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 2017-10-21T14:01:13+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 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
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Fair Share: Design Flaws, Flashpoints & Possible Updates 2016-11-20T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-20T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6633:fair-share-design-flaws-flashpoints-possible-updates Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27449795996_b13ffb1f6f_z.jpg" alt="garbage trucks" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Trucks (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p><em><strong>This is part two of a two-part series on the city’s Fair Share rules. Read part one: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6630-city-may-soon-have-more-formal-fair-share-discussion" target="_blank">City May Soon Have More Formal ‘Fair Share’ Discussion</a></strong></em></p> <p><strong>Fair Share Flawed from the Beginning, Some Say</strong><br />Ronald Shiffman, now professor emeritus at the Pratt Institute and co-founder of Pratt’s Center for Community Development, was appointed to the newly-expanded City Planning Commission in 1990, and was present for the adoption of the Fair Share Criteria. He told Gotham Gazette that the creation of the criteria was compelled in large part by increasing concern over the then-nascent homelessness crisis and the early power of the emerging environmental justice movement.</p> <p>“The criteria came out of the need to house populations that were more difficult to house at that time: the homeless, people just released from mental hospitals, people with AIDS,” Shiffman said. “Because of statewide deinstitutionalization policies, the city had to find a way to house these people. The criteria were meant in part to prevent communities from discriminating against those populations.”</p> <p>Shiffman also said that the criteria were kept intentionally vague, so as not to “tie the city’s hands” when shelters and other facilities needed to be sited quickly, and noted the difficulty of achieving an equal distribution of burdens.</p> <p>“How do you make sure that no area is getting over-concentration due to having more city-owned property or being less powerful than other communities?” Shiffman said. “There is a difficult line between preventing communities from excluding populations in dire need of housing and giving communities tools to protest an over-concentration of ‘burdensome’ facilities. It was a goal, to find a balance, and for everyone to carry their fair share of residential facilities.”</p> <p>According to Shiffman, the Fair Share Criteria began to lose power as more city services and facilities were taken over by not-for-profit and private entities, because the accountability and mapping requirements set forth by the criteria apply to only city-owned and operated facilities.</p> <p>“With the privatization of those facilities, city control kind of evaporated,” Shiffman said. “Devolving so much authority to the private sector allowed service providers and the city to do things that were far more inequitable than when we were dealing only with city-owned lots.”</p> <p>At the same time that the newly-created criteria sought to compel communities to do their part to shelter fellow New Yorkers, the environmental justice movement saw the criteria as a tool to help protect low-income communities of color from becoming dumping grounds for waste processing stations.</p> <p>Eddie Bautista is the director of the New York Environmental Justice Alliance; in 1990, when the criteria were enacted, he was the Director of Community Planning with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). Bautista said that the criteria emerged at the same time that the environmental justice movement in New York was ramping up.</p> <p>“Environmental activists saw Fair Share as an organizing opportunity,” Bautista told Gotham Gazette. “We developed a citywide coalition with groups doing different environmental organizing in low-income neighborhoods of color.” Those neighborhoods, Bautista said, had “too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good stuff.”</p> <p>Bautista and others in the environmental justice movement at the time hoped that the criteria would increase transparency of the city facility-siting process, and provide an “early warning” to communities whose neighborhoods had been selected for waste processing stations so that they might intervene.</p> <p>“The Charter Revision in ‘89 put land use in the hands of the City Council,” Bautista said.</p> <p>While NYLPI was able to prevent the construction of two sludge treatment facilities using the criteria as an argument, Bautista says that, overall, the criteria are too superficial in nature and too opaque in execution to be impactful.</p> <p>“Fair Share was never designed to get at the root causes of inequity in neighborhoods,” Bautista said. “It was made to look at the symptoms of the problem; it wasn’t going to change the siting dynamic.”</p> <p>Bautista also points to the lack of penalties levied upon city agencies that do not submit upcoming facilities to the Citywide Statement of Needs; noting that there are no consequences for an agency that does not include plans to open a new facility in a neighborhood. For instance, the Fire Department submitted a site relocation proposal in the Statement of Needs for <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/about/publications/son_16_17.pdf" target="_blank">Fiscal Years 2016/2017</a> but did not do so for <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/about/publications/son_17_18.pdf" target="_blank">Fiscal Years 2017/2018</a>. At the same time, in 2016/2017, Department of Homeless Services and the Administration of Child Services had no site proposals, but in the next statement, both agencies put forward multiple projects. Not enforcing a complete picture of new facilities in neighborhoods means that communities “never get an accurate view of what’s happening in their areas,” Bautista said.</p> <p>“We had three administrations where Fair Share was meaningless because the regulatory framework made it so toothless,” Bautista said, referring to Mayors Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg.</p> <p>A representative for the City Planning Commission confirmed that there are no punitive measures taken against agencies that fail to participate in the annual statement, but that checks and balances on siting decisions occur throughout the ULURP and public comment process. Often, it is left to City Council oversight and public pushback to a Council member or at a Council hearing to hold sway over these types of omissions.</p> <p>Despite high hopes at the outset, there is no doubt that the Fair Share Criteria have not proved as useful as early proponents had hoped. But, their influence is starting to be felt again in conversations around distribution of facilities. The perception and reality of inequitable distribution are a constant in headlines across New York, as evidenced by the defeated proposal for the homeless shelter in Wakefield, which would have oversaturated the neighborhood, and the agitation over the conversion of the hotel into a homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens, where the city has limited such facilities. In both situations, the city has had to navigate local concerns while attempting to install services and infrastructure for a growing population. In the case of Wakefield, Council Member Andy Cohen believes Fair Share was definitely a contributing factor in the administration’s final decision. In an interview outside City Hall, he told Gotham Gazette that there is a tension between the city’s need to house the homeless and the needs of communities.</p> <p>“I think in order to maintain quality of life there just has to be balance,” he said, “and having a disproportionate number of homeless people being serviced out of one community, I think taxes the NYPD.” He cited as an example one of the shelters in the Wakefield neighborhood that he said had generated more than 500 911 calls within the first six months of opening. “The precinct is not able to service the rest of the...precinct if they’re answering all of these calls so that’s the kind of example of why I think it’s important that these facilities are spread out in a proportional and representative way,” Council Member Cohen said.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Fair Share Flashpoints</strong><br />Council Speaker Mark-Viverito ignited a firestorm of protest and earned quite a few applause when she spoke hopefully in her <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/nyregion/melissa-mark-viverito-council-speaker-vows-to-pursue-new-criminal-justice-reforms.html?_r=0" target="_blank">2016 State of the City address</a> of reducing the jail population of Rikers Island so significantly “that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality,” and announced the creation of a special commission to be led by Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. The commission is reviewing the city’s entire criminal justice system, including the possibility of closing the island’s jails and relocating the detainees and inmates.</p> <p><a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160331/college-point/city-quietly-eying-sites-for-new-jails-replace-rikers-island-sources" target="_blank">DNAinfo reported in March</a> that, contrary to earlier claims from the mayor’s office that the closure proposal was a “noble” but “unworkable” concept, city officials had begun examining several locations for new and expanded jails that might house the thousands displaced by shuttering Rikers complexes. As of October 20, Rikers held about 7,500 inmates, many awaiting trial, and other city jails off the island held about 2,200, for a Department of Correction headcount of 9,764, according to a DOC spokesperson.</p> <p>According to DNAinfo, officials identified possible locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and on Staten Island, “where two new jails — each housing as many as 2,000 inmates — could be built.” According to several proposals that have been around for years, existing detention centers could and should be expanded to also accommodate detainees if Rikers were to be closed -- something Mayor de Blasio has called a long-shot and a many years, multi-billion dollar project if it were to ever come to fruition.</p> <p>Perhaps even more daunting to the prospect of closing Rikers jails than several billion dollars in costs are the roadblocks thrown up by the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. In the event that the city would need to site small jails to take on the incarcerated population, each site would be subject to a lengthy, complicated, and controversial process that also requires the application of the Fair Share Criteria. Pushback from several City Council members was quick and fierce when DNAinfo reported on potential <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160404/east-new-york/more-neighborhoods-surface-as-possible-new-jail-sites-for-rikers-shutdown" target="_blank">communities</a> being targeted. No one wants a jail in their district - or “back yard.”</p> <p>One site on the short list for a hypothetical new jail is Hunt’s Point, where a jail barge holding 800 prisoners is currently moored - and the very neighborhood Mark-Viverito held up as an example of an area already saturated with more than its fair share of burdensome facilities.</p> <p>“While I understand that we need to make strides in improving corrections infrastructure, primarily Rikers Island, the solution is not building a new facility in the South Bronx,” City Council Member Rafael Salamanca, recently elected to represent the area, said in an April <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/jeffrey-d-klein/klein-salamanca-city-no-mini-rikers-hunts-point-community" target="_blank">press release</a>, released in collaboration with State Senator Jeff Klein.</p> <p>City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Ridgewood, said in a statement that while he has not been able to verify that the city is considering using a National Grid site in his district as a jail location, “...if it were true, the proposal would need to go through public land use review, and I would never allow it to pass.” The Council is known to defer to the local representative on land use decisions.</p> <p>City Council Member Joseph Borelli, of Staten Island’s south shore, has advocated for addressing conditions at Rikers in lieu of shutting it down. He put his response plainly in <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/02/staten_island_jail.html" target="_blank">his letter</a> to Mark-Viverito: “No one wants a jail next to their house.”&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Homeless Shelters</strong><br />In 2013, then-Comptroller John Liu <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/20130509_NYC_ShelterSiteReport_v24_May.pdf" target="_blank">released a report</a> that set out to examine the way the city chooses sites for homeless shelters, and to “determine if the City’s goal of transparency is being effectively achieved by implementation of the Fair Share Criteria.” The answer, in short, was “no,” but the report dove deep into the ways the complex process of siting city facilities is made even more convoluted and opaque when different kinds of shelters and shelter operators are in play.