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 2018-09-18T15:42:12+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Puts Three Questions on November Ballot 2018-09-04T04:00:00+00:00 2018-09-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7912:mayoral-charter-revision-commission-puts-three-questions-on-november-ballot Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/crc_2018.jpg" alt="charter revision commission 2018" width="600" height="344" /></p> <p>The Charter Revision Commission (photo via Charter Commission)</p> <hr /> <p>After months of meetings and deliberations, thousands of suggestions and dozens of hours of public hearings, the charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio voted to put three broad questions on the ballot in November. If approved by voters, the proposals would significantly reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections, create a new agency to civically engage the public, and apply term limits and appointment reforms to community boards.</p> <p>De Blasio created the commission to review the city charter with an eye on reducing the impact of wealthy donors and special interests in electoral campaigns and drawing more New Yorkers to participate in elections and civic life. The 13-member commission largely stuck by that mandate, though it did consider and reject other significant proposals including independent redistricting of City Council districts and instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting, which the mayor does not support. (A separate City Council-created charter revision commission is also beginning public hearings this month and could possibly take up the issues left unresolved by the mayoral commission. It will recommend ballot questions in 2019.)</p> <p>On Tuesday, the members of the mayoral commission met for the final time, at the New York Historical Society west of Central Park, to approve their final report and three “yes” or “no” questions that will be put to voters on the November 6 general election ballot.</p> <p>“Our job was to try to figure out what could make our city more just, more fair and more democratic and then to put it on the ballot to see if New Yorkers wanted the city to be run in this new fashion,” said Cesar Perales, chair of the commission, on Tuesday. “That’s what we did. I think we did that well and it’s going to be up to the voters in November to determine whether or not these things would be better for our city.”</p> <p>The first question proposes expansive reforms to the campaign finance law and the city’s public matching funds program, which incentivizes grassroots fundraising by matching the first $175 of every eligible campaign contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio for candidates who choose to participate in the program.</p> <p>The proposal would reduce contribution limits for participants from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates, from $3,950 to $1,500 for candidates for borough president, and from $2,850 to $1,000 for City Council seats. The proposed limits for those who choose not to opt in to the program are $3,500, $2,500 and $1,500 respectively.</p> <p>The proposal also increases the matching ratio to 8-to-1 for the first $250 raised by a citywide candidate and for the first $175 raised for all other seats. It would increase the cap on public funds disbursements from 55 percent to 75 percent of the spending limit for a seat, while also doling out the funds earlier in the election cycle.</p> <p>There was some clear disagreement about how the new campaign finance rules would be applied. A majority of commissioners agreed that candidates should be able to choose to abide by the new rules for the next citywide primary in 2021, and that the rules would be mandatory thereafter.</p> <p>Two of the commissioners, John Siegal and Wendy Weiser, disagreed with that implementation plan, though both voted to approve the question. “I do not think it is wise public policy to have a situation in which regulated parties get to make the decision as to whether they will or will not follow new regulations,” Siegal said. “I cannot think of another situation in which a regulatory agency has been put in that position. I do not think its necessary. I actually don’t think there’s any benefit to it.” He did, however, hold out hope that candidates would see the benefit of voluntarily participating, since the lower contribution limits would be accompanied by potentially more public funds.</p> <p>“While I do share the concern about having a choice, I am heartened by the assurances that this is really unlikely to come to pass,” Weiser said, “that everyone is really likely to follow the new system. It is the one that makes much more sense.”</p> <p>Carlo Scissura, the commission secretary, was the sole dissenting voice on the campaign finance question. He conceded that the commission published an “overall great report” but has in past hearings expressed doubts about increasing the taxpayer contribution by creating a larger public matching funds program. “I wish that on the campaign finance, that we took a little different approach but it does reflect the will of what we heard and the will of the majority of the commission,” he said.</p> <p>The second question, which was unanimously approved, would create a new 15-member Civic Engagement Commission, with eight appointed by the mayor -- including the chair and executive director -- two by the City Council speaker and one each by the five borough presidents. The mayor would have to appoint at least one member from each of the city’s largest and second-largest political parties, which, likely in perpetuity, means Democrats and Republicans.</p> <p>Among the roles the commission would play are administering a citywide participatory budgeting program starting in 2020 (it’s currently employed by City Council members in dozens of districts); providing interpreters at poll sites; working on civic engagement with advocacy groups and nonprofit service providers, with a particular eye on outreach to limited English-language speakers; and providing annual reports on progress on those fronts. The proposal also allows the mayor to delegate more powers and responsibilities to the commission.</p> <p>The notion of an Office of Civic Engagement has recently been pushed forward by City Council Member Brad Lander, who has introduced legislation to create one. If approved, the charter revision creation of such a commission would appear to negate Lander’s legislation. The Brooklyn Council member testified to the commission about the idea of creating a civic engagement body and has held his legislation as the charter commission proceeded with its work.</p> <p>The most controversial proposals the commission is putting on the November ballot deal with community boards, the most local form of city government. The third question would establish staggered term limits for community board members, to reduce mass simultaneous turnover. Those members appointed or reappointed on or after April 1, 2019, would be allowed to serve four consecutive two-year terms; those appointed on April 1, 2020 may serve five terms; and those appointed after that would again only serve four terms.</p> <p>The commission also recommended changes to the appointment process, to make it consistent across the five boroughs and to promote diverse membership. The civic engagement commission, if passed, would also be tasked with providing technical assistance to community boards, particularly urban planning expertise and language access. Eleven commissioners voted in favor of the question, while Commissioner Angela Fernandez abstained from the vote.</p> <p>The commission’s <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/charter/downloads/pdf/final-report-20180904.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">final report</a> was also approved unanimously, and the questions will be delivered to the City Clerk to place on the ballot, giving the commission two months to educate and inform New Yorkers that they’ll be able to choose more than just candidates in November, when New Yorkers will be voting largely on state-level elected positions, including for Governor and members of the state Legislature.</p> <p>“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “There’s no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.”</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/crc_2018.jpg" alt="charter revision commission 2018" width="600" height="344" /></p> <p>The Charter Revision Commission (photo via Charter Commission)</p> <hr /> <p>After months of meetings and deliberations, thousands of suggestions and dozens of hours of public hearings, the charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio voted to put three broad questions on the ballot in November. If approved by voters, the proposals would significantly reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections, create a new agency to civically engage the public, and apply term limits and appointment reforms to community boards.</p> <p>De Blasio created the commission to review the city charter with an eye on reducing the impact of wealthy donors and special interests in electoral campaigns and drawing more New Yorkers to participate in elections and civic life. The 13-member commission largely stuck by that mandate, though it did consider and reject other significant proposals including independent redistricting of City Council districts and instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting, which the mayor does not support. (A separate City Council-created charter revision commission is also beginning public hearings this month and could possibly take up the issues left unresolved by the mayoral commission. It will recommend ballot questions in 2019.)</p> <p>On Tuesday, the members of the mayoral commission met for the final time, at the New York Historical Society west of Central Park, to approve their final report and three “yes” or “no” questions that will be put to voters on the November 6 general election ballot.</p> <p>“Our job was to try to figure out what could make our city more just, more fair and more democratic and then to put it on the ballot to see if New Yorkers wanted the city to be run in this new fashion,” said Cesar Perales, chair of the commission, on Tuesday. “That’s what we did. I think we did that well and it’s going to be up to the voters in November to determine whether or not these things would be better for our city.”</p> <p>The first question proposes expansive reforms to the campaign finance law and the city’s public matching funds program, which incentivizes grassroots fundraising by matching the first $175 of every eligible campaign contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio for candidates who choose to participate in the program.</p> <p>The proposal would reduce contribution limits for participants from $5,100 to $2,000 for citywide candidates, from $3,950 to $1,500 for candidates for borough president, and from $2,850 to $1,000 for City Council seats. The proposed limits for those who choose not to opt in to the program are $3,500, $2,500 and $1,500 respectively.</p> <p>The proposal also increases the matching ratio to 8-to-1 for the first $250 raised by a citywide candidate and for the first $175 raised for all other seats. It would increase the cap on public funds disbursements from 55 percent to 75 percent of the spending limit for a seat, while also doling out the funds earlier in the election cycle.</p> <p>There was some clear disagreement about how the new campaign finance rules would be applied. A majority of commissioners agreed that candidates should be able to choose to abide by the new rules for the next citywide primary in 2021, and that the rules would be mandatory thereafter.</p> <p>Two of the commissioners, John Siegal and Wendy Weiser, disagreed with that implementation plan, though both voted to approve the question. “I do not think it is wise public policy to have a situation in which regulated parties get to make the decision as to whether they will or will not follow new regulations,” Siegal said. “I cannot think of another situation in which a regulatory agency has been put in that position. I do not think its necessary. I actually don’t think there’s any benefit to it.” He did, however, hold out hope that candidates would see the benefit of voluntarily participating, since the lower contribution limits would be accompanied by potentially more public funds.</p> <p>“While I do share the concern about having a choice, I am heartened by the assurances that this is really unlikely to come to pass,” Weiser said, “that everyone is really likely to follow the new system. It is the one that makes much more sense.”</p> <p>Carlo Scissura, the commission secretary, was the sole dissenting voice on the campaign finance question. He conceded that the commission published an “overall great report” but has in past hearings expressed doubts about increasing the taxpayer contribution by creating a larger public matching funds program. “I wish that on the campaign finance, that we took a little different approach but it does reflect the will of what we heard and the will of the majority of the commission,” he said.</p> <p>The second question, which was unanimously approved, would create a new 15-member Civic Engagement Commission, with eight appointed by the mayor -- including the chair and executive director -- two by the City Council speaker and one each by the five borough presidents. The mayor would have to appoint at least one member from each of the city’s largest and second-largest political parties, which, likely in perpetuity, means Democrats and Republicans.</p> <p>Among the roles the commission would play are administering a citywide participatory budgeting program starting in 2020 (it’s currently employed by City Council members in dozens of districts); providing interpreters at poll sites; working on civic engagement with advocacy groups and nonprofit service providers, with a particular eye on outreach to limited English-language speakers; and providing annual reports on progress on those fronts. The proposal also allows the mayor to delegate more powers and responsibilities to the commission.</p> <p>The notion of an Office of Civic Engagement has recently been pushed forward by City Council Member Brad Lander, who has introduced legislation to create one. If approved, the charter revision creation of such a commission would appear to negate Lander’s legislation. The Brooklyn Council member testified to the commission about the idea of creating a civic engagement body and has held his legislation as the charter commission proceeded with its work.</p> <p>The most controversial proposals the commission is putting on the November ballot deal with community boards, the most local form of city government. The third question would establish staggered term limits for community board members, to reduce mass simultaneous turnover. Those members appointed or reappointed on or after April 1, 2019, would be allowed to serve four consecutive two-year terms; those appointed on April 1, 2020 may serve five terms; and those appointed after that would again only serve four terms.</p> <p>The commission also recommended changes to the appointment process, to make it consistent across the five boroughs and to promote diverse membership. The civic engagement commission, if passed, would also be tasked with providing technical assistance to community boards, particularly urban planning expertise and language access. Eleven commissioners voted in favor of the question, while Commissioner Angela Fernandez abstained from the vote.</p> <p>The commission’s <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/charter/downloads/pdf/final-report-20180904.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">final report</a> was also approved unanimously, and the questions will be delivered to the City Clerk to place on the ballot, giving the commission two months to educate and inform New Yorkers that they’ll be able to choose more than just candidates in November, when New Yorkers will be voting largely on state-level elected positions, including for Governor and members of the state Legislature.</p> <p>“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “There’s no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line 2018-08-02T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7840:working-families-party-puts-it-all-on-the-line Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/wf-vote-your-values2.jpg" alt="Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton &amp; Jumaane Williams (bottom)</p> <hr /> <p>The Working Families Party celebrated its 20th anniversary last month at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, with its rank-and-file cheering on a line up of politicians that have served as standard bearers, past and present. But it’s the future of the party that is especially uncertain as the upstart liberal organization lays it all on the line in backing insurgent candidates in state elections this year.</p> <p>In doing so, especially in its decision to take on Governor Andrew Cuomo by backing Cynthia Nixon, some the party’s longtime allies have turned adversaries, portending a potentially diminished presence in the state’s political landscape if its gamble does not pay off over the next several weeks. At the anniversary celebration, which featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others singing the party’s praises for its push to create a more fair and equal New York, there was little sign of uneasiness about its bold choices this election year; an atmosphere of revelry prevailed, possibly the sign of progressive activists happy to be going for it all instead of triangulating with Cuomo and other more centrist Democrats as it had in the past.</p> <p>There is also a sense among WFP leaders and supporters that the party is already where the Democratic Party is heading, and where it needs to be, with a more progressive vision of left politics reflective of a new post-Clinton, post-Cuomo Democratic era.</p> <p>Created by community advocates and labor unions with a vision of pulling Democrats to the progressive left, the WFP has played a prominent role in championing the bread-and-butter issues that most affect working, low- and middle-income Americans. Through activism and advocacy around policy and funding, the party battles inequity, whether it be in housing, employment, wages, criminal justice, education, environment, or electoral access. In local and state elections, Democrats eager to brandish their progressive bonafides have coveted and sought the WFP’s endorsement, and the party’s vocal leaders and active network of members and volunteers.</p> <p>But after years of being let down by elected officials they propped up, the WFP’s leadership made a drastic decision this year to endorse underdogs in key Democratic primaries. They backed Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo, a two-term incumbent seeking reelection, and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in his attempt to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; and they are fiercely rallying behind progressive candidates who are trying to replace Democratic state Senators who until recently made up the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).</p> <p>The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/unions-in-out-working-families-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pulled their support</a> for fear of angering the governor, who made explicit threats against anyone who would stay, according to a WFP leader. But advocacy groups and a progressive activist base rallied, resolute to take on Cuomo, whom they no longer trusted after a 2014 deal went bad, and the former IDC members, who had betrayed their Democratic party-mates.</p> <p>While acknowledging its newfound vulnerability, WFP leaders and supporters also had a sense that they were on the right side of history, pursuing their true vision of where the Democratic Party should be (with the necessary help of the WFP), representative of the national trendlines -- the WFP did back Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary -- a feeling only bolstered in recent weeks by events like the shocking congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom the WFP had not endorsed over Rep. Joe Crowley, but quickly sought to align with thereafter.</p> <p>“I think the unions are dismayed by the way the Working Families Party has chosen to operate this cycle,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a phone interview. RWDSU was among those unions that left the party this year and Appelbaum is one of several labor leaders who say that Cuomo deserves to be reelected.</p> <p>“They’re diverting energy and resources from the effort to send more Democratic congresspeople from New York to Washington, [and] our prime responsibility is to work to take back the House of Representatives…Our concern is that the WFP no longer is representing, in its current rendition, the interests of working men and women, despite their name, and that is why unions felt it was necessary to disassociate themselves.”</p> <p>WFP leaders and allied elected officials say the party made a calculated wager, riding a groundswell of progressive sentiment that has moved the state’s political center, and that no matter how the chips fall on September 13, primary day, the party has already won.</p> <p>“This is the party they founded 20 years ago...to pull the Democratic Party to the left and with a coalitional approach to building power,” Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette at the WFP’s anniversary gala. Lander spoke of the “radical but also practical vision” of Jon Kest, the progressive organizer who founded the WFP as well as the advocacy groups New York Communities for Change and its predecessor, the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).</p> <p>“The WFP’s always contained this dynamic tension,” Lander said, between “the strength of voice of grassroots activists” and “established but still progressive” institutions such as labor unions. “At this moment, given shifts in the broader zeitgeist...and of course because of the way the governor has approached this, the party is in a more activist movement space,” he said. Like the WFP, Lander is backing Williams for lieutenant governor and several of the challengers to the former IDC members.</p> <p>Surely, if the WFP notches wins in the many primaries it is involved in -- the WFP offers a general election ballot line, but does much of its work backing its preferred candidates in their Democratic primaries -- it will strengthen the party, and conversely, losses will set them back, Lander said. Though, given the state of New York’s politics, “There’s no choice,” Lander said.</p> <p>For nearly eight years, the WFP has cried foul about Democratic recalcitrance as key progressive policies have failed to pass the state Legislature. The WFP continues to advocate for issues that include healthcare for all, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages, fixing the city’s subways, increasing funding to under-resourced schools, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reform. &nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo and the members of the erstwhile IDC largely claim to support that agenda and have repeatedly blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for thwarting its planks. But Cuomo tolerated, if not supported, the presence of the IDC, and critics hold its members up as a major obstacle to full Democratic control of both legislative chambers. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the 150-seat Assembly but, with the return of the IDC to the mainline Democratic conference, hold 31 seats in the 63-seat Senate.</p> <p>And though the State Democratic Party, at Cuomo’s behest, is focused on recapturing the Senate, which necessitates flipping seats in the general election, groups like the WFP insist on replacing rogue Democrats with candidates who better embody progressive values and they trust to not flee for a deal with Republicans.</p> <p>The party is taking a “big risk,” Dorothy Siegel, WFP treasurer, conceded on the sidelines of the gala, where Nixon, Williams, de Blasio, and Ben Jealous, the WFP-backed Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, took the stage one by one to celebrate the WFP’s history. “Because, the power structure doesn’t like to be challenged...and the WFP is a really small organization,” Siegel said. “The people who control the levers of power win. Individual people never win.”</p> <p>Siegel lamented her belief that the state’s politics, the governor, and state Legislature are powered by special interests, largely real estate developers and Wall Street executives (she left out the extensive influence of labor unions). “The WFP is not powered by any of those powerful people. We’re only powered by people who pay us $5 a month,” she said. “It’s a true David and Goliath situation. If we lose the governor’s race, we run the risk of very powerful people being very angry. They can do a lot of things to us that would make our lives difficult.”</p> <p>Siegel pointed to the investigation involving the WFP that stemmed from alleged campaign finance violations in the election of City Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in 2009. Two campaign workers were accused, and later cleared, of charges that they worked with the WFP’s consulting firm, Data and Field Services, to circumvent campaign finance law. The years-long episode cost time and money that the WFP could ill-afford. “Lots of people got laid off. We almost went out of business,” Siegel said. “They could do that again. Do not underestimate the power of super-wealthy people to trample people who want to take away their power.”</p> <p>Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.</p> <p>One of the most consequential possible effects of the WFP backing Nixon over Cuomo -- who they endorsed in 2014 after he promised to bring the IDC to an end and enact many of the same policies he’s promising again this year, which he did not follow through on -- is that it could cost the party automatic ballot access. A “third party” like the WFP needs at least 50,000 votes for its candidate for governor to maintain its ballot line into the future, which Nixon could easily attain in the general election. But Nixon losing the Democratic primary would put the WFP in a tough spot. Its leaders claim they won’t play spoiler and risk electing a Republican by drawing general election votes away from Cuomo. The party could feasibly get behind Cuomo while removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line. A back-up plan is in place to move her to an Assembly race, in which she would not run, they say.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7808-the-cynthia-nixon-working-families-party-back-up-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan</a>]</p> <p>“We’re confident that Cynthia’s going to win and that the insurgents running against the IDC are all going to win,” said Bill Lipton, NYWFP political director, in a phone interview. “There’s a progressive wave coming. In the unlikely event that she loses, Cynthia’s agreed to meet with the leaders of the WFP and we’ll have an important decision to make. We’re very confident about any of the possible scenarios.”</p> <p>A Nixon win would shock the political world, and catapult the WFP to never-before-seen power for a minor party. While initial polls show Nixon losing badly, her campaign argues that polling has been skewed and that polls are unable to capture the insurgent energy among Democrats and behind her candidacy. On the other hand, polling shows Williams to have a very real shot at unseating Hochul, which would also strengthen the WFP and cause major headaches for Cuomo (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a ticket for the general election).</p> <p>If Lipton had concerns about the WFP’s undertaking in this election cycle, he betrayed none of them. “We’re not taking a risk. We’re fulfilling our mission. The risk would be for us if we stray from our mission,” he said, critiquing the Democratic establishment for relying on the same wealthy donors as their Republican opponents. “The mission of the WFP is to break up that cozy relationship between these parties and these oligarchs and demand that there be a party that is truly fighting for working people,” he added. “And Cuomo and the IDC fundamentally made the problem worse by not just taking money from the same wealthy donors that fund the Republican attacks on working people but actually openly supporting and aligning themselves with the Republicans. The danger for us would’ve been not standing up to these Trump Democrats. That would’ve been the greater danger.”</p> <p>The WFP hasn’t been a pure supporter of every progressive candidate, as evidenced by its choice of Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, among others. Though the party derived momentum after the recent primary victory by Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic socialist who defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Crowley in Queens, its backing of Crowley left many questioning the WFP afterward. Lipton said the party was now fully behind her and that their earlier decisions owed to the fact that Crowley was moving to his left and the party had already committed to challenging former IDC state senators. “In retrospect, we clearly made a mistake. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired us and working people around New York and the nation,” Lipton said. &nbsp;</p> <p>The party also hasn’t made an endorsement in the state Senate District 18 race where Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, is posing a primary challenge to Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, an eight-term incumbent. Although, Lipton did not close the door on the prospect of an endorsement. “As of now, the WFP has made no endorsement in the race,” he simply said. The party is backing Andrew Gounardes in a competitive Brooklyn Democratic primary with Ross Barkan, the winner of which will try to unseat one of the few Republican elected officials in the city, Senator Marty Golden.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7782-running-for-state-senate-julia-salazar-attempts-progressive-primary-upset" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset</a>]</p> <p>Karen Scharff, co-chair of the NYWFP and, until recently, longtime executive director of Citizen Action of New York, an activist group and member of the WFP, insists the party will come through September 13 with several victories, similarly citing Ocasio-Cortez, among other progressives, who prevailed in the congressional primaries.</p> <p>“The headline that came out of June 26 was not ‘Democratic establishment wins big.’ It was quite the opposite,’” Scharff said in a phone interview. “I think really that Cuomo and the IDC and the establishment Democrats took a major risk themselves by ignoring the growth of the progressive movement as it really built up steam over the past seven years going back to Occupy Wall Street and then Bill de Blasio’s election in New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders momentum, and they’re showing that they realize it.”</p> <p>She noted that Cuomo has moved to his left in the last few months on several fronts, owing to the shifting dynamics of the Democratic base. “I think that the risk we’ve taken in our endorsements this year have already paid off in moving the dominant issues in our state in a direction that is gonna meet the needs of working families instead of the needs of hedge fund donors and real estate donors,” she said, insisting that the governor and state Legislature, no matter who wins, can ill-afford to ignore the WFP’s agenda next year. “I think this is the direction the electorate is moving in and the Democratic Party’s going to have to either move with it or risk being left behind,” she said.</p> <p>“I don’t think WFP is out on a limb by itself here,” Scharff continued. “This is really part of the establishment versus the entire progressive and resistance movement….We’re definitely acting as part of a broader movement with a lot of allies.”</p> <p>Public Advocate Letitia James, who first got elected to the City Council on the WFP line in 2003, also attended the 20th anniversary gala, though her presence was more muted. Despite being a longtime WFP poster star, she did not speak to the gathering, choosing to mingle on the sides. James is running for attorney general with the governor’s support and eschewed the WFP’s endorsement, which the party has reserved for either James or one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, hoping that one of the two prevails September 13. Asked about the party’s risky endeavors this year, which include the challenge against Cuomo, James demurred. “I was with WFP when they had fundraisers at churches and if you didn’t get there early enough, all the cheese and crackers were gone. They’ve come a long way,” she said.</p> <p>“They took a chance on me several years ago,” she said, “and they are voting their values. I just wanted to come because they are my friends and because when I needed a party to run on, the Working Families Party was there and that’s something I’ll never forget.”</p> <p>Theodore Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College and longtime Brooklyn politics watcher, struck an optimistic note about the state Senate candidates that the WFP has endorsed, though he said that Nixon and Williams are unlikely to win. “The question, I guess, is if those people win but Cuomo holds on, then how will the new state Senate take shape with the some of the IDC figures no longer there and the challengers now taking those seats,” he wondered. “But that would certainly give the WFP influence, to a much greater degree than they’ve had thus far in the state Senate. That really should be where they put their energy.”</p> <p>Even Hamm admitted, though, that after Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset, “There’s no certainties anymore of what will happen in the future. In the wake of her victory, even though they didn’t support her, it made it seem like their gamble was worth at least pursuing.”</p> <p>At the WFP gala, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke early and eagerly. His association with the party goes back to his years as a City Council member from Park Slope. “People try and bet against the Working Families Party all the time, the status quo loves to discount them,” the mayor said to whoops and applause. “But guess what? The Working Families Party is here to stay.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7798-new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing">New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/wf-vote-your-values2.jpg" alt="Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton &amp; Jumaane Williams (bottom)</p> <hr /> <p>The Working Families Party celebrated its 20th anniversary last month at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, with its rank-and-file cheering on a line up of politicians that have served as standard bearers, past and present. But it’s the future of the party that is especially uncertain as the upstart liberal organization lays it all on the line in backing insurgent candidates in state elections this year.</p> <p>In doing so, especially in its decision to take on Governor Andrew Cuomo by backing Cynthia Nixon, some the party’s longtime allies have turned adversaries, portending a potentially diminished presence in the state’s political landscape if its gamble does not pay off over the next several weeks. At the anniversary celebration, which featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others singing the party’s praises for its push to create a more fair and equal New York, there was little sign of uneasiness about its bold choices this election year; an atmosphere of revelry prevailed, possibly the sign of progressive activists happy to be going for it all instead of triangulating with Cuomo and other more centrist Democrats as it had in the past.