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/brad-lander 2017-12-13T22:32:50+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Evaluates Progress of NYPD Inspector General 2017-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 2017-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7325:city-council-examines-progress-under-nypd-inspector-general Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/12290361665_bbcd7ca26d_z.jpg" alt="Mark Peters DOI City Council" width="600" height="414" /></p> <p>DOI Commissioner Mark Peters (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Four years ago, over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City Council passed the Community Safety Act, a landmark piece of legislation relating to policing in New York City. One of the law’s most prominent planks was the creation of the NYPD Inspector General, an independent police department watchdog that would audit NYPD practices and operations and make recommendations on improvements.</p> <p>With the nation on edge over widely disseminated videos of black men being shot by officers and reform activists continuously criticizing the NYPD’s broken windows policing model and the use of stop-and-frisk as racist, the Community Safety Act aimed to increase the department’s accountability to the public and increase the public’s confidence in the department. In 2014, after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) appointed Philip Eure, the former head of Washington D.C.’s Office of Police Complaints, to be the first NYPD Inspector General.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the City Council’s Committees on Public Safety and Oversight and Investigations held a joint oversight hearing to see how, nearly four years down the line, the NYPD Inspector General is accomplishing its stated goals.</p> <p>The IG’s goals for improving the NYPD were repeated several times throughout the hearing, which saw initial testimony from Eure and his supervisor, DOI Commissioner Mark Peters. Among those doing the questioning were City Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, who were the lead sponsors of the Community Safety Act.</p> <p>“The IG’s mission is to enhance the effectiveness of the police department, increase public safety, protect civil liberties and civil rights, and increase the public’s confidence in the police force, thereby building stronger police-community relations,” Eure said at the hearing. “We believe that we have made important strides towards accomplishing all of these goals in the last four years, and we look forward to continuing to build upon that work in the years to come.”</p> <p>Since its first publicly released report in January 2015, concerning police chokeholds, the IG has released nine reports on various NYPD practices that have resulted in some significant policy changes, but have also occasionally resulted in no changes. When the IG releases recommendations, the NYPD is pressured but not required to adopt reforms to operations and practices; if the NYPD refuses to take up a reform voluntarily, the City Council can pass legislation to mandate it.</p> <p>The IG has released reports on NYPD practices such as chokeholds, de-escalation and use of force, quality of life summonses, responding to emotionally disturbed people, body camera use, investigations of political activity, and, most recently, handling of U visa requests for undocumented immigrants who were the victims of a crime.</p> <p>Although the NYPD has often refused to implement recommended policies, some significant reforms have been voluntarily taken up by the department. For instance, the NYPD's Intelligence Bureau has formalized tracking measures for investigations into political activity, particularly with regard to investigative deadlines that were often ignored by the department's investigators.</p> <p>However, in a large number of areas, the NYPD has simply ignored the recommendations of the IG, at times displaying open hostility toward the IG’s office. In January, IG’s office released a report showing that the NYPD is not adequately coordinating Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for officers, crucial when responding to calls involving an emotionally disturbed person (EDP).</p> <p>At Wednesday’s hearing, Council Member Lander asked Eure and Peters what could be done to ensure NYPD compliance with recommendations, highlighting the NYPD’s refusal to streamline and improve its coordination of trained officers responding to the scene of calls regarding EDPs.</p> <p>Peters urged the Council to step up efforts to codify into law certain recommendations that the NYPD refuses to implement.</p> <p>“The NYPD has accepted far more recommendations than they have not,” Peters said. “And that’s great. And then the job for us, the DOI, is to follow up and to make sure that they’re implementing that.”</p> <p>Peters later said that instances where the NYPD refuses to comply are the most crucial places that the IG’s office and the Council must partner.</p> <p>“At the end of the day, that is the place where it’s most important for us to be partnering with the Council,” Peters said. “Because you have that report, we present that report to the mayor, we present that to the Council. And so the Council has the opportunity to read that report if you have questions.”</p> <p>Council Member Williams, who represents the district where an NYPD officer recently shot and killed Dwayne Jeune, an emotionally disturbed man, questioned when a task force would be created to investigate and determine best practices for the NYPD in responding to EDP calls. Four officers responded to the Jeune call; Jeune was killed by the only responding officer who did not receive CIT training.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio initially refused to set up a task force after Jeune’s death in July, but relented after prodding from the Council, according to Williams.</p> <p>Although Eure and Peters had earlier said that they shared reports with the NYPD and City Hall before releasing them to the public in order to glean potentially overlooked facts, Peters said that IG is not involved with the task force.</p> <p>"I think, obviously, it is an important idea. What I would say, the task force is important, but I believe there are already some things that we know need to be done," Peters said.</p> <p>The IG’s office will also soon be releasing its first report related to Williams’ recently passed bill, Intro 119, requiring compilation of litigation data against officers and for the IG to use that to develop recommendations. The IG will be releasing the report in April, which Williams said he looks forward to.</p> <p>Williams proudly proclaimed that things are going well, despite the NYPD and pundits saying that the creation of the NYPD Inspector General would "destroy the city, the sky would literally crack open, and brown and black young people were gonna wreak havoc on this city, and the inspector general in particular was going to confuse all police officers, they would have no idea who to listen to: the inspector general or the commissioner."</p> <p>Crime has continued to fall while the NYPD has adopted some, but not all, of the reforms proposed by the IG. All 23,000 foot patrol officers are scheduled to do their jobs with body cameras on their person by 2019.</p> <p>And, according to Eure, the NYPD has issued tighter guidelines on use of force as a result of the Inspector General's reports.</p> <p>"Approximately eight months after this office published its first report on use of force by NYPD, the department released a set of revised policies that more precisely define the use of force, as well as a more detailed tracking form," Eure said. "All uniformed officers are now required to use a 'Threat, Resistance, or Injury Form" (TRI) whenever they use force or witness another officer using force at the scene." Last year, the City Council passed a law requiring the NYPD to publicly report use of force metrics derived from TRI data, and Eure stated that the IG’s office will soon release a report on the NYPD’s compliance with TRI.</p> <p>Eure also boasted of a 2016 report that found no increase in felony crime concurrent with a dramatic decrease in enforcement of quality-of-life offenses, better known as broken windows offenses. While the NYPD continues to utilize broken windows policing that data shows disproportionately impacts communities of color, arrests and summonses have continued to drop, as has crime.</p> <p>After Peters and Eure, advocates and service providers testified, offering some ideas for further scrutiny by the IG. According to testimony from Brooklyn Defender Services’ Debora Silberman, 86% of the almost 61,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York City were of African-Americans or Latinos, despite whites using marijuana at an approximately equivalent rate.</p> <p>Silberman also criticized the common NYPD practice of “testilying,” better known as police perjury, and the NYPD IG’s failure to address an apparent culture of officers lying on the stand. Recently, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/17/nyregion/brooklyn-judge-police-perjury-nypd.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The New York Times reported</a> that a Brooklyn judge warned the city that a court hearing on police perjury was imminent.</p> <p>“As a public defender, I can assure you that such lying is prevalent and the NYPD has made no recognizable efforts to meaningfully address it,” Silberman said. “Likewise, the imbalance of power in the criminal legal system that pressures defendants to accept plea deals rather than go to trial also enables prosecutors to provide cover for police perjury, or ‘testilying,’ by making offers that defendants all-but-cannot refuse.”</p> <p>Although the NYPD has decided not to comply with many recommendations, the department has not been outright dismissive of the IG. Peters said that, to date, the Inspector General has not had to issue a subpoena to the NYPD for documents related to an investigation.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/12290361665_bbcd7ca26d_z.jpg" alt="Mark Peters DOI City Council" width="600" height="414" /></p> <p>DOI Commissioner Mark Peters (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>Four years ago, over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the City Council passed the Community Safety Act, a landmark piece of legislation relating to policing in New York City. One of the law’s most prominent planks was the creation of the NYPD Inspector General, an independent police department watchdog that would audit NYPD practices and operations and make recommendations on improvements.</p> <p>With the nation on edge over widely disseminated videos of black men being shot by officers and reform activists continuously criticizing the NYPD’s broken windows policing model and the use of stop-and-frisk as racist, the Community Safety Act aimed to increase the department’s accountability to the public and increase the public’s confidence in the department. In 2014, after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) appointed Philip Eure, the former head of Washington D.C.’s Office of Police Complaints, to be the first NYPD Inspector General.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the City Council’s Committees on Public Safety and Oversight and Investigations held a joint oversight hearing to see how, nearly four years down the line, the NYPD Inspector General is accomplishing its stated goals.</p> <p>The IG’s goals for improving the NYPD were repeated several times throughout the hearing, which saw initial testimony from Eure and his supervisor, DOI Commissioner Mark Peters. Among those doing the questioning were City Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, who were the lead sponsors of the Community Safety Act.</p> <p>“The IG’s mission is to enhance the effectiveness of the police department, increase public safety, protect civil liberties and civil rights, and increase the public’s confidence in the police force, thereby building stronger police-community relations,” Eure said at the hearing. “We believe that we have made important strides towards accomplishing all of these goals in the last four years, and we look forward to continuing to build upon that work in the years to come.”</p> <p>Since its first publicly released report in January 2015, concerning police chokeholds, the IG has released nine reports on various NYPD practices that have resulted in some significant policy changes, but have also occasionally resulted in no changes. When the IG releases recommendations, the NYPD is pressured but not required to adopt reforms to operations and practices; if the NYPD refuses to take up a reform voluntarily, the City Council can pass legislation to mandate it.</p> <p>The IG has released reports on NYPD practices such as chokeholds, de-escalation and use of force, quality of life summonses, responding to emotionally disturbed people, body camera use, investigations of political activity, and, most recently, handling of U visa requests for undocumented immigrants who were the victims of a crime.</p> <p>Although the NYPD has often refused to implement recommended policies, some significant reforms have been voluntarily taken up by the department. For instance, the NYPD's Intelligence Bureau has formalized tracking measures for investigations into political activity, particularly with regard to investigative deadlines that were often ignored by the department's investigators.</p> <p>However, in a large number of areas, the NYPD has simply ignored the recommendations of the IG, at times displaying open hostility toward the IG’s office. In January, IG’s office released a report showing that the NYPD is not adequately coordinating Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for officers, crucial when responding to calls involving an emotionally disturbed person (EDP).</p> <p>At Wednesday’s hearing, Council Member Lander asked Eure and Peters what could be done to ensure NYPD compliance with recommendations, highlighting the NYPD’s refusal to streamline and improve its coordination of trained officers responding to the scene of calls regarding EDPs.</p> <p>Peters urged the Council to step up efforts to codify into law certain recommendations that the NYPD refuses to implement.</p> <p>“The NYPD has accepted far more recommendations than they have not,” Peters said. “And that’s great. And then the job for us, the DOI, is to follow up and to make sure that they’re implementing that.”</p> <p>Peters later said that instances where the NYPD refuses to comply are the most crucial places that the IG’s office and the Council must partner.</p> <p>“At the end of the day, that is the place where it’s most important for us to be partnering with the Council,” Peters said. “Because you have that report, we present that report to the mayor, we present that to the Council. And so the Council has the opportunity to read that report if you have questions.”</p> <p>Council Member Williams, who represents the district where an NYPD officer recently shot and killed Dwayne Jeune, an emotionally disturbed man, questioned when a task force would be created to investigate and determine best practices for the NYPD in responding to EDP calls. Four officers responded to the Jeune call; Jeune was killed by the only responding officer who did not receive CIT training.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio initially refused to set up a task force after Jeune’s death in July, but relented after prodding from the Council, according to Williams.</p> <p>Although Eure and Peters had earlier said that they shared reports with the NYPD and City Hall before releasing them to the public in order to glean potentially overlooked facts, Peters said that IG is not involved with the task force.</p> <p>"I think, obviously, it is an important idea. What I would say, the task force is important, but I believe there are already some things that we know need to be done," Peters said.</p> <p>The IG’s office will also soon be releasing its first report related to Williams’ recently passed bill, Intro 119, requiring compilation of litigation data against officers and for the IG to use that to develop recommendations. The IG will be releasing the report in April, which Williams said he looks forward to.</p> <p>Williams proudly proclaimed that things are going well, despite the NYPD and pundits saying that the creation of the NYPD Inspector General would "destroy the city, the sky would literally crack open, and brown and black young people were gonna wreak havoc on this city, and the inspector general in particular was going to confuse all police officers, they would have no idea who to listen to: the inspector general or the commissioner."</p> <p>Crime has continued to fall while the NYPD has adopted some, but not all, of the reforms proposed by the IG. All 23,000 foot patrol officers are scheduled to do their jobs with body cameras on their person by 2019.</p> <p>And, according to Eure, the NYPD has issued tighter guidelines on use of force as a result of the Inspector General's reports.</p> <p>"Approximately eight months after this office published its first report on use of force by NYPD, the department released a set of revised policies that more precisely define the use of force, as well as a more detailed tracking form," Eure said. "All uniformed officers are now required to use a 'Threat, Resistance, or Injury Form" (TRI) whenever they use force or witness another officer using force at the scene." Last year, the City Council passed a law requiring the NYPD to publicly report use of force metrics derived from TRI data, and Eure stated that the IG’s office will soon release a report on the NYPD’s compliance with TRI.</p> <p>Eure also boasted of a 2016 report that found no increase in felony crime concurrent with a dramatic decrease in enforcement of quality-of-life offenses, better known as broken windows offenses. While the NYPD continues to utilize broken windows policing that data shows disproportionately impacts communities of color, arrests and summonses have continued to drop, as has crime.</p> <p>After Peters and Eure, advocates and service providers testified, offering some ideas for further scrutiny by the IG. According to testimony from Brooklyn Defender Services’ Debora Silberman, 86% of the almost 61,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York City were of African-Americans or Latinos, despite whites using marijuana at an approximately equivalent rate.</p> <p>Silberman also criticized the common NYPD practice of “testilying,” better known as police perjury, and the NYPD IG’s failure to address an apparent culture of officers lying on the stand. Recently, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/17/nyregion/brooklyn-judge-police-perjury-nypd.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The New York Times reported</a> that a Brooklyn judge warned the city that a court hearing on police perjury was imminent.</p> <p>“As a public defender, I can assure you that such lying is prevalent and the NYPD has made no recognizable efforts to meaningfully address it,” Silberman said. “Likewise, the imbalance of power in the criminal legal system that pressures defendants to accept plea deals rather than go to trial also enables prosecutors to provide cover for police perjury, or ‘testilying,’ by making offers that defendants all-but-cannot refuse.”</p> <p>Although the NYPD has decided not to comply with many recommendations, the department has not been outright dismissive of the IG. Peters said that, to date, the Inspector General has not had to issue a subpoena to the NYPD for documents related to an investigation.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7258:de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
4 Interesting Participatory Budgeting Project Winners 2017-05-23T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6949:4-interesting-participatory-budgeting-project-winners Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/pb_vote_via_lander.jpg" alt="pb vote via lander" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>(photo: Council Member Lander's office)</p> <hr /> <p>After an 11-day window in which over 100,000 residents of pertinent districts cast ballots, the City Council recently announced the winners of the 2016-17 participatory budgeting cycle. Thirty-one of 51 Council districts participated this year, leading to $34 million in capital funds going towards hyper-local projects chosen directly by the districts’ voters.</p> <p>A total of 138 projects received funding in this cycle, with most districts backing three to five projects. Some districts awarded funding for many more projects -- District 38, which includes Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn and is represented by Democrat Carlos Menchaca, is funding 10 projects. Many project proposals were represented in multiple districts, such as laptops or air conditioning in schools and security cameras for places such as parks, schools, and police precincts, but many were more unique to the respective districts. While participatory budgeting funds are all for capital projects, like equipment or some kind of small construction work, and often show a lot of similarity to each other and to those funded in past cycles, a handful of winning projects stand out this year.</p> <p>The participatory budgeting movement, which began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 as a means of decentralizing budgetary authority and handing power to the people, has since spread to numerous municipalities worldwide. It reached New York City in 2011, when City Council Members Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane Williams launched participatory budgeting projects in their respective districts, dedicating about $1 million of the funds at their disposal to a community process.</p> <p>While it’s not required of all Council districts, and it hasn’t been implemented citywide, the movement is clearly growing at a rapid pace in the city. Districts participating in participatory budgeting set aside, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5946-participatory-budgeting-grows-in-nyc-why-isnt-every-council-member-doing-it" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at minimum</a>, $1 million of their capital budget allocation for public determination.</p> <p>Participatory budgeting allows issues unique to each community to gain both attention and funding from a city budget process that may have overlooked them without direct citizen input. For instance, one out of four public school classrooms in the city lack air conditioning, which can become not only a health hazard for both students and teachers, but also an impediment to effective learning in the later months of the school term, which ends on June 28 this year.</p> <p>Several districts voted to allocate participatory budgeting funds toward putting air conditioning in classrooms devoid of it. As it turns out, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his executive budget proposal, unveiled last month, includes almost $29 million to put air conditioning in every public school classroom in the city within five years. Another long-requested but never-delivered service, bus countdown clocks, also won funding in numerous districts. The countdown clocks have a lurid history, with the MTA removing physical clocks from some stops upon the development of a BusTime app by the Authority, which can alienate low-income New Yorkers who don’t possess smartphones.</p> <p>“This is democracy in action,” City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito said in a statement announcing the results of the cycle, getting at the essence of participatory budgeting, at least for its proponents.</p> <p>While those like Mark-Viverito, dozens of other Council members, a variety of community groups, and many residents are pleased with participatory budgeting, some critics say that it is a waste of time and Council staff resources (it is a labor heavy program for aides to Council members) and that the projects funded are ones that should really be taken into consideration in the regular budget process. Critics say that Council members are supposed to be gauging their constituents’ needs year-round anyway and influencing the larger budget process and allocating their member item funding accordingly.</p> <p>The City Council won the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement for participatory budgeting in 2015 from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, winning $100,000 as a means of “<a href="https://ash.harvard.edu/news/new-york-san-francisco-named-winners-harvards-2015-innovation-american-government-award" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">replication and dissemination of their innovations</a>.”</p> <p>This year’s participatory budgeting winners include many typical projects, but a few others stand out.</p> <p>The highest number of votes for any project in the city went to a proposal in District 39, represented by Democrat Brad Lander, who has been a vocal proponent of PB since he was one of the original four to pilot it in the city. The votes were for providing mobile showers for homeless people. The project received 5,293 votes. The program is administered by CHiPS, a homeless services non-profit that runs a soup kitchen and a residency program, and will be stationed in front of its soup kitchen in Park Slope.</p> <p>District 39, which includes parts of Park Slope and Gowanus, has a relatively low number of homeless shelter beds. It is one of 18 City Council districts without any family shelter units, but does have nearly 300 adult single shelter beds.&nbsp;Mayor Bill de Blasio may soon change these numbers given that his new homeless shelter plan includes opening 90 new shelters of various types across the city. He has promised more beds for Park Slope, where he used to live and was the City Council member before being elected Public Advocate, then Mayor.</p> <p>Another winning project is the addition of a courtroom for Benjamin Cardozo High School in District 23, represented by Barry Grodenchik; the school is known for its Mentor Law and Humanities program. All students in the program must participate in either mock trial or model UN in their sophomore year. The courtroom will not be the first in a Queens high school; Maspeth High School opened a student courtroom in February of last year.</p> <p>In District 22, represented by Democrat Costa Constantinides, the Steinway Branch of the Queens Library will be fitted with solar panels after receiving over 1,000 votes in the district’s cycle. The library will join several other public library branches in the city that have adopted solar energy.</p> <p>The total votes in Constantinides’ district more than doubled since last year. Constantinides said this shows “that neighborhood residents care about our public and community spaces.”</p> <p>And in District 32, represented by Republican Eric Ulrich (the only one of three Republican Council districts participating in the program), Shore Front Parkway will be the site of new adult exercise equipment “adjacent to the boardwalk” as well as a “labyrinth/yoga/meditation area.” Projects in Ulrich’s district received the fewest votes of any district participating in the program this year; only 858 votes were cast in total.