Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/63 Tue, 16 Oct 2018 10:10:37 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? 45, with Deputy Mayor for Operations Laura Anglin http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7970:what-s-the-data-point-45-with-deputy-mayor-of-operations-laura-anglin http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7970:what-s-the-data-point-45-with-deputy-mayor-of-operations-laura-anglin whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 55 -- 45, Deputy Mayor for Operations Laura Anglin [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp with laura anglin maria ben

Laura Anglin was named Deputy Mayor for Operations by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who reestablished the position for her at the start of 2018 after he did not have a deputy mayor for operations during his frist term. Anglin, who has an extensive career in state government and the private sector, joined the podcast to discuss her role in the de Blasio administration and key projects she's working on. 

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 45, with Deputy Mayor for Operations Laura Anglin Wed, 03 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Law Department Issues Warning as Community Boards Consider Charter Commission's Term Limits Proposal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7961:law-department-issues-warning-as-community-boards-consider-charter-commission-s-term-limits-proposal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7961:law-department-issues-warning-as-community-boards-consider-charter-commission-s-term-limits-proposal Mayor town hall

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


One of three questions placed on this year’s general election ballot by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission would, if approved by voters, impose term limits on community board members. Though the proposal has left many community board members fuming about the potential impact, the city’s Law Department has sought to remind the boards that they cannot pass official resolutions taking a position on a ballot question.

In a September 13 memo sent to the director of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, Marco Carrion (who was also a commissioner on the charter revision commission), and circulated to the city’s 59 community boards a week later, officials from de Blasio's Law Department emphasized that boards may be tempted to speak out for or against the ballot question but must maintain neutrality.

“It is unlawful and inappropriate for a community board, acting as a community board, to take a position in favor of or against a Charter Revision Commission proposal,” reads the memo, signed by Stephen Louis, chief of the Division of Legal Counsel, and Stephen Goulden, senior counsel in the division.

The ballot proposal, approved earlier this month, would create staggered term limits for community board members and impose reforms to the appointment and recruiting process in order to diversify membership. Community boards are made up of about 50 members each, half of whom are nominated by City Council members, and are appointed by the borough presidents for two-year terms. There is no limit currently on how many terms a member may serve and some have served for decades on their local boards, leading many to testify before the mayor’s commission about the need for change.

At the same time, the commission’s proposal was met with much consternation from community board members who fear term limits could lead to brain drain, a loss of talent, and engaged members who they believe act in the best interests of their communities. Of the five borough presidents, only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams was in favor of the ballot proposal.

[Read: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot]

“I don’t think the city got a real representation of how community boards feel about this,” said Brian Kaszuba, a member of Community Board 10 in Brooklyn, who said the memo would deprive boards of an important voice in the process. Kaszuba noted that many of the commission’s hearings were held over the summer when community boards were on hiatus and that the ballot proposals were advanced without boards having enough time to discuss and take a position on them.

A law department spokesperson denied that the memo silences or weakens community boards, noting that the guidance that was issued is a refresher on long-standing policy based on case law. “Court decisions on this subject largely rely on the New York State Constitution’s prohibition of the ‘gift’ of public funds,” the memo reads.

The guidance also does not preclude community board members from speaking out in a personal capacity, as long as they do not use community board personnel or resources to do so. A community board -- which can educate but not advocate, according to the Law Department -- could still feasibly hold a forum or discussion on one or more ballot questions, for instance, but could not push the public to vote for or against.

Kaszuba conceded that it may be inappropriate to use a board’s funds or other resources for partisan campaigning, but was unconvinced that resolutions could constitute a “gift” of public funds. “None of the case law is on point with regards to passage of resolutions,” he said. “Many community boards are in the dark about exactly what this means.”

The Law Department spokesperson did say that the department may issue further guidance for clarity.

Notably, such a memo was not sent out last year before a question was presented in November to voters statewide on whether to establish a constitutional convention to revise the state constitution (a proposal that de Blasio opposed). At least one community board, CB 7 in Queens, passed a resolution opposing the question, which would seem to be a violation of the Law Department guidance. CB 7 also passed a resolution, three days before the Law Department memo was disseminated last week, coming out against the charter commission’s ballot proposal. The Law Department spokesperson, however, could not say what penalty that would invite.

“Community boards and their members ought to have the ability to weigh in on the proposal,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group. “That’s part of democracy. Their voice should be heard on a matter that impacts them directly.”

Camarda, though, noted that he personally witnessed a significant amount of testimony given to the charter commission regarding community boards. “There was a substantial group of people who were interested in the issue and weighed in on both sides,” he said. “If a community board missed out on an opportunity to weigh in, I think they weren’t paying attention.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Law Department Issues Warning as Community Boards Consider Charter Commission's Term Limits Proposal Wed, 26 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7912:mayoral-charter-revision-commission-puts-three-questions-on-november-ballot http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7912:mayoral-charter-revision-commission-puts-three-questions-on-november-ballot charter revision commission 2018

The Charter Revision Commission (photo via Charter Commission)


After months of meetings and deliberations, thousands of suggestions and dozens of hours of public hearings, the charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio voted to put three broad questions on the ballot in November. If approved by voters, the proposals would significantly reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections, create a new agency to civically engage the public, and apply term limits and appointment reforms to community boards.

De Blasio created the commission to review the city charter with an eye on reducing the impact of wealthy donors and special interests in electoral campaigns and drawing more New Yorkers to participate in elections and civic life. The 13-member commission largely stuck by that mandate, though it did consider and reject other significant proposals including independent redistricting of City Council districts and instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting, which the mayor does not support. (A separate City Council-created charter revision commission is also beginning public hearings this month and could possibly take up the issues left unresolved by the mayoral commission. It will recommend ballot questions in 2019.)

On Tuesday, the members of the mayoral commission met for the final time, at the New York Historical Society west of Central Park, to approve their final report and three “yes” or “no” questions that will be put to voters on the November 6 general election ballot.

“Our job was to try to figure out what could make our city more just, more fair and more democratic and then to put it on the ballot to see if New Yorkers wanted the city to be run in this new fashion,” said Cesar Perales, chair of the commission, on Tuesday. “That’s what we did. I think we did that well and it’s going to be up to the voters in November to determine whether or not these things would be better for our city.”

The first question proposes expansive reforms to the campaign finance law and the city’s public matching funds program, which incentivizes grassroots fundraising by matching the first $175 of every eligible campaign contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio for candidates who choose to participate in the program.

The proposal would reduce contribution limits for participants from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates, from $3,950 to $1,500 for candidates for borough president, and from $2,850 to $1,000 for City Council seats. The proposed limits for those who choose not to opt in to the program are $3,500, $2,500 and $1,500 respectively.