</p> <p>“Shelters are undoubtedly clustered in low-income neighborhoods,” the report stated. Using data from 2011, the comptroller’s office showed that “family and adult shelters were unevenly dispersed across the city,” with the greatest concentrations found in the Bronx, followed by Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. Staten Island was not included, because its six shelters made the borough an outlier that skewed citywide results. The analysis is never as simple as being borough-based, of course, and there are specific communities that are at the heart of fair share issues.</p> <p>Though the unequal distribution of shelters was stark, the report was more an indictment of the failure of the Fair Share Criteria to ensure transparency in the shelter siting process. The criteria, the report said, should “set the framework for dialogue between communities and government in an effort to achieve optimal levels of efficiency, utility, and fairness in the siting of public facilities,” and were developed “to provide communities with a transparent decision-making process that facilitates adequate planning and takes communities’ needs into account.”</p> <p>To this end, the report pointed out a litany of shortcomings, chief among them that a large number of homeless shelters are regularly not included on the annual Citywide Statement of Needs. Many DHS shelters are excluded, as are emergency shelters, which by nature are not anticipated, though potential sites could be identified earlier; as well as per diem shelters, “which are not City facilities” and therefore skirt a real public input process. Those exclusions, the report says, prevent communities from offering comment or intervening once a site has been chosen.</p> <p>The lengthy report contains a thorough critique of and suggestions for improvement to the transparency aspects of the Fair Share Criteria, but the driving conclusions were that “there is poor notification and limited community participation in decisions about siting family and adult homeless shelters” and that “clustering is occurring and that certain neighborhoods across the City have a higher proportion of family and adult shelters than others” - namely, low-income neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville in Brooklyn, Fordham, Morris Heights, Belmont, and East Tremont in the Bronx, and Central Harlem in Manhattan.</p> <p>If the public notification and input process were improved, the report says, a more transparent process might create a more equitable distribution of facilities.</p> <p>The problems of transparency and clustering don’t seem to have improved significantly since that data was collected in 2011.</p> <p>In 2015, the Department of Homeless Services <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150824/belmont/map-10-community-districts-carry-bulk-of-citys-homeless-shelters" target="_blank">released data</a> showing that the ten community districts with the most homeless shelters contain more shelters than the other 49 districts combined. Of those top ten districts, four were located in the Bronx.</p> <p>The other areas with the highest concentration of shelters were almost all low-income and predominantly non-white, including Manhattan Community Boards 10 and 3 in Harlem and the Lower East Side, respectively; Brooklyn CB3 in Bed-Stuy; and Manhattan CB11 in East Harlem.</p> <p>“New York City is legally obligated to provide shelter to any New Yorker who would otherwise be on the streets,” said a Department of Homeless Services spokesperson in an email. “Mayor de Blasio charged the administration with evaluating the breadth of human services located in each community district citywide to identify areas to locate new shelter facilities. We are committed to engaging communities on these issues, listening to feedback and working to address community concerns.”</p> <p>DHS takes a number of factors into consideration when selecting a new site for a homeless shelter -- rating the bid made for the site, whether the building has the appropriate documentation, including a Certificate of Occupancy, whether it complies with requirements of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), timeframe of availability, potential capacity and saturation, among others. The OTDA also has to approve the expansion of an existing shelter. In non-emergency circumstances, the city ensures that elected officials are informed of a shelter opening at least 45 days in advance. DHS now also creates a Community Advisory Board for every new shelter. These boards, comprised of appointees of local elected officials and community members, hold monthly meetings with DHS staff, the shelter operator, and NYPD to discuss any pertinent issues.</p> <p>However, the regulatory void in which homeless shelter siting operates became apparent in 2014, when DHS successfully opened a new homeless shelter for adult families without children at 56-66 Clay St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, despite protests from local officials and community members that a public review process had not taken place.</p> <p>Assembly Member Joseph Lentol pushed back, citing the four existing shelters in his district, and asking city officials to consider the Fair Share Criteria before making a final decision.</p> <p>"For more than 40 years we have been our brother’s keeper, and we continue to accept that responsibility on the condition that we are not being unfairly singled out to carry this burden," Lentol said in a letter to Department of Homeless Services about the conflict. "Other communities are not carrying this same burden because Community Board 1 is unfairly carrying this load."</p> <p>But the shelter on Clay Street was not subject to the Fair Share Criteria, or to any lengthy public review process. It was instated as an emergency shelter, for which DHS must only give seven days notice. While DHS acted legally, the shelter felt as though it had been “smuggled in by the dead of night,” Board 1 chair Dealice Fuller said in a letter to Mayor de Blasio last year.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Waste Management</strong><br />On August 17, Mayor de Blasio announced major planned reforms to the city’s commercial sanitation industry, which would seek to reduce truck traffic and emissions, increase recycling and promote environmental justice by creating commercial waste zones that are each served by one private sanitation company. The plan was praised by the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition, an environmental justice community group that has long advocated against the problem of waste facility clustering in the city.</p> <p>While city officials are making and eyeing significant strides toward reducing the amount of waste New York residents and businesses produce, processing and transfer stations are concentrated in a handful of low-income communities populated predominantly by people of color.</p> <p>Transform Don’t Trash NYC <a href="http://transformdonttrashnyc.org/resources/dirty-wasteful-unsustainable-the-urgent-need-to-reform-new-york-citys-commercial-waste-system/" target="_blank">released a report in 2015</a> indicting the city’s “inefficient and ad-hoc arrangement” for waste processing that allows hundreds of private hauling companies to collect waste from restaurants, stores, and other businesses each night and “truck it to dozens of transfer stations and recycling facilities concentrated in a handful of low-income communities of color.”</p> <p>After collecting data for both city-run and privately-owned waste collectors, the report authors found that 75% of all waste handled in New York City is trucked to transfer stations in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5589-the-bronx-is-breathing-waste-transfer-station-city-council" target="_blank">just three outer-borough neighborhoods</a> in North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Northeast Queens.</p> <p>The 4,000-plus diesel trucks that transport waste to those facilities each day emit exhaust, increase traffic congestion, and add wear and tear to roads, according to the report. The study found that the trucks’ emissions alone have a significant negative impact of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5111-while-improving-quiet-crisis-air-quality-persists-new-york-city-asthma-air-pollution" target="_blank">air quality in neighborhoods</a> where waste facilities are clustered.</p> <p>While de Blasio’s new commercial sanitation plan will address these issues, there is no indication if it will also look at the Fair Share Criteria to site new waste management facilities. In March, the New Harlem East Merchants Association wrote a letter to the Department of Sanitation, demanding that the department reconsider its <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160218/east-harlem/city-ignores-concerns-about-proposed-sanitation-garage-residents-say" target="_blank">decision to open a sanitation garage</a> in a residential neighborhood on 3rd Avenue, about 1,200 feet away from another garage on East 131 Street, and in close proximity to two schools and a new cancer treatment facility.</p> <p>According to a statement from New Harlem East Merchants Association, the addition “would place an unfair burden on the East Harlem community,” which already struggles with an asthma rate twice that of the city-wide average (asthma rates in the nearby South Bronx are also quite high). The city has not indicated that community protest will prevent a second garage from going up.</p> <p>However, where the Fair Share Criteria have failed, local legislators are pursuing alternative projects and policies to prevent low-income communities from handling the vast majority of the city’s waste with a mind toward more equitable distribution.</p> <p>Building on the 20-year <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dsny/about/laws/solid-waste-management-plan.shtml" target="_blank">Solid Waste Management Plan</a> (SWMP), which has an environmental justice focus and was adopted by Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council in 2006, City Council Member Steve Levin of Brooklyn introduced a bill in October 2014. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1937616&amp;GUID=2680B9A0-32EF-4B2F-BFD3-85D48111006F&amp;Options=ID|Text|&amp;Search=495" target="_blank">Intro. 495</a>, also known as the “Trash Cap,” would cut the daily waste processing capacity in the three most-burdened neighborhoods -- North Brooklyn, South Bronx, and Northeast Queens -- by 50% of the daily trash volume they currently receive, according to Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s legislative director, Lacey Tauber. It would also cap the permitted capacity of waste transfer stations at 10 percent of the average citywide capacity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Reynoso, who is chair of the Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste, also represents the district with the highest concentration of waste facilities: parts of Brooklyn including Williamsburg and Bushwick.&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the trash cap bill, all community districts with solid waste transfer stations would be capped, but not every cap would be the same, Tauber told Gotham Gazette. The bill considers any community district handling more than 10 percent of the city’s waste as overburdened and seeks to ensure that community districts that aren’t already over that threshold are capped at 10 percent and cannot be pushed over it.</p> <p>“The [10 percent] cap on citywide waste ensures that lessening the burden on one community does not simply transfer that full burden to another similar community,” Tauber said.</p> <p>Tauber added that pairing prevention of over-saturation of waste facilities with a clear alternative is key to not sacrificing equity in one community to benefit another.</p> <p>“If we say you can’t bring it here but don’t specify where it can go, that directs waste to other low-income communities of color,” Tauber said.</p> <p>After negotiations with the de Blasio administration about the bill, which had a hearing early in 2015, it was amended to increase the cap from the original proposal of 5 percent to the current 10 percent. The bill has not yet been voted on in committee.</p> <p>Another way to decrease truck traffic and associated ills is through the use of marine transfer stations, or MTS, where waste leaves the city via barge, decreasing traffic and consolidating the process. The city is opening MTS in Queens, Brooklyn, and, perhaps most famously, on 91 Street on the Upper East Side. According to the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, the latter, a wealthy and well-connected neighborhood, has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into an <a href="http://ny.curbed.com/2014/11/25/10018036/trash-clash" target="_blank">opposition campaign</a>. Nevertheless, construction is still underway, and proponents of MTS believe the three will offer significant relief to overburdened communities.