</p> <p>There is also a sense among WFP leaders and supporters that the party is already where the Democratic Party is heading, and where it needs to be, with a more progressive vision of left politics reflective of a new post-Clinton, post-Cuomo Democratic era.</p> <p>Created by community advocates and labor unions with a vision of pulling Democrats to the progressive left, the WFP has played a prominent role in championing the bread-and-butter issues that most affect working, low- and middle-income Americans. Through activism and advocacy around policy and funding, the party battles inequity, whether it be in housing, employment, wages, criminal justice, education, environment, or electoral access. In local and state elections, Democrats eager to brandish their progressive bonafides have coveted and sought the WFP’s endorsement, and the party’s vocal leaders and active network of members and volunteers.</p> <p>But after years of being let down by elected officials they propped up, the WFP’s leadership made a drastic decision this year to endorse underdogs in key Democratic primaries. They backed Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo, a two-term incumbent seeking reelection, and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in his attempt to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; and they are fiercely rallying behind progressive candidates who are trying to replace Democratic state Senators who until recently made up the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).</p> <p>The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/unions-in-out-working-families-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pulled their support</a> for fear of angering the governor, who made explicit threats against anyone who would stay, according to a WFP leader. But advocacy groups and a progressive activist base rallied, resolute to take on Cuomo, whom they no longer trusted after a 2014 deal went bad, and the former IDC members, who had betrayed their Democratic party-mates.</p> <p>While acknowledging its newfound vulnerability, WFP leaders and supporters also had a sense that they were on the right side of history, pursuing their true vision of where the Democratic Party should be (with the necessary help of the WFP), representative of the national trendlines -- the WFP did back Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary -- a feeling only bolstered in recent weeks by events like the shocking congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom the WFP had not endorsed over Rep. Joe Crowley, but quickly sought to align with thereafter.</p> <p>“I think the unions are dismayed by the way the Working Families Party has chosen to operate this cycle,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a phone interview. RWDSU was among those unions that left the party this year and Appelbaum is one of several labor leaders who say that Cuomo deserves to be reelected.</p> <p>“They’re diverting energy and resources from the effort to send more Democratic congresspeople from New York to Washington, [and] our prime responsibility is to work to take back the House of Representatives…Our concern is that the WFP no longer is representing, in its current rendition, the interests of working men and women, despite their name, and that is why unions felt it was necessary to disassociate themselves.”</p> <p>WFP leaders and allied elected officials say the party made a calculated wager, riding a groundswell of progressive sentiment that has moved the state’s political center, and that no matter how the chips fall on September 13, primary day, the party has already won.</p> <p>“This is the party they founded 20 years ago...to pull the Democratic Party to the left and with a coalitional approach to building power,” Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette at the WFP’s anniversary gala. Lander spoke of the “radical but also practical vision” of Jon Kest, the progressive organizer who founded the WFP as well as the advocacy groups New York Communities for Change and its predecessor, the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).</p> <p>“The WFP’s always contained this dynamic tension,” Lander said, between “the strength of voice of grassroots activists” and “established but still progressive” institutions such as labor unions. “At this moment, given shifts in the broader zeitgeist...and of course because of the way the governor has approached this, the party is in a more activist movement space,” he said. Like the WFP, Lander is backing Williams for lieutenant governor and several of the challengers to the former IDC members.</p> <p>Surely, if the WFP notches wins in the many primaries it is involved in -- the WFP offers a general election ballot line, but does much of its work backing its preferred candidates in their Democratic primaries -- it will strengthen the party, and conversely, losses will set them back, Lander said. Though, given the state of New York’s politics, “There’s no choice,” Lander said.</p> <p>For nearly eight years, the WFP has cried foul about Democratic recalcitrance as key progressive policies have failed to pass the state Legislature. The WFP continues to advocate for issues that include healthcare for all, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages, fixing the city’s subways, increasing funding to under-resourced schools, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reform. &nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo and the members of the erstwhile IDC largely claim to support that agenda and have repeatedly blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for thwarting its planks. But Cuomo tolerated, if not supported, the presence of the IDC, and critics hold its members up as a major obstacle to full Democratic control of both legislative chambers. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the 150-seat Assembly but, with the return of the IDC to the mainline Democratic conference, hold 31 seats in the 63-seat Senate.</p> <p>And though the State Democratic Party, at Cuomo’s behest, is focused on recapturing the Senate, which necessitates flipping seats in the general election, groups like the WFP insist on replacing rogue Democrats with candidates who better embody progressive values and they trust to not flee for a deal with Republicans.</p> <p>The party is taking a “big risk,” Dorothy Siegel, WFP treasurer, conceded on the sidelines of the gala, where Nixon, Williams, de Blasio, and Ben Jealous, the WFP-backed Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, took the stage one by one to celebrate the WFP’s history. “Because, the power structure doesn’t like to be challenged...and the WFP is a really small organization,” Siegel said. “The people who control the levers of power win. Individual people never win.”</p> <p>Siegel lamented her belief that the state’s politics, the governor, and state Legislature are powered by special interests, largely real estate developers and Wall Street executives (she left out the extensive influence of labor unions). “The WFP is not powered by any of those powerful people. We’re only powered by people who pay us $5 a month,” she said. “It’s a true David and Goliath situation. If we lose the governor’s race, we run the risk of very powerful people being very angry. They can do a lot of things to us that would make our lives difficult.”</p> <p>Siegel pointed to the investigation involving the WFP that stemmed from alleged campaign finance violations in the election of City Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in 2009. Two campaign workers were accused, and later cleared, of charges that they worked with the WFP’s consulting firm, Data and Field Services, to circumvent campaign finance law. The years-long episode cost time and money that the WFP could ill-afford. “Lots of people got laid off. We almost went out of business,” Siegel said. “They could do that again. Do not underestimate the power of super-wealthy people to trample people who want to take away their power.”</p> <p>Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.</p> <p>One of the most consequential possible effects of the WFP backing Nixon over Cuomo -- who they endorsed in 2014 after he promised to bring the IDC to an end and enact many of the same policies he’s promising again this year, which he did not follow through on -- is that it could cost the party automatic ballot access. A “third party” like the WFP needs at least 50,000 votes for its candidate for governor to maintain its ballot line into the future, which Nixon could easily attain in the general election. But Nixon losing the Democratic primary would put the WFP in a tough spot. Its leaders claim they won’t play spoiler and risk electing a Republican by drawing general election votes away from Cuomo. The party could feasibly get behind Cuomo while removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line. A back-up plan is in place to move her to an Assembly race, in which she would not run, they say.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7808-the-cynthia-nixon-working-families-party-back-up-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan</a>]</p> <p>“We’re confident that Cynthia’s going to win and that the insurgents running against the IDC are all going to win,” said Bill Lipton, NYWFP political director, in a phone interview. “There’s a progressive wave coming. In the unlikely event that she loses, Cynthia’s agreed to meet with the leaders of the WFP and we’ll have an important decision to make. We’re very confident about any of the possible scenarios.”</p> <p>A Nixon win would shock the political world, and catapult the WFP to never-before-seen power for a minor party. While initial polls show Nixon losing badly, her campaign argues that polling has been skewed and that polls are unable to capture the insurgent energy among Democrats and behind her candidacy. On the other hand, polling shows Williams to have a very real shot at unseating Hochul, which would also strengthen the WFP and cause major headaches for Cuomo (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a ticket for the general election).</p> <p>If Lipton had concerns about the WFP’s undertaking in this election cycle, he betrayed none of them. “We’re not taking a risk. We’re fulfilling our mission. The risk would be for us if we stray from our mission,” he said, critiquing the Democratic establishment for relying on the same wealthy donors as their Republican opponents. “The mission of the WFP is to break up that cozy relationship between these parties and these oligarchs and demand that there be a party that is truly fighting for working people,” he added. “And Cuomo and the IDC fundamentally made the problem worse by not just taking money from the same wealthy donors that fund the Republican attacks on working people but actually openly supporting and aligning themselves with the Republicans. The danger for us would’ve been not standing up to these Trump Democrats. That would’ve been the greater danger.”</p> <p>The WFP hasn’t been a pure supporter of every progressive candidate, as evidenced by its choice of Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, among others. Though the party derived momentum after the recent primary victory by Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic socialist who defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Crowley in Queens, its backing of Crowley left many questioning the WFP afterward. Lipton said the party was now fully behind her and that their earlier decisions owed to the fact that Crowley was moving to his left and the party had already committed to challenging former IDC state senators. “In retrospect, we clearly made a mistake. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired us and working people around New York and the nation,” Lipton said. &nbsp;</p> <p>The party also hasn’t made an endorsement in the state Senate District 18 race where Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, is posing a primary challenge to Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, an eight-term incumbent. Although, Lipton did not close the door on the prospect of an endorsement. “As of now, the WFP has made no endorsement in the race,” he simply said. The party is backing Andrew Gounardes in a competitive Brooklyn Democratic primary with Ross Barkan, the winner of which will try to unseat one of the few Republican elected officials in the city, Senator Marty Golden.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7782-running-for-state-senate-julia-salazar-attempts-progressive-primary-upset" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset</a>]</p> <p>Karen Scharff, co-chair of the NYWFP and, until recently, longtime executive director of Citizen Action of New York, an activist group and member of the WFP, insists the party will come through September 13 with several victories, similarly citing Ocasio-Cortez, among other progressives, who prevailed in the congressional primaries.</p> <p>“The headline that came out of June 26 was not ‘Democratic establishment wins big.’ It was quite the opposite,’” Scharff said in a phone interview. “I think really that Cuomo and the IDC and the establishment Democrats took a major risk themselves by ignoring the growth of the progressive movement as it really built up steam over the past seven years going back to Occupy Wall Street and then Bill de Blasio’s election in New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders momentum, and they’re showing that they realize it.”</p> <p>She noted that Cuomo has moved to his left in the last few months on several fronts, owing to the shifting dynamics of the Democratic base. “I think that the risk we’ve taken in our endorsements this year have already paid off in moving the dominant issues in our state in a direction that is gonna meet the needs of working families instead of the needs of hedge fund donors and real estate donors,” she said, insisting that the governor and state Legislature, no matter who wins, can ill-afford to ignore the WFP’s agenda next year. “I think this is the direction the electorate is moving in and the Democratic Party’s going to have to either move with it or risk being left behind,” she said.</p> <p>“I don’t think WFP is out on a limb by itself here,” Scharff continued. “This is really part of the establishment versus the entire progressive and resistance movement….We’re definitely acting as part of a broader movement with a lot of allies.”</p> <p>Public Advocate Letitia James, who first got elected to the City Council on the WFP line in 2003, also attended the 20th anniversary gala, though her presence was more muted. Despite being a longtime WFP poster star, she did not speak to the gathering, choosing to mingle on the sides. James is running for attorney general with the governor’s support and eschewed the WFP’s endorsement, which the party has reserved for either James or one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, hoping that one of the two prevails September 13. Asked about the party’s risky endeavors this year, which include the challenge against Cuomo, James demurred. “I was with WFP when they had fundraisers at churches and if you didn’t get there early enough, all the cheese and crackers were gone. They’ve come a long way,” she said.</p> <p>“They took a chance on me several years ago,” she said, “and they are voting their values. I just wanted to come because they are my friends and because when I needed a party to run on, the Working Families Party was there and that’s something I’ll never forget.”</p> <p>Theodore Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College and longtime Brooklyn politics watcher, struck an optimistic note about the state Senate candidates that the WFP has endorsed, though he said that Nixon and Williams are unlikely to win. “The question, I guess, is if those people win but Cuomo holds on, then how will the new state Senate take shape with the some of the IDC figures no longer there and the challengers now taking those seats,” he wondered. “But that would certainly give the WFP influence, to a much greater degree than they’ve had thus far in the state Senate. That really should be where they put their energy.”</p> <p>Even Hamm admitted, though, that after Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset, “There’s no certainties anymore of what will happen in the future. In the wake of her victory, even though they didn’t support her, it made it seem like their gamble was worth at least pursuing.”</p> <p>At the WFP gala, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke early and eagerly. His association with the party goes back to his years as a City Council member from Park Slope. “People try and bet against the Working Families Party all the time, the status quo loves to discount them,” the mayor said to whoops and applause. “But guess what? The Working Families Party is here to stay.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7798-new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing">New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Civic Engagement and Redistricting 2018-06-21T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7757:mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-civic-engagement-and-redistricting Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/lander_and_hidalgo_at_crc.png" alt="lander and hidalgo at crc" width="600" height="280" /></p> <p>Council Member Lander and Noel Hidalgo testify</p> <hr /> <p>The charter revision commission convened by Mayor Bill de Blasio held its fourth and final issue-focused forum on Thursday afternoon at NYU, hearing testimony from experts on the city’s civic engagement efforts and hearing proposals for independent redistricting of City Council districts.</p> <p>The central question before the commission on civic engagement was whether the city should create a new independent, nonpartisan Office of Civic Engagement. The proposal is the brainchild of New York City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, who was among those who testified Thursday. If the commission decides to take up that and other proposals heard at previous hearings, they would be presented to voters as ballot referenda in November. The three previous issue-focused expert hearings were on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7733-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-and-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voting and elections</a>; <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7744-mayor-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaign finance reform</a>; and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7749-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-community-boards-and-land-use" target="_blank" rel="noopener">community boards and land use</a>.</p> <p>Panellists who spoke before the commission on Thursday sought to define civic engagement, its limits and challenges, and the mechanisms by which it is currently carried out by city agencies, nonprofit organizations, and community-based advocates, and comprehensive approaches to combining all those disparate elements.</p> <p>Naomi Zauderer, chair of the NYC Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, informed the commission about VAAC’s continuing voter engagement and registration efforts, acknowledging a fact that the commissioners were familiar with: the city’s abysmally low voter turnout in recent elections. “[T]he real challenge in New York City is getting people to turn out to the polls,” she said, noting that a lack of information about elections and candidates serves to discourage voters.</p> <p>Paula Gavin, chief service officer of NYC Service, the city agency charged with encouraging volunteering efforts, said a big challenge is New York City’s low volunteering rate -- only 14 percent, compared with the national average of 25 percent. She said increasing the city’s volunteering and civic participation rate through a “continuum” of agencies and elected officials working together with community-based organizations would also lead to an uptick in turnout. “It is shown that those who volunteer more, vote more. Those who vote more, volunteer more. So the tide will rise,” she said.</p> <p>But Zauderer and Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, where VAAC operates, said voter engagement should continue to be housed under the CFB, which already has a well-established voter information and outreach operation that continues to be improved. They agreed that an Office of Civic Engagement is a laudable idea, but one that should coordinate with the VAAC’s existing efforts rather than subsume its role.</p> <p>“I think we would support the idea that...any organization that’s called an Office of Civic Engagement be a nonpartisan and independent agency, because I think that insulates it from any kind of political pressures or the desire to follow any particular person’s priorities,” Loprest said.</p> <p>She added, “There’s many, many aspects of civic engagement...and if we worked on the voter engagement and outreach work that we’re doing, we would work very closely with that office of service to collaborate.”Similarly, Gavin said it would be “unrealistic” to place all those agencies and initiatives at a lone, new agency but supported the idea of a coordinated umbrella of efforts. “I do feel strongly that a framework that brings together the various aspects of civic engagement would be very important,” she said. Citing her agency’s work across the city with other departments, in schools and communities, she said “I don’t know that it has to be everything working within the one framework. I think it’s more of a coordinating effort that would be valuable.”</p> <p>Beyond the framework, panellists also pointed out blind spots in current civic engagement efforts that they said should be avoided under a newly empanelled agency. Underserved populations -- such as the disabled, low- and moderate-income communities of color, immigrants -- tend to be ignored by civic institutions, they said. Others stressed the need to inculcate a sense of civic duty in New Yorkers, particularly by starting at an early age in the city’s schools.</p> <p>DeNora Getachew, New York executive director of Generation Citizen, a civics education provider, urged an emphasis on “action civics,” ensuring that young people can actually use the civic knowledge they’re given to enact change in their communities. “We know that too much emphasis is placed on voting as a way to be civically engaged and, rather, there is a spectrum of civic engagement opportunities that we need to be presenting to young people and also to adults,” she said. Getachew urged the commission to consider the OCE proposal, among other things, including allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections and providing more government jobs to young people in city employment programs.</p> <p>“It’s a two-way street,” said Elizabeth OuYang, a civil rights attorney and member of OCA-NY Asian Pacific American Advocates, insisting that immigrant communities are eager to contribute to the city’s civic life but must see their efforts reciprocated by city government. “If you’re to encourage volunteerism in the immigrant community, it has to be a comprehensive strategy that also includes their involvement in democratic policy decision-making.” The city’s outreach, she said, should occur through existing networks of religious institutions and neighborhood groups that immigrants trust.</p> <p>Ifeoma Ike, founding partner of Think Rubix, a civic-action oriented think tank, echoed a similar point of caution, stressing the need for equitable, culturally relevant and ongoing outreach to communities of color, and not a “transactional” approach centered around an election that arrives every four years. “We must not dismiss these communities as apathetic,” she said.</p> <p>Another significant issue that has long been ignored, said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, is the city’s lack of disability access, which affects everything from voting and civic participation to employment and housing affordability.</p> <p>“We find retrofitting efforts with accessibility concerns after the fact is a poor way of accomplishing inclusion,” she said of the city’s civic engagement efforts, emphasizing the need for disability literacy training and early phase consultation with disability advocates.</p> <p>“[P]eople with disabilities feel that they’re being made invisible, We want to go out and vote in a public space like our neighbors because we want to be seen,” she later said, noting that the disabled community faces particular obstacles in accessing polling sites. “It’s terrible to tell people they have a duty to do something that you then prevent them from doing,” she said.</p> <p>Noel HIdalgo, executive director of BetaNYC, a civic technology organization, said the OCE could be a “digital steward” for new government services initiatives that he said should be designed in consultation with the people they are serving. He pushed for digital literacy programs, improving the city’s technology infrastructure starting at the community board level, something BetaNYC has been doing with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and for an enhanced participatory budgeting system that employs technology that is broadly accessible.</p> <p>Council Member Lander similarly pushed for a citywide participatory budgeting program that could be run by the OCE. “We’re really facing a crisis in our democracy in New York City,” he said of the city’s low turnout. “But it’s...part of this broader issue of decline in civic trust in all our institutions, in government especially but across the board. People just don’t think of reaching out to government as a way of getting issues resolved, even where those issues are government issues.”</p> <p>Though most commissioners asked about how the OCE would work, only one commissioner, John Siegal, questioned why it was necessary. “I’m worried that if we do this...that it will atrophy,” he said, speculating that it would be left to the whims of each subsequent mayor. Siegal also struck a skeptical tone as he noted that none of the panellists had spoken to the role of the private sector in improving civic engagement.</p> <p>Though civic engagement dominated most of the forum, the other focus issue, and one with a looming challenge, concluded its agenda: independent redistricting. The City Council’s 51 districts are redrawn every ten years after the federal census, which is due to take place in 2020. Currently, law stipulates that the mayor appoints seven members to a city districting commission and the City Council appoints eight members. The charter commission may propose changes to the system.</p> <p>John Flateau, a professor at Medgar Evers College and a New York City Board of Elections commissioner, made a slew of suggestions at Thursday’s forum. He said the city could create as many as 70 Council districts of smaller sizes and stressed the need for proportional representation for the five boroughs based on populations.</p> <p>Flateau and other panellists cited California redistricting model as one the city could follow, which prohibits incumbent elected officials from sitting on a redistricting commission and invites applications that are independently screened.</p> <p>“Think of redistricting...that could be one of those triggers, one of those mass civic engagement exercises, figuring out how to set up this process going forward so that individuals, communities, neighborhoods feel ownership for wanting to participate in this process and learn more about their government,” he said.</p> <p>Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, testified on a video call to the commission. Among other ideas, she said there could be a robust list of conflicts of interest to limit who could serve on a redistricting commission, that districting commission members should be diverse and could be picked based on a set of qualifications, with the goal of ensuring the maximum public confidence in how maps are drawn. An application process like California’s, she said, would ensure that a commission attracts participants who are willing to commit their time to a laborious process. And she emphasized several transparency measures a commission should follow.</p> <p>Flateau and the others did warn that any efforts at independent and equitable redistricting would be predicated on an accurate count in the 2020 census, which is threatened by the Trump Administration’s decision to include a citizenship question that could depress the count in immigrant communities. He also said that previous commissions fell under the preclearance mechanism of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act -- where the federal government would first approve any changes to local voting districts -- which was struck down by the Supreme Court in its 2013 decision in&nbsp;<em>Shelby County v. Holder</em>. In its absence, Flateau said the city could possibly set up its own preclearance system for municipal districts under the corporation counsel’s office.</p> <p>James Hong, the former co-director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, agreed that applicants should be screened and ideally, the commission would be made of “academics, demographers, people who are really into data and connected with their community, and community members,” and would prohibit past elected officials from serving.</p> <p>“Redistricting from start to finish needs to be protected from partisan operatives,” he said.</p> <p>Over the next month, the charter commission will hold another round of public hearings across the city. The commission’s proposals are due by September 7.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/lander_and_hidalgo_at_crc.png" alt="lander and hidalgo at crc" width="600" height="280" /></p> <p>Council Member Lander and Noel Hidalgo testify</p> <hr /> <p>The charter revision commission convened by Mayor Bill de Blasio held its fourth and final issue-focused forum on Thursday afternoon at NYU, hearing testimony from experts on the city’s civic engagement efforts and hearing proposals for independent redistricting of City Council districts.</p> <p>The central question before the commission on civic engagement was whether the city should create a new independent, nonpartisan Office of Civic Engagement. The proposal is the brainchild of New York City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, who was among those who testified Thursday. If the commission decides to take up that and other proposals heard at previous hearings, they would be presented to voters as ballot referenda in November. The three previous issue-focused expert hearings were on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7733-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-and-elections" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voting and elections</a>; <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7744-mayor-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaign finance reform</a>; and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7749-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-community-boards-and-land-use" target="_blank" rel="noopener">community boards and land use</a>.</p> <p>Panellists who spoke before the commission on Thursday sought to define civic engagement, its limits and challenges, and the mechanisms by which it is currently carried out by city agencies, nonprofit organizations, and community-based advocates, and comprehensive approaches to combining all those disparate elements.</p> <p>Naomi Zauderer, chair of the NYC Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, informed the commission about VAAC’s continuing voter engagement and registration efforts, acknowledging a fact that the commissioners were familiar with: the city’s abysmally low voter turnout in recent elections. “[T]he real challenge in New York City is getting people to turn out to the polls,” she said, noting that a lack of information about elections and candidates serves to discourage voters.</p> <p>Paula Gavin, chief service officer of NYC Service, the city agency charged with encouraging volunteering efforts, said a big challenge is New York City’s low volunteering rate -- only 14 percent, compared with the national average of 25 percent. She said increasing the city’s volunteering and civic participation rate through a “continuum” of agencies and elected officials working together with community-based organizations would also lead to an uptick in turnout. “It is shown that those who volunteer more, vote more. Those who vote more, volunteer more. So the tide will rise,” she said.</p> <p>But Zauderer and Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, where VAAC operates, said voter engagement should continue to be housed under the CFB, which already has a well-established voter information and outreach operation that continues to be improved. They agreed that an Office of Civic Engagement is a laudable idea, but one that should coordinate with the VAAC’s existing efforts rather than subsume its role.</p> <p>“I think we would support the idea that...any organization that’s called an Office of Civic Engagement be a nonpartisan and independent agency, because I think that insulates it from any kind of political pressures or the desire to follow any particular person’s priorities,” Loprest said.</p> <p>She added, “There’s many, many aspects of civic engagement...and if we worked on the voter engagement and outreach work that we’re doing, we would work very closely with that office of service to collaborate.”Similarly, Gavin said it would be “unrealistic” to place all those agencies and initiatives at a lone, new agency but supported the idea of a coordinated umbrella of efforts. “I do feel strongly that a framework that brings together the various aspects of civic engagement would be very important,” she said. Citing her agency’s work across the city with other departments, in schools and communities, she said “I don’t know that it has to be everything working within the one framework. I think it’s more of a coordinating effort that would be valuable.”</p> <p>Beyond the framework, panellists also pointed out blind spots in current civic engagement efforts that they said should be avoided under a newly empanelled agency. Underserved populations -- such as the disabled, low- and moderate-income communities of color, immigrants -- tend to be ignored by civic institutions, they said. Others stressed the need to inculcate a sense of civic duty in New Yorkers, particularly by starting at an early age in the city’s schools.</p> <p>DeNora Getachew, New York executive director of Generation Citizen, a civics education provider, urged an emphasis on “action civics,” ensuring that young people can actually use the civic knowledge they’re given to enact change in their communities. “We know that too much emphasis is placed on voting as a way to be civically engaged and, rather, there is a spectrum of civic engagement opportunities that we need to be presenting to young people and also to adults,” she said. Getachew urged the commission to consider the OCE proposal, among other things, including allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections and providing more government jobs to young people in city employment programs.</p> <p>“It’s a two-way street,” said Elizabeth OuYang, a civil rights attorney and member of OCA-NY Asian Pacific American Advocates, insisting that immigrant communities are eager to contribute to the city’s civic life but must see their efforts reciprocated by city government. “If you’re to encourage volunteerism in the immigrant community, it has to be a comprehensive strategy that also includes their involvement in democratic policy decision-making.” The city’s outreach, she said, should occur through existing networks of religious institutions and neighborhood groups that immigrants trust.</p> <p>Ifeoma Ike, founding partner of Think Rubix, a civic-action oriented think tank, echoed a similar point of caution, stressing the need for equitable, culturally relevant and ongoing outreach to communities of color, and not a “transactional” approach centered around an election that arrives every four years. “We must not dismiss these communities as apathetic,” she said.