The proposal also increases the matching ratio to 8-to-1 for the first $250 raised by a citywide candidate and for the first $175 raised for all other seats. It would increase the cap on public funds disbursements from 55 percent to 75 percent of the spending limit for a seat, while also doling out the funds earlier in the election cycle.

There was some clear disagreement about how the new campaign finance rules would be applied. A majority of commissioners agreed that candidates should be able to choose to abide by the new rules for the next citywide primary in 2021, and that the rules would be mandatory thereafter.

Two of the commissioners, John Siegal and Wendy Weiser, disagreed with that implementation plan, though both voted to approve the question. “I do not think it is wise public policy to have a situation in which regulated parties get to make the decision as to whether they will or will not follow new regulations,” Siegal said. “I cannot think of another situation in which a regulatory agency has been put in that position. I do not think its necessary. I actually don’t think there’s any benefit to it.” He did, however, hold out hope that candidates would see the benefit of voluntarily participating, since the lower contribution limits would be accompanied by potentially more public funds.

“While I do share the concern about having a choice, I am heartened by the assurances that this is really unlikely to come to pass,” Weiser said, “that everyone is really likely to follow the new system. It is the one that makes much more sense.”

Carlo Scissura, the commission secretary, was the sole dissenting voice on the campaign finance question. He conceded that the commission published an “overall great report” but has in past hearings expressed doubts about increasing the taxpayer contribution by creating a larger public matching funds program. “I wish that on the campaign finance, that we took a little different approach but it does reflect the will of what we heard and the will of the majority of the commission,” he said.

The second question, which was unanimously approved, would create a new 15-member Civic Engagement Commission, with eight appointed by the mayor -- including the chair and executive director -- two by the City Council speaker and one each by the five borough presidents. The mayor would have to appoint at least one member from each of the city’s largest and second-largest political parties, which, likely in perpetuity, means Democrats and Republicans.

Among the roles the commission would play are administering a citywide participatory budgeting program starting in 2020 (it’s currently employed by City Council members in dozens of districts); providing interpreters at poll sites; working on civic engagement with advocacy groups and nonprofit service providers, with a particular eye on outreach to limited English-language speakers; and providing annual reports on progress on those fronts. The proposal also allows the mayor to delegate more powers and responsibilities to the commission.

The notion of an Office of Civic Engagement has recently been pushed forward by City Council Member Brad Lander, who has introduced legislation to create one. If approved, the charter revision creation of such a commission would appear to negate Lander’s legislation. The Brooklyn Council member testified to the commission about the idea of creating a civic engagement body and has held his legislation as the charter commission proceeded with its work.

The most controversial proposals the commission is putting on the November ballot deal with community boards, the most local form of city government. The third question would establish staggered term limits for community board members, to reduce mass simultaneous turnover. Those members appointed or reappointed on or after April 1, 2019, would be allowed to serve four consecutive two-year terms; those appointed on April 1, 2020 may serve five terms; and those appointed after that would again only serve four terms.

The commission also recommended changes to the appointment process, to make it consistent across the five boroughs and to promote diverse membership. The civic engagement commission, if passed, would also be tasked with providing technical assistance to community boards, particularly urban planning expertise and language access. Eleven commissioners voted in favor of the question, while Commissioner Angela Fernandez abstained from the vote.

The commission’s final report was also approved unanimously, and the questions will be delivered to the City Clerk to place on the ballot, giving the commission two months to educate and inform New Yorkers that they’ll be able to choose more than just candidates in November, when New Yorkers will be voting largely on state-level elected positions, including for Governor and members of the state Legislature.

“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “There’s no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot Tue, 04 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 5,000 with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7901:what-s-the-data-point-5-000-with-liz-glazer-director-of-the-mayor-s-office-of-criminal-justice http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7901:what-s-the-data-point-5-000-with-liz-glazer-director-of-the-mayor-s-office-of-criminal-justice whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 52 -- 5,000, with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

glazer elizabeth pod

Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to close the jails on Rikers Island, in part by reducing the overall city jail population to 5,000 detainees, down from about 8,000 now, which is down from well over 20,000 two decades ago. Liz Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, joined the podcast to discuss the administration’s criminal justice policies.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 5,000 with Liz Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Thu, 30 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Promising Efficiency and Performance, Molinaro Releases MTA Turnaround Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7893:promising-efficiency-and-performance-molinaro-release-mta-turnaround-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7893:promising-efficiency-and-performance-molinaro-release-mta-turnaround-plan marc molinaro mta

Marc Molinaro on the subway (photo: @marcmolinaro)


Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro said that his plan to fix the state’s ailing subway system is “not sexy,” but argued Tuesday that he will fix the MTA by doing away with what he said is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approach, marked by uncontrolled spending, prioritizing “vanity projects” over key improvements and frequent fighting with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

For Molinaro, the chief problem facing the subway system is not lack of funding, but out-of-control costs allowed by bad management. His “Back on Track” plan, released late Monday, diagnoses the problems and puts forward solutions, emphasizing reducing costs and putting an end to what the campaign says are inefficient work rules that slow repairs.

“The MTA is falling victim to waste, fraud and abuse, and we as a state must confront the high cost of labor,” he said at a Tuesday news conference outside City Hall, citing among others the Manhattan Institute and the Regional Plan Association as sources for ideas in the 30-page plan, which also supports the recently-released “Fast Forward” plan put forth by New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford. “If spending more money on the MTA was the answer, we'd have the best transit system in the world,” Molinaro said.

To cut costs, Molinaro is proposing lengthening work windows, which would mean longer subway service closures, with the aim of allowing for more efficient, less costly repairs.

And should Molinaro, a former New York Assembly member and currently the Dutchess county executive, be elected governor in November, the days of the state’s governor and its largest city’s mayor fighting over funding would be over, he said.

“I'm not going to argue with the mayor of New York, because the state's responsible for the MTA,” said Molinaro, adding that he would work “hand-in-hand” with de Blasio to do what it takes to fix the subway.

Asked by Gotham Gazette to break down how his plan would fill the over $30 billion in funding needs for subway system repairs, Molinaro declined to discuss specifics, instead pointing to the written plan. In it, Molinaro calls for using value capture — a mechanism that captures the increased tax revenue from rising property prices as a result of new government investment, such as a new nearby subway station.