</p> <p>“It will help decrease traffic, congestion, pollution - everything that the trucks bring into those low-income neighborhoods,” Tauber said of the Upper East Side MTS.</p> <p>Yet, the MTS currently only deal with the residential waste under the jurisdiction of the Department of Sanitation. Incentivizing private truck companies that pick up waste from businesses and restaurants is another challenge that the city appears to be targeting through the neighborhood zoning plan. This model allows the city to consolidate truck traffic and regulate labor standards, truck emissions, and more. The proposal that the de Blasio administration put out has <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/tough-fight-in-store-for-de-blasios-private-carting-proposal-104815" target="_blank">a long way to go before becoming law</a>.</p> <p><strong>Updating Fair Share</strong><br />Despite noble intentions, the Fair Share Criteria does not achieve the kind of transparent public input process and equitable city landscape sought by its supporters. While Speaker Mark-Viverito promised in her February State of the City address that the City Council would “empower neighborhoods by working with our partners in City and State government to create tools and improve opportunities for public input in the Fair Share process,” no specific legislation has been put forth. In the August interview with Gotham Gazette, she said the Council was exploring the issue, and may put out a paper on it.&nbsp;</p> <p>City Council Member Brad Lander, long a proponent of progressive city planning practices, has clear ideas about how to revamp the criteria.</p> <p>“Step one is to provide more transparency on both the existing siting of various forms of municipal infrastructure and services that are covered by the fair share rules, and more transparency on each individual application so it will be possible to really evaluate whether it is fair or not fair,” Lander told Gotham Gazette in an interview.</p> <p>Second, Lander said that the criteria have to be updated. “If City Planning wants to do that, great. But if not, we need to step forward and push them to do it,” he said.</p> <p>The third objective, Lander said, and one that could be the most challenging legislatively, “is putting some teeth in the laws, having some consequence for unfair sitings, making unfair sitings be more difficult for the city than fairer ones.”</p> <p>“Developing a system that has at least a thumb on the scale toward more equitable distribution: that’s the ultimate goal,” Lander said.</p> <p>The City made significant moves in this direction in April, according to Lander, when the administration quietly resurrected the formerly-annual <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/Social-Indicators-Report-April-2016.pdf" target="_blank">Social Indicators Report.</a> Though the annual report was mandated in the same 1989 Charter Revision that created the Fair Share Criteria, this is the first report to be published by a Mayor in a decade.</p> <p>The report, which mostly escaped public notice, provides a comprehensive statistical snapshot of the city, ostensibly to provide a clearer understanding of both need and progress in various communities. The data is disaggregated by 45 different indicators, including race, income, gender, education, English proficiency, and others. The report’s introduction states that it is “meant to help guide the City’s efforts to reduce disparities and advance equity.”</p> <p>Lander says that while the City Council works on how to update and improve the Fair Share Criteria, the Social Indicators Report is a valuable and promising tool. “It’s a good, strong step forward,” Lander said. The Council member did not indicate whether anything on fair share from his office or the Council in general should be expected any time soon.</p> <p>Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and veteran in the fight against clustering waste facilities in low-income neighborhoods, is cautiously optimistic.</p> <p>“What would make it meaningful would be to go back to the original concept: transparency and a full accounting of the burdens and lack of benefits in each community,” Bautista said.</p> <p>“The Fair Share Criteria was all we could muster in ‘89 and ‘90. After 25 years of cynicism, I’m looking forward to the [City Council] speaker - the first speaker of color - and Brad Lander - an activist involved in early fair share conversations - working toward a solution on this.”</p> <p><em>**This is part two of a two-part series on the city’s Fair Share rules. Read part one:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6630-city-may-soon-have-more-formal-fair-share-discussion" target="_blank">City May Soon Have More Formal ‘Fair Share’ Discussion</a>**</em></p> <p>***<br />by Maggie Calmes &amp; Samar Khurshid for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>Note: this story has been updated to reflect amended language in Intro. 495, the "Trash Cap" bill.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27449795996_b13ffb1f6f_z.jpg" alt="garbage trucks" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Trucks (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p><em><strong>This is part two of a two-part series on the city’s Fair Share rules. Read part one: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6630-city-may-soon-have-more-formal-fair-share-discussion" target="_blank">City May Soon Have More Formal ‘Fair Share’ Discussion</a></strong></em></p> <p><strong>Fair Share Flawed from the Beginning, Some Say</strong><br />Ronald Shiffman, now professor emeritus at the Pratt Institute and co-founder of Pratt’s Center for Community Development, was appointed to the newly-expanded City Planning Commission in 1990, and was present for the adoption of the Fair Share Criteria. He told Gotham Gazette that the creation of the criteria was compelled in large part by increasing concern over the then-nascent homelessness crisis and the early power of the emerging environmental justice movement.</p> <p>“The criteria came out of the need to house populations that were more difficult to house at that time: the homeless, people just released from mental hospitals, people with AIDS,” Shiffman said. “Because of statewide deinstitutionalization policies, the city had to find a way to house these people. The criteria were meant in part to prevent communities from discriminating against those populations.”</p> <p>Shiffman also said that the criteria were kept intentionally vague, so as not to “tie the city’s hands” when shelters and other facilities needed to be sited quickly, and noted the difficulty of achieving an equal distribution of burdens.</p> <p>“How do you make sure that no area is getting over-concentration due to having more city-owned property or being less powerful than other communities?” Shiffman said. “There is a difficult line between preventing communities from excluding populations in dire need of housing and giving communities tools to protest an over-concentration of ‘burdensome’ facilities. It was a goal, to find a balance, and for everyone to carry their fair share of residential facilities.”</p> <p>According to Shiffman, the Fair Share Criteria began to lose power as more city services and facilities were taken over by not-for-profit and private entities, because the accountability and mapping requirements set forth by the criteria apply to only city-owned and operated facilities.</p> <p>“With the privatization of those facilities, city control kind of evaporated,” Shiffman said. “Devolving so much authority to the private sector allowed service providers and the city to do things that were far more inequitable than when we were dealing only with city-owned lots.”</p> <p>At the same time that the newly-created criteria sought to compel communities to do their part to shelter fellow New Yorkers, the environmental justice movement saw the criteria as a tool to help protect low-income communities of color from becoming dumping grounds for waste processing stations.</p> <p>Eddie Bautista is the director of the New York Environmental Justice Alliance; in 1990, when the criteria were enacted, he was the Director of Community Planning with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI). Bautista said that the criteria emerged at the same time that the environmental justice movement in New York was ramping up.</p> <p>“Environmental activists saw Fair Share as an organizing opportunity,” Bautista told Gotham Gazette. “We developed a citywide coalition with groups doing different environmental organizing in low-income neighborhoods of color.” Those neighborhoods, Bautista said, had “too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good stuff.”</p> <p>Bautista and others in the environmental justice movement at the time hoped that the criteria would increase transparency of the city facility-siting process, and provide an “early warning” to communities whose neighborhoods had been selected for waste processing stations so that they might intervene.</p> <p>“The Charter Revision in ‘89 put land use in the hands of the City Council,” Bautista said.</p> <p>While NYLPI was able to prevent the construction of two sludge treatment facilities using the criteria as an argument, Bautista says that, overall, the criteria are too superficial in nature and too opaque in execution to be impactful.</p> <p>“Fair Share was never designed to get at the root causes of inequity in neighborhoods,” Bautista said. “It was made to look at the symptoms of the problem; it wasn’t going to change the siting dynamic.”</p> <p>Bautista also points to the lack of penalties levied upon city agencies that do not submit upcoming facilities to the Citywide Statement of Needs; noting that there are no consequences for an agency that does not include plans to open a new facility in a neighborhood. For instance, the Fire Department submitted a site relocation proposal in the Statement of Needs for <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/about/publications/son_16_17.pdf" target="_blank">Fiscal Years 2016/2017</a> but did not do so for <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/about/publications/son_17_18.pdf" target="_blank">Fiscal Years 2017/2018</a>. At the same time, in 2016/2017, Department of Homeless Services and the Administration of Child Services had no site proposals, but in the next statement, both agencies put forward multiple projects. Not enforcing a complete picture of new facilities in neighborhoods means that communities “never get an accurate view of what’s happening in their areas,” Bautista said.</p> <p>“We had three administrations where Fair Share was meaningless because the regulatory framework made it so toothless,” Bautista said, referring to Mayors Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg.</p> <p>A representative for the City Planning Commission confirmed that there are no punitive measures taken against agencies that fail to participate in the annual statement, but that checks and balances on siting decisions occur throughout the ULURP and public comment process. Often, it is left to City Council oversight and public pushback to a Council member or at a Council hearing to hold sway over these types of omissions.</p> <p>Despite high hopes at the outset, there is no doubt that the Fair Share Criteria have not proved as useful as early proponents had hoped. But, their influence is starting to be felt again in conversations around distribution of facilities. The perception and reality of inequitable distribution are a constant in headlines across New York, as evidenced by the defeated proposal for the homeless shelter in Wakefield, which would have oversaturated the neighborhood, and the agitation over the conversion of the hotel into a homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens, where the city has limited such facilities. In both situations, the city has had to navigate local concerns while attempting to install services and infrastructure for a growing population. In the case of Wakefield, Council Member Andy Cohen believes Fair Share was definitely a contributing factor in the administration’s final decision. In an interview outside City Hall, he told Gotham Gazette that there is a tension between the city’s need to house the homeless and the needs of communities.</p> <p>“I think in order to maintain quality of life there just has to be balance,” he said, “and having a disproportionate number of homeless people being serviced out of one community, I think taxes the NYPD.” He cited as an example one of the shelters in the Wakefield neighborhood that he said had generated more than 500 911 calls within the first six months of opening. “The precinct is not able to service the rest of the...precinct if they’re answering all of these calls so that’s the kind of example of why I think it’s important that these facilities are spread out in a proportional and representative way,” Council Member Cohen said.