</p> <p>Another significant issue that has long been ignored, said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, is the city’s lack of disability access, which affects everything from voting and civic participation to employment and housing affordability.</p> <p>“We find retrofitting efforts with accessibility concerns after the fact is a poor way of accomplishing inclusion,” she said of the city’s civic engagement efforts, emphasizing the need for disability literacy training and early phase consultation with disability advocates.</p> <p>“[P]eople with disabilities feel that they’re being made invisible, We want to go out and vote in a public space like our neighbors because we want to be seen,” she later said, noting that the disabled community faces particular obstacles in accessing polling sites. “It’s terrible to tell people they have a duty to do something that you then prevent them from doing,” she said.</p> <p>Noel HIdalgo, executive director of BetaNYC, a civic technology organization, said the OCE could be a “digital steward” for new government services initiatives that he said should be designed in consultation with the people they are serving. He pushed for digital literacy programs, improving the city’s technology infrastructure starting at the community board level, something BetaNYC has been doing with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and for an enhanced participatory budgeting system that employs technology that is broadly accessible.</p> <p>Council Member Lander similarly pushed for a citywide participatory budgeting program that could be run by the OCE. “We’re really facing a crisis in our democracy in New York City,” he said of the city’s low turnout. “But it’s...part of this broader issue of decline in civic trust in all our institutions, in government especially but across the board. People just don’t think of reaching out to government as a way of getting issues resolved, even where those issues are government issues.”</p> <p>Though most commissioners asked about how the OCE would work, only one commissioner, John Siegal, questioned why it was necessary. “I’m worried that if we do this...that it will atrophy,” he said, speculating that it would be left to the whims of each subsequent mayor. Siegal also struck a skeptical tone as he noted that none of the panellists had spoken to the role of the private sector in improving civic engagement.</p> <p>Though civic engagement dominated most of the forum, the other focus issue, and one with a looming challenge, concluded its agenda: independent redistricting. The City Council’s 51 districts are redrawn every ten years after the federal census, which is due to take place in 2020. Currently, law stipulates that the mayor appoints seven members to a city districting commission and the City Council appoints eight members. The charter commission may propose changes to the system.</p> <p>John Flateau, a professor at Medgar Evers College and a New York City Board of Elections commissioner, made a slew of suggestions at Thursday’s forum. He said the city could create as many as 70 Council districts of smaller sizes and stressed the need for proportional representation for the five boroughs based on populations.</p> <p>Flateau and other panellists cited California redistricting model as one the city could follow, which prohibits incumbent elected officials from sitting on a redistricting commission and invites applications that are independently screened.</p> <p>“Think of redistricting...that could be one of those triggers, one of those mass civic engagement exercises, figuring out how to set up this process going forward so that individuals, communities, neighborhoods feel ownership for wanting to participate in this process and learn more about their government,” he said.</p> <p>Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, testified on a video call to the commission. Among other ideas, she said there could be a robust list of conflicts of interest to limit who could serve on a redistricting commission, that districting commission members should be diverse and could be picked based on a set of qualifications, with the goal of ensuring the maximum public confidence in how maps are drawn. An application process like California’s, she said, would ensure that a commission attracts participants who are willing to commit their time to a laborious process. And she emphasized several transparency measures a commission should follow.</p> <p>Flateau and the others did warn that any efforts at independent and equitable redistricting would be predicated on an accurate count in the 2020 census, which is threatened by the Trump Administration’s decision to include a citizenship question that could depress the count in immigrant communities. He also said that previous commissions fell under the preclearance mechanism of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act -- where the federal government would first approve any changes to local voting districts -- which was struck down by the Supreme Court in its 2013 decision in&nbsp;<em>Shelby County v. Holder</em>. In its absence, Flateau said the city could possibly set up its own preclearance system for municipal districts under the corporation counsel’s office.</p> <p>James Hong, the former co-director of the MinKwon Center for Community Action, agreed that applicants should be screened and ideally, the commission would be made of “academics, demographers, people who are really into data and connected with their community, and community members,” and would prohibit past elected officials from serving.</p> <p>“Redistricting from start to finish needs to be protected from partisan operatives,” he said.</p> <p>Over the next month, the charter commission will hold another round of public hearings across the city. The commission’s proposals are due by September 7.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Johnson Makes Series of City Council Changes, But Sidelines Formal Rules Reforms 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7726:johnson-makes-series-of-city-council-changes-but-sidelines-formal-rules-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cojo-cm-team.jpg" alt="cojo cm team" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson, middle, and Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In December, several City Council members jostling to become the powerful next speaker of the 51-member legislative body <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7378-rules-reform-package-supported-by-33-current-and-incoming-city-council-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">signed on</a> to a broad platform of reforms to the Council’s rules and procedures, which can have a significant impact on city law-making and funding for communities. Both returning and newly-elected Council members, 33 of them in total, backed the proposals, which would make legislative drafting procedures more transparent, bolster staffing for prominent divisions such as land use, and tweak the Council’s internal culture in significant ways, among other more minor adjustments.</p> <p>But a deadline set in that platform for convening a public hearing on the proposals came and went as new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was among the signatories, has chosen instead to implement administrative changes in lieu of more formal reforms through the Council’s Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Several Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette largely praised those measures but others expressed concern that important promises have been left unfulfilled.</p> <p>In a process somewhat similar to four years prior when Council members proposed changes ahead of the election of a new speaker, the document signed by the Council members in December of last year laid out broad areas where the Council could improve its functions, including in bill drafting, the role and operations of the 40-plus issue committees, the body’s oversight and investigations capacity, its budget negotiation process, its land use powers, and the quality of working life for members and their staff.</p> <p>“A hearing should be held in the Rules Committee on these reforms – as well as any others proposed by good government groups or members of the public – in the first quarter of 2018,” states the letter, signed by both Speaker Johnson and Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whom he appointed as chair of the rules committee. “The reforms should then be converted into a Rules Resolution, and adopted by the Council by March 2018, but no later than June 2018.”</p> <p>By this time in 2014, then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had ushered in transformative rules changes that made the body more democratic, diluting some of the traditional powers of the speaker and empowering individual members. The changes were spearheaded along with Council Member Brad Lander, who she appointed to chair the rules committee and was instrumental in drafting the reforms.</p> <p>Discretionary funding -- also known as “member items” that are usually awarded by Council members to local nonprofits in their districts -- was equalized across Council districts, with additional resources allocated to poorer districts, and could no longer be a tool to punish members who might oppose the speaker, as Mark-Viverito’s predecessors had used it. A new bill drafting unit was created to aid Council members and speed up the legislative process, and other changes were made to how bills are introduced and heard in committees.</p> <p>Johnson has taken a different tack, making significant administrative changes that cover large parts of the rules reform package and were key pledges he made as he ran for speaker.</p> <p>The Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7559-fulfilling-johnson-promise-city-council-significantly-increases-its-operating-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voted</a> to significantly increase its own annual budget to $81.3 million, up from $64 million, with the new funds pegged for staffing increases in the land use, legislative, and finance divisions. A dedicated 15-member oversight and investigations unit was created to conduct systemic analyses of city agencies and their functioning. According to a Council spokesperson, the central staff has also internally overseen improvements in bill drafting, no longer allowing indefinite delays on bill introductions and impressing on members to move their bills or release them for others. Members can now also electronically access the status of their bills in real time and there is a timely process for staff to express legal concerns with bill language. Members are provided legal memos on their bills on request, which is apparently rare. All moves meant to address major areas of frustration for some members, though key pieces of proposed changes to bill-drafting have not been implemented.</p> <p>In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Council also moved rapidly to change its rules to mandate anti-sexual harassment trainings.</p> <p>“I am proud to have taken important steps on necessary reforms in my first months as speaker, including the creation of the new Oversight and Investigations Unit that will strengthen our capacity for monitoring city agencies as mandated by the charter,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I will continue to discuss with members what reforms should be made in the future to help better serve the people of New York.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/photobyemily.jpg" alt="photobyemily" width="181" height="141" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Council Member Koslowitz (pictured), chair of the rules committee, initially said the Council member was unfamiliar with the rules reform package that she had signed. When presented with the full list of proposals, the spokesperson declined to comment.</p> <p>By and large, Council members are appreciative of the steps Johnson has taken. Several members said their bills are moving faster and, without making any comparisons with Mark-Viverito, that Johnson is openly seeking member input on the budget and larger strategy. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The rules reform this time around, there were a lot of legitimate questions about whether or not these reforms needed to be put into the Council’s rules or they could just be effected,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a member of the rules committee. “A lot of them had to do with resource allocation. So I don’t know if once Corey’s done with putting his administrative imprint on the body, how much of the rules reforms still need to get done. Maybe that’ll be something to assess once we get through the city budget.”</p> <p>At the same time, some members declined to comment, taking a wait-and-see approach before they evaluate Johnson’s commitment to rules reform. Others only agreed to speak anonymously, fearing what they say is increased scrutiny of public comments by the speaker’s office.</p> <p>Those members pointed out, for instance, that though there have been changes to bill drafting, the process still falls largely to the discretion of the speaker’s central staff. Under a long-standing process, Council members who made “first-in-time” legislative services requests -- Council speak for when a member asks for a bill to be drafted -- were given priority even if other members may have similar bill requests. Having a “first-in-time” request meant that members could sit on bills indefinitely, which the rules reforms would have amended with an official time-bound process.</p> <p>A Council spokesperson said that practice has ended and that members have offered positive feedback for the changes that have been made. Members are no longer allowed to sit on bills, and lose them to other members, the spokesperson said, without providing the details of how the new protocols work.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said that is perhaps the most significant item in the rules reform package. “There’s no known criteria by which they’re making that decision and that needs to change,” he said in a phone interview. “At the very least, the speaker’s office ought to declare the criteria by which they decide which bills are moved.”</p> <p>Council members who spoke to Gotham Gazette seemed to be in the dark about whether rules reforms were even being discussed. The overarching platform hasn’t been discussed in hearings though some of the issues have been raised in the Democratic conference meetings, said one member who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The first-in-time issues have not been changed,” the member said. “They did update the database -- truthfully, this was mostly done last term -- you can find out more quickly whether you’re first-in-time or not, but the process itself is still exactly as it was. And the legal concerns issue,” about getting legal opinions on bills in a timely manner, “is still as it was...And some of the disability and accessibility investments [for Council hearings] still need to be advanced.”</p> <p>Though the Council allocated more money for pay raises for staffers, it hasn’t implemented pay parity with other city agencies where benefits are better and salaries are higher, despite that being a priority outlined in the draft of reforms. “Yeah, I would add that to the list,” the Council member said. Nor is childcare provided to members or staffers, as called for in the reform proposal.</p> <p>The Council spokesperson noted that audio induction loops for those with hearing impairments were added last year and that language accessibility can be requested. The spokesperson also said that pay parity has been discussed with members when the Council was deciding its own budget, and ultimately members get to decide how they will use the increased funds budgeted for their offices and staff. The spokesperson also acknowledged that the Council does not currently provide childcare options but insisted that the Council is always looking at ways to expand it for all New Yorkers.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, one of Johnson’s chief rivals for the speakership, said the Council has made major improvements. “[The Speaker] has made progress on a lot of fronts,” he said, pointing to the uptick in the budget, the staffing increases, and more transparency and faster timelines on bill introductions. “It helps tremendously in managing your LS [legislative service] requests to have real-time access to that information. They’ve also staffed up pretty dramatically in the bill-drafting unit,” he said. “And it’s more equitable now. Everybody gets to identify 10 priority LSs which we want staff to work on and that evens it out a little bit more.”</p> <p>Echoing Lancman, Levine said a formal hearing wasn’t absolutely necessary. “These changes have been possible through a combination of changing internal procedure, through allocation of resources, and that really is a very big deal,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some members are waiting until after budget negotiations have concluded with the administration to see more changes go into effect, particularly with new funding at the Council’s disposal.</p> <p>“To date, the specifics of the rules reform stuff that we signed on to hasn’t been evidenced,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy, another current rules committee member and speaker candidate of last year. “There has been some efforts, especially in bill drafting, to make sure that bills move faster. But we’re so deep in the budget and I’m on the budget negotiation team, I can’t really see anything. I almost don’t know what’s going on around me as it relates to the legislation or the rules reform because we’re so deep in the budget.”</p> <p>Cornegy said he wants to see “a bit more latitude” for members in the drafting process so bills can move more quickly.</p> <p>Council Member Adrienne Adams, also a rules committee member, said very briefly before a Council hearing, “We’re still waiting. It’s been a while. We’re still waiting. I really don’t have anything to add right now.”</p> <p>Among other items that remain unfinished are changes to the functioning of the Council committees, which hear bills and hold oversight hearings.</p> <p>Despite being included in the proposed agenda, there’s still no protocol for committee hearing scheduling; there isn’t a standard process for members who want to switch committees midway through the term; hearings are not automatically triggered for bills with popular support; and committee staff aren’t publishing recaps of hearings that summarize testimony, requests made by members and promises made by the administration (though the full testimony from hearings continues to be readily available online.)</p> <p>It’s likely once the budget is decided, which could be as soon as the coming week, that the Council will ramp up some of the changes put in motion by Johnson and get to other delayed reforms. Yet, Council members and government reform groups say that needs to happen in a public, transparent way. “If the speaker and 32 members made a commitment to pass rules reforms,” said Camarda of Reinvent Albany, “they should honor that commitment and hold public hearings to solicit input and pass meaningful rules changes.”</p> <p>Camarda also pointed to a <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/05/12/city-council-speaker-breaks-transparency-promise-watchdog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post report</a> from May that highlighted Johnson’s partial reversal on a promise to regularly publish his full public schedule and details of his contact with lobbyists. “We hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend that the speaker’s promises on good government issues go unfulfilled,” Camarda said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Inset Koslowitz photo by Emil Cohen</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cojo-cm-team.jpg" alt="cojo cm team" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Speaker Johnson, middle, and Council members (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>In December, several City Council members jostling to become the powerful next speaker of the 51-member legislative body <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7378-rules-reform-package-supported-by-33-current-and-incoming-city-council-members" target="_blank" rel="noopener">signed on</a> to a broad platform of reforms to the Council’s rules and procedures, which can have a significant impact on city law-making and funding for communities. Both returning and newly-elected Council members, 33 of them in total, backed the proposals, which would make legislative drafting procedures more transparent, bolster staffing for prominent divisions such as land use, and tweak the Council’s internal culture in significant ways, among other more minor adjustments.</p> <p>But a deadline set in that platform for convening a public hearing on the proposals came and went as new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was among the signatories, has chosen instead to implement administrative changes in lieu of more formal reforms through the Council’s Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Several Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette largely praised those measures but others expressed concern that important promises have been left unfulfilled.</p> <p>In a process somewhat similar to four years prior when Council members proposed changes ahead of the election of a new speaker, the document signed by the Council members in December of last year laid out broad areas where the Council could improve its functions, including in bill drafting, the role and operations of the 40-plus issue committees, the body’s oversight and investigations capacity, its budget negotiation process, its land use powers, and the quality of working life for members and their staff.</p> <p>“A hearing should be held in the Rules Committee on these reforms – as well as any others proposed by good government groups or members of the public – in the first quarter of 2018,” states the letter, signed by both Speaker Johnson and Council Member Karen Koslowitz, whom he appointed as chair of the rules committee. “The reforms should then be converted into a Rules Resolution, and adopted by the Council by March 2018, but no later than June 2018.”</p> <p>By this time in 2014, then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had ushered in transformative rules changes that made the body more democratic, diluting some of the traditional powers of the speaker and empowering individual members. The changes were spearheaded along with Council Member Brad Lander, who she appointed to chair the rules committee and was instrumental in drafting the reforms.</p> <p>Discretionary funding -- also known as “member items” that are usually awarded by Council members to local nonprofits in their districts -- was equalized across Council districts, with additional resources allocated to poorer districts, and could no longer be a tool to punish members who might oppose the speaker, as Mark-Viverito’s predecessors had used it. A new bill drafting unit was created to aid Council members and speed up the legislative process, and other changes were made to how bills are introduced and heard in committees.</p> <p>Johnson has taken a different tack, making significant administrative changes that cover large parts of the rules reform package and were key pledges he made as he ran for speaker.</p> <p>The Council <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7559-fulfilling-johnson-promise-city-council-significantly-increases-its-operating-budget" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voted</a> to significantly increase its own annual budget to $81.3 million, up from $64 million, with the new funds pegged for staffing increases in the land use, legislative, and finance divisions. A dedicated 15-member oversight and investigations unit was created to conduct systemic analyses of city agencies and their functioning. According to a Council spokesperson, the central staff has also internally overseen improvements in bill drafting, no longer allowing indefinite delays on bill introductions and impressing on members to move their bills or release them for others. Members can now also electronically access the status of their bills in real time and there is a timely process for staff to express legal concerns with bill language. Members are provided legal memos on their bills on request, which is apparently rare. All moves meant to address major areas of frustration for some members, though key pieces of proposed changes to bill-drafting have not been implemented.</p> <p>In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Council also moved rapidly to change its rules to mandate anti-sexual harassment trainings.</p> <p>“I am proud to have taken important steps on necessary reforms in my first months as speaker, including the creation of the new Oversight and Investigations Unit that will strengthen our capacity for monitoring city agencies as mandated by the charter,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I will continue to discuss with members what reforms should be made in the future to help better serve the people of New York.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/photobyemily.jpg" alt="photobyemily" width="181" height="141" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Council Member Koslowitz (pictured), chair of the rules committee, initially said the Council member was unfamiliar with the rules reform package that she had signed. When presented with the full list of proposals, the spokesperson declined to comment.</p> <p>By and large, Council members are appreciative of the steps Johnson has taken. Several members said their bills are moving faster and, without making any comparisons with Mark-Viverito, that Johnson is openly seeking member input on the budget and larger strategy. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The rules reform this time around, there were a lot of legitimate questions about whether or not these reforms needed to be put into the Council’s rules or they could just be effected,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, a member of the rules committee. “A lot of them had to do with resource allocation. So I don’t know if once Corey’s done with putting his administrative imprint on the body, how much of the rules reforms still need to get done. Maybe that’ll be something to assess once we get through the city budget.”</p> <p>At the same time, some members declined to comment, taking a wait-and-see approach before they evaluate Johnson’s commitment to rules reform. Others only agreed to speak anonymously, fearing what they say is increased scrutiny of public comments by the speaker’s office.</p> <p>Those members pointed out, for instance, that though there have been changes to bill drafting, the process still falls largely to the discretion of the speaker’s central staff. Under a long-standing process, Council members who made “first-in-time” legislative services requests -- Council speak for when a member asks for a bill to be drafted -- were given priority even if other members may have similar bill requests. Having a “first-in-time” request meant that members could sit on bills indefinitely, which the rules reforms would have amended with an official time-bound process.</p> <p>A Council spokesperson said that practice has ended and that members have offered positive feedback for the changes that have been made. Members are no longer allowed to sit on bills, and lose them to other members, the spokesperson said, without providing the details of how the new protocols work.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, said that is perhaps the most significant item in the rules reform package. “There’s no known criteria by which they’re making that decision and that needs to change,” he said in a phone interview. “At the very least, the speaker’s office ought to declare the criteria by which they decide which bills are moved.”</p> <p>Council members who spoke to Gotham Gazette seemed to be in the dark about whether rules reforms were even being discussed. The overarching platform hasn’t been discussed in hearings though some of the issues have been raised in the Democratic conference meetings, said one member who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The first-in-time issues have not been changed,” the member said. “They did update the database -- truthfully, this was mostly done last term -- you can find out more quickly whether you’re first-in-time or not, but the process itself is still exactly as it was. And the legal concerns issue,” about getting legal opinions on bills in a timely manner, “is still as it was...And some of the disability and accessibility investments [for Council hearings] still need to be advanced.”</p> <p>Though the Council allocated more money for pay raises for staffers, it hasn’t implemented pay parity with other city agencies where benefits are better and salaries are higher, despite that being a priority outlined in the draft of reforms. “Yeah, I would add that to the list,” the Council member said. Nor is childcare provided to members or staffers, as called for in the reform proposal.</p> <p>The Council spokesperson noted that audio induction loops for those with hearing impairments were added last year and that language accessibility can be requested. The spokesperson also said that pay parity has been discussed with members when the Council was deciding its own budget, and ultimately members get to decide how they will use the increased funds budgeted for their offices and staff. The spokesperson also acknowledged that the Council does not currently provide childcare options but insisted that the Council is always looking at ways to expand it for all New Yorkers.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, one of Johnson’s chief rivals for the speakership, said the Council has made major improvements. “[The Speaker] has made progress on a lot of fronts,” he said, pointing to the uptick in the budget, the staffing increases, and more transparency and faster timelines on bill introductions. “It helps tremendously in managing your LS [legislative service] requests to have real-time access to that information. They’ve also staffed up pretty dramatically in the bill-drafting unit,” he said. “And it’s more equitable now. Everybody gets to identify 10 priority LSs which we want staff to work on and that evens it out a little bit more.”</p> <p>Echoing Lancman, Levine said a formal hearing wasn’t absolutely necessary. “These changes have been possible through a combination of changing internal procedure, through allocation of resources, and that really is a very big deal,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Some members are waiting until after budget negotiations have concluded with the administration to see more changes go into effect, particularly with new funding at the Council’s disposal.</p> <p>“To date, the specifics of the rules reform stuff that we signed on to hasn’t been evidenced,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy, another current rules committee member and speaker candidate of last year. “There has been some efforts, especially in bill drafting, to make sure that bills move faster. But we’re so deep in the budget and I’m on the budget negotiation team, I can’t really see anything. I almost don’t know what’s going on around me as it relates to the legislation or the rules reform because we’re so deep in the budget.”</p> <p>Cornegy said he wants to see “a bit more latitude” for members in the drafting process so bills can move more quickly.</p> <p>Council Member Adrienne Adams, also a rules committee member, said very briefly before a Council hearing, “We’re still waiting. It’s been a while. We’re still waiting. I really don’t have anything to add right now.”</p> <p>Among other items that remain unfinished are changes to the functioning of the Council committees, which hear bills and hold oversight hearings.</p> <p>Despite being included in the proposed agenda, there’s still no protocol for committee hearing scheduling; there isn’t a standard process for members who want to switch committees midway through the term; hearings are not automatically triggered for bills with popular support; and committee staff aren’t publishing recaps of hearings that summarize testimony, requests made by members and promises made by the administration (though the full testimony from hearings continues to be readily available online.)</p> <p>It’s likely once the budget is decided, which could be as soon as the coming week, that the Council will ramp up some of the changes put in motion by Johnson and get to other delayed reforms. Yet, Council members and government reform groups say that needs to happen in a public, transparent way. “If the speaker and 32 members made a commitment to pass rules reforms,” said Camarda of Reinvent Albany, “they should honor that commitment and hold public hearings to solicit input and pass meaningful rules changes.”</p> <p>Camarda also pointed to a <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/05/12/city-council-speaker-breaks-transparency-promise-watchdog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post report</a> from May that highlighted Johnson’s partial reversal on a promise to regularly publish his full public schedule and details of his contact with lobbyists. “We hope this isn’t the beginning of a trend that the speaker’s promises on good government issues go unfulfilled,” Camarda said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Inset Koslowitz photo by Emil Cohen</p>