Molinaro’s plan vaguely suggests improving the state’s economic development programs to raise revenue with “pro-growth” initiatives. Underscoring his attention to driving down costs, one of the planks under “potential revenue streams” is cutting costs of what he labels Cuomo’s “vanity projects.” At the news conference, as in his plan, Molinaro said he supports congestion pricing, though “certain boroughs need consideration” on costs of driving into the city, he said. In the plan, Molinaro says that while a version of congestion pricing, which would add a fee to cars entering the core of Manhattan, is “part of the future of the MTA,” it would need to be coupled with “major reform efforts to decrease operations and construction costs.”

Among those cost-cutting reforms are reining in health care costs, overtime pay and pensions for construction workers on MTA projects. On construction costs, Molinaro said he would welcome new technology and crack down on overstaffing on projects.

While he focused his attention during the news conference on what he views as mismanagement of MTA-related matters by Cuomo, he also embraced the fundamentals of the city’s newly passed effort to give discounted Metrocards to low-income New Yorkers. Specifically, Molinaro proposed using state funds to expand the city’s new “Fair Fares” policy to make eligible for the program individuals who earn incomes of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The current policy will give half-price metrocards to the 800,000 New Yorkers below the federal poverty line — which is roughly $25,000 for a family of four.

He also proposed assessing transit desserts and expanding subway lines to underserved areas, though he did not specify which areas are most in need of service.

Molinaro on Tuesday took several shots at the governor, likening him to “some sort of deranged Wizard of Oz” due to what he said is the governor’s habit of misdirection from the core issues at hand facing the beleaguered subway system. The governor has continued to claim that the city is responsible for the MTA, even though he appoints most of the members on the MTA board — six of 14 — and its top leadership. And though the state typically contributes billions of dollars toward MTA capital plans, most of the funding that goes to the MTA comes from city residents who use its railways, subways and buses.

Abbey Collins, a spokesperson for Cuomo’s campaign, in a statement called Molinaro’s campaign a “joke,” said he lacked credibility, and conflated Molinaro’s criticism of the governor’s MTA management with attacks on its employees.

“While Trump mini-me Molinaro has been busy copying and pasting the MTA’s own plan into his policy book, it is Governor Cuomo who has appointed world-class senior leadership, secured a dedicated revenue stream, enacted the first phase of congestion pricing and charged the MTA to undertake the Fast Forward plan,” she said. “It’s clear Molinaro has exactly zero ideas of his own and instead is resorting to Trumpian assaults on the hardworking men and women who make the subways run.” The president of the state AFL-CIO, which has endorsed Cuomo for re-election, sent out a statement also criticizing Molinaro for “vilify[ing] working people and their unions.”

“He would rather blame workers for subway repair costs than recognize New York's highly trained and skilled workforce is the only thing that keeps our state moving forward,” said New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento of Molinaro.

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Promising Efficiency and Performance, Molinaro Releases MTA Turnaround Plan Tue, 28 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
At Brooklyn Forum, Nixon Pitches Policy, Criticizes Cuomo and Distances from De Blasio http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7878:at-brooklyn-forum-nixon-pitches-policies-criticizes-cuomo-and-distances-from-de-blasio http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7878:at-brooklyn-forum-nixon-pitches-policies-criticizes-cuomo-and-distances-from-de-blasio nixon handshake

Cynthia Nixon greets a voter (photo: @CynthiaNixon)


Cynthia Nixon, the actor and activist challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for governor, laid out much of her campaign platform at a gubernatorial forum in Sunset Park on Tuesday, for which her opponent declined to participate. Over the course of nearly an hour, Nixon tore into the governor, insisted primary challenges are good for the party, and said she isn’t actively seeking the endorsement of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a close ally for whom she has in the past campaigned and corralled celebrity support.

Nearly 300 people gathered for the forum at Golden Imperial Palace, hosted by more than a dozen community groups and advocacy organizations. The forum was moderated by Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max and Politico New York education reporter Madina Toure.

Nixon, who is running as an unabashed progressive and has even embraced the moniker of democratic socialist, initially stuck to her campaign stump speech, pitching herself as an outsider to the broken system in Albany who isn’t beholden to wealthy donors and special interests. That’s a charge she levels against the governor, whom she has criticized for failing to aggressively pursue progressive legislation over the last nearly eight years that he has been in office.

“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and over and expecting a different result,” Nixon said. “We know what we’ve gotten for eight years with Andrew Cuomo, and if we want something different…we should try a different approach.”

Though Nixon is a fairly well-known figure from her successful career and her first-time bid for office has garnered her national attention, she has appeared to struggle to overcome the immense advantages Cuomo enjoys through the powers of incumbency. His fundraising has eclipsed hers -- he has about $24 million in cash on hand while she has only about $440,000 -- and his poll numbers have been consistently higher.

Nixon acknowledged those weaknesses on Tuesday but maintained that she has a fighting chance. “I’m not saying it’s easy,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s not a narrow path but there is absolutely a path to victory...the polls are just not capturing who our progressive voters are.” She cited the immense energy around Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential race, Zephyr Teachout’s strong showing in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary against Cuomo, and the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over ten-term Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley. She also noted hundreds of thousands of newly registered voters in New York, many of whom she believes will turn out to vote for her.

Though Nixon has received support for her race from several progressive grassroots organizations and Democratic elected officials, a glaring omission from the list is Mayor de Blasio, who has hemmed and hawed about weighing in on the governor’s race despite his close history with Nixon and his ongoing feud with Cuomo.

Nixon seemed to distance herself when asked if she’d sought the liberal mayor’s backing. “I’m not actively seeking his endorsement, no, I haven’t spoken to him about it,” she said. “I don’t feel that that’s what this campaign is about. I feel like this campaign is really about people who want progressive change, it’s really about speaking to voters about the issues that they care about and pointing out not only the corruption in Albany but Andrew Cuomo’s empowerment of the [Independent Democratic Conference] and all of the progressive legislative priorities that we haven’t moved on here.”

Pushed on why she isn’t asking for the support of the city’s top executive, Nixon said, “Nothing is holding me back...It’s really important for me to run as my own candidate and to understand that there are various politicians, including Bill de Blasio, that I have supported in the past but this is very much my own run.”

It wasn’t the only occasion where Nixon kept an arms length from the mayor. In her many pointed critiques of the governor throughout the forum, as Nixon criticized how state government had so often played politics with New York City, there was direct and tangential disapproval of the mayor’s own policies.

On education, Nixon insisted that mayoral control of New York City schools should be permanent with no strings attached by the state. She supported the mayor’s recent push to desegregate the city’s specialized high schools and endorsed legislation proposed by Assembly Member Charles Barron to reform admissions policies at those schools, which she called the “tip of the iceberg” of school segregation. She also urged de Blasio to follow through on that plan at the five out of eight specialized high schools where he does not need state approval to do so. “I think if he says he’s in support of Charles Barron’s plan, which he says he is, he should move on it right away. It’s in his backyard. If he has the power, he should enact it,” Nixon said.