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Fair Share Flashpoints</strong><br />Council Speaker Mark-Viverito ignited a firestorm of protest and earned quite a few applause when she spoke hopefully in her <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/nyregion/melissa-mark-viverito-council-speaker-vows-to-pursue-new-criminal-justice-reforms.html?_r=0" target="_blank">2016 State of the City address</a> of reducing the jail population of Rikers Island so significantly “that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality,” and announced the creation of a special commission to be led by Jonathan Lippman, former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals. The commission is reviewing the city’s entire criminal justice system, including the possibility of closing the island’s jails and relocating the detainees and inmates.</p> <p><a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160331/college-point/city-quietly-eying-sites-for-new-jails-replace-rikers-island-sources" target="_blank">DNAinfo reported in March</a> that, contrary to earlier claims from the mayor’s office that the closure proposal was a “noble” but “unworkable” concept, city officials had begun examining several locations for new and expanded jails that might house the thousands displaced by shuttering Rikers complexes. As of October 20, Rikers held about 7,500 inmates, many awaiting trial, and other city jails off the island held about 2,200, for a Department of Correction headcount of 9,764, according to a DOC spokesperson.</p> <p>According to DNAinfo, officials identified possible locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and on Staten Island, “where two new jails — each housing as many as 2,000 inmates — could be built.” According to several proposals that have been around for years, existing detention centers could and should be expanded to also accommodate detainees if Rikers were to be closed -- something Mayor de Blasio has called a long-shot and a many years, multi-billion dollar project if it were to ever come to fruition.</p> <p>Perhaps even more daunting to the prospect of closing Rikers jails than several billion dollars in costs are the roadblocks thrown up by the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. In the event that the city would need to site small jails to take on the incarcerated population, each site would be subject to a lengthy, complicated, and controversial process that also requires the application of the Fair Share Criteria. Pushback from several City Council members was quick and fierce when DNAinfo reported on potential <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160404/east-new-york/more-neighborhoods-surface-as-possible-new-jail-sites-for-rikers-shutdown" target="_blank">communities</a> being targeted. No one wants a jail in their district - or “back yard.”</p> <p>One site on the short list for a hypothetical new jail is Hunt’s Point, where a jail barge holding 800 prisoners is currently moored - and the very neighborhood Mark-Viverito held up as an example of an area already saturated with more than its fair share of burdensome facilities.</p> <p>“While I understand that we need to make strides in improving corrections infrastructure, primarily Rikers Island, the solution is not building a new facility in the South Bronx,” City Council Member Rafael Salamanca, recently elected to represent the area, said in an April <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/jeffrey-d-klein/klein-salamanca-city-no-mini-rikers-hunts-point-community" target="_blank">press release</a>, released in collaboration with State Senator Jeff Klein.</p> <p>City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Ridgewood, said in a statement that while he has not been able to verify that the city is considering using a National Grid site in his district as a jail location, “...if it were true, the proposal would need to go through public land use review, and I would never allow it to pass.” The Council is known to defer to the local representative on land use decisions.</p> <p>City Council Member Joseph Borelli, of Staten Island’s south shore, has advocated for addressing conditions at Rikers in lieu of shutting it down. He put his response plainly in <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/02/staten_island_jail.html" target="_blank">his letter</a> to Mark-Viverito: “No one wants a jail next to their house.”&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Homeless Shelters</strong><br />In 2013, then-Comptroller John Liu <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/20130509_NYC_ShelterSiteReport_v24_May.pdf" target="_blank">released a report</a> that set out to examine the way the city chooses sites for homeless shelters, and to “determine if the City’s goal of transparency is being effectively achieved by implementation of the Fair Share Criteria.” The answer, in short, was “no,” but the report dove deep into the ways the complex process of siting city facilities is made even more convoluted and opaque when different kinds of shelters and shelter operators are in play.</p> <p>“Shelters are undoubtedly clustered in low-income neighborhoods,” the report stated. Using data from 2011, the comptroller’s office showed that “family and adult shelters were unevenly dispersed across the city,” with the greatest concentrations found in the Bronx, followed by Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. Staten Island was not included, because its six shelters made the borough an outlier that skewed citywide results. The analysis is never as simple as being borough-based, of course, and there are specific communities that are at the heart of fair share issues.</p> <p>Though the unequal distribution of shelters was stark, the report was more an indictment of the failure of the Fair Share Criteria to ensure transparency in the shelter siting process. The criteria, the report said, should “set the framework for dialogue between communities and government in an effort to achieve optimal levels of efficiency, utility, and fairness in the siting of public facilities,” and were developed “to provide communities with a transparent decision-making process that facilitates adequate planning and takes communities’ needs into account.”</p> <p>To this end, the report pointed out a litany of shortcomings, chief among them that a large number of homeless shelters are regularly not included on the annual Citywide Statement of Needs. Many DHS shelters are excluded, as are emergency shelters, which by nature are not anticipated, though potential sites could be identified earlier; as well as per diem shelters, “which are not City facilities” and therefore skirt a real public input process. Those exclusions, the report says, prevent communities from offering comment or intervening once a site has been chosen.</p> <p>The lengthy report contains a thorough critique of and suggestions for improvement to the transparency aspects of the Fair Share Criteria, but the driving conclusions were that “there is poor notification and limited community participation in decisions about siting family and adult homeless shelters” and that “clustering is occurring and that certain neighborhoods across the City have a higher proportion of family and adult shelters than others” - namely, low-income neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville in Brooklyn, Fordham, Morris Heights, Belmont, and East Tremont in the Bronx, and Central Harlem in Manhattan.</p> <p>If the public notification and input process were improved, the report says, a more transparent process might create a more equitable distribution of facilities.</p> <p>The problems of transparency and clustering don’t seem to have improved significantly since that data was collected in 2011.</p> <p>In 2015, the Department of Homeless Services <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150824/belmont/map-10-community-districts-carry-bulk-of-citys-homeless-shelters" target="_blank">released data</a> showing that the ten community districts with the most homeless shelters contain more shelters than the other 49 districts combined. Of those top ten districts, four were located in the Bronx.</p> <p>The other areas with the highest concentration of shelters were almost all low-income and predominantly non-white, including Manhattan Community Boards 10 and 3 in Harlem and the Lower East Side, respectively; Brooklyn CB3 in Bed-Stuy; and Manhattan CB11 in East Harlem.</p> <p>“New York City is legally obligated to provide shelter to any New Yorker who would otherwise be on the streets,” said a Department of Homeless Services spokesperson in an email. “Mayor de Blasio charged the administration with evaluating the breadth of human services located in each community district citywide to identify areas to locate new shelter facilities. We are committed to engaging communities on these issues, listening to feedback and working to address community concerns.”</p> <p>DHS takes a number of factors into consideration when selecting a new site for a homeless shelter -- rating the bid made for the site, whether the building has the appropriate documentation, including a Certificate of Occupancy, whether it complies with requirements of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), timeframe of availability, potential capacity and saturation, among others. The OTDA also has to approve the expansion of an existing shelter. In non-emergency circumstances, the city ensures that elected officials are informed of a shelter opening at least 45 days in advance. DHS now also creates a Community Advisory Board for every new shelter. These boards, comprised of appointees of local elected officials and community members, hold monthly meetings with DHS staff, the shelter operator, and NYPD to discuss any pertinent issues.</p> <p>However, the regulatory void in which homeless shelter siting operates became apparent in 2014, when DHS successfully opened a new homeless shelter for adult families without children at 56-66 Clay St. in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, despite protests from local officials and community members that a public review process had not taken place.</p> <p>Assembly Member Joseph Lentol pushed back, citing the four existing shelters in his district, and asking city officials to consider the Fair Share Criteria before making a final decision.</p> <p>"For more than 40 years we have been our brother’s keeper, and we continue to accept that responsibility on the condition that we are not being unfairly singled out to carry this burden," Lentol said in a letter to Department of Homeless Services about the conflict. "Other communities are not carrying this same burden because Community Board 1 is unfairly carrying this load."</p> <p>But the shelter on Clay Street was not subject to the Fair Share Criteria, or to any lengthy public review process. It was instated as an emergency shelter, for which DHS must only give seven days notice. While DHS acted legally, the shelter felt as though it had been “smuggled in by the dead of night,” Board 1 chair Dealice Fuller said in a letter to Mayor de Blasio last year.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Waste Management</strong><br />On August 17, Mayor de Blasio announced major planned reforms to the city’s commercial sanitation industry, which would seek to reduce truck traffic and emissions, increase recycling and promote environmental justice by creating commercial waste zones that are each served by one private sanitation company. The plan was praised by the Transform Don’t Trash NYC coalition, an environmental justice community group that has long advocated against the problem of waste facility clustering in the city.</p> <p>While city officials are making and eyeing significant strides toward reducing the amount of waste New York residents and businesses produce, processing and transfer stations are concentrated in a handful of low-income communities populated predominantly by people of color.</p> <p>Transform Don’t Trash NYC <a href="http://transformdonttrashnyc.org/resources/dirty-wasteful-unsustainable-the-urgent-need-to-reform-new-york-citys-commercial-waste-system/" target="_blank">released a report in 2015</a> indicting the city’s “inefficient and ad-hoc arrangement” for waste processing that allows hundreds of private hauling companies to collect waste from restaurants, stores, and other businesses each night and “truck it to dozens of transfer stations and recycling facilities concentrated in a handful of low-income communities of color.”</p> <p>After collecting data for both city-run and privately-owned waste collectors, the report authors found that 75% of all waste handled in New York City is trucked to transfer stations in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5589-the-bronx-is-breathing-waste-transfer-station-city-council" target="_blank">just three outer-borough neighborhoods</a> in North Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Northeast Queens.</p> <p>The 4,000-plus diesel trucks that transport waste to those facilities each day emit exhaust, increase traffic congestion, and add wear and tear to roads, according to the report. The study found that the trucks’ emissions alone have a significant negative impact of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5111-while-improving-quiet-crisis-air-quality-persists-new-york-city-asthma-air-pollution" target="_blank">air quality in neighborhoods</a> where waste facilities are clustered.