” Rohlfing said. “There are definitely lots like that.”</p> <p>Others are located in flood zones or had already been damaged by weather events in recent years. And according to HPD, the comptroller’s request that the agency allocate bids to non-profit developers is not compatible with the comptroller’s insistence they build housing as quickly as possible.</p> <p>In addition, Rohlfing explained why some projects run behind schedule.</p> <p>“We want to work with non-profits who are in the community who can bring something to the table,” Rohlfing said. “Sometimes that takes longer because they don’t necessarily have the capacity that some of these big, private developers have.”</p> <p>“We could just say, ‘We’ll give it to the person who could do it fastest.’ You could take that approach, but we’re not taking that approach,” she continued.</p> <p>Furthermore, in some cases, Rohlfing explained, progress has been stalled due to matters beyond the city’s control. Rohlfing cited Broadway Triangle, an area in Brooklyn where the Bloomberg administration planned to build affordable housing in 2009 but construction has been delayed due to a housing discrimination suit, as an example. “That’s been in litigation for almost a decade,” she said. “It would have been senseless to put a timeline for plots like that.” &nbsp;</p> <p>While HPD said the comptroller had painted with too broad a brush and didn’t acknowledge the challenges the city faces, Stringer’s office accused the agency of dishonesty and engaging in misdirection.</p> <p>“Here’s HPD’s track record. They distort numbers, twist the truth, and deflect attention from their inaction,” said Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for Comptroller Stringer, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “At a time when New Yorkers are suffering, the agency is giving intentionally misleading answers to questions it doesn’t want to answer.”</p> <p>He went on to accuse the agency of misrepresenting the numbers in the report, and shifting its reference points in terms of buildable lots and lots in the development pipeline. “HPD isn’t comparing apples and oranges — it's comparing apples and twinkies. Their claims are a repeat of the same baseless arguments they made two years ago.”</p> <p>Stevens characterized HPD’s pushback as “Groundhog Day for excuse-making” and urged the agency to “come clean” and address its issues.</p> <p>In a similar vein, Stringer said at the Monday press conference he believed the agency is opaque and slow-moving, albeit in less dramatic fashion. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The Housing and Preservation Department isn’t being straight with the public,” Stringer said.</p> <p>Stringer said that if HPD would act in accordance with his recommendations, it could help to ameliorate the affordability and homelessness crises in New York.</p> <p>To that end, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7373-city-council-to-pass-bills-mandating-assessment-of-vacant-lots" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed a set of bills</a> during the final days of the 2017 session -- two pieces of the Housing Not Warehousing Act -- which Mayor de Blasio signed into law and mandate that HPD conduct an assessment of the number of vacant lots it controls and the city establish a list of vacant properties throughout the city, respectively. Picture the Homeless, an advocacy group instrumental in pushing the legislation in the Council, was represented at Stringer’s press conference, which was centered around the connection between HPD’s use of city-owned vacant land and the housing and homelessness crises.</p> <p>“Many New Yorkers who have been living in the city for decades and who have helped revitalize New York’s economy and made it the city we enjoy today are being forced out because of high rent,” said Jose Rodriguez of Picture the Homeless. “No one should be forced out of community that they work in.”</p> <p>Stringer also delivered a larger critique of the city's affordable housing plan, arguing that the housing being built through de Blasio’s 300,000-unit, 12-year plan is too often not affordable to the residents of communities where it is being built. The mayor has defended his plan, which relies heavily on for-profit developers, increasing housing density, and mandating a certain percentage, usually around 25 percent, of newly-built housing developments include units with affordability requirements alongside many new market-rate rentals. The housing plan also utilizes nonprofit developers and HPD finances a variety of fully-affordable developments.</p> <p>Some, including Stringer, don't believe the approach is calibrated correctly, spawning gentrification and displacement instead of truly affordable housing. Some critics have said de Blasio is too focused on a larger number of overall units but not the level of affordability he would be able to create through more deeply subsidized housing.</p> <p>“At the end of the day, a lot of these rezonings are basically about building luxury development with smattering of temporary affordable housing,” Stringer said Monday, referring to areas where the de Blasio administration is allowing increased density, “that, unfortunately, is not affordable to the people in the communities.’</p> <p>“Sometimes there’s a disconnect between the housing that we’re building and the people who can access that affordable housing,” he added.</p> <p>Still, Stringer commended de Blasio. “I praise the mayor for making affordable housing a signature issue. He’s certainly elevated the debate,” Stringer said.</p> <p>But, Stringer argued, an affordable housing plan without making full use of city-owned empty lots would be an incomplete one. “I believe we need more tools in the toolbox,” he said. “Vacant land is a critical tool in that toolbox.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/stringer-vacant-lot-presser-raskin.jpg" alt="stringer vacant lot presser raskin" width="600" height="429" /></p> <p>Comptroller Stringer press conference at a vacant lot (photo: Sam Raskin)</p> <hr /> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer held a press conference Monday morning in front of a vacant lot on West 115th Street to criticize the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) for “dragging its feet” on creating affordable housing on empty city-owned land.</p> <p>Stringer released an update to his 2016 audit on vacant lots, which initiated a reshashing of a yearslong dispute between the comptroller and the de Blasio administration over the latter’s use of such land, or lack thereof. There are several points of conflict between Stringer’s office and HPD, and both sides continue to dispute the other’s numbers, intent, and competency. An escalating war of words and different presentations of data continue to cloud the reality of the city’s use of its vacant land, an essential piece of creating more affordable housing in a city desperate for it.</p> <p>Stringer’s office maintains that HPD’s efforts to create affordable housing on vacant lots has been lacking and it has not been open to the public about their practices. HPD, for its part, says that the city has achieved far more on the vacant lot front since 2016 than the audit suggests, and that any setbacks and slowness is par for the course, not due to ineptitude or an unwillingness to act.</p> <p>The comptroller’s analysis shows that as of late 2017 the city has not built upon over 1,000 parcels of undeveloped land in its possession. Since the initial audit was conducted two years ago, little progress has been made on filling these empty lots with affordable housing, according to Stringer’s follow-up report. The comptroller’s report claims that almost 90 percent of the land identified in the 2016 audit had yet to be utilized for affordable housing. What’s more, according to the report, HPD has fallen short of the progress it had promised in moving lots through the development process, only transferring 26 percent of its projected total to developers.</p> <p>“What the audit that we’re releasing today shows, they’ve done nothing. Nada,” Stringer said of HPD.</p> <p>According to Stringer, HPD’s failure to build on vacant city-owned land only helps to cement the city's affordable housing crisis. “We’re no longer just a tale of two cities -- were becoming a tale of two blocks, with luxury towers on one corner and struggling families on another,” he said.</p> <p>Stringer urged HPD to build on its vacant lots through non-profit developers to ensure the housing reflects the community's’ needs and to do so in a timely manner, while disclosing timelines on impending projects.</p> <p>In recent years, HPD has pushed back against the comptroller’s criticism, both in terms of its statistics and on whether it has been slow to act on building affordable housing on vacant lots, and did so following the press conference in a statement to Gotham Gazette, though it does acknowledge some delays in the pipeline.</p> <p>“HPD is aggressively developing its 1,000 remaining public sites for affordable housing, almost all of them small and hard to develop lots,” said HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, through a spokesperson.</p> <p>“The comptroller’s report misrepresents the facts and denies the very real progress made by HPD over the last four years from Seward Park, which now has housing after decades of neglect, to the hundreds of small sites where affordable homes and apartments are in the works,” Torres-Spring continued. &nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly, in the agency’s written response to Stringer’s new report, HPD casted doubt on the significance of Stringer’s claim north of 1,000 parcels had not been utilized for affordable housing; many of these lots were not meant to be converted into affordable housing units to begin with, HPD said, because they lack the requisite size or infrastructure.</p> <p>HPD also argued it had achieved more in the two years since the first report than the audit had revealed. “HPD has conveyed or transferred more than 200 tax lots since the beginning of the audit,” HPD’s response reads. “Your special report fails to acknowledge this fact.”</p> <p>The written response went on explain that HPD had designated 450 of the 1,000 vacant lots for either Requests for Proposal or Request for Qualifications, while also noting that the number of buildable lots is actually closer to 600.</p> <p>HPD spokesperson Elizabeth Rohlfing explained that along with the misleading number of 1,000 empty lots the comptroller uses, Stringer’s report failed to appreciate the complications that arise and how many lots are unsuitable for housing development. Some of the empty parcels, HPD says, don’t have enough space for a residential building. “Maybe they’d be a good community garden or something,” Rohlfing said. “There are definitely lots like that.”</p> <p>Others are located in flood zones or had already been damaged by weather events in recent years. And according to HPD, the comptroller’s request that the agency allocate bids to non-profit developers is not compatible with the comptroller’s insistence they build housing as quickly as possible.</p> <p>In addition, Rohlfing explained why some projects run behind schedule.</p> <p>“We want to work with non-profits who are in the community who can bring something to the table,” Rohlfing said. “Sometimes that takes longer because they don’t necessarily have the capacity that some of these big, private developers have.”</p> <p>“We could just say, ‘We’ll give it to the person who could do it fastest.’ You could take that approach, but we’re not taking that approach,” she continued.</p> <p>Furthermore, in some cases, Rohlfing explained, progress has been stalled due to matters beyond the city’s control. Rohlfing cited Broadway Triangle, an area in Brooklyn where the Bloomberg administration planned to build affordable housing in 2009 but construction has been delayed due to a housing discrimination suit, as an example. “That’s been in litigation for almost a decade,” she said. “It would have been senseless to put a timeline for plots like that.” &nbsp;</p> <p>While HPD said the comptroller had painted with too broad a brush and didn’t acknowledge the challenges the city faces, Stringer’s office accused the agency of dishonesty and engaging in misdirection.</p> <p>“Here’s HPD’s track record. They distort numbers, twist the truth, and deflect attention from their inaction,” said Tyrone Stevens, press secretary for Comptroller Stringer, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “At a time when New Yorkers are suffering, the agency is giving intentionally misleading answers to questions it doesn’t want to answer.”</p> <p>He went on to accuse the agency of misrepresenting the numbers in the report, and shifting its reference points in terms of buildable lots and lots in the development pipeline. “HPD isn’t comparing apples and oranges — it's comparing apples and twinkies. Their claims are a repeat of the same baseless arguments they made two years ago.”</p> <p>Stevens characterized HPD’s pushback as “Groundhog Day for excuse-making” and urged the agency to “come clean” and address its issues.</p> <p>In a similar vein, Stringer said at the Monday press conference he believed the agency is opaque and slow-moving, albeit in less dramatic fashion. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The Housing and Preservation Department isn’t being straight with the public,” Stringer said.</p> <p>Stringer said that if HPD would act in accordance with his recommendations, it could help to ameliorate the affordability and homelessness crises in New York.</p> <p>To that end, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7373-city-council-to-pass-bills-mandating-assessment-of-vacant-lots" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed a set of bills</a> during the final days of the 2017 session -- two pieces of the Housing Not Warehousing Act -- which Mayor de Blasio signed into law and mandate that HPD conduct an assessment of the number of vacant lots it controls and the city establish a list of vacant properties throughout the city, respectively. Picture the Homeless, an advocacy group instrumental in pushing the legislation in the Council, was represented at Stringer’s press conference, which was centered around the connection between HPD’s use of city-owned vacant land and the housing and homelessness crises.</p> <p>“Many New Yorkers who have been living in the city for decades and who have helped revitalize New York’s economy and made it the city we enjoy today are being forced out because of high rent,” said Jose Rodriguez of Picture the Homeless. “No one should be forced out of community that they work in.”</p> <p>Stringer also delivered a larger critique of the city's affordable housing plan, arguing that the housing being built through de Blasio’s 300,000-unit, 12-year plan is too often not affordable to the residents of communities where it is being built. The mayor has defended his plan, which relies heavily on for-profit developers, increasing housing density, and mandating a certain percentage, usually around 25 percent, of newly-built housing developments include units with affordability requirements alongside many new market-rate rentals. The housing plan also utilizes nonprofit developers and HPD finances a variety of fully-affordable developments.