Reiterating her call for increased taxes on higher earners, those making more than $300,000 per year, Nixon said Cuomo has “operated from a position of scarcity and falsely imposed austerity” to reward his wealthy donors even as the economy has grown in leaps and bounds since the 2008-09 recession. She denied the claim that higher taxes could lead to an exodus from the state, as critics have warned, arguing that people live where there are good services.

Nixon has said she would use the increased tax revenue generated by her policies to invest in infrastructure, chiefly the city’s subway system, public housing, and schools. Those investments, she said, would also create thousands of jobs. In particular, she pledged to invest in minority- and women-owned businesses, and said she would direct increased attention to the human services sector, which tends to heavily employ women and people of color. She said those overall investments would favor local economies across New York, particularly the struggling upstate municipalities that have been a target of Cuomo’s scandal-ridden economic development initiatives.

Nixon is also staunchly behind congestion pricing as a means to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which manages New York City’s subway and bus systems. If elected governor, she’d likely find herself isolated in holding that position. Mayor de Blasio, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and state Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who could be the next Senate majority leader, are all Democrats like Nixon but none have fully backed congestion pricing. Nixon said she would use her bully pulpit to raise the issue to a fever pitch. “If and when I get swept into office, it’ll be on a grassroots movement, a people-powered movement,” she said, “and one of the main things that I will be able to do as an Albany outsider is motivate public opinion and fight for this.”

She also took a shot at both the governor and the mayor over the state of the New York City Housing Authority, the public housing agency that houses nearly half a million New Yorkers, as she blamed the state, city, and federal governments for years of disinvestment. Asked about the mayor contemplating a shift towards 100 percent market-rate housing to be built on unused NYCHA land in order to raise much-needed revenue for fixing more than $30 billion in needs, she was stern and direct. “Market-rate on public housing land, I think, is a disaster,” she said. “We have an obligation to the people who live in public housing to repair their housing and not diminish it.” She acknowledged, however, that she does not have a plan to get to $30 billion for NYCHA, though she did say that she would look to put $1 billion a year of state money toward the authority and seek more federal funds.

Nixon also explained several rent regulations that she said the state needs to strengthen or pass to close loopholes that incentivize landlords to harass and evict tenants in order to increase rents.

The first-time candidate has proposed sweeping criminal justice reforms as part of her campaign and has been vocal about racial inequities in the system. When asked, she was critical of the role played by so-called broken windows policing -- a controversial practice of aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses in an effort to prevent larger crimes -- of which de Blasio is a proponent. Asked if she saw broken windows as the root of all problems, she said, “No, systemic racism is the root of the problem. But broken windows policing certainly has exacerbated the situation.” As they did on a number of occasions, members of the audience cheered her response -- several of the sponsoring groups have endorsed Nixon in the primary.

As an insurgent candidate, Nixon also pushed back against the argument that Democrats need to stop fighting among themselves when faced with the greater spectre of Republican control at the federal level and the presidency of Donald Trump. “I think primary challenges are a good thing,” she said, emphasizing that the leadership of the Democratic Party is now “much older, much whiter, much more male” than its progressive base.

Nixon closed on a positive note, stressing that the Democratic Party needs to give voters something to vote for, rather than just something to vote against, and implored those in the audience, whether in the room or watching a live-stream, to tangibly support her campaign, whether through money, canvassing, phone-banking, or other tasks. She said Cuomo has big money, but that she has the people.

“We can’t just be the slightly kinder, slightly gentler, more diverse version of the Republican Party, or people are going to stop believing us and people are going to stop showing up for us,” she said, also emphasizing that New York could be the vanguard of the progressive left.

“New York is the rightful seat of the resistance,” she said with a smirk, “and I’m frankly tired of California getting all the credit.”

The primary is on Thursday, September 13. Cuomo and Nixon are scheduled to hold a televised debate on Wednesday August 29 on CBS-2.

The groups hosting the forum included Bay Ridge Democrats, Brooklyn Progressive Action Network, Brooklyn Young Democrats, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Chinese-American Planning Council, Ditmas Civic, Empire State Progressives, Ernest Skinner Political Association, High NY, Independent Neighborhood Democrats, Indivisible Nation BK, Lambda Independent Democrats, LTH Indivisible, Met Council on Housing, Muslim Democratic Club, New Kings Democrats, North Brooklyn Progressive Democrats, NY Indivisible, NYC Asian Democratic Club, NYC HDFC, NY Senate District 17 for Progress, PAPA (Progressive Association for Political Action) - 35th Council District, Persist 81, Real Rent Reform Campaign, RUSA LGBT, South Brooklyn Progressive Network, South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance, Southwest Brooklyn Democrats, Sunset Park Latino Democrats, Torah Trumps Hate, Vanguard Independent Democratic Association, and Women of Color for Progress.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated to reflect that Cynthia Nixon has about $440,000 in campaign cash left, not $600,000.

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At Brooklyn Forum, Nixon Pitches Policy, Criticizes Cuomo and Distances from De Blasio Tue, 21 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7840:working-families-party-puts-it-all-on-the-line http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7840:working-families-party-puts-it-all-on-the-line Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi

Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton & Jumaane Williams (bottom)


The Working Families Party celebrated its 20th anniversary last month at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, with its rank-and-file cheering on a line up of politicians that have served as standard bearers, past and present. But it’s the future of the party that is especially uncertain as the upstart liberal organization lays it all on the line in backing insurgent candidates in state elections this year.

In doing so, especially in its decision to take on Governor Andrew Cuomo by backing Cynthia Nixon, some the party’s longtime allies have turned adversaries, portending a potentially diminished presence in the state’s political landscape if its gamble does not pay off over the next several weeks. At the anniversary celebration, which featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others singing the party’s praises for its push to create a more fair and equal New York, there was little sign of uneasiness about its bold choices this election year; an atmosphere of revelry prevailed, possibly the sign of progressive activists happy to be going for it all instead of triangulating with Cuomo and other more centrist Democrats as it had in the past.

There is also a sense among WFP leaders and supporters that the party is already where the Democratic Party is heading, and where it needs to be, with a more progressive vision of left politics reflective of a new post-Clinton, post-Cuomo Democratic era.

Created by community advocates and labor unions with a vision of pulling Democrats to the progressive left, the WFP has played a prominent role in championing the bread-and-butter issues that most affect working, low- and middle-income Americans. Through activism and advocacy around policy and funding, the party battles inequity, whether it be in housing, employment, wages, criminal justice, education, environment, or electoral access. In local and state elections, Democrats eager to brandish their progressive bonafides have coveted and sought the WFP’s endorsement, and the party’s vocal leaders and active network of members and volunteers.