</p> <p>While de Blasio’s new commercial sanitation plan will address these issues, there is no indication if it will also look at the Fair Share Criteria to site new waste management facilities. In March, the New Harlem East Merchants Association wrote a letter to the Department of Sanitation, demanding that the department reconsider its <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160218/east-harlem/city-ignores-concerns-about-proposed-sanitation-garage-residents-say" target="_blank">decision to open a sanitation garage</a> in a residential neighborhood on 3rd Avenue, about 1,200 feet away from another garage on East 131 Street, and in close proximity to two schools and a new cancer treatment facility.</p> <p>According to a statement from New Harlem East Merchants Association, the addition “would place an unfair burden on the East Harlem community,” which already struggles with an asthma rate twice that of the city-wide average (asthma rates in the nearby South Bronx are also quite high). The city has not indicated that community protest will prevent a second garage from going up.</p> <p>However, where the Fair Share Criteria have failed, local legislators are pursuing alternative projects and policies to prevent low-income communities from handling the vast majority of the city’s waste with a mind toward more equitable distribution.</p> <p>Building on the 20-year <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dsny/about/laws/solid-waste-management-plan.shtml" target="_blank">Solid Waste Management Plan</a> (SWMP), which has an environmental justice focus and was adopted by Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council in 2006, City Council Member Steve Levin of Brooklyn introduced a bill in October 2014. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1937616&amp;GUID=2680B9A0-32EF-4B2F-BFD3-85D48111006F&amp;Options=ID|Text|&amp;Search=495" target="_blank">Intro. 495</a>, also known as the “Trash Cap,” would cut the daily waste processing capacity in the three most-burdened neighborhoods -- North Brooklyn, South Bronx, and Northeast Queens -- by 50% of the daily trash volume they currently receive, according to Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s legislative director, Lacey Tauber. It would also cap the permitted capacity of waste transfer stations at 10 percent of the average citywide capacity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Reynoso, who is chair of the Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste, also represents the district with the highest concentration of waste facilities: parts of Brooklyn including Williamsburg and Bushwick.&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the trash cap bill, all community districts with solid waste transfer stations would be capped, but not every cap would be the same, Tauber told Gotham Gazette. The bill considers any community district handling more than 10 percent of the city’s waste as overburdened and seeks to ensure that community districts that aren’t already over that threshold are capped at 10 percent and cannot be pushed over it.</p> <p>“The [10 percent] cap on citywide waste ensures that lessening the burden on one community does not simply transfer that full burden to another similar community,” Tauber said.</p> <p>Tauber added that pairing prevention of over-saturation of waste facilities with a clear alternative is key to not sacrificing equity in one community to benefit another.</p> <p>“If we say you can’t bring it here but don’t specify where it can go, that directs waste to other low-income communities of color,” Tauber said.</p> <p>After negotiations with the de Blasio administration about the bill, which had a hearing early in 2015, it was amended to increase the cap from the original proposal of 5 percent to the current 10 percent. The bill has not yet been voted on in committee.</p> <p>Another way to decrease truck traffic and associated ills is through the use of marine transfer stations, or MTS, where waste leaves the city via barge, decreasing traffic and consolidating the process. The city is opening MTS in Queens, Brooklyn, and, perhaps most famously, on 91 Street on the Upper East Side. According to the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, the latter, a wealthy and well-connected neighborhood, has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into an <a href="http://ny.curbed.com/2014/11/25/10018036/trash-clash" target="_blank">opposition campaign</a>. Nevertheless, construction is still underway, and proponents of MTS believe the three will offer significant relief to overburdened communities.</p> <p>“It will help decrease traffic, congestion, pollution - everything that the trucks bring into those low-income neighborhoods,” Tauber said of the Upper East Side MTS.</p> <p>Yet, the MTS currently only deal with the residential waste under the jurisdiction of the Department of Sanitation. Incentivizing private truck companies that pick up waste from businesses and restaurants is another challenge that the city appears to be targeting through the neighborhood zoning plan. This model allows the city to consolidate truck traffic and regulate labor standards, truck emissions, and more. The proposal that the de Blasio administration put out has <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/tough-fight-in-store-for-de-blasios-private-carting-proposal-104815" target="_blank">a long way to go before becoming law</a>.</p> <p><strong>Updating Fair Share</strong><br />Despite noble intentions, the Fair Share Criteria does not achieve the kind of transparent public input process and equitable city landscape sought by its supporters. While Speaker Mark-Viverito promised in her February State of the City address that the City Council would “empower neighborhoods by working with our partners in City and State government to create tools and improve opportunities for public input in the Fair Share process,” no specific legislation has been put forth. In the August interview with Gotham Gazette, she said the Council was exploring the issue, and may put out a paper on it.&nbsp;</p> <p>City Council Member Brad Lander, long a proponent of progressive city planning practices, has clear ideas about how to revamp the criteria.</p> <p>“Step one is to provide more transparency on both the existing siting of various forms of municipal infrastructure and services that are covered by the fair share rules, and more transparency on each individual application so it will be possible to really evaluate whether it is fair or not fair,” Lander told Gotham Gazette in an interview.</p> <p>Second, Lander said that the criteria have to be updated. “If City Planning wants to do that, great. But if not, we need to step forward and push them to do it,” he said.</p> <p>The third objective, Lander said, and one that could be the most challenging legislatively, “is putting some teeth in the laws, having some consequence for unfair sitings, making unfair sitings be more difficult for the city than fairer ones.”</p> <p>“Developing a system that has at least a thumb on the scale toward more equitable distribution: that’s the ultimate goal,” Lander said.</p> <p>The City made significant moves in this direction in April, according to Lander, when the administration quietly resurrected the formerly-annual <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/Social-Indicators-Report-April-2016.pdf" target="_blank">Social Indicators Report.</a> Though the annual report was mandated in the same 1989 Charter Revision that created the Fair Share Criteria, this is the first report to be published by a Mayor in a decade.</p> <p>The report, which mostly escaped public notice, provides a comprehensive statistical snapshot of the city, ostensibly to provide a clearer understanding of both need and progress in various communities. The data is disaggregated by 45 different indicators, including race, income, gender, education, English proficiency, and others. The report’s introduction states that it is “meant to help guide the City’s efforts to reduce disparities and advance equity.”</p> <p>Lander says that while the City Council works on how to update and improve the Fair Share Criteria, the Social Indicators Report is a valuable and promising tool. “It’s a good, strong step forward,” Lander said. The Council member did not indicate whether anything on fair share from his office or the Council in general should be expected any time soon.</p> <p>Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and veteran in the fight against clustering waste facilities in low-income neighborhoods, is cautiously optimistic.</p> <p>“What would make it meaningful would be to go back to the original concept: transparency and a full accounting of the burdens and lack of benefits in each community,” Bautista said.</p> <p>“The Fair Share Criteria was all we could muster in ‘89 and ‘90. After 25 years of cynicism, I’m looking forward to the [City Council] speaker - the first speaker of color - and Brad Lander - an activist involved in early fair share conversations - working toward a solution on this.”</p> <p><em>**This is part two of a two-part series on the city’s Fair Share rules. Read part one:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6630-city-may-soon-have-more-formal-fair-share-discussion" target="_blank">City May Soon Have More Formal ‘Fair Share’ Discussion</a>**</em></p> <p>***<br />by Maggie Calmes &amp; Samar Khurshid for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>Note: this story has been updated to reflect amended language in Intro. 495, the "Trash Cap" bill.</p> Bill de Blasio Versus NIMBYism 2016-10-06T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-06T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6563:bill-de-blasio-versus-nimbyism Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29895751132_1e33656426_z.jpg" alt="BdB town hall queens miller" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s policies have run up against an age-old forces of inertia and resistance in the city, especially one that springs forth in policy debates on everything from housing to bike lanes to school desegregation and even closing down Rikers Island jails. That force -- NIMBY or Not In My Back Yard-ism -- has taken distinct forms on different issues, but has been causing the de Blasio administration trouble and frustrating the mayor. At the same time, some critics of the administration say that the NIMBYism it is facing is stronger because the administration is not being a proactive, collaborative partner with communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">In some ways, the pushback is more sympathetic, like in cases where communities face real pressures of gentrification and displacement, and in others, less so, like when residents perceive even the smallest change to their neighborhood as contributing to a decline in quality of life.</p> <p dir="ltr">For de Blasio, persistent NIMBYism poses a multi-faceted challenge as he nears the final year of his first term. He has to choose at times to capitulate to demands from communities or local elected officials, and at other times, he must use unilateral but unpopular action that, in the administration&rsquo;s view, will have long-term benefits. Three recent instances, in particular, highlight this obstacle of NIMBYism to the administration&rsquo;s larger vision of equity and justice, which can be messier when being applied to neighborhoods than when explained in principle.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the last two months, two rezoning proposals that would&rsquo;ve added to the city&rsquo;s stock of affordable housing were nixed by the local Council members for their respective districts, eliciting charges of short-sighted NIMBYism by the Council members and the portion of their constituents they were listening to.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first proposal, in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, was voted down by the City Council in August after Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opted to reject it. He had signaled support for the project, but appeared to bend to vocal community pressure as his final decision neared. Rodriguez has been an outspoken and active ally of de Blasio&rsquo;s, especially around the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the first private rezoning application before the city under the newly passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning rule. Rodriguez vetoed the proposal despite the city and the developers having reached an agreement in which half the housing would be affordable. By tradition, the full Council usually votes with the local member on land use applications, and did so with Rodriguez.