</p> <p>The full list of winners of New York City’s 2016-17 Participatory Budgeting Cycle can be found <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/press/2017/05/15/1414/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: the article has been clarified to better explain the homeless shelter beds currently in District 39.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/pb_vote_via_lander.jpg" alt="pb vote via lander" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>(photo: Council Member Lander's office)</p> <hr /> <p>After an 11-day window in which over 100,000 residents of pertinent districts cast ballots, the City Council recently announced the winners of the 2016-17 participatory budgeting cycle. Thirty-one of 51 Council districts participated this year, leading to $34 million in capital funds going towards hyper-local projects chosen directly by the districts’ voters.</p> <p>A total of 138 projects received funding in this cycle, with most districts backing three to five projects. Some districts awarded funding for many more projects -- District 38, which includes Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn and is represented by Democrat Carlos Menchaca, is funding 10 projects. Many project proposals were represented in multiple districts, such as laptops or air conditioning in schools and security cameras for places such as parks, schools, and police precincts, but many were more unique to the respective districts. While participatory budgeting funds are all for capital projects, like equipment or some kind of small construction work, and often show a lot of similarity to each other and to those funded in past cycles, a handful of winning projects stand out this year.</p> <p>The participatory budgeting movement, which began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 as a means of decentralizing budgetary authority and handing power to the people, has since spread to numerous municipalities worldwide. It reached New York City in 2011, when City Council Members Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane Williams launched participatory budgeting projects in their respective districts, dedicating about $1 million of the funds at their disposal to a community process.</p> <p>While it’s not required of all Council districts, and it hasn’t been implemented citywide, the movement is clearly growing at a rapid pace in the city. Districts participating in participatory budgeting set aside, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5946-participatory-budgeting-grows-in-nyc-why-isnt-every-council-member-doing-it" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at minimum</a>, $1 million of their capital budget allocation for public determination.</p> <p>Participatory budgeting allows issues unique to each community to gain both attention and funding from a city budget process that may have overlooked them without direct citizen input. For instance, one out of four public school classrooms in the city lack air conditioning, which can become not only a health hazard for both students and teachers, but also an impediment to effective learning in the later months of the school term, which ends on June 28 this year.</p> <p>Several districts voted to allocate participatory budgeting funds toward putting air conditioning in classrooms devoid of it. As it turns out, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his executive budget proposal, unveiled last month, includes almost $29 million to put air conditioning in every public school classroom in the city within five years. Another long-requested but never-delivered service, bus countdown clocks, also won funding in numerous districts. The countdown clocks have a lurid history, with the MTA removing physical clocks from some stops upon the development of a BusTime app by the Authority, which can alienate low-income New Yorkers who don’t possess smartphones.</p> <p>“This is democracy in action,” City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito said in a statement announcing the results of the cycle, getting at the essence of participatory budgeting, at least for its proponents.</p> <p>While those like Mark-Viverito, dozens of other Council members, a variety of community groups, and many residents are pleased with participatory budgeting, some critics say that it is a waste of time and Council staff resources (it is a labor heavy program for aides to Council members) and that the projects funded are ones that should really be taken into consideration in the regular budget process. Critics say that Council members are supposed to be gauging their constituents’ needs year-round anyway and influencing the larger budget process and allocating their member item funding accordingly.</p> <p>The City Council won the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement for participatory budgeting in 2015 from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, winning $100,000 as a means of “<a href="https://ash.harvard.edu/news/new-york-san-francisco-named-winners-harvards-2015-innovation-american-government-award" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">replication and dissemination of their innovations</a>.”</p> <p>This year’s participatory budgeting winners include many typical projects, but a few others stand out.</p> <p>The highest number of votes for any project in the city went to a proposal in District 39, represented by Democrat Brad Lander, who has been a vocal proponent of PB since he was one of the original four to pilot it in the city. The votes were for providing mobile showers for homeless people. The project received 5,293 votes. The program is administered by CHiPS, a homeless services non-profit that runs a soup kitchen and a residency program, and will be stationed in front of its soup kitchen in Park Slope.</p> <p>District 39, which includes parts of Park Slope and Gowanus, has a relatively low number of homeless shelter beds. It is one of 18 City Council districts without any family shelter units, but does have nearly 300 adult single shelter beds.&nbsp;Mayor Bill de Blasio may soon change these numbers given that his new homeless shelter plan includes opening 90 new shelters of various types across the city. He has promised more beds for Park Slope, where he used to live and was the City Council member before being elected Public Advocate, then Mayor.</p> <p>Another winning project is the addition of a courtroom for Benjamin Cardozo High School in District 23, represented by Barry Grodenchik; the school is known for its Mentor Law and Humanities program. All students in the program must participate in either mock trial or model UN in their sophomore year. The courtroom will not be the first in a Queens high school; Maspeth High School opened a student courtroom in February of last year.</p> <p>In District 22, represented by Democrat Costa Constantinides, the Steinway Branch of the Queens Library will be fitted with solar panels after receiving over 1,000 votes in the district’s cycle. The library will join several other public library branches in the city that have adopted solar energy.</p> <p>The total votes in Constantinides’ district more than doubled since last year. Constantinides said this shows “that neighborhood residents care about our public and community spaces.”</p> <p>And in District 32, represented by Republican Eric Ulrich (the only one of three Republican Council districts participating in the program), Shore Front Parkway will be the site of new adult exercise equipment “adjacent to the boardwalk” as well as a “labyrinth/yoga/meditation area.” Projects in Ulrich’s district received the fewest votes of any district participating in the program this year; only 858 votes were cast in total.</p> <p>The full list of winners of New York City’s 2016-17 Participatory Budgeting Cycle can be found <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/press/2017/05/15/1414/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: the article has been clarified to better explain the homeless shelter beds currently in District 39.</p>
Proposal Would Boost Public Campaign Matching Funds 2017-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/kallos_council.jpg" alt="kallos council" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.</p> <p>For instance, in a City Council race, for those participating in the matching system, the 2017 spending limit is $182,000 each in the primary and general election, so a candidate could receive up to $100,100 in public funds by raising about $16,800.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1130-A</a>, co-sponsored by Council Members Kallos, Brad Lander and Fernando Cabrera, would increase that public funds payment to a full match against the spending limit, minus the amount of matchable contributions raised by the candidate. Effectively, a Council candidate who raises $26,000 could receive a maximum of $156,000 in public funds, for a total budget of $182,000 (in the primary and/or in the general).</p> <p>If passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, as written the bill would go into effect in 2018, after this year’s municipal elections.</p> <p>The current system, says Kallos,, creates a “big money gap” of more than one-third of the spending limit, that would need to be filled through private contributions. For a City Council race, this gap is $65,000 while for mayoral candidates, it is about $2.5 million. “If it works, anyone could run for office entirely on small dollars,” Kallos said in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing. “If it doesn’t work, candidates could still continue to pursue big money and there would be no added cost. There is literally no downside.”</p> <p>The hearing drew a large audience outside of the usual good government advocates, including tenant and community preservation groups, immigrant advocacy organizations, NYCHA residents, current City Council candidates, and women’s groups. “This is because no matter what your cause, the road to victory starts with campaign finance reforms that amplify the voices of residents over special interests,” Kallos said.</p> <p>Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, said the bill would have a significant impact on future elections, albeit with a moderate increase in costs, about 17 to 20 percent. In 2013, she noted, 129 council candidates received public funds, and 83 of them received payments within 10 percent of the maximum. In citywide races, however, she said the impact would be minimal since candidates tend to rely on larger contributions, and it would in fact aid established candidates with stronger small-dollar fundraising operations.</p> <p>Loprest said the Board agreed with the aims of the bill, but she offered a number of alternatives that could effectively accomplish its goals and even go further. She suggested lowering contribution limits across the board, reducing the thresholds for qualifying for public funds, and floated the idea of higher matching funds for those who choose to only receive small-dollar donations. She also pointed out potential inadvertent consequences of the bill, noting that there are strict criteria for qualifying expenditures under the public funds program, and more public funds could make it harder for candidates to justify spending on non-qualifying purposes such as defending a ballot petition in court. Candidates would also have to repay higher amounts of public funds left over after a campaign.</p> <p>When asked by Kallos how the bill might affect participation in the system, Loprest emphasized that participation has consistently been high, but future behavior is hard to predict. “You want to make sure you have a system where it’s flexible, so you have as many people joining as possible and that they can choose the way they want to participate,” she said. “Allowing people to kinda have the option of the way they can participate in the program is an important aspect to encourage participation.”</p> <p>A number of government reform advocates came out in favor of the legislation including Common Cause New York, EffectiveNY, Reinvent Albany, and Demos, among others.</p> <p>“It’s very clear that the campaign finance system here in New York City has successfully encouraged more small-dollar contributions,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “but for the long range goal of diminishing the power of large contributions, it is not as successful as we would like it to be.” She said Intro. 1130-A would be a “significant and strong first step” in strengthening the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>Bill Samuels, chair of EffectiveNY, said the bill would encourage participation by women candidates, who tend to rely more heavily on small-dollar contributions because they don’t have the access to deep pockets that men often do. EffectiveNY, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, recently launched the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect at least 21 women Council Members in 2021 (there are currently 13 in the 51-seat Council). Moira McDermott, executive director of the initiative, said fundraising is often a significant barrier to women running for elected office. The gap between public funds and the spending limit, she said, is tough to cover through small contributions. “This leaves wealthy donors, political institutions, PACs and special interests, which after decades of the male-dominated structure, few women have the same connections to, and even fewer women of color.”</p> <p>The bill also received supported as a means to increase class and racial diversity in the Council. Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Perhaps the most important potential impact of this legislation is that it would empower immigrants, low-income earners and people of color, and women, to run for office and seek adequate representation of their communities.”</p> <p>One testifying organization seemed to demur on the proposal: Citizens Union, a government reform group, which is questioning the timing of the proposal and the financial and documentation requirements it would impose on the CFB. “Despite its intent,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs, “the introduction of the bill at this late stage in the municipal election cycle is a deviation of the carefully measured process by which the program is updated and revised.” The group did not state support the proposal, nor did it oppose it. “There are serious issues being raised by this bill that need greater time to evaluate,” Bloom said. “We would be better off looking at the issue right after our 2017 city elections.”</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito has not yet taken a position on the bill, and said Tuesday that she would wait until after the hearing. In a statement Wednesday, she said, “The city's campaign finance law is one of the strongest in the nation. We continue to look for ways to make it even stronger.”</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the past expressed support for full public financing of elections. At a March 16 <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/156-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-appears-live-wnyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, he said, “I believe we should go to full public financing of elections on the city level, on the state level, on the federal level....I think the system is fundamentally broken. And you know, if there are little tweaks around the edges that’s nice, but we’re not being serious about money in politics if we don’t get it out of politics entirely. We should just go to public financing of elections with very stringent spending limits.”</p> <p>At Thursday’s hearing, Kallos read out part of written testimony submitted by Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio. “After nearly three decades of experience with the city’s matching public funds, this bill starts an important discussion about how to reduce the influence of money in elections,” the statement read. “This is one good step in that direction.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/kallos_council.jpg" alt="kallos council" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.</p> <p>For instance, in a City Council race, for those participating in the matching system, the 2017 spending limit is $182,000 each in the primary and general election, so a candidate could receive up to $100,100 in public funds by raising about $16,800.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1130-A</a>, co-sponsored by Council Members Kallos, Brad Lander and Fernando Cabrera, would increase that public funds payment to a full match against the spending limit, minus the amount of matchable contributions raised by the candidate. Effectively, a Council candidate who raises $26,000 could receive a maximum of $156,000 in public funds, for a total budget of $182,000 (in the primary and/or in the general).</p> <p>If passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, as written the bill would go into effect in 2018, after this year’s municipal elections.</p> <p>The current system, says Kallos,, creates a “big money gap” of more than one-third of the spending limit, that would need to be filled through private contributions. For a City Council race, this gap is $65,000 while for mayoral candidates, it is about $2.5 million. “If it works, anyone could run for office entirely on small dollars,” Kallos said in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing. “If it doesn’t work, candidates could still continue to pursue big money and there would be no added cost. There is literally no downside.”</p> <p>The hearing drew a large audience outside of the usual good government advocates, including tenant and community preservation groups, immigrant advocacy organizations, NYCHA residents, current City Council candidates, and women’s groups. “This is because no matter what your cause, the road to victory starts with campaign finance reforms that amplify the voices of residents over special interests,” Kallos said.</p> <p>Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, said the bill would have a significant impact on future elections, albeit with a moderate increase in costs, about 17 to 20 percent. In 2013, she noted, 129 council candidates received public funds, and 83 of them received payments within 10 percent of the maximum. In citywide races, however, she said the impact would be minimal since candidates tend to rely on larger contributions, and it would in fact aid established candidates with stronger small-dollar fundraising operations.</p> <p>Loprest said the Board agreed with the aims of the bill, but she offered a number of alternatives that could effectively accomplish its goals and even go further. She suggested lowering contribution limits across the board, reducing the thresholds for qualifying for public funds, and floated the idea of higher matching funds for those who choose to only receive small-dollar donations. She also pointed out potential inadvertent consequences of the bill, noting that there are strict criteria for qualifying expenditures under the public funds program, and more public funds could make it harder for candidates to justify spending on non-qualifying purposes such as defending a ballot petition in court. Candidates would also have to repay higher amounts of public funds left over after a campaign.</p> <p>When asked by Kallos how the bill might affect participation in the system, Loprest emphasized that participation has consistently been high, but future behavior is hard to predict. “You want to make sure you have a system where it’s flexible, so you have as many people joining as possible and that they can choose the way they want to participate,” she said. “Allowing people to kinda have the option of the way they can participate in the program is an important aspect to encourage participation.”</p> <p>A number of government reform advocates came out in favor of the legislation including Common Cause New York, EffectiveNY, Reinvent Albany, and Demos, among others.</p> <p>“It’s very clear that the campaign finance system here in New York City has successfully encouraged more small-dollar contributions,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “but for the long range goal of diminishing the power of large contributions, it is not as successful as we would like it to be.” She said Intro. 1130-A would be a “significant and strong first step” in strengthening the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>Bill Samuels, chair of EffectiveNY, said the bill would encourage participation by women candidates, who tend to rely more heavily on small-dollar contributions because they don’t have the access to deep pockets that men often do. EffectiveNY, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, recently launched the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect at least 21 women Council Members in 2021 (there are currently 13 in the 51-seat Council). Moira McDermott, executive director of the initiative, said fundraising is often a significant barrier to women running for elected office. The gap between public funds and the spending limit, she said, is tough to cover through small contributions. “This leaves wealthy donors, political institutions, PACs and special interests, which after decades of the male-dominated structure, few women have the same connections to, and even fewer women of color.”</p> <p>The bill also received supported as a means to increase class and racial diversity in the Council. Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Perhaps the most important potential impact of this legislation is that it would empower immigrants, low-income earners and people of color, and women, to run for office and seek adequate representation of their communities.”</p> <p>One testifying organization seemed to demur on the proposal: Citizens Union, a government reform group, which is questioning the timing of the proposal and the financial and documentation requirements it would impose on the CFB. “Despite its intent,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs, “the introduction of the bill at this late stage in the municipal election cycle is a deviation of the carefully measured process by which the program is updated and revised.” The group did not state support the proposal, nor did it oppose it. “There are serious issues being raised by this bill that need greater time to evaluate,” Bloom said. “We would be better off looking at the issue right after our 2017 city elections.”</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito has not yet taken a position on the bill, and said Tuesday that she would wait until after the hearing. In a statement Wednesday, she said, “The city's campaign finance law is one of the strongest in the nation. We continue to look for ways to make it even stronger.”</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the past expressed support for full public financing of elections. At a March 16 <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/156-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-appears-live-wnyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, he said, “I believe we should go to full public financing of elections on the city level, on the state level, on the federal level....I think the system is fundamentally broken. And you know, if there are little tweaks around the edges that’s nice, but we’re not being serious about money in politics if we don’t get it out of politics entirely. We should just go to public financing of elections with very stringent spending limits.”</p> <p>At Thursday’s hearing, Kallos read out part of written testimony submitted by Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio. “After nearly three decades of experience with the city’s matching public funds, this bill starts an important discussion about how to reduce the influence of money in elections,” the statement read. “This is one good step in that direction.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