But after years of being let down by elected officials they propped up, the WFP’s leadership made a drastic decision this year to endorse underdogs in key Democratic primaries. They backed Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo, a two-term incumbent seeking reelection, and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in his attempt to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; and they are fiercely rallying behind progressive candidates who are trying to replace Democratic state Senators who until recently made up the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years pulled their support for fear of angering the governor, who made explicit threats against anyone who would stay, according to a WFP leader. But advocacy groups and a progressive activist base rallied, resolute to take on Cuomo, whom they no longer trusted after a 2014 deal went bad, and the former IDC members, who had betrayed their Democratic party-mates.

While acknowledging its newfound vulnerability, WFP leaders and supporters also had a sense that they were on the right side of history, pursuing their true vision of where the Democratic Party should be (with the necessary help of the WFP), representative of the national trendlines -- the WFP did back Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary -- a feeling only bolstered in recent weeks by events like the shocking congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom the WFP had not endorsed over Rep. Joe Crowley, but quickly sought to align with thereafter.

“I think the unions are dismayed by the way the Working Families Party has chosen to operate this cycle,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a phone interview. RWDSU was among those unions that left the party this year and Appelbaum is one of several labor leaders who say that Cuomo deserves to be reelected.

“They’re diverting energy and resources from the effort to send more Democratic congresspeople from New York to Washington, [and] our prime responsibility is to work to take back the House of Representatives…Our concern is that the WFP no longer is representing, in its current rendition, the interests of working men and women, despite their name, and that is why unions felt it was necessary to disassociate themselves.”

WFP leaders and allied elected officials say the party made a calculated wager, riding a groundswell of progressive sentiment that has moved the state’s political center, and that no matter how the chips fall on September 13, primary day, the party has already won.

“This is the party they founded 20 years ago...to pull the Democratic Party to the left and with a coalitional approach to building power,” Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette at the WFP’s anniversary gala. Lander spoke of the “radical but also practical vision” of Jon Kest, the progressive organizer who founded the WFP as well as the advocacy groups New York Communities for Change and its predecessor, the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

“The WFP’s always contained this dynamic tension,” Lander said, between “the strength of voice of grassroots activists” and “established but still progressive” institutions such as labor unions. “At this moment, given shifts in the broader zeitgeist...and of course because of the way the governor has approached this, the party is in a more activist movement space,” he said. Like the WFP, Lander is backing Williams for lieutenant governor and several of the challengers to the former IDC members.

Surely, if the WFP notches wins in the many primaries it is involved in -- the WFP offers a general election ballot line, but does much of its work backing its preferred candidates in their Democratic primaries -- it will strengthen the party, and conversely, losses will set them back, Lander said. Though, given the state of New York’s politics, “There’s no choice,” Lander said.

For nearly eight years, the WFP has cried foul about Democratic recalcitrance as key progressive policies have failed to pass the state Legislature. The WFP continues to advocate for issues that include healthcare for all, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages, fixing the city’s subways, increasing funding to under-resourced schools, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reform.  

Cuomo and the members of the erstwhile IDC largely claim to support that agenda and have repeatedly blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for thwarting its planks. But Cuomo tolerated, if not supported, the presence of the IDC, and critics hold its members up as a major obstacle to full Democratic control of both legislative chambers. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the 150-seat Assembly but, with the return of the IDC to the mainline Democratic conference, hold 31 seats in the 63-seat Senate.

And though the State Democratic Party, at Cuomo’s behest, is focused on recapturing the Senate, which necessitates flipping seats in the general election, groups like the WFP insist on replacing rogue Democrats with candidates who better embody progressive values and they trust to not flee for a deal with Republicans.

The party is taking a “big risk,” Dorothy Siegel, WFP treasurer, conceded on the sidelines of the gala, where Nixon, Williams, de Blasio, and Ben Jealous, the WFP-backed Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, took the stage one by one to celebrate the WFP’s history. “Because, the power structure doesn’t like to be challenged...and the WFP is a really small organization,” Siegel said. “The people who control the levers of power win. Individual people never win.”

Siegel lamented her belief that the state’s politics, the governor, and state Legislature are powered by special interests, largely real estate developers and Wall Street executives (she left out the extensive influence of labor unions). “The WFP is not powered by any of those powerful people. We’re only powered by people who pay us $5 a month,” she said. “It’s a true David and Goliath situation. If we lose the governor’s race, we run the risk of very powerful people being very angry. They can do a lot of things to us that would make our lives difficult.”

Siegel pointed to the investigation involving the WFP that stemmed from alleged campaign finance violations in the election of City Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in 2009. Two campaign workers were accused, and later cleared, of charges that they worked with the WFP’s consulting firm, Data and Field Services, to circumvent campaign finance law. The years-long episode cost time and money that the WFP could ill-afford. “Lots of people got laid off. We almost went out of business,” Siegel said. “They could do that again. Do not underestimate the power of super-wealthy people to trample people who want to take away their power.”

Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.

One of the most consequential possible effects of the WFP backing Nixon over Cuomo -- who they endorsed in 2014 after he promised to bring the IDC to an end and enact many of the same policies he’s promising again this year, which he did not follow through on -- is that it could cost the party automatic ballot access. A “third party” like the WFP needs at least 50,000 votes for its candidate for governor to maintain its ballot line into the future, which Nixon could easily attain in the general election. But Nixon losing the Democratic primary would put the WFP in a tough spot. Its leaders claim they won’t play spoiler and risk electing a Republican by drawing general election votes away from Cuomo. The party could feasibly get behind Cuomo while removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line. A back-up plan is in place to move her to an Assembly race, in which she would not run, they say.

[Read: The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan]

“We’re confident that Cynthia’s going to win and that the insurgents running against the IDC are all going to win,” said Bill Lipton, NYWFP political director, in a phone interview. “There’s a progressive wave coming. In the unlikely event that she loses, Cynthia’s agreed to meet with the leaders of the WFP and we’ll have an important decision to make. We’re very confident about any of the possible scenarios.”

A Nixon win would shock the political world, and catapult the WFP to never-before-seen power for a minor party. While initial polls show Nixon losing badly, her campaign argues that polling has been skewed and that polls are unable to capture the insurgent energy among Democrats and behind her candidacy. On the other hand, polling shows Williams to have a very real shot at unseating Hochul, which would also strengthen the WFP and cause major headaches for Cuomo (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a ticket for the general election).