New York City Doesn’t Have a Comprehensive Plan; Does It Need One? 2018-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7674:new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/42000771351_74d4ce3daa_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio city planning" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City is the only major city in the country that has never had a comprehensive development plan, according to Tom Angotti, professor of urban policy at Hunter College.</p> <p>Facing major, city-wide challenges now and into the coming decades, the city’s approach to development and planning is byzantine, narrow, and somewhat haphazard. The vast, diverse city of 8.5 million residents and millions more visitors every day is often looked at by neighborhood, legislative district, or borough. At the same time, infrastructure investment decisions and project implementation lack transparency and efficiency.</p> <p>City government has no coherent, overarching plan for growth and the challenges that come with it -- housing, transportation, climate resiliency, school seats, garbage collection, and more -- and city officials don’t believe that one is necessary.</p> <p>As the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to implement a 12-year affordable housing plan and a 10-year jobs plan, it is also adding to its transportation agenda in piecemeal fashion, and adjusting a wide variety of other policies in at least partial silos of agency planning. The administration is slowly moving down its list of neighborhood rezonings in an effort to create more affordable housing and improve community services, which include infrastructure investments, job training programs, and more -- but they do not fit into a larger connected vision of where the city is heading, leaving those invested in the city’s future with little more than projected numbers of new housing units and jobs, among other numerical goals like lifting hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and reducing carbon emissions, and largely disparate local projects.</p> <p>The Department of City Planning, which helps craft the neighborhood rezoning plans, would be the logical place for the creation of a city plan, but none is being drafted there, and top City Planning officials dismiss the notion that one is needed.</p> <p>In its efforts, DCP works with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a city-run nonprofit, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the City Council, community boards, and other agencies and entities, including elected officials like borough presidents and City Council members. While some current and former city officials believe the ongoing approach is more than adequate, other experts believe the city should and could be doing better planning that is more coherent,&nbsp;inclusive, and transparent.</p> <p>On <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7620-what-s-the-data-point-307-45-with-anita-laremont-of-city-planning" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a recent episode of What’s The [Data] Point?</a>, a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, guest Anita Laremont, the general counsel and chief data officer at the Department of City Planning, was asked about the lack of a comprehensive city plan. “We are charged by state law that we must have a well-considered land use plan,” Laremont said, “and what we have maintained historically is that the city zoning framework at any given time is the city’s well-considered plan.”</p> <p>Laremont was referring to the city’s land use rules, its zoning regulations that, generally speaking, dictate what types of building are allowed to be built where, and to what size. For example, whether an area of the city is zoned for commercial, residential, or manufacturing use, and how big the buildings can be, from small homes to large apartment buildings, for instance. The city’s 100-year-old zoning text has been amended many times, including in sweeping fashion during de Blasio’s first term in order to mandate affordable housing when a developer receives permission to build more densely on a plot of land or during a neighborhood-wide change to the land use rules that allows more height.</p> <p>According to Laremont, this approach offers a pragmatic, incremental strategy that suits the city. “This is such a dynamic city, in terms of where people live, where they work, we actually believe that it would not be productive to try to sit down and come up with a plan, because that dynamism really leads to a need to be responsive and nimble,” she said when asked why the city doesn’t have a comprehensive master plan.</p> <p>“The other thing is that our process --...ULURP -- is ultimately a very political process, and we have, I think, at City Planning, some of the smartest people that work in city government, but we don’t have the ability to implement just what we think is appropriate,” Larement continued. “You know there are pushes and pulls and other considerations that go into ultimately what is the land use and zoning resolutions.”</p> <p><strong>A Regional Plan</strong><br /> Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association (RPA), a non-profit planning association founded in 1922, recently released its <a href="http://fourthplan.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fourth regional plan</a>, which cites significant difficulties currently or soon to be faced by the tri-state region encompassing New York City, and recommends a long series of ambitious infrastructure investments, institutional reforms, and policies. What the RPA produces every generation may be as close as there is to a master plan for the New York City area, but it takes a much wider lens and is not something that city officials endorse, though many of its recommendations are likely to influence government decision-making.</p> <p>RPA’s new plan aims to combat forces that could undermine the growth and health of the region, including overwhelming population additions, wealth inequality, climate change, crumbling infrastructure, and inadequate public institutions.</p> <p>It reports a number of alarming figures about the future of the area: based on current trends, the tri-state region is expected to gain 1.8 million inhabitants but only 850,000 more jobs by 2040; for the bottom three-fifths of households, incomes have stagnated since 2000, and more people live in poverty today than a generation ago; in the NY-NJ-CT metropolitan region, a total of 46% of households spend more than 30% of their incomes on rent; and, today, more than a million people and 650,000 jobs are at risk from flooding, along with critical infrastructure such as power plants, rail yards, and water-treatment facilities.</p> <p>How well prepared the region and, specifically, New York City, are to deal with these difficulties remains an open question.</p> <p>The latest RPA plan includes recommendations from expanding the subway in New York City to implementing congestion pricing to unclog Manhattan streets to increasing access to healthy, affordable food in every community.</p> <p>When asked about the feasibility of RPA’s fourth regional plan, Laremont of DCP replied, “I wouldn’t say that it’s not realistic. I would say those kinds of things are very aspirational, and they have the luxury of not having to be responsive to the realpolitik that we live within...we welcome those sort of thought exercises that people do and they give us food for thought.”</p> <p><strong>City Planning, But No City Plan</strong><br /> The city’s Zoning Resolution was first adopted in 1916 to limit the bulk of skyscrapers because of widespread anxieties that they would block air and light from the streets below. Over the last century, it has been incrementally altered, in part to respond to population growth, technological advancements, and changing industries and trends. Its text establishes the zoning districts for the city and the regulations governing land use and development. Any change to the zoning resolution has to be ratified by the City Council as well as the City Planning Commission, a 13-member body, with seven members appointed by the mayor, five appointed by the borough presidents, and one by the public advocate. The commission is different from the Department of City Planning, though they interact constantly, with the commission voting on many proposals that originate with or come through DCP.</p> <p>Among other tasks, DCP is responsible for making sure that new development conforms to the Zoning Resolution, reviewing applications for land use, and producing Environmental Impact Reviews to assess how development might affect its surroundings. These represent the first stages of the Uniform Land Use Process (<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/mancb10/downloads/pdf/ulurp_info.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ULURP</a>), which is triggered on a variety of circumstances including significant proposed changes to a plot of land or neighborhood. While local community boards and the borough presidents have formal opportunities to publish recommendations on land-use decisions in their districts, they are only advisory, and the City Planning Commission ultimately has the power to approve or deny each new development, followed by the City Council, which has final say on land use matters. As City Limits <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/09/nycs-planning-commission-rubber-stamps-or-checks-and-balances/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported</a> in 2017, the City Planning Commission rarely stops major developments.</p> <p>Carl Weisbrod was chair of the City Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning from 2014 to 2017, as appointed by Mayor de Blasio. Like Laremont, who worked for Weisbrod before he retired from city government, Weisbrod told Gotham Gazette that a city-wide plan is undesirable. He pointed out that such a plan would be a lengthy and costly exercise, and discussed the last time the city tried to make such a plan, the <a href="http://www.citylandnyc.org/former-cpc-chair-discussed-1969-plan-for-new-york-city/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1969 Plan for New York City</a>, which was never adopted. Weisbrod said the proposed plan took so long to complete that it was outdated by the time it was finished.</p> <p>Under Weisbrod DCP made a number of reforms: including adding the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy to the zoning code; creating the Department of Regional Planning, directed by Carolyn Grossman Meagher, in order to connect New York City’s planning process to the wider region; creating a capital budget division to establish cooperation between DCP and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget; and creating a $1 billion neighborhood development fund to support growth with public investments in parks, transportation, streets and sidewalks, and other improvements.</p> <p>Weisbrod stressed that a city-wide development plan would be incompatible with the city’s dynamic economy. The problem with making such a plan, he said, is that “the market has to wait to see what the plan is going to be, or it will go in a different direction,” thus disrupting the plan. Laremont said similarly on the podcast. “If, for example, the city were going to get Amazon[‘s second headquarters], anything we were thinking previously about what might be appropriate in various places might be proven completely wrong,” she said, in reference to the notion that big plans can quickly become obsolete.</p> <p>The city’s approach to development has been to “react to market forces and take advantage of market forces,” said Weisbrod. When asked, he added that the city doesn’t just wait for opportunities presented to it, but also takes a proactive role in shaping development. He pointed to planning initiatives at Hudson Yards, Times Square, Battery Park City, and Willets Point as examples of successful interventions.</p> <p>A master plan, he said, “suggests a top-down approach to neighborhood development, and it ought to be a bottom-up process...that has been the approach of the de Blasio administration.” Weisbrod stressed that the city’s planning efforts were done with close attention to communities. DCP uses a wealth of detailed information about the <a href="https://popfactfinder.planning.nyc.gov/#13.73/40.64153/-74.00295" target="_blank" rel="noopener">demographics of neighborhoods</a>, consults local stakeholders, and collaborates with other governmental entities, such as the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York Housing Authority, in order to make planning decisions. “It may seem chaotic from the outside, but planning is a very thoughtful process,” Weisbrod said.</p> <p><strong>Who’s Really Doing the Planning - And Where</strong><br /> Some community advocates do not share Weisbrod’s confidence in the process. The de Blasio administration, like others before it, has been criticized for not being proactive enough in engaging communities where significant change is being eyed, for not taking enough community input into consideration, and for implementing policies that enhance negative effects of gentrification rather than ameliorate them. Michelle de la Uz -- appointed to the City Planning Commission by de Blasio when he was public advocate, and reappointed by current Public Advocate Letitia James -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7577-de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has become one of the de Blasio administration’s most ardent critics</a>, often voting against the city’s housing and development proposals because she believes they do more harm than good and that the housing is not at the levels of affordability it should be.</p> <p>It is a sentiment shared by Chris Walters, the Rezoning Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Association for Neighborhood &amp; Housing Development (<a href="https://anhd.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ANHD</a>), an umbrella organization of around 100 non-profit affordable housing and economic development groups serving low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. Walters has been involved with some of the campaigns opposing the recent neighborhood rezonings, for example the <a href="https://www.bronxcommunityvision.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision</a>, providing technical assistance and helping draft policy counter-proposals to those offered by City Planning.</p> <p>As Gotham Gazette has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7521-questions-arise-as-de-blasio-rezones-series-of-low-income-neighborhoods?edchoice=side" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported</a>, the rezonings that have passed -- in East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx -- will create more residential districts and allow for higher-density development, a crucial part of de Blasio’s plan to create or preserve 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026. As part of the rezoning plans, these neighborhoods are also slated to receive substantial infrastructure investments in public housing, transit, parks, schools, and other community benefits. However, community advocacy groups and some elected officials and outside experts have expressed frustration at the fact that the rezoned neighborhoods are primarily low- and moderate-income communities of color, that these neighborhoods have had to accept higher density in order to receive investment, and they have voiced concerns that the rezonings will spur displacement.</p> <p>DCP maintains that the neighborhoods, often led by the local City Council member, volunteered for the rezonings, with Laremont saying that each rezoning is a “collaborative process between the city, members of the City Council, and neighborhoods, in terms of neighborhoods themselves raising their hands and saying, ‘we would welcome a rezoning,’ because they thought there were opportunities in that.” Ultimately, the City Council as a body does defer to the local member, and, after negotiations, each local member has proudly ushered through the neighborhood rezonings that have passed.</p> <p>But Walters criticized the city’s process for choosing which neighborhoods to rezone as being opportunistic, saying there “was no rationale as to why these neighborhoods have been chosen.” Walters pointed out that neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Bay Ridge are similarly low-density and have good transit access -- reasons given by DCP for rezoning neighborhoods.</p> <p>“If you had a comprehensive plan, which included projections of population increase and the amount of new housing needed, saying, ‘this is what the future will look like,’” Walters said, “[the rezoning process] would be more accountable.” Advocacy groups have not focused on the issue of a city-wide development plan, he said, because “pragmatically, that’s not where groups want to put their energy,” given that there are more pressing matters on their agenda.</p> <p>Walters’ main criticism is that the planning process is not adequately inclusive. He pointed out that <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/cau/html/cb/about.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">members of community boards</a> (CB) are not elected, but are appointed by the borough president and by the City Council, and that they disproportionately represent homeowners and business-owners, who don’t necessarily live in the neighborhood. Community boards do have some influence, drafting a “need statement” for the community, which is then examined by DCP to help it draft plans, and it has an advisory vote in ULURP. Walters said that, despite outreach efforts by DCP, people feel as if plans are already determined before they are presented to the community.</p> <p>He also criticized the methodology of Environmental Impact Reviews. For example, Walters is skeptical of the figures published in the Jerome Avenue rezoning <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/jerome-avenue/19_feis.pdf?r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">construction</a> report: in the “Reasonable Worst-Case Development Scenario,” the report estimates that 3,228 new dwelling units will be added to the neighborhood. However, Walters said this estimate was arrived at by using the city’s classic lot size of 2,500 square feet, but lots are commonly 5,000 square feet around Jerome Avenue. He also takes issue with the report claiming that the development enabled by the rezoning will not contribute to any rise in rents, on the grounds that market pressures were already driving rent costs up in the area. The <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/jerome-avenue/00_feis.pdf?r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">executive summary</a> (p. 52) says that, “The Proposed Actions’ contributions to rent pressures in the study areas would be limited by the supply of market-rate and affordable housing resulting from the Proposed Actions, which could serve to offset existing housing demand and rent pressures.”</p> <p>“The point is often made in communities that they are not saying ‘no’ to increased density, but they are saying ‘no’ to an unregulated market rate that is going to drive displacement,” Walters argued.</p> <p><strong>From PlaNYC to OneNYC</strong><br /> While the city’s land-use decisions are mediated through ULURP and the zoning resolution, the past two mayoral administrations have published a version of a long-term strategic plan. On Earth Day in 2007, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg released “PlaNYC,” which aimed to address climate change and the city’s fast-growing population, putting in one place a series of strategies, but not forming a comprehensive city plan. Mayor de Blasio has since rebranded it as <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">OneNYC</a>, adding equity to the list of major concerns.</p> <p>Weisbrod stressed that OneNYC, which he helped write, is not a development plan, but rather “a set of longer-term strategic priorities - a strategic plan.”</p> <p>Angotti, the urban policy and planning professor at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center, has mixed feelings about these plans. On the one hand, he has seen them as a welcome step towards a more coherent approach to the city’s long-term development, and he praised both Bloomberg for having brought up climate change and de Blasio for having raised equity as primary policy concerns.</p> <p>OneNYC reports that the city has committed to spending $20 billion on a city-wide resiliency program, which includes helping local businesses prepare for flooding risks, helping building-owners with flood-insurance, and addressing risks to infrastructure. Moreover, following Hurricane Sandy, the city introduced a flood resilience <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/flood-resilience-zoning-text-update/flood-resilience-zoning-text-update.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">zoning update</a> to the zoning resolution, which allowed for development of flood-resistant construction to occur in areas deemed at risk of flooding.</p> <p>However, Angotti is critical of the way in which PlaNYC was drafted and said that OneNYC shared the same flaws. He expressed frustration at the speed with which the plans were drawn up, saying that the discussions with local communities were not adequately participatory and “flawed.” Bloomberg hired McKinsey, the international consulting firm, to carry out much of the plan’s analysis. (Angotti has previously written several critiques of PlaNYC for Gotham Gazette, summarized <a href="http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/ccpd/repository/files/planyc-a-model-of-public-participation-or.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>.)</p> <p>OneNYC’s <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/OneNYC-1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">original plan</a>, as well as the <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/OneNYC_Progress_Report_2017-1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2017 Progress Report</a>, show much of it is a summary of various initiatives and achievements of de Blasio’s administration, organized around the themes of growth, equity, resiliency, and sustainability.</p> <p>The OneNYC website refers the reader to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Mayor’s Office for Recovery and Resiliency. Angotti remarked that “the plan is not known by the vast majority of the public, including most politically active people. Perhaps it’s a guidance document used inside City Hall but it’s not a public plan.”</p> <p><strong>Calls for Broader Planning</strong><br /> City Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn (de Blasio’s successor in the City Council) is an unequivocal advocate for a city-wide development plan and a trained urban planner himself. Lander contributed an <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CJ68rgjBBYEtTLUU5oMFpG5CvjxJ33ks/view" target="_blank" rel="noopener">essay</a> titled “Rediscovering City Planning and Community Development, Together,” to the volume, Toward a Twenty First Century For All (2013), a compilation of policy recommendations for the incoming mayoral administration. Lander said that it was still relevant, as “not much has changed.”</p> <p>With regards to Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, Lander pointed out that Bloomberg had initially hired urban planner Alex Garvin to analyze the city’s future population growth and propose appropriate measures. When Garvin’s <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/Garvin_Report_Full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> found that the city’s population would reach 9 million by 2030, if not sooner, Bloomberg dropped Garvin from the process, fearing the controversy such a number would provoke, Lander said. The report was leaked to <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2006/08/16/the-first-look-at-bloombergs-sweeping-new-vision-for-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Streetsblog</a> before Garvin was dismissed.</p> <p>Of the lack of a comprehensive plan, Lander said, “I think it is a major failing in the city’s planning process. You can’t connect long-term infrastructure planning, managing the city’s growth, and community equity without a plan.” Lander thinks of “a city-wide plan as being in favor of growth, with equity and sustainability.”</p> <p>He remarked that NIMBYism -- or people not wanting to see significant development in their communities -- represents an almost inevitable obstacle, saying that, “in the vast majority of neighborhoods, people like their neighborhoods, and they don’t want them to change.” In his essay, Lander writes that planning and development in the city are made more difficult by assumptions that people have about the planning process:</p> <blockquote>“Developers and administration officials generally believe neighborhoods will oppose &nbsp;development, so they gird for battle. Rather than creating space for dialogue about shaping &nbsp;growth or the infrastructure necessary to support it early in the process, they grit their teeth, fight &nbsp;through opposition, and negotiate concessions at the last minute.</blockquote> <blockquote>“With good reason, communities believe that the City will ultimately approve plans with little attention to their core concerns about neighborhood preservation, quality of life, amenities, &nbsp;or infrastructure – so they oppose proposals with a fatalist fervor.”</blockquote> <p>Lander understands these adversarial assumptions as a cause and a symptom of the flaws of the planning process.</p> <p>The essay also included a quote from Hope Cohen, an urban planner working at the Manhattan Institute think tank, delivering a harsh indictment of DCP’s environmental review process:</p> <blockquote>“[it] has lost its connection to good planning. Instead it has become an expensive and time-consuming annoyance to large projects, and a potentially project-ending burden to small ones. Environmental review today is a wide-ranging effort to identify “impacts” for the purpose of legal disclosure only. It is not the planning activity that people commonly assume it to be, nor is it the one that New York desperately needs as its aging infrastructure struggles to meet the demands of an ever-increasing population and citizens move into previously underdeveloped areas of the city - areas that require new access to transportation, sewage treatment, electricity, and schools” (2007)</blockquote> <p>In his essay, Lander proposes a host of reforms that are aimed at promoting community planning in conjunction with city-wide planning. During the recent interview with Gotham Gazette, Lander highlighted that he supports reforms to community boards, as well as reforms to the city’s “fair share” system, which is supposed to distribute helpful services and infrastructural burdens evenly across the city. Last year the City Council released a <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017-Fair-Share-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> with recommendations for reform of the fair share system. Several of Lander’s preferred reforms would require a change in the city’s charter. There will soon be two charter revision commissions preparing to recommend changes to the charter for approval or disapproval by voters: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7625-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-starts-its-work" target="_blank" rel="noopener">one</a> is sponsored by the mayor, with recommendations due this fall, and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7596-with-tweaks-city-council-charter-revision-commission-bill-expected-to-pass" target="_blank" rel="noopener">other</a> by the City Council in partnership with Public Advocate James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with proposals due in 2019.</p> <p>Lander said that one “tension in planning is balancing the needs of the city with the needs of a neighborhood,” but that “it needs to be a system which yields to our shared needs.” He expressed his reservations about the fact that under the current system, “we trust the DCP and the Mayor’s Office to represent those needs,” referring to infrastructural needs such as schools or preparations to mitigate the risks of climate change. But in his view, in the current process, “you can’t see the direct connection between our long-term infrastructure planning and our land-use planning.”</p> <p>Separate from its fourth regional plan, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) in January published a report, "<a href="http://library.rpa.org/pdf/Inclusive-City-NYC.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Inclusive City: Strategies to achieve more equitable and predictable land use in New York City</a>."</p> <p>The report, put together after meetings of a working group that included dozens of individuals from inside and outside government, is focused less on broader planning and more on changing the ways in which the mayoral administration is doing its planning now to make sure that more stakeholders are involved and that community input is more central to the planning process, especially for the neighborhood rezonings that are being proposed and implemented.</p> <p>However, of the four central recommendations in the report, the first is "dramatically increase the amount o proactive planning in New York City." Noting that "the public remains in the dark" about why certain neighborhoods have been chosen for rezonings and the major changes therein, the report calls for "a comprehensive citywide planning framework" that does not currently exist.</p> <p>"PlaNYC and OneNYC demonstrate the City’s&nbsp;ability to think long term and holistically, and a citywide&nbsp;comprehensive planning framework would go a step further&nbsp;by including community district level targets, including those&nbsp;for housing creation and public facilities," the report states. "A comprehensive&nbsp;planning framework would greatly ease public concerns&nbsp;around disproportionate impacts by ensuring proposed&nbsp;zoning changes and other actions analyze and disclose how&nbsp;they further or undermine adherence to the comprehensive&nbsp;planning framework, which would in turn have been&nbsp;produced with strong, meaningful public participation."</p> <p><strong>Capital Spending and Planning</strong><br />The city’s infrastructure spending is determined by the capital budget, which is drafted by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The City Council has to vote to approve this budget as well as the annual expense or operating budget. According to the OMB <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/omb/faq/frequently-asked-questions.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a>, the city’s capital budget in the current fiscal year, FY2018, is $16.2 billion, which is funded through a variety of sources, including from the New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority, the New York City Transitional Finance Authority, grants from federal, state, and private sources, and city general obligation bonds. The city’s capital expenditures for the current year and the next three years are programmed in the Capital Commitment Plan, and longer-term capital expenditures are scheduled by the Ten-Year Capital Plan, which outlines $95.8 billion in spending, according to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/typ4-17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2017 plan</a>.</p> <p>Prior to 1975, the Ten-Year Capital Plan was jointly published by DCP and OMB. Following the fiscal crisis of 1975, the City Charter was changed and OMB became solely responsible for drafting the Ten-Year Capital Plan. Under Carl Weisbrod, however, DCP created a Capital Planning Division, whose <a href="https://capitalplanning.nyc.gov/about/capitalprojects" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a> is still in “beta,” in order to once again give DCP more say in how the city determines its infrastructure spending. The most recent plan, published in 2017, was co-signed by Marisa Lago, the director of DCP, who succeeded Weisbrod when he decided to leave city government.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a non-profit fiscal watchdog, said the current process for deciding the capital budget is misguided.</p> <p>Primarily, Doulis is concerned about the lack of transparency around the major investments involved. “We have no insight into the projects that agencies are undertaking -- if they meet the city’s most critical needs, or if they are the easiest to undertake,” Doulis said in an interview. She added that this was not the case for all the city’s agencies, pointing out the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation both have satisfactory levels of transparency. On the other hand, the Department of Environmental Protection, for example, “could post better reports,” she said. The current report lacks specificity -- “what are their goals?” Doulis asks.</p> <p>Earlier this year, CBC published a <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/rightsizing-and-right-timing-new-york-citys-capital-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>, “Rightsizing and Right Timing New York City’s Capital Plan,” which describes how the city has consistently drawn up capital commitment plans that are “overly ambitious” for the city’s agencies, forecasting much more spending than is executed and sowing unnecessary confusion. According to the report, the city’s agencies only attained 54% of their capital commitments. The report concluded that:</p> <blockquote>“The inability of agencies to meet their commitment targets suggests that their capital plans are either overly ambitious or fail to reflect actual priorities. This overly ambitious schedule leaves the City vulnerable to taking on more capital projects than it has capacity to manage, which has led in the past to delays and increased costs. A 2017 analysis by the City Council found that more than half of city capital projects with budgets greater than $25 million are behind schedule, over budget, or both.”</blockquote> <p>In the interview, Doulis said that the issues are a result of the fact that those determining the budget have little reason to curb the growth of the capital budget. “[OMB’s] incentive is to improve these [agencies’] projects, the City Council has little incentive to not pass the budget because the short-term effects of debt-servicing are small.” While politically expedient for the time being, Doulis said, the city’s “big outstanding debt liability is a problem because it is paid through the operating budget, and is a fixed cost.” When the next inevitable economic-downturn occurs, “there will be cuts to services,” she said.</p> <p>Doulis is critical of the general lack of strategic forethought in the city’s capital planning. “There is no eye on what the city can do and what they should do, and in what order,” she said. On the de Blasio administration’s priorities, as reflected in OneNYC, she said, “there’s a specificity that’s lacking.”</p> <p><strong>To Plan or Not To Plan</strong><br /> Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association said investments needed to meet the city’s coming challenges are even more far-reaching than the “overly-ambitious” budgeting that is currently occurring. But, the RPA takes a regional frame and includes New York State and other non-city governmental entities like the MTA and Port Authority.</p> <p>The RPA suggests changing this structure anyway, with a fourth plan call for establishing a new Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation to overhaul and modernize the subway system within 15 years. RPA also wants to see transformation of the Port Authority into a infrastructure bank that finances large-scale transit infrastructure projects; expansion of the existing carbon pricing system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to include emissions from transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial sectors; consolidation of the region’s three existing commuter rail systems into one integrated system; expansion of JFK and Newark airports, and more.</p> <p>Chris Jones, vice president and chief planner at the Regional Planning Association, joined <em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/ggcbcpodcast/wtdp-23-final-edit-mixdown-3db" target="_blank" rel="noopener">What’s the [DATA] Point?</a></em> soon after the Fourth Plan was released.</p> <p>“Each of the plans that we’ve done has really tried to start a conversation about the difficult questions that people don’t think that we can really address because they’re just too hard,” he said.</p> <p>Acknowledging that many proposals in the plan are extremely ambitious and require a lot of political will, he said, “we put out, ‘here’s what we think the ideal is,’ and in the real political world, it doesn’t end up being that ideal, but you can move towards that in a number of ways.”</p> <p>In that real political world, Mayor de Blasio recently said that "each element of our mass transit planning has to be seen individually," when asked a question at a May 3 <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/05/03/de-blasios-ignorance-of-nycs-bus-crisis-shines-through-at-his-umpteenth-ferry-announcement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">press conference</a> where he was highlighting the city’s ferry service, which he has focused on expanding.</p> <p>The comment made planners, urbanists, and transit experts groan, further evidence to some that de Blasio does not value real urban planning and that he does not have a vision for integrated transit options in his expansive city where many struggle to get around efficiently. If de Blasio does not have a cohesive transportation plan, he certainly cannot begin to have a comprehensive city plan, though he has not expressed that as a goal.</p> <p>De Blasio has described his transportation vision as being about providing more options and reaching new people. A more extensive subway system would be nice, he said, but given the challenges with such a goal, he is working on other modes of transportation, including ferries, bikes, and a planned light-rail streetcar for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the BQX.</p> <p>“We’ve got to do more than one thing to create a 21st century city with multiple mass transit options that are convenient and that work for people,” he said in response to a question about his focus on ferries.