City Council Members Opt Out of Campaign Finance Program 2017-04-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6882:city-council-members-opt-out-of-campaign-finance-program Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/12290920826_32f6658e13_z.jpg" alt="Lander Council members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members, with Brad Lander center (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>A first-time entrant into the New York City electoral system stands almost as much a chance of running a solid campaign as long-time political insiders and incumbents. That’s because the New York City campaign finance system includes a public matching funds program, which helps levels the playing field by incentivizing local small-dollar contributions, matching them at a 6-to-1 ratio. In doing so, it also reduces the influence of special interests in elections and helps prevent conflicts of interest or pay-to-play arrangements. The program, run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, is seen as a national model.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, with few competitive races in the 2017 city election cycle, a number of sitting City Council members seem to be eschewing the program, with some having spent significant sums in the past three years and others having already raised more than they could legally spend if they participated. The level of non-participation may to some degree undermine the overall system, though the vast majority of candidates will still participate, and raises questions about those Council members choosing not to opt in. A potential wave, however small, of Council members not participating also drew a rebuke from Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday.</p> <p dir="ltr">Those who opt to participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program must meet two fundraising thresholds -- a minimum number of contributions from the district or other geographic area covered by the office they seek, and a minimum amount of matchable contributions. For instance, City Council candidates who opt in to the program must receive at least 75 contributions from residents of their district, and contributions up to $175 are matchable with public funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">The CFB usually issues matching funds the month before the primary, which is on September 12 this year. It also matches a maximum of 55 percent of the spending cap for the seat. For the City Council, the spending cap for candidates who participate in the system is $182,000 each for the primary and general elections. Candidates who do not have an opponent do not receive public funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 51-seat City Council, more than 40 members are seeking reelection this year in something of a quirk given that some members are pursuing their third term, grandfathered in through the term-limit extension passed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council in 2008.</p> <p dir="ltr">At least 10 Council members have already surpassed the out-year (the years prior to election year) limit of $49,000 on campaign spending for participants in the program, campaign finance filings show. If any of them were to participate in the program, their over-the-limit spending would be deducted from the election year spending cap.</p> <p dir="ltr">Certain Council members, such as Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and David Greenfield, have even spent more than the primary limit already and are effectively precluded from participating in the matching funds program since they then would have zero dollars to spend on the first leg of the race. In out-years, Ferreras-Copeland, who is pursuing the position of City Council Speaker, which is elected among Council members in January, spent more than $277,000. Her total spending is $318,000. Greenfield spent nearly $308,000 in out-years, with a total spending of $326,000, largely to air the Council member’s radio program. Greenfield’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6719-council-member-funds-weekly-radio-show-through-campaign-funds">Council Member Airs Weekly Radio Show Through Campaign Funds</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">“Councilwoman Ferreras is not participating because the Councilwoman has successfully raised enough money to communicate effectively with voters,” said a campaign spokesperson in an email, insisting that her choice to not participate in the program “in no way means that she doesn't support it. Quite the contrary. By voting for a stronger program it shows a commitment to increasing participation in the electoral process for challengers regardless of the effect it may have on her own election.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The public funds program, adopted in 1988, has consistently encouraged competition and allowed candidates with a lack of access to deep pockets, either their own or their donors, to run against wealthier ones. <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/program/impact-of-public-funds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Participation</a> in the program has been overwhelming in the last few cycles. In 2013, 92 percent of candidates in the primary were participants, and 54 of the 59 city elected officials participated. In 2009, participation was 93 percent, and 56 of 59 officials were participants.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s currently unclear which members may or may not opt in -- only Council Members Stephen Levin and Robert Cornegy Jr. have officially indicated to the CFB that they will participate. The official deadline for opting in is June 12, less than two months away.</p> <p dir="ltr">Incumbent Council members who won’t be participating presented varying rationale for their decisions, even as they all acknowledged the public funds program as a model for campaign finance systems nationwide.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I can raise money without the matching funds,” said Queens Council Member Peter Koo. “Why use public funding if I can do it privately?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Koo praised the program as an equaliser for first-time candidates. “It’s good, for some people it’s necessary,” he said. “Especially for newcomers, they want to try politics. Their ability to raise funds is not as good as some businesspeople. The system is good as long as they use it fairly and they obey all the rules.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Brad Lander doesn’t envision taking matching funds, he said, and <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=1164&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Lander,%20Brad%20S&amp;office=CD%2039&amp;report=summ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has spent</a> $228,000, with just over $219,000 in out-years. But he said he would voluntarily commit to the $182,000 spending cap that applies to participants. “It is a great system and it makes it much more possible for people to run,” he said of the matching funds program, “and if an opponent runs against me in the primary or general election, this system will make sure that they can run against me on an equal playing field.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s not as simple as participating and not participating,” added Lander, who said he has spent the bulk of his money for “useful, pedestrian public purposes.” Campaign filings show that he has paid at least $80,000 to one firm for fundraising services. “By voluntarily committing to the funding cap, I’m making sure that my race will be fair and competitive and that any opponent who participates in the matching system will be able to utilize it and spend the same amount that I am.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, the Council moved through a robust set of reforms to the campaign finance system, some of which were prompted by complaints by Council members and candidates who have participated. Some of the nearly two dozen reforms, on the other hand, were those asked for by the Campaign Finance Board after its analysis of the 2013 election cycle and championed by good government groups.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6668-city-council-rushes-through-campaign-finance-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Council Rushes Through Campaign Finance Bills</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander was one member at the forefront of Council hearings on the proposals, insisting that the reforms would encourage participation and make it easier to run for elected office. Asked if that push for reforms was at odds with his decision to not participate, Lander said, “I don’t think so. I think by committing to the election-year spending cap, I’m fully honoring not just the spirit but the entire goal of the system, [which] is to enable challengers to run against incumbents, everybody to participate on a level playing field. All of that exists in my race.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A few reasons can explain why Council members may spend significant amounts of money and not participate in the public funds program. It is no coincidence that of the 10 Council members who have passed the outyear limits, at least five have indicated their interest in running for Speaker of the City Council next year. For others, a lack of an opponent might mean that participation is irrelevant.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Over the years, a number of incumbents who did not face significant opposition have opted not to participate in the program,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson, in an email. “Other incumbents join the Program, but decline public funds. But almost every member of the Council has experience with the program; of the 51 members of the City Council, 50 were first elected as program participants.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Corey Johnson is one of the members running for Speaker and he conceded that if he faces a primary opponent, he would be hard pressed to participate in the matching funds program because of his $136,000 in spending, with $78,000 of it in the out-years. He also hasn’t thought of whether he will voluntarily abide by the spending cap. “I don’t know at this point,” he said in a brief phone interview.</p> <p dir="ltr">Johnson also defended the bills passed by the Council last year that tweaked the campaign finance system, some of which seemed to a number of observers, including good government groups, as potentially self-serving. “I think they were smart bills,” he said, “responding to concerns not only raised by incumbent Council members but also by candidates and elected officials who are no longer in office but participated in the program.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the reforms were new restrictions and monitoring mechanisms for nonprofits affiliated with elected officials; elimination of matching funds for contributions bundled by those who do business with the city; greater disclosure requirements for entities with city business; earlier disbursement of public matching funds; and prohibitions on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t join the public funds program.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the CFB, is set to hear a bill on April 27 that would raise the cap on matching funds from 55 percent of the spending cap to a full match of the cap. The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=543675&amp;GUID=582CCC87-AE5E-4210-A863-90D2DC2F9F61&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=">bill</a> is sponsored by the committee’s chair, Council Member Ben Kallos, who is a participant in the public funds program and has spearheaded campaign finance reform in the Council. Kallos had reservations about some of the bills that were expedited through the Council late last year and believes his bill will significantly shift the election landscape.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I was concerned with recent amendments and their impact on the campaign finance system,” he said, “and as we get closer to the June deadline for opting in or out of the system, we will learn just what impact that legislation had and whether it improves participation in the system or actually discourages it. And whatever the results, I hope to create new incentives for people to participate.” The CFB is reviewing Kallos’ proposal and will testify at the hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Government reform advocate Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, expressed concern about incumbents relying heavily on large private donations, instead of public funds. “The city’s campaign finance program with public funds was put in place not just for challengers but for incumbents so that there was not any kind of advantage given to either,” he said. “The fact that some incumbents are also going to abide by the spending limits is a good thing but the source of money is always a concern. Public money lessens the risk of undue influence and corruption. More private money increases that risk.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Citizens Union was among those that questioned the rationale behind some of the campaign finance reforms that were pushed through the Council, such as allowing non-public campaign funds to be used for broader purposes supporting an elected official’s public duties, and another that prohibits CFB staff from being present in adjudications of campaign violations. Many of these supposed complaints seemed novel and presented solutions to problems that weren’t entirely apparent, critics said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“That some of these Council members pushed changes to make the program more candidate friendly and then they did not participate when it was accomplished, makes me wonder why they pushed these changes so aggressively if they weren’t going to participate themselves,” Dadey said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Mark Levine, another contender for Council Speaker has spent nearly $100,000, and feels comfortable that he is well below the combined out-year and election year spending limit of $231,000 for participants of the program. His participation in the program, he said, “depends on what kind of race I have. I would not take matching funds if I have something less than a viable opponent so I’m waiting to see how the field shapes up.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He added, “If someone has only a token opponent and takes taxpayer money, I don’t think that’s appropriate and that’s the standard I’m gonna hold myself to.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, Gotham Gazette asked Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is a proud participant in the public matching funds system, about Council members choosing not to opt in to the program. “I would discourage it,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake. One of the best campaign finance systems in the country. I’ve said many times that one of the reasons I’m mayor is because of that system. I would never have been able to raise the kind of money my competitors were able to raise. Only because of matching funds am I here. I believe it is a tremendous reform. I believe it’s democratizing and everyone should participate in it.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. &nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/12290920826_32f6658e13_z.jpg" alt="Lander Council members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members, with Brad Lander center (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>A first-time entrant into the New York City electoral system stands almost as much a chance of running a solid campaign as long-time political insiders and incumbents. That’s because the New York City campaign finance system includes a public matching funds program, which helps levels the playing field by incentivizing local small-dollar contributions, matching them at a 6-to-1 ratio. In doing so, it also reduces the influence of special interests in elections and helps prevent conflicts of interest or pay-to-play arrangements. The program, run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, is seen as a national model.</p> <p dir="ltr">This year, with few competitive races in the 2017 city election cycle, a number of sitting City Council members seem to be eschewing the program, with some having spent significant sums in the past three years and others having already raised more than they could legally spend if they participated. The level of non-participation may to some degree undermine the overall system, though the vast majority of candidates will still participate, and raises questions about those Council members choosing not to opt in. A potential wave, however small, of Council members not participating also drew a rebuke from Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday.</p> <p dir="ltr">Those who opt to participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program must meet two fundraising thresholds -- a minimum number of contributions from the district or other geographic area covered by the office they seek, and a minimum amount of matchable contributions. For instance, City Council candidates who opt in to the program must receive at least 75 contributions from residents of their district, and contributions up to $175 are matchable with public funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">The CFB usually issues matching funds the month before the primary, which is on September 12 this year. It also matches a maximum of 55 percent of the spending cap for the seat. For the City Council, the spending cap for candidates who participate in the system is $182,000 each for the primary and general elections. Candidates who do not have an opponent do not receive public funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 51-seat City Council, more than 40 members are seeking reelection this year in something of a quirk given that some members are pursuing their third term, grandfathered in through the term-limit extension passed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council in 2008.</p> <p dir="ltr">At least 10 Council members have already surpassed the out-year (the years prior to election year) limit of $49,000 on campaign spending for participants in the program, campaign finance filings show. If any of them were to participate in the program, their over-the-limit spending would be deducted from the election year spending cap.</p> <p dir="ltr">Certain Council members, such as Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and David Greenfield, have even spent more than the primary limit already and are effectively precluded from participating in the matching funds program since they then would have zero dollars to spend on the first leg of the race. In out-years, Ferreras-Copeland, who is pursuing the position of City Council Speaker, which is elected among Council members in January, spent more than $277,000. Her total spending is $318,000. Greenfield spent nearly $308,000 in out-years, with a total spending of $326,000, largely to air the Council member’s radio program. Greenfield’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6719-council-member-funds-weekly-radio-show-through-campaign-funds">Council Member Airs Weekly Radio Show Through Campaign Funds</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">“Councilwoman Ferreras is not participating because the Councilwoman has successfully raised enough money to communicate effectively with voters,” said a campaign spokesperson in an email, insisting that her choice to not participate in the program “in no way means that she doesn't support it. Quite the contrary. By voting for a stronger program it shows a commitment to increasing participation in the electoral process for challengers regardless of the effect it may have on her own election.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The public funds program, adopted in 1988, has consistently encouraged competition and allowed candidates with a lack of access to deep pockets, either their own or their donors, to run against wealthier ones. <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/program/impact-of-public-funds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Participation</a> in the program has been overwhelming in the last few cycles. In 2013, 92 percent of candidates in the primary were participants, and 54 of the 59 city elected officials participated. In 2009, participation was 93 percent, and 56 of 59 officials were participants.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s currently unclear which members may or may not opt in -- only Council Members Stephen Levin and Robert Cornegy Jr. have officially indicated to the CFB that they will participate. The official deadline for opting in is June 12, less than two months away.</p> <p dir="ltr">Incumbent Council members who won’t be participating presented varying rationale for their decisions, even as they all acknowledged the public funds program as a model for campaign finance systems nationwide.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I can raise money without the matching funds,” said Queens Council Member Peter Koo. “Why use public funding if I can do it privately?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Koo praised the program as an equaliser for first-time candidates. “It’s good, for some people it’s necessary,” he said. “Especially for newcomers, they want to try politics. Their ability to raise funds is not as good as some businesspeople. The system is good as long as they use it fairly and they obey all the rules.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Brad Lander doesn’t envision taking matching funds, he said, and <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=1164&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Lander,%20Brad%20S&amp;office=CD%2039&amp;report=summ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has spent</a> $228,000, with just over $219,000 in out-years. But he said he would voluntarily commit to the $182,000 spending cap that applies to participants. “It is a great system and it makes it much more possible for people to run,” he said of the matching funds program, “and if an opponent runs against me in the primary or general election, this system will make sure that they can run against me on an equal playing field.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s not as simple as participating and not participating,” added Lander, who said he has spent the bulk of his money for “useful, pedestrian public purposes.” Campaign filings show that he has paid at least $80,000 to one firm for fundraising services. “By voluntarily committing to the funding cap, I’m making sure that my race will be fair and competitive and that any opponent who participates in the matching system will be able to utilize it and spend the same amount that I am.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, the Council moved through a robust set of reforms to the campaign finance system, some of which were prompted by complaints by Council members and candidates who have participated. Some of the nearly two dozen reforms, on the other hand, were those asked for by the Campaign Finance Board after its analysis of the 2013 election cycle and championed by good government groups.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6668-city-council-rushes-through-campaign-finance-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Council Rushes Through Campaign Finance Bills</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander was one member at the forefront of Council hearings on the proposals, insisting that the reforms would encourage participation and make it easier to run for elected office. Asked if that push for reforms was at odds with his decision to not participate, Lander said, “I don’t think so. I think by committing to the election-year spending cap, I’m fully honoring not just the spirit but the entire goal of the system, [which] is to enable challengers to run against incumbents, everybody to participate on a level playing field. All of that exists in my race.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A few reasons can explain why Council members may spend significant amounts of money and not participate in the public funds program. It is no coincidence that of the 10 Council members who have passed the outyear limits, at least five have indicated their interest in running for Speaker of the City Council next year. For others, a lack of an opponent might mean that participation is irrelevant.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Over the years, a number of incumbents who did not face significant opposition have opted not to participate in the program,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson, in an email. “Other incumbents join the Program, but decline public funds. But almost every member of the Council has experience with the program; of the 51 members of the City Council, 50 were first elected as program participants.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Corey Johnson is one of the members running for Speaker and he conceded that if he faces a primary opponent, he would be hard pressed to participate in the matching funds program because of his $136,000 in spending, with $78,000 of it in the out-years. He also hasn’t thought of whether he will voluntarily abide by the spending cap. “I don’t know at this point,” he said in a brief phone interview.</p> <p dir="ltr">Johnson also defended the bills passed by the Council last year that tweaked the campaign finance system, some of which seemed to a number of observers, including good government groups, as potentially self-serving. “I think they were smart bills,” he said, “responding to concerns not only raised by incumbent Council members but also by candidates and elected officials who are no longer in office but participated in the program.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Among the reforms were new restrictions and monitoring mechanisms for nonprofits affiliated with elected officials; elimination of matching funds for contributions bundled by those who do business with the city; greater disclosure requirements for entities with city business; earlier disbursement of public matching funds; and prohibitions on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t join the public funds program.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the CFB, is set to hear a bill on April 27 that would raise the cap on matching funds from 55 percent of the spending cap to a full match of the cap. The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=543675&amp;GUID=582CCC87-AE5E-4210-A863-90D2DC2F9F61&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=">bill</a> is sponsored by the committee’s chair, Council Member Ben Kallos, who is a participant in the public funds program and has spearheaded campaign finance reform in the Council. Kallos had reservations about some of the bills that were expedited through the Council late last year and believes his bill will significantly shift the election landscape.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I was concerned with recent amendments and their impact on the campaign finance system,” he said, “and as we get closer to the June deadline for opting in or out of the system, we will learn just what impact that legislation had and whether it improves participation in the system or actually discourages it. And whatever the results, I hope to create new incentives for people to participate.” The CFB is reviewing Kallos’ proposal and will testify at the hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Government reform advocate Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, expressed concern about incumbents relying heavily on large private donations, instead of public funds. “The city’s campaign finance program with public funds was put in place not just for challengers but for incumbents so that there was not any kind of advantage given to either,” he said. “The fact that some incumbents are also going to abide by the spending limits is a good thing but the source of money is always a concern. Public money lessens the risk of undue influence and corruption. More private money increases that risk.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Citizens Union was among those that questioned the rationale behind some of the campaign finance reforms that were pushed through the Council, such as allowing non-public campaign funds to be used for broader purposes supporting an elected official’s public duties, and another that prohibits CFB staff from being present in adjudications of campaign violations. Many of these supposed complaints seemed novel and presented solutions to problems that weren’t entirely apparent, critics said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“That some of these Council members pushed changes to make the program more candidate friendly and then they did not participate when it was accomplished, makes me wonder why they pushed these changes so aggressively if they weren’t going to participate themselves,” Dadey said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Mark Levine, another contender for Council Speaker has spent nearly $100,000, and feels comfortable that he is well below the combined out-year and election year spending limit of $231,000 for participants of the program. His participation in the program, he said, “depends on what kind of race I have. I would not take matching funds if I have something less than a viable opponent so I’m waiting to see how the field shapes up.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He added, “If someone has only a token opponent and takes taxpayer money, I don’t think that’s appropriate and that’s the standard I’m gonna hold myself to.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At an unrelated news conference on Wednesday, Gotham Gazette asked Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is a proud participant in the public matching funds system, about Council members choosing not to opt in to the program. “I would discourage it,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake. One of the best campaign finance systems in the country. I’ve said many times that one of the reasons I’m mayor is because of that system. I would never have been able to raise the kind of money my competitors were able to raise. Only because of matching funds am I here. I believe it is a tremendous reform. I believe it’s democratizing and everyone should participate in it.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. &nbsp;</p>