</p> <p>Some, including Stringer, don't believe the approach is calibrated correctly, spawning gentrification and displacement instead of truly affordable housing. Some critics have said de Blasio is too focused on a larger number of overall units but not the level of affordability he would be able to create through more deeply subsidized housing.</p> <p>“At the end of the day, a lot of these rezonings are basically about building luxury development with smattering of temporary affordable housing,” Stringer said Monday, referring to areas where the de Blasio administration is allowing increased density, “that, unfortunately, is not affordable to the people in the communities.’</p> <p>“Sometimes there’s a disconnect between the housing that we’re building and the people who can access that affordable housing,” he added.</p> <p>Still, Stringer commended de Blasio. “I praise the mayor for making affordable housing a signature issue. He’s certainly elevated the debate,” Stringer said.</p> <p>But, Stringer argued, an affordable housing plan without making full use of city-owned empty lots would be an incomplete one. “I believe we need more tools in the toolbox,” he said. “Vacant land is a critical tool in that toolbox.”</p> <p> </p> City Council To Examine Government Sexual Harassment Policies 2018-02-12T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-12T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7473:city-council-to-examine-government-sexual-harassment-policies Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/40174658661_26e8b72304_z.jpg" alt="City Council Helen Rosenthal" width="600" height="409" /></p> <p>Council Member Rosenthal (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national reckoning with sexual harassment and misconduct that has led to the downfall of prominent men in media, entertainment, and politics, the New York City Council is turning an eye to its own backyard.</p> <p>The City Council will convene a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=594178&amp;GUID=A0B2C143-23F9-4246-8135-2A6CC6A61D60&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hearing</a> on February 28 to examine best practices for dealing with workplace sexual harassment and the current policies in place in a city with a municipal workforce upwards of 330,000 full-time employees. The Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights will hear from experts and survivors on the strongest approaches to policy that encourage individuals to report instances of harassment and protect them if they do.</p> <p>The committees are also seeking testimony from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on the policies at City Hall and the city’s many agencies to determine which departments could serve as a model for a uniform city-wide policy and areas where the city needs to strengthen its rules and enforcement.</p> <p>“My expectation is for the administration to come in and help us set up a baseline of what’s happening right now in terms of policy and reporting of incidents,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the women’s committee, in a phone interview on Friday.</p> <p>Rosenthal said she’s looking to hear from commissioners at agencies that already have strong policies and hopes to create, over the course of several such hearings, a citywide policy by the end of the year. “And then we’ll spend the next three years monitoring the use and challenges to making them better,” she said, alluding to the four-year term for both the current Council class and the mayor.</p> <p>The city does not currently have a blanket harassment policy for municipal employees and the city does not track sexual harassment claims across city agencies. But the mayor’s administration has been pressed into action in recent weeks. At an unrelated <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/024-18/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-first-in-the-nation-goal-divest-fossil-fuels" target="_blank" rel="noopener">January 10 news conference</a>, asked if the city would begin to compile statistics on the problem, de Blasio said, “We have to address this problem across the board in this city and in this country. I want New York City to do all we can do, both in terms of our own workforce and the private sector workforce. We need to figure out what that is and we obviously need to figure out what the legal requirements are, so we will have more to say on that shortly.”</p> <p>The mayor also noted that a majority of women hold leadership positions in his administration and that sexual harassment “has not been a phenomenon that I have heard coming up in our administration in any significant way.” A week before that news conference, the mayor came out in support of a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to require reporting on sexual harassment claims by entities that do business with the state. De Blasio said the city would look to implement similar policies.</p> <p>“We’re coming out with a package of policies and protocols very soon,” said mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips in an email on Friday, when asked about what the administration would present at the Council hearing, which was originally scheduled for February 15 but was deferred.</p> <p>“Our review and policy timing won’t have anything to do with the timing of their hearing, but we’re glad they’re looking into the issue,” Phillips said in a subsequent email when asked whether the policy would be ready in time for the hearing. Another spokesperson, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, said in an email Monday that representatives from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and from the New York City Commission on Human Rights would be at the hearing to testify.</p> <p>City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer introduced legislation last session that would achieve that to a degree by mandating that nonprofits seeking city funding report on how they manage and resolve complaints, and by banning certain organizations with a history of misconduct complaints from receiving taxpayer dollars.</p> <p>Notably, the City Council’s own representatives are not expected to testify, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal’s office, but the hearing is meant to inform several pieces of legislation that are currently being drafted at the Council.</p> <p>That may include legislation which Council Member Mark Levine <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank">requested</a> in December, aiming to bolster the Council’s own internal processes for dealing with claims of sexual harassment. The proposal would elevate staff member complaints by requiring scrutiny from the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics as opposed to by internal Council staff, and would also require regular reporting on harassment complaints. Currently, the standards and ethics committee -- which is made up of elected City Council members and chaired by Council Member Steven Matteo -- evaluates complaints against sitting Council members, albeit in confidential meetings, and can take various punitive actions ranging from a censure to removal from office.</p> <p>Although there have been few such complaints in recent years, on Monday, the committee <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/02/12/council-ethics-committee-assigns-king-sensitivity-training-247084" target="_blank" rel="noopener">substantiated</a> a recent harassment complaint by a staff member against Council Member Andy King of the Bronx. King, who has denied allegations that he “paid unwelcome attention” to the staffer, will be required to undergo ethics and sensitivity training.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Another bill proposed by Levine, which would mandate that city agencies disclose complaints twice a year, is likely to be discussed at the hearing. Rosenthal, who is working with Levine on the bills, expects that they will be introduced within two months, by the time her committee holds another hearing in April.</p> <p>The Council’s efforts are also a contrast with counterparts in the state Legislature. The state Senate has come under fire over its revised sexual harassment policy, issued in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference which has a power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Flanagan. The policy has been criticized for being watered-down, crafted in secret and, most strongly, for including an added warning against false reporting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7463-state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism" target="_blank">State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism</a>]</p> <p>“Having a group of men decide what the policy will be seems unfortunate,” Rosenthal said of the Senate’s process, which was led by an outside law firm at Flanagan’s behest. “We should have input from survivors, women and experts in the field.”</p> <p>The model policy, Rosenthal said, is the “<a href="http://employee.hr.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/PolicyOfEquity.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">policy of equity</a>” employed by the County of Los Angeles since 2011. The policy enumerates various forms of harassment in the workplace and the consequences of those actions, and rigorously tracks complaints. In December, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors <a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-sexual-harassment-policies-20171212-story.html">reviewed</a> the policy to improve it further.</p> <p>“Given that we have a president who is a misogynist, I think that the notion that New York City should double down to make sure our house is in good order is more than important,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/40174658661_26e8b72304_z.jpg" alt="City Council Helen Rosenthal" width="600" height="409" /></p> <p>Council Member Rosenthal (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid a national reckoning with sexual harassment and misconduct that has led to the downfall of prominent men in media, entertainment, and politics, the New York City Council is turning an eye to its own backyard.</p> <p>The City Council will convene a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=594178&amp;GUID=A0B2C143-23F9-4246-8135-2A6CC6A61D60&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hearing</a> on February 28 to examine best practices for dealing with workplace sexual harassment and the current policies in place in a city with a municipal workforce upwards of 330,000 full-time employees. The Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights will hear from experts and survivors on the strongest approaches to policy that encourage individuals to report instances of harassment and protect them if they do.</p> <p>The committees are also seeking testimony from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on the policies at City Hall and the city’s many agencies to determine which departments could serve as a model for a uniform city-wide policy and areas where the city needs to strengthen its rules and enforcement.</p> <p>“My expectation is for the administration to come in and help us set up a baseline of what’s happening right now in terms of policy and reporting of incidents,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the women’s committee, in a phone interview on Friday.</p> <p>Rosenthal said she’s looking to hear from commissioners at agencies that already have strong policies and hopes to create, over the course of several such hearings, a citywide policy by the end of the year. “And then we’ll spend the next three years monitoring the use and challenges to making them better,” she said, alluding to the four-year term for both the current Council class and the mayor.</p> <p>The city does not currently have a blanket harassment policy for municipal employees and the city does not track sexual harassment claims across city agencies. But the mayor’s administration has been pressed into action in recent weeks. At an unrelated <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/024-18/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-first-in-the-nation-goal-divest-fossil-fuels" target="_blank" rel="noopener">January 10 news conference</a>, asked if the city would begin to compile statistics on the problem, de Blasio said, “We have to address this problem across the board in this city and in this country. I want New York City to do all we can do, both in terms of our own workforce and the private sector workforce. We need to figure out what that is and we obviously need to figure out what the legal requirements are, so we will have more to say on that shortly.”</p> <p>The mayor also noted that a majority of women hold leadership positions in his administration and that sexual harassment “has not been a phenomenon that I have heard coming up in our administration in any significant way.” A week before that news conference, the mayor came out in support of a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to require reporting on sexual harassment claims by entities that do business with the state. De Blasio said the city would look to implement similar policies.</p> <p>“We’re coming out with a package of policies and protocols very soon,” said mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips in an email on Friday, when asked about what the administration would present at the Council hearing, which was originally scheduled for February 15 but was deferred.</p> <p>“Our review and policy timing won’t have anything to do with the timing of their hearing, but we’re glad they’re looking into the issue,” Phillips said in a subsequent email when asked whether the policy would be ready in time for the hearing. Another spokesperson, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, said in an email Monday that representatives from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and from the New York City Commission on Human Rights would be at the hearing to testify.</p> <p>City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer introduced legislation last session that would achieve that to a degree by mandating that nonprofits seeking city funding report on how they manage and resolve complaints, and by banning certain organizations with a history of misconduct complaints from receiving taxpayer dollars.</p> <p>Notably, the City Council’s own representatives are not expected to testify, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal’s office, but the hearing is meant to inform several pieces of legislation that are currently being drafted at the Council.</p> <p>That may include legislation which Council Member Mark Levine <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank">requested</a> in December, aiming to bolster the Council’s own internal processes for dealing with claims of sexual harassment. The proposal would elevate staff member complaints by requiring scrutiny from the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics as opposed to by internal Council staff, and would also require regular reporting on harassment complaints. Currently, the standards and ethics committee -- which is made up of elected City Council members and chaired by Council Member Steven Matteo -- evaluates complaints against sitting Council members, albeit in confidential meetings, and can take various punitive actions ranging from a censure to removal from office.