</p> <p>“If we were planning for a city that wasn’t changing you could have one conversation, but we’re about to pick up an additional population in the next 10, 20 years about the size of the population of Staten Island,” de Blasio later said. “We’re going to add that into New York City. And we need more and better options for people to get around.”</p> <p>***<br /> by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/42000771351_74d4ce3daa_z.jpg" alt="De Blasio city planning" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York City is the only major city in the country that has never had a comprehensive development plan, according to Tom Angotti, professor of urban policy at Hunter College.</p> <p>Facing major, city-wide challenges now and into the coming decades, the city’s approach to development and planning is byzantine, narrow, and somewhat haphazard. The vast, diverse city of 8.5 million residents and millions more visitors every day is often looked at by neighborhood, legislative district, or borough. At the same time, infrastructure investment decisions and project implementation lack transparency and efficiency.</p> <p>City government has no coherent, overarching plan for growth and the challenges that come with it -- housing, transportation, climate resiliency, school seats, garbage collection, and more -- and city officials don’t believe that one is necessary.</p> <p>As the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to implement a 12-year affordable housing plan and a 10-year jobs plan, it is also adding to its transportation agenda in piecemeal fashion, and adjusting a wide variety of other policies in at least partial silos of agency planning. The administration is slowly moving down its list of neighborhood rezonings in an effort to create more affordable housing and improve community services, which include infrastructure investments, job training programs, and more -- but they do not fit into a larger connected vision of where the city is heading, leaving those invested in the city’s future with little more than projected numbers of new housing units and jobs, among other numerical goals like lifting hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty and reducing carbon emissions, and largely disparate local projects.</p> <p>The Department of City Planning, which helps craft the neighborhood rezoning plans, would be the logical place for the creation of a city plan, but none is being drafted there, and top City Planning officials dismiss the notion that one is needed.</p> <p>In its efforts, DCP works with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a city-run nonprofit, the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the City Council, community boards, and other agencies and entities, including elected officials like borough presidents and City Council members. While some current and former city officials believe the ongoing approach is more than adequate, other experts believe the city should and could be doing better planning that is more coherent,&nbsp;inclusive, and transparent.</p> <p>On <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7620-what-s-the-data-point-307-45-with-anita-laremont-of-city-planning" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a recent episode of What’s The [Data] Point?</a>, a podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, guest Anita Laremont, the general counsel and chief data officer at the Department of City Planning, was asked about the lack of a comprehensive city plan. “We are charged by state law that we must have a well-considered land use plan,” Laremont said, “and what we have maintained historically is that the city zoning framework at any given time is the city’s well-considered plan.”</p> <p>Laremont was referring to the city’s land use rules, its zoning regulations that, generally speaking, dictate what types of building are allowed to be built where, and to what size. For example, whether an area of the city is zoned for commercial, residential, or manufacturing use, and how big the buildings can be, from small homes to large apartment buildings, for instance. The city’s 100-year-old zoning text has been amended many times, including in sweeping fashion during de Blasio’s first term in order to mandate affordable housing when a developer receives permission to build more densely on a plot of land or during a neighborhood-wide change to the land use rules that allows more height.</p> <p>According to Laremont, this approach offers a pragmatic, incremental strategy that suits the city. “This is such a dynamic city, in terms of where people live, where they work, we actually believe that it would not be productive to try to sit down and come up with a plan, because that dynamism really leads to a need to be responsive and nimble,” she said when asked why the city doesn’t have a comprehensive master plan.</p> <p>“The other thing is that our process --...ULURP -- is ultimately a very political process, and we have, I think, at City Planning, some of the smartest people that work in city government, but we don’t have the ability to implement just what we think is appropriate,” Larement continued. “You know there are pushes and pulls and other considerations that go into ultimately what is the land use and zoning resolutions.”</p> <p><strong>A Regional Plan</strong><br /> Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association (RPA), a non-profit planning association founded in 1922, recently released its <a href="http://fourthplan.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fourth regional plan</a>, which cites significant difficulties currently or soon to be faced by the tri-state region encompassing New York City, and recommends a long series of ambitious infrastructure investments, institutional reforms, and policies. What the RPA produces every generation may be as close as there is to a master plan for the New York City area, but it takes a much wider lens and is not something that city officials endorse, though many of its recommendations are likely to influence government decision-making.</p> <p>RPA’s new plan aims to combat forces that could undermine the growth and health of the region, including overwhelming population additions, wealth inequality, climate change, crumbling infrastructure, and inadequate public institutions.</p> <p>It reports a number of alarming figures about the future of the area: based on current trends, the tri-state region is expected to gain 1.8 million inhabitants but only 850,000 more jobs by 2040; for the bottom three-fifths of households, incomes have stagnated since 2000, and more people live in poverty today than a generation ago; in the NY-NJ-CT metropolitan region, a total of 46% of households spend more than 30% of their incomes on rent; and, today, more than a million people and 650,000 jobs are at risk from flooding, along with critical infrastructure such as power plants, rail yards, and water-treatment facilities.</p> <p>How well prepared the region and, specifically, New York City, are to deal with these difficulties remains an open question.</p> <p>The latest RPA plan includes recommendations from expanding the subway in New York City to implementing congestion pricing to unclog Manhattan streets to increasing access to healthy, affordable food in every community.</p> <p>When asked about the feasibility of RPA’s fourth regional plan, Laremont of DCP replied, “I wouldn’t say that it’s not realistic. I would say those kinds of things are very aspirational, and they have the luxury of not having to be responsive to the realpolitik that we live within...we welcome those sort of thought exercises that people do and they give us food for thought.”</p> <p><strong>City Planning, But No City Plan</strong><br /> The city’s Zoning Resolution was first adopted in 1916 to limit the bulk of skyscrapers because of widespread anxieties that they would block air and light from the streets below. Over the last century, it has been incrementally altered, in part to respond to population growth, technological advancements, and changing industries and trends. Its text establishes the zoning districts for the city and the regulations governing land use and development. Any change to the zoning resolution has to be ratified by the City Council as well as the City Planning Commission, a 13-member body, with seven members appointed by the mayor, five appointed by the borough presidents, and one by the public advocate. The commission is different from the Department of City Planning, though they interact constantly, with the commission voting on many proposals that originate with or come through DCP.</p> <p>Among other tasks, DCP is responsible for making sure that new development conforms to the Zoning Resolution, reviewing applications for land use, and producing Environmental Impact Reviews to assess how development might affect its surroundings. These represent the first stages of the Uniform Land Use Process (<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/mancb10/downloads/pdf/ulurp_info.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ULURP</a>), which is triggered on a variety of circumstances including significant proposed changes to a plot of land or neighborhood. While local community boards and the borough presidents have formal opportunities to publish recommendations on land-use decisions in their districts, they are only advisory, and the City Planning Commission ultimately has the power to approve or deny each new development, followed by the City Council, which has final say on land use matters. As City Limits <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/09/nycs-planning-commission-rubber-stamps-or-checks-and-balances/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported</a> in 2017, the City Planning Commission rarely stops major developments.</p> <p>Carl Weisbrod was chair of the City Planning Commission and Director of the Department of City Planning from 2014 to 2017, as appointed by Mayor de Blasio. Like Laremont, who worked for Weisbrod before he retired from city government, Weisbrod told Gotham Gazette that a city-wide plan is undesirable. He pointed out that such a plan would be a lengthy and costly exercise, and discussed the last time the city tried to make such a plan, the <a href="http://www.citylandnyc.org/former-cpc-chair-discussed-1969-plan-for-new-york-city/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1969 Plan for New York City</a>, which was never adopted. Weisbrod said the proposed plan took so long to complete that it was outdated by the time it was finished.</p> <p>Under Weisbrod DCP made a number of reforms: including adding the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy to the zoning code; creating the Department of Regional Planning, directed by Carolyn Grossman Meagher, in order to connect New York City’s planning process to the wider region; creating a capital budget division to establish cooperation between DCP and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget; and creating a $1 billion neighborhood development fund to support growth with public investments in parks, transportation, streets and sidewalks, and other improvements.</p> <p>Weisbrod stressed that a city-wide development plan would be incompatible with the city’s dynamic economy. The problem with making such a plan, he said, is that “the market has to wait to see what the plan is going to be, or it will go in a different direction,” thus disrupting the plan. Laremont said similarly on the podcast. “If, for example, the city were going to get Amazon[‘s second headquarters], anything we were thinking previously about what might be appropriate in various places might be proven completely wrong,” she said, in reference to the notion that big plans can quickly become obsolete.</p> <p>The city’s approach to development has been to “react to market forces and take advantage of market forces,” said Weisbrod. When asked, he added that the city doesn’t just wait for opportunities presented to it, but also takes a proactive role in shaping development. He pointed to planning initiatives at Hudson Yards, Times Square, Battery Park City, and Willets Point as examples of successful interventions.</p> <p>A master plan, he said, “suggests a top-down approach to neighborhood development, and it ought to be a bottom-up process...that has been the approach of the de Blasio administration.” Weisbrod stressed that the city’s planning efforts were done with close attention to communities. DCP uses a wealth of detailed information about the <a href="https://popfactfinder.planning.nyc.gov/#13.73/40.64153/-74.00295" target="_blank" rel="noopener">demographics of neighborhoods</a>, consults local stakeholders, and collaborates with other governmental entities, such as the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York Housing Authority, in order to make planning decisions. “It may seem chaotic from the outside, but planning is a very thoughtful process,” Weisbrod said.</p> <p><strong>Who’s Really Doing the Planning - And Where</strong><br /> Some community advocates do not share Weisbrod’s confidence in the process. The de Blasio administration, like others before it, has been criticized for not being proactive enough in engaging communities where significant change is being eyed, for not taking enough community input into consideration, and for implementing policies that enhance negative effects of gentrification rather than ameliorate them. Michelle de la Uz -- appointed to the City Planning Commission by de Blasio when he was public advocate, and reappointed by current Public Advocate Letitia James -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7577-de-blasio-planning-appointee-becomes-ardent-foe" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has become one of the de Blasio administration’s most ardent critics</a>, often voting against the city’s housing and development proposals because she believes they do more harm than good and that the housing is not at the levels of affordability it should be.</p> <p>It is a sentiment shared by Chris Walters, the Rezoning Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Association for Neighborhood &amp; Housing Development (<a href="https://anhd.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ANHD</a>), an umbrella organization of around 100 non-profit affordable housing and economic development groups serving low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. Walters has been involved with some of the campaigns opposing the recent neighborhood rezonings, for example the <a href="https://www.bronxcommunityvision.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision</a>, providing technical assistance and helping draft policy counter-proposals to those offered by City Planning.</p> <p>As Gotham Gazette has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7521-questions-arise-as-de-blasio-rezones-series-of-low-income-neighborhoods?edchoice=side" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported</a>, the rezonings that have passed -- in East New York, Downtown Far Rockaway, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx -- will create more residential districts and allow for higher-density development, a crucial part of de Blasio’s plan to create or preserve 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026. As part of the rezoning plans, these neighborhoods are also slated to receive substantial infrastructure investments in public housing, transit, parks, schools, and other community benefits. However, community advocacy groups and some elected officials and outside experts have expressed frustration at the fact that the rezoned neighborhoods are primarily low- and moderate-income communities of color, that these neighborhoods have had to accept higher density in order to receive investment, and they have voiced concerns that the rezonings will spur displacement.</p> <p>DCP maintains that the neighborhoods, often led by the local City Council member, volunteered for the rezonings, with Laremont saying that each rezoning is a “collaborative process between the city, members of the City Council, and neighborhoods, in terms of neighborhoods themselves raising their hands and saying, ‘we would welcome a rezoning,’ because they thought there were opportunities in that.” Ultimately, the City Council as a body does defer to the local member, and, after negotiations, each local member has proudly ushered through the neighborhood rezonings that have passed.</p> <p>But Walters criticized the city’s process for choosing which neighborhoods to rezone as being opportunistic, saying there “was no rationale as to why these neighborhoods have been chosen.” Walters pointed out that neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Bay Ridge are similarly low-density and have good transit access -- reasons given by DCP for rezoning neighborhoods.</p> <p>“If you had a comprehensive plan, which included projections of population increase and the amount of new housing needed, saying, ‘this is what the future will look like,’” Walters said, “[the rezoning process] would be more accountable.” Advocacy groups have not focused on the issue of a city-wide development plan, he said, because “pragmatically, that’s not where groups want to put their energy,” given that there are more pressing matters on their agenda.</p> <p>Walters’ main criticism is that the planning process is not adequately inclusive. He pointed out that <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/cau/html/cb/about.shtml" target="_blank" rel="noopener">members of community boards</a> (CB) are not elected, but are appointed by the borough president and by the City Council, and that they disproportionately represent homeowners and business-owners, who don’t necessarily live in the neighborhood. Community boards do have some influence, drafting a “need statement” for the community, which is then examined by DCP to help it draft plans, and it has an advisory vote in ULURP. Walters said that, despite outreach efforts by DCP, people feel as if plans are already determined before they are presented to the community.</p> <p>He also criticized the methodology of Environmental Impact Reviews. For example, Walters is skeptical of the figures published in the Jerome Avenue rezoning <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/jerome-avenue/19_feis.pdf?r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">construction</a> report: in the “Reasonable Worst-Case Development Scenario,” the report estimates that 3,228 new dwelling units will be added to the neighborhood. However, Walters said this estimate was arrived at by using the city’s classic lot size of 2,500 square feet, but lots are commonly 5,000 square feet around Jerome Avenue. He also takes issue with the report claiming that the development enabled by the rezoning will not contribute to any rise in rents, on the grounds that market pressures were already driving rent costs up in the area. The <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/jerome-avenue/00_feis.pdf?r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">executive summary</a> (p. 52) says that, “The Proposed Actions’ contributions to rent pressures in the study areas would be limited by the supply of market-rate and affordable housing resulting from the Proposed Actions, which could serve to offset existing housing demand and rent pressures.”</p> <p>“The point is often made in communities that they are not saying ‘no’ to increased density, but they are saying ‘no’ to an unregulated market rate that is going to drive displacement,” Walters argued.</p> <p><strong>From PlaNYC to OneNYC</strong><br /> While the city’s land-use decisions are mediated through ULURP and the zoning resolution, the past two mayoral administrations have published a version of a long-term strategic plan. On Earth Day in 2007, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg released “PlaNYC,” which aimed to address climate change and the city’s fast-growing population, putting in one place a series of strategies, but not forming a comprehensive city plan. Mayor de Blasio has since rebranded it as <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">OneNYC</a>, adding equity to the list of major concerns.</p> <p>Weisbrod stressed that OneNYC, which he helped write, is not a development plan, but rather “a set of longer-term strategic priorities - a strategic plan.”</p> <p>Angotti, the urban policy and planning professor at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center, has mixed feelings about these plans. On the one hand, he has seen them as a welcome step towards a more coherent approach to the city’s long-term development, and he praised both Bloomberg for having brought up climate change and de Blasio for having raised equity as primary policy concerns.</p> <p>OneNYC reports that the city has committed to spending $20 billion on a city-wide resiliency program, which includes helping local businesses prepare for flooding risks, helping building-owners with flood-insurance, and addressing risks to infrastructure. Moreover, following Hurricane Sandy, the city introduced a flood resilience <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/flood-resilience-zoning-text-update/flood-resilience-zoning-text-update.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">zoning update</a> to the zoning resolution, which allowed for development of flood-resistant construction to occur in areas deemed at risk of flooding.</p> <p>However, Angotti is critical of the way in which PlaNYC was drafted and said that OneNYC shared the same flaws. He expressed frustration at the speed with which the plans were drawn up, saying that the discussions with local communities were not adequately participatory and “flawed.” Bloomberg hired McKinsey, the international consulting firm, to carry out much of the plan’s analysis. (Angotti has previously written several critiques of PlaNYC for Gotham Gazette, summarized <a href="http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/ccpd/repository/files/planyc-a-model-of-public-participation-or.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">here</a>.)</p> <p>OneNYC’s <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/OneNYC-1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">original plan</a>, as well as the <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/OneNYC_Progress_Report_2017-1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2017 Progress Report</a>, show much of it is a summary of various initiatives and achievements of de Blasio’s administration, organized around the themes of growth, equity, resiliency, and sustainability.</p> <p>The OneNYC website refers the reader to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the Mayor’s Office for Recovery and Resiliency. Angotti remarked that “the plan is not known by the vast majority of the public, including most politically active people. Perhaps it’s a guidance document used inside City Hall but it’s not a public plan.”</p> <p><strong>Calls for Broader Planning</strong><br /> City Council Member Brad Lander of Brooklyn (de Blasio’s successor in the City Council) is an unequivocal advocate for a city-wide development plan and a trained urban planner himself. Lander contributed an <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CJ68rgjBBYEtTLUU5oMFpG5CvjxJ33ks/view" target="_blank" rel="noopener">essay</a> titled “Rediscovering City Planning and Community Development, Together,” to the volume, Toward a Twenty First Century For All (2013), a compilation of policy recommendations for the incoming mayoral administration. Lander said that it was still relevant, as “not much has changed.”</p> <p>With regards to Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, Lander pointed out that Bloomberg had initially hired urban planner Alex Garvin to analyze the city’s future population growth and propose appropriate measures. When Garvin’s <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/Garvin_Report_Full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> found that the city’s population would reach 9 million by 2030, if not sooner, Bloomberg dropped Garvin from the process, fearing the controversy such a number would provoke, Lander said. The report was leaked to <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2006/08/16/the-first-look-at-bloombergs-sweeping-new-vision-for-nyc/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Streetsblog</a> before Garvin was dismissed.</p> <p>Of the lack of a comprehensive plan, Lander said, “I think it is a major failing in the city’s planning process. You can’t connect long-term infrastructure planning, managing the city’s growth, and community equity without a plan.” Lander thinks of “a city-wide plan as being in favor of growth, with equity and sustainability.”</p> <p>He remarked that NIMBYism -- or people not wanting to see significant development in their communities -- represents an almost inevitable obstacle, saying that, “in the vast majority of neighborhoods, people like their neighborhoods, and they don’t want them to change.” In his essay, Lander writes that planning and development in the city are made more difficult by assumptions that people have about the planning process:</p> <blockquote>“Developers and administration officials generally believe neighborhoods will oppose &nbsp;development, so they gird for battle. Rather than creating space for dialogue about shaping &nbsp;growth or the infrastructure necessary to support it early in the process, they grit their teeth, fight &nbsp;through opposition, and negotiate concessions at the last minute.</blockquote> <blockquote>“With good reason, communities believe that the City will ultimately approve plans with little attention to their core concerns about neighborhood preservation, quality of life, amenities, &nbsp;or infrastructure – so they oppose proposals with a fatalist fervor.”</blockquote> <p>Lander understands these adversarial assumptions as a cause and a symptom of the flaws of the planning process.</p> <p>The essay also included a quote from Hope Cohen, an urban planner working at the Manhattan Institute think tank, delivering a harsh indictment of DCP’s environmental review process:</p> <blockquote>“[it] has lost its connection to good planning. Instead it has become an expensive and time-consuming annoyance to large projects, and a potentially project-ending burden to small ones. Environmental review today is a wide-ranging effort to identify “impacts” for the purpose of legal disclosure only. It is not the planning activity that people commonly assume it to be, nor is it the one that New York desperately needs as its aging infrastructure struggles to meet the demands of an ever-increasing population and citizens move into previously underdeveloped areas of the city - areas that require new access to transportation, sewage treatment, electricity, and schools” (2007)</blockquote> <p>In his essay, Lander proposes a host of reforms that are aimed at promoting community planning in conjunction with city-wide planning. During the recent interview with Gotham Gazette, Lander highlighted that he supports reforms to community boards, as well as reforms to the city’s “fair share” system, which is supposed to distribute helpful services and infrastructural burdens evenly across the city. Last year the City Council released a <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017-Fair-Share-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> with recommendations for reform of the fair share system. Several of Lander’s preferred reforms would require a change in the city’s charter. There will soon be two charter revision commissions preparing to recommend changes to the charter for approval or disapproval by voters: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7625-mayoral-charter-revision-commission-starts-its-work" target="_blank" rel="noopener">one</a> is sponsored by the mayor, with recommendations due this fall, and the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7596-with-tweaks-city-council-charter-revision-commission-bill-expected-to-pass" target="_blank" rel="noopener">other</a> by the City Council in partnership with Public Advocate James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with proposals due in 2019.</p> <p>Lander said that one “tension in planning is balancing the needs of the city with the needs of a neighborhood,” but that “it needs to be a system which yields to our shared needs.” He expressed his reservations about the fact that under the current system, “we trust the DCP and the Mayor’s Office to represent those needs,” referring to infrastructural needs such as schools or preparations to mitigate the risks of climate change. But in his view, in the current process, “you can’t see the direct connection between our long-term infrastructure planning and our land-use planning.”</p> <p>Separate from its fourth regional plan, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) in January published a report, "<a href="http://library.rpa.org/pdf/Inclusive-City-NYC.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Inclusive City: Strategies to achieve more equitable and predictable land use in New York City</a>."</p> <p>The report, put together after meetings of a working group that included dozens of individuals from inside and outside government, is focused less on broader planning and more on changing the ways in which the mayoral administration is doing its planning now to make sure that more stakeholders are involved and that community input is more central to the planning process, especially for the neighborhood rezonings that are being proposed and implemented.</p> <p>However, of the four central recommendations in the report, the first is "dramatically increase the amount o proactive planning in New York City." Noting that "the public remains in the dark" about why certain neighborhoods have been chosen for rezonings and the major changes therein, the report calls for "a comprehensive citywide planning framework" that does not currently exist.</p> <p>"PlaNYC and OneNYC demonstrate the City’s&nbsp;ability to think long term and holistically, and a citywide&nbsp;comprehensive planning framework would go a step further&nbsp;by including community district level targets, including those&nbsp;for housing creation and public facilities," the report states. "A comprehensive&nbsp;planning framework would greatly ease public concerns&nbsp;around disproportionate impacts by ensuring proposed&nbsp;zoning changes and other actions analyze and disclose how&nbsp;they further or undermine adherence to the comprehensive&nbsp;planning framework, which would in turn have been&nbsp;produced with strong, meaningful public participation."</p> <p><strong>Capital Spending and Planning</strong><br />The city’s infrastructure spending is determined by the capital budget, which is drafted by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The City Council has to vote to approve this budget as well as the annual expense or operating budget. According to the OMB <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/omb/faq/frequently-asked-questions.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a>, the city’s capital budget in the current fiscal year, FY2018, is $16.2 billion, which is funded through a variety of sources, including from the New York City Municipal Water Finance Authority, the New York City Transitional Finance Authority, grants from federal, state, and private sources, and city general obligation bonds. The city’s capital expenditures for the current year and the next three years are programmed in the Capital Commitment Plan, and longer-term capital expenditures are scheduled by the Ten-Year Capital Plan, which outlines $95.8 billion in spending, according to the <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/typ4-17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2017 plan</a>.</p> <p>Prior to 1975, the Ten-Year Capital Plan was jointly published by DCP and OMB. Following the fiscal crisis of 1975, the City Charter was changed and OMB became solely responsible for drafting the Ten-Year Capital Plan. Under Carl Weisbrod, however, DCP created a Capital Planning Division, whose <a href="https://capitalplanning.nyc.gov/about/capitalprojects" target="_blank" rel="noopener">website</a> is still in “beta,” in order to once again give DCP more say in how the city determines its infrastructure spending. The most recent plan, published in 2017, was co-signed by Marisa Lago, the director of DCP, who succeeded Weisbrod when he decided to leave city government.</p> <p>Maria Doulis, vice president of Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a non-profit fiscal watchdog, said the current process for deciding the capital budget is misguided.</p> <p>Primarily, Doulis is concerned about the lack of transparency around the major investments involved. “We have no insight into the projects that agencies are undertaking -- if they meet the city’s most critical needs, or if they are the easiest to undertake,” Doulis said in an interview. She added that this was not the case for all the city’s agencies, pointing out the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation both have satisfactory levels of transparency. On the other hand, the Department of Environmental Protection, for example, “could post better reports,” she said. The current report lacks specificity -- “what are their goals?” Doulis asks.</p> <p>Earlier this year, CBC published a <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/rightsizing-and-right-timing-new-york-citys-capital-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>, “Rightsizing and Right Timing New York City’s Capital Plan,” which describes how the city has consistently drawn up capital commitment plans that are “overly ambitious” for the city’s agencies, forecasting much more spending than is executed and sowing unnecessary confusion. According to the report, the city’s agencies only attained 54% of their capital commitments. The report concluded that:</p> <blockquote>“The inability of agencies to meet their commitment targets suggests that their capital plans are either overly ambitious or fail to reflect actual priorities. This overly ambitious schedule leaves the City vulnerable to taking on more capital projects than it has capacity to manage, which has led in the past to delays and increased costs. A 2017 analysis by the City Council found that more than half of city capital projects with budgets greater than $25 million are behind schedule, over budget, or both.”</blockquote> <p>In the interview, Doulis said that the issues are a result of the fact that those determining the budget have little reason to curb the growth of the capital budget. “[OMB’s] incentive is to improve these [agencies’] projects, the City Council has little incentive to not pass the budget because the short-term effects of debt-servicing are small.” While politically expedient for the time being, Doulis said, the city’s “big outstanding debt liability is a problem because it is paid through the operating budget, and is a fixed cost.” When the next inevitable economic-downturn occurs, “there will be cuts to services,” she said.</p> <p>Doulis is critical of the general lack of strategic forethought in the city’s capital planning. “There is no eye on what the city can do and what they should do, and in what order,” she said. On the de Blasio administration’s priorities, as reflected in OneNYC, she said, “there’s a specificity that’s lacking.”</p> <p><strong>To Plan or Not To Plan</strong><br /> Meanwhile, the Regional Planning Association said investments needed to meet the city’s coming challenges are even more far-reaching than the “overly-ambitious” budgeting that is currently occurring. But, the RPA takes a regional frame and includes New York State and other non-city governmental entities like the MTA and Port Authority.