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the second case, in Sunnyside, Queens, a nonprofit real estate developer withdrew a rezoning application in the face of opposition from the community and the prospect of a veto from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The editorial boards of the Daily News and the Observer sharply criticized the two Council members for their &ldquo;NIMBY&rdquo; thinking. &ldquo;A developer could propose Eden and somewhere, somehow, someone&rsquo;s constituents would find it wanting,&rdquo; the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tough-bill-anti-housing-nimby-councilmembers-article-1.2803936" target="_blank">Daily News</a>&nbsp;editorial board wrote, calling on the mayor to get tough with the Council in such instances. &ldquo;It is interesting,&rdquo; wrote <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/end-the-nimby-veto-of-affordable-housing/" target="_blank">the Observer</a>&nbsp;editorial board, &ldquo;make that a euphemism for disheartening, to see supposedly liberal/progressive City Council members echo the call for affordable housing&mdash;except in their own districts.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While Rodriguez defended his decision around the affordability of the proposed units and the added density to the neighborhood, Van Bramer explained his as especially related to the height of the proposed project, as well as the added density and need for related infrastructure improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The third example is local opposition to a City proposal to convert a Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, Queens into a homeless shelter. Residents of the neighborhood are outraged, citing concerns about public safety and the location of the shelter. In an argument central to NIMBYism, many have even said they don&rsquo;t oppose creating shelters for the homeless, just this particular one. They have protested outside the home of Commissioner Steven Banks, head of the city&rsquo;s Human Resources Administration and <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2016/09/24/maspeth-residents-march-to-hotel-owner-s-home-to-protest--warehousing--homeless-in-their-neighborhood.html" target="_blank">marched</a> to the home of the hotel owner. De Blasio told them to protest at his home, Gracie Mansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the quandary with many policies,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. Greer called NIMBYism the &ldquo;achilles heel of liberalism and progressive politics.&rdquo; Although many people might support policies such as those put forward by the de Blasio administration, Greer said, &ldquo;When it comes time to affect them in a personal way, these coalitions and conversations tend to fall apart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In his weekly segment on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-quality-life-farewell-bratton/" target="_blank">on September 16</a>, the mayor also addressed the Maspeth controversy, saying the issue of homelessness &ldquo;brings out a lot of contradictions in people&rdquo; and said the NIMBY mindset had grown in the city over decades. &ldquo;And, as someone who&rsquo;s served here a long time, I don&rsquo;t have an illusion that we&rsquo;re going to snap our fingers and make it go away,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor added, &ldquo;I think we have to show people that we will take care of the surrounding community, but I&rsquo;m not ever going to allow folks who say, &lsquo;not in our community, put it in someone else&rsquo;s community&rsquo; &ndash; I&rsquo;m never going to buy into that. That&rsquo;s just not &ndash; that&rsquo;s not New York values. It really isn&rsquo;t.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Thursday, when the mayor was asked again about Maspeth and the communication with local leaders, he admitted that the administration could do a better job. &ldquo;I would say there&rsquo;s a substantial amount of dialogue that goes on but we need to do better,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re trying to perfect the approach that we can use everywhere in the same way, to do a better job of communicating with elected officials and other community leaders.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He had more forceful words for the Maspeth protestors, however, which took dead aim at a NIMBY mindset. &ldquo;If they think that they can not have responsibility for a problem that&rsquo;s everyone&rsquo;s problem, they&rsquo;re wrong,&rdquo; he said, before criticizing their &ldquo;disgusting&rdquo; rhetoric and their &ldquo;reprehensible&rdquo; threats to HRA&rsquo;s Banks and his family. &ldquo;Those individuals are saying, &lsquo;There&rsquo;s a homelessness problem, some of those people come from our community and we don&rsquo;t want any of them here,&rsquo;&rdquo; de Blasio said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t accept that. And I&rsquo;ve told them I welcome their pickets as many times as they want because I will happily stare them down. We are going to put a roof over people&rsquo;s heads.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The term NIMBY has been used in the past as a pejorative for wealthy white neighborhoods that wanted to avoid any change to their communities that they considered undesirable, including an influx of people. It&rsquo;s a loaded term that can imply class and racial biases. But, over time, the term has become more common and has evolved beyond its original meaning.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Just as the rain falls on rich and poor alike, NIMBYism is found among the rich and poor alike,&rdquo; said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. The difference, Sherrill pointed out, is that with low-income communities, their NIMBYism is largely founded in justifiable concerns about gentrification and rising rents that contribute to displacement. That was one of the elements at play in the Inwood rezoning proposal."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;These are forces that every mayoralty in New York City has come up against,&rdquo; said Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for the mayor. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a durable feature of the political landscape.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is an undisputable fact that NIMBYism is universal and has cropped up all over the city in various policy battles. Earlier <a href="http://gothamist.com/2016/06/30/there_goes_the_neighborhood.php" target="_blank">this year</a>, proposals to expand the CitiBike program into Brooklyn faced local opposition that smacked of NIMBYism. A caller from the mayor&rsquo;s home neighborhood of Park Slope called into WNYC on Thursday morning to tell him the new bike installations there were a problem because they took away needed parking. Similar efforts in the form of lawsuits have been <a href="http://therealdeal.com/2014/03/07/judge-tosses-anti-citi-bike-suit-in-brooklyn-heights/" target="_blank">launched</a> since the city announced the CitiBike expansion in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another lawsuit, against bike lanes installed by the city in Park Slope, was <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/bike-hating-nimby-trolls-grudgingly-surrender-to-reality-9136252" target="_blank">withdrawn</a> just last month after stretching for six years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Especially in more controversial discussions, such as the plan to close down Rikers Island jails, NIMBYism is a significant factor. Although there is fairly <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/rikers-island-closing-plan-could-spur-communities-resistance-1.11544401" target="_blank">widespread agreement</a> on shuttering the doors of the prison complex, elected officials do not generally favor relocating inmates to community-based facilities. The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito has a commission in motion to create a long-term plan for shutting down Rikers jails, the notion of which has already faced local backlash. Addressing affordable housing-related rezonings, Mark-Viverito recently said that the de Blasio administration needs to be more proactive in engaging with City Council members and their communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s movement to rezone some schools with an eye on desegregating nearby schools has met NIMBY detractors in Downtown Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, though other critics say that the administration has not moved quickly or comprehensively enough on the issue overall.</p> <p dir="ltr">But in issues of land use and infrastructure, NIMBYism is perhaps most consistently pronounced, on both sides. On the one hand are more well-off neighborhoods opposing facilities that have historically saturated low-income communities, like homeless shelters and waste processing centers. On the other hand, are low-income communities resisting the march of gentrification across the city and opposing infrastructure that would put further pressure on their neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, sees a lot of NIMBYism in his line of work. His group advocates for a more even-handed distribution of burdensome city infrastructure that is often clustered in low-income communities of color. These efforts, more often than not, come up against some or another form of NIMBY opposition.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista pointed to a classic example exhibited on the Upper East Side last year in local objections to a marine waste transfer station. &ldquo;NIMBYism and environmental justice are polar opposites,&rdquo; he said. And the converse argument, that low-income neighborhoods are being NIMBY by refusing development, does not hold water, he emphasized. &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t apply to communities where everything is in your backyard, when your community is saturated.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Couched in Bautista&rsquo;s argument is the principle of &ldquo;fair share,&rdquo; the city policy aimed at equitable distribution of necessary city services and infrastructure across all neighborhoods. &ldquo;The fair share approach is an important principal,&rdquo; said Council Member Brad Lander. &ldquo;Some people hear &ldquo;fair share&rdquo; and hear &ldquo;NIMBYism.&rdquo; That has eroded the real argument for fair share.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said the opposition in Maspeth may be the &ldquo;most strident&rdquo; example of NIMBYism and said each neighborhood has a fair share obligation to house the homeless. The administration has identified 250 homeless people whose last known address was Maspeth, but the community has no fixed shelters. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not only about not getting more than your fair share but doing your fair share,&rdquo; Lander said.</p> <p dir="ltr">On issues of land use planning, Lander - who is de Blasio&rsquo;s successor in the City Council seat representing Park Slope and nearby neighborhoods - believes the opposition may be more justifiable, &ldquo;especially at a time when rents are high, there&rsquo;s a lot of anxiety, there&rsquo;s a lot of development taking place.&rdquo; &ldquo;That is the challenge of government,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a big challenge for Mayor de Blasio. That&rsquo;s a big challenge for the Council.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In part, that&rsquo;s also the administration&rsquo;s argument. Norvell, the mayoral spokesperson, said, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re in a moment of deep insecurity and tremendous fear of displacement.&rdquo; He chalked this up to agreements made by past administrations that were not always delivered upon. For instance the rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, where the city failed to create all the infrastructure and services that were promised. He said the failure of the rezoning proposals in Inwood and Sunnyside were par for the course. &ldquo;When you play on a field as big as we are, you&rsquo;re gonna win some, you&rsquo;re gonna lose some,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Nobody bats a thousand.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He also sought to dispel the notion that recent &ldquo;noise&rdquo; or even past opposition were hobbling the administration&rsquo;s progress on its larger core agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell pointed to the expansion of affordable housing and CitiBike, &ldquo;both instances where the NIMBY phenomenon surfaced itself in various degrees of intensity but our policy and political goals were achieved nevertheless.&rdquo; Under the affordable housing agenda, about 53,000 units, a quarter of the goal administration&rsquo;s ten-year goal, have been financed and CitiBike is on course to double capacity, Norvell said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The moment of insecurity that both Norvell and Lander speak of may not just be for everyday New Yorkers. It&rsquo;s a challenging time for the mayor as well. He&rsquo;s fast approaching reelection and can ill-afford to make unpopular decisions. His relationship with the City Council <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/10/city-halls-progressive-alliance-sours-106081" target="_blank">has become more challenging</a>, particularly after he expressed some public dismay with Council Member Van Bramer over the Sunnyside deal (while also expressing respect for Van Bramer). Affordable housing is one of the main planks on which he has expended significant political capital, and must continue to do so in various local battles.