</p> <p>Although there have been few such complaints in recent years, on Monday, the committee <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/02/12/council-ethics-committee-assigns-king-sensitivity-training-247084" target="_blank" rel="noopener">substantiated</a> a recent harassment complaint by a staff member against Council Member Andy King of the Bronx. King, who has denied allegations that he “paid unwelcome attention” to the staffer, will be required to undergo ethics and sensitivity training.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Another bill proposed by Levine, which would mandate that city agencies disclose complaints twice a year, is likely to be discussed at the hearing. Rosenthal, who is working with Levine on the bills, expects that they will be introduced within two months, by the time her committee holds another hearing in April.</p> <p>The Council’s efforts are also a contrast with counterparts in the state Legislature. The state Senate has come under fire over its revised sexual harassment policy, issued in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference which has a power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Flanagan. The policy has been criticized for being watered-down, crafted in secret and, most strongly, for including an added warning against false reporting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7463-state-senate-s-new-sexual-harassment-policy-draws-criticism" target="_blank">State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism</a>]</p> <p>“Having a group of men decide what the policy will be seems unfortunate,” Rosenthal said of the Senate’s process, which was led by an outside law firm at Flanagan’s behest. “We should have input from survivors, women and experts in the field.”</p> <p>The model policy, Rosenthal said, is the “<a href="http://employee.hr.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/PolicyOfEquity.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">policy of equity</a>” employed by the County of Los Angeles since 2011. The policy enumerates various forms of harassment in the workplace and the consequences of those actions, and rigorously tracks complaints. In December, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors <a href="http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-sexual-harassment-policies-20171212-story.html">reviewed</a> the policy to improve it further.</p> <p>“Given that we have a president who is a misogynist, I think that the notion that New York City should double down to make sure our house is in good order is more than important,” Rosenthal said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated.</p>
De Blasio Promises Fairness, Democracy in State of the City Address 2018-02-13T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7476:de-blasio-promises-fairness-democracy-in-state-of-the-city-address Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26381889428_86f91ee9a4_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio State of the City 2018" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio delivers his 2018 State of the City (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his first State of the City speech of his second and final term at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday evening, mostly retreading old ground on policy while exploring new ways to improve the city’s “battered” democratic and electoral processes.</p> <p>De Blasio, a Democrat, made few new policy announcements as he enumerated a 12-point “gameplan” to make the city fairer and safer while improving the lot of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. In resolute tones, the mayor reiterated a variety of major accomplishments and programs from his first term, promising to build on them as he counts down his remaining time leading the city. He did announce plans to call a charter revision commission to evaluate the city’s campaign finance and election systems, and plans to infuse more civics into city schools.</p> <p>“Three years, ten months, and 15 days. That’s how long this administration has to ensure New York City becomes the fairest big city in America,” de Blasio said, using what is now a common refrain, though a relatively new one for the mayor.</p> <p>“My mandate to my entire administration is this: Make every decision, whether about policy, or budget, or personnel, with this simple question in mind: Will this action help make us the fairest big city in America?” he said. While de Blasio has still not explained if New York lags behind other cities, large or small, or what policies from elsewhere the city should adopt, on Tuesday night he fleshed out a bit more of what fairness means to him.</p> <p>As he often does, de Blasio spoke of the city’s unprecedented drop in crime and promised to expand neighborhood policing and the use of body cameras on police officers to make the city even safer while improving police-community relations. Following the success of universal pre-kindergarten, he said his administration is on an “aggressive path” to expand the program to all three-year-olds in the city, citing racial inequities built into the education system. He did not discuss integrating the city’s exceedingly segregated schools.</p> <p>De Blasio did promise that in the weeks ahead he would address one specific goal of his Equity and Excellence education program -- getting all children reading at grade level by the third grade, when state standardized testing begins.</p> <p>The mayor touted his ambitious affordable housing program as well, with its goal of preserving and creating 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026, and emphasized the city’s efforts to ensure that current residents are the ones who benefit from expanded affordability by receiving jobs that pay well. His administration has set out to create 100,000 jobs over ten years that pay at least $50,000 per year each.</p> <p>The mayor doubled down on what he sees as the city’s role in being “the antidote to broken policies in Washington” on climate change by taking action at the local level including stronger efforts to reduce carbon emissions and transitioning to an all-electric city car fleet.</p> <p>Although de Blasio sparingly mentioned President Donald Trump and made no direct reference to Governor Andrew Cuomo except to praise him for an early voting funding proposal in the governor’s budget plan, he issued clear warnings about the “big fights ahead in Albany and Washington,” including for education and infrastructure funding, and made several calls on New Yorkers to pressure state leaders for policies like bail and voting reforms.</p> <p>De Blasio vowed to push the state to provide full education aid to the city under the state Supreme Court’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, and again advocated for a millionaire’s tax to fund the city’s subways and provide half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. He made reference to congestion pricing, which he has repeatedly opposed as a “regressive tax” over the last year, but recently warmed to when the governor’s panel made its recommendations. “I believe in progressive taxation,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “That will always be my first goal when it comes to finding revenue. But I will sit down with leaders in Albany, any time, anywhere, to find solutions to the subway crisis.”</p> <p>The mayor said his “one condition” on congestion pricing is that “the money raised in New York City stays in New York City,” and reiterated his calls for a “lockbox” provision in any new law that installs new fees for traveling into a Manhattan congestion zone.</p> <p>He called for bail reform and speedy trial reform to pass in Albany, which are crucial to his administration’s goal of reducing the city’s jail population to about 5,000 and closing the Rikers Island jail complex. Later, he emphasized the need for election and voting reforms such as easier absentee voting and same-day voter registration, which would have to be approved by the state legislature.</p> <p>Though the mayor has little influence in Washington, D.C and on the larger national stage, he nonetheless pledged to fight for the 30,000 New Yorkers and 700,000 Americans who are Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came or were brought to the country as young people, have lived here for years, and currently face the threat of deportation under Trump.</p> <p>In a reference to the recently passed federal tax code overhaul, de Blasio also added, “One day, one day soon, after an election or two, we will fight to rescind the Trump giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations.” The mayor’s somewhat cryptic reference to future elections won’t do anything to convince people of his repeated attempts to dispel the notion that he might explore a run for the presidency in 2020.</p> <p>The mayor also said he would expand ThriveNYC, First Lady Chirlane McCray’s signature mental health program, promising mental health care access to all, and would redouble efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has touched parts of the city by “increasing prevention, enforcement, and treatment.”</p> <p>Although de Blasio did not mention the most recent scandals over lead paint and heating failures that have engulfed the city’s already ailing public housing system, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), he touted his administration’s focus on NYCHA and promised to invest further in the system. “Our public housing residents are a priority for me and this administration, and the City Council as well,” he said in forceful defense, during the twelfth of his 12 initial points.</p> <p>Among a few other specifics, the mayor also promised to ensure gender pay equity through the Commission on Gender Equity and the Commission on Human Rights.</p> <p>The novel elements of the mayor’s speech came near the end, as he delved into a ten-point “DemocracyNYC” agenda to "shake the foundation of the broken status quo right here in our state and our own city.”</p> <p>Taking direct aim at the state’s “exclusionary” electoral system and the consistently low voter turnout in the city, de Blasio proposed a plan to reduce the effects of money in politics and to better engage city voters. “We must re-democratize a society that is losing its way,” he said.</p> <p>De Blasio said he will call a Charter Revision Commission to create a plan for expanding public financing of city elections and reducing donor contribution limits to candidates. Typically, the City Council has legislated reforms to the city’s campaign finance system, which includes generous public matching, already incentivizes small-dollar donations, and is considered a national model. A charter commission would propose ballot referenda for New Yorkers to vote on, and the mayor plans to have them done in time for this year’s election in November, he said.</p> <p>The commission will also be tasked with finding ways that the city government can disseminate information and conduct outreach for elections, which is currently the purview of the Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency that has long been criticized for its dysfunction. Noting that the BOE has resisted an offer of $20 million from the city for reforms, de Blasio repeated a few of those critiques, including the BOE’s failure to inform voters of poll site changes and lack of translation services for the city’s massive immigrant population. “And in the digital age, the best our Board of Elections will do to encourage you to vote is send you a postcard,” he derisively joked (though he later asked those in the audience to fill out a postcard pledging civic action).</p> <p>Warning of the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, de Blasio also set aside $500,000 to bolster the BOE’s cybersecurity efforts.</p> <p>In coming weeks, the mayor said he would appoint a Chief Democracy Officer charged with registering 1.5 million voters over four years, particularly by targeting 17-year-olds in high schools and voting-eligible students in the city’s colleges. He also announced a Civics for All education initiative for city schools that will include “rapid response lesson plans” to help students process current events, and, taking a cue from the New York City Council, announced a “participatory budgeting” component in which high schools will receive $2,000 that students can decide how to use. De Blasio also announced an online portal to inform New Yorkers about elections to local office.</p> <p>The mayor also spoke of new lobbying disclosure requirements for city agency heads and officials that report directly to him, which will take effect March 1. De Blasio touted the measure as a transparency advancement, though the pledge, along with his campaign finance reform plans, also serve as reminders that the mayor has hid correspondence with outside advisors he dubbed “agents of the city,” gave extraordinary access to his campaign donors, and created a political nonprofit that accepted millions of dollars in contributions from entities with city business.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/democracynyc_postcard.png" alt="democracynyc postcard" width="300" height="197" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />Finally, the mayor announced a massive outreach campaign to ensure all New Yorkers are counted in the 2020 Census. “Getting accurately counted can make all the difference for the size of our congressional delegation and the amount of the funding we get from Washington,” he said. “It’s about getting our fair share.”</p> <p>De Blasio ended on a note of hope, holding up the postcard for his DemocracyNYC initiative, one of which was handed out to each attendee. The card included a checklist for how New Yorkers can choose to engage with city government and make their voice heard more broadly.</p> <p>“We are poised at the beginning of a new age with a new and bolder chapter to be written,” he said, gesturing to the audience, “and its author will be you.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26381889428_86f91ee9a4_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio State of the City 2018" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio delivers his 2018 State of the City (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio delivered his first State of the City speech of his second and final term at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday evening, mostly retreading old ground on policy while exploring new ways to improve the city’s “battered” democratic and electoral processes.</p> <p>De Blasio, a Democrat, made few new policy announcements as he enumerated a 12-point “gameplan” to make the city fairer and safer while improving the lot of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. In resolute tones, the mayor reiterated a variety of major accomplishments and programs from his first term, promising to build on them as he counts down his remaining time leading the city. He did announce plans to call a charter revision commission to evaluate the city’s campaign finance and election systems, and plans to infuse more civics into city schools.</p> <p>“Three years, ten months, and 15 days. That’s how long this administration has to ensure New York City becomes the fairest big city in America,” de Blasio said, using what is now a common refrain, though a relatively new one for the mayor.