</p> <p>The RPA suggests changing this structure anyway, with a fourth plan call for establishing a new Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation to overhaul and modernize the subway system within 15 years. RPA also wants to see transformation of the Port Authority into a infrastructure bank that finances large-scale transit infrastructure projects; expansion of the existing carbon pricing system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to include emissions from transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial sectors; consolidation of the region’s three existing commuter rail systems into one integrated system; expansion of JFK and Newark airports, and more.</p> <p>Chris Jones, vice president and chief planner at the Regional Planning Association, joined <em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/ggcbcpodcast/wtdp-23-final-edit-mixdown-3db" target="_blank" rel="noopener">What’s the [DATA] Point?</a></em> soon after the Fourth Plan was released.</p> <p>“Each of the plans that we’ve done has really tried to start a conversation about the difficult questions that people don’t think that we can really address because they’re just too hard,” he said.</p> <p>Acknowledging that many proposals in the plan are extremely ambitious and require a lot of political will, he said, “we put out, ‘here’s what we think the ideal is,’ and in the real political world, it doesn’t end up being that ideal, but you can move towards that in a number of ways.”</p> <p>In that real political world, Mayor de Blasio recently said that "each element of our mass transit planning has to be seen individually," when asked a question at a May 3 <a href="https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/05/03/de-blasios-ignorance-of-nycs-bus-crisis-shines-through-at-his-umpteenth-ferry-announcement/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">press conference</a> where he was highlighting the city’s ferry service, which he has focused on expanding.</p> <p>The comment made planners, urbanists, and transit experts groan, further evidence to some that de Blasio does not value real urban planning and that he does not have a vision for integrated transit options in his expansive city where many struggle to get around efficiently. If de Blasio does not have a cohesive transportation plan, he certainly cannot begin to have a comprehensive city plan, though he has not expressed that as a goal.</p> <p>De Blasio has described his transportation vision as being about providing more options and reaching new people. A more extensive subway system would be nice, he said, but given the challenges with such a goal, he is working on other modes of transportation, including ferries, bikes, and a planned light-rail streetcar for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the BQX.</p> <p>“We’ve got to do more than one thing to create a 21st century city with multiple mass transit options that are convenient and that work for people,” he said in response to a question about his focus on ferries.</p> <p>“If we were planning for a city that wasn’t changing you could have one conversation, but we’re about to pick up an additional population in the next 10, 20 years about the size of the population of Staten Island,” de Blasio later said. “We’re going to add that into New York City. And we need more and better options for people to get around.”</p> <p>***<br /> by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Brooklynites Testify at Charter Revision Commission Hearing 2018-05-08T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7662:brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/40165575485_0175f08b60_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio charter revision" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a hearing at City Hall (photo: Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Calls for campaign finance improvements, election reform, and changes to the structure and functions of community boards dominated the fourth borough hearing of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, held Monday night at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.</p> <p>Created by the mayor to review the charter, which outlines the city’s foundational governance, the commission is holding a slew of hearings across the city to solicit public input on changes that New Yorkers want to see in the powers and role of the municipal government. Those proposed changes will eventually be included as referenda on the November election ballot. On Monday, over the course of three-and-a-half hours, about two dozen people testified before the commission on concerns both broad and parochial.</p> <p>With the mayor having formed the commission with particular goals in mind -- improving voter participation and reducing the influence of money in elections -- it wasn’t surprising that campaign finance reform was a large focus of the hearing. Government reform groups urged the commissioners to consider a slew of changes, some controversial, and to further strengthen the city’s campaign finance system, which is considered a national model. &nbsp;</p> <p>Among other things, Citizens Union, one of the groups, pushed for a top-two election system regardless of party, instant runoff voting, independent redistricting for City Council seats, and transferring oversight of lobbying disclosure from the City Clerk’s office to the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>Another advocate, Jeremy Gruber, senior vice president of Open Primaries, as his organization’s name suggests, called on the commission to propose allowing all registered voters to cast a ballot in primary elections, which currently are limited to voters registered with a political party and exclude nearly a million independent voters. “Every New York City voter benefits from a healthier, more inclusive political system that encourages competition,” Gruber said, noting the chaos that accompanied the 2016 presidential primary in the state when hundreds of thousands of independent voters were incensed by being shut out of the Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.</p> <p>Questions were raised about a few of those recommendations. Commissioner Larian Angelo expressed concern that a top-two election system, in which the top two vote-getters in a primary advance to the general election, might shut out Republicans in a Democrat-heavy city. And nonpartisan open primaries, Commission Chair Cesar Perales pointed out, had been put before the voters in a referendum years ago and was soundly rejected. “I’m playing the devil’s advocate here,” he conceded.</p> <p>Gruber, though, insisted that the concept was “incredibly relevant” in the current political climate, with voters increasingly alienated from political parties and seeking to exercise their voting rights as independents.</p> <p>Other ideas that found purchase among the audience and the commissioners were proposals to institutionalize participatory budgeting. Certain City Council members employ the program in their districts, allowing constituents to vote on how to direct $1 million or more in funding towards various programs and initiatives. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the program could be expanded citywide. She also said members of the Campaign Finance Board should no longer be solely appointed by the mayor, to increase ethics oversight of the agency.</p> <p>Lerner, and others, also pushed for a move towards full public financing of elections, by first increasing the amount of funds that the CFB provides to candidates under it’s public matching funds system, which incentivizes small-dollar donations up to $175 by matching them at a 6-to-1 ratio. Those who testified included individuals who have unsuccessfully run for City Council in the past, and who said that the current system continues to favor candidates with access to wealthy donors and those with the resources to navigate the CFB’s at-times onerous regulations.</p> <p>“Everyone deserves a fair and equal voice and now giving that opportunity of raising someone’s voice who is less fortunate can help ensure that their opinions and needs do not fade off into night behind those who can afford to raise their own,” said RJ DeMello, a community activist.</p> <p>Another popular proposal, put forward by Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander and supported by many of those who testified, involves creating a New York City Office of Civic Engagement, to encourage voter participation and local involvement in civic affairs. Amina Fofana, a member of Integrate NYC, a youth-led organization working towards school integration, said Lander’s civic engagement office was necessary so “youth can be able to voice their opinions and have a part in the decisions that are being made.”</p> <p>Lander, who has introduced <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3331757&amp;GUID=B0D3D4DB-7407-4C36-A7C5-BA0C3A21CDD1&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=civic+engagement" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> to create the office, also spoke at Monday’s hearing. A nonpartisan, independent citywide Office of Civic Engagement could “truly empower people to engage in shaping their communities, which is really what democracy is supposed to be about,” he said. However, in his State of the City speech in February when he announced plans for his charter revision commission, de Blasio also said he was going to name a Chief Democracy Officer in the mayor’s office, though the scope of that position does not appear as wide-ranging as the office Lander is pushing for.</p> <p>Several local residents at Monday’s hearing had narrower but substantive concerns about the functioning of community boards, the most localized iteration of municipal government. Some suggested that community board members should be elected rather than appointed, with term limits, and that borough presidents should be removed from the appointment process. “Community boards are their own political entity. Without term limits, their ability to represent constituents goes down,” said one resident and community organizer, <a href="https://twitter.com/juaninQNS/status/994050951303622657" data-mce-tmp="1">Juan Restrepo</a>.</p> <p>Other suggestions included proportional representation from the population of the local district, a standard regulating structure for boards citywide, and a stronger role in local land use decisions.</p> <p>Paula Segal, a senior staff attorney in the Equitable Neighborhoods practice at the Community Development Project, advocated for more equitable land use policies, noting that publicly owned land is leased out or sold without being subject to the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). She pushed for improvements to ULURP and increased transparency in land use applications, and reforms to the tax lien process for charities and nonprofits. Segal’s boldest proposal was the “enshrinement of a right to housing” for the homeless, as opposed to the state law which provides for a right to shelter and creates what Segal called a “shelter industrial complex.”</p> <p>There were also some speakers on tangential matters, who urged changes in voter registration and voting laws, which fall under the purview of the state Legislature and cannot be affected by revisions of the city charter. At least two people, including Republican congressional candidate Lutchi Gayot, said that Commissioner Una Clarke should recuse herself from the panel because her daughter, Congressional Rep. Yvette Clarke, is running for reelection and that posed a conflict of interest. Commission members had to repeatedly remind the audience that the commission’s work has no bearing on federal election regulations or practices. “[N]obody ever considered me a rubber stamp for anything,” Clarke retorted to one resident, noting that she and the other members of the commission are independent volunteers.</p> <p>Yet others seemed slighted by how the commission was carrying out its work. Matt Fairley, who said he is a resident of Lander’s district, critiqued the commission for allowing representatives of established organizations to testify first, which “only increases the sense of alienation that voters in this city feel that people who are connected will be given primacy of place,” he said.</p> <p>Fairley proposed a sweeping change in city government, insisting that New York City needs to increase the number of elected officials from the 64 that currently hold office across different levels. The idea found support from others as well, including Dr. John Flateau, a professor at Medgar Evers College who also serves as the Democratic Board of Elections commissioner from Brooklyn.</p> <p>Flateau suggested that the City Council should have 59 seats, up from 51, to match the number of community boards. He had 21 proposals in total for the commission, though he was afforded only enough time to verbally advance a few, including granting legal permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections, reviewing the composition of various city boards and commissions, and advice and consent powers for the City Council on mayoral appointments. &nbsp;</p> <p>The Commission will hold its next hearing in Manhattan on Wednesday. An initial draft list of recommendations from the commission is expected in July.</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/graphics/2018/40165575485_0175f08b60_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio charter revision" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio at a hearing at City Hall (photo: Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Calls for campaign finance improvements, election reform, and changes to the structure and functions of community boards dominated the fourth borough hearing of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, held Monday night at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.</p> <p>Created by the mayor to review the charter, which outlines the city’s foundational governance, the commission is holding a slew of hearings across the city to solicit public input on changes that New Yorkers want to see in the powers and role of the municipal government. Those proposed changes will eventually be included as referenda on the November election ballot. On Monday, over the course of three-and-a-half hours, about two dozen people testified before the commission on concerns both broad and parochial.</p> <p>With the mayor having formed the commission with particular goals in mind -- improving voter participation and reducing the influence of money in elections -- it wasn’t surprising that campaign finance reform was a large focus of the hearing. Government reform groups urged the commissioners to consider a slew of changes, some controversial, and to further strengthen the city’s campaign finance system, which is considered a national model. &nbsp;</p> <p>Among other things, Citizens Union, one of the groups, pushed for a top-two election system regardless of party, instant runoff voting, independent redistricting for City Council seats, and transferring oversight of lobbying disclosure from the City Clerk’s office to the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>Another advocate, Jeremy Gruber, senior vice president of Open Primaries, as his organization’s name suggests, called on the commission to propose allowing all registered voters to cast a ballot in primary elections, which currently are limited to voters registered with a political party and exclude nearly a million independent voters. “Every New York City voter benefits from a healthier, more inclusive political system that encourages competition,” Gruber said, noting the chaos that accompanied the 2016 presidential primary in the state when hundreds of thousands of independent voters were incensed by being shut out of the Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.</p> <p>Questions were raised about a few of those recommendations. Commissioner Larian Angelo expressed concern that a top-two election system, in which the top two vote-getters in a primary advance to the general election, might shut out Republicans in a Democrat-heavy city. And nonpartisan open primaries, Commission Chair Cesar Perales pointed out, had been put before the voters in a referendum years ago and was soundly rejected. “I’m playing the devil’s advocate here,” he conceded.</p> <p>Gruber, though, insisted that the concept was “incredibly relevant” in the current political climate, with voters increasingly alienated from political parties and seeking to exercise their voting rights as independents.</p> <p>Other ideas that found purchase among the audience and the commissioners were proposals to institutionalize participatory budgeting. Certain City Council members employ the program in their districts, allowing constituents to vote on how to direct $1 million or more in funding towards various programs and initiatives. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the program could be expanded citywide. She also said members of the Campaign Finance Board should no longer be solely appointed by the mayor, to increase ethics oversight of the agency.</p> <p>Lerner, and others, also pushed for a move towards full public financing of elections, by first increasing the amount of funds that the CFB provides to candidates under it’s public matching funds system, which incentivizes small-dollar donations up to $175 by matching them at a 6-to-1 ratio. Those who testified included individuals who have unsuccessfully run for City Council in the past, and who said that the current system continues to favor candidates with access to wealthy donors and those with the resources to navigate the CFB’s at-times onerous regulations.</p> <p>“Everyone deserves a fair and equal voice and now giving that opportunity of raising someone’s voice who is less fortunate can help ensure that their opinions and needs do not fade off into night behind those who can afford to raise their own,” said RJ DeMello, a community activist.</p> <p>Another popular proposal, put forward by Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander and supported by many of those who testified, involves creating a New York City Office of Civic Engagement, to encourage voter participation and local involvement in civic affairs. Amina Fofana, a member of Integrate NYC, a youth-led organization working towards school integration, said Lander’s civic engagement office was necessary so “youth can be able to voice their opinions and have a part in the decisions that are being made.”</p> <p>Lander, who has introduced <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3331757&amp;GUID=B0D3D4DB-7407-4C36-A7C5-BA0C3A21CDD1&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=civic+engagement" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legislation</a> to create the office, also spoke at Monday’s hearing. A nonpartisan, independent citywide Office of Civic Engagement could “truly empower people to engage in shaping their communities, which is really what democracy is supposed to be about,” he said. However, in his State of the City speech in February when he announced plans for his charter revision commission, de Blasio also said he was going to name a Chief Democracy Officer in the mayor’s office, though the scope of that position does not appear as wide-ranging as the office Lander is pushing for.</p> <p>Several local residents at Monday’s hearing had narrower but substantive concerns about the functioning of community boards, the most localized iteration of municipal government. Some suggested that community board members should be elected rather than appointed, with term limits, and that borough presidents should be removed from the appointment process. “Community boards are their own political entity. Without term limits, their ability to represent constituents goes down,” said one resident and community organizer, <a href="https://twitter.com/juaninQNS/status/994050951303622657" data-mce-tmp="1">Juan Restrepo</a>.</p> <p>Other suggestions included proportional representation from the population of the local district, a standard regulating structure for boards citywide, and a stronger role in local land use decisions.</p> <p>Paula Segal, a senior staff attorney in the Equitable Neighborhoods practice at the Community Development Project, advocated for more equitable land use policies, noting that publicly owned land is leased out or sold without being subject to the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). She pushed for improvements to ULURP and increased transparency in land use applications, and reforms to the tax lien process for charities and nonprofits. Segal’s boldest proposal was the “enshrinement of a right to housing” for the homeless, as opposed to the state law which provides for a right to shelter and creates what Segal called a “shelter industrial complex.”</p> <p>There were also some speakers on tangential matters, who urged changes in voter registration and voting laws, which fall under the purview of the state Legislature and cannot be affected by revisions of the city charter. At least two people, including Republican congressional candidate Lutchi Gayot, said that Commissioner Una Clarke should recuse herself from the panel because her daughter, Congressional Rep. Yvette Clarke, is running for reelection and that posed a conflict of interest. Commission members had to repeatedly remind the audience that the commission’s work has no bearing on federal election regulations or practices. “[N]obody ever considered me a rubber stamp for anything,” Clarke retorted to one resident, noting that she and the other members of the commission are independent volunteers.</p> <p>Yet others seemed slighted by how the commission was carrying out its work. Matt Fairley, who said he is a resident of Lander’s district, critiqued the commission for allowing representatives of established organizations to testify first, which “only increases the sense of alienation that voters in this city feel that people who are connected will be given primacy of place,” he said.</p> <p>Fairley proposed a sweeping change in city government, insisting that New York City needs to increase the number of elected officials from the 64 that currently hold office across different levels. The idea found support from others as well, including Dr. John Flateau, a professor at Medgar Evers College who also serves as the Democratic Board of Elections commissioner from Brooklyn.</p> <p>Flateau suggested that the City Council should have 59 seats, up from 51, to match the number of community boards. He had 21 proposals in total for the commission, though he was afforded only enough time to verbally advance a few, including granting legal permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections, reviewing the composition of various city boards and commissions, and advice and consent powers for the City Council on mayoral appointments. &nbsp;</p> <p>The Commission will hold its next hearing in Manhattan on Wednesday. An initial draft list of recommendations from the commission is expected in July.</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>
Elected Officials, Advocates Push for Instant Runoff Voting 2018-05-01T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-01T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7650:elected-officials-advocates-push-for-instant-runoff-voting Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/fair-vote-sam.jpg" alt="fair vote sam" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p>Tuesday's press conference (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Several prominent Democratic elected officials and voting reform advocates on Tuesday assembled outside City Hall to call for instant runoff voting in citywide primary elections. Specifically, they said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, which just began a series of public hearings across the city, should include it among the proposals it puts before voters on the ballot this November.</p> <p>Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, allows voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference so that if one candidate does not cross the required threshold for victory, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the votes are redistributed based on the second choice selected by voters who had selected the eliminated candidate first, and so on until a winner emerges. The system prevents what can be costly and labor-intensive runoff elections, such as the one held in the 2013 primary election for public advocate.</p> <p>Runoffs are currently only required in the three citywide races, for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, and occur among the top two vote-getters if no candidate hits 40 percent in the first round of the primary.</p> <p>Though prior instant runoff proposals originating in the City Council have failed, the group of electeds and advocates sought to seize on an opportunity presented by the mayor’s creation of the Charter Revision Commission. The commission, which is holding hearings across the five boroughs to solicit public input as to what its agenda should be, can consider any proposal presented to it, though de Blasio charged its members with particularly looking at voting access and campaign finance reform. Its recommendations will take the form of ballot referenda to be offered to voters in this year’s general election.</p> <p>“I am the face of instant runoff, let me remind you,” said Public Advocate Letitia James at Tuesday’s news conference, on the steps of City Hall. The 2013 public advocate runoff -- which James won over then-State Senator Daniel Squadron -- cost an estimated $13 million to taxpayers, surpassing the office’s combined budget for James’ entire first four-year term. James said Tuesday that instant runoffs are the “least expensive and more democratic option” for the city.</p> <p>“It forces you to appeal to all voters as opposed to one Democratic base,” James added. “And this means more engagement, and less polarization and more democracy. It means listening to people you might not usually listen to and a freer exchange of ideas and is consistent with our principle of democracy and free elections,” James added. She later also suggested that if the mayor’s commission failed to take up the proposal, a separate Charter Revision Commission being created by the City Council, through a bill co-sponsored by James, could step in. &nbsp;</p> <p>Also in attendance Tuesday were Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Ben Kallos, all Democrats. James, Stringer, and Adams are all widely considered to be contenders for the 2021 mayoral race and share overlapping bases of supporters. It’s unclear, though, whether a runoff, instant or otherwise, will come into play in that race and who might benefit from which format. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, and several others may also jump into the race, creating a crowded field more apt to produce a runoff.</p> <p>The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary narrowly avoided a runoff, with eventual winner Bill de Blasio earning just above the 40 percent threshold. There was a Democratic runoff in the 2009 primary for public advocate, which de Blasio won. The 2001 Democratic mayoral primary was also settled through a runoff.</p> <p>“Cities that have adopted instant runoff voting to eliminate runoffs have not only saved millions of dollars but have also improved their democracies by making sure that we are electing our leaders in an election where the most voters, the most diverse voters, are at the polls at one time,” said Grace Ramsey, deputy outreach director for FairVote, a nonpartisan advocacy group, at the news conference. Ramsey noted that 15 cities across the country have already implemented instant runoffs. A FairVote analysis of the 2013 public advocate runoff also showed that the Democratic primary runoff electorate was older, whiter, and wealthier than Democrats overall, and only reflected a 7 percent turnout. It occured on Tuesday, October 1, 2013.</p> <p>Critiquing the state’s arcane election laws, Stringer said instant runoffs are a “progressive leap” that would allow elections to be decided quickly and efficiently, and he said the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission affords the city a prime opportunity to pursue the policy. “We don’t have to go to Albany and deal with that political dysfunction in order to get this electoral reform,” he said, an apparent reference to that fact that many other voting and election laws are dictated by the state.</p> <p>In December, Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, testified before the City Council on the 2017 elections and warned them that they had “dodged a bullet” by narrowly avoiding a runoff in the mayoral primary for the Reform Party line. Kellner said at the news conference Tuesday that the state already has the technology and capability to implement instant runoff voting, and reiterated the cost savings associated with implementing the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We cannot continue to have an 8-track method in an iPhone age,” said Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. “It is time to ensure that the process encourages people to come out. We live in real time, we live in instant time...Let’s make sure runoff elections are a thing of the past and let’s do it in the right way.”</p> <p>The proposal put forward on Tuesday was not the first attempt at eliminating runoff elections. In 2014, Council Member Lander sponsored a bill to call a referendum on the issue. Mayor de Blasio didn’t support it at the time and has since been lukewarm on the proposal. Asked Tuesday by a reporter if there was any opposition to the proposal, Lander said, “I think it’s just an issue that it’s change and change is not always easy. This is a change to our electoral processes and that’s not something we’re always ready to do.”</p> <p>As the group was gathered at City Hall, a parallel voting reform effort was being advanced in the state capital as well. The state Senate Democrats, led by Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, unveiled <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/377827073/05-01-18-Why-Don-t-More-New-Yorkers-Vote-A-Statewide-Snapshot-Identifying-Low-Voter-Turnout" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a new report</a> highlighting the shortcomings of the state’s election system that led to an abysmally low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. They also released an accompanying package of bills to address voter access and participation. The conference is in the minority, though, and there is limited likelihood that the Republican majority will advance the reforms being sought, such as early voting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7369-state-board-of-elections-official-says-city-must-move-to-instant-runoff-voting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting</a>]</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/2018/fair-vote-sam.jpg" alt="fair vote sam" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p>Tuesday's press conference (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Several prominent Democratic elected officials and voting reform advocates on Tuesday assembled outside City Hall to call for instant runoff voting in citywide primary elections. Specifically, they said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, which just began a series of public hearings across the city, should include it among the proposals it puts before voters on the ballot this November.</p> <p>Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, allows voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference so that if one candidate does not cross the required threshold for victory, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the votes are redistributed based on the second choice selected by voters who had selected the eliminated candidate first, and so on until a winner emerges. The system prevents what can be costly and labor-intensive runoff elections, such as the one held in the 2013 primary election for public advocate.</p> <p>Runoffs are currently only required in the three citywide races, for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, and occur among the top two vote-getters if no candidate hits 40 percent in the first round of the primary.</p> <p>Though prior instant runoff proposals originating in the City Council have failed, the group of electeds and advocates sought to seize on an opportunity presented by the mayor’s creation of the Charter Revision Commission. The commission, which is holding hearings across the five boroughs to solicit public input as to what its agenda should be, can consider any proposal presented to it, though de Blasio charged its members with particularly looking at voting access and campaign finance reform. Its recommendations will take the form of ballot referenda to be offered to voters in this year’s general election.</p> <p>“I am the face of instant runoff, let me remind you,” said Public Advocate Letitia James at Tuesday’s news conference, on the steps of City Hall. The 2013 public advocate runoff -- which James won over then-State Senator Daniel Squadron -- cost an estimated $13 million to taxpayers, surpassing the office’s combined budget for James’ entire first four-year term. James said Tuesday that instant runoffs are the “least expensive and more democratic option” for the city.</p> <p>“It forces you to appeal to all voters as opposed to one Democratic base,” James added. “And this means more engagement, and less polarization and more democracy. It means listening to people you might not usually listen to and a freer exchange of ideas and is consistent with our principle of democracy and free elections,” James added. She later also suggested that if the mayor’s commission failed to take up the proposal, a separate Charter Revision Commission being created by the City Council, through a bill co-sponsored by James, could step in. &nbsp;</p> <p>Also in attendance Tuesday were Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Ben Kallos, all Democrats. James, Stringer, and Adams are all widely considered to be contenders for the 2021 mayoral race and share overlapping bases of supporters. It’s unclear, though, whether a runoff, instant or otherwise, will come into play in that race and who might benefit from which format. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, and several others may also jump into the race, creating a crowded field more apt to produce a runoff.</p> <p>The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary narrowly avoided a runoff, with eventual winner Bill de Blasio earning just above the 40 percent threshold. There was a Democratic runoff in the 2009 primary for public advocate, which de Blasio won. The 2001 Democratic mayoral primary was also settled through a runoff.</p> <p>“Cities that have adopted instant runoff voting to eliminate runoffs have not only saved millions of dollars but have also improved their democracies by making sure that we are electing our leaders in an election where the most voters, the most diverse voters, are at the polls at one time,” said Grace Ramsey, deputy outreach director for FairVote, a nonpartisan advocacy group, at the news conference. Ramsey noted that 15 cities across the country have already implemented instant runoffs. A FairVote analysis of the 2013 public advocate runoff also showed that the Democratic primary runoff electorate was older, whiter, and wealthier than Democrats overall, and only reflected a 7 percent turnout. It occured on Tuesday, October 1, 2013.</p> <p>Critiquing the state’s arcane election laws, Stringer said instant runoffs are a “progressive leap” that would allow elections to be decided quickly and efficiently, and he said the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission affords the city a prime opportunity to pursue the policy. “We don’t have to go to Albany and deal with that political dysfunction in order to get this electoral reform,” he said, an apparent reference to that fact that many other voting and election laws are dictated by the state.