10 Key Data Points from Social Services Budget Hearing 2017-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6836:10-key-data-points-from-the-social-services-budget-hearing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33170291706_9f3a92280c_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council General Welfare Committee conducted a budget hearing Monday to evaluate the programs, expenditures, and needs of the Human Resource Administration (HRA) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Steven Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS), which oversees both HRA and DHS, provided testimony for the two agencies before taking questions from concerned Council members.</p> <p>Though HRA provides a wide variety of services -- including job training and emergency food assistance -- the committee’s questioning focused almost exclusively on the city’s homelessness crisis and the lack of progress that has been made by the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>“Is this something that New Yorkers are going to have to accept as a new norm?” asked Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee. “Are we to look ahead to future years and future generations and accept that the reality is that there are going to be 50,000 individuals and families living in our shelter system?”</p> <p>There are currently about 60,000 New Yorkers living in homeless shelters, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently outlined the goal of reducing the population to about 57,500 over five years. While the mayor has admitted that his administration has not made enough progress reducing homelessness, he argues that the population would be around 70,000 if not for the rent subsidy and anti-eviction measures his team, led by Banks, has implemented.</p> <p>Responding to Levin and committee members, most of whom were late to the hearing, Banks provided a comprehensive rundown of the investments DSS and the de Blasio administration have instituted, such as voucher programs and legal assistance to tenants facing unwarranted eviction.</p> <p>He also discussed the HOME-STAT initiative, which has doubled the number of outreach workers on city streets in order to bring people into shelter. Though the committee acknowledged its support for these measures and conceded that significant investment has been made, they nevertheless stressed their dissatisfaction -- often bordering on outrage -- with the lack of progress, especially considering the concentration of resources targeted at homelessness. Expenditures for HRA and DHS have ballooned under de Blasio, and the mayor is proposing more money for the fiscal year 2018 budget, which is due by July 1.</p> <p>In his $84.67 billion preliminary budget proposal, 18 cents of every dollar goes to social services, the second largest portion behind education. The mayor has allocated $7.5 billion for the Department of Social Services and $772 million for the Department of Homeless Services, though both numbers are likely lower than the adopted budget will show at the end of June.&nbsp;</p> <p>At Monday's hearing, Council Members Barry Grodenchik, Corey Johnson, and Brad Lander were particularly critical of the administration’s efforts.</p> <p>“It seems to me that this city has committed an immense amount of resources and...it doesn’t seem like we’re getting value for our dollars,” Grodenchik told Banks, questioning both the effectiveness and scope of the administration’s plan to stop using 360 cluster apartment and commercial hotel locations and open 90 new homeless shelters throughout the city. “It seems to me that the goal is not as ambitious as it needs to be.”</p> <p>Banks defended “a concrete and realistic goal.”</p> <p>Lander expressed frustration that is shared by de Blasio, his predecessor on the Council, and other stakeholders. “On the one hand I appreciate being realistic, on the other I appreciate that this is an absolute crisis and we need to do more,” Lander said, before proceeding to recommend that Banks and his team focus on “getting families into affordable, permanent public housing.”</p> <p>The notion of placing more homeless families into public housing, through NYCHA, is something that some elected officials and advocates have long-called for, but that Banks and de Blasio have said is not the right approach. The mayor has cited the already-long NYCHA wait-lists.</p> <p>“It’s disturbing to walk down the streets everyday and to see homeless people on nearly every block...even after all these efforts at homelessness prevention, it still feels like we are not being successful,” added Council Member Johnson, who represents Chelsea and Greenwich Village.</p> <p>Banks’ testimony touched on other important DSS initiatives, in addition to homelessness, and provided updated data points on a variety of key topics:</p> <p>--The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps feed 1.7 million New Yorkers, including more than 650,000 children, added 8,371 participants in the last year. Asked about the future of SNAP in New York City, given the uncertain prospects for federal funding under the Trump administration, Banks said that he and the mayor would be working with Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to retain SNAP funding for New York City recipients.</p> <p>--According to Banks’ testimony, HRA provided rental assistance to 58,100 households in 2016 at a cost of $214 million. Asked about the widespread problem of landlords refusing to honor rental assistance programs and vouchers, Banks provided a phone number that residents can now call if they experience such refusal. Banks said HRA is determined to identify non-compliant landlords and compile a database of these individuals.</p> <p>--Banks’ testimony also explained that HRA has eliminated the Work Experience Programs (WEP) in favor of Job Training Program slots at NYPD, Parks Department, Department of Sanitation, and Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). The programs will serve up to 210 cash assistance participants annually.</p> <p>--The HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) accepted 3,444 new clients from August 2016 through January 2017, which is 1,410 more than the same period from the previous year. This was result of an HIV expansion program that allowed “all financially-eligible New York City residents with HIV to seek and obtain HASA services.” Applicants previously had to have developed AIDS or be “symptomatic” to be eligible. Council Member Johnson, who chairs the health committee, spoke about the success of HASA as a key achievement.</p> <p>--Banks’ testimony also announced a DHS plan to add 10,000 affordable apartments specifically for seniors, veterans, and New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 per household. DHS also has plans to institute an Elder Rental Assistance program, to be funded through the mayor’s “mansion tax,” to help more than 25,000 seniors with monthly rental assistance of up to $1,300. The mansion tax is unlikely to be approved in Albany, though.</p> <p>--In 2016, DHS placed 3,153 homeless veterans in permanent housing.</p> <p>--30% of families with children in a DHS shelter have a history of domestic violence. The Fiscal Year 2017 budget included $217 million for DHS security purposes.</p> <p>--Banks also referenced the 24% drop in evictions citywide since the institution of free legal assistance programs for many New Yorkers facing eviction. More than 40,000 residents avoided eviction in 2015 and 2016. The mayor and the City Council recently agreed to expand such assistance further.</p> <p>--Banks provided figures to demonstrate why the city has struggled to contain its homelessness problem. Between 2000 and 2014, Banks testified, median rent has increased 19%, while household income decreased by 6.3% over the same period.</p> <p>--360,000 New Yorkers now spend more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities. Another 140,000 spend more than 30%.</p> <p>--All in all, homelessness has increased by 115% over the past two decades. In 1994, 23,868 New Yorkers were homeless, by 2014, when Mayor de Blasio took office, that number was 51,470. It is now around 60,000.</p> <p>Banks' testimony was followed by the General Welfare Committee's examination of the Administration for Children's Services.</p> <p>

***
by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/33170291706_9f3a92280c_z.jpg" alt="Corey Johnson hearing" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council General Welfare Committee conducted a budget hearing Monday to evaluate the programs, expenditures, and needs of the Human Resource Administration (HRA) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Steven Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS), which oversees both HRA and DHS, provided testimony for the two agencies before taking questions from concerned Council members.</p> <p>Though HRA provides a wide variety of services -- including job training and emergency food assistance -- the committee’s questioning focused almost exclusively on the city’s homelessness crisis and the lack of progress that has been made by the de Blasio administration.</p> <p>“Is this something that New Yorkers are going to have to accept as a new norm?” asked Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee. “Are we to look ahead to future years and future generations and accept that the reality is that there are going to be 50,000 individuals and families living in our shelter system?”</p> <p>There are currently about 60,000 New Yorkers living in homeless shelters, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently outlined the goal of reducing the population to about 57,500 over five years. While the mayor has admitted that his administration has not made enough progress reducing homelessness, he argues that the population would be around 70,000 if not for the rent subsidy and anti-eviction measures his team, led by Banks, has implemented.</p> <p>Responding to Levin and committee members, most of whom were late to the hearing, Banks provided a comprehensive rundown of the investments DSS and the de Blasio administration have instituted, such as voucher programs and legal assistance to tenants facing unwarranted eviction.</p> <p>He also discussed the HOME-STAT initiative, which has doubled the number of outreach workers on city streets in order to bring people into shelter. Though the committee acknowledged its support for these measures and conceded that significant investment has been made, they nevertheless stressed their dissatisfaction -- often bordering on outrage -- with the lack of progress, especially considering the concentration of resources targeted at homelessness. Expenditures for HRA and DHS have ballooned under de Blasio, and the mayor is proposing more money for the fiscal year 2018 budget, which is due by July 1.</p> <p>In his $84.67 billion preliminary budget proposal, 18 cents of every dollar goes to social services, the second largest portion behind education. The mayor has allocated $7.5 billion for the Department of Social Services and $772 million for the Department of Homeless Services, though both numbers are likely lower than the adopted budget will show at the end of June.&nbsp;</p> <p>At Monday's hearing, Council Members Barry Grodenchik, Corey Johnson, and Brad Lander were particularly critical of the administration’s efforts.</p> <p>“It seems to me that this city has committed an immense amount of resources and...it doesn’t seem like we’re getting value for our dollars,” Grodenchik told Banks, questioning both the effectiveness and scope of the administration’s plan to stop using 360 cluster apartment and commercial hotel locations and open 90 new homeless shelters throughout the city. “It seems to me that the goal is not as ambitious as it needs to be.”</p> <p>Banks defended “a concrete and realistic goal.”</p> <p>Lander expressed frustration that is shared by de Blasio, his predecessor on the Council, and other stakeholders. “On the one hand I appreciate being realistic, on the other I appreciate that this is an absolute crisis and we need to do more,” Lander said, before proceeding to recommend that Banks and his team focus on “getting families into affordable, permanent public housing.”</p> <p>The notion of placing more homeless families into public housing, through NYCHA, is something that some elected officials and advocates have long-called for, but that Banks and de Blasio have said is not the right approach. The mayor has cited the already-long NYCHA wait-lists.</p> <p>“It’s disturbing to walk down the streets everyday and to see homeless people on nearly every block...even after all these efforts at homelessness prevention, it still feels like we are not being successful,” added Council Member Johnson, who represents Chelsea and Greenwich Village.</p> <p>Banks’ testimony touched on other important DSS initiatives, in addition to homelessness, and provided updated data points on a variety of key topics:</p> <p>--The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps feed 1.7 million New Yorkers, including more than 650,000 children, added 8,371 participants in the last year. Asked about the future of SNAP in New York City, given the uncertain prospects for federal funding under the Trump administration, Banks said that he and the mayor would be working with Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to retain SNAP funding for New York City recipients.</p> <p>--According to Banks’ testimony, HRA provided rental assistance to 58,100 households in 2016 at a cost of $214 million. Asked about the widespread problem of landlords refusing to honor rental assistance programs and vouchers, Banks provided a phone number that residents can now call if they experience such refusal. Banks said HRA is determined to identify non-compliant landlords and compile a database of these individuals.</p> <p>--Banks’ testimony also explained that HRA has eliminated the Work Experience Programs (WEP) in favor of Job Training Program slots at NYPD, Parks Department, Department of Sanitation, and Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). The programs will serve up to 210 cash assistance participants annually.</p> <p>--The HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) accepted 3,444 new clients from August 2016 through January 2017, which is 1,410 more than the same period from the previous year. This was result of an HIV expansion program that allowed “all financially-eligible New York City residents with HIV to seek and obtain HASA services.” Applicants previously had to have developed AIDS or be “symptomatic” to be eligible. Council Member Johnson, who chairs the health committee, spoke about the success of HASA as a key achievement.</p> <p>--Banks’ testimony also announced a DHS plan to add 10,000 affordable apartments specifically for seniors, veterans, and New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 per household. DHS also has plans to institute an Elder Rental Assistance program, to be funded through the mayor’s “mansion tax,” to help more than 25,000 seniors with monthly rental assistance of up to $1,300. The mansion tax is unlikely to be approved in Albany, though.</p> <p>--In 2016, DHS placed 3,153 homeless veterans in permanent housing.</p> <p>--30% of families with children in a DHS shelter have a history of domestic violence. The Fiscal Year 2017 budget included $217 million for DHS security purposes.</p> <p>--Banks also referenced the 24% drop in evictions citywide since the institution of free legal assistance programs for many New Yorkers facing eviction. More than 40,000 residents avoided eviction in 2015 and 2016. The mayor and the City Council recently agreed to expand such assistance further.</p> <p>--Banks provided figures to demonstrate why the city has struggled to contain its homelessness problem. Between 2000 and 2014, Banks testified, median rent has increased 19%, while household income decreased by 6.3% over the same period.</p> <p>--360,000 New Yorkers now spend more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities. Another 140,000 spend more than 30%.</p> <p>--All in all, homelessness has increased by 115% over the past two decades. In 1994, 23,868 New Yorkers were homeless, by 2014, when Mayor de Blasio took office, that number was 51,470. It is now around 60,000.</p> <p>Banks' testimony was followed by the General Welfare Committee's examination of the Administration for Children's Services.</p> <p>

***
by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

</p>
Early in Albany Session, Plastic Bag Fee Sparks Home Rule Debate 2017-01-19T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-19T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6722:early-in-albany-session-plastic-bag-fee-sparks-home-rule-debate Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/felder_bag_fee_city_hall_via_scott_reif.jpg" alt="felder bag fee city hall via scott reif" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Felder &amp; opponents of the bag fee (photo: Scott Reif)</p> <hr /> <p>An attempt by lawmakers in Albany to prevent the New York City Council from imposing a fee on plastic and paper bags at retail stores has reignited a debate over home rule and the state government’s interference in the work of a democratically elected local legislative body. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York State Senate passed <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S362" target="_blank">a bill</a> on Tuesday that prohibits “the imposition of any tax, fee or local charge on carry out merchandise bags in cities having a population of one million or more.” The bill, sponsored by Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, directly targets a law passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last year that imposes a nickel fee on those bags and is due to go into effect February 15.</p> <p dir="ltr">The law, which passed with <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1687953&amp;GUID=492A60EA-D352-462A-915A-BB2C34A58D61&amp;Options=ID|Text|&amp;Search=plastic+bag" target="_blank">a relatively slim City Council majority</a>, is meant to reduce waste and environmental damage, as New Yorkers send billions of bags per year into the waste stream While it make exceptions for people on public assistance, its opponents argue that it would be a prohibitive burden on New Yorkers, including poor people and families more broadly.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many families have a hard time just getting by, paying for groceries, rent and heat, and now the Mayor wants to shake them down every time they shop just for the privilege of using a plastic bag,” Senator Felder, who represents part of Brooklyn, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Mayor de Blasio, please do not nickel-and-dime New Yorkers with another tax. This will hurt lower- and middle-income families who already struggle. I'm asking New Yorkers to stand up and tell the Mayor that this bag tax has to go.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Felder is a Democrat, he caucuses with Republicans to create a Senate majority. His bill was co-sponsored by three Republicans and also two other Democrats, both members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that shares power in the Senate with Republicans. Felder’s bill passed with 42 votes in favor and 18 against.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the Democratic Senators who opposed Tuesday’s bill, the plastic bag fee at the heart of the issue was not the only thing under threat. They criticized Felder’s bill for violating the state constitution’s principle of home rule that gives local governments the authority over many of their own affairs, and for doing so only in the case of New York City while making no mention of smaller jurisdictions that have passed similar bag fees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Senate bill, Democrats insisted, was narrowly targeted and would set a dangerous precedent for the legislative body. Even the word “fee” became a point of contention. Felder, and those who supported him, call it a “tax” instead and argue that the city has no right to impose it. Under state law, only the state Legislature can approve any new taxes. It is considered a fee because the stores keep it, the money is not passed to the government.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, <a href="https://youtu.be/oRBRALoet5E" target="_blank">arguing</a> on the Senate floor against Felder’s proposal, wondered “why should we override history, precedent, perhaps the constitution...and take an action that overrides a local government’s law applying only to itself?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Krueger expressed concern that it reflects political developments at the national level, where the incoming federal administration may seek to unduly interfere in the workings of the state. In a statement after the passage of the bill, Krueger said, “If this bill becomes law, it will set a shameful and dangerous precedent that local solutions to local environmental issues will be vetoed in Albany.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The bill is now with the Democrat-led Assembly and if it passes there, it would be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature. “We would like to see if we can get the city come to an agreement with how the Legislature has raised a concern,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, at a Tuesday news conference. “But again, we don’t want to minimize the environmental concern that the city has raised.”</p> <p dir="ltr">State intervention in New York City’s affairs is not novel and has in the past been a source of tension in the city-state dynamic, at times along partisan lines. The state’s <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/MHR" target="_blank">Municipal Home Rule Law</a> provides that the state can intervene in a local jurisdiction’s affairs if the locality sends a “Home Rule message” to the state Legislature requesting that certain laws be enacted or if the state Legislature demonstrates that an issue is a “matter of state concern.” Otherwise, the state Legislature cannot pass laws that apply only to a specific locality. That the bill targets New York City is a given: there is no other municipality in the state with more than a million residents. That might give its opponents an opportunity to challenge it as a “special law” rather than a “general law” that applies statewide.</p> <p dir="ltr">Courts have in the past <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/nyregion/justices-cite-vague-rule-twice-this-month.html" target="_blank">cited</a> ‘home rule’ as a basis for striking down laws passed in Albany that affect New York City alone. But the language in Felder’s bill refers to an “open class” of locality, rather than naming New York City, and that argument has been upheld by courts, said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in state and local government law. “The state most likely has the legal authority to ban local plastic bag fees but it is completely inconsistent with the idea and purpose of local home rule,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Echoing Briffault, Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College, emphasized Albany’s “virtually absolute” power over New York City. “Under Dillon's rule, cities are creatures of the state,” Muzzio said, referring to a judgement in 1868 by Judge John Forrest Dillon, then-chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, which narrowly defined a municipality’s authority as being derived from the state government. “Their powers, their very existence is determined by the state,” Muzzio added. “Albany's power over the city has long been a source of anguish. In his 1861 address before the Common Council, Mayor Fernando Wood called Albany's power ‘odious and oppressive.’ It remains so.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Muzzio said Senate Republicans were using the authority within their right to enforce their own goals. Complicating matters, though, is that there are more than a dozen Democrats in the New York City Council who voted against the bag fee. Still, this does not change the fact that the city passed its own law on the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">The overarching debate is also somewhat complicated by the fact that the plastic bag fee has pitted senators representing New York City against their colleagues from the five boroughs, making them all stakeholders in the issue serving overlapping constituents. Supporters of the bag fee insisted on Tuesday that legislators from outside the city should not interfere with local matters while opponents of the fee pleaded to those outside legislators to help them avoid imposing a new burden on their constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There are seven City Council members who represent my district,” said Senator Diane Savino, an IDC memebr and one of the state cosponsors who represents Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of South Brooklyn, during the Senate debate. “Every single one of them voted against [the bag fee bill in the City Council]…What they weren’t able to accomplish in the City Council, they want me to be able to deliver for them up here in Albany. They thought it was bad policy for the City of New York. They lost the fight there but they want us to win the fight here.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Savino also complained that the Senate had been misled by the City Council. The bag fee would have gone into effect in October last year but the Council delayed its implementation after facing strong opposition in Albany. The Senate voted then, as it has now, to ban any taxes or fees on plastic bags. As a result, the City Council struck a deal with the State Assembly to push implementation to 2017 and to revisit the language in the bill. Those negotiations have yet to produce results, with the fee set to go into effect in less than one month. “They did not negotiate in good faith,” said Savino. “We cannot trust them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Jesse Hamilton, another IDC member from Brooklyn, who spoke later, stood up against the Senate bill. “Every time we speak about home rule in this chamber, it never applies to New York City," he said. "For this chamber to say the City Council in New York City, they don't know what they are doing, I find that a little offensive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Negotiations between the Council and state lawmakers are still continuing, said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at a news conference on Wednesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions. Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure that the Senate was attempting to thwart legislation that had been extensively debated. “I think it’s unfortunate that New York City is being specifically targeted by the bill that is being presented and that is being discussed and the Senate voted on,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The day before the Senate took up the bill, Mayor de Blasio vowed to push back against its efforts. In his weekly appearance on <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2017/01/16/ny1-online--mondays-with-the-mayor-1-16-17.html" target="_blank">NY1</a>, he told host Errol Louis, “I’ll work with the City Council to push this back, because I don’t see an alternative. Do we really want to keep doing something that’s really bad for our environment and takes up lots of fossil fuels as we’re facing climate change. I think the Council was right to pass it and if some of the folks in the state Senate oppose it, what’s their alternative? The status quo is not acceptable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A key player in what happens next is a main de Blasio ally: Assembly Speaker Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. Then, there is Gov. Cuomo, not typically a de Blasio friend, who would be forced to decide whether to sign the state legislation if it passes both houses. Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment about the debate over the bag fee.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and one of the prime sponsors of the bag fee legislation, is hoping that either the Assembly will vote down the bill or that Governor Cuomo, known for his positive record on environmental conservation, will veto it.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said it was “mystifying” that the state Legislature would attempt to roll back environmental regulation and dictate a “law of dubious legality” to the city. But he remained open to changing the language in the bill if it meant it could be improved and receive the Legislature’s support. “I’m worried that Albany is going to nullify this very sensible effective environmental policy,” he said. “I assumed that when Suffolk County, not known as a bastion of left-wingers, passed the same bill, and when the City of Long Beach in Nassau County did the same, that that would help members of the Legislature see that this is growing, that there’s support for it, that this is something we should be looking at more broadly.”</p> <p>Critiquing Felder’s bill, he added, “It is an unconstitutional special law masquerading as a general law. Home rule should be required and I think everyone knows it.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/felder_bag_fee_city_hall_via_scott_reif.jpg" alt="felder bag fee city hall via scott reif" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Felder &amp; opponents of the bag fee (photo: Scott Reif)</p> <hr /> <p>An attempt by lawmakers in Albany to prevent the New York City Council from imposing a fee on plastic and paper bags at retail stores has reignited a debate over home rule and the state government’s interference in the work of a democratically elected local legislative body. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The New York State Senate passed <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S362" target="_blank">a bill</a> on Tuesday that prohibits “the imposition of any tax, fee or local charge on carry out merchandise bags in cities having a population of one million or more.” The bill, sponsored by Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, directly targets a law passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last year that imposes a nickel fee on those bags and is due to go into effect February 15.</p> <p dir="ltr">The law, which passed with <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1687953&amp;GUID=492A60EA-D352-462A-915A-BB2C34A58D61&amp;Options=ID|Text|&amp;Search=plastic+bag" target="_blank">a relatively slim City Council majority</a>, is meant to reduce waste and environmental damage, as New Yorkers send billions of bags per year into the waste stream While it make exceptions for people on public assistance, its opponents argue that it would be a prohibitive burden on New Yorkers, including poor people and families more broadly.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Many families have a hard time just getting by, paying for groceries, rent and heat, and now the Mayor wants to shake them down every time they shop just for the privilege of using a plastic bag,” Senator Felder, who represents part of Brooklyn, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Mayor de Blasio, please do not nickel-and-dime New Yorkers with another tax. This will hurt lower- and middle-income families who already struggle. I'm asking New Yorkers to stand up and tell the Mayor that this bag tax has to go.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Felder is a Democrat, he caucuses with Republicans to create a Senate majority. His bill was co-sponsored by three Republicans and also two other Democrats, both members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that shares power in the Senate with Republicans. Felder’s bill passed with 42 votes in favor and 18 against.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the Democratic Senators who opposed Tuesday’s bill, the plastic bag fee at the heart of the issue was not the only thing under threat. They criticized Felder’s bill for violating the state constitution’s principle of home rule that gives local governments the authority over many of their own affairs, and for doing so only in the case of New York City while making no mention of smaller jurisdictions that have passed similar bag fees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Senate bill, Democrats insisted, was narrowly targeted and would set a dangerous precedent for the legislative body. Even the word “fee” became a point of contention. Felder, and those who supported him, call it a “tax” instead and argue that the city has no right to impose it. Under state law, only the state Legislature can approve any new taxes. It is considered a fee because the stores keep it, the money is not passed to the government.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, <a href="https://youtu.be/oRBRALoet5E" target="_blank">arguing</a> on the Senate floor against Felder’s proposal, wondered “why should we override history, precedent, perhaps the constitution...and take an action that overrides a local government’s law applying only to itself?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Krueger expressed concern that it reflects political developments at the national level, where the incoming federal administration may seek to unduly interfere in the workings of the state. In a statement after the passage of the bill, Krueger said, “If this bill becomes law, it will set a shameful and dangerous precedent that local solutions to local environmental issues will be vetoed in Albany.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The bill is now with the Democrat-led Assembly and if it passes there, it would be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature. “We would like to see if we can get the city come to an agreement with how the Legislature has raised a concern,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, at a Tuesday news conference. “But again, we don’t want to minimize the environmental concern that the city has raised.”</p> <p dir="ltr">State intervention in New York City’s affairs is not novel and has in the past been a source of tension in the city-state dynamic, at times along partisan lines. The state’s <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/MHR" target="_blank">Municipal Home Rule Law</a> provides that the state can intervene in a local jurisdiction’s affairs if the locality sends a “Home Rule message” to the state Legislature requesting that certain laws be enacted or if the state Legislature demonstrates that an issue is a “matter of state concern.” Otherwise, the state Legislature cannot pass laws that apply only to a specific locality. That the bill targets New York City is a given: there is no other municipality in the state with more than a million residents. That might give its opponents an opportunity to challenge it as a “special law” rather than a “general law” that applies statewide.</p> <p dir="ltr">Courts have in the past <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/nyregion/justices-cite-vague-rule-twice-this-month.html" target="_blank">cited</a> ‘home rule’ as a basis for striking down laws passed in Albany that affect New York City alone. But the language in Felder’s bill refers to an “open class” of locality, rather than naming New York City, and that argument has been upheld by courts, said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in state and local government law. “The state most likely has the legal authority to ban local plastic bag fees but it is completely inconsistent with the idea and purpose of local home rule,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Echoing Briffault, Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College, emphasized Albany’s “virtually absolute” power over New York City. “Under Dillon's rule, cities are creatures of the state,” Muzzio said, referring to a judgement in 1868 by Judge John Forrest Dillon, then-chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, which narrowly defined a municipality’s authority as being derived from the state government. “Their powers, their very existence is determined by the state,” Muzzio added. “Albany's power over the city has long been a source of anguish. In his 1861 address before the Common Council, Mayor Fernando Wood called Albany's power ‘odious and oppressive.’ It remains so.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Muzzio said Senate Republicans were using the authority within their right to enforce their own goals. Complicating matters, though, is that there are more than a dozen Democrats in the New York City Council who voted against the bag fee. Still, this does not change the fact that the city passed its own law on the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">The overarching debate is also somewhat complicated by the fact that the plastic bag fee has pitted senators representing New York City against their colleagues from the five boroughs, making them all stakeholders in the issue serving overlapping constituents. Supporters of the bag fee insisted on Tuesday that legislators from outside the city should not interfere with local matters while opponents of the fee pleaded to those outside legislators to help them avoid imposing a new burden on their constituents.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There are seven City Council members who represent my district,” said Senator Diane Savino, an IDC memebr and one of the state cosponsors who represents Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of South Brooklyn, during the Senate debate. “Every single one of them voted against [the bag fee bill in the City Council]…What they weren’t able to accomplish in the City Council, they want me to be able to deliver for them up here in Albany. They thought it was bad policy for the City of New York. They lost the fight there but they want us to win the fight here.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Savino also complained that the Senate had been misled by the City Council. The bag fee would have gone into effect in October last year but the Council delayed its implementation after facing strong opposition in Albany. The Senate voted then, as it has now, to ban any taxes or fees on plastic bags. As a result, the City Council struck a deal with the State Assembly to push implementation to 2017 and to revisit the language in the bill. Those negotiations have yet to produce results, with the fee set to go into effect in less than one month. “They did not negotiate in good faith,” said Savino. “We cannot trust them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Jesse Hamilton, another IDC member from Brooklyn, who spoke later, stood up against the Senate bill. “Every time we speak about home rule in this chamber, it never applies to New York City," he said. "For this chamber to say the City Council in New York City, they don't know what they are doing, I find that a little offensive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Negotiations between the Council and state lawmakers are still continuing, said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at a news conference on Wednesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions. Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure that the Senate was attempting to thwart legislation that had been extensively debated. “I think it’s unfortunate that New York City is being specifically targeted by the bill that is being presented and that is being discussed and the Senate voted on,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The day before the Senate took up the bill, Mayor de Blasio vowed to push back against its efforts. In his weekly appearance on <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2017/01/16/ny1-online--mondays-with-the-mayor-1-16-17.html" target="_blank">NY1</a>, he told host Errol Louis, “I’ll work with the City Council to push this back, because I don’t see an alternative. Do we really want to keep doing something that’s really bad for our environment and takes up lots of fossil fuels as we’re facing climate change. I think the Council was right to pass it and if some of the folks in the state Senate oppose it, what’s their alternative? The status quo is not acceptable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A key player in what happens next is a main de Blasio ally: Assembly Speaker Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. Then, there is Gov. Cuomo, not typically a de Blasio friend, who would be forced to decide whether to sign the state legislation if it passes both houses. Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment about the debate over the bag fee.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and one of the prime sponsors of the bag fee legislation, is hoping that either the Assembly will vote down the bill or that Governor Cuomo, known for his positive record on environmental conservation, will veto it.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said it was “mystifying” that the state Legislature would attempt to roll back environmental regulation and dictate a “law of dubious legality” to the city. But he remained open to changing the language in the bill if it meant it could be improved and receive the Legislature’s support. “I’m worried that Albany is going to nullify this very sensible effective environmental policy,” he said. “I assumed that when Suffolk County, not known as a bastion of left-wingers, passed the same bill, and when the City of Long Beach in Nassau County did the same, that that would help members of the Legislature see that this is growing, that there’s support for it, that this is something we should be looking at more broadly.”</p> <p>Critiquing Felder’s bill, he added, “It is an unconstitutional special law masquerading as a general law. Home rule should be required and I think everyone knows it.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein</p>
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem 2016-12-28T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6690:bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27420695870_bbf551278b_z.jpg" alt="de blasio nypd headquarters" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign account recently posted a Twitter message touting the NYPD’s neighborhood policing initiative. “New York City is proving to the rest of the country that respectful, compassionate neighborhood policing drives down crime &amp; makes us safer,” <a href="https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/811357299172376576" target="_blank">the tweet</a> from @BilldeBlasio read.</p> <p>In a response symbolic of a problem de Blasio is facing as he heads into his re-election year, Lumumba Bandele <a href="https://twitter.com/Lumumbabandele/status/811385620522270720" target="_blank">tweeted</a> his response to de Blasio: “You &amp; #NYPD are in no position to talk about respect &amp; compassion.” Bandele then cited the fact that the police officers who killed Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in 2012, and “others,” likely a reference including Eric Garner, are still employed by the city.</p> <p>Bandele identifies himself on Twitter as an organizer, writer, producer, and professor from Bedford-Stuyvesant. His mention of Ramarley Graham came as there has been increased attention from police reform activists to pressure de Blasio to proceed with an NYPD trial for Officer Richard Haste and the others involved in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ramarley-graham-nypd-richard-haste_us_567455d4e4b0b958f6567aa0" target="_blank">Graham’s death</a>. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill recently announced that such a trial was likely to begin in early 2017.</p> <p>The new year, de Blasio’s fourth as mayor, is also expected to see movement regarding accountability for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Garner’s 2014 death during an attempted arrest. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014, and the federal Department of Justice has been investigating his actions, which, according to de Blasio and the NYPD, has kept the city from moving ahead with any of its own disciplinary procedure.</p> <p>As the mayor kicks off his re-election campaign, police reform activists, including some elected officials, are frustrated with de Blasio for what they see as a failure to live up to his 2013 promise as a police reformer, especially with regard to increasing accountability at the NYPD. While these two high-profile cases may soon see developments, advocates say that punishment for officers takes far too long and is far too soft, and that on holding officers accountable for inappropriate or illegal behavior, the mayor has done nothing systemic to change NYPD culture.</p> <p>For his part, de Blasio argues that he has been the reformer he said he would be, that he has overseen major changes to policing in New York City while both crime and arrests have declined. De Blasio, a Democrat, has been battling perceptions that he is "anti-cop" and would be soft on crime since his 2013 campaign. While he has mostly assuaged the latter, the former persists in some corners, perhaps contibuting to a lack of action in addressing accountabiity, even as, on the other side of the equation, reformers believe he has not been tough enough on badly-behaving officers.</p> <p>Some reform advocates do give de Blasio credit for following through on elements of his campaign rhetoric, which had a significant focus on policing as part of his larger call for greater equity. But, they are quick to note that de Blasio’s efforts have not extended into essential areas of transparency and accountability.</p> <p>City Council Member Jumaane Williams and members of Communities United for Police Reform, for example, acknowledge that de Blasio has overseen certain tactical changes at the NYPD, like instituting a new training regime focused on de-escalation, continuing to reduce street stops, and a more lenient approach to marijuana arrests. But, they believe that it amounts to little if it is not accompanied by major changes to how police officers are dealt with when they abuse their power, especially around excessive use of force.</p> <p>Real culture change, they say, requires both front- and back-end reform -- new training, strategies, and directives, as well as beefed up oversight and increased transparency and accountability. At the same time de Blasio has been criticized for doing little on officer accountability, after decades of doing so the NYPD stopped making public a weekly update on officer disciplinary actions, citing their realization that they had been violating a state law.</p> <p>When de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill held an early December press conference to announce low crime in the city, Communities United put out a press release saying, “As Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill gave briefing on crime data from November, they continued to ignore alleged abuses and misconduct during month.” The release linked to more than two dozen news articles about alleged police abuses or a lack of transparency into the NYPD.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of talk about building relationships and building trust between communities and police,” but “our position is, hold up, in order for us to have trust, we need greater accountability,” said Monifa Bandele, a vice president at Moms Rising, a national organization that in New York is part of Communities United for Police Reform. Bandele spoke with Gotham Gazette after CPR held a mid-December press conference calling for new measures to improve transparency and accountability in the NYPD. Police officers regularly violate people’s rights, she said, but “nothing seems to come of it.”</p> <p>CPR and a majority of City Council members want to see the Right to Know Act passed. The legislation would require police officers to provide more information to people they are stopping on the street, including identification. Despite majority support, the Right to Know Act has stalled in the City Council because de Blasio does not support it, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not allowed it to come to a vote, and other Council members have been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6478-procedural-move-could-lead-to-vote-on-right-to-know-act" target="_blank">unwilling to move it to a vote</a> without the speaker’s blessing. Mark-Viverito did announce <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/nyregion/new-york-city-council-will-not-vote-on-police-reform-measures.html?_r=0" target="_blank">a compromise</a> with the NYPD to institute elements of the legislation through NYPD training and the patrol guide.</p> <p>Council Member Williams is one sponsor of the Right to Know Act, and while he wants to see more from de Blasio and the NYPD, he also says that there has been progress. In an interview, Williams said that there probably hasn’t been enough credit given to de Blasio for some of the change, but that that is a result of other failings.</p> <p>“It’s very real that when it comes to transparency and accountability we’re no better than any other city in this nation and that’s a problem, we should be leading this effort,” Williams said.</p> <p>“One of the best ways to change behaviors is to make sure people feel there’s accountability for that behavior,” said Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat. “So those are the type of things that I think people have yet to see and they’re very concerned about it and it’s what he campaigned on so I think people have an expectation to see it.”</p> <p>Williams said he’s pleased about neighborhood policing, street stops continuing to decrease, and marijuana arrests being down, but that the city still needs to look at the racial breakdown, the percentages by demographic group, of some of the stops and arrest data. It is a sentiment echoed by leaders from Communities United for Police Reform, an umbrella group, as well as PROP, the Police Reform Organizing Project, which monitors arrest data and court proceedings. These activists say that it is good that a number of metrics are trending downward overall, but that disproportionate racial disparities persist on everything from street stops to summonses and arrests for all types of low-level crimes.</p> <p>“I would love to hear a coherent answer on that,” Williams said when asked why he thinks de Blasio hasn’t been more aggressive on the transparency and accountability aspects of police reform.</p> <p>Asked recently about the issue, de Blasio told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer that he believes he’s lived up to his promises on policing and that disciplinary matters are done on a case-by-case basis.</p> <p>“What did I say we were going to do? We were going to greatly decrease the use of stop-and-frisk. We did that. We were going to institute neighborhood policing. We’re doing that. We were going to stop the things that were causing a rift between police and community. For example, we stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession. You know, we are now doing an entirely different training regimen for our cops including de-escalation when there are encounters with civilians. We’re starting implicit bias training at the NYPD – a huge step forward for the largest police department in the country,” de Blasio <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-december-7" target="_blank">said December 7 on WNYC</a>.</p> <p>The mayor continued: “I think folks who want reform should look at all that – all the things that they had said they wanted are actually happening. In terms of the disciplinary cases, each and every one of those is going to be seen through. As you know, the Garner case, right now, is in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. When they finish their process, if they do not bring charges, there will be disciplinary action determined through the NYPD’s due process.”</p> <p>“So, I don’t put those pieces together the same way that some critics do,” de Blasio said. “I think we have made steady progress on police reform.”</p> <p>To support his point, de Blasio said that the city has “reinvigorated” the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a nominally independent agency that hears civilian complaints about the NYPD, holds hearings, and recommends punishments. Under de Blasio, complaints against police officers to the CCRB have dropped, something the mayor regularly cites. He mentioned it on WNYC earlier this month, while also bringing up the NYPD Inspector General, a position created through City Council legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Williams and Brad Lander, de Blasio’s successor in the City Council from Park Slope, and passed over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (de Blasio was supportive of the legislation as public advocate at the time).</p> <p>“We have so many elements of reform that some of these same advocates said, for years, would change everything,” de Blasio said on WNYC. “We’re doing it. And body cameras – in the course of this year, you’re going to see body cameras starting to be introduced on a large level in New York City. They will be expanded greatly from there.”</p> <p>One problem that reformers point to in de Blasio’s argument is that the NYPD commissioner continues to possess discretion as to what extent he or she follows CCRB recommendations on officer punishment and that discretion almost always leads to a lesser penalty, often significantly so. Officers who use excessive force, for example, may be docked a few vacation days as opposed to being suspended without pay or worse. Advocates want “zero tolerance” for officers who violate the rights of civilians.