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Sherrill said the new equation of power between the Council and the mayor precludes the possibility of unilateral action. &ldquo;An entire generation, 20 years, of atrophy for the Democratic political machine puts de Blasio in a position in which it is almost impossible for him to do anything that would entice members of the Council to do something he would like that is unpopular with...their districts,&rdquo; Sherrill said. &ldquo;This is not Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s problem. This is the problem of anyone who becomes Mayor now and mayors are going to have to find new ways of building relationships with neighborhoods.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a press conference on September 14, asked about the success of a housing proposal in the Bronx and the failure of Inwood, Speaker Mark-Viverito defended the leverage that Council members hold over land use decisions and seemed to criticize the mayor. &ldquo;The mayor and the administration need to focus on being proactive and engaged with Council members in their districts and with the communities that we represent to make sure information is being arrived at in the most transparent way about what a project is and what it seeks to do, that needs to happen,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Earlier, in a late August&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6508-full-interview-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank">interview with Gotham Gazette</a>, Mark-Viverito, whose home district is largely East Harlem, leaned into a fair share argument when talking of rezoning and the siting of homeless shelters. &ldquo;I think there needs to be more equity in the way that services are distributed,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There are literally some districts that have no shelters in them. You look at one like mine, that we have probably over 2,000, 3,000 beds...And that&rsquo;s a real challenge.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But she also stressed that local decisions must involve dialogue and engagement with the communities that are affected, even if they don&rsquo;t agree. &ldquo;And I have found that when you really engage in that conversation and take the time to really explain the process of your thinking and why, even if people don&rsquo;t agree with you they&rsquo;ll respect that, and you can work with your constituents and navigate through that,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio does seem to be taking some of these critiques to heart. He has stepped up his efforts at personally engaging with New Yorkers. Besides his weekly radio appearance, where he takes questions from callers and promises assistance to those who need it, he has hosted a number of town halls in the last few months, connecting with people more directly in all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;For neighborhood planning, I believe it&rsquo;s better to engage people more and sooner,&rdquo; said Council Member Lander, who thinks the administration has shown strong participation in certain proposed rezonings, including Gowanus, Bushwick, Far Rockaway, and East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Greer said that she thinks de Blasio &ldquo;has to convince people that &lsquo;this is a good idea and worth doing,&rsquo; either through political pressure or logrolling. If he needs to be successful, he&rsquo;ll find a way to sweeten the deal.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista praised the mayor for reframing city policy along the lines of equity, but said, &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t just be a framing and messaging conceit.&rdquo; He said the mayor has to ensure consistency in applying his governing principles and show authentic community engagement. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a difference between having a fait accompli and coming to the community with that decision, versus a real engagement where you have a policy goal in mind,&rdquo; he said, getting at one of the repeated criticism of the de Blasio administration, that it too often presents to communities a fully-baked plan. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s crucial to minimizing NIMBY.&rdquo;</p> <p>Norvell contends the administration has made &ldquo;honest and sincere&rdquo; engagement efforts in city planning, and that the ultimate goal is to &ldquo;do the most good for the most people.&rdquo; &ldquo;At the end of the day, you can&rsquo;t make everybody happy,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29895751132_1e33656426_z.jpg" alt="BdB town hall queens miller" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In recent weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s policies have run up against an age-old forces of inertia and resistance in the city, especially one that springs forth in policy debates on everything from housing to bike lanes to school desegregation and even closing down Rikers Island jails. That force -- NIMBY or Not In My Back Yard-ism -- has taken distinct forms on different issues, but has been causing the de Blasio administration trouble and frustrating the mayor. At the same time, some critics of the administration say that the NIMBYism it is facing is stronger because the administration is not being a proactive, collaborative partner with communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">In some ways, the pushback is more sympathetic, like in cases where communities face real pressures of gentrification and displacement, and in others, less so, like when residents perceive even the smallest change to their neighborhood as contributing to a decline in quality of life.</p> <p dir="ltr">For de Blasio, persistent NIMBYism poses a multi-faceted challenge as he nears the final year of his first term. He has to choose at times to capitulate to demands from communities or local elected officials, and at other times, he must use unilateral but unpopular action that, in the administration&rsquo;s view, will have long-term benefits. Three recent instances, in particular, highlight this obstacle of NIMBYism to the administration&rsquo;s larger vision of equity and justice, which can be messier when being applied to neighborhoods than when explained in principle.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the last two months, two rezoning proposals that would&rsquo;ve added to the city&rsquo;s stock of affordable housing were nixed by the local Council members for their respective districts, eliciting charges of short-sighted NIMBYism by the Council members and the portion of their constituents they were listening to.</p> <p dir="ltr">The first proposal, in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, was voted down by the City Council in August after Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opted to reject it. He had signaled support for the project, but appeared to bend to vocal community pressure as his final decision neared. Rodriguez has been an outspoken and active ally of de Blasio&rsquo;s, especially around the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">It was the first private rezoning application before the city under the newly passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning rule. Rodriguez vetoed the proposal despite the city and the developers having reached an agreement in which half the housing would be affordable. By tradition, the full Council usually votes with the local member on land use applications, and did so with Rodriguez.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the second case, in Sunnyside, Queens, a nonprofit real estate developer withdrew a rezoning application in the face of opposition from the community and the prospect of a veto from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.</p> <p dir="ltr">The editorial boards of the Daily News and the Observer sharply criticized the two Council members for their &ldquo;NIMBY&rdquo; thinking. &ldquo;A developer could propose Eden and somewhere, somehow, someone&rsquo;s constituents would find it wanting,&rdquo; the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tough-bill-anti-housing-nimby-councilmembers-article-1.2803936" target="_blank">Daily News</a>&nbsp;editorial board wrote, calling on the mayor to get tough with the Council in such instances. &ldquo;It is interesting,&rdquo; wrote <a href="http://observer.com/2016/09/end-the-nimby-veto-of-affordable-housing/" target="_blank">the Observer</a>&nbsp;editorial board, &ldquo;make that a euphemism for disheartening, to see supposedly liberal/progressive City Council members echo the call for affordable housing&mdash;except in their own districts.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">While Rodriguez defended his decision around the affordability of the proposed units and the added density to the neighborhood, Van Bramer explained his as especially related to the height of the proposed project, as well as the added density and need for related infrastructure improvements.</p> <p dir="ltr">The third example is local opposition to a City proposal to convert a Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth, Queens into a homeless shelter. Residents of the neighborhood are outraged, citing concerns about public safety and the location of the shelter. In an argument central to NIMBYism, many have even said they don&rsquo;t oppose creating shelters for the homeless, just this particular one. They have protested outside the home of Commissioner Steven Banks, head of the city&rsquo;s Human Resources Administration and <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2016/09/24/maspeth-residents-march-to-hotel-owner-s-home-to-protest--warehousing--homeless-in-their-neighborhood.html" target="_blank">marched</a> to the home of the hotel owner. De Blasio told them to protest at his home, Gracie Mansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think that&rsquo;s the quandary with many policies,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University. Greer called NIMBYism the &ldquo;achilles heel of liberalism and progressive politics.&rdquo; Although many people might support policies such as those put forward by the de Blasio administration, Greer said, &ldquo;When it comes time to affect them in a personal way, these coalitions and conversations tend to fall apart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In his weekly segment on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-quality-life-farewell-bratton/" target="_blank">on September 16</a>, the mayor also addressed the Maspeth controversy, saying the issue of homelessness &ldquo;brings out a lot of contradictions in people&rdquo; and said the NIMBY mindset had grown in the city over decades. &ldquo;And, as someone who&rsquo;s served here a long time, I don&rsquo;t have an illusion that we&rsquo;re going to snap our fingers and make it go away,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor added, &ldquo;I think we have to show people that we will take care of the surrounding community, but I&rsquo;m not ever going to allow folks who say, &lsquo;not in our community, put it in someone else&rsquo;s community&rsquo; &ndash; I&rsquo;m never going to buy into that. That&rsquo;s just not &ndash; that&rsquo;s not New York values. It really isn&rsquo;t.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on Thursday, when the mayor was asked again about Maspeth and the communication with local leaders, he admitted that the administration could do a better job. &ldquo;I would say there&rsquo;s a substantial amount of dialogue that goes on but we need to do better,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;re trying to perfect the approach that we can use everywhere in the same way, to do a better job of communicating with elected officials and other community leaders.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He had more forceful words for the Maspeth protestors, however, which took dead aim at a NIMBY mindset. &ldquo;If they think that they can not have responsibility for a problem that&rsquo;s everyone&rsquo;s problem, they&rsquo;re wrong,&rdquo; he said, before criticizing their &ldquo;disgusting&rdquo; rhetoric and their &ldquo;reprehensible&rdquo; threats to HRA&rsquo;s Banks and his family. &ldquo;Those individuals are saying, &lsquo;There&rsquo;s a homelessness problem, some of those people come from our community and we don&rsquo;t want any of them here,&rsquo;&rdquo; de Blasio said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t accept that. And I&rsquo;ve told them I welcome their pickets as many times as they want because I will happily stare them down. We are going to put a roof over people&rsquo;s heads.