</p> <p>In December, Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, testified before the City Council on the 2017 elections and warned them that they had “dodged a bullet” by narrowly avoiding a runoff in the mayoral primary for the Reform Party line. Kellner said at the news conference Tuesday that the state already has the technology and capability to implement instant runoff voting, and reiterated the cost savings associated with implementing the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We cannot continue to have an 8-track method in an iPhone age,” said Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. “It is time to ensure that the process encourages people to come out. We live in real time, we live in instant time...Let’s make sure runoff elections are a thing of the past and let’s do it in the right way.”</p> <p>The proposal put forward on Tuesday was not the first attempt at eliminating runoff elections. In 2014, Council Member Lander sponsored a bill to call a referendum on the issue. Mayor de Blasio didn’t support it at the time and has since been lukewarm on the proposal. Asked Tuesday by a reporter if there was any opposition to the proposal, Lander said, “I think it’s just an issue that it’s change and change is not always easy. This is a change to our electoral processes and that’s not something we’re always ready to do.”</p> <p>As the group was gathered at City Hall, a parallel voting reform effort was being advanced in the state capital as well. The state Senate Democrats, led by Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, unveiled <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/377827073/05-01-18-Why-Don-t-More-New-Yorkers-Vote-A-Statewide-Snapshot-Identifying-Low-Voter-Turnout" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a new report</a> highlighting the shortcomings of the state’s election system that led to an abysmally low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. They also released an accompanying package of bills to address voter access and participation. The conference is in the minority, though, and there is limited likelihood that the Republican majority will advance the reforms being sought, such as early voting.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7369-state-board-of-elections-official-says-city-must-move-to-instant-runoff-voting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Accused of ‘Bait and Switch’ on Congestion Pricing 2018-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7578:cuomo-accused-of-bait-and-switch-on-congestion-pricing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/36780696975_943c5c3c8c_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo driving bridge" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo at the wheel (Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Though Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for instituting a congestion pricing program to reduce street congestion in Manhattan and create a dedicated source of revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and said that he is fighting for such a scheme in state budget negotiations, the governor has recently indicated that he may only be able to win a modest first step, raising the ire of those expecting more.</p> <p>“Congestion pricing doesn’t happen in one fell swoop,” Cuomo said on WNYC radio last week, acknowledging that the sole component of congestion pricing likely to make it into the budget due by April 1 is a surcharge on taxi and for-hire vehicle rides. “There are phases to the congestion pricing and I’m cautiously optimistic that we could start the process.”</p> <p>On Wednesday, Cuomo told reporters in Albany that the state is “taking first steps towards congestion pricing” by including the surcharge on rides in taxis, black cars, and app-based services like Uber and Lyft. Those charges were part of the first of three phases to a congestion pricing plan proposed by the “Fix NYC” panel Cuomo had put together last year. The governor never fully embraced the recommendations publicly, but has said he’s “pushing that very hard,” in negotiations with the Democratically-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate, both home to significant skepticism.</p> <p>“The congestion in Manhattan is incredible and if you want to fix the subways you need a long-term funding stream,” Cuomo said. “There is no magic.”</p> <p>But many, including City Council Member Brad Lander, have voiced frustration with the likely lack of a comprehensive congestion pricing plan in the budget. “This is a classic bait-and-switch,” the Brooklyn Democrat said Tuesday during a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “If the governor is the least bit serious about the reality that we need long-term congestion pricing, and not just the FHV [for-hire vehicle] bait-and-switch, then he’ll insist in getting that money in the budget.”</p> <p>Lander, who <a href="https://twitter.com/bradlander/status/955793709399932929" target="_blank" rel="noopener">had predicted</a> such a possibility in January on social media, added, “Had [Cuomo] been serious about real congestion pricing, instead of appointing the Fix NYC commission and not following their report by not putting it in his budget, and made it a real top priority and put it in his budget, then it would have had a chance, I believe.”</p> <p>Lander said that the insufficient effort toward including a more complete congestion pricing plan was yet another example of nearsighted political maneuvering in Albany standing in the way of implementing effective policy.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every year, for many years, politicians in Albany made decisions that seemed good in the short-term: to borrow more, to put a little less in the subway. Because in the next few months, those decisions were not going to harm service,” Lander explained. “What we need is a big, long-term investment, but we’re in an election year and so the politics suggest find a way to look like you’re solving the problem while just doing a little something for the short-term.”</p> <p>The governor is seeking a third term this year, and the entirety of the Legislature is also up for election in the fall.</p> <p>Congestion pricing, a system of strategically tolling vehicles entering a certain geographic jurisdiction, has long been regarded as the right policy for New York City, according to the lion’s share of transit experts and advocates and editorial boards, as well as some city elected officials. The policy would reduce traffic and carbon emissions, encourage commuting via public transportation, and provide a much-needed influx of funding for repairs of the MTA subway infrastructure, its proponents say.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In August 2017, as calls for officials to provide a fix to the poor-performing MTA subways reached a fever pitch, Cuomo reversed his position on the policy and said that congestion pricing “is an idea whose time has come.” In October 2017, Cuomo convened the “Fix NYC Advisory Panel,” a group comprised of elected officials, community leaders, and representatives from New York businesses, to produce a report suggesting policies.</p> <p>And in January, the panel released the report. It recommended a three-year, three-phase plan including a congestion pricing proposal that would eventually mandate a surcharge of $11.52 per car to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street, and over $25 for trucks. The panel also recommended a surcharge of between $2 and $5 per ride on for-hire vehicles, such as taxis and Ubers. It also put forth a variety of congestion-reducing suggestions like better enforcement of existing traffic laws, like bans on double-parking and blocking bus lanes.</p> <p>Even Mayor Bill de Blasio, who frequently labeled prior iterations of congestion pricing a “regressive tax,” changed his tune to an extent, expressing openness to the group’s recommendations, particularly noting his approval that they did not recommend tolls directly on the East River bridges.</p> <p>Cuomo, however, never explicitly embraced its suggestions or promised to push for them in the budget or as stand-alone legislation. Instead, he acknowledged that the problems congestion pricing seeks to address are real, and pledged to “review it carefully” and “discuss the alternatives with the Legislature” in the ensuing months. A spokesperson for the governor, Peter Ajemian, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/nyregion/congestion-pricing-albany-cuomo.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the New York Times</a> that what the governor is on the verge of attaining in the state budget is in keeping with the Fix NYC plan because its congestion pricing program is also phased in.</p> <p>Ahead of the April 1 budget deadline, top transit advocates questioned Cuomo’s commitment and leadership on the issue. “Where it really matters, he’s not in the game,” executive director of Transportation Alternatives, Paul Steely White, said at a rally outside the governor’s Manhattan office last week.</p> <p>Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Assembly Democrats told Gotham Gazette of the for-hire vehicle surcharge, “We passed it as part of our budget proposal.”</p> <p>Spokespeople for the Senate Republicans and the governor did not return requests for comment for this story. The Senate did not include even the surcharge in its one-house budget plan.</p> <p>In recent days, and amid uncertainty about congestion pricing’s fate in budget negotiations, coalitions of transit, business, and technology leaders have come forward to encourage the state to enact the initiative. “Traffic congestion costs our region $20 billion every year, and the Fix NYC recommendations are the only plan on the table to address our transit crisis and get our economy moving,” said Alex Matthiessen, director of the Move NY Campaign, in a press release. Before the Fix NYC panel, Move NY had the model congestion pricing plan that was the topic of public debate and advocacy for several years. Matthiessen embraced the Fix NYC recommendations when they were released.</p> <p>Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Tech:NYC, said in a press release, “New York City’s transit crisis slows down business, hinders our productivity and efficiency, and makes it harder for our companies to recruit employees. The congestion pricing plan sitting with leaders in Albany will ease congestion and, crucially, help fund our transit system.”</p> <p>“We must get this done because we need a functional transit system if we want tech and business to succeed here,” Samuels continued.</p> <p>While Council Member Lander acknowledged there are challenges in convincing the Assembly and Senate to agree to allow congestion pricing in the budget, he argued Cuomo did not make a genuine attempt at doing so. “When an elected leader wants to do something, they have real tools at their disposal to persuade the legislators that it’s the right thing to do,” said Lander. “And he did not do those things.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/36780696975_943c5c3c8c_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo driving bridge" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo at the wheel (Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Though Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for instituting a congestion pricing program to reduce street congestion in Manhattan and create a dedicated source of revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and said that he is fighting for such a scheme in state budget negotiations, the governor has recently indicated that he may only be able to win a modest first step, raising the ire of those expecting more.</p> <p>“Congestion pricing doesn’t happen in one fell swoop,” Cuomo said on WNYC radio last week, acknowledging that the sole component of congestion pricing likely to make it into the budget due by April 1 is a surcharge on taxi and for-hire vehicle rides. “There are phases to the congestion pricing and I’m cautiously optimistic that we could start the process.”</p> <p>On Wednesday, Cuomo told reporters in Albany that the state is “taking first steps towards congestion pricing” by including the surcharge on rides in taxis, black cars, and app-based services like Uber and Lyft. Those charges were part of the first of three phases to a congestion pricing plan proposed by the “Fix NYC” panel Cuomo had put together last year. The governor never fully embraced the recommendations publicly, but has said he’s “pushing that very hard,” in negotiations with the Democratically-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate, both home to significant skepticism.</p> <p>“The congestion in Manhattan is incredible and if you want to fix the subways you need a long-term funding stream,” Cuomo said. “There is no magic.”</p> <p>But many, including City Council Member Brad Lander, have voiced frustration with the likely lack of a comprehensive congestion pricing plan in the budget. “This is a classic bait-and-switch,” the Brooklyn Democrat said Tuesday during a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “If the governor is the least bit serious about the reality that we need long-term congestion pricing, and not just the FHV [for-hire vehicle] bait-and-switch, then he’ll insist in getting that money in the budget.”</p> <p>Lander, who <a href="https://twitter.com/bradlander/status/955793709399932929" target="_blank" rel="noopener">had predicted</a> such a possibility in January on social media, added, “Had [Cuomo] been serious about real congestion pricing, instead of appointing the Fix NYC commission and not following their report by not putting it in his budget, and made it a real top priority and put it in his budget, then it would have had a chance, I believe.”</p> <p>Lander said that the insufficient effort toward including a more complete congestion pricing plan was yet another example of nearsighted political maneuvering in Albany standing in the way of implementing effective policy.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Every year, for many years, politicians in Albany made decisions that seemed good in the short-term: to borrow more, to put a little less in the subway. Because in the next few months, those decisions were not going to harm service,” Lander explained. “What we need is a big, long-term investment, but we’re in an election year and so the politics suggest find a way to look like you’re solving the problem while just doing a little something for the short-term.”</p> <p>The governor is seeking a third term this year, and the entirety of the Legislature is also up for election in the fall.</p> <p>Congestion pricing, a system of strategically tolling vehicles entering a certain geographic jurisdiction, has long been regarded as the right policy for New York City, according to the lion’s share of transit experts and advocates and editorial boards, as well as some city elected officials. The policy would reduce traffic and carbon emissions, encourage commuting via public transportation, and provide a much-needed influx of funding for repairs of the MTA subway infrastructure, its proponents say.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In August 2017, as calls for officials to provide a fix to the poor-performing MTA subways reached a fever pitch, Cuomo reversed his position on the policy and said that congestion pricing “is an idea whose time has come.” In October 2017, Cuomo convened the “Fix NYC Advisory Panel,” a group comprised of elected officials, community leaders, and representatives from New York businesses, to produce a report suggesting policies.</p> <p>And in January, the panel released the report. It recommended a three-year, three-phase plan including a congestion pricing proposal that would eventually mandate a surcharge of $11.52 per car to enter Manhattan south of 60th Street, and over $25 for trucks. The panel also recommended a surcharge of between $2 and $5 per ride on for-hire vehicles, such as taxis and Ubers. It also put forth a variety of congestion-reducing suggestions like better enforcement of existing traffic laws, like bans on double-parking and blocking bus lanes.</p> <p>Even Mayor Bill de Blasio, who frequently labeled prior iterations of congestion pricing a “regressive tax,” changed his tune to an extent, expressing openness to the group’s recommendations, particularly noting his approval that they did not recommend tolls directly on the East River bridges.</p> <p>Cuomo, however, never explicitly embraced its suggestions or promised to push for them in the budget or as stand-alone legislation. Instead, he acknowledged that the problems congestion pricing seeks to address are real, and pledged to “review it carefully” and “discuss the alternatives with the Legislature” in the ensuing months. A spokesperson for the governor, Peter Ajemian, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/nyregion/congestion-pricing-albany-cuomo.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the New York Times</a> that what the governor is on the verge of attaining in the state budget is in keeping with the Fix NYC plan because its congestion pricing program is also phased in.</p> <p>Ahead of the April 1 budget deadline, top transit advocates questioned Cuomo’s commitment and leadership on the issue. “Where it really matters, he’s not in the game,” executive director of Transportation Alternatives, Paul Steely White, said at a rally outside the governor’s Manhattan office last week.</p> <p>Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Assembly Democrats told Gotham Gazette of the for-hire vehicle surcharge, “We passed it as part of our budget proposal.”</p> <p>Spokespeople for the Senate Republicans and the governor did not return requests for comment for this story. The Senate did not include even the surcharge in its one-house budget plan.</p> <p>In recent days, and amid uncertainty about congestion pricing’s fate in budget negotiations, coalitions of transit, business, and technology leaders have come forward to encourage the state to enact the initiative. “Traffic congestion costs our region $20 billion every year, and the Fix NYC recommendations are the only plan on the table to address our transit crisis and get our economy moving,” said Alex Matthiessen, director of the Move NY Campaign, in a press release. Before the Fix NYC panel, Move NY had the model congestion pricing plan that was the topic of public debate and advocacy for several years. Matthiessen embraced the Fix NYC recommendations when they were released.</p> <p>Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Tech:NYC, said in a press release, “New York City’s transit crisis slows down business, hinders our productivity and efficiency, and makes it harder for our companies to recruit employees. The congestion pricing plan sitting with leaders in Albany will ease congestion and, crucially, help fund our transit system.”</p> <p>“We must get this done because we need a functional transit system if we want tech and business to succeed here,” Samuels continued.</p> <p>While Council Member Lander acknowledged there are challenges in convincing the Assembly and Senate to agree to allow congestion pricing in the budget, he argued Cuomo did not make a genuine attempt at doing so. “When an elected leader wants to do something, they have real tools at their disposal to persuade the legislators that it’s the right thing to do,” said Lander. “And he did not do those things.”</p> <p> </p> Questions Arise as De Blasio Rezones Series of Low-Income Neighborhoods 2018-03-06T05:00:00+00:00 2018-03-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7521:questions-arise-as-de-blasio-rezones-series-of-low-income-neighborhoods Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/east_new_york_planning_map.png" alt="east new york planning map" width="600" height="330" /></p> <p>City Planning map of East New York rezoning area</p> <hr /> <p>Later this year, the Department of City Planning is slated to release a “draft planning framework” as part of a process to rezone Gowanus, an initiative spearheaded by Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander aimed at increasing affordable housing and making a variety of other neighborhood improvements. Rezoning Gowanus, a middle-to-upper income, majority-white neighborhood, would be a departure from the city’s prevailing approach to reimagining a number of neighborhoods across the city.</p> <p>At the beginning of his mayoralty, Bill de Blasio set an objective to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the city, a goal that has since been expanded to 300,000 by 2026. To that end, de Blasio listed about ten neighborhood to rezone, the central purpose of which is to permit added housing density. The community-wide plans that have moved forward or are on the verge of passage through the City Council thus far have include lower-income communities: East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx. Downtown Far Rockaway was also rezoned, and plans are moving ahead for Inwood and on the North Shore of Staten Island.</p> <p>The rezonings include changes to an area’s land use rules, typically allowing for taller residential buildings that must include a certain set percentage of affordable housing units, and promises of amenities like new schools, improved street designs, and other community benefits.</p> <p>But from the start, questions have arisen around which neighborhoods are chosen for such major changes, and whether those changes accelerate forces of displacement for current residents. A <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/05/10/the-high-income-neighborhoods-the-city-could-look-to-rezone/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Limits analysis</a> of East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor found that 85 percent of the residents included in the rezoning areas are black or Latino and over 50 percent of the households take in less than $35,000 annually. Far Rockaway and Inwood are in line with demographic profile of the three main, larger city-led rezonings.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette about the pattern of his administration’s rezonings falling in lower-income neighborhoods, de Blasio said in February that the sample size of the rezonings is small, so no sweeping conclusions could be drawn from the pattern. He also reiterated his view that low-income communities are the ones that are most suitable for increased development.</p> <p>“The opportunities to create more affordable housing have been first and foremost in some communities that have been been underbuilt for a variety of reasons,” he said. “We look for where is the opportunity to make the biggest impact.”</p> <p>“East New York is the classic example,” the mayor continued. “There was a lot to work with. In some cases, there’s public land or private sites that hadn’t been built out.”’</p> <p>De Blasio went on to insist that his rezoning plans have been focused on increasing affordable housing stock wherever the opportunity presents itself. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“So my point would be, one, on the rezonings, we’re still first and foremost going to be focused on affordable housing. That’s the reason we’re doing the rezonings, overwhelmingly. And two, that’s going to be where land and where building sites are,” de Blasio explained. “But at the same time, anything we can get our hands on -- Gowanus is in the pipeline as an example.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has pushed through different elements of the zoning packages, including the mandatory affordable housing attached to any upzoning, in something of a surprise, de Blasio’s practices have tracked with that of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, in terms of the neighborhoods tabbed for such increases in density. A <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/22/nyregion/22zoning.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2010 Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy study</a> of the rezonings under then-Mayor Bloomberg, for example, found that rezonings in areas with whiter than average populations were more likely to retain restrictive zoning ordinances. In turn, the city allowed comparatively more density in rezonings in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the de Blasio-led rezonings, which do include many more safeguards for communities than Bloomberg’s, have been embraced by many local elected officials, especially those who’ve been able to negotiate for more local investments from the city. The de Blasio rezonings, however, have also been met with resistance from various affordable housing advocates and some elected officials.</p> <p>“Overall the neighborhoods that are being rezoned are mostly low-income communities of color,” Emily Goldstein, senior campaign organizer at the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, told <a href="https://commercialobserver.com/2018/02/a-massive-rezoning-promises-to-remake-the-central-bronx/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Commercial Observer</a> in February. “They’ve all had many years of disinvestment, and now they’re facing this idea that, in order to get reinvestment they’ve needed all along, it has to come with a rezoning. I think there’s huge concern of how these shifts in the market will affect displacement. There’s a question of what’s going to get built and for whom.”</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Katie Goldstein, executive director of affordable housing advocacy group Tenants and Neighbors, argued the city's rezonings have created housing that is nominally affordable, but in reality too expensive for the residents in certain neighborhoods. And the location selections, she said, exacerbate displacement pressures and gentrification. “What we’re seeing now is really just city-sponsored gentrification in these neighborhoods that have already been experiencing displacement pressures,” Goldstein told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette last month, Comptroller Scott Stringer voiced similar concerns regarding the mayor’s approach to affordable housing. “Sometimes, there’s disconnect between the housing that we’re building and the people that can access that affordable housing,” he said. The overarching question that many have asked about de Blasio’s larger affordable housing plan, including the housing to be built in rezoned neighborhoods, has been “Affordable for whom?”</p> <p>For his part, de Blasio argues the rezonings will not spur out-of-character development, nor significant displacement. Instead, the mayor says, creating affordable housing in low-income areas helps to reduce displacement pressures, especially when paired with provisions that require 30 percent of the units to be built under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) guidelines that de Blasio and the City Council passed last term.</p> <p>New York City must build its way out of the housing crisis, de Blasio believes; sitting on existing housing stock will only lead to higher rents and more displacement. He also regularly reminds critics that the rezonings are not only paired with MIH, but also significant investments in eviction prevention efforts.</p> <p>In addition, de Blasio offers, the added housing density in rezoned neighborhoods is coupled with improvements to infrastructure, schools, parks, public transportation, job training, and more, allocating resources for the community at hand and its thousands of new residents. Furthermore, low-income neighborhoods, in de Blasio’s telling, have been underdeveloped compared to more affluent areas, as they have not been rezoned for decades. &nbsp;</p> <p>Lander, who replaced de Blasio in the City Council almost a decade ago, is helming the Gowanus rezoning, in its early stages, with community input. The process began in fall 2016 with a series of community visioning and planning meetings. As Lander has repeatedly noted, Gowanus would be a different type of rezoning than the ones de Blasio has put forth.</p> <p>According to the aforementioned City Limits analysis, Gowanus -- a neighborhood bordering Park Slope that shares a name with the canal that runs through it -- is over half white with a annual median income of over $65,000.</p> <p>Lander believes the city should not only rezone Gowanus but should make it a priority to upzone other more affluent neighborhoods throughout the city. According to Lander, loosening zoning restrictions and building affordable housing in traditionally tightly-zoned, affluent neighborhoods can help desegregate New York.</p> <p>“I think it is our responsibility to affirmatively focus on upper-income neighborhoods and white neighborhoods [for upzonings],” he said. “We’ve started to have a conversation about Fair Housing and about what we do to combat residential segregation, and build a more integrated city.”</p> <p>“One central way of doing that,” he explained, “is by rezoning wealthier neighborhoods.”</p> <p>Moses Gates, director of community planning and design at Regional Planning Association, told Gotham Gazette that it is not as if Gowanus is the sole low-density, tightly-zoned, middle-to-upper-income community throughout the city that could use more affordable housing.</p> <p>Gates said that, contrary to de Blasio’s claims, lower-income neighborhoods are not necessarily better-suited for upzonings. “If the response is ‘we’re doing it in low-income neighborhoods because this is where we have historically had housing development,’ I’d ask the city, ‘What does that mean?’” Gates said. “It’s not like there’s no people in East New York. It’s not like East New York has less density and better transit access than Forest Hills.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Along with Forest Hills, urban planning experts have pointed toward middle-to-upper-income, low-density neighborhoods such as Long Island City, Bayside, Midwood, and Chelsea as opportune locations to upzone. The de Blasio administration has also raised the prospect of rezoning Washington Heights, Bushwick, Chinatown, Southern Boulevard, Flushing, and, as mentioned, the Bay Street Corridor on Staten Island’s North Shore. &nbsp;</p> <p>More broadly, Gates contended the de Blasio administration has not been clear on what it is trying to accomplish with its rezonings and it has not chosen optimal locations for them. “I think the city needs to look at transit-accessible places,” said Gates. “I think the city needs to look at places that do not currently have affordable housing opportunities.”</p> <p>One of the obstacles to rezoning proposals can be opposition from local City Council members, many of whom are loath to invite outcry from constituents and community boards that are often opposed to adding density close to home. Though he has made clear his philosophy is one of ‘getting to ‘yes,’’ new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has also indicated he will continue the tradition of heeding the local Council representative’s wishes on land use matters, including neighborhood rezonings, and involving relevant community boards and other stakeholders. The City Council as a whole has the final vote to approve neighborhood rezonings, or single projects that require a land use approval process.</p> <p>“Council Member Koo was not happy with the Flushing rezoning, and it didn’t go anywhere,” Johnson said at a press conference last month when asked by Gotham Gazette about the mayor’s neighborhood rezoning selections. “Every district has individual needs.”</p> <p>He added, “Anytime you talk about rezoning, it needs to be a process that respects the local Council member, the local community board, [and[ the Borough President.”</p> <p>The Jerome Avenue corridor rezoning moved through committee at the City Council on Tuesday, and will soon be voted through the full Council. The final deal reached between the de Blasio administration and local City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera is projected to bring 4,600 new homes to the 95-block rezoned area, according to the mayor's office, and includes two new schools, about $56 million in parks investments, and other community benefits. According to the mayor's office, all housing built in the area will be affordable and subsidized in the near-term, will measures in place to ensure permanent affordability for about 1,150 of the housing units.</p> <p>“The Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan invests in communities that have never before gotten a fair shake," said Melissa Grace, a spokesperson for the mayor, in a statement.</p> <p>Council Member Donovan Richards, who represents Far Rockaway, a community home to a rezoning led by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and more focused on commercial than residential growth, positioned himself as a cautious supporter of de Blasio’s neighborhood selections. “We’ve seen opportunities and communities like the Rockaways, because there is a lot of land that’s never been tapped into,” he said during a phone interview. “When you look at East New York, also -- neighborhoods with immense amounts of land where the city has never invested.”</p> <p>But Richards -- who last term chaired the zoning subcommittee and participated in key negotiations to amend zoning codes and on individual projects -- said efforts to increase affordable housing stock should not exclusively “fall on the back of communities like Far Rockaway or Jerome [Avenue] or Inwood.”</p> <p>“I don’t think the focus should be just in low-income communities,” Richards continued. “We should be looking for opportunities everywhere.”</p> <p>Additionally, Richards argued New York is “still a very segregated city,” a problem the city’s housing policies need to address. “We need to work toward righting that wrong if we’re going to give low-income residents an opportunity at succeeding in New York City,” he said.</p> <p>Asked why he believes the de Blasio administration has not adopted this strategy, Council Member Lander said he wasn't sure. “I don’t want to speculate; I don’t know the answer to it,” he said. “And I think it’s a fair question.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/east_new_york_planning_map.png" alt="east new york planning map" width="600" height="330" /></p> <p>City Planning map of East New York rezoning area</p> <hr /> <p>Later this year, the Department of City Planning is slated to release a “draft planning framework” as part of a process to rezone Gowanus, an initiative spearheaded by Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander aimed at increasing affordable housing and making a variety of other neighborhood improvements. Rezoning Gowanus, a middle-to-upper income, majority-white neighborhood, would be a departure from the city’s prevailing approach to reimagining a number of neighborhoods across the city.</p> <p>At the beginning of his mayoralty, Bill de Blasio set an objective to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the city, a goal that has since been expanded to 300,000 by 2026. To that end, de Blasio listed about ten neighborhood to rezone, the central purpose of which is to permit added housing density. The community-wide plans that have moved forward or are on the verge of passage through the City Council thus far have include lower-income communities: East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx. Downtown Far Rockaway was also rezoned, and plans are moving ahead for Inwood and on the North Shore of Staten Island.</p> <p>The rezonings include changes to an area’s land use rules, typically allowing for taller residential buildings that must include a certain set percentage of affordable housing units, and promises of amenities like new schools, improved street designs, and other community benefits.</p> <p>But from the start, questions have arisen around which neighborhoods are chosen for such major changes, and whether those changes accelerate forces of displacement for current residents. A <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/05/10/the-high-income-neighborhoods-the-city-could-look-to-rezone/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Limits analysis</a> of East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor found that 85 percent of the residents included in the rezoning areas are black or Latino and over 50 percent of the households take in less than $35,000 annually. Far Rockaway and Inwood are in line with demographic profile of the three main, larger city-led rezonings.