</p> <p>“My mandate to my entire administration is this: Make every decision, whether about policy, or budget, or personnel, with this simple question in mind: Will this action help make us the fairest big city in America?” he said. While de Blasio has still not explained if New York lags behind other cities, large or small, or what policies from elsewhere the city should adopt, on Tuesday night he fleshed out a bit more of what fairness means to him.</p> <p>As he often does, de Blasio spoke of the city’s unprecedented drop in crime and promised to expand neighborhood policing and the use of body cameras on police officers to make the city even safer while improving police-community relations. Following the success of universal pre-kindergarten, he said his administration is on an “aggressive path” to expand the program to all three-year-olds in the city, citing racial inequities built into the education system. He did not discuss integrating the city’s exceedingly segregated schools.</p> <p>De Blasio did promise that in the weeks ahead he would address one specific goal of his Equity and Excellence education program -- getting all children reading at grade level by the third grade, when state standardized testing begins.</p> <p>The mayor touted his ambitious affordable housing program as well, with its goal of preserving and creating 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026, and emphasized the city’s efforts to ensure that current residents are the ones who benefit from expanded affordability by receiving jobs that pay well. His administration has set out to create 100,000 jobs over ten years that pay at least $50,000 per year each.</p> <p>The mayor doubled down on what he sees as the city’s role in being “the antidote to broken policies in Washington” on climate change by taking action at the local level including stronger efforts to reduce carbon emissions and transitioning to an all-electric city car fleet.</p> <p>Although de Blasio sparingly mentioned President Donald Trump and made no direct reference to Governor Andrew Cuomo except to praise him for an early voting funding proposal in the governor’s budget plan, he issued clear warnings about the “big fights ahead in Albany and Washington,” including for education and infrastructure funding, and made several calls on New Yorkers to pressure state leaders for policies like bail and voting reforms.</p> <p>De Blasio vowed to push the state to provide full education aid to the city under the state Supreme Court’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision, and again advocated for a millionaire’s tax to fund the city’s subways and provide half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. He made reference to congestion pricing, which he has repeatedly opposed as a “regressive tax” over the last year, but recently warmed to when the governor’s panel made its recommendations. “I believe in progressive taxation,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “That will always be my first goal when it comes to finding revenue. But I will sit down with leaders in Albany, any time, anywhere, to find solutions to the subway crisis.”</p> <p>The mayor said his “one condition” on congestion pricing is that “the money raised in New York City stays in New York City,” and reiterated his calls for a “lockbox” provision in any new law that installs new fees for traveling into a Manhattan congestion zone.</p> <p>He called for bail reform and speedy trial reform to pass in Albany, which are crucial to his administration’s goal of reducing the city’s jail population to about 5,000 and closing the Rikers Island jail complex. Later, he emphasized the need for election and voting reforms such as easier absentee voting and same-day voter registration, which would have to be approved by the state legislature.</p> <p>Though the mayor has little influence in Washington, D.C and on the larger national stage, he nonetheless pledged to fight for the 30,000 New Yorkers and 700,000 Americans who are Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came or were brought to the country as young people, have lived here for years, and currently face the threat of deportation under Trump.</p> <p>In a reference to the recently passed federal tax code overhaul, de Blasio also added, “One day, one day soon, after an election or two, we will fight to rescind the Trump giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations.” The mayor’s somewhat cryptic reference to future elections won’t do anything to convince people of his repeated attempts to dispel the notion that he might explore a run for the presidency in 2020.</p> <p>The mayor also said he would expand ThriveNYC, First Lady Chirlane McCray’s signature mental health program, promising mental health care access to all, and would redouble efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has touched parts of the city by “increasing prevention, enforcement, and treatment.”</p> <p>Although de Blasio did not mention the most recent scandals over lead paint and heating failures that have engulfed the city’s already ailing public housing system, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), he touted his administration’s focus on NYCHA and promised to invest further in the system. “Our public housing residents are a priority for me and this administration, and the City Council as well,” he said in forceful defense, during the twelfth of his 12 initial points.</p> <p>Among a few other specifics, the mayor also promised to ensure gender pay equity through the Commission on Gender Equity and the Commission on Human Rights.</p> <p>The novel elements of the mayor’s speech came near the end, as he delved into a ten-point “DemocracyNYC” agenda to "shake the foundation of the broken status quo right here in our state and our own city.”</p> <p>Taking direct aim at the state’s “exclusionary” electoral system and the consistently low voter turnout in the city, de Blasio proposed a plan to reduce the effects of money in politics and to better engage city voters. “We must re-democratize a society that is losing its way,” he said.</p> <p>De Blasio said he will call a Charter Revision Commission to create a plan for expanding public financing of city elections and reducing donor contribution limits to candidates. Typically, the City Council has legislated reforms to the city’s campaign finance system, which includes generous public matching, already incentivizes small-dollar donations, and is considered a national model. A charter commission would propose ballot referenda for New Yorkers to vote on, and the mayor plans to have them done in time for this year’s election in November, he said.</p> <p>The commission will also be tasked with finding ways that the city government can disseminate information and conduct outreach for elections, which is currently the purview of the Board of Elections, a quasi-state agency that has long been criticized for its dysfunction. Noting that the BOE has resisted an offer of $20 million from the city for reforms, de Blasio repeated a few of those critiques, including the BOE’s failure to inform voters of poll site changes and lack of translation services for the city’s massive immigrant population. “And in the digital age, the best our Board of Elections will do to encourage you to vote is send you a postcard,” he derisively joked (though he later asked those in the audience to fill out a postcard pledging civic action).</p> <p>Warning of the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, de Blasio also set aside $500,000 to bolster the BOE’s cybersecurity efforts.</p> <p>In coming weeks, the mayor said he would appoint a Chief Democracy Officer charged with registering 1.5 million voters over four years, particularly by targeting 17-year-olds in high schools and voting-eligible students in the city’s colleges. He also announced a Civics for All education initiative for city schools that will include “rapid response lesson plans” to help students process current events, and, taking a cue from the New York City Council, announced a “participatory budgeting” component in which high schools will receive $2,000 that students can decide how to use. De Blasio also announced an online portal to inform New Yorkers about elections to local office.</p> <p>The mayor also spoke of new lobbying disclosure requirements for city agency heads and officials that report directly to him, which will take effect March 1. De Blasio touted the measure as a transparency advancement, though the pledge, along with his campaign finance reform plans, also serve as reminders that the mayor has hid correspondence with outside advisors he dubbed “agents of the city,” gave extraordinary access to his campaign donors, and created a political nonprofit that accepted millions of dollars in contributions from entities with city business.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/democracynyc_postcard.png" alt="democracynyc postcard" width="300" height="197" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />Finally, the mayor announced a massive outreach campaign to ensure all New Yorkers are counted in the 2020 Census. “Getting accurately counted can make all the difference for the size of our congressional delegation and the amount of the funding we get from Washington,” he said. “It’s about getting our fair share.”</p> <p>De Blasio ended on a note of hope, holding up the postcard for his DemocracyNYC initiative, one of which was handed out to each attendee. The card included a checklist for how New Yorkers can choose to engage with city government and make their voice heard more broadly.</p> <p>“We are poised at the beginning of a new age with a new and bolder chapter to be written,” he said, gesturing to the audience, “and its author will be you.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Union Square Hub, with 600 Projected Tech Jobs, Appears on Smooth Path to Reality 2018-02-11T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-11T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7471:union-square-hub-with-600-projected-tech-jobs-appears-on-smooth-path-to-reality Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/union_square_tech_hub.jpeg" alt="union square tech hub" width="600" height="715" /></p> <p>Union Square tech hub rendering via the mayor's office</p> <hr /> <p>This past week, two Manhattan Community Board 3 committees voted to approve the city's application for the proposed Union Square Training Center, also known as the Union Square tech hub, which the de Blasio administration says will create 800 construction jobs and then 600 permanent jobs in the growing technology sector. The land use and economic development committees of CB3 opted not to condition their vote in favor of the proposal on rezoning several blocks south of the proposed project as the board had considered and some preservationists and long-time community members are fighting for.</p> <p>The non-binding community board vote to approve the project came on the heels of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) setting in motion the public review process, known as the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure (ULURP), on January 29 by officially obtaining permission to move forward with the initial project design and chosen developer, RAL Companies &amp; Affiliates LLC. The clock will continue to tick on the roughly seven-month timeline that requires approval by the City Planning Commission and the City Council before any demolition or construction can take place in Union Square.</p> <p>The tech hub would serve as a state-of-the-art multi-purpose facility, with floors allocated to technology training and startup offices, as well as retail space, located on 14th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. The building, which sits on valuable city-owned land, is currently a P.C. Richard &amp; Son. Community board approval, and without conditions, indicates that the project is almost certain to become a reality, though there are indeed still points of contention that will be negotiated over the coming months among local stakeholders, the de Blasio administration, and elected officials, especially City Council Member Carlina Rivera, who represents the area, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p>According to EDC, the 240,000-square-foot, 21-floor facility would allocate six floors to <a href="https://civichall.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Civic Hal</a>l -- three for digital skills training center, three for the company’s own operations as a center for tech innovation &nbsp;-- five for “flexible” office space, eight for larger office space, and the ground floor for retail and market space, 25 percent of which would be reserved for first-time entrepreneurs and new local businesses. EDC projects construction would cost $250 million and last 18 months, after which the building would be the third-tallest on the block, behind Zeckendorf Towers and the Consolidated Edison Building, and open for business sometime in the middle of 2020.</p> <p>The project is a component to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/414-17/100-000-good-paying-jobs-mayor-de-blasio-releases-10-year-plan-invest-new-industries-raise#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Works</a>” plan, a decade-long initiative to create 100,000 jobs, 30,000 of them coming from the technology sector, that pay salaries north of $50,000 annually. Currently, technology is the fastest-growing sector in New York City’s economy. Increasing jobs in the field has been a point of emphasis for de Blasio, continuing the Bloomberg administration’s prioritization of creating tech jobs in New York, as evidenced by his heading the effort to bring the Cornell Technion campus to Roosevelt Island. The city also says the project will serve those that might otherwise not have access to jobs in the technology sector.</p> <p>“This new hub will be the front-door for tech in New York City,” de Blasio said in a February 2017 press release announcing an outline of the project. “People searching for jobs, training or the resources to start a company will have a place to come to connect and get support. No other city in the nation has anything like it.”</p> <p>“One of the biggest priorities for the de Blasio administration when it comes to the the economy is really ensuring that there is access to tech jobs [and] that they are accessible to New Yorkers of all neighborhoods and backgrounds,” said Anthony Hogrebe, EDC senior vice president of Public Affairs, echoing de Blasio’s pitch for the tech hub, on a call with Gotham Gazette. “One of the biggest ways you do that is improving workforce development, and by helping folks get the skills they need to qualify for those jobs.”</p> <p>Hogrebe said the tech hub would “ensure tech jobs really are for all New Yorkers,” not solely for “those who have advanced degrees in computer science.”</p> <p>He emphasized the centrality of the space allocated to teaching technological skills. “The cornerstone of this project is the digital skills training center. This is a place where some of the top organizations from all over the city will train New Yorkers on how to do the jobs that are in demand and give New Yorkers the skills they need,” said Hogrebe.</p> <p>Most elected leaders, advocates and residents of the community are in favor of the proposal; they see it as a way to bring to the area jobs and educational opportunities that prepare people for job-rich fields. But some are pushing to include a concession in the deal: rezoning several blocks south of the hub in order to limit development.