If Lipton had concerns about the WFP’s undertaking in this election cycle, he betrayed none of them. “We’re not taking a risk. We’re fulfilling our mission. The risk would be for us if we stray from our mission,” he said, critiquing the Democratic establishment for relying on the same wealthy donors as their Republican opponents. “The mission of the WFP is to break up that cozy relationship between these parties and these oligarchs and demand that there be a party that is truly fighting for working people,” he added. “And Cuomo and the IDC fundamentally made the problem worse by not just taking money from the same wealthy donors that fund the Republican attacks on working people but actually openly supporting and aligning themselves with the Republicans. The danger for us would’ve been not standing up to these Trump Democrats. That would’ve been the greater danger.”

The WFP hasn’t been a pure supporter of every progressive candidate, as evidenced by its choice of Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, among others. Though the party derived momentum after the recent primary victory by Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic socialist who defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Crowley in Queens, its backing of Crowley left many questioning the WFP afterward. Lipton said the party was now fully behind her and that their earlier decisions owed to the fact that Crowley was moving to his left and the party had already committed to challenging former IDC state senators. “In retrospect, we clearly made a mistake. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired us and working people around New York and the nation,” Lipton said.  

The party also hasn’t made an endorsement in the state Senate District 18 race where Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, is posing a primary challenge to Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, an eight-term incumbent. Although, Lipton did not close the door on the prospect of an endorsement. “As of now, the WFP has made no endorsement in the race,” he simply said. The party is backing Andrew Gounardes in a competitive Brooklyn Democratic primary with Ross Barkan, the winner of which will try to unseat one of the few Republican elected officials in the city, Senator Marty Golden.

[Read: Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset]

Karen Scharff, co-chair of the NYWFP and, until recently, longtime executive director of Citizen Action of New York, an activist group and member of the WFP, insists the party will come through September 13 with several victories, similarly citing Ocasio-Cortez, among other progressives, who prevailed in the congressional primaries.

“The headline that came out of June 26 was not ‘Democratic establishment wins big.’ It was quite the opposite,’” Scharff said in a phone interview. “I think really that Cuomo and the IDC and the establishment Democrats took a major risk themselves by ignoring the growth of the progressive movement as it really built up steam over the past seven years going back to Occupy Wall Street and then Bill de Blasio’s election in New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders momentum, and they’re showing that they realize it.”

She noted that Cuomo has moved to his left in the last few months on several fronts, owing to the shifting dynamics of the Democratic base. “I think that the risk we’ve taken in our endorsements this year have already paid off in moving the dominant issues in our state in a direction that is gonna meet the needs of working families instead of the needs of hedge fund donors and real estate donors,” she said, insisting that the governor and state Legislature, no matter who wins, can ill-afford to ignore the WFP’s agenda next year. “I think this is the direction the electorate is moving in and the Democratic Party’s going to have to either move with it or risk being left behind,” she said.

“I don’t think WFP is out on a limb by itself here,” Scharff continued. “This is really part of the establishment versus the entire progressive and resistance movement….We’re definitely acting as part of a broader movement with a lot of allies.”

Public Advocate Letitia James, who first got elected to the City Council on the WFP line in 2003, also attended the 20th anniversary gala, though her presence was more muted. Despite being a longtime WFP poster star, she did not speak to the gathering, choosing to mingle on the sides. James is running for attorney general with the governor’s support and eschewed the WFP’s endorsement, which the party has reserved for either James or one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, hoping that one of the two prevails September 13. Asked about the party’s risky endeavors this year, which include the challenge against Cuomo, James demurred. “I was with WFP when they had fundraisers at churches and if you didn’t get there early enough, all the cheese and crackers were gone. They’ve come a long way,” she said.

“They took a chance on me several years ago,” she said, “and they are voting their values. I just wanted to come because they are my friends and because when I needed a party to run on, the Working Families Party was there and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Theodore Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College and longtime Brooklyn politics watcher, struck an optimistic note about the state Senate candidates that the WFP has endorsed, though he said that Nixon and Williams are unlikely to win. “The question, I guess, is if those people win but Cuomo holds on, then how will the new state Senate take shape with the some of the IDC figures no longer there and the challengers now taking those seats,” he wondered. “But that would certainly give the WFP influence, to a much greater degree than they’ve had thus far in the state Senate. That really should be where they put their energy.”

Even Hamm admitted, though, that after Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset, “There’s no certainties anymore of what will happen in the future. In the wake of her victory, even though they didn’t support her, it made it seem like their gamble was worth at least pursuing.”

At the WFP gala, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke early and eagerly. His association with the party goes back to his years as a City Council member from Park Slope. “People try and bet against the Working Families Party all the time, the status quo loves to discount them,” the mayor said to whoops and applause. “But guess what? The Working Families Party is here to stay.”

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 7.42%, with Labor Commissioner Bob Linn http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7829:what-s-the-data-point-7-42-with-labor-commissioner-bob-linn http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7829:what-s-the-data-point-7-42-with-labor-commissioner-bob-linn whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 48 -- 7.42% with Bob Linn [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

bob linn on wtdp ben maria

Bob Linn has one of the hardest, most complicated, and under-the-radar jobs in city government: he runs the labor relations department and negotiates contracts with the city's many municipal labor unions. Linn joined the podcast to discuss his career in labor relations, both from the city side and the union side, but mainly his work under Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiating contracts that impact hundreds of thousands of city works and the rest of New Yorkers who rely on those workers and how their contracts impact city finances.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 7.42%, with Labor Commissioner Bob Linn Fri, 27 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key Question in Closing Rikers: How to Design Replacement Jails http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7823:key-question-in-closing-rikers-how-to-design-replacement-jails http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7823:key-question-in-closing-rikers-how-to-design-replacement-jails rikers renditions

Jail space rendering via "Justice in Design"


The first part of the plan is clear: the jails on Rikers Island will be closed. Less clear is the second part: what, exactly, the replacement jails will look like.

Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, empaneled by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, came to the same conclusion: Rikers – the isolated island, sandwiched between the Bronx and Queens on the East River, holding 10 of the city’s jails and over 7,000 inmates – must be shut down.

In June 2017, de Blasio announced a broad plan to do just that. His controversial proposal calls for continued reduction of the city’s plummeting jail population and the complete closure of all Rikers facilities within a period of 10 years, with remaining Rikers detainees transferred into jails in other parts of the city, using one facility in each borough other than Staten Island. For the plan to close Rikers to work, de Blasio has said, the city must get from the current 8,000-plus inmates across the city to about 5,000, while expanding or opening four facilities.

Challenges and questions remain, one of them being that the existing borough jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens don’t have the capacity to hold even 5,000 detainees (most of the individuals held in Rikers jails are pre-trial and have not been convicted of a crime, though some are serving relatively short sentences).