</p> <p>Asked by Gotham Gazette about the pattern of his administration’s rezonings falling in lower-income neighborhoods, de Blasio said in February that the sample size of the rezonings is small, so no sweeping conclusions could be drawn from the pattern. He also reiterated his view that low-income communities are the ones that are most suitable for increased development.</p> <p>“The opportunities to create more affordable housing have been first and foremost in some communities that have been been underbuilt for a variety of reasons,” he said. “We look for where is the opportunity to make the biggest impact.”</p> <p>“East New York is the classic example,” the mayor continued. “There was a lot to work with. In some cases, there’s public land or private sites that hadn’t been built out.”’</p> <p>De Blasio went on to insist that his rezoning plans have been focused on increasing affordable housing stock wherever the opportunity presents itself. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“So my point would be, one, on the rezonings, we’re still first and foremost going to be focused on affordable housing. That’s the reason we’re doing the rezonings, overwhelmingly. And two, that’s going to be where land and where building sites are,” de Blasio explained. “But at the same time, anything we can get our hands on -- Gowanus is in the pipeline as an example.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has pushed through different elements of the zoning packages, including the mandatory affordable housing attached to any upzoning, in something of a surprise, de Blasio’s practices have tracked with that of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, in terms of the neighborhoods tabbed for such increases in density. A <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/22/nyregion/22zoning.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2010 Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy study</a> of the rezonings under then-Mayor Bloomberg, for example, found that rezonings in areas with whiter than average populations were more likely to retain restrictive zoning ordinances. In turn, the city allowed comparatively more density in rezonings in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the de Blasio-led rezonings, which do include many more safeguards for communities than Bloomberg’s, have been embraced by many local elected officials, especially those who’ve been able to negotiate for more local investments from the city. The de Blasio rezonings, however, have also been met with resistance from various affordable housing advocates and some elected officials.</p> <p>“Overall the neighborhoods that are being rezoned are mostly low-income communities of color,” Emily Goldstein, senior campaign organizer at the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, told <a href="https://commercialobserver.com/2018/02/a-massive-rezoning-promises-to-remake-the-central-bronx/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Commercial Observer</a> in February. “They’ve all had many years of disinvestment, and now they’re facing this idea that, in order to get reinvestment they’ve needed all along, it has to come with a rezoning. I think there’s huge concern of how these shifts in the market will affect displacement. There’s a question of what’s going to get built and for whom.”</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Katie Goldstein, executive director of affordable housing advocacy group Tenants and Neighbors, argued the city's rezonings have created housing that is nominally affordable, but in reality too expensive for the residents in certain neighborhoods. And the location selections, she said, exacerbate displacement pressures and gentrification. “What we’re seeing now is really just city-sponsored gentrification in these neighborhoods that have already been experiencing displacement pressures,” Goldstein told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>In an interview with Gotham Gazette last month, Comptroller Scott Stringer voiced similar concerns regarding the mayor’s approach to affordable housing. “Sometimes, there’s disconnect between the housing that we’re building and the people that can access that affordable housing,” he said. The overarching question that many have asked about de Blasio’s larger affordable housing plan, including the housing to be built in rezoned neighborhoods, has been “Affordable for whom?”</p> <p>For his part, de Blasio argues the rezonings will not spur out-of-character development, nor significant displacement. Instead, the mayor says, creating affordable housing in low-income areas helps to reduce displacement pressures, especially when paired with provisions that require 30 percent of the units to be built under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) guidelines that de Blasio and the City Council passed last term.</p> <p>New York City must build its way out of the housing crisis, de Blasio believes; sitting on existing housing stock will only lead to higher rents and more displacement. He also regularly reminds critics that the rezonings are not only paired with MIH, but also significant investments in eviction prevention efforts.</p> <p>In addition, de Blasio offers, the added housing density in rezoned neighborhoods is coupled with improvements to infrastructure, schools, parks, public transportation, job training, and more, allocating resources for the community at hand and its thousands of new residents. Furthermore, low-income neighborhoods, in de Blasio’s telling, have been underdeveloped compared to more affluent areas, as they have not been rezoned for decades. &nbsp;</p> <p>Lander, who replaced de Blasio in the City Council almost a decade ago, is helming the Gowanus rezoning, in its early stages, with community input. The process began in fall 2016 with a series of community visioning and planning meetings. As Lander has repeatedly noted, Gowanus would be a different type of rezoning than the ones de Blasio has put forth.</p> <p>According to the aforementioned City Limits analysis, Gowanus -- a neighborhood bordering Park Slope that shares a name with the canal that runs through it -- is over half white with a annual median income of over $65,000.</p> <p>Lander believes the city should not only rezone Gowanus but should make it a priority to upzone other more affluent neighborhoods throughout the city. According to Lander, loosening zoning restrictions and building affordable housing in traditionally tightly-zoned, affluent neighborhoods can help desegregate New York.</p> <p>“I think it is our responsibility to affirmatively focus on upper-income neighborhoods and white neighborhoods [for upzonings],” he said. “We’ve started to have a conversation about Fair Housing and about what we do to combat residential segregation, and build a more integrated city.”</p> <p>“One central way of doing that,” he explained, “is by rezoning wealthier neighborhoods.”</p> <p>Moses Gates, director of community planning and design at Regional Planning Association, told Gotham Gazette that it is not as if Gowanus is the sole low-density, tightly-zoned, middle-to-upper-income community throughout the city that could use more affordable housing.</p> <p>Gates said that, contrary to de Blasio’s claims, lower-income neighborhoods are not necessarily better-suited for upzonings. “If the response is ‘we’re doing it in low-income neighborhoods because this is where we have historically had housing development,’ I’d ask the city, ‘What does that mean?’” Gates said. “It’s not like there’s no people in East New York. It’s not like East New York has less density and better transit access than Forest Hills.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Along with Forest Hills, urban planning experts have pointed toward middle-to-upper-income, low-density neighborhoods such as Long Island City, Bayside, Midwood, and Chelsea as opportune locations to upzone. The de Blasio administration has also raised the prospect of rezoning Washington Heights, Bushwick, Chinatown, Southern Boulevard, Flushing, and, as mentioned, the Bay Street Corridor on Staten Island’s North Shore. &nbsp;</p> <p>More broadly, Gates contended the de Blasio administration has not been clear on what it is trying to accomplish with its rezonings and it has not chosen optimal locations for them. “I think the city needs to look at transit-accessible places,” said Gates. “I think the city needs to look at places that do not currently have affordable housing opportunities.”</p> <p>One of the obstacles to rezoning proposals can be opposition from local City Council members, many of whom are loath to invite outcry from constituents and community boards that are often opposed to adding density close to home. Though he has made clear his philosophy is one of ‘getting to ‘yes,’’ new City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has also indicated he will continue the tradition of heeding the local Council representative’s wishes on land use matters, including neighborhood rezonings, and involving relevant community boards and other stakeholders. The City Council as a whole has the final vote to approve neighborhood rezonings, or single projects that require a land use approval process.</p> <p>“Council Member Koo was not happy with the Flushing rezoning, and it didn’t go anywhere,” Johnson said at a press conference last month when asked by Gotham Gazette about the mayor’s neighborhood rezoning selections. “Every district has individual needs.”</p> <p>He added, “Anytime you talk about rezoning, it needs to be a process that respects the local Council member, the local community board, [and[ the Borough President.”</p> <p>The Jerome Avenue corridor rezoning moved through committee at the City Council on Tuesday, and will soon be voted through the full Council. The final deal reached between the de Blasio administration and local City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera is projected to bring 4,600 new homes to the 95-block rezoned area, according to the mayor's office, and includes two new schools, about $56 million in parks investments, and other community benefits. According to the mayor's office, all housing built in the area will be affordable and subsidized in the near-term, will measures in place to ensure permanent affordability for about 1,150 of the housing units.</p> <p>“The Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan invests in communities that have never before gotten a fair shake," said Melissa Grace, a spokesperson for the mayor, in a statement.</p> <p>Council Member Donovan Richards, who represents Far Rockaway, a community home to a rezoning led by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and more focused on commercial than residential growth, positioned himself as a cautious supporter of de Blasio’s neighborhood selections. “We’ve seen opportunities and communities like the Rockaways, because there is a lot of land that’s never been tapped into,” he said during a phone interview. “When you look at East New York, also -- neighborhoods with immense amounts of land where the city has never invested.”</p> <p>But Richards -- who last term chaired the zoning subcommittee and participated in key negotiations to amend zoning codes and on individual projects -- said efforts to increase affordable housing stock should not exclusively “fall on the back of communities like Far Rockaway or Jerome [Avenue] or Inwood.”</p> <p>“I don’t think the focus should be just in low-income communities,” Richards continued. “We should be looking for opportunities everywhere.”</p> <p>Additionally, Richards argued New York is “still a very segregated city,” a problem the city’s housing policies need to address. “We need to work toward righting that wrong if we’re going to give low-income residents an opportunity at succeeding in New York City,” he said.</p> <p>Asked why he believes the de Blasio administration has not adopted this strategy, Council Member Lander said he wasn't sure. “I don’t want to speculate; I don’t know the answer to it,” he said. “And I think it’s a fair question.”</p> <p> </p> City Council Oversight Hearing on Policing Protests Dominated by Disputes 2018-02-07T05:00:00+00:00 2018-02-07T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7466:city-council-oversight-hearing-on-policing-protests-dominated-by-disputes Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26266683528_da03f77ef0_z.jpg" alt="Ydanis NYPD" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member Rodriguez (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council Committee on Public Safety held an oversight hearing on Wednesday to examine the NYPD’s tactics and procedures regarding protests and crowd control. The perpetually controversial issue has come to the fore once again in the wake of immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir’s detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the NYPD’s subsequent aggressive handling of protesters, culminating in the arrests of two City Council members and 16 others on January 11.</p> <p>Both Council members who were arrested, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams, Democrats of Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively, sit on the public safety committee and questioned NYPD officials at Wednesday’s hearing, which was led by committee Chair Donovan Richards, a Queens Democrat.</p> <p>Williams was released by the NYPD with a desk appearance ticket but Rodriguez was arraigned in court on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and obstructing emergency medical services. Rodriguez, on the day of the protest, tweeted a picture of what he claimed to be an NYPD officer holding him in a chokehold.</p> <p>Despite this, the hearing focused less on the allegedly brutal tactics employed by the NYPD in protests and focused more on the department’s alleged coordination with ICE. There was some discussion of the department’s approach to crowd control, though, part of a history that includes the NYPD having been accused of inappropriate suppression or brutal tactics against protesters involved with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/29/nypd-black-lives-matter-undercover-protests" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Black Lives Matter</a>, <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/14-specific-allegations-of-nypd-brutality-during-occupy-wall-street/260295/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Occupy Wall Street</a>, <a href="https://www.aclu.org/files/FilesPDFs/nyclu_arresting_protest1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">antiwar demonstrations</a>, and opposition outside the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/nyregion/new-york-is-said-to-settle-suits-over-arrests-at-2004-gop-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2004 Republican National Convention</a>.</p> <p>But the hearing largely devolved into exasperated quibbles between Council members and NYPD representatives over the basic facts of what happened on January 11, including whether the department was coordinating with ICE it its detainment efforts.</p> <p>The hearing is the first public safety hearing to be chaired by Richards, who was named to the post by new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was part of the January 11 demonstrations but was not arrested. Johnson did have a tense exchange with one officer, who he pursued and reported to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill for aggressive conduct. Johnson and O’Neill discussed the totality of the day, Johnson said soon after, and the NYPD is continuing its internal investigation of officer conduct.</p> <p>From the moment it began, the hearing was heated, as Council members and the NYPD officials testifying engaged in several disputes of the facts related to January 11 and to policy areas where Council members deemed the NYPD to be inadequately performing their duties.</p> <p>It was noted that the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, a unit of nearly 700 officers that is deployed to maintain crowd control at demonstrations, has under its purview counterterrorism, a combination that worried Council members who feared that empowering officers trained in combating terrorism with monitoring protests would result in overly aggressive policing of the latter.</p> <p>The department noted that the unit was created, under the direction of former Commissioner Bill Bratton, in response to large-scale terror incidents in places such as Paris and Mumbai. Bratton’s pitch at the time: “<a href="http://gothamist.com/2015/12/17/bratton_nypd_protest_unit.php#photo-1">Safe from crime, safe from terrorists, safe from disorder.</a>”</p> <p>When Richards asked if the NYPD views peaceful protesters and terrorists as posing similar threats to public safety and order, the NYPD representatives were evasive, saying that the department required a reserve of officers able to respond to terror incidents, trained in disparate areas of policing like making mass arrests and handling hazardous substances.</p> <p>Stephen Hughes, Commanding Officer of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, stated that in 2017, SRG had made 322 arrests at 109 demonstrations. The NYPD’s legislative director, Oleg Chernyavsky, stated that those are just arrests made by SRG, and that other patrol units can make arrests that are not counted toward that total.</p> <p>Several Council members all but accused the NYPD representatives of lying under oath in saying they had not been coordinating with ICE during the January 11 incident. The officers repeatedly asserted that they had not been deputized as immigration officers and were not coordinating in any way with ICE, as per department policy. Williams attempted to refute this narrative by showing a picture of NYPD and federal Department of Homeland Security officers appearing in the immediate vicinity of each other.</p> <p>“I’m hoping that what happened wasn’t intentional,” Williams said. “And I want to prevent it from happening again.”</p> <p>Chernyavsky rebutted the notion that being in the same vicinity meant the two agencies were coordinating.</p> <p>“I think the fact that we were physically present standing next to a federal officer who was outside of, I would assume, his or her place of employment, was an unintentional consequence,” Chernyavsky said. He also asserted that NYPD had become more active in crowd control and making arrests when its task became escorting an ambulance, with Ragbir in it, out of the crowded streets near the downtown federal building where he had had a check-in with immigration officials (there is some dispute about whether Ragbir was actually suffering from any ill feelings and in need of an ambulance). Chernyavsky said NYPD officers were unaware initially that the person in the ambulance was in ICE detention, and claimed that they even went to the wrong hospital at first, a point he thought would bolster the notion that the NYPD was not coordinating with ICE.</p> <p>“What happened that day was some kind of coordination, period,” Williams said, growing increasingly frustrated with the NYPD reps as Chernyavsky asserted that it’s “irresponsible to allege that we coordinated with immigration enforcement.” They instead repeatedly asserted that they were simply enforcing existing local laws related to protest and crowd control management. They said that the events had unfolded quickly and in chaotic fashion.</p> <p>The Council members signaled that they had hoped to have a more constructive dialogue about the NYPD’s policies and rules of engagement but were instead having a debate over what the facts were.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat from Brooklyn, also grew increasingly frustrated with the NYPD officials as his line of questioning went on. Lander was incredulous towards the NYPD claim that it was not coordinating with immigration enforcement despite having provided ICE, which was transporting Ragbir, with a police escort from Bellevue Hospital to the Holland Tunnel, which occurred after Ragbir had briefly been at the hospital.</p> <p>“Up to that point, you guys were responding to a protest,” Lander said, referring to the NYPD’s insistence that they were enforcing local laws. “But at Bellevue, there was no protest.” He also noted that there was no health risk for Ragbir at that point, a justification for Ragbir’s transport by ambulance with ICE on scene. The officers contended that they were not escorting ICE, but rather were simply “present at transport” due to the potential presence of protesters, who ended up not following the ambulance Bellevue or federal officials to the Holland Tunnel. Lander contended that there was no difference between the two.</p> <p>“Really?” he asked, growing impatient with NYPD testimony.</p> <p>“I’m more concerned walking out of this hearing than I was walking into it,” Lander said before being interrupted several times. Lander chastised the department for failing to own up to its role in Ragbir’s detention, and for not being apologetic and acknowledging the mishaps.</p> <p>Local Law 228, which forbids city law enforcement officials from cooperating with ICE by being deputized as federal immigration officers, and requires the NYPD to report the number of federal detainer requests it receives, recently went into effect. An NYPD rep noted that the department did not comply with a single detainer request from ICE out of the 1,526 it received in 2017, as President Donald Trump ramped up immigration enforcement. In 2016, Barack Obama’s last full year as president, the NYPD received 80 detainer requests and complied with two.</p> <p>Law 228 was passed in November but went into effect on January 30, 19 days after the Ragbir detention and subsequent protests. Williams called this “quite a coincidence,” but the NYPD reps assured the Council members that their prior internal department policy was to not coordinate or comply with ICE. They reiterated several times that they had not complied with a single detainer request of the 1,526 that were submitted by federal authorities to the NYPD, and that the only instances where the NYPD actively works with ICE are on task forces that are related to a different policy area that both NYPD and ICE agents happen to work on, such as human trafficking or the opioid epidemic.</p> <p>The arrest and detention of Ragbir, who has had a detainer against him since 2006 as a result of a fraud conviction, at a routine check-in with immigration authorities has been extremely controversial among New York’s activist and political community. Ragbir, after a stint in ICE detention in Miami, is back in New York but faces another check-in on Saturday during which he could face deportation. With the Trump administration’s significant uptick in immigration enforcement, particularly against undocumented immigrants who have not committed felonies, ICE has been making sweeps in immigrant neighborhoods and at courthouses with or without the NYPD’s cooperation.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a <a href="https://twitter.com/SethStein/status/961275806797455361">letter</a> to Thomas Decker, the Field Office Director for New York’s ICE office, extolling Ragbir and pleading that he not be deported back to Trinidad, while also making the case that aggressive immigration enforcement in immigrant communities and courthouses is deteriorating trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. De Blasio did not mention Ragbir’s prior conviction.</p> <p>“These activities not only create fear in immigrant communities, but undermine public safety,” the letter read. “New York City is the safest big city in America because of the trust between law enforcement and communities, including immigrant New Yorkers. When ICE takes aggressive action against leaders in immigrant communities, it casts a chilling effect on immigrants’ willingness to engage with government and law enforcement generally, undercutting that trust.”</p> <p>“The safety and interest of New Yorkers should be central to any determination concerning Mr. Ragbir, or other individuals arrested by ICE,” the letter continued. “Therefore, I request that ICE exercise its discretion to permit Mr. Ragbir to remain with his family in New York.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26266683528_da03f77ef0_z.jpg" alt="Ydanis NYPD" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member Rodriguez (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council Committee on Public Safety held an oversight hearing on Wednesday to examine the NYPD’s tactics and procedures regarding protests and crowd control. The perpetually controversial issue has come to the fore once again in the wake of immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir’s detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the NYPD’s subsequent aggressive handling of protesters, culminating in the arrests of two City Council members and 16 others on January 11.</p> <p>Both Council members who were arrested, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams, Democrats of Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively, sit on the public safety committee and questioned NYPD officials at Wednesday’s hearing, which was led by committee Chair Donovan Richards, a Queens Democrat.</p> <p>Williams was released by the NYPD with a desk appearance ticket but Rodriguez was arraigned in court on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and obstructing emergency medical services. Rodriguez, on the day of the protest, tweeted a picture of what he claimed to be an NYPD officer holding him in a chokehold.</p> <p>Despite this, the hearing focused less on the allegedly brutal tactics employed by the NYPD in protests and focused more on the department’s alleged coordination with ICE. There was some discussion of the department’s approach to crowd control, though, part of a history that includes the NYPD having been accused of inappropriate suppression or brutal tactics against protesters involved with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/29/nypd-black-lives-matter-undercover-protests" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Black Lives Matter</a>, <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/07/14-specific-allegations-of-nypd-brutality-during-occupy-wall-street/260295/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Occupy Wall Street</a>, <a href="https://www.aclu.org/files/FilesPDFs/nyclu_arresting_protest1.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">antiwar demonstrations</a>, and opposition outside the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/nyregion/new-york-is-said-to-settle-suits-over-arrests-at-2004-gop-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2004 Republican National Convention</a>.</p> <p>But the hearing largely devolved into exasperated quibbles between Council members and NYPD representatives over the basic facts of what happened on January 11, including whether the department was coordinating with ICE it its detainment efforts.</p> <p>The hearing is the first public safety hearing to be chaired by Richards, who was named to the post by new Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who was part of the January 11 demonstrations but was not arrested. Johnson did have a tense exchange with one officer, who he pursued and reported to NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill for aggressive conduct. Johnson and O’Neill discussed the totality of the day, Johnson said soon after, and the NYPD is continuing its internal investigation of officer conduct.</p> <p>From the moment it began, the hearing was heated, as Council members and the NYPD officials testifying engaged in several disputes of the facts related to January 11 and to policy areas where Council members deemed the NYPD to be inadequately performing their duties.</p> <p>It was noted that the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, a unit of nearly 700 officers that is deployed to maintain crowd control at demonstrations, has under its purview counterterrorism, a combination that worried Council members who feared that empowering officers trained in combating terrorism with monitoring protests would result in overly aggressive policing of the latter.</p> <p>The department noted that the unit was created, under the direction of former Commissioner Bill Bratton, in response to large-scale terror incidents in places such as Paris and Mumbai. Bratton’s pitch at the time: “<a href="http://gothamist.com/2015/12/17/bratton_nypd_protest_unit.php#photo-1">Safe from crime, safe from terrorists, safe from disorder.</a>”</p> <p>When Richards asked if the NYPD views peaceful protesters and terrorists as posing similar threats to public safety and order, the NYPD representatives were evasive, saying that the department required a reserve of officers able to respond to terror incidents, trained in disparate areas of policing like making mass arrests and handling hazardous substances.</p> <p>Stephen Hughes, Commanding Officer of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, stated that in 2017, SRG had made 322 arrests at 109 demonstrations. The NYPD’s legislative director, Oleg Chernyavsky, stated that those are just arrests made by SRG, and that other patrol units can make arrests that are not counted toward that total.</p> <p>Several Council members all but accused the NYPD representatives of lying under oath in saying they had not been coordinating with ICE during the January 11 incident. The officers repeatedly asserted that they had not been deputized as immigration officers and were not coordinating in any way with ICE, as per department policy. Williams attempted to refute this narrative by showing a picture of NYPD and federal Department of Homeland Security officers appearing in the immediate vicinity of each other.</p> <p>“I’m hoping that what happened wasn’t intentional,” Williams said. “And I want to prevent it from happening again.”</p> <p>Chernyavsky rebutted the notion that being in the same vicinity meant the two agencies were coordinating.</p> <p>“I think the fact that we were physically present standing next to a federal officer who was outside of, I would assume, his or her place of employment, was an unintentional consequence,” Chernyavsky said. He also asserted that NYPD had become more active in crowd control and making arrests when its task became escorting an ambulance, with Ragbir in it, out of the crowded streets near the downtown federal building where he had had a check-in with immigration officials (there is some dispute about whether Ragbir was actually suffering from any ill feelings and in need of an ambulance). Chernyavsky said NYPD officers were unaware initially that the person in the ambulance was in ICE detention, and claimed that they even went to the wrong hospital at first, a point he thought would bolster the notion that the NYPD was not coordinating with ICE.</p> <p>“What happened that day was some kind of coordination, period,” Williams said, growing increasingly frustrated with the NYPD reps as Chernyavsky asserted that it’s “irresponsible to allege that we coordinated with immigration enforcement.” They instead repeatedly asserted that they were simply enforcing existing local laws related to protest and crowd control management. They said that the events had unfolded quickly and in chaotic fashion.</p> <p>The Council members signaled that they had hoped to have a more constructive dialogue about the NYPD’s policies and rules of engagement but were instead having a debate over what the facts were.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat from Brooklyn, also grew increasingly frustrated with the NYPD officials as his line of questioning went on. Lander was incredulous towards the NYPD claim that it was not coordinating with immigration enforcement despite having provided ICE, which was transporting Ragbir, with a police escort from Bellevue Hospital to the Holland Tunnel, which occurred after Ragbir had briefly been at the hospital.</p> <p>“Up to that point, you guys were responding to a protest,” Lander said, referring to the NYPD’s insistence that they were enforcing local laws. “But at Bellevue, there was no protest.” He also noted that there was no health risk for Ragbir at that point, a justification for Ragbir’s transport by ambulance with ICE on scene. The officers contended that they were not escorting ICE, but rather were simply “present at transport” due to the potential presence of protesters, who ended up not following the ambulance Bellevue or federal officials to the Holland Tunnel. Lander contended that there was no difference between the two.</p> <p>“Really?” he asked, growing impatient with NYPD testimony.</p> <p>“I’m more concerned walking out of this hearing than I was walking into it,” Lander said before being interrupted several times. Lander chastised the department for failing to own up to its role in Ragbir’s detention, and for not being apologetic and acknowledging the mishaps.</p> <p>Local Law 228, which forbids city law enforcement officials from cooperating with ICE by being deputized as federal immigration officers, and requires the NYPD to report the number of federal detainer requests it receives, recently went into effect. An NYPD rep noted that the department did not comply with a single detainer request from ICE out of the 1,526 it received in 2017, as President Donald Trump ramped up immigration enforcement. In 2016, Barack Obama’s last full year as president, the NYPD received 80 detainer requests and complied with two.</p> <p>Law 228 was passed in November but went into effect on January 30, 19 days after the Ragbir detention and subsequent protests. Williams called this “quite a coincidence,” but the NYPD reps assured the Council members that their prior internal department policy was to not coordinate or comply with ICE. They reiterated several times that they had not complied with a single detainer request of the 1,526 that were submitted by federal authorities to the NYPD, and that the only instances where the NYPD actively works with ICE are on task forces that are related to a different policy area that both NYPD and ICE agents happen to work on, such as human trafficking or the opioid epidemic.</p> <p>The arrest and detention of Ragbir, who has had a detainer against him since 2006 as a result of a fraud conviction, at a routine check-in with immigration authorities has been extremely controversial among New York’s activist and political community. Ragbir, after a stint in ICE detention in Miami, is back in New York but faces another check-in on Saturday during which he could face deportation. With the Trump administration’s significant uptick in immigration enforcement, particularly against undocumented immigrants who have not committed felonies, ICE has been making sweeps in immigrant neighborhoods and at courthouses with or without the NYPD’s cooperation.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio sent a <a href="https://twitter.com/SethStein/status/961275806797455361">letter</a> to Thomas Decker, the Field Office Director for New York’s ICE office, extolling Ragbir and pleading that he not be deported back to Trinidad, while also making the case that aggressive immigration enforcement in immigrant communities and courthouses is deteriorating trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. De Blasio did not mention Ragbir’s prior conviction.</p> <p>“These activities not only create fear in immigrant communities, but undermine public safety,” the letter read. “New York City is the safest big city in America because of the trust between law enforcement and communities, including immigrant New Yorkers. When ICE takes aggressive action against leaders in immigrant communities, it casts a chilling effect on immigrants’ willingness to engage with government and law enforcement generally, undercutting that trust.”</p> <p>“The safety and interest of New Yorkers should be central to any determination concerning Mr. Ragbir, or other individuals arrested by ICE,” the letter continued. “Therefore, I request that ICE exercise its discretion to permit Mr. Ragbir to remain with his family in New York.”</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>