</p> <p>During her 2017 City Council campaign, then-candidate Carlina Rivera said she was open to the tech hub project as long as the city implemented protective zoning measures aimed at curbing commercial and residential development in the nearby areas. The de Blasio administration, on the other hand, has generally been less likely to favor down-zonings as it seeks to add housing density, with affordability provisions, across the city. It remains to be seen how hard Rivera will push for the restrictive measures, and it is telling that the community board did not insist on them despite some loud and organized voices who call them essential to the neighborhood’s future.</p> <p>In order to build the tech hub as planned, the lot in between two New York University-owned buildings -- University Hall and Palladium -- needs to be rezoned for additional height allowances. The rezoning must be approved through the five-step, roughly seven-month ULURP process. After the de Blasio administration put forward its ideas, solicited bids for the project via a request for proposals (RFP), and chose a developer, last month’s certification was the first hoop the proposal was required to jump through and this past Wednesday’s community board hearing was the second.</p> <p>Next, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Borough Board, which includes community board leaders and City Council members from across the borough, will review the proposal. While they may influence the project, the opinions of the local community board and borough board are both advisory.</p> <p>However, the following steps, the City Planning Commission and the City Council, both have power to either approve or deny the tech hub project. In the coming months, the Council will hold committee hearings and subsequently vote on the matter -- the full Council approval of the project, in whatever exact form it is finalized, will likely occur around Labor Day. Usually, City Council members follow the lead of the member who represents the area home to a proposed rezoning, and there has been little to suggest this particular rezoning process will be a departure from the norm.</p> <p>New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents the area west of Union Square, said at a press conference on January 24 that he expects Rivera to helm negotiations with the de Blasio administration and trusts her judgement on the issue. “I defer to Council Member Rivera,” he said. “She has my full support and she knows that. She’s a pragmatic, thoughtful person who spent time on her local community board, who understands these issues, so I think she will handle this in a responsible, thoughtful way.”</p> <p>Additionally, Johnson indicated that he was sympathetic to the idea of rezoning the blocks south of Union Square to limit development. “I know that area. It’s right on the border of our district,” he said. “To me, I think it makes sense, knowing that area, seeing developments going on there.”</p> <p>At the Community Board 3 hearing on the matter, a slight majority of those who testified voiced support for the tech hub. They said it would bring jobs and educational opportunities to the area, though some in the pro-tech hub camp wanted confirmation from the EDC representatives in attendance that those from the local communities would reap the benefits of the new facility. Another faction, which skewed older, whiter, and included many long-time residents of the East and West Villages, expressed their concern the tech hub would spawn unwanted changes in the neighborhood if they didn’t fight for measures -- like more restrictive zoning on commercial development -- to thwart these shifts.</p> <p>After the tech hub is erected, one theory goes, more residential and commercial development -- such as luxury and market-rate apartment buildings, chain stores, and hotels -- would change the community character, make the surrounding areas less affordable to small businesses and unrecognizable to long-time residents. Rezoning the area, in the skeptics’ telling, would preserve affordability by forestalling a potential wave of development adjacent to the tech hub.</p> <p>Notably, many of the expressed qualms with the project sans an accompanying downzoning closely mirrored those voiced by <a href="http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/about/andrew-berman.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation</a> (GVHSP), a community nonprofit that typically opposes development. In a press release following the project’s ULURP certification and ahead of the community board hearing, GVPA executive director Andrew Berman, who made his case to the community board Wednesday night, argued that if the “surrounding predominantly residential neighborhood” is not protected, the tech hub would “accelerate the transformation of the area.”</p> <p>Following over four hours of testimony and discussion, the community board committees voted 16 to 5 to approve the ULURP application without any condition.</p> <p>After Wednesday’s vote, Rivera said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that she will work with the local community board, the mayor, and stakeholders to construct a “plan that satisfies and includes everyone.”</p> <p>“This tech center has the potential to be a great space for the local residents who historically have not had access to the high-paying jobs of the tech industry, a field whose companies continue to grow in and around our neighborhoods,” Rivera continued.</p> <p>Rivera said she will ensure the impending construction of the tech hub does not encourage excessive commercial development, which she said would adversely impact nearby residents and small businesses. “I will also continue to work towards the protections and rezoning which have broad community support that promote the development of housing and projects that are in line with our values and residential character,” she stated.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Berman, for his part, expressed displeasure with the community board’s process and decision. “By the narrowest of votes in which several of our supporters who should have been allowed to vote but were not given the opportunity to do so, a strong resolution incorporating all of our concerns was defeated for a weaker one incorporating some but not all of our concerns,” said Berman in a <a href="https://patch.com/new-york/east-village/east-village-tech-hub-clears-first-hurdle-public-review">statement to Patch</a>. He vowed to “keep working” to advocate for policies that ensure the neighborhood “gets the protections it deserves and needs."</p> <p>Needless to say, not all of those who participated in the hearing were disappointed with the outcome. Meghan Heintz of <a href="http://www.morenyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">More New York</a>, a group that advocates for policies that increase housing supply in the city, argued at the hearing that the tech hub was a boon to residents of nearby neighborhoods, and warned against the consequences of prohibitively restrictive zoning.</p> <p>Heintz was pleased with the board’s decision to approve the ULURP application.</p> <p>“Education and job training for the new economy is vital and should be accessible to people from all backgrounds and delaying it is the same as denying those benefits to New Yorkers. We staunchly oppose the exclusionary zoning proposal that NIMBYs from an adjacent neighborhood clumsily tried to tack onto the project,” she said Thursday in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Heintz added, “If their proposal could really stand on its own merits, they wouldn't need to try to take a great project hostage to pass it.”</p> <p>Along with the community advocates and stakeholders, New York University would also be impacted by the tech hub as the lot on which the new facility would be built is in between the two aforementioned NYU buildings. NYU spokesperson John Beckman said Wednesday that while the university has not had “direct involvement” in the project, the university supports “overall efforts to strengthen NYC's science, tech, and innovation economy” which includes the tech hub. “The Union Square Tech Hub is meant to advance NYC's tech economy, and that's an objective NYU supports,” he stated.</p> <p>Asked to evaluate the idea to downzone areas surrounding the planned tech hub during a call Tuesday, Regional Plan Association director of community planning and design Moses Gates said that though fears of displacement are legitimate, downzoning would not advance the preservationists’ goals. Gates said the proposed rezoning would only be good news for those who “don’t want to see any change in the neighborhood.”</p> <p>“I think a downzoning is not really in the community interest,” he said. “I don’t think it will release any kind of displacement pressures, which have been going on for decades at this point in the East Village.”</p> <p>Instead, Gates said, the city should build more housing in the transit-rich area while ensuring that a sufficient amount of it is affordable under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) guidelines, which require affordable housing in any area or project that is upzoned to add housing density. “We should also be looking to get some mixed-income housing in a very upper-income and increasingly exclusionary neighborhood,” he said.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/union_square_tech_hub.jpeg" alt="union square tech hub" width="600" height="715" /></p> <p>Union Square tech hub rendering via the mayor's office</p> <hr /> <p>This past week, two Manhattan Community Board 3 committees voted to approve the city's application for the proposed Union Square Training Center, also known as the Union Square tech hub, which the de Blasio administration says will create 800 construction jobs and then 600 permanent jobs in the growing technology sector. The land use and economic development committees of CB3 opted not to condition their vote in favor of the proposal on rezoning several blocks south of the proposed project as the board had considered and some preservationists and long-time community members are fighting for.</p> <p>The non-binding community board vote to approve the project came on the heels of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) setting in motion the public review process, known as the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure (ULURP), on January 29 by officially obtaining permission to move forward with the initial project design and chosen developer, RAL Companies &amp; Affiliates LLC. The clock will continue to tick on the roughly seven-month timeline that requires approval by the City Planning Commission and the City Council before any demolition or construction can take place in Union Square.</p> <p>The tech hub would serve as a state-of-the-art multi-purpose facility, with floors allocated to technology training and startup offices, as well as retail space, located on 14th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. The building, which sits on valuable city-owned land, is currently a P.C. Richard &amp; Son. Community board approval, and without conditions, indicates that the project is almost certain to become a reality, though there are indeed still points of contention that will be negotiated over the coming months among local stakeholders, the de Blasio administration, and elected officials, especially City Council Member Carlina Rivera, who represents the area, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.</p> <p>According to EDC, the 240,000-square-foot, 21-floor facility would allocate six floors to <a href="https://civichall.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Civic Hal</a>l -- three for digital skills training center, three for the company’s own operations as a center for tech innovation &nbsp;-- five for “flexible” office space, eight for larger office space, and the ground floor for retail and market space, 25 percent of which would be reserved for first-time entrepreneurs and new local businesses. EDC projects construction would cost $250 million and last 18 months, after which the building would be the third-tallest on the block, behind Zeckendorf Towers and the Consolidated Edison Building, and open for business sometime in the middle of 2020.</p> <p>The project is a component to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/414-17/100-000-good-paying-jobs-mayor-de-blasio-releases-10-year-plan-invest-new-industries-raise#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Works</a>” plan, a decade-long initiative to create 100,000 jobs, 30,000 of them coming from the technology sector, that pay salaries north of $50,000 annually. Currently, technology is the fastest-growing sector in New York City’s economy. Increasing jobs in the field has been a point of emphasis for de Blasio, continuing the Bloomberg administration’s prioritization of creating tech jobs in New York, as evidenced by his heading the effort to bring the Cornell Technion campus to Roosevelt Island. The city also says the project will serve those that might otherwise not have access to jobs in the technology sector.</p> <p>“This new hub will be the front-door for tech in New York City,” de Blasio said in a February 2017 press release announcing an outline of the project. “People searching for jobs, training or the resources to start a company will have a place to come to connect and get support. No other city in the nation has anything like it.”</p> <p>“One of the biggest priorities for the de Blasio administration when it comes to the the economy is really ensuring that there is access to tech jobs [and] that they are accessible to New Yorkers of all neighborhoods and backgrounds,” said Anthony Hogrebe, EDC senior vice president of Public Affairs, echoing de Blasio’s pitch for the tech hub, on a call with Gotham Gazette. “One of the biggest ways you do that is improving workforce development, and by helping folks get the skills they need to qualify for those jobs.”</p> <p>Hogrebe said the tech hub would “ensure tech jobs really are for all New Yorkers,” not solely for “those who have advanced degrees in computer science.”</p> <p>He emphasized the centrality of the space allocated to teaching technological skills. “The cornerstone of this project is the digital skills training center. This is a place where some of the top organizations from all over the city will train New Yorkers on how to do the jobs that are in demand and give New Yorkers the skills they need,” said Hogrebe.</p> <p>Most elected leaders, advocates and residents of the community are in favor of the proposal; they see it as a way to bring to the area jobs and educational opportunities that prepare people for job-rich fields. But some are pushing to include a concession in the deal: rezoning several blocks south of the hub in order to limit development.</p> <p>During her 2017 City Council campaign, then-candidate Carlina Rivera said she was open to the tech hub project as long as the city implemented protective zoning measures aimed at curbing commercial and residential development in the nearby areas. The de Blasio administration, on the other hand, has generally been less likely to favor down-zonings as it seeks to add housing density, with affordability provisions, across the city. It remains to be seen how hard Rivera will push for the restrictive measures, and it is telling that the community board did not insist on them despite some loud and organized voices who call them essential to the neighborhood’s future.