</p> <p>Citizens Union, a government reform organization, recently published <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/issue_briefs_and_position_statements" target="_blank">a new set</a> of recommendations for streamlining and improving police accountability, including changes to the process by which officers are disciplined. This was a follow up to <a href="https://echalk-slate-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/private/districts/466/resources/58037ee5-1d5b-4b41-abd8-e022e3443b9b?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIZQPKIVDQVS7TUJA&amp;Expires=1790851945&amp;response-content-disposition=%3Bfilename%3D%22CUReport_AccountabilityPoliceMisconduct%281%29.pdf%22&amp;response-content-type=application%2Fpdf&amp;Signature=c7X31savzsVG9GkOlVMFSH5f6sY%3D" target="_blank">a 2012 Citizens Union report</a> that analyzed more than ten years of CCRB and NYPD data, raising significant questions about officer discipline -- it found that “The NYPD almost always did not follow CCRB recommendations to administer the most severe penalty despite the fact that the CCRB shows great discretion in accepting and investigating complaints against police officers.”</p> <p>De Blasio, who has had a contentious relationship with the main union representing rank-and-file NYPD officers, has repeatedly deflected discussion of police accountability by focusing on the new training that officers are getting, arguing that it and other reforms are preventing bad actions by officers, and reducing negative interactions between officers and members of the public.</p> <p>Along with tougher sanctions on officers who use excessive force or otherwise break protocol, Williams, CPR, and others want to see movement on the Right to Know Act and another bill, sponsored by Council Member Rory Lancman, to make police chokeholds illegal -- they are currently banned by NYPD policy, but critics say this has not deterred officers from using them, as seen in Garner’s death. (Even if made illegal, chokeholds, like any other use of force, would be allowable under law when an officer’s life is in danger.)</p> <p>According to Monifa Bandele of Moms Rising, the Right to Know Act would build on the progress of the Community Safety Act. She said that children come home having had an interaction with police that they felt was unjustified or abusive, but can’t tell their parents who the officer was. “It’s hard to have accountability when you don’t know who you’ve interacted with,” she said, noting that adults often have the same issue. “Transparency, which is what the Right to Know Act is rooted in, is very key to get to accountability,” Bandele said, adding that officers seem to know that “there won’t be any consequences to violating the rights of New Yorkers.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for de Blasio argued that “The mayor has delivered the farthest reaching criminal justice reforms of any mayor in the city’s history," but did not address questions around officer accountability and punishment for officers who violate rules and laws.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration is currently <a href="http://changethenypd.org/releases/elected-officials-advocates-file-legal-action-supporting-release-summary-misconduct-record" target="_blank">being sued</a> by Legal Aid Society and others over its refusal to release the discipline records of Officer Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. This, in combination with the change in policy around what had been a weekly posting of officer promotions and disciplinary action at NYPD headquarters has led to claims of backsliding on transparency and accountability.</p> <p>“Without transparency about past disciplinary records when the CCRB finds an officer has committed misconduct, how can there be any real accountability?” asked Council Member Lander in <a href="http://changethenypd.org/releases/elected-officials-advocates-file-legal-action-supporting-release-summary-misconduct-record" target="_blank">a statement</a>. “[I]f the NYPD can dismiss or downgrade the CCRB's charges secretly, and the public never knows about patterns of repeat offenders, how can communities be asked to trust the system? That’s why we are deeply distressed by the NYPD’s recent decision to suddenly reverse course on a decades-old practice of transparency, and why we’re joining the call today to release records pertaining to complaints against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.”</p> <p>Pantaleo has been on modified duty since Garner’s death, but he continues to draw his NYPD salary, and was even found to be collecting significant overtime pay -- something that the NYPD quickly moved to address when <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/09/officer-in-eric-garner-death-boosts-overtime-pay-105359" target="_blank">Politico New York reported it</a>. Overtime limits or not, modified duty is not enough for Pantaleo or other officers accused of wrongdoing, advocates for reform say.</p> <p>Monifa Bandele said her teenage children are told the rules at school, but if they violate them, there are consequences. “Accountability is what we want from Bill de Blasio,” she said. “He’s done great things,” she added, noting universal pre-kindergarten and paid sick leave, “but what about policing -- this is an issue that Bill de Blasio ran on...it’s what separated him from the rest of the pack.”</p> <p>It’s unclear at this point what “the pack” will look like as the mayor seeks re-election in 2017, but Bandele said “I don’t know” when asked if de Blasio has done enough good to warrant her support this time around. She indicated there’s still time for him to show real commitment to police reform by focusing on the transparency and accountability elements.</p> <p>Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio and is talked about as a potential mayoral candidate, though he has said he is not planning to run. At a September press conference outside NYPD headquarters, Jeffries said, “The administration said to us that they would be transparent as it relates to the issue of the police and the tension with the community. Instead, they’ve retreated, and declined to provide information on rogue officers who don’t deserve to wear the blue uniform any further. The de Blasio administration promised the people of the City of New York that we would receive meaningful police reform and instead we’ve gotten more of the same. That is shameful. And we will no longer tolerate it.”</p> <p>Public opinion polls consistently show de Blasio with strong support among African-Americans, especially relative to white New Yorkers. Asked about this and whether people of color should support de Blasio, Council Member Williams said, “Well I think none of our support should be taken for granted so I would tell my constituents ‘don’t give anybody your support without asking hard questions and having them respond.’”</p> <p>As for whether he plans to back de Blasio (seven of Williams’ colleagues recently announced their endorsements of the mayor for re-election), Williams said, “He’s the person I supported before, I think I am inclined to still support him, but not without hearing a lot of answers on police reform issues and housing issues, these are really affecting my constituents because I think there are glaring problems in what we want to accomplish in this city and what’s been done.”</p> <p>“There has been movement,” Williams added, making sure to acknowledge progress. “We said we were going to push wholesale, systematic differences and changes and I don’t think that’s come about and people have a right to hear, well, ‘why hasn’t it and what’s going to be different in the next campaign?’ So all i’m going to tell my constituents: let’s wait and hear what those answers are.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Monifa and Lumumba Bandele are married. Separately, this reporter noticed the Lumumba Bandele tweet mentioned in the beginning of the story and came across Monifa Bandele at the press conference mentioned, later confirming the relationship.</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27420695870_bbf551278b_z.jpg" alt="de blasio nypd headquarters" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign account recently posted a Twitter message touting the NYPD’s neighborhood policing initiative. “New York City is proving to the rest of the country that respectful, compassionate neighborhood policing drives down crime &amp; makes us safer,” <a href="https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/811357299172376576" target="_blank">the tweet</a> from @BilldeBlasio read.</p> <p>In a response symbolic of a problem de Blasio is facing as he heads into his re-election year, Lumumba Bandele <a href="https://twitter.com/Lumumbabandele/status/811385620522270720" target="_blank">tweeted</a> his response to de Blasio: “You &amp; #NYPD are in no position to talk about respect &amp; compassion.” Bandele then cited the fact that the police officers who killed Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in 2012, and “others,” likely a reference including Eric Garner, are still employed by the city.</p> <p>Bandele identifies himself on Twitter as an organizer, writer, producer, and professor from Bedford-Stuyvesant. His mention of Ramarley Graham came as there has been increased attention from police reform activists to pressure de Blasio to proceed with an NYPD trial for Officer Richard Haste and the others involved in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ramarley-graham-nypd-richard-haste_us_567455d4e4b0b958f6567aa0" target="_blank">Graham’s death</a>. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill recently announced that such a trial was likely to begin in early 2017.</p> <p>The new year, de Blasio’s fourth as mayor, is also expected to see movement regarding accountability for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Garner’s 2014 death during an attempted arrest. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014, and the federal Department of Justice has been investigating his actions, which, according to de Blasio and the NYPD, has kept the city from moving ahead with any of its own disciplinary procedure.</p> <p>As the mayor kicks off his re-election campaign, police reform activists, including some elected officials, are frustrated with de Blasio for what they see as a failure to live up to his 2013 promise as a police reformer, especially with regard to increasing accountability at the NYPD. While these two high-profile cases may soon see developments, advocates say that punishment for officers takes far too long and is far too soft, and that on holding officers accountable for inappropriate or illegal behavior, the mayor has done nothing systemic to change NYPD culture.</p> <p>For his part, de Blasio argues that he has been the reformer he said he would be, that he has overseen major changes to policing in New York City while both crime and arrests have declined. De Blasio, a Democrat, has been battling perceptions that he is "anti-cop" and would be soft on crime since his 2013 campaign. While he has mostly assuaged the latter, the former persists in some corners, perhaps contibuting to a lack of action in addressing accountabiity, even as, on the other side of the equation, reformers believe he has not been tough enough on badly-behaving officers.</p> <p>Some reform advocates do give de Blasio credit for following through on elements of his campaign rhetoric, which had a significant focus on policing as part of his larger call for greater equity. But, they are quick to note that de Blasio’s efforts have not extended into essential areas of transparency and accountability.</p> <p>City Council Member Jumaane Williams and members of Communities United for Police Reform, for example, acknowledge that de Blasio has overseen certain tactical changes at the NYPD, like instituting a new training regime focused on de-escalation, continuing to reduce street stops, and a more lenient approach to marijuana arrests. But, they believe that it amounts to little if it is not accompanied by major changes to how police officers are dealt with when they abuse their power, especially around excessive use of force.</p> <p>Real culture change, they say, requires both front- and back-end reform -- new training, strategies, and directives, as well as beefed up oversight and increased transparency and accountability. At the same time de Blasio has been criticized for doing little on officer accountability, after decades of doing so the NYPD stopped making public a weekly update on officer disciplinary actions, citing their realization that they had been violating a state law.</p> <p>When de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill held an early December press conference to announce low crime in the city, Communities United put out a press release saying, “As Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill gave briefing on crime data from November, they continued to ignore alleged abuses and misconduct during month.” The release linked to more than two dozen news articles about alleged police abuses or a lack of transparency into the NYPD.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of talk about building relationships and building trust between communities and police,” but “our position is, hold up, in order for us to have trust, we need greater accountability,” said Monifa Bandele, a vice president at Moms Rising, a national organization that in New York is part of Communities United for Police Reform. Bandele spoke with Gotham Gazette after CPR held a mid-December press conference calling for new measures to improve transparency and accountability in the NYPD. Police officers regularly violate people’s rights, she said, but “nothing seems to come of it.”</p> <p>CPR and a majority of City Council members want to see the Right to Know Act passed. The legislation would require police officers to provide more information to people they are stopping on the street, including identification. Despite majority support, the Right to Know Act has stalled in the City Council because de Blasio does not support it, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not allowed it to come to a vote, and other Council members have been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6478-procedural-move-could-lead-to-vote-on-right-to-know-act" target="_blank">unwilling to move it to a vote</a> without the speaker’s blessing. Mark-Viverito did announce <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/nyregion/new-york-city-council-will-not-vote-on-police-reform-measures.html?_r=0" target="_blank">a compromise</a> with the NYPD to institute elements of the legislation through NYPD training and the patrol guide.</p> <p>Council Member Williams is one sponsor of the Right to Know Act, and while he wants to see more from de Blasio and the NYPD, he also says that there has been progress. In an interview, Williams said that there probably hasn’t been enough credit given to de Blasio for some of the change, but that that is a result of other failings.</p> <p>“It’s very real that when it comes to transparency and accountability we’re no better than any other city in this nation and that’s a problem, we should be leading this effort,” Williams said.</p> <p>“One of the best ways to change behaviors is to make sure people feel there’s accountability for that behavior,” said Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat. “So those are the type of things that I think people have yet to see and they’re very concerned about it and it’s what he campaigned on so I think people have an expectation to see it.”</p> <p>Williams said he’s pleased about neighborhood policing, street stops continuing to decrease, and marijuana arrests being down, but that the city still needs to look at the racial breakdown, the percentages by demographic group, of some of the stops and arrest data. It is a sentiment echoed by leaders from Communities United for Police Reform, an umbrella group, as well as PROP, the Police Reform Organizing Project, which monitors arrest data and court proceedings. These activists say that it is good that a number of metrics are trending downward overall, but that disproportionate racial disparities persist on everything from street stops to summonses and arrests for all types of low-level crimes.</p> <p>“I would love to hear a coherent answer on that,” Williams said when asked why he thinks de Blasio hasn’t been more aggressive on the transparency and accountability aspects of police reform.</p> <p>Asked recently about the issue, de Blasio told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer that he believes he’s lived up to his promises on policing and that disciplinary matters are done on a case-by-case basis.</p> <p>“What did I say we were going to do? We were going to greatly decrease the use of stop-and-frisk. We did that. We were going to institute neighborhood policing. We’re doing that. We were going to stop the things that were causing a rift between police and community. For example, we stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession. You know, we are now doing an entirely different training regimen for our cops including de-escalation when there are encounters with civilians. We’re starting implicit bias training at the NYPD – a huge step forward for the largest police department in the country,” de Blasio <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-december-7" target="_blank">said December 7 on WNYC</a>.</p> <p>The mayor continued: “I think folks who want reform should look at all that – all the things that they had said they wanted are actually happening. In terms of the disciplinary cases, each and every one of those is going to be seen through. As you know, the Garner case, right now, is in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. When they finish their process, if they do not bring charges, there will be disciplinary action determined through the NYPD’s due process.”</p> <p>“So, I don’t put those pieces together the same way that some critics do,” de Blasio said. “I think we have made steady progress on police reform.”</p> <p>To support his point, de Blasio said that the city has “reinvigorated” the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a nominally independent agency that hears civilian complaints about the NYPD, holds hearings, and recommends punishments. Under de Blasio, complaints against police officers to the CCRB have dropped, something the mayor regularly cites. He mentioned it on WNYC earlier this month, while also bringing up the NYPD Inspector General, a position created through City Council legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Williams and Brad Lander, de Blasio’s successor in the City Council from Park Slope, and passed over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (de Blasio was supportive of the legislation as public advocate at the time).</p> <p>“We have so many elements of reform that some of these same advocates said, for years, would change everything,” de Blasio said on WNYC. “We’re doing it. And body cameras – in the course of this year, you’re going to see body cameras starting to be introduced on a large level in New York City. They will be expanded greatly from there.”</p> <p>One problem that reformers point to in de Blasio’s argument is that the NYPD commissioner continues to possess discretion as to what extent he or she follows CCRB recommendations on officer punishment and that discretion almost always leads to a lesser penalty, often significantly so. Officers who use excessive force, for example, may be docked a few vacation days as opposed to being suspended without pay or worse. Advocates want “zero tolerance” for officers who violate the rights of civilians.</p> <p>Citizens Union, a government reform organization, recently published <a href="http://www.citizensunion.org/issue_briefs_and_position_statements" target="_blank">a new set</a> of recommendations for streamlining and improving police accountability, including changes to the process by which officers are disciplined. This was a follow up to <a href="https://echalk-slate-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/private/districts/466/resources/58037ee5-1d5b-4b41-abd8-e022e3443b9b?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIZQPKIVDQVS7TUJA&amp;Expires=1790851945&amp;response-content-disposition=%3Bfilename%3D%22CUReport_AccountabilityPoliceMisconduct%281%29.pdf%22&amp;response-content-type=application%2Fpdf&amp;Signature=c7X31savzsVG9GkOlVMFSH5f6sY%3D" target="_blank">a 2012 Citizens Union report</a> that analyzed more than ten years of CCRB and NYPD data, raising significant questions about officer discipline -- it found that “The NYPD almost always did not follow CCRB recommendations to administer the most severe penalty despite the fact that the CCRB shows great discretion in accepting and investigating complaints against police officers.”</p> <p>De Blasio, who has had a contentious relationship with the main union representing rank-and-file NYPD officers, has repeatedly deflected discussion of police accountability by focusing on the new training that officers are getting, arguing that it and other reforms are preventing bad actions by officers, and reducing negative interactions between officers and members of the public.</p> <p>Along with tougher sanctions on officers who use excessive force or otherwise break protocol, Williams, CPR, and others want to see movement on the Right to Know Act and another bill, sponsored by Council Member Rory Lancman, to make police chokeholds illegal -- they are currently banned by NYPD policy, but critics say this has not deterred officers from using them, as seen in Garner’s death. (Even if made illegal, chokeholds, like any other use of force, would be allowable under law when an officer’s life is in danger.)</p> <p>According to Monifa Bandele of Moms Rising, the Right to Know Act would build on the progress of the Community Safety Act. She said that children come home having had an interaction with police that they felt was unjustified or abusive, but can’t tell their parents who the officer was. “It’s hard to have accountability when you don’t know who you’ve interacted with,” she said, noting that adults often have the same issue. “Transparency, which is what the Right to Know Act is rooted in, is very key to get to accountability,” Bandele said, adding that officers seem to know that “there won’t be any consequences to violating the rights of New Yorkers.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for de Blasio argued that “The mayor has delivered the farthest reaching criminal justice reforms of any mayor in the city’s history," but did not address questions around officer accountability and punishment for officers who violate rules and laws.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration is currently <a href="http://changethenypd.org/releases/elected-officials-advocates-file-legal-action-supporting-release-summary-misconduct-record" target="_blank">being sued</a> by Legal Aid Society and others over its refusal to release the discipline records of Officer Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. This, in combination with the change in policy around what had been a weekly posting of officer promotions and disciplinary action at NYPD headquarters has led to claims of backsliding on transparency and accountability.</p> <p>“Without transparency about past disciplinary records when the CCRB finds an officer has committed misconduct, how can there be any real accountability?” asked Council Member Lander in <a href="http://changethenypd.org/releases/elected-officials-advocates-file-legal-action-supporting-release-summary-misconduct-record" target="_blank">a statement</a>. “[I]f the NYPD can dismiss or downgrade the CCRB's charges secretly, and the public never knows about patterns of repeat offenders, how can communities be asked to trust the system? That’s why we are deeply distressed by the NYPD’s recent decision to suddenly reverse course on a decades-old practice of transparency, and why we’re joining the call today to release records pertaining to complaints against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.”</p> <p>Pantaleo has been on modified duty since Garner’s death, but he continues to draw his NYPD salary, and was even found to be collecting significant overtime pay -- something that the NYPD quickly moved to address when <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/09/officer-in-eric-garner-death-boosts-overtime-pay-105359" target="_blank">Politico New York reported it</a>. Overtime limits or not, modified duty is not enough for Pantaleo or other officers accused of wrongdoing, advocates for reform say.</p> <p>Monifa Bandele said her teenage children are told the rules at school, but if they violate them, there are consequences. “Accountability is what we want from Bill de Blasio,” she said. “He’s done great things,” she added, noting universal pre-kindergarten and paid sick leave, “but what about policing -- this is an issue that Bill de Blasio ran on...it’s what separated him from the rest of the pack.”</p> <p>It’s unclear at this point what “the pack” will look like as the mayor seeks re-election in 2017, but Bandele said “I don’t know” when asked if de Blasio has done enough good to warrant her support this time around. She indicated there’s still time for him to show real commitment to police reform by focusing on the transparency and accountability elements.</p> <p>Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio and is talked about as a potential mayoral candidate, though he has said he is not planning to run. At a September press conference outside NYPD headquarters, Jeffries said, “The administration said to us that they would be transparent as it relates to the issue of the police and the tension with the community. Instead, they’ve retreated, and declined to provide information on rogue officers who don’t deserve to wear the blue uniform any further. The de Blasio administration promised the people of the City of New York that we would receive meaningful police reform and instead we’ve gotten more of the same. That is shameful. And we will no longer tolerate it.”</p> <p>Public opinion polls consistently show de Blasio with strong support among African-Americans, especially relative to white New Yorkers. Asked about this and whether people of color should support de Blasio, Council Member Williams said, “Well I think none of our support should be taken for granted so I would tell my constituents ‘don’t give anybody your support without asking hard questions and having them respond.’”</p> <p>As for whether he plans to back de Blasio (seven of Williams’ colleagues recently announced their endorsements of the mayor for re-election), Williams said, “He’s the person I supported before, I think I am inclined to still support him, but not without hearing a lot of answers on police reform issues and housing issues, these are really affecting my constituents because I think there are glaring problems in what we want to accomplish in this city and what’s been done.”</p> <p>“There has been movement,” Williams added, making sure to acknowledge progress. “We said we were going to push wholesale, systematic differences and changes and I don’t think that’s come about and people have a right to hear, well, ‘why hasn’t it and what’s going to be different in the next campaign?’ So all i’m going to tell my constituents: let’s wait and hear what those answers are.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Monifa and Lumumba Bandele are married. Separately, this reporter noticed the Lumumba Bandele tweet mentioned in the beginning of the story and came across Monifa Bandele at the press conference mentioned, later confirming the relationship.</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