Shutting down Rikers jails requires the expansion or complete reconstruction of the current facilities, as well as erecting a new one in the Bronx. However, another challenge, which may pose far greater obstacles than merely laying down the bricks of these facilities, is establishing the foundation for a new way of thinking when it comes to designing and building jails.

“What we emphasized is that we’re trying to reimagine every step of the criminal justice system and, in particular, the jail facilities themselves,” said Jonathan Lippman, the former Chief Judge of the State of New York and the chair of the independent commission, which released a study advocating for the total shutdown of Rikers Island last April, preceding the mayor’s proposal, which differs in some ways. “So, wherever we’re having the kind of haphazard, decrepit, depressing conditions that you have now, we’re trying to look at ‘what should it be if you started from scratch?’”

The question of jail design is one of the most important facing the city as it moves toward closing Rikers Island, and aims to utilize the jails themselves as part of the equation in helping people transition after a jail stay of any length and reduce the chances they will ever be back.

Among others, one task force convened by the de Blasio administration is working on the issue, while a private architecture firm, Perkins Eastman, has been hired in a $7.5 million contract to take the task force’s input into consideration as it makes design and construction plans.

The culmination of the efforts of the task force and of Perkins Eastman will first be manifested into the Capital Scope Development Project Study, set for release by the end of this year, which will gauge the costs of the project as well as assess the capacity of the current borough facilities and explore how these facilities may be expanded or completely reconstructed.

For Lippman, the new network of jail facilities that will replace Rikers would imitate a “more normative environment that supports rehabilitation while simultaneously providing the neighborhoods with a couple of amenities,” as indicated in his commission’s study. Crafting such jails would mean to upend the existing conditions on Rikers – a place that Lippman calls an “accelerator of human misery,” with rotting floorboards, sewage backups, impaired heating and cooling systems and incessant violence, according to the commission’s report – and, instead, enhance access to natural light, activity spaces, direct supervision and community involvement.

The study also indicated the importance of a facility’s geographic location, since proximity to courthouses can cut travel costs of moving detainees from the jails to courthouses and back, and visitors should have easier access to visit their detained loved ones, which is part of reducing recidivism. Rikers Island is accessible to the outside world by one bridge, and anyone attempting a visit to the island can only go by car (although private parking is limited) and bus -- there is no subway access.  

“I think jails today, modern jails, can actually be a boon to the community,” Lippman said, citing the prosperity of Boerum Hill, the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Brooklyn House of Detention currently stands, “and rebut the idea that being in close proximity to the jail makes people unsafe or that it’s ugly or that it’s destructive to the community.”

In another report produced by the Lippman commission and the Van Alen Institute, providing room for civic services, retail shops or community spaces would be a basic function of a jail facility built with the intent of fully integrating into the community it’s in. Such a building would open up part of the first floor to the needs or desires of the community – say, for an art gallery, or a medical clinic, or a social services agency – while the upper floors would be where the jail operates.

“This is an opportunity for us, not to recreate what we have, but to really begin to think outside the box in terms of what we want,” said Stanley Richards, a member of the independent commission and the executive vice president of The Fortune Society, an organization that provides reentry services for formerly incarcerated people.

Richards additionally co-chairs the design committee of the mayor’s task force, where he works on developing design principles that will guide architects and general contractors in the design of the borough facilities.

“The only principles that were guiding the design and the development of the facilities that we currently have is, ‘How do you keep people detained and keep them away from society? How do you punish people?’ And that’s how they were built,” said Richards, who is formerly incarcerated himself, having spent two years in a Rikers jail. “That is not the design principles that we’re operating from.”

One important question on the table is what will be done with the existing, in-use Brooklyn and Manhattan jails, which are in especially busy areas of the city -- will they be refurbished or torn down and constructed anew, using modern design principles?

While the decision to expand or overhaul the existing facilities has not yet reached an official decision, Richards said, “Based on the design principles that we’re coming up and based on the capacity we need to build in the borough houses, it is highly unlikely that it will be done in the existing facilities. I believe it will require new facilities.”

The recommendations of the commission also provide a basis for what these new facilities have the potential to look like. A network of cells that surround a common living area, for example, can make way for a system of direct supervision, where a correctional officer can oversee more detainees with improved lines of sight. Grouping detainees into housing units based on similar needs or risk-levels also allows officers to apply a more responsive approach when dealing with detainee misconduct, since the traditional approach has been to rely on punitive segregation, or solitary confinement, even for detainees who engage in low-level misconduct.

The commission also recommends that inmates have access to a sort of “town center,” or an area that would include a clinic, pharmacy, dining hall, and programming spaces, thus providing detainees more freedom of movement, and they should be furnished in a way that imitates normative settings, with fittings as basic as seated, porcelain toilets and upholstered furniture, all of which contributes to the humanization their detention. The de Blasio administration has already announced programs to provide more education and job training to inmates, and has launched the “jails to jobs” program to facilitate short-term employment for those finishing a sentence in a city jail.

The mayor and the City Council settled on the sites of the Rikers-replacement facilities in an announcement this past February, with the projected borough facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to be held at the location of the standing detention centers, and the jail in the Bronx being at a city-owned tow pound lot in Mott Haven, though the Bronx site quickly became the subject of controversy and it is still unclear exactly where a Bronx jail will be built.

All sites will additionally undergo a single public review process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, set to kick off either by the end of this year or at the start of 2019, involving hearings with the local community boards, borough presidents, City Council members, and the City Planning Commission. One combined ULURP was announced by the mayor and Council Speaker Corey Johnson in order to speed the process, though some have questioned if that will allow enough local input in each affected community.

“New York City is a very different environment to build in and each borough is quite different,” said Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and co-chair of the Justice Implementation Task Force. “And, so there’s always going to be that sort of tug between the function that the jail must serve and the function that we want it to serve, and how space provides opportunities or constraints as desires.”

In May, the city’s average daily jail population fell to 8,402 – the lowest number it has reached since 1981. In a follow-up report produced by the Lippman commission, it is projected that the city could close Rikers as soon as 2024 and even have the new facilities constructed before then. Still, while it is one thing to build the new facilities, it is another to maintain them in a way that keeps them from defaulting back to today’s conditions on Rikers Island.

“It’s not a resource issue, but it is an institutional issue about how you treat people, how you classify people, how you house people, how you make security decisions,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and the city’s correction commissioner from 1995 to 1996. “All of that kind of goes to very poor training issues and a lot of this is gonna be complicated.”

Jacobson, who is also a member of the task force’s committee on Culture Change, recalled dealing with staff inefficiency and deteriorating infrastructure during his time as correction commissioner.