</p> <p>In order to build the tech hub as planned, the lot in between two New York University-owned buildings -- University Hall and Palladium -- needs to be rezoned for additional height allowances. The rezoning must be approved through the five-step, roughly seven-month ULURP process. After the de Blasio administration put forward its ideas, solicited bids for the project via a request for proposals (RFP), and chose a developer, last month’s certification was the first hoop the proposal was required to jump through and this past Wednesday’s community board hearing was the second.</p> <p>Next, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Borough Board, which includes community board leaders and City Council members from across the borough, will review the proposal. While they may influence the project, the opinions of the local community board and borough board are both advisory.</p> <p>However, the following steps, the City Planning Commission and the City Council, both have power to either approve or deny the tech hub project. In the coming months, the Council will hold committee hearings and subsequently vote on the matter -- the full Council approval of the project, in whatever exact form it is finalized, will likely occur around Labor Day. Usually, City Council members follow the lead of the member who represents the area home to a proposed rezoning, and there has been little to suggest this particular rezoning process will be a departure from the norm.</p> <p>New City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents the area west of Union Square, said at a press conference on January 24 that he expects Rivera to helm negotiations with the de Blasio administration and trusts her judgement on the issue. “I defer to Council Member Rivera,” he said. “She has my full support and she knows that. She’s a pragmatic, thoughtful person who spent time on her local community board, who understands these issues, so I think she will handle this in a responsible, thoughtful way.”</p> <p>Additionally, Johnson indicated that he was sympathetic to the idea of rezoning the blocks south of Union Square to limit development. “I know that area. It’s right on the border of our district,” he said. “To me, I think it makes sense, knowing that area, seeing developments going on there.”</p> <p>At the Community Board 3 hearing on the matter, a slight majority of those who testified voiced support for the tech hub. They said it would bring jobs and educational opportunities to the area, though some in the pro-tech hub camp wanted confirmation from the EDC representatives in attendance that those from the local communities would reap the benefits of the new facility. Another faction, which skewed older, whiter, and included many long-time residents of the East and West Villages, expressed their concern the tech hub would spawn unwanted changes in the neighborhood if they didn’t fight for measures -- like more restrictive zoning on commercial development -- to thwart these shifts.</p> <p>After the tech hub is erected, one theory goes, more residential and commercial development -- such as luxury and market-rate apartment buildings, chain stores, and hotels -- would change the community character, make the surrounding areas less affordable to small businesses and unrecognizable to long-time residents. Rezoning the area, in the skeptics’ telling, would preserve affordability by forestalling a potential wave of development adjacent to the tech hub.</p> <p>Notably, many of the expressed qualms with the project sans an accompanying downzoning closely mirrored those voiced by <a href="http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/about/andrew-berman.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation</a> (GVHSP), a community nonprofit that typically opposes development. In a press release following the project’s ULURP certification and ahead of the community board hearing, GVPA executive director Andrew Berman, who made his case to the community board Wednesday night, argued that if the “surrounding predominantly residential neighborhood” is not protected, the tech hub would “accelerate the transformation of the area.”</p> <p>Following over four hours of testimony and discussion, the community board committees voted 16 to 5 to approve the ULURP application without any condition.</p> <p>After Wednesday’s vote, Rivera said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that she will work with the local community board, the mayor, and stakeholders to construct a “plan that satisfies and includes everyone.”</p> <p>“This tech center has the potential to be a great space for the local residents who historically have not had access to the high-paying jobs of the tech industry, a field whose companies continue to grow in and around our neighborhoods,” Rivera continued.</p> <p>Rivera said she will ensure the impending construction of the tech hub does not encourage excessive commercial development, which she said would adversely impact nearby residents and small businesses. “I will also continue to work towards the protections and rezoning which have broad community support that promote the development of housing and projects that are in line with our values and residential character,” she stated.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Berman, for his part, expressed displeasure with the community board’s process and decision. “By the narrowest of votes in which several of our supporters who should have been allowed to vote but were not given the opportunity to do so, a strong resolution incorporating all of our concerns was defeated for a weaker one incorporating some but not all of our concerns,” said Berman in a <a href="https://patch.com/new-york/east-village/east-village-tech-hub-clears-first-hurdle-public-review">statement to Patch</a>. He vowed to “keep working” to advocate for policies that ensure the neighborhood “gets the protections it deserves and needs."</p> <p>Needless to say, not all of those who participated in the hearing were disappointed with the outcome. Meghan Heintz of <a href="http://www.morenyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">More New York</a>, a group that advocates for policies that increase housing supply in the city, argued at the hearing that the tech hub was a boon to residents of nearby neighborhoods, and warned against the consequences of prohibitively restrictive zoning.</p> <p>Heintz was pleased with the board’s decision to approve the ULURP application.</p> <p>“Education and job training for the new economy is vital and should be accessible to people from all backgrounds and delaying it is the same as denying those benefits to New Yorkers. We staunchly oppose the exclusionary zoning proposal that NIMBYs from an adjacent neighborhood clumsily tried to tack onto the project,” she said Thursday in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Heintz added, “If their proposal could really stand on its own merits, they wouldn't need to try to take a great project hostage to pass it.”</p> <p>Along with the community advocates and stakeholders, New York University would also be impacted by the tech hub as the lot on which the new facility would be built is in between the two aforementioned NYU buildings. NYU spokesperson John Beckman said Wednesday that while the university has not had “direct involvement” in the project, the university supports “overall efforts to strengthen NYC's science, tech, and innovation economy” which includes the tech hub. “The Union Square Tech Hub is meant to advance NYC's tech economy, and that's an objective NYU supports,” he stated.</p> <p>Asked to evaluate the idea to downzone areas surrounding the planned tech hub during a call Tuesday, Regional Plan Association director of community planning and design Moses Gates said that though fears of displacement are legitimate, downzoning would not advance the preservationists’ goals. Gates said the proposed rezoning would only be good news for those who “don’t want to see any change in the neighborhood.”</p> <p>“I think a downzoning is not really in the community interest,” he said. “I don’t think it will release any kind of displacement pressures, which have been going on for decades at this point in the East Village.”</p> <p>Instead, Gates said, the city should build more housing in the transit-rich area while ensuring that a sufficient amount of it is affordable under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) guidelines, which require affordable housing in any area or project that is upzoned to add housing density. “We should also be looking to get some mixed-income housing in a very upper-income and increasingly exclusionary neighborhood,” he said.</p> <p> </p> Savino Asks De Blasio for Help Passing ‘Subway Grinder’ Bill He Once Supported 2018-02-08T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-08T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7468:savino-asks-de-blasio-for-help-passing-subway-grinder-bill-he-once-supported Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33612719150_865a66b78f_z.jpg" alt="Savino and de Blasio" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Senator Savino and Mayor de Blasio at lunch (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/07/nyregion/farebeating-subway-enforcement-nyc.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fnyregion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">debate</a> rages over the appropriate law enforcement response to subway fare evasion, in Albany, a bill steepening the penalty for certain subway sex offenses is getting another look.</p> <p>During Mayor Bill de Blasio’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7460-in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">testimony at a joint legislative budget hearing on Monday</a>, Senator Diane Savino asked the mayor to put pressure on the Assembly to consider her legislation that would make certain lewd subway behavior a class B felony, resulting in up to a year in prison.</p> <p>Savino recalled that in 2012, de Blasio, then public advocate, stood with her and Assemblymember Michael Cusick at a Staten Island subway station to unveil the “subway grinding” bill, which would target unwanted sexually-motivated touching of someone who is “physically helpless or unable to move on public transit.”</p> <p>“We passed the legislation -- that you helped me draft -- in the Senate five times,” said Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) who represents Staten Island’s North Shore and southern Brooklyn, at Monday’s hearing. “If you could use your considerable influence with the Assembly to try to get it out of the Assembly. It’s critically important to safety in the subways,” she said, before continuing on to other topics.</p> <p>While Savino’s bill has repeatedly passed the Senate, where Savino’s conference forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, it has stalled in the downstate Democrat-dominated Assembly. De Blasio typically works closely with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to represent New York City’s interests in the legislative process.</p> <p>De Blasio did not specifically address the legislation <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7460-in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">during Monday’s hearing</a>. When Gotham Gazette followed up with the mayor’s office, a spokesperson said that Savino’s bill is currently under review.</p> <p>“We support the spirit of the legislation and look forward to working with Senator Savino to ensure it’s the most effective that it can be for New Yorkers,” said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein.</p> <p>A compromise bill <a href="https://nypost.com/2015/06/19/new-bill-makes-subway-grinding-and-groping-a-felony/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed by both houses in 2015</a> -- sponsored by Republican Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn and Democratic Queens Assemblymember Aravella Simotas -- adds unwanted rubbing against bus or subway riders to the penal law definition of “forcible touching,” a class A misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of a year in jail.</p> <p>Savino maintains that the 2015 bill has had no effect, since forcible touching is already a misdemeanor, though subway and bus offenses have not necessary been treated that way by the courts. Her legislation was motivated in part by <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2012/Mar12/47mem12.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a case</a> dating back to 2002, in which a “very large” man surreptitiously masturbated and ejaculated on the clothing of a teen girl while she was immobilized on a crowded train. An appeals court <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/punishments-subway-grinders-equal-gropers-court-appeals-article-1.1702034" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ruled</a> that this was not forcible touching, since the offender did not use physical force, but only a “stealth” action.</p> <p>When de Blasio backed the Savino-Cusick bill in 2012, he said <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/news/2012-09-22/de-blasio-savino-and-cusick-announce-legislation-cracking-down-sexual-offenders" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in a statement</a>, “When the laws on the books aren’t enough to protect people, we have to make them tougher. ‘Grinding’ is a deeply personal and deeply offensive violation that no woman or straphanger should have to suffer. We need laws that match the seriousness of this crime.”</p> <p>In the Assembly, some question whether the reclassification is effective at deterring crime, since maximum sentences are rarely meted out.</p> <p>Brooklyn Assembly Member Joe Lentol, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly codes committee, said that an increased awareness around sexual harassment this year might spur the passage of Savino’s bill this year, but said it was worth investigating whether judges are enforcing the 2015 statute, and whether it has translated into actual jail sentences for offenders.</p> <p>“In this day and age, this might be baseline behavior that we want to go after -- maybe she’s right. I don’t know if a class B felony is appropriate, but maybe we should make it a felony,” said Lentol.</p> <p>“We have made it a crime; it was never a crime before,” added Lentol.</p> <p>In the meantime, reported “grinding” cases have jumped more than 50 percent in the last three years, according to an NYPD data <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/jeffrey-d-klein/senator-savino-exposes-shocking-statistics-subway-grinders" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> compiled by Savino last year, though she acknowledges this inflated figure could be a result of more riders reporting the crimes rather than an increase in incidents.</p> <p>"I’m confident that we don’t have more sex crimes happening. We have more women who know that we care, who trust the system, and are willing to make that report," said NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/11/08/subway-sex-crimes-3/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on CBS New York</a> in 2016.