22 Campaign Finance Bills to Move Through City Council 'Soon,' Speaker Says 2016-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6647:22-campaign-finance-bills-to-move-through-city-council-soon-speaker-says Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_nypl.jpg" alt="mmv nypl" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>Within the next two months, the City Council is expected to vote on a large legislative package that would alter the city’s campaign finance system in a variety of ways and regulate donations to political nonprofits, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said this week. Some of the proposals and the timing of their likely passage have raised concerns, though, that the Council is weakening the city’s model campaign finance system, pushing some reforms through after too long a wait and rushing other, newer bills through just in time for the next municipal election.</p> <p>The Council has before it 22 bills relating to campaign finance law and elections, 14 of which <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6635-city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance" target="_blank">were heard</a> just last week by the Committee on Standards and Ethics. It was the first hearing on legislation for the committee under this Council, which took office in January 2014, owing to the fact that the main bill in that bundle deals with conflicts of interest. The 13 others relate to the campaign finance system.</p> <p>The other eight bills of the 22 were heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">in May</a> by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, and were introduced about one year ago. They have awaited a committee vote since, but have not moved.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, who largely controls which bills are heard and voted on, has promised that the two bundles of bills will be lumped and voted on together. “We will be moving ahead with an extensive package,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions about the concerns raised at last week’s hearing. “We’ve been going through a lot of deliberations, a lot of conversations with stakeholders and others, so I’m very confident about what it is that we will be presenting.”</p> <p>When asked when the vote could happen, she said, “It’s gonna be soon. Probably within the next month or so, without a doubt.”</p> <p>Although a common theme unites 21 of the 22 bills, they have taken vastly different trajectories in the Council’s legislative process. The first package was only heard six months after it was introduced and has since languished in committee. Those proposals came straight out of the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report, which recommended improvements to the campaign finance law. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">These proposals</a> mainly seek to tighten gaps in the campaign finance law, including the elimination of public matching funds for contributions bundled by people with city business, enhanced disclosure rules for entities that do business with the city, and a prohibition on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t participate in the public matching program.</p> <p>The second package has not been as thoroughly vetted, it seems, including the 22nd and most high-profile bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, which would limit donations to political nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.</p> <p>That bill is a direct response to the Campaign for One New York, a now-defunct nonprofit affiliated with Mayor Bill de Blasio that accepted large donations from people who have business with the city. Those activities have led to multiple investigations and allegations of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall, with federal authorities investigating whether government action was offered or done in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York. De Blasio has denied any wrongdoing and no one has been charged.&nbsp;</p> <p>Intro. 1345 and the accompanying 13 bills were introduced on November 16 and were heard just one week later. Although Intro. 1345 was embraced by the Campaign Finance Board, which is an independent city entity, the de Blasio administration, and government reform groups, the rest of the bills are seen as a bit more problematic. Even representatives of the city Conflicts of Interest Board, which would be tasked with implementing Intro. 1345, expressed doubts about COIB’s ability to do so and questioned whether it is the appropriate agency to be assigned the job. Meanwhile, representatives for the Campaign Finance Board critiqued several of the bills relevant to its operations and the city’s well-regarded public campaign finance system.</p> <p>In contrast with the first legislative package, some of <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the new bills</a> are more friendly to Council members and candidates in general, and would ease certain elements of campaign finance regulation including documentation requirements for contributions and the current restriction on the use of non-public campaign funds for official purposes.</p> <p>Government reform groups have questioned the overall approach the Council has taken with the most recent bills, which they say are being rushed along and are based on Council members’ personal experiences with the system rather than objective analysis that would usually be identified by the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>In written testimony submitted to the committee, Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, said it was “perplexing” that the 14 bills were heard by the Standards and Ethics committee when only one of them dealt with conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“These bills are, in major part, detailed technical changes that, unlike previous revisions, have not grown out of the Campaign Finance Board’s statutorily required reports and recommendations, which result in revisions of the system which are openly discussed, negotiated and considered far in advance of the City’s next election cycle,” Lerner wrote, stressing that they could inadvertently weaken the CFB’s independence.</p> <p>She also said the bills “appear to be on a fast track,” while the older bills based on recommendations in the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report have languished. Taking issue with the timing, right on the eve of a city election year, she said the Council should wait till after the 2017 elections to reconsider most of the campaign finance bills and do so through the appropriate committees.</p> <p>The CFB itself criticized the bills as hampering its ability to enforce the campaign finance law, calling them “poison pill” measures in testimony at the November 21 hearing.</p> <p>At a public meeting on December 1, CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn reiterated those concerns. “This legislation has been considered on an accelerated schedule,” she said, stressing that the “hastily drafted” proposals would undermine the board’s oversight of the campaign finance system. She specifically called on the Council to reject one of the bills, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, which allows candidates or their committees to complete or correct contribution cards. “The board believes this bill will enable fraud,” she said, “and remove a weapon for the CFB to detect and prevent it.” Council Member Greenfield was not made available for comment for this article.</p> <p>In urging the Council to delay the bills till after the 2017 elections, Hearn did promise to work with the Council on improving the campaign finance program and commended Council members for Intro. 1345, the political nonprofit donation limits bill. This bill is sponsored by Mark-Viverito, who was not present for the hearing on the bill, which was chaired by standards and ethics committee Chair Alan Maisel.&nbsp;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, stressed that the bills need more time to breathe. “We hope we have at least a month or two to make some needed changes to these bills that represent new ideas and are a marked shift in the management of the campaign finance board,” he told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Dadey said the new package “does feel rushed to us” and that “there’s some question as to whether these will actually strengthen or weaken the program and a much fuller discussion needs to be had before these move forward.” While he acknowledged that Council members should have a significant voice in improving the campaign finance system, he said they should avoid imposing solely their own concerns. “[The campaign finance law] needs to reflect the public’s interest in protecting taxpayer dollars while making it a workable program for the candidates themselves,” Dadey said.</p> <p>Council Member Maisel said the timeline of these newer bills, from drafting to hearing to a possible vote, may be short but is necessary. “There’s an effort to try to get these bills voted on sooner than later because the election is next year,” he said in a phone interview, adding that he was not given a specific timeline to push through the bills. “Whether it’s done before December 31 or the first week of January, I can’t tell you,” he said. Maisel is meeting this week with Council staff to review feedback from the hearing to amend and tweak the bills, he said.</p> <p>Maisel also pushed back against the criticism that the bills might weaken the CFB’s authority, insisting that they’re aimed at making the system more reasonable to encourage participation. “They’re protecting their turf,” he said of the CFB. “If these bills are passed, their powers are intact. I don’t see how [the bills] undermine their authority.”</p> <p>When asked if his committee was the appropriate venue for the campaign finance bills, he said it was the speaker’s office that made the decision. “I have no experience with campaign finance bills, I deal with ethics issues,” he said, in a sense echoing the critique made by others who’ve questioned why campaign finance bills were heard in his committee as opposed to their typical place, government operations, the committee chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p>The proposals have created some degree of internal tension within the Council for multiple reasons, including the committee venue. Additionally, before the bills were introduced, Council Member Kallos was openly skeptical of the effect they might have, telling the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/02/nyregion/behind-closed-doors-measures-to-reform-citys-campaign-laws-raise-concerns.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=nyregion&amp;region=rank&amp;module=package&amp;version=highlights&amp;contentPlacement=6&amp;pgtype=sectionfront" target="_blank">New York Times</a>, “I am concerned about undermining the best parts of a system that has worked for the people.”</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, sponsor of one of the new bills, disagrees. First, Lander told <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/11/after-campaign-for-one-new-york-fallout-council-seeks-to-regulate-political-groups-107012" target="_blank">Politico New York</a> that the Times report had mischaracterized the bills under consideration. On Tuesday, shortly after the speaker’s news conference, Lander told Gotham Gazette the concerns over the bills would be addressed through amendments and that criticism of their timing was unfounded. That the bills were heard through the standards and ethics committee rather than the governmental operations committee made little difference, he said, since the same people and advocacy groups would testify even if there were separate hearings. He also noted that Kallos, the governmental operations chair, was present at the hearing as well.</p> <p>Lander also sought to dispel the notion that the bills were being expedited through the Council. “That’s a silly thing to say,” he said, noting that discussions on Intro. 1345 in particular have been in the works since the shutdown of The Campaign for One New York was announced months ago. And while there was not the same urgency with the eight campaign finance bills from last year, he said, “I think if we get a good package that combines a lot of good reform and sensible legislation, that’s a good legislative process.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/mmv_nypl.jpg" alt="mmv nypl" width="600" height="412" /></p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>Within the next two months, the City Council is expected to vote on a large legislative package that would alter the city’s campaign finance system in a variety of ways and regulate donations to political nonprofits, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said this week. Some of the proposals and the timing of their likely passage have raised concerns, though, that the Council is weakening the city’s model campaign finance system, pushing some reforms through after too long a wait and rushing other, newer bills through just in time for the next municipal election.</p> <p>The Council has before it 22 bills relating to campaign finance law and elections, 14 of which <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6635-city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance" target="_blank">were heard</a> just last week by the Committee on Standards and Ethics. It was the first hearing on legislation for the committee under this Council, which took office in January 2014, owing to the fact that the main bill in that bundle deals with conflicts of interest. The 13 others relate to the campaign finance system.</p> <p>The other eight bills of the 22 were heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">in May</a> by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, and were introduced about one year ago. They have awaited a committee vote since, but have not moved.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito, who largely controls which bills are heard and voted on, has promised that the two bundles of bills will be lumped and voted on together. “We will be moving ahead with an extensive package,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday, in response to Gotham Gazette’s questions about the concerns raised at last week’s hearing. “We’ve been going through a lot of deliberations, a lot of conversations with stakeholders and others, so I’m very confident about what it is that we will be presenting.”</p> <p>When asked when the vote could happen, she said, “It’s gonna be soon. Probably within the next month or so, without a doubt.”</p> <p>Although a common theme unites 21 of the 22 bills, they have taken vastly different trajectories in the Council’s legislative process. The first package was only heard six months after it was introduced and has since languished in committee. Those proposals came straight out of the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report, which recommended improvements to the campaign finance law. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">These proposals</a> mainly seek to tighten gaps in the campaign finance law, including the elimination of public matching funds for contributions bundled by people with city business, enhanced disclosure rules for entities that do business with the city, and a prohibition on contributions from non-registered political committees to candidates who don’t participate in the public matching program.</p> <p>The second package has not been as thoroughly vetted, it seems, including the 22nd and most high-profile bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, which would limit donations to political nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.</p> <p>That bill is a direct response to the Campaign for One New York, a now-defunct nonprofit affiliated with Mayor Bill de Blasio that accepted large donations from people who have business with the city. Those activities have led to multiple investigations and allegations of a pay-to-play culture at City Hall, with federal authorities investigating whether government action was offered or done in exchange for donations to the Campaign for One New York. De Blasio has denied any wrongdoing and no one has been charged.&nbsp;</p> <p>Intro. 1345 and the accompanying 13 bills were introduced on November 16 and were heard just one week later. Although Intro. 1345 was embraced by the Campaign Finance Board, which is an independent city entity, the de Blasio administration, and government reform groups, the rest of the bills are seen as a bit more problematic. Even representatives of the city Conflicts of Interest Board, which would be tasked with implementing Intro. 1345, expressed doubts about COIB’s ability to do so and questioned whether it is the appropriate agency to be assigned the job. Meanwhile, representatives for the Campaign Finance Board critiqued several of the bills relevant to its operations and the city’s well-regarded public campaign finance system.</p> <p>In contrast with the first legislative package, some of <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the new bills</a> are more friendly to Council members and candidates in general, and would ease certain elements of campaign finance regulation including documentation requirements for contributions and the current restriction on the use of non-public campaign funds for official purposes.</p> <p>Government reform groups have questioned the overall approach the Council has taken with the most recent bills, which they say are being rushed along and are based on Council members’ personal experiences with the system rather than objective analysis that would usually be identified by the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>In written testimony submitted to the committee, Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, said it was “perplexing” that the 14 bills were heard by the Standards and Ethics committee when only one of them dealt with conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“These bills are, in major part, detailed technical changes that, unlike previous revisions, have not grown out of the Campaign Finance Board’s statutorily required reports and recommendations, which result in revisions of the system which are openly discussed, negotiated and considered far in advance of the City’s next election cycle,” Lerner wrote, stressing that they could inadvertently weaken the CFB’s independence.</p> <p>She also said the bills “appear to be on a fast track,” while the older bills based on recommendations in the Campaign Finance Board’s 2013 post-election report have languished. Taking issue with the timing, right on the eve of a city election year, she said the Council should wait till after the 2017 elections to reconsider most of the campaign finance bills and do so through the appropriate committees.</p> <p>The CFB itself criticized the bills as hampering its ability to enforce the campaign finance law, calling them “poison pill” measures in testimony at the November 21 hearing.</p> <p>At a public meeting on December 1, CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn reiterated those concerns. “This legislation has been considered on an accelerated schedule,” she said, stressing that the “hastily drafted” proposals would undermine the board’s oversight of the campaign finance system. She specifically called on the Council to reject one of the bills, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, which allows candidates or their committees to complete or correct contribution cards. “The board believes this bill will enable fraud,” she said, “and remove a weapon for the CFB to detect and prevent it.” Council Member Greenfield was not made available for comment for this article.</p> <p>In urging the Council to delay the bills till after the 2017 elections, Hearn did promise to work with the Council on improving the campaign finance program and commended Council members for Intro. 1345, the political nonprofit donation limits bill. This bill is sponsored by Mark-Viverito, who was not present for the hearing on the bill, which was chaired by standards and ethics committee Chair Alan Maisel.&nbsp;</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, stressed that the bills need more time to breathe. “We hope we have at least a month or two to make some needed changes to these bills that represent new ideas and are a marked shift in the management of the campaign finance board,” he told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Dadey said the new package “does feel rushed to us” and that “there’s some question as to whether these will actually strengthen or weaken the program and a much fuller discussion needs to be had before these move forward.” While he acknowledged that Council members should have a significant voice in improving the campaign finance system, he said they should avoid imposing solely their own concerns. “[The campaign finance law] needs to reflect the public’s interest in protecting taxpayer dollars while making it a workable program for the candidates themselves,” Dadey said.</p> <p>Council Member Maisel said the timeline of these newer bills, from drafting to hearing to a possible vote, may be short but is necessary. “There’s an effort to try to get these bills voted on sooner than later because the election is next year,” he said in a phone interview, adding that he was not given a specific timeline to push through the bills. “Whether it’s done before December 31 or the first week of January, I can’t tell you,” he said. Maisel is meeting this week with Council staff to review feedback from the hearing to amend and tweak the bills, he said.</p> <p>Maisel also pushed back against the criticism that the bills might weaken the CFB’s authority, insisting that they’re aimed at making the system more reasonable to encourage participation. “They’re protecting their turf,” he said of the CFB. “If these bills are passed, their powers are intact. I don’t see how [the bills] undermine their authority.”</p> <p>When asked if his committee was the appropriate venue for the campaign finance bills, he said it was the speaker’s office that made the decision. “I have no experience with campaign finance bills, I deal with ethics issues,” he said, in a sense echoing the critique made by others who’ve questioned why campaign finance bills were heard in his committee as opposed to their typical place, government operations, the committee chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p>The proposals have created some degree of internal tension within the Council for multiple reasons, including the committee venue. Additionally, before the bills were introduced, Council Member Kallos was openly skeptical of the effect they might have, telling the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/02/nyregion/behind-closed-doors-measures-to-reform-citys-campaign-laws-raise-concerns.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=nyregion&amp;region=rank&amp;module=package&amp;version=highlights&amp;contentPlacement=6&amp;pgtype=sectionfront" target="_blank">New York Times</a>, “I am concerned about undermining the best parts of a system that has worked for the people.”</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, sponsor of one of the new bills, disagrees. First, Lander told <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/11/after-campaign-for-one-new-york-fallout-council-seeks-to-regulate-political-groups-107012" target="_blank">Politico New York</a> that the Times report had mischaracterized the bills under consideration. On Tuesday, shortly after the speaker’s news conference, Lander told Gotham Gazette the concerns over the bills would be addressed through amendments and that criticism of their timing was unfounded. That the bills were heard through the standards and ethics committee rather than the governmental operations committee made little difference, he said, since the same people and advocacy groups would testify even if there were separate hearings. He also noted that Kallos, the governmental operations chair, was present at the hearing as well.</p> <p>Lander also sought to dispel the notion that the bills were being expedited through the Council. “That’s a silly thing to say,” he said, noting that discussions on Intro. 1345 in particular have been in the works since the shutdown of The Campaign for One New York was announced months ago. And while there was not the same urgency with the eight campaign finance bills from last year, he said, “I think if we get a good package that combines a lot of good reform and sensible legislation, that’s a good legislative process.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