“The design is necessary but not sufficient to completely change the way jails operate,” he said. “You can do an incredible amount just with design, but in the end, those places have to be run with a sort of principle of human dignity.”

Jacobson made reference to the jail facilities in downtown Denver and in San Diego, places that emulate the humanizing principles indicated in the commission’s study; they enhance access to communal living spaces, lines of direct supervision and even natural light. From the outside, they hardly look like a jail.

“They’re still gonna be jails, but they don’t have to look or feel anything like those jails do,” Jacobson said. “You want to make it less stressful, less anxiety producing, safer, et cetera, et cetera. You can’t do all that with design, but you can do an incredible amount just with design.”

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

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Key Question in Closing Rikers: How to Design Replacement Jails Tue, 24 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Awaits State Permission to Open ‘Overdose Prevention Centers’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7819:city-awaits-state-permission-to-open-overdose-prevention-centers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7819:city-awaits-state-permission-to-open-overdose-prevention-centers de Blasio opioid

Mayor de Blasio & HealingNYC (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


More than 1,400 New Yorkers died of drug overdoses in 2017, most of them the result of opioid abuse, and one of the next steps the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to take in fighting rampant opioid addiction is to open safe injection sites, which the administration is calling “overdose prevention centers.” There is currently no timeline for the four planned pilot sites to open, the city’s health commissioner said during a recent interview, as the de Blasio administration waits for approval from its state-level counterparts.

At a safe injection site, individuals struggling with addiction are allowed to inject and consume drugs under the supervision of medical professionals. Over 100 safe injection sites operate around the world in more than 60 cities, and the first North American location launched in Vancouver, Canada in 2003. It prevents approximately 35 cases of HIV and three deaths a year, according to a 2008 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

Safe injection sites are generally thought to reduce the health risks of drug addiction by providing sterile and safe equipment, like needles, access to medical staff, and treatment referrals, with the hope that users will seek a pathway out of drug use. They also concentrate drug use in controlled locations, reducing the public disorder associated with public injections and improper syringe disposal. According to New York City officials, no one has ever died inside a safe injection site.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to run a one-year pilot program establishing four safe injection sites, with one each in Manhattan’s Washington Heights and Midtown neighborhoods, Brooklyn’s Gowanus, and Longwood, in the Bronx --- all at sites currently run by community non-profits that offer needle-exchange programs and would run the “overdose prevention centers” with the city’s blessing and a beefed up police presence nearby.

As DOHMH released a report studying the possibility and recommending the pilot, de Blasio, a second-term Democrat, gave his blessing, pending certain next steps. The decision immediately provoked blowback from Republicans and some moderate Democrats, like the Staten Island district attorney, Michael McMahon. Some don't want city government sanctioning any drug use, others worry about impacts on communities where the sites may be opened, either in the first round or beyond.

De Blasio has said that the program “will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction.” The city plans to open facilities only after a six-to-twelve-month period of outreach to residents of the planned neighborhoods, and once it receives a permission of sorts from the State.

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett discussed her support of the opening of the sites and the larger context of the city’s efforts to fight drug abuse and addiction in New York City during a recent appearance on the “What’s The [Data] Point?” podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.

She said that a recent modeling exercise showed that these sites could save up to 130 lives a year. New York City recently reached record numbers of overdose-related deaths, with 1,441 New Yorkers killed in 2017.

“These deaths are all preventable and we want to ensure that people survive opioid use,” she said. “These sites will save lives, they will reduce transmission of preventable diseases like HIV or Hepatitis B or C, and they will provide people with a first step towards being in a safer place, including being on treatment.”

Bassett also said that the facilities would provide safety and protection for those struggling with addiction, particularly women, who may be subject to predatory activity while under the influence of opioids.

The plan, however, is contentious.

For one, it may violate federal law. The legality of safe injection sites has never before been tested in court, but a Department of Justice attorney in Vermont stated last year that workers at safe injection sites would be exposed to criminal charges, and the sites’ property would be vulnerable to federal forfeiture.

Bassett said that the city has requested that the state Department of Health “provide a legal umbrella” for the plan, but that nothing has yet been developed.

"Unfortunately, the timeline is really dependent on actions that the city doesn’t entirely control," Bassett said. "The mayor made a couple of conditions, he said that he wanted to see the state provide a legal umbrella for a demonstration project that Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio wrote to the State Health Commissioner requesting this research designation and there’s been some back and forth on that but it hasn’t been acquired. The next thing was to have the elected official who represented the district where the OPC, as we call them now, was planned should support its implementation, and finally that there would be a community consultation process whereby communities can express their concerns and efforts can be made to address those concerns. That’s the process but at the moment it doesn’t have a timeline. Obviously as health commissioner, I’m confident that these would save lives."

Jonah Bruno, the New York State Department of Health director of communications, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette that the city’s plan is currently being evaluated.

“We are reviewing the City’s proposal,” Bruno wrote. “We support the mission of reducing opioid related deaths and have been studying multiple options for combating the opioid epidemic.”

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan highlighted the legal risks of safe injection sites during a televised forum on the opioid crisis broadcast by NY1 in May, during which Bassett also participated.

“First and foremost, they’re not legal,” Brennan said. “They’re not legal under state law and they’re not legal under federal law.”

“When you look at the potential benefit from the safe injection site and you balance it off against the downsides,” she continued, “I think you just come up saying, ‘this just isn’t a good deal.’”

The plan is also controversial for reasons beyond its legality. Bassett said that, while de Blasio supports the proposal, he has several preconditions for its enactment, including the approval of elected officials representing districts slated to host sites and the implementation of a community consultation process.

Bassett acknowledged on What’s the [Data] Point? that the facilities would only be a relatively small part of the city’s broader response to the opioid epidemic. While they are projected to save hundreds of lives, the city has thousands of overdose deaths to eliminate, and a much more expansive set of programs that opening the injection sites.

Last year, as part of its HealingNYC plan to reduce drug overdose deaths by 35 percent over the next five years, DOHMH unveiled a campaign to encourage judicious prescribing, including one-on-one educational visits with clinicians. Bassett said that doctors should prescribe opioids less often, for shorter durations, and at lower doses.

“[The overdose prevention centers] would never be enough, and we really shouldn’t start thinking of them as a magic bullet,” she said. “They’re part of a multi-pronged response.”

What it boils down to, Bassett said, is that people with a drug addiction “don’t want to die. They want to be in a safe place...We want to make sure people survive opioid use.”

[LISTEN: What's The [Data] Point? 1,441, with City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett]

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by Jordan Kimmel & Daniel Yadin
@GothamGazette

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City Awaits State Permission to Open ‘Overdose Prevention Centers’ Sun, 22 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000