</p> <p>When asked for a comment on the outlook for her bill this year, Savino said, "For years, I have worked to elevate penalties on serial 'subway grinders' who prey on women commuting on our subways, and I have no doubt the Senate will pass my bill again. A felony penalty is necessary for egregious offenders who continue to violate women on mass transit and walk away with a slap on the wrist."</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33612719150_865a66b78f_z.jpg" alt="Savino and de Blasio" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Senator Savino and Mayor de Blasio at lunch (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/07/nyregion/farebeating-subway-enforcement-nyc.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fnyregion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">debate</a> rages over the appropriate law enforcement response to subway fare evasion, in Albany, a bill steepening the penalty for certain subway sex offenses is getting another look.</p> <p>During Mayor Bill de Blasio’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7460-in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">testimony at a joint legislative budget hearing on Monday</a>, Senator Diane Savino asked the mayor to put pressure on the Assembly to consider her legislation that would make certain lewd subway behavior a class B felony, resulting in up to a year in prison.</p> <p>Savino recalled that in 2012, de Blasio, then public advocate, stood with her and Assemblymember Michael Cusick at a Staten Island subway station to unveil the “subway grinding” bill, which would target unwanted sexually-motivated touching of someone who is “physically helpless or unable to move on public transit.”</p> <p>“We passed the legislation -- that you helped me draft -- in the Senate five times,” said Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) who represents Staten Island’s North Shore and southern Brooklyn, at Monday’s hearing. “If you could use your considerable influence with the Assembly to try to get it out of the Assembly. It’s critically important to safety in the subways,” she said, before continuing on to other topics.</p> <p>While Savino’s bill has repeatedly passed the Senate, where Savino’s conference forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, it has stalled in the downstate Democrat-dominated Assembly. De Blasio typically works closely with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to represent New York City’s interests in the legislative process.</p> <p>De Blasio did not specifically address the legislation <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7460-in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener">during Monday’s hearing</a>. When Gotham Gazette followed up with the mayor’s office, a spokesperson said that Savino’s bill is currently under review.</p> <p>“We support the spirit of the legislation and look forward to working with Senator Savino to ensure it’s the most effective that it can be for New Yorkers,” said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein.</p> <p>A compromise bill <a href="https://nypost.com/2015/06/19/new-bill-makes-subway-grinding-and-groping-a-felony/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed by both houses in 2015</a> -- sponsored by Republican Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn and Democratic Queens Assemblymember Aravella Simotas -- adds unwanted rubbing against bus or subway riders to the penal law definition of “forcible touching,” a class A misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of a year in jail.</p> <p>Savino maintains that the 2015 bill has had no effect, since forcible touching is already a misdemeanor, though subway and bus offenses have not necessary been treated that way by the courts. Her legislation was motivated in part by <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2012/Mar12/47mem12.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a case</a> dating back to 2002, in which a “very large” man surreptitiously masturbated and ejaculated on the clothing of a teen girl while she was immobilized on a crowded train. An appeals court <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/punishments-subway-grinders-equal-gropers-court-appeals-article-1.1702034" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ruled</a> that this was not forcible touching, since the offender did not use physical force, but only a “stealth” action.</p> <p>When de Blasio backed the Savino-Cusick bill in 2012, he said <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/news/2012-09-22/de-blasio-savino-and-cusick-announce-legislation-cracking-down-sexual-offenders" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in a statement</a>, “When the laws on the books aren’t enough to protect people, we have to make them tougher. ‘Grinding’ is a deeply personal and deeply offensive violation that no woman or straphanger should have to suffer. We need laws that match the seriousness of this crime.”</p> <p>In the Assembly, some question whether the reclassification is effective at deterring crime, since maximum sentences are rarely meted out.</p> <p>Brooklyn Assembly Member Joe Lentol, a Democrat who chairs the Assembly codes committee, said that an increased awareness around sexual harassment this year might spur the passage of Savino’s bill this year, but said it was worth investigating whether judges are enforcing the 2015 statute, and whether it has translated into actual jail sentences for offenders.</p> <p>“In this day and age, this might be baseline behavior that we want to go after -- maybe she’s right. I don’t know if a class B felony is appropriate, but maybe we should make it a felony,” said Lentol.</p> <p>“We have made it a crime; it was never a crime before,” added Lentol.</p> <p>In the meantime, reported “grinding” cases have jumped more than 50 percent in the last three years, according to an NYPD data <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/jeffrey-d-klein/senator-savino-exposes-shocking-statistics-subway-grinders" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> compiled by Savino last year, though she acknowledges this inflated figure could be a result of more riders reporting the crimes rather than an increase in incidents.</p> <p>"I’m confident that we don’t have more sex crimes happening. We have more women who know that we care, who trust the system, and are willing to make that report," said NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/11/08/subway-sex-crimes-3/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on CBS New York</a> in 2016.</p> <p>When asked for a comment on the outlook for her bill this year, Savino said, "For years, I have worked to elevate penalties on serial 'subway grinders' who prey on women commuting on our subways, and I have no doubt the Senate will pass my bill again. A felony penalty is necessary for egregious offenders who continue to violate women on mass transit and walk away with a slap on the wrist."</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany 2018-02-06T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7462:max-murphy-podcast-deconstructing-de-blasio-s-visit-to-albany Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/max-murphy-housing.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette</p> <hr /> <p><strong>February 6, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/bdb-mayor-hearing-277px.jpg" alt="bdb mayor hearing 277px" width="277" height="143" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio made his annual trip to Albany Monday to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing. In this episode of the podcast we recap the key moments -- on NYCHA, the MTA, Rikers Island and more -- and break down important takeaways. We also look ahead to next week, when de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/395491773&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/max-murphy-housing.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette</p> <hr /> <p><strong>February 6, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/bdb-mayor-hearing-277px.jpg" alt="bdb mayor hearing 277px" width="277" height="143" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio made his annual trip to Albany Monday to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing. In this episode of the podcast we recap the key moments -- on NYCHA, the MTA, Rikers Island and more -- and break down important takeaways. We also look ahead to next week, when de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address.</p> <p>Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/395491773&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="170" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
In Albany, De Blasio Budget Testimony Centers on MTA, NYCHA 2018-02-05T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7460:in-albany-de-blasio-budget-testimony-centers-on-mta-nycha Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/25232045217_a8f292e2fe_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Albany budget testimony" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio testifying in Albany (Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Testifying in Albany Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion executive budget and outlined the city’s funding priorities for the next fiscal year.</p> <p>De Blasio was the first to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing on local governments, making his annual journey to the Capitol, where he also met privately with Cuomo for an hour, and was scheduled to meet with three of five legislative conference leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>In his opening remarks, de Blasio had mixed reviews for Cuomo’s budget, praising some measures while also urging state legislators to help him beat back others as they negotiate toward a new state budget by the April 1 start of the fiscal year. The mayor outlined several of his own top priorities that require state approval, such as design-build authority, electoral reform, and renewal of the speed camera program.</p> <p>The mayor’s initial testimony and subsequent back-and-forth with lawmakers included significant focus on transportation and housing issues, especially MTA funding and problems at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), though de Blasio also touched on uncertainty coming from the federal government; criminal justice reforms and their connection to the closure of Rikers Island jails; and other fiscal and policy items.</p> <p>De Blasio noted the burden placed on New York City by the Trump administration’s recently implemented tax plan, and acknowledged the steep impact of the termination of Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) payments, which is expected to cost city hospitals $400 million annually.</p> <p>“I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” he said, adding that the upcoming Trump administration budget proposal is likely to pose additional fiscal challenges for New York City.</p> <p>De Blasio also outlined more than $750 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City contained in Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. These include $144 million in additional charter school costs, a $129 million cut to child welfare services, a $65 million cut to special education funding, $31 million less to juvenile justice programs, and a $9 million reduction in rental subsidies for working families leaving shelters. In addition, there is a $211 million gap between what the city was expecting in school aid and the amount designated in the executive budget, according to the mayor’s office.</p> <p>The mayor criticized the implementation of “Raise the Age,” which requires that 16- and 17-year-olds be removed from adult jails, calling it an unfunded mandate that will cost the city at least $200 million per year. De Blasio noted the executive budget’s elimination of $41 million of state funding for the city’s Close to Home juvenile justice placement program, despite the fact the program’s utilization is expected to triple with the implementation of Raise the Age.</p> <p>“This cut undermines the signature reform designed to keep kids closer to their families. And it will cost the City $15.3 million in Fiscal 18 and $31 million in Fiscal 19,” said de Blasio. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1, and de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7455-under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently outlined his $88.7 billion preliminary budget plan</a>.</p> <p>De Blasio praised the governor’s inclusion of bail and speedy trial reforms in his executive budget. He said the passage of these measures would reduce the city’s jail population and help to accomplish one of his signature endeavors, “to close Rikers Island for good.”</p> <p>When questioned about whether he could expedite the closure plan for the jail complex, which is currently seen as a ten-year project, de Blasio told Democratic State Senator Brian Benjamin, of Manhattan, that the passage of all of his policy objectives -- such as parole, speedy trial, and bail reforms, as well as design-build authority for the city -- would allow the city to shrink the timeline.</p> <p>“Unquestionably, that would take years off the process,” said de Blasio, though he declined to provide an exact projected timeline.</p> <p>De Blasio also emphasized comprehensive election reform and passage of the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, citing threats to immigrants from the federal government. “Given what is happening in our country and New York State can lead by example by helping all of our students,” said de Blasio, speaking on the same day that the Assembly would pass the Dream Act for the eighth time. It continues to stall in the Senate.</p> <p>On transportation, de Blasio repeatedly cited the “millionaires tax” he wants to see that would create a dedicated funding stream for the MTA and support reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. But he also acknowledged that congestion pricing could work as a revenue-generator for the ailing transportation system run by the MTA.</p> <p>De Blasio said he was ready to continue conversations and negotiations about how to best support the state-controlled transportation authority, but said that proposals contained in Cuomo’s budget should be taken off the table. He did express support for the general congestion pricing principles put forth by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel, but also indicated he wants to see tweaks.</p> <p>De Blasio expressed concern that the money could potentially be diverted away from the subways and buses, suggesting a legal lockbox be created to restrict how congestion pricing revenue may be used. He also called for city approval for major transportation projects in the five boroughs.</p> <p>The mayor took issue <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7447-mta-funding-fight-may-dominate-this-year-s-city-state-budget-struggle" target="_blank" rel="noopener">with the executive budget shifting the burden of MTA capital costs to the city</a>, and battled with Senate finance Chair Cathy Young, an upstate Republican, over the 1953 law that specifies that city is responsible for all of the subway’s capital costs. While the city technically owns the subway system, the state has controlled it for more than 65 years.</p> <p>“I absolutely disagree with your legal interpretation,” de Blasio said. “My counsel has looked at it too and has come to a very different conclusion…Let’s face it, the state has been running the MTA for decades now.”