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The term NIMBY has been used in the past as a pejorative for wealthy white neighborhoods that wanted to avoid any change to their communities that they considered undesirable, including an influx of people. It&rsquo;s a loaded term that can imply class and racial biases. But, over time, the term has become more common and has evolved beyond its original meaning.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Just as the rain falls on rich and poor alike, NIMBYism is found among the rich and poor alike,&rdquo; said Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. The difference, Sherrill pointed out, is that with low-income communities, their NIMBYism is largely founded in justifiable concerns about gentrification and rising rents that contribute to displacement. That was one of the elements at play in the Inwood rezoning proposal."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;These are forces that every mayoralty in New York City has come up against,&rdquo; said Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for the mayor. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a durable feature of the political landscape.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">It is an undisputable fact that NIMBYism is universal and has cropped up all over the city in various policy battles. Earlier <a href="http://gothamist.com/2016/06/30/there_goes_the_neighborhood.php" target="_blank">this year</a>, proposals to expand the CitiBike program into Brooklyn faced local opposition that smacked of NIMBYism. A caller from the mayor&rsquo;s home neighborhood of Park Slope called into WNYC on Thursday morning to tell him the new bike installations there were a problem because they took away needed parking. Similar efforts in the form of lawsuits have been <a href="http://therealdeal.com/2014/03/07/judge-tosses-anti-citi-bike-suit-in-brooklyn-heights/" target="_blank">launched</a> since the city announced the CitiBike expansion in 2014.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another lawsuit, against bike lanes installed by the city in Park Slope, was <a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/news/bike-hating-nimby-trolls-grudgingly-surrender-to-reality-9136252" target="_blank">withdrawn</a> just last month after stretching for six years.</p> <p dir="ltr">Especially in more controversial discussions, such as the plan to close down Rikers Island jails, NIMBYism is a significant factor. Although there is fairly <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/rikers-island-closing-plan-could-spur-communities-resistance-1.11544401" target="_blank">widespread agreement</a> on shuttering the doors of the prison complex, elected officials do not generally favor relocating inmates to community-based facilities. The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito has a commission in motion to create a long-term plan for shutting down Rikers jails, the notion of which has already faced local backlash. Addressing affordable housing-related rezonings, Mark-Viverito recently said that the de Blasio administration needs to be more proactive in engaging with City Council members and their communities.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s movement to rezone some schools with an eye on desegregating nearby schools has met NIMBY detractors in Downtown Brooklyn and the Upper West Side, though other critics say that the administration has not moved quickly or comprehensively enough on the issue overall.</p> <p dir="ltr">But in issues of land use and infrastructure, NIMBYism is perhaps most consistently pronounced, on both sides. On the one hand are more well-off neighborhoods opposing facilities that have historically saturated low-income communities, like homeless shelters and waste processing centers. On the other hand, are low-income communities resisting the march of gentrification across the city and opposing infrastructure that would put further pressure on their neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, sees a lot of NIMBYism in his line of work. His group advocates for a more even-handed distribution of burdensome city infrastructure that is often clustered in low-income communities of color. These efforts, more often than not, come up against some or another form of NIMBY opposition.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista pointed to a classic example exhibited on the Upper East Side last year in local objections to a marine waste transfer station. &ldquo;NIMBYism and environmental justice are polar opposites,&rdquo; he said. And the converse argument, that low-income neighborhoods are being NIMBY by refusing development, does not hold water, he emphasized. &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t apply to communities where everything is in your backyard, when your community is saturated.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Couched in Bautista&rsquo;s argument is the principle of &ldquo;fair share,&rdquo; the city policy aimed at equitable distribution of necessary city services and infrastructure across all neighborhoods. &ldquo;The fair share approach is an important principal,&rdquo; said Council Member Brad Lander. &ldquo;Some people hear &ldquo;fair share&rdquo; and hear &ldquo;NIMBYism.&rdquo; That has eroded the real argument for fair share.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander said the opposition in Maspeth may be the &ldquo;most strident&rdquo; example of NIMBYism and said each neighborhood has a fair share obligation to house the homeless. The administration has identified 250 homeless people whose last known address was Maspeth, but the community has no fixed shelters. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not only about not getting more than your fair share but doing your fair share,&rdquo; Lander said.</p> <p dir="ltr">On issues of land use planning, Lander - who is de Blasio&rsquo;s successor in the City Council seat representing Park Slope and nearby neighborhoods - believes the opposition may be more justifiable, &ldquo;especially at a time when rents are high, there&rsquo;s a lot of anxiety, there&rsquo;s a lot of development taking place.&rdquo; &ldquo;That is the challenge of government,&rdquo; he added. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a big challenge for Mayor de Blasio. That&rsquo;s a big challenge for the Council.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">In part, that&rsquo;s also the administration&rsquo;s argument. Norvell, the mayoral spokesperson, said, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re in a moment of deep insecurity and tremendous fear of displacement.&rdquo; He chalked this up to agreements made by past administrations that were not always delivered upon. For instance the rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, where the city failed to create all the infrastructure and services that were promised. He said the failure of the rezoning proposals in Inwood and Sunnyside were par for the course. &ldquo;When you play on a field as big as we are, you&rsquo;re gonna win some, you&rsquo;re gonna lose some,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Nobody bats a thousand.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">He also sought to dispel the notion that recent &ldquo;noise&rdquo; or even past opposition were hobbling the administration&rsquo;s progress on its larger core agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Norvell pointed to the expansion of affordable housing and CitiBike, &ldquo;both instances where the NIMBY phenomenon surfaced itself in various degrees of intensity but our policy and political goals were achieved nevertheless.&rdquo; Under the affordable housing agenda, about 53,000 units, a quarter of the goal administration&rsquo;s ten-year goal, have been financed and CitiBike is on course to double capacity, Norvell said.</p> <p dir="ltr">The moment of insecurity that both Norvell and Lander speak of may not just be for everyday New Yorkers. It&rsquo;s a challenging time for the mayor as well. He&rsquo;s fast approaching reelection and can ill-afford to make unpopular decisions. His relationship with the City Council <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/10/city-halls-progressive-alliance-sours-106081" target="_blank">has become more challenging</a>, particularly after he expressed some public dismay with Council Member Van Bramer over the Sunnyside deal (while also expressing respect for Van Bramer). Affordable housing is one of the main planks on which he has expended significant political capital, and must continue to do so in various local battles.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Sherrill said the new equation of power between the Council and the mayor precludes the possibility of unilateral action. &ldquo;An entire generation, 20 years, of atrophy for the Democratic political machine puts de Blasio in a position in which it is almost impossible for him to do anything that would entice members of the Council to do something he would like that is unpopular with...their districts,&rdquo; Sherrill said. &ldquo;This is not Bill de Blasio&rsquo;s problem. This is the problem of anyone who becomes Mayor now and mayors are going to have to find new ways of building relationships with neighborhoods.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a press conference on September 14, asked about the success of a housing proposal in the Bronx and the failure of Inwood, Speaker Mark-Viverito defended the leverage that Council members hold over land use decisions and seemed to criticize the mayor. &ldquo;The mayor and the administration need to focus on being proactive and engaged with Council members in their districts and with the communities that we represent to make sure information is being arrived at in the most transparent way about what a project is and what it seeks to do, that needs to happen,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Earlier, in a late August&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6508-full-interview-council-speaker-melissa-mark-viverito" target="_blank">interview with Gotham Gazette</a>, Mark-Viverito, whose home district is largely East Harlem, leaned into a fair share argument when talking of rezoning and the siting of homeless shelters. &ldquo;I think there needs to be more equity in the way that services are distributed,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There are literally some districts that have no shelters in them. You look at one like mine, that we have probably over 2,000, 3,000 beds...And that&rsquo;s a real challenge.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But she also stressed that local decisions must involve dialogue and engagement with the communities that are affected, even if they don&rsquo;t agree. &ldquo;And I have found that when you really engage in that conversation and take the time to really explain the process of your thinking and why, even if people don&rsquo;t agree with you they&rsquo;ll respect that, and you can work with your constituents and navigate through that,&rdquo; she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio does seem to be taking some of these critiques to heart. He has stepped up his efforts at personally engaging with New Yorkers. Besides his weekly radio appearance, where he takes questions from callers and promises assistance to those who need it, he has hosted a number of town halls in the last few months, connecting with people more directly in all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;For neighborhood planning, I believe it&rsquo;s better to engage people more and sooner,&rdquo; said Council Member Lander, who thinks the administration has shown strong participation in certain proposed rezonings, including Gowanus, Bushwick, Far Rockaway, and East Harlem.</p> <p dir="ltr">Professor Greer said that she thinks de Blasio &ldquo;has to convince people that &lsquo;this is a good idea and worth doing,&rsquo; either through political pressure or logrolling. If he needs to be successful, he&rsquo;ll find a way to sweeten the deal.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Bautista praised the mayor for reframing city policy along the lines of equity, but said, &ldquo;It can&rsquo;t just be a framing and messaging conceit.&rdquo; He said the mayor has to ensure consistency in applying his governing principles and show authentic community engagement. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a difference between having a fait accompli and coming to the community with that decision, versus a real engagement where you have a policy goal in mind,&rdquo; he said, getting at one of the repeated criticism of the de Blasio administration, that it too often presents to communities a fully-baked plan. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s crucial to minimizing NIMBY.&rdquo;</p> <p>Norvell contends the administration has made &ldquo;honest and sincere&rdquo; engagement efforts in city planning, and that the ultimate goal is to &ldquo;do the most good for the most people.&rdquo; &ldquo;At the end of the day, you can&rsquo;t make everybody happy,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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