City Council Hears Legislative Package on Conflicts of Interest and Campaign Finance 2016-11-21T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-21T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6635:city-council-hears-legislative-package-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-campaign-finance Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/berger_council.jpg" alt="berger council" width="600" height="410" /></p> <p>Henry Berger testifying (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council heard testimony Monday on a broad package of bills that would prevent conflicts of interest between elected officials and political nonprofits, limit the electoral influence of those who do business with the city, and make it easier for first-time candidates to navigate the city’s campaign finance system.</p> <p>The Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics heard 14 bills on Monday in what was the current Council’s first hearing of the committee focused on legislation. Of the 14, the headlining bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, was the Council’s direct response to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit formed by the mayor’s allies to promote his agenda that has been at the center of controversy, criticism, and law enforcement investigations.</p> <p>The Campaign for One New York, since disbanded, skirted the city’s campaign finance law, in part by raising major sums from entities with city business. Federal investigators have been looking at whether government action was exchanged for donations. The mayor has maintained that he, his administration, and the organization followed the law and sought guidances from the Conflicts of Interest Board throughout. His activities were probed by the city Campaign Finance Board, which let him off with a slap on the wrist but stressed the need to close the loophole in the law that he took advantage of in fundraising for his group.</p> <p>The bill at hand is sponsored by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally. It takes aim at that exact loophole and limits donations from those who are lobbyists or have business before the city to nonprofits created or controlled by elected officials or their agents. The limit of $400 currently applies to donations made by such categories of donors directly to candidate committees. Under the bill, if an organization spends more than 10 percent of its annual budget on “public-facing communications that feature the name or picture of the elected official who controls them” contributions to the nonprofit would be limited and it would have to disclose its donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito did not attend the hearing, which was led by Standards and Ethics Committee Chair Alan Maisel. Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson, Robin Levine, said in an email that Council staff was monitoring the hearing and will brief the speaker as she reviews the testimony.</p> <p>While there was broad support for Mark-Viverito’s bill, there were questions about its language and the implementation that it requires. As it currently stands, the bill seeks to prevent actual and perceived conflicts of interest by preventing business interests from donating large sums of money to a nonprofit to ingratiate themselves with an elected official. But concerns were raised that the bill paints with a broad brush and would include nonprofits that are affiliated to an extent with public officials but aren’t involved in public fundraising to benefit those officials. The bill also doesn’t include high-ranking public officials in city agencies, only elected officials. Council Members sought feedback on how they could amend and improve the proposal, and agency heads suggested more clear definitions of the organizations that would be covered.</p> <p>The rest of the bills being heard Monday aim at streamlining campaign finance disclosure requirements and tweak certain aspects of the city’s campaign finance law. These bills would usually be heard by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has heard another package of campaign finance reform bills that awaits a vote, but were lumped together with the first proposal concerning conflicts of interest, which is under the standards and ethics committee’s jurisdiction.</p> <p>“All these bills are designed to ensure we streamline the process of running for office without sacrificing the safeguards that ensure integrity of our democratic process,” said Council Member David Greenfield, sponsor of five of the bills, in his opening statement.</p> <p>The campaign finance bills cover a lot of ground. One bill shortens the deadline for candidates to choose a hearing before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings for alleged campaign violations and penalties. Currently, most candidates go through a more informal hearing before the Campaign Finance Board. Another bill requires campaign contributions to be deposited within 20 business days, and cash contributions to be deposited within 10 business days.</p> <p>A bill sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander would allow non-public campaign funds to be used by public officials for their official duties. One of the proposals that the CFB particularly opposed would prohibit CFB staff from being present at an executive session of the board where campaign finance violations are being adjudicated. This bill would prevent the CFB’s own executive director from attending such a session.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=info&amp;Search" target="_blank">The main bill</a>, Intro. 1345,&nbsp;received support, with certain caveats, from the de Blasio administration, the Conflicts of Interest Board, the Campaign Finance Board, and private government reform organizations that favor more transparency in campaign finance.</p> <p>Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support of all the bills but expressed certain doubts about the scope of Intro. 1345 and about one provision in <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, one of Greenfield’s bills.</p> <p>On Intro. 1345, Berger said the administration was “generally supportive of the intent of this bill,” but said the definition of an organization affiliated with an elected official was “overbroad and may be problematic.” He warned that it could also raise legal concerns over free speech of private entities. “These concerns would need to be addressed in future discussions at a staff level,” he said.</p> <p>Berger cited the precautions that the mayor’s team took for the Campaign for One New York, including the willing disclosure of donors, which the new bill would require, and he agreed that limits should be placed on nonprofits that create a perception of helping a particular candidate. “[Intro. 1345] provides very strong assurances that would avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” he said. “And that’s important. Confidence in our government requires that.”</p> <p>But he worried that the bill would also apply to nonprofits that don’t raise funds and are already subject to extensive reporting requirements, such as the Economic Development Corporation, or programmatic organizations that don’t benefit an individual but may raise funds such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “We’re looking for some tightening but....we think this bill comes very close to drawing the line,” he said.</p> <p>Once a bill is heard in Council committee, behind-the-scenes negotiation usually occurs to tweak bill language, before a bill is voted on in committee and then, if it passes, the the full Council. At times, like the other package of campaign finance reform bills that was heard months ago by the government operations committee, bills do not receive a committee vote soon after a hearing, if at all. Council sources do indicate, though, that they plan to move the bills heard today quickly, while also moving the other campaign finance bills.</p> <p>Changes to the campaign finance system would already be late in the four-year election cycle as the election year of 2017 is fast-approaching and candidates have already been raising money.</p> <p>The political nonprofits bill also expands the definition for those who do business before the city to include family members, which, Berger said, would create logistical and technical issues for the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, which maintains the city’s doing business database. MOCS would need time to adjust to the bill, he later told Council members.</p> <p>Addressing Intro. 1355, which relaxes certain documentation requirements for campaign contributions, Berger said there was a potential for fraud since the bill removes the obligation for a candidate committee to collect contributor cards if they receive a check or money order with the name and address of a donor on them.</p> <p>Berger’s biggest complaints, however, were that certain necessary proposals were not included in the package of bills. He said the Council should consider legislation that would overhaul the process for post-election campaign audits, to ensure they are concluded faster; proposed that legal fees for responding to campaign finance issues should not be counted against a campaign’s expenditure limits; and suggested that candidates who must raise money for a general election during primary season be allowed to attribute fundraising expenditures to their general election spending cap instead of the primary one.</p> <p>Representatives of the Conflicts of Interest Board commended the Council on Intro. 1345, but said they are unsure about being charged with implementing it. Executive Director Carolyn Lisa Miller said the board “remains uncertain whether we are the right agency to administer the legislation,” but expressed willingness to work with the Council and the administration.</p> <p>Miller listed 20 possible issues arising from the legislation, ranging from the definition of the nonprofits covered to the substantial penalties levied and the timeframe of disclosures required by organizations. She also cited issues with enforcement and investigation. COIB is a small city agency, with 26 full-time employees, and has no investigators of its own, relying instead on the Department of Investigation which is an independent agency. Miller said COIB would likely require additional staff and funding to comply with the legislation.</p> <p>What might complicate things further is that COIB cannot enforce fines on City Council members, if one should choose not to accept a violation found and penalty assessed by the board. In such a situation, which Miller said has never arisen to date, the board could only make recommendations to the Speaker and the Council which would have to decide to refer the case to the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>Council Member Lander, co-sponsor of Intro. 1345 and a prime sponsor on another one of the bills, pushed back against Miller’s uncertainty. “To me the reason to put this legislation and its enforcement with you is it is an issue of conflicts of interest,” he said. “Even though we are concerned about the public-facing communication, what we’re guarding against here is public corruption. That’s the goal, making sure that people who have business interests with the city don’t have an avenue into giving that influences public officials. That’s not primarily campaign finance. That’s primarily conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>With 13 bills out of the package dealing directly with the Campaign Finance Board, much of the hearing focused on testimony from Amy Loprest, CFB executive director. Loprest, like COIB’s Miller, praised Intro. 1345 but had strong apprehensions nonetheless. “We note the several concerns regarding the bill’s drafting and implementation raised by our colleagues at the Conflicts of Interest Board,” Loprest said in her opening statement. “We urge the Council to take those into account, and we will be available to assist in any way they or the Council deems appropriate.”</p> <p>She also criticized the legislation’s accompanying “poison pill” measures which would “significantly weaken the CFB’s oversight of the matching funds program.”</p> <p>“These measures should not be the cost of implementing a commendable and necessary reform,” she said, taking issue with the timing of many of the proposals, saying they would be disruptive to the board’s preparations for the 2017 city elections.</p> <p>In a cordial back-and-forth with Council Member Greenfield, who argued that the Council’s proposed changes to CFB procedures were warranted, necessary, and justified under its jurisdiction, Loprest attempted to explain her broader concerns.</p> <p>“It is important for us to review how we do operate, how we do our audits, how we do our procedures,” she conceded. “I do however think that this kind of piecemeal, finger in one part of a complicated process will have unintended and unwelcome consequences and will make things more complicated when our goal is to try and make things less complicated.”</p> <p>Greenfield pushed back. “I think that’s where we’re going to come to agree to disagree,” he said. “Just like your job is to audit candidates, our job is to audit the CFB, for lack of a better term.”</p> <p>Good government groups testified in support of the bills, but had reservations about both the timing and the manner in which they were drafted and introduced. Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, approved of the bills but said it was late in the game to consider changes to the city’s campaign finance system, with the next election so close.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, applauded the Council, but insisted that the bills should have included more public discussion when they were being drafted. Intro. 1345, in particular, addresses concerns that Citizens Union raised earlier this year in a proposal to regulate nonprofit organizations affiliated with elected officials. “We believe the proposed bill can effectively bring needed oversight to these organizations,” Dadey said at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>The only testimony that rejected most of the proposals outright came from Dominic Mauro, staff attorney for Reinvent Albany, an advocacy organization. Mauro said his organization supported the intent of Intro. 1345 but questioned how it could be implemented. The entire package of bills, Mauro said, “add up to a huge step backwards.” Admitting that the CFB is “imperfect, he said, however, that his organization thinks “Many of these bills seem like petty retaliation and an expression of irritation by Council members who are annoyed with CFB nitpicking.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/berger_council.jpg" alt="berger council" width="600" height="410" /></p> <p>Henry Berger testifying (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council heard testimony Monday on a broad package of bills that would prevent conflicts of interest between elected officials and political nonprofits, limit the electoral influence of those who do business with the city, and make it easier for first-time candidates to navigate the city’s campaign finance system.</p> <p>The Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics heard 14 bills on Monday in what was the current Council’s first hearing of the committee focused on legislation. Of the 14, the headlining bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881384&amp;GUID=5798F1BB-75F8-4710-9026-D6B7C6421418&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1345</a>, was the Council’s direct response to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit formed by the mayor’s allies to promote his agenda that has been at the center of controversy, criticism, and law enforcement investigations.</p> <p>The Campaign for One New York, since disbanded, skirted the city’s campaign finance law, in part by raising major sums from entities with city business. Federal investigators have been looking at whether government action was exchanged for donations. The mayor has maintained that he, his administration, and the organization followed the law and sought guidances from the Conflicts of Interest Board throughout. His activities were probed by the city Campaign Finance Board, which let him off with a slap on the wrist but stressed the need to close the loophole in the law that he took advantage of in fundraising for his group.</p> <p>The bill at hand is sponsored by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a de Blasio ally. It takes aim at that exact loophole and limits donations from those who are lobbyists or have business before the city to nonprofits created or controlled by elected officials or their agents. The limit of $400 currently applies to donations made by such categories of donors directly to candidate committees. Under the bill, if an organization spends more than 10 percent of its annual budget on “public-facing communications that feature the name or picture of the elected official who controls them” contributions to the nonprofit would be limited and it would have to disclose its donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>Mark-Viverito did not attend the hearing, which was led by Standards and Ethics Committee Chair Alan Maisel. Mark-Viverito’s spokesperson, Robin Levine, said in an email that Council staff was monitoring the hearing and will brief the speaker as she reviews the testimony.</p> <p>While there was broad support for Mark-Viverito’s bill, there were questions about its language and the implementation that it requires. As it currently stands, the bill seeks to prevent actual and perceived conflicts of interest by preventing business interests from donating large sums of money to a nonprofit to ingratiate themselves with an elected official. But concerns were raised that the bill paints with a broad brush and would include nonprofits that are affiliated to an extent with public officials but aren’t involved in public fundraising to benefit those officials. The bill also doesn’t include high-ranking public officials in city agencies, only elected officials. Council Members sought feedback on how they could amend and improve the proposal, and agency heads suggested more clear definitions of the organizations that would be covered.</p> <p>The rest of the bills being heard Monday aim at streamlining campaign finance disclosure requirements and tweak certain aspects of the city’s campaign finance law. These bills would usually be heard by the Committee on Governmental Operations, which has heard another package of campaign finance reform bills that awaits a vote, but were lumped together with the first proposal concerning conflicts of interest, which is under the standards and ethics committee’s jurisdiction.</p> <p>“All these bills are designed to ensure we streamline the process of running for office without sacrificing the safeguards that ensure integrity of our democratic process,” said Council Member David Greenfield, sponsor of five of the bills, in his opening statement.</p> <p>The campaign finance bills cover a lot of ground. One bill shortens the deadline for candidates to choose a hearing before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings for alleged campaign violations and penalties. Currently, most candidates go through a more informal hearing before the Campaign Finance Board. Another bill requires campaign contributions to be deposited within 20 business days, and cash contributions to be deposited within 10 business days.</p> <p>A bill sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander would allow non-public campaign funds to be used by public officials for their official duties. One of the proposals that the CFB particularly opposed would prohibit CFB staff from being present at an executive session of the board where campaign finance violations are being adjudicated. This bill would prevent the CFB’s own executive director from attending such a session.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=515882&amp;GUID=DDE18241-3CD4-47A9-AEDB-C4FD07DE53E0&amp;Options=info&amp;Search" target="_blank">The main bill</a>, Intro. 1345,&nbsp;received support, with certain caveats, from the de Blasio administration, the Conflicts of Interest Board, the Campaign Finance Board, and private government reform organizations that favor more transparency in campaign finance.</p> <p>Henry Berger, special counsel to the mayor, testified in support of all the bills but expressed certain doubts about the scope of Intro. 1345 and about one provision in <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2881981&amp;GUID=D4F1D1EF-7E62-429E-9BBE-761FC8B25EDB&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">Intro. 1355</a>, one of Greenfield’s bills.</p> <p>On Intro. 1345, Berger said the administration was “generally supportive of the intent of this bill,” but said the definition of an organization affiliated with an elected official was “overbroad and may be problematic.” He warned that it could also raise legal concerns over free speech of private entities. “These concerns would need to be addressed in future discussions at a staff level,” he said.</p> <p>Berger cited the precautions that the mayor’s team took for the Campaign for One New York, including the willing disclosure of donors, which the new bill would require, and he agreed that limits should be placed on nonprofits that create a perception of helping a particular candidate. “[Intro. 1345] provides very strong assurances that would avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” he said. “And that’s important. Confidence in our government requires that.”</p> <p>But he worried that the bill would also apply to nonprofits that don’t raise funds and are already subject to extensive reporting requirements, such as the Economic Development Corporation, or programmatic organizations that don’t benefit an individual but may raise funds such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “We’re looking for some tightening but....we think this bill comes very close to drawing the line,” he said.</p> <p>Once a bill is heard in Council committee, behind-the-scenes negotiation usually occurs to tweak bill language, before a bill is voted on in committee and then, if it passes, the the full Council. At times, like the other package of campaign finance reform bills that was heard months ago by the government operations committee, bills do not receive a committee vote soon after a hearing, if at all. Council sources do indicate, though, that they plan to move the bills heard today quickly, while also moving the other campaign finance bills.</p> <p>Changes to the campaign finance system would already be late in the four-year election cycle as the election year of 2017 is fast-approaching and candidates have already been raising money.</p> <p>The political nonprofits bill also expands the definition for those who do business before the city to include family members, which, Berger said, would create logistical and technical issues for the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, which maintains the city’s doing business database. MOCS would need time to adjust to the bill, he later told Council members.</p> <p>Addressing Intro. 1355, which relaxes certain documentation requirements for campaign contributions, Berger said there was a potential for fraud since the bill removes the obligation for a candidate committee to collect contributor cards if they receive a check or money order with the name and address of a donor on them.</p> <p>Berger’s biggest complaints, however, were that certain necessary proposals were not included in the package of bills. He said the Council should consider legislation that would overhaul the process for post-election campaign audits, to ensure they are concluded faster; proposed that legal fees for responding to campaign finance issues should not be counted against a campaign’s expenditure limits; and suggested that candidates who must raise money for a general election during primary season be allowed to attribute fundraising expenditures to their general election spending cap instead of the primary one.</p> <p>Representatives of the Conflicts of Interest Board commended the Council on Intro. 1345, but said they are unsure about being charged with implementing it. Executive Director Carolyn Lisa Miller said the board “remains uncertain whether we are the right agency to administer the legislation,” but expressed willingness to work with the Council and the administration.</p> <p>Miller listed 20 possible issues arising from the legislation, ranging from the definition of the nonprofits covered to the substantial penalties levied and the timeframe of disclosures required by organizations. She also cited issues with enforcement and investigation. COIB is a small city agency, with 26 full-time employees, and has no investigators of its own, relying instead on the Department of Investigation which is an independent agency. Miller said COIB would likely require additional staff and funding to comply with the legislation.</p> <p>What might complicate things further is that COIB cannot enforce fines on City Council members, if one should choose not to accept a violation found and penalty assessed by the board. In such a situation, which Miller said has never arisen to date, the board could only make recommendations to the Speaker and the Council which would have to decide to refer the case to the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>Council Member Lander, co-sponsor of Intro. 1345 and a prime sponsor on another one of the bills, pushed back against Miller’s uncertainty. “To me the reason to put this legislation and its enforcement with you is it is an issue of conflicts of interest,” he said. “Even though we are concerned about the public-facing communication, what we’re guarding against here is public corruption. That’s the goal, making sure that people who have business interests with the city don’t have an avenue into giving that influences public officials. That’s not primarily campaign finance. That’s primarily conflicts of interest.”</p> <p>With 13 bills out of the package dealing directly with the Campaign Finance Board, much of the hearing focused on testimony from Amy Loprest, CFB executive director. Loprest, like COIB’s Miller, praised Intro. 1345 but had strong apprehensions nonetheless. “We note the several concerns regarding the bill’s drafting and implementation raised by our colleagues at the Conflicts of Interest Board,” Loprest said in her opening statement. “We urge the Council to take those into account, and we will be available to assist in any way they or the Council deems appropriate.”</p> <p>She also criticized the legislation’s accompanying “poison pill” measures which would “significantly weaken the CFB’s oversight of the matching funds program.”</p> <p>“These measures should not be the cost of implementing a commendable and necessary reform,” she said, taking issue with the timing of many of the proposals, saying they would be disruptive to the board’s preparations for the 2017 city elections.</p> <p>In a cordial back-and-forth with Council Member Greenfield, who argued that the Council’s proposed changes to CFB procedures were warranted, necessary, and justified under its jurisdiction, Loprest attempted to explain her broader concerns.</p> <p>“It is important for us to review how we do operate, how we do our audits, how we do our procedures,” she conceded. “I do however think that this kind of piecemeal, finger in one part of a complicated process will have unintended and unwelcome consequences and will make things more complicated when our goal is to try and make things less complicated.”</p> <p>Greenfield pushed back. “I think that’s where we’re going to come to agree to disagree,” he said. “Just like your job is to audit candidates, our job is to audit the CFB, for lack of a better term.”</p> <p>Good government groups testified in support of the bills, but had reservations about both the timing and the manner in which they were drafted and introduced. Gene Russianoff, senior attorney at the New York Public Interest Research Group, approved of the bills but said it was late in the game to consider changes to the city’s campaign finance system, with the next election so close.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, applauded the Council, but insisted that the bills should have included more public discussion when they were being drafted. Intro. 1345, in particular, addresses concerns that Citizens Union raised earlier this year in a proposal to regulate nonprofit organizations affiliated with elected officials. “We believe the proposed bill can effectively bring needed oversight to these organizations,” Dadey said at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>The only testimony that rejected most of the proposals outright came from Dominic Mauro, staff attorney for Reinvent Albany, an advocacy organization. Mauro said his organization supported the intent of Intro. 1345 but questioned how it could be implemented. The entire package of bills, Mauro said, “add up to a huge step backwards.” Admitting that the CFB is “imperfect, he said, however, that his organization thinks “Many of these bills seem like petty retaliation and an expression of irritation by Council members who are annoyed with CFB nitpicking.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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