</p> <p>The mayor criticized Cuomo’s “value capture” proposal, “that would grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects.” He said the proposal would cost the city billions of dollars and force the city to cut back on essential services like police, sanitation, and education.</p> <p>“I was encouraged by the Governor’s recent comments that portrayed this as a choice for the city, not a mandate,” de Blasio said. “I would urge you to remove this provision from the enacted budget altogether.”</p> <p>De Blasio made a similar argument about city services when asked by several lawmakers, including Young and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who lost to de Blasio in last year’s mayoral race, about capping property tax increases in the city. The city is the only area of the state not subject to a cap of 2 percent annual property tax growth. De Blasio, who again pledged that he is about to launch a property tax reform effort, has said that the city must continued to take advantage of increases in property tax values to fund city services.</p> <p>De Blasio, who designated $200 million for new boilers and heating systems in public housing after thousands of residents suffered outages this winter, called for the state to commit to matching the city’s investment in NYCHA. He also complained that the state has taken months to fulfill a request from the city to allocate funds earmarked for NYCHA from two budgets ago. The city had itself delayed its ask for the funds by several months beyond when it could have filed the request.</p> <p>The mayor was grilled intensely by lawmakers on his public housing record. Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island and the Independent Democratic Conference, called the living conditions “deplorable.” In another testy exchange, Senator Young drew attention to lapses in lead inspections at NYCHA apartments, and reports that children living in these residences were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. The scandal has prompted calls for de Blasio to fire NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye, including from Young on Monday. “Why is Shola Olatoye still at NYCHA?” Young repeatedly asked the mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio acknowledged the mistakes but reaffirmed his previous statements, noting that the lapses began with the previous administration and credited Olatoye for turning the near-bankrupt housing agency around.</p> <p>When Young pressed the mayor on issues at NYCHA, including unsafe conditions and crime that have “stacked up over the years,” the mayor responded tersely.</p> <p>“Respectfully, I think it’s very reductionist to add certain facts up and say someone needs to be dismissed, even though they are getting a lot of work done for the people they serve. When you run a facility as big as NYCHA with years of disinvestment, of course there’s problems,” he said, adding that public safety has dramatically improved at NYCHA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7332-what-s-the-state-role-in-nycha-oversight" target="_blank" rel="noopener">What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?</a>]</p> <p>During more than two hours of question-and-answer de Blasio was also asked about the financially-struggling public hospital system, where a new CEO has taken over who is promising to build on reforms already underway. The mayor was also asked to support supervised injection facilities for drug addicts and said that a city report is due back soon on the topic. He said it had to be very carefully dealt with.</p> <p>While the mayor faced many tough questions, especially from Young, he also received a number of kudos, especially from city-based Democratic legislators, like Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who said that you wouldn’t know from many of the questions that the city is actually doing quite well.</p> <p>Later in the day, de Blasio met for an hour with the governor to discuss how to resolve transportation and fiscal challenges in the coming weeks and months.</p> <p>“It was a productive meeting, we talked about a lot of the same issues that came up in the testimony and, you know, hopefully we can all work together,” de Blasio told reporters when he emerged from Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/25232045217_a8f292e2fe_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Albany budget testimony" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio testifying in Albany (Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Testifying in Albany Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $168 billion executive budget and outlined the city’s funding priorities for the next fiscal year.</p> <p>De Blasio was the first to testify at a joint legislative budget hearing on local governments, making his annual journey to the Capitol, where he also met privately with Cuomo for an hour, and was scheduled to meet with three of five legislative conference leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>In his opening remarks, de Blasio had mixed reviews for Cuomo’s budget, praising some measures while also urging state legislators to help him beat back others as they negotiate toward a new state budget by the April 1 start of the fiscal year. The mayor outlined several of his own top priorities that require state approval, such as design-build authority, electoral reform, and renewal of the speed camera program.</p> <p>The mayor’s initial testimony and subsequent back-and-forth with lawmakers included significant focus on transportation and housing issues, especially MTA funding and problems at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), though de Blasio also touched on uncertainty coming from the federal government; criminal justice reforms and their connection to the closure of Rikers Island jails; and other fiscal and policy items.</p> <p>De Blasio noted the burden placed on New York City by the Trump administration’s recently implemented tax plan, and acknowledged the steep impact of the termination of Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) payments, which is expected to cost city hospitals $400 million annually.</p> <p>“I want to commend the Governor for trying to find ways to blunt the effects of the new tax law and I look forward to working with him, and all of you, on solutions,” he said, adding that the upcoming Trump administration budget proposal is likely to pose additional fiscal challenges for New York City.</p> <p>De Blasio also outlined more than $750 million in cuts and cost shifts to New York City contained in Cuomo’s executive budget proposal. These include $144 million in additional charter school costs, a $129 million cut to child welfare services, a $65 million cut to special education funding, $31 million less to juvenile justice programs, and a $9 million reduction in rental subsidies for working families leaving shelters. In addition, there is a $211 million gap between what the city was expecting in school aid and the amount designated in the executive budget, according to the mayor’s office.</p> <p>The mayor criticized the implementation of “Raise the Age,” which requires that 16- and 17-year-olds be removed from adult jails, calling it an unfunded mandate that will cost the city at least $200 million per year. De Blasio noted the executive budget’s elimination of $41 million of state funding for the city’s Close to Home juvenile justice placement program, despite the fact the program’s utilization is expected to triple with the implementation of Raise the Age.</p> <p>“This cut undermines the signature reform designed to keep kids closer to their families. And it will cost the City $15.3 million in Fiscal 18 and $31 million in Fiscal 19,” said de Blasio. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1, and de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7455-under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently outlined his $88.7 billion preliminary budget plan</a>.</p> <p>De Blasio praised the governor’s inclusion of bail and speedy trial reforms in his executive budget. He said the passage of these measures would reduce the city’s jail population and help to accomplish one of his signature endeavors, “to close Rikers Island for good.”</p> <p>When questioned about whether he could expedite the closure plan for the jail complex, which is currently seen as a ten-year project, de Blasio told Democratic State Senator Brian Benjamin, of Manhattan, that the passage of all of his policy objectives -- such as parole, speedy trial, and bail reforms, as well as design-build authority for the city -- would allow the city to shrink the timeline.</p> <p>“Unquestionably, that would take years off the process,” said de Blasio, though he declined to provide an exact projected timeline.</p> <p>De Blasio also emphasized comprehensive election reform and passage of the Dream Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, citing threats to immigrants from the federal government. “Given what is happening in our country and New York State can lead by example by helping all of our students,” said de Blasio, speaking on the same day that the Assembly would pass the Dream Act for the eighth time. It continues to stall in the Senate.</p> <p>On transportation, de Blasio repeatedly cited the “millionaires tax” he wants to see that would create a dedicated funding stream for the MTA and support reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. But he also acknowledged that congestion pricing could work as a revenue-generator for the ailing transportation system run by the MTA.</p> <p>De Blasio said he was ready to continue conversations and negotiations about how to best support the state-controlled transportation authority, but said that proposals contained in Cuomo’s budget should be taken off the table. He did express support for the general congestion pricing principles put forth by Cuomo’s “Fix NYC” panel, but also indicated he wants to see tweaks.</p> <p>De Blasio expressed concern that the money could potentially be diverted away from the subways and buses, suggesting a legal lockbox be created to restrict how congestion pricing revenue may be used. He also called for city approval for major transportation projects in the five boroughs.</p> <p>The mayor took issue <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7447-mta-funding-fight-may-dominate-this-year-s-city-state-budget-struggle" target="_blank" rel="noopener">with the executive budget shifting the burden of MTA capital costs to the city</a>, and battled with Senate finance Chair Cathy Young, an upstate Republican, over the 1953 law that specifies that city is responsible for all of the subway’s capital costs. While the city technically owns the subway system, the state has controlled it for more than 65 years.</p> <p>“I absolutely disagree with your legal interpretation,” de Blasio said. “My counsel has looked at it too and has come to a very different conclusion…Let’s face it, the state has been running the MTA for decades now.”</p> <p>The mayor criticized Cuomo’s “value capture” proposal, “that would grant the MTA the power to raid our property taxes on properties within a one mile radius of certain projects.” He said the proposal would cost the city billions of dollars and force the city to cut back on essential services like police, sanitation, and education.</p> <p>“I was encouraged by the Governor’s recent comments that portrayed this as a choice for the city, not a mandate,” de Blasio said. “I would urge you to remove this provision from the enacted budget altogether.”</p> <p>De Blasio made a similar argument about city services when asked by several lawmakers, including Young and Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who lost to de Blasio in last year’s mayoral race, about capping property tax increases in the city. The city is the only area of the state not subject to a cap of 2 percent annual property tax growth. De Blasio, who again pledged that he is about to launch a property tax reform effort, has said that the city must continued to take advantage of increases in property tax values to fund city services.</p> <p>De Blasio, who designated $200 million for new boilers and heating systems in public housing after thousands of residents suffered outages this winter, called for the state to commit to matching the city’s investment in NYCHA. He also complained that the state has taken months to fulfill a request from the city to allocate funds earmarked for NYCHA from two budgets ago. The city had itself delayed its ask for the funds by several months beyond when it could have filed the request.</p> <p>The mayor was grilled intensely by lawmakers on his public housing record. Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island and the Independent Democratic Conference, called the living conditions “deplorable.” In another testy exchange, Senator Young drew attention to lapses in lead inspections at NYCHA apartments, and reports that children living in these residences were found to have high levels of lead in their blood. The scandal has prompted calls for de Blasio to fire NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye, including from Young on Monday. “Why is Shola Olatoye still at NYCHA?” Young repeatedly asked the mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio acknowledged the mistakes but reaffirmed his previous statements, noting that the lapses began with the previous administration and credited Olatoye for turning the near-bankrupt housing agency around.</p> <p>When Young pressed the mayor on issues at NYCHA, including unsafe conditions and crime that have “stacked up over the years,” the mayor responded tersely.</p> <p>“Respectfully, I think it’s very reductionist to add certain facts up and say someone needs to be dismissed, even though they are getting a lot of work done for the people they serve. When you run a facility as big as NYCHA with years of disinvestment, of course there’s problems,” he said, adding that public safety has dramatically improved at NYCHA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7332-what-s-the-state-role-in-nycha-oversight" target="_blank" rel="noopener">What's the State Role in NYCHA Oversight?</a>]</p> <p>During more than two hours of question-and-answer de Blasio was also asked about the financially-struggling public hospital system, where a new CEO has taken over who is promising to build on reforms already underway. The mayor was also asked to support supervised injection facilities for drug addicts and said that a city report is due back soon on the topic. He said it had to be very carefully dealt with.</p> <p>While the mayor faced many tough questions, especially from Young, he also received a number of kudos, especially from city-based Democratic legislators, like Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who said that you wouldn’t know from many of the questions that the city is actually doing quite well.</p> <p>Later in the day, de Blasio met for an hour with the governor to discuss how to resolve transportation and fiscal challenges in the coming weeks and months.</p> <p>“It was a productive meeting, we talked about a lot of the same issues that came up in the testimony and, you know, hopefully we can all